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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 9           E-mail us
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Intrusive tax form and more woes for U.S. expats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. expats are facing double tax trouble through twin developments in Washington.

On one hand, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service seeks to force U.S. citizens overseas to outline their financial lives as part of the annual tax filings if they have overseas assets worth more than $50,000.

Less likely but still possible is a proposal in Washington that would eliminate the foreign earned income exclusion that lets U.S. citizens shelter up to $91,500 this year in overseas income.

Three expat organizations, the American Citizens Abroad, the Association of American Residents Overseas and the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas have submitted comments criticizing the proposed reporting proposals.

The Internal Revenue Service has created a draft of a Form 8938 that U.S. citizens would have to file along with their annual tax returns.

"The form requires full details concerning any financial account maintained by a foreign financial institution, any stock or security issued by a non-U.S. person, any financial instrument or contract held for investment that has an issuer or counterparty other than a U.S. person, and/or any interest in a foreign entity," according to  American Citizens Abroad.

In Costa Rica that would mean any U.S. citizen who has deposited money in a bank here to maintain a rentista residency or anyone who holds a mortgage on property.

The deadline for comments on the form was Jan. 3, but because the form only became available just before Christmas, the expat organizations are asking for an extension.

The questions are similar to those that U.S. owners of Costa Rican corporations have to fill out each year, but the requirement would extend the requirement to all overseas Americans with $50,000 or more in overseas financial assets.

The Internal Revenue Service estimates that the form would add about an hour to a person's tax reporting time, but many U.S. expats have complex financial lives and require the aid of accountants, which costs additional money.

A copy of the proposed form is available HERE.

The foreign income tax exemption has been around in one form or another since the 1920s. In the United States, the Commission for Responsible Federal Budgets, which describes itself as "a bipartisan, non-profit organization committed to educating the public about issues that have significant fiscal policy impact," has suggested its elimination.

The tax exemption, known as Section 911, is
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 designed to offset the competitive disadvantage U.S. taxpayers face working abroad, according to a 2005 analysis by Price Waterhouse Cooper. Congress was concerned that tax rules enacted in 1978 made it more expensive to hire Americans abroad as compared to foreign citizens, reduced U.S. exports, made U.S. business less competitive abroad, and were so complex that many Americans employed abroad found it necessary to use professional tax preparers, the analysis said.

Each year U.S. citizens with legitimate residencies abroad can exclude an escalating amount of foreign-earned income from U.S. taxes. The income must be earned, and the taxpayer still has to pay Social Security and other social charges.

Many expats who work online move overseas to avail themselves of this exemption, but the law requires them to be residents, so those living here on a tourist visa do not qualify.

The Commission for Responsible Federal Budgets estimated that the cash-strapped U.S. government would bring in $6 billion if the exemption were eliminated.

American Citizens Abroad said it estimates that eliminating the exemption would in fact bring in perhaps $700 million in additional tax revenue in 2011 from Americans working in countries with tax rates lower than the United States. This is a far cry from the committee's calculation, it said.

In addition, the American Citizens Abroad said in a letter to the committee that the exemption was temporarily eliminated in the late 1970s, to disastrous effect. Tens of thousands of overseas jobs for Americans were eliminated in the construction and engineering industries, it said, adding that in the face of this major collapse in jobs for American citizens, Congress quickly reintroduced the exemption.

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Medical tourism to take
hit under new tax plan

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government's new tax proposal will hit hard at medical tourism. Unless lawmakers exempt foreign patients from the proposed value added tax, medical services here will be 15 percent higher than they are now.

The Chinchilla administration is proposing a value added tax that covers professional services. These services are not covered now by the existing 13 percent sales tax, although certain materials used by professionals do carry a sales tax.

The value added tax would cover all professional medical services, including dental as well as hospital stays.

The goal of the administration is to raise taxes equal to 2.5 percent of the gross national product, substantially more than citizens pay now. The value-added tax is just one of the several new levies that the administration seeks.

Costa Rica is competitive with other nations offering medical services for foreigners. The country has an advantage because of its geographical location not far from the United States where many medical tourists originate. Other big players in medical tourism are India and the Philippines.

The administration is expected to present all of its proposals to lawmakers Monday. However, general concepts have been mentioned.

Defensoría wants to see
system for exchange rates

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Defensoría de los Habitantes has launched a probe into the fluctuating exchange rate between the Costa Rican colon and the U.S. dollar.

The independent ombudsman agency said it has asked the Banco Central to provide information on this system that went into effect in 2006.

Until then, the Banco Central set the daily exchange rate with a tiny daily devaluation. The value of the dollar against the colon has fallen 15 percent in a year because the market now sets the exchange rate.

The Banco Central merely maintains the range in which the dollar is allowed to fluctuate. The floor now is 500 colons, although the buy rate for colons had dipped below this slightly before Christmas.

The Defensoría said it wanted to get into the technicalities of the exchange rate range. It said it wanted to protect against significant fluctuations in the value of the dollar versus the colon.

The Defensoría also said that it was seeking information from the Superintendencia General de Seguros about any proposals to register insurance products that would protect against changes in the exchange rate. Costa Rica does not have an effective futures market for money, although persons handling quantities of dollars could hedge their income by making investments in U.S. commodity markets. Eventually the Defensoría will issue a report on its findings.

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Some of the marijuana plants that were confiscated

Judicial agents pull plug
on Jacó hydroponics setup

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The folks in Jacó might be a little short of their favorite smokes this weekend. Judicial agents said they nabbed a man who had packets of marijuana ready for sale.

The arrest came in a home between Jacó and Playa Hermosa on the central Pacific coast. The Poder Judicial identified the suspect by the last names of Villegas Obando.

Agents said they found 2.7 kilos of chopped marijuana and 303 plants. They were being grown in the home with artificial light and hydroponics, agents said. They said they received a tip about the marijuana growing operation.

Agents also confiscated two vehicles they said had been reported stolen in Heredia. Prosecutors were seeking six months of preventative detention for the 40-year-old man, the Poder Judicial said.

coke in beans can
Ministerio de Gobernación,
Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Cans of beans were in the suspect's suitcase

Canadian had two cans
that did not contain beans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 34-year-old Canadian tourist identified by the last name of Hamiliton could be someone who does not know beans about smuggling. The man was detained at Liberia's Daniel Oduber airport just before boarding a charter flight to Vancouver, Canada.

Anti-drug police became suspicious when they found cans of beans in his luggage. They said he appeared nervous, but the possibility exists that the cans did not weigh the same as those from the supermarket. After getting a warrant, police opened the cans to find 439 grams of cocaine, they said.

Osa's mystery gunmen still
hold property they took over

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tactical police are expected to make their move early today to detain a group of persons dressed in military style who took over property on Drake Bay in the Osa Peninsula. The intruders evicted a caretaker and his family early Monday and have maintained control of housing and property since.

Fuerza Pública officers have been reluctant to approach the home because they are outgunned. Judicial agents also are said to be nearby.  Some police officers are dismissing the situation as a property dispute. The owner, a U.S. citizen, is not on the peninsula now.

Major San José television stations ran video of the dwelling and some of the occupants. A few appeared to be carrying AK-47 weapons which are illegal in Costa Rica. They seemed to make no effort to hide themselves.

Sometimes property owners hire gunmen to take over property particularly when the local courts are ineffective. The area of the home invasion is remote and on the extreme western edge of the peninsula.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 9
Latigo K-9

Wind and rains lash Caribbean, valley and northern zone
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rains spawned by a cold front that moved in from the north have flooded sections of the province of Limón.

The national emergency commission said that it has issued an alert for the region that extends from Sarapiquí in the north to Talamanca in the south.

In addition the commission reported roofs torn off at least 10 homes in Pococí. Informal reports said there was extensive wind damage to banana plants in the area. A few families were in public shelters.

A lesser alert was issued for San Carlos, Los Chiles, Guatuso and Upala.

Rain in the Caribbean mountains caused levels to rise in the rios Reventazón, Sixaola and Chirripó. Higher levels caused flooding in Matina, Estrada, Baltimore and some of the communities in the Talamanca. Some banana 
plantations were flooded, too, said the commission.
The Cantón de Turrialba was hard hit with flooding and landslides, said the commission. A slide Tuesday night. closed the main Ruta 32 between San José and Limón for 16 hours north of the capital, said highway officials.

The cold front moved in from México's Yucatan and is expected to influence the weather through Saturday.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that gusts were reported up to 60 kph in the Central Valley. But there was little rain. Elsewhere there were gusts of 80 kph. That's from 37 to 50 mph.

During the 24 hours ending at 7 p.m. Wednesday there were rains of up to 50 millimeters in the Caribbean mountains, the institute said. That was about 2 inches.
The weather report added that there would be high winds in Guanacaste as well as the Central Valley and the mountains today. The weather institute urged precautions.

Hyatt affiliate willl manage new hotel in Curridabat center
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Hyatt Hotels Corp. said Wednesday that an affiliate has signed an agreement with Hotelera Pinares, S. A., a subsidiary of Strategic Hospitality Investments Corp., to manage Hyatt Place San Jose Pinares, a Hyatt Place hotel in Curridabat.

The new property, the second Hyatt Place under development in Latin America, will be part of Plaza Momentum Pinares, a mixed-use commercial complex being developed on the east side of San José that will include an approximately 97,000 square foot office tower, a 48,000 square foot medical building, a movie theatre, and shopping mall with 75,000 square feet of retail space.

It is located in Pinares de Curridabat north of the Autopista Florencio del Castillo and just west of the Hipermás store.

A Hyatt affiliate will manage the 120-room Hyatt Place, which is expected to open in mid-2012. It will be the first internationally branded hotel on the east side of San Jose.

“Hyatt is actively looking to grow its Hyatt Place brand throughout Latin America and we are excited to be working with Strategic Hospitality Investments Corporation
on our first Hyatt Place project in Central America,” said Pat McCudden, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts’ senior vice president of development for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Hyatt Place hotels are under development in the U.S., India, and Panama. Hyatt’s current Latin America portfolio includes hotels in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

Momentum Pinares is being developed through a joint venture with Desarrolladores 506, a company with over 30 years of experience in urban design and construction in Costa Rica, said Hyatt.

Strategic Hospitality Investments Corporation is part of the hotel division managed by Grupo Cuestamoras, which is engaged in the development of a hotel portfolio in Costa Rica and other countries in Latin America. Strategic Hospitality Investments Corp. has engaged Sinergo Development Group to develop its hotel portfolio.

Sinergo Development Group has over 20 years of experience in the hotel development and asset management business, Hyatt said.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. is headquartered in Chicago.

Hospital San Juan de Dios invites public to nativity event
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats who want to experience the Costa Rican custom of Rezar al Niño can participate today at 4 p.m. at Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Rezar al Niño is a prayer service and cultural event that takes place when the Christmas nativity scene is removed.

The hospital said that patients, employees and visitors will
 take part in the event. It described the event as a mixture of spirituality, tradition and social participation.

The event is organized by the Damas Voluntarias of the hospital. The hospital's nativity scene is in the parking area adjacent to Paseo Colón.

The hospital said that this tradition probably is the oldest there. A.M. Costa Rica published a news article on the Costa Rican custom a week ago.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 9

Cell telephone contracts move foward to executive branch

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As expected, the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones has recommended to the executive branch that the two participants in a spectrum auction be given concessions.

They are Claro CR Telecomunicaciones, which will pay $75 million for frequencies in the 1800 and 2100 MHz range, and Azules y Platas, which is offering $95 million for frequencies in the 850, 1800 and 2100 MHz range.

The concessions are to be for 15 years.

The executive branch now has 10 days to analyze the proposals and make a decision. If both companies are approved for a concession, the contracts go to the Contraloría de la Republica for a fiscal once over.

The money earned from the concessions will go to the Fondo Nacional de Telecomunicaciones to finance projects
of universal access, said the Superintendencia.

This is the latest step in the long-awaited opening of the telecom market to private competition. A third proposed concession did not receive bids, and it is up to the executive branch to tell the Superintendencia on how to proceed.

Azules y Platas is the local name for the Spanish firm Telefónica. Claro is a subsidiary of the Mexican América Móvil.

Both companies have said they want to be in operation before the year is out.

Costa Rican officials have expressed optimism even though they were surprised that there were not more bidders for the concessions. Firms that were eligible were those that already were well-established in other countries and had experience in setting up a cell phone system from scratch.

Phone company seeks compensation for bribe injuries

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is seeking compensation from Alcatel for the corruption involved in the awarding of a contract for GSM cell phone service.

The state company said Wednesday that it had filed a case against Alcatel-Lucent in a Florida court. This is the case in which former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echevarría stands accused of corruption.

A former Alcatel CIT executive got 30 months in prison two years ago for engaging in the elaborate bribery scheme to obtain a mobile telephone contract.

The man admitted making more than $2.5 million in bribe payments to Costa Rican officials, in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He is Christian Sapsizian, 62, who has cooperated with authorities here.

The U.S. courts had jurisdiction because until Nov. 30, 2006, Alcatel was a French telecommunications company whose American depositary receipts were traded on the New York Stock Exchange. According to plea documents, Sapsizian was employed by Alcatel or one of its subsidiaries for more than 20 years and at the time the corrupt payments were made, was the assistant to the vice president of the Latin American region for Alcatel.

Sapsizian admitted that between February 2000 and September 2004, he conspired with Edgar Valverde
Acosta, a Costa Rican citizen who was Alcatel’s senior country officer in Costa Rica, and others to make more than $2.5 million in bribe payments to Costa Rican officials to obtain a telecommunications contract on behalf of Alcatel.

According to information in plea documents, the payments were made to a board director for Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE, which was responsible for awarding all telecommunications contracts. The director has been identified in Costa Rica as José Antonio Lobo.
Lobo is testifying for the state in the Rodríguez trial.

Alcatel was awarded a mobile telephone contract by ICE in August 2001 valued at $149 million.

The trial against the former president and others recessed Monday while judges study documents provided by U.S. prosecutors.  The trial was in the late stages when prosecutors sought to introduce new evidence. However, the documents have to be translated into Spanish. The tribunal is expected to reconvene Monday.

Alcatel is being sued by the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said it would not comment on the contents of the documents that were in the hands of the trial court here. They are presumed to summarize the U.S. investigation against Sapsizian, who is known to have identified the highly placed Costa Rican government official who benefited from the bribe scheme.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 9

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Haiti pauses to remember
major quake a year ago

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Wednesday was the first anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, one of the worst catastrophes ever in the Western hemisphere.  Tens of thousands of people were killed, one million were left homeless, and much of the country is still in ruins.  Schools were closed and shops opened late across the country as many took time to honor the dead and remember. 

Thousands gathered for a Catholic Mass in the shadow of the destroyed national cathedral in downtown Port au Prince.  One year later, worshipers remembered the day the earth shook, buildings crumbled, and lives changed forever. 

More than 200,000 died from Haiti's devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake.  And more than 1 million were left homeless. 

Pierre San Fritz Robert is one of them.  In his arms was 2-year-old Christela, the daughter of a neighbor killed in the quake.  A large raised scar covers half of Christela's left thigh.  She was scorched by a pot of boiling water as she fell from her mother's arms when the quake hit.  Amid all the tragedy of the last year, Pierre's still thankful.

"In a way it is a great day for me," he said. "I can not complain because it is a miracle from God, it is a miracle from above that I am still alive."

The Mass was held under a tent in front of the cathedral ruins.  Most people wore white, a symbol of mourning in Haiti.  The front row was filled with Haitian dignitaries and political candidates.  Rapper and short-lived presidential candidate Wyclif Jean, sat on the the end. 

Some people stood in front of a large cross on the side of the church, waved their hands back and forth and prayed aloud.  One man lay flat, in the rubble, a rosary lay flat on his chest.  Arms stretched, eyes wide open, he prayed to the heavens. 

The theme of the Mass was about renewal.  But most Haitians are fed up with the lack of progress.  According to aid groups only 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared in the city.  Estimates are that 20 million cubic meters of debris remains in the city, enough to fill dump trucks half way around the world. 

The political process is marred in corruption charges and the cholera epidemic continues to take lives. 

Sitting on what was left of the steps of the cathedral, Posper Racine said the only good thing about the past year is he is still alive.

"Life is not getting better in Haiti," he said. "Nothing has changed in the past year, if anything things are getting worse.  There is no hope."

Several blocks away Haitian President René Preval and former U.S. president Bill Clinton attended a ceremony to lay the first stone of an earthquake memorial.  The memorial will be built on the site of the destroyed national tax office.  Many of the workers were killed.

President Preval laid a wreath at the site honoring all the country's dead.  Then he laid the first stone of the memorial.  White balloons were released into the air.

The observation of a national "moment of silence" was part of the day's observances.

Escazu Christian

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 9

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World Health agency tried
to defeat malaria resistance

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization is calling for urgent action to prevent the spread of resistance to artemisinin-based combination therapies, the most effective treatments for malaria. World Health is launching a new action plan to protect what it calls the most potent weapon in treating this deadly disease.

The discovery of resistance to artemisinins along the Cambodia-Thailand border in 2008 set off the alarm bells. This is because these medicines are the most effective treatment for falciparum malaria, the most deadly form of the disease.

Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said artemisinin, in combination with other anti-malarial drugs, increases the likelihood of killing the malaria parasites.

“The usefulness of these therapies is now under threat… over the past several decades, we have lost one front-line medicine after another as resistance has developed, become established, and then rapidly spread internationally, making all these drugs useless," said Dr. Chan. "And this is no exaggeration for me to say that the consequences of wide-spread resistance to artemisinins would be catastrophic.” 

World Health notes tremendous progress has been made over the past decade in the fight against malaria. It estimates the number of malaria cases has fallen by more than half in more than 43 countries.  

A recent analysis in 34 African countries finds more than 730,000 lives have been saved between 2000 and 2010, nearly three quarters of them since 2006. This is when the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and artemesinin-combination therapies became more widespread.

Public health officials say many lives will be lost if the emergence of artemisinin resistance is not stopped dead in its tracks. 

Coordinator for the Global Malaria Program, Pascal Ringwald, said that the five-step global action plan aims to do just that. “What we try to do is to try to stop the spread of resistance… using better treatment, doing a lot of vector control and education of the population. We must also increase the monitoring of anti-malaria drug efficacity. This means that we have to see if the drug is still effective and if artemesinin is not emerging in any other places.” 

Ringwald said it is important to improve diagnostic testing to make sure people are being treated for malaria and not for fever arising from other causes. He said new anti-malarial medicines must be developed to eventually replace the artemisinins.

And finally, Ringwald said the success of the global plan will depend on getting the money needed to implement its measures. That amount comes to $175 million a year.

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