San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mail Delivered Six Years Late

REMEMBER that book your aunt in Spain sent you years ago that never made it to your post office box?

It may have arrived – along with hundreds of other six-year-old packages in various stages of mustiness discovered recently in a customs warehouse in Cartago, east of San José.

The chief of customs procedures with the Central Post Office stumbled over them, stored in 143 sacks, during an inspection earlier this year, and they were shipped to the Central Post Office in late February for delivery.

After some delays for taking inventory and planning the legalities, their delivery began March 29 and not many are left, according to the post office, Correos de Costa Rica.

WHAT happened exactly is still unclear.

The bags arrived in Costa Rica in 1998 by boat in a consolidated shipment, some from Spain and the rest from Great Britain. They had whiled six to nine months on the sea and in storage, the average time such shipments take to reach their recipients, but in this case, they never left the fiscal warehouse.

The packages were sent by low priority mail and most of them contain books and magazines, according to Susy Moreno, chief of the postal service.

Because of its low cost and the type of content that can weather months in a box, that type of delivery is most often favored by students studying abroad, she said.

UNTIL the inspection in February, the postal system was unaware of the problem. Moreno said neither the Spanish post office nor the customs warehouse in Cartago alerted Correos de Costa Rica to the arrival of the shipment, and the warehouse, which is operated separately from the postal system, left the bags in storage for more than five years.

“It is difficult to determine what happened,” Moreno said. “But this is a sporadic case – it’s not normal.”

Officials at the warehouse say they are not to blame.

Gustavo González, general manager of the customs warehouse, said it is not his office’s responsibility to notify the postal service of the deliveries that are stored there.

“IT’S not the warehouse’s problem,” he said. “It’s the transporter’s problem” –in this case the Spanish shipping company that brought the mail. The name of the company was not provided.

Nestor Calderón, delivery manager for the postal service, blamed the warehouse for the mix-up, but said Correos de Costa Rica has sent a note of apology with each package explaining the problem.

The notes blame the Spanish post office and the warehouse.

“It is physically impossible for the Costa Rican postal service to know if there are mail shipments in a certain customs warehouse,” the note reads. “The warehouse was obligated to notify the Postal Service when it received the shipment, which it did not do.”

THE Postal Service may have paid compensations to those who requested them after their packages were lost. In those cases, according to Mario Parra, chief of the postal service’s legal department, the recipients of those payments will have to return the money before they can receive the package.

But according to Calderón, none of the recipients so far has had to repay any money.

Parra also recommended in a letter to Moreno that the postal service initiate a program of scheduled warehouse visits, and that it look into changing the package handling system at the nation’s ports.


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