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Positive and negative changes to report

by Garland M Baker on December 22, 2008

This past year has been very interesting and full of changes for Costa Rica. Most notably, it looks like property fraud and crime are on the increase. The government has attempted to make some changes to the corresponding legislation, but crime is noticeably worse than last year and the year before.

Sometime around mid-year, while driving to Multiplaza del Este, this author and his thirteen-year-old daughter saw firsthand how a woman got shot in cold blood at a bus stop when two men on a motorcycle wanted to steal her packages. This is a horrifying experience for anybody to witness, especially for a 13-year-old girl. She asked at the time: “Papi, is this what Costa Rica is becoming?”

Last week this writer went back to the United States. Going back to the States is not a common practice, since it happens only once a year to attend a meeting. Occasionally the trip includes visiting family, and that was the case this year. While driving to Willington, North Carolina, with a sister, she said: “Garland you are like a frog in a pan.” Baffled, I replied: “What do you mean?”

“You tell me about your life in Costa Rica and about all the changes you have made to keep your family safe, and all that does is remind me of the proverbial frog in a pan.” I asked her to explain further. She said: “There is an old fable that says that when a frog is placed in cold water and then brought to a boil, it will make no attempt to escape, ultimately boiling itself to death.” She was referring to all the adjustments one makes in life — which go unnoticed — to deal with surrounding problems. She was right. Costa Rica is downright dangerous to live in today, and the quality of life is disheartening at times.

During the trip back to Costa Rica, much reflection went into the conversation. This author had many years ago decided to become a Costa Rican citizen for many reasons, one of the most important being the desire to contribute with improving the country’s situation. The articles written for A.M. Costa Rica are one example of my efforts to make a difference. Few in Costa Rica have taken the time to continuously research and inform expats about relevant issues concerning the country’s situation and their situation in the country. This author believes people who have taken this task seriously have made a difference in expats’ lives by making them more aware of how to successfully conduct themselves in Costa Rica.

When this author arrived with his family 36 years ago, Costa Rica was truly a paradise; gradually, the country started losing that title, but it still has a good chance to recover. It will just take time, as any process of evolution does. This writer is devoted to making a difference with the help of A.M. Costa Rica, and this dedication will continue well past the New Year.

Alongside the increase in crime, other important changes have also taken place. Here are three which this author believes deserve special attention:

Banking has changed considerably. Trying to open a bank account nowadays has become a very difficult and sometimes downright impossible quest. The amount of documents required by the banks to open a simple savings or business account is overwhelming. U.S. expats have an additional problem: banking institutions require the information contained in the W-9 form for the United States government, besides the customary paperwork. Some banks are even requiring the W-9 form when an expat is part of a company, which is probably due to foreign banks opening branches in Costa Rica, such as HSBC and Citibank. Both surely request an extensive list of documents to report to the United States.

The article written by this author in 2005 about the transparency phantom that stalks the current banking system is much scarier than it was originally anticipated. In addition to the transparency aspect, the local tax watchdogs are getting their act together. New and improved taxing regulation approved in 2008 will go into effect in 2009, and reporting requirements will be much more comprehensive for everyone.

Other changes include the country’s increased efforts to guard the maritime zone, as well as an increase in tearing down structures illegally built in areas that are considered public. Moreover, the principle of “in dubio pro natura” (nature rules and wins in any dispute) has taken on a completely new force: mega projects have been closed down all over the country because they have failed to adhere to strict environmental requirements. This fact, along with the global financial crisis, has put a big damper on real estate sales, seriously limiting new investments into the country.

Lastly — and sadly — the country’s position on prostitution and pimping took a rather funny route back in July. After much hoopla by the local press and two articles published in this newspaper, about 20 brothels were shut down apparently due to their nature, but in reality they were closed because their facilities lacked proper access to disabled clients. Therefore, once they duly complied with the outrageous government sanction and reopened a few weeks later with wheelchair ramps installed, ready to service the disabled, the government saw no other reason to close their operations. These events make a clear statement to the world about how the laws against pimping are not enforced in Costa Rica, and that this country is in fact the ultimate sex-tourism destination, despite the vehement denial of the government.

To all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, let it bring positive changes and a path to new hope for Costa Rica.

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