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These stories were published Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 2
Jo Stuart
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Why is 
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Despite massive pollution and reports to the contrary, crocodiles seem to thrive in the Río Grande de Tarcoles that drains the Central Valley.

A.M. Costa Rica file photo

Tax collector throws citizens yet another curve
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents and businesses that received notices of taxes due during the last weeks of December may have lost their right to appeal because the tax collector had a trick up his sleeve.

When faced with a demand for payment, taxpayers who do not think they owe the money have 15 working days to appeal. Outwardly, the tax collecting agency, Tributación Directa, appeared to have closed with the rest of the executive branch Dec. 24. 

But a skeleton crew kept open a small office, allowing the appeals period to expire before taxpayers could exercise their right.

The main telephones at Tributación Directa said all last week that the agency  in western San José was closed. But a messenger found that the Administrativo Tributaria de San José remained open. This is the office that actually collected unpaid tax money.

The tax collector distributed a number of demands for payment during the second full week of December. One person who received such a demand was expat businessman Garland M. Baker, who writes tax and real estate articles for A.M. Costa Rica.

Baker is involved in a dispute over taxes involving a boat used in tourism. Because the dispute has been going on since 1998, the amount involved, including interest and penalties, is more than $100,000.

Baker said that the company he represents does not owe the tax, and he can show an official document from Tributación and also the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes saying the boat should not be taxed.

Nevertheless, the collecting arm of Tributación has been trying to get the money and served 

Baker with a collection notice Dec. 13. He had 15 working days to file an appeal with the Tribunal Fiscal Administrativo, an internal appeals panel.

Baker thought that his appeal had a deadline of Jan. 10 because he figured in the governmental vacation days. Instead, because the small office was open, his appeal is due today. Had he not filed an appeal, as he did Monday, he would have lost the case by default.

"If I had gone on vacation, I would have lost the case," he said Monday.

Baker termed the tax agency’s conduct duplicitous and said he wondered how many other taxpayers will miss their deadlines simply because they do not know Tributación managed to keep the clock running on appeals.

Baker said he found out the office was open because an aide called a telephone number printed in small letters in a footnote on the demand for payment.  A messenger later verified the office was working regular business hours.

The Dec. 25-Jan. 2 vacation for executive branch workers was ordered by President Abel Pacheco’s cabinet in December. Presumably employees in the bill-collecting unit are considered essential as are physicians, police and firemen.

Many businesses close for Christmas and New Year’s vacation, and lawyers, accountants and other professional help is scarce.

This the second time in a month that Tributación caught taxpayers with unexpected deadlines. The agency applied an obscure part of the law to require annual income tax reports to be filed by Dec. 15. The usual deadline has been Dec. 31. There was no publicity on the change, and a fine is levied for late filing.

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Small Nicoya community
shocked by 5 murders

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The newest Costa Rican mass murderer is a 32-year-old taxi driver and the unlikely scene was in the town of Río Grande, which is about 15 kms. (9 miles) north of Paquera on the east shore of the Nicoya peninsula.

The man, identified by police as Douglas Araya, went on a shooting spree late Sunday and early Monday. He killed five persons, including two women who had born him children. One man was wounded and is hospitalized.

Araya ended the rampage by climbing a tree on the beach and shooting himself in the head. That’s where police found him some five hours after the rampage started.

The dead were identified as 

Daris Jiménez, 22, Blanca Madrigal, 48, Ana Patricia Ruiz, 27, Rosario Céspedes, 49, and Geovanni Oporto, 34.

Araya seems to have gone to various homes in the community and killed one or two persons at each stop. Ms. Ruiz and Ms. Jiménez each had a child by Araya, police said.

Investigators were hard-pressed to find a single motive for the crimes. It appears that Araya killed Ms. Jiménez first about midnight and then went around settling scores he had with other persons.

At one point he simply fired round after round into a house without hurting anyone. He used an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle. 

Officials said he appears to have broken into the home of Céspedes, shot him and then shot Céspedes’ wife, Blanca Madrigal. She died at the scene and Céspedes died later at Hospital Monseñor Sanabria in Puntarenas.

At one point he shot up a hall where a dance was in progress and wounded one man.

Paquera, the nearest major community to the south, is the place where a ferry boat from Puntarenas docks on its trip to the Nicoya Peninsula. It is well-known by tourists. Despite being across the Gulf of Nicoya from Puntarenas, the southern half of the peninsula is in the Province of Puntarenas.

Fuerza Pública officers came to the community in platoon strength in anticipation of a sweep through the heavily forested area to find the suspect. That kind of operation was cut short by the discovery of Araya’s body near the beach.

Young U.S. visitor dies
in quadracycle crash

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A  young tourist died while on a quadra bike tour in Jacó.  The victim, Bryan James Avery, 13, was on the tour Dec. 28 with his father and two brothers, said an employee of the Cruz Roja. 

Avery is believed to have lost control of the four-wheeled motorized bike he was on, veering off the road and plumeted down a 20-meter (65-foot) ravine that ran alongside the road. 

As this accident occured during the Christmas holidays, information about the incident was not made immediately available to reporters. 

Avery’s was one of 42 deaths in Costa Rica during the holiday period. Nine lives were claimed on the roads of Costa Rica. Ten people were murdered between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2 with two separate incidents with knives in Pérez Zeledón causing the deaths of Alberto Zarate Meza, 39 and Alvaro Rodriguez Harra, 55. 

Of the fatalities eight were caused by drowning, the youngest victim being Cristian Morales Chaves, 9, from Valle La Estrella. On Jan, 2 alone, four persons died from drowning. Andres Alvarado Fonseca, 16, drowned in Puntarenas. Orlando Torrentes Jimenez, 38, drowned in Liberia. Diego Alvarado Sandoval, 23, drowned in Nicoya, and Jose Francisco Gonzalez Vargas, 59, drowned in Sarapiqui. 

Included in the toll are the deaths of three of the four women and a man murdered in the Nicoya Peninsula Sunday night and early Monday morning. 
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Crocodiles in the Tarcoles appear to withstand the massive pollution

Tough Tarcoles wildlife thrive despite river's pollution
By Clair-Marie Robertson 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Reports last month that the Río Grande de Tarcoles is contaminated with a strange, dark substance may be more complicated than they first appear. 

"The Río Tarcoles has always had high levels of pollution," said Margerita Silva from the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnologia. "The black substance is raw sewage," said Ms. Silva. The center is affiliated with the University of Costa Rica 

At the beginning of December the Rural Delegation of Puntarenas reported that several residents had seen a black substance in the Río Grande de Tarcoles. In addition, the residents said that they had also seen several dead fish and crocodiles. 

The river is famed for its crocodiles. Tourists flock to a bridge near the mouth of the river on the coastal highway just north of Jacó to watch the creatures basking in the sun.

Ms. Silva developed a thesis on pollution levels in the Tarcoles. She said that during her study she did not find any crocodiles or wildlife that had died as a direct consequence of the pollution in the river. She also said that although the river has a high degree of contamination, the crocodile population has not suffered as a consequence. 

In fact, the river basin is full of wildlife, including birds, that have daily contact with the river.

Ms. Silva said that she believes that reports about residents seeing a black substance in the water is nothing new. "A lot of the people that live by the river do not have septic tanks and throw their household waste directly into the river without it being treated," Ms. Silva said. 

"Waste that is discharged into the river by factories is treated and is not as harmful as the untreated sewage that is being thrown into the river," said Ms. Silva. She said that the river and the surrounding area have been part of pollution control projects that have reduced its contamination levels in the past few years. 

Much of the pollution has been blamed on runoff from coffee producing areas. One estimate five years ago was that some 33 tons of waste are dumped into the river each day.

John Erb owns property close to the Río Grande de Tarcoles. "40 or 50 years ago the river was so clean that you could drink straight out of it," Erb said, adding that the factories and the sewage from San José have contributed to the rivers high levels of pollution although people still throw a lot of rubbish into the river. 

Erb said that he has not seen many dead crocodiles in the river. "I saw one dead crocodile a few weeks back, it could have died from anything a gunshot or even old age. The river is not as polluted as it used to be." 

Otto Guevara Guth from the Movimiento Liberatario said that although the current government attempts to portray Costa Rica as an ecological tourist destination, the Río Grande Tarcoles is known as the most polluted river in Central America. 

After it enters the Pacific the polluted waters contribute to reducing the water quality in the lower Gulf of Nicoya.

The Fuerza Pública from Puntarenas has put the case of possible pollution in the hands of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. Employees from the ministry have said that they are investigating the reports regarding contamination in the Río Grande de Tarcoles. The holidays have delayed any report.

Vendor stalls cleared off sidewalks in the downtown
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Municipal policemen and workers with heavy equipment moved in early Monday to destroy stalls of street vendors along Avenidas 1 and 8. The action was the long-promised eviction from the public right-of-way.

A front-end loader and crews of police made short work of the roughly constructed stalls, most with corrugated steel roofs.

There was no organized protest from the estimated 450 vendors who made their living selling fruit, vegetables, tools and items of clothing from the stands for the last 10 years. Hardly any were present. However, later in the day the vendors marched through the street and storeowners pulled down their security curtains.

Vendors promised more action for today. They said 

they plan to march along the pedestrian boulevard in the downtown, selling their products as they go.

Johnny Araya, San José mayor, has long pushed for clearing the vendors from the public sidewalks. The municipality was successful in two Sala IV constitutional court cases brought by the vendors. He met with a delegation of vendors Monday but said later the city would not budge.

A  similar action by the city 10 years ago led to extensive street violence. Vendors now are waiting for the resolution of yet another Sala IV appeal.

City officials say that in addition to blocking pedestrian and vehicle traffic, the closely packed stalls provide a hunting ground for criminals. Television stations have shown for years tapes of persons being robbed in daytime among the stalls by criminals with no interference from the vendors.

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