Back Down

Ok, this is ridiculous. I’m having a flood of anti-Costa Rica experiences. Maybe if I get them out of my system, this rock in my gut will disappear.

IN THE NEWS. Don Oscar seems hellbent on getting Costa Rica into the 21st century. Only I don’t approve of the way he’s going about it. I don’t know why he didn’t think to ask me first, but he didn’t.

On the plus side, he’s fixing the roads – lots of painting activity, new timed streetlights in downtown San José, spending millions making the center of downtown into a paved walking mall. He is finally replacing the Oh Shit and the Oh My God bridges between Jacó and Quepos. Although I will miss them. Crossing those babies is an adventure worth having all on its own! If you’ve never driven over them, come now. It’s worth the trip.

He has a contract signed to finish a highway between Orotina and the Pacific. He has another to pave the road between Quepos and Dominical, which is now a real gut-wrencher. He’s gone around the world begging off on Costa Rica’s debt. He’s hot to put in the international airport just south of Dominical. He promises to eradicate poverty in 50 years. Some might say he’s a dreamer.

On the other hand, he severed ties with Taiwan, a long time very active supporter of Costa Rica, in favor of China over imports and money. Maybe that is better for Costa Rica in the long run, I don’t pretend to know. But I wouldn’t dump a loyal friend for a better looking richer more powerful murdering thug sort of friend.

He signed CAFTA into law, something else I really don’t comprehend. Judging from all the discussions about it, does anyone? But if the U.S. wanted Costa Rica to sign it, experience says it’s really only good for the U.S.

He is sending Costa Rica’s cops to the School of the Americas – now called Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (oddly, my browser detected that its security certificate was not in order) and so infamous for its tactics it has its own Watch – for training. Great. Last year, he promised he wouldn’t after doing it once, but he’s decided they really do need S.W.A.T. training. As my husband likes to point out, when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

The U.S. Coast Guard can now bring its vessels into Costa Rica’s ports. You know, for the Drug War. Which is being lost on every front by every account. But everyone should keep spending money on it, yes indeedy, and every other country needs to get in on the game. One day, maybe we can imprison and/or kill all the drug users. Then we’ll be safe from… temptation.

There’s been a rash of bank thefts lately: money taken right out of people’s accounts. Flat out stolen and the banks accept no responsibility. No FDIC. They claim account holders have given away their passwords in phishing scams. I could understand one or two dummies. But we’re talking about $8M in losses, several different banks. Seems the banks let plenty of money be transferred out of accounts in excess of the daily limits with no notice… Looks to all the rest of us like an inside job.

Speaking of inside jobs: a friend told us his banker called last week to verify that his wife was in L.A. requesting a wire transfer. Huh? Apparently a guy named Rodrigo Areyas had called the bank trying to set up a transfer, saying the wife had requested it. Well, not only was his wife sitting right beside him, who the hell was Rodrigo Areyas? They never found out.

The other REALLY fishy thing was that his account was in a corporation name. One bought from someone else, so his and his wife’s names do not appear ANYWHERE on this account. Except on the signature cards. Explain that with phishing.

Yesterday’s big news is that Costa Rica’s property assessor re-assessed all the properties on the coast and presented tax bills with some whopping increases. Like from $300 a year to $6,600 a year. That’ll take some cheer out of the holiday season. Not to mention put a damper on property sales.

It’s not so much the money, although $6,600 is a pretty major tax bill, comparable to Key West properties. Our tax bill in north Florida for 10 acres of dirt featuring the world’s most poorly constructed mobile home was less than $500 a year. Costa Rica has higher tax bills than Florida? More than the money, it’s the fact it happened overnight, with no warning. This is the very thing that scares off extranjeros [x-trahn-HAIR-ohs, foreigners] from buying property in developing nations. Change without warning, insecurity, instability.

Panama is suffering this insecurity as well: their government just reduced, without warning, the tourist visa from 90-days-easily-renewable, to 30 days and you have to apply and be approved for a renewal… If you own property in Panama you intended to visit several months of the year, you’ll spend all your time at migración applying for extensions.

So that’s all the bad stuff I can think of right now. Oh, wait. Except for this…

I just called my friend Jacqeline to ask her about a volunteer event being held tomorrow. She was pretty much a wreck because she and her family were robbed at gunpoint in her house last night. They live in a big gringo style house right outside Escazú. Her husband, his visiting friend, her 3 year old daughter and her. All home.

The thieves, three guys with guns, police scanners and ski masks, jimmied the pedestrian metal door on her driveway gate, got it open, ran in, threw themselves into her plate glass window, took six laptops (three were broken which gives her some satisfaction), a big screen TV (which they broke getting out of the house which makes her practically gleeful.) And they tied up and pistol whipped her husband and the friend in front of her daughter.

J was at the back door when they broke in the gate. She ran out and climbed over their 10′ high fence, dropped into her neighbor’s yard, calling the police on her cel phone, got a big gash in her foot along with multiple bruises and scrapes… her neighbors called the cops, too. The cops CAME – which is very good news – got there in about 20 minutes. Not bad on these roads with directions around here: "Turn left at the burned out building…"

The thieves heard the cops were coming on the scanners and left before they could take anything else.

So. This sucks big time. It was one thing when the ladrones just waited for the house to be empty. Now they are armed, mean-spirited and don’t give a shit if you are there or not. There were two regulation guys in J’s house, but they broke in anyway, ran right past the dogs. I am not liking this one little bit. Not one tiny speck.

Gifts_from_afar To make me feel completely schizo – up down up down up down – we got two boxes today. One from the Bortmans (who, you will remember, deserted us almost exactly a year ago) filled with candy and homemade cards from the kids – very sweet. And one from my dear friend Jan with books, more candy, TRISCUITS, fuzzy socks for me, two wind up Halloween toys and about 100 pairs of socks to give away. Lemme tell ya, candy and fuzzy socks are sure coming in handy right now.

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15 comments to Back Down

  • Simon

    How do you keep sane while having these things happen so close to you? When I lived in Costa Rica my house was robbed in Escazu, but luckily I got out of there and moved to Heredia shortly after. If I still had a job, I’d still be in Costa Rica. I love the country dearly, I just don’t know what to think with the escalation in violence and corruption.
    I realize that there is violence and corruption in the states, please don’t get me wrong, I just am not as afraid of being pistol-whipped and tied up in Seattle as I am in San Jose.

  • Costa Rica Jones

    This didn’t just start, yesterday. It’s been like this for at least 3-5 years or more. It’s just that your honeymoon/infatuation phase with the country is coming to an end, and you’re starting to see things as they really are.
    Now get the hell out of there, before something bad happens to you.
    What will your tipping point be? Don’t wait for it. Be pre-emptive.

  • This robbery has definitely turned our thinking around, if only for the present moment. I can tell from my writing that the honeymoon/infatuation phase is over… I hate to see that. I’m going to write more about this, so won’t belabor it here. We HATE to see the violence take this turn, Simon. We are talking now about cameras, different locks… everything has a price: living here, living there (or elsewhere). How much are we willing to pay in dollars, in sanity, in safety concerns?

  • John

    So much for infatuation.
    I think your ongoing blog on Costa Rica has really charmed many readers – certainly me for one – on the potentialities of moving to and living in Costa Rica. The armed robbery account is a story I’m sure many of us didn’t want to hear. Obviously, Costa Rica is far from perfect. Keep us posted. I’m interested in your reflections. Thanks

  • I’m scared now. If my property taxes increase to anywhere around $6,000,
    I’M OUTTA HERE! I can put up with the crime, etc. but the government robbing me with excessive taxing, I’m gone.
    La Macha in Hermosa

  • anonymous

    I don’t want to sound like the “kill joy” guy here, but with regards to taxes, the most advanced nations in the world have the most efficient (and high) tax revenues. You can’t have it both ways: if you want good infrastructure, education, gov’t services, you need to pay for this which means HIGHER TAX. Its not coincidence that Norway, Sweden, basically European countries have high taxes and have one of the top gov’t provided services. OK, you can tell that I only rent here in CR. 😮
    Crime here is bad, but NOT as bad as what I’ve seen first hand in other countries. Kidnap for ransom has not yet evolved here (which has happened to a lot of similar countries – Mexico, Columbia, etc), but with the trend, it can happen here and you know who’s the target. If the economy here sours, which I personally believe it will, crime always goes along with it. What I see here is lack of local industries that can support the “boom” they saw here. I personally think it was all just foreign capital buying houses/land here and that’s all just about dried up. Yes, I’m just your ray of sunshine, Merry Christmas.
    Now for CR Jones, can you tell us what you experience that broke you emotionally and mentally? Thanks.

  • Thank you, John. It’s not a story I wanted to hear or write about either…
    Yeah, Teri, you are in the exact right location. Sell this season. Of course, that’s always my advice: sell now.
    Mr. Killjoy, can you make up a name so I can call you something else? Unless you prefer Killjoy… I don’t mind paying for services I get, not at all. My take is a little more libertarian, though.
    I don’t mind the roads really – there are benefits to bad roads. Like fewer more durable neighbors. We home school – governments can’t educate, that’s been proven. The only government services I want are an honest police force and an honest court system. Which governments apparently can’t do either. I don’t mind paying for honest services. The countries you mention are taxed to death because those governments pay for everything. I don’t want that either. I’m picky…
    Yes, crime is not as bad here as in other places. I did hear that ransom kidnappings made a showing here, but not for very long. I also heard that what happens, since there really is no privacy in banking here – everyone in the bank knows what you have in your account, two ex-bankers told me this in person – kidnappers find out who has what in their account. They kidnap a family member and demand that amount. When you say, “I don’t have it.” They say, “You do in account #0000 at ThisBank.”
    I am the same ray of sunshine… there is always a boom after a bust and the fallout will be a rise in crime. Still evaluating. Thank you for commenting, always welcome!

  • Costa Rica Jones

    I’m in North Bogota, right now– and it’s a lot safer, here.
    And while I wouldn’t recommend Bogota as a long run retirement haven, the comparisons to Costa Rica are like apples to oranges. Here, you can live in a nice neighborhood and all of your neighbors are high class. You don’t have $300k houses sitting right next to shacks and whore houses, like you do in Costa Rica.
    And they take security here very, very seriously. Which is nice, because they’re pro-active about dealing with crime. In a nutshell: You can avoid crime (moreso) than in Costa Rica, here. Which, in a sense, is more like the States.
    With the exception of black swans, you can protect yourself by living in a good barrio. You can’t do that so much, in Costa Rica.

  • Chuck

    Sally–interesting comment about no privacy in banking. I’ve been reading about CR and a couple of sources have written about how much privacy there is in the S.A.s (corporations) that many people apparently use to protect assets and make transfers easier. I wonder if the bad guys have the same access to (1) the bank account balances of an S.A. and (2, and maybe more importantly) the names and addresses of the actual people who own the S.A. If privacy works in an S.A., maybe that’s the place to put one’s CR assets? Alternatively, I think somebody on the CR Living group recently recommended keeping most of one’s money in U.S. or other strong foreign banks.

  • CRJ, Bogota sounds lovely, but I can’t move to another foreign country. It’s either the USA or here. And for now, I choose here. And we are most likely staying in Escazú – we like where we live. There are tons of expats successfully living here… we are persistent, we will figure this out. If we absolutely can’t, we will do the next thing on the list… we’ll see.
    Chuck: the real lack of privacy stems from bank employees talking. I think I wrote about my corporate account – that is the S.A. account. The only way we are connected to this S.A. is via our books which are totally private – we are not even in the registro – and on the signature cards. So… either someone at the attorney’s office (and I really don’t think it was them for a lot of reasons). Or someone at the bank. Those are the only two ways to have gotten our name in connection with that account. I keep all the money I can now in the U.S. But for the rentista, I gotta have some here…

  • laffingbear

    “There are tons of expats living here.” That in itself is scary enough. I really enjoy reading your blog and it has made me realize that CR is not the same place when I lived there 30 years ago. To bad. I had thought to return for a while but am now reconsidering. Beside when I first went to CR it was a real adventure. Now no matter how long I stayed I would feel like a tourist visiting some hyped Central American Disneyland. That really makes me sad. What is happening to this planet where one can go and feel like you are on an adventure of a life time? Sorry to say that everywhere is becoming homogenized and overpopulated. I will always read your blogs because you write them with such honesty.

  • Central American Disney Land?? Are you kidding, what are you reading? Most areas havent seen change in 50 years (unfortunetly) I think you would only find change on the Pacific and around Escazu, very few other towns have changed at all. Especially the needed changes for the infrustructure. Now they are drinking more fecal contaminated water-including parts of Escazu and Santa Anna.
    Some change and improvement can be a blessing for these small communities.
    I wonder how the taxes are being given out. Surely the same tico neighbors dont have their taxes raised at this percentage, even if they are living on a small house on the beach.
    I keep hearing that Columbia is safer from crime than Costa Rica. Also read that other South American Countries know Costa Rica as “the Country to go” if you are a criminal as the law will do nothing but turn you loose. Yesterday in the paper a guy killed a person in San Jose, he had been arrested 399 TIMES! He never served any time but was let go each time. SICK!

  • Gee, I wrote a long response to laffing bear and it’s disappeared! Anyway, I’ll repeat: Parts of Costa Rica are disneyfied, especially compared to 10+ years ago. It was the same in Key West. When we moved there, it was a sleepy drunk little shrimping town, real biker bars, flaming drag queens, drunk shrimpers sleeping it off on the sidewalks, all the hippies checking the beaches for square grouper floating up, a steady stream of Cubans wandering ashore… a real eclectic bunch.
    Now it’s very homogenized and more and more a typical tourist town. To US. The funny thing is, to people who are just arriving on Key West, they are wowed by the island feeling… it’s still there.
    In the same way, Costa Rica is still magnificent and jungle-y. To you, having been here so long ago, it may be disneyed. To us, newly arrived, it is a slice of heaven on earth.
    But no overpopulation, no here… may feel like it in Escazú and Jacó… but it’s not so. Not yet!

  • laffingbear

    “No overpopulation, no here…may feel like it in Escazu and Jaco…but it’s not so. Not yet!” Not yet? Now theres a qualifier. Lets see in 1973 there were approximately 150K in the San Jose area. Now there are 1.5 million. Seems like overpopulation to me. But as you say its all relative.

  • Good point – I didn’t know those numbers. Although if the census-taking works anything here like the rest of the bureaucracies here, I’d seriously doubt those numbers…
    Still, my views on the overpopulated or not question comes directly from my perspective: it feels like there is so much more room here – like in Wyoming. As opposed to many many people crowded into a 2×4 miles island…

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