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(506) 223-1327            Published Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 12             E-mail us    
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Proposed property tax contains many complications
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A proposed law to tax houses and condos requires homeowners to conduct what amounts to a formal appraisal of their property and then establishes fines if the final figures do not agree with an official assessment.

This is the tax that the Arias Administration hopes to pass. The money will be used to eliminate slums, according to the administration.

Just 10 percent of the money generated would be used for administration, according to the law, but a close reading of the draft shows a series of complex procedures is created.

The taxes apply to homes valued at more than 100 million colons, some $193,000 at today's exchange rate. Homeowners with property valued between 100 million colones and 750 million colons will pay a quarter of 1 percent in taxes. For a 100 million colon property the tax would be 250,000 colons or about $480.

The rate increases to 0.35 percent for properties valued btween 750 million colons and 1.25 billion colons. That's from $1.44 million to $2.4 million. The tax on properties between 1.25 billion and 1.750 billion colons is 0.45 percent. Properties over 1.75 billion colons ($3.38 million) are taxed at 0.55 percent.

The tax covers any property that is used for housing permanently or occasionally or recreationally, including swimming pools, gyms, green areas, sports areas like tennis courts, among others.

Government properties, properties of a public character and church properties used for worship are exempt.

The appraisals by homeowners, conforming to something called the Manual de Valores Base Unitario por Tipología Constructiva, are supposed to take place within three months of the law's effective date. Then every three years property owners will have to file their sworn statements of estimated value.

One problem in Costa Rica is that the sales price of property usually is reported at a very low amount in public documents, making a serious appaisal impossible. Nevertheless, the proposed law says value is the price a willing seller would pay and a willing buyer would accept, a traditional definition of value.

After a property owner swears to the value, the Dirección General de Tributación can check the value. If officials say the value is off more than 10 percent, there are fines and interest.

If the proeprty owner fails to swear to a value, Tributación will set one and then issue fines and penalties.

 
The law also creates an obligation for workers at the Registo Nacional where ownership papers are filed to provide Tributación information on any conditions or changes in a property that causes a change in value.

Also obligated would be the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos, an agency that is usually involved in approving building plans and occupancies.

The law does not seem to include any appeal process whereby a property owner can challenge the values handed down by government officials. There also does not seem to be an expiration date when the tax would be eliminated when and if slums are cleared. Nor is there a clause to adjust the tax scale to the devaluation of the colon.

Once collected, taxes will be turned over to the  Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda, which presumably will build more houses for those now living in slums.

The measure was discussed Tuesday in the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales.  Guillermo Zúñiga, minister of Hacienda, the budget and tax-collecting arm of the government, was there as well as Fernando Zumbado, minister of Vivienda, and Enio Rodríguez, manager of the  Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda.

Zúñiga estimated that the tax will bring in from 10 billion to 29 billion colons a year, from $19.3 to $56 million.

Zumbado said that slums have increased by 67 percent since the 1990s when there were about 13,800 such housing units. Now there are 40,000 he said.

Rodríguez said that the bank can construct houses for 1,600 families a year and that officials would need 30 years to solve the current problem. He said that is why he backs the special tax.

Meanwhile, the proposed law says that the taxes would not be deductible on the annual personal or corporate income tax.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 12

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Steady illegal flow blamed
on trafficking network


By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As many as four to five illegal immigrants per week may have passed into Canada and the United States because of a Peruvian human trafficking network.

That is the estimate of Mario Zamora, the Costa Rican director general de Migración. He said that officials do not yet know how long the organization has been operating, but that it is certain that the network is responsible for the movement of illegal immigrants into Canada and the United States.

Saturday Costa Rican officials arrested Aldo Cramer del Risco Manzanares, a systems manager for the Peruvian prosecutor's office, and his alleged accomplice, César Moreno Silva. Both men are Peruvian and are being investigated for any involvement in the human trafficking ring, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. 

Moreno, officials said, was attempting to lead four Peruvians into Canada using fake passports that indicated they were from either Spain or Guatemala.  He was detained at Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela.

Costa Rican officials were investigating Cramer due to information that the Policía Especial de Migración received from the International Police Agency in Peru about the human trafficking network, the report said.  He and a women with the last name Otoya were arrested on Saturday at a hotel in downtown San José.

The immigration director explained that the network was creating fake documents from passports that were stolen from foreigners in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.  The pictures and names were then altered to match the Peruvian candidates, who paid anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for the identification, reported Zamora.  He added that Costa Rica is a hot spot for European passport theft.

Investigators believe the network allegedly has ties to a Chinese mafia that has been smuggling Chinese citizens to Peru and then eventually to North America, reported the immigration director.

Kites will be flying again
at Cartago festival Jan. 21


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The second consecutive kite exposition in the Centro de la Cultura in Cartago will be running from Jan. 21 until Feb. 2

The exposition will be featuring more than 60 different kite styles, including snakes, hexagon, cylinders, airplanes, and even a clown face.  There are also going to be kite-making workshops available for both kids and adults.  The kites will be mostly made out of bamboo and recycled fabrics, said a report from the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

Walter Solano, one of the organizers, said that while kite flying is still customary here, building the kites is a skill that has been disappearing.  Solano has long been a kite enthusiast and a frequent visitor to Parque de la Paz, one of San Jose''s more popular kite flying locations.

The inauguration, or raising of the kites, is being held at 10 a.m. on Jan. 21 in Plaza Major, Cartago.  After the opening, the exposition will be running until Feb. 2, Monday until Friday, between 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Livestock fair this weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The quarterly livestock fair in Legua de Puriscal is set to run from Thursday through to Sunday, announced organizers.

The event will feature a cattle market, local food, concerts, horse and dog exhibitions, karaoke, and a parade.  The fair was organized by the Unión de Productores Agropecuarios de Puriscal, an organization that represents small- to medium-sized farms in the regions of Puriscal, Turrubares and Mora. 

Organizers said that the event is also important to the area because it represents the reactivation of the stockbreeding for the farmers.  The union has also been involved in projects that attempt to improve the living conditions for farmers of the region. 

Fake AOL spammer found
guilty by California jury


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

In the first U.S. jury conviction under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, a California man has been found guilty of sending thousands of e-mails to America Online users that appeared to be from AOL’s billing department and prompted the customers to send personal and credit card information, which he used to make unauthorized purchases.

The man, Jeffrey Brett Goodin, 45, was found guilty of operating a sophisticated “phishing” scheme. The jury found that Goodin operated an Internet-based scheme designed to obtain personal and credit card information by tricking people into believing that they were providing information to a legitimate business.

The evidence presented during a week-long trial showed that Goodin used several compromised Earthlink accounts to send e-mails to AOL users. Those e-mails appeared to be from AOL’s billing department and urged the users to update their AOL billing information or lose service. The e-mails referred the AOL customers to one of several webpages where the victims could input their personal and credit information. Goodin controlled those Web pages, where he collected the information that allowed him and others to make unauthorized charges on the AOL users’ credit or debit cards.

In addition to the anti-SPAM Act conviction, Goodin was convicted of 10 other counts, including wire fraud, aiding and abetting the unauthorized use of an access device (credit card), possession of more than 15 unauthorized access devices, misuse of the AOL trademark, attempted witness harassment and failure to appear in court. Goodin faces a statutory maximum sentence of 101 years in federal prison. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 12






An enhanced photo of Avenida 4 shows how designers hope it will look. The inset shows how it looks now with bus traffic and gray asphalt. The bricks that have been proposed are similar to those in the Avenida Central mall now.



Construction work kicks off on Avenida 4 pedestrian mall
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Construction on a new pedestrian boulevard in downtown San José started Tuesday, and Mayor Johnny Araya was on hand to take care of some of the preliminary dirty work.


A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Antonio Ramírez Corrales
San Jose's mayor takes crack at pavement.
The walkway is planned to stretch 16 city blocks along Avenida 4 replacing the current road entirely.  Two other no-car zones are also being created that will run perpendicular, one along Calle 3 and the other along Calle 2 running between Avenida 2 and Avenida 6.

The construction is scheduled for completion exactly a year after the starting date, and the budget is set at 1.6 million euros, about $2.1 million or 1.1 billion colons.  Half of the funding has been donated by the European Union and the other half is being put forward by the Municipalidad de San José.

The money donated by the European Union is part of San Jose's metropolitan urban improvement plan entitled “San José Posible,” and the boulevard construction marks the first major step, said a report from the Municipalidad de San José.

The municipality announced that officials expect the project to revitalize the area's commerce, boost investments from real estate agencies, and also to create a stronger capital center that is more functional, competitive, sustainable, and habitable. 

The main architect of the project was Eduardo Brenes, and the project design was led by the Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical. 

Plans call for 17,000 square meters of renovations, a contract that was granted to Constructora Montero S.A.

Some of the work to be done includes the demolition of existing structures in the public space, replacement of the drinking water network and the sanitary sewer system, modification of the storm sewer infrastructure and other work to some of the electricity in the area, said the report.


Legislator angry at complaints by union chiefs over salaries
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative deputy has come up with the unusual idea of bringing defamation charges against union chiefs who complained about Costa Rica to an international labor organization.

The deputy, Mario Alberto Núñez Arias of Movimiento Libertario, said he presented his criminal accusation to Fiscal General Francisco Dall'Anesse. He said that the union members had damaged the image of the country in front of the world.

The dispute has as a background the political battle over the free trade treaty with the United States and a recent decree by the central government to skip salary negotiations and simply order a 4 percent wage hike for public employees..

Núñez said that the union chiefs sent their complaint to the 
International Labour Organization and said that Costa Rica had violated the liberties of unions and the right to collective bargaining.

Núñez said that although public employees make up just 5 percent of the workforce, they have many benefits that private sector workers do not have.

Meanwhile on the free trade front, the Imprenta Nacional said that the treaty with the United States and other Central American countries would be published Jan. 26 at a cost of 120 million colons, some $231,000.

The 3,789 pages of the treaty and the opinions of lawmakers for and against will be divided into eight volumes. Full copies will be on sale at the Imprenta Nacional in La Uruca for 9,000 colons or about $17.40.   Just 1,500 full sets will be printed, said Nelson Loaiza, director of the national printing facility.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 12




Another boatload of cocaine falls into hands of law enforcement at sea

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Yet another boatload of cocaine has fallen into the hands of law enforcement.

This time the captain and crew on the fishing boat were Costa Ricans. The cocaine was stowed in refrigeration compartments designed to hold a catch of fish.

It was a U.S. patrol that spotted the Indio IV Saturday some 100 miles off Flamingo in the Pacific. A search by U.S. crewmen turned up the cocaine, officials said.

Only 100 kilos of cocaine came ashore to serve as evidence against the men. The remainder stayed with the U.S. craft. Costa Rican officials say they can't handle any more cocaine because their secure storage areas are stuffed. During some 478 operations in 2006, officials have confiscated 23 tons of the white power.

In addition to U.S. ships on patrol in the Pacific, the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas and the Policía de Control de Drogas were involved in Costa Rica, as well as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

The crew of the fishing boat included a 34-year-old man serving as captain with the last names of Manzanares Pizarro. He is from Puntarenas. Two other persons with the surnames and ages of Venegas Villegas, 28, of Quepos and Rueda Gutiérrez, 40, also of Puntarenas, were detained.

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguirdad Pública photo
Fernando Berrocal, the secuirty minister, surveys the haul of drugs that came ashore Tuesday.

The suspects and the cocaine evidence came ashore Tuesday in the Guardacosta cutter Juan Rafael Mora.

The United States and Costa Rica jointly patrol the oceans under a 1999 treaty. Costa Ricans caught at sea are tried in Costa Rica under terms of the agreement. The bulk of the drugs that pass through and near Costa Rica is headed to the United States.


Poet-diplomat is the winner of this year's Magón cultural award
By Arnoldo Cob More
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican poet Laureano Albán Rivas is the 2007 winner of the Premio Nacional de Cultura Magón, the nation's premier award for cultural achievement.

Albán was born in Turrialba in 1942 and has influenced three generations of poets during a productive career, said officials of the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

The award will be presented formally at another date.
Tuesday was when officials simply made known the person the Magón jury had selected. Albán was not present in the ceremony at the ministry. The award has been presented every year since 1962.

Albán studied linguistics at the Universidad de Costa Rica and earned a doctorate in Hispanoamerica literature at a state university in New York. He has held a number of academic and diplomatic positions, including ambassador to Israel from 1987 to 1990 and ambassador from Costa Rica to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization from 1998 to 2002.


Cuban officials and media mum on Spanish report that Castro is in grave state
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban authorities have not commented on reports that President Fidel Castro, 80, is in serious condition.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported on its Web site Monday that the Cuban leader is in "very serious" condition after three failed operations and complications from an intestinal infection.

The paper said Castro suffers from a serious infection that has worsened to peritonitis, a painful and potentially fatal inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity.  The report said he is being fed intravenously.

Cuba's official media has made no mention of the report.
A Spanish surgeon who examined Castro last month, José Luis Garcia Sabrido, told reporters in December the Cuban leader was slowly recovering and wanted to return to work.  The surgeon denied reports the Cuban leader had cancer.

But El Pais cites sources at the surgeon's hospital as saying the infections have left Castro with "a very grave prognosis."

The Cuban leader underwent an operation at the end of July, and has not appeared in public since.  He temporarily ceded power to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro.

The newspaper report has not been confirmed.  The Cuban government treats Castro's health as a state secret.



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