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(506) 2223-1327         Posted Friday, Jan. 21, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 15           E-mail us
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injured policeman
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Segruidad Pública/ Guillermo Solano
Attendantes take Héctor Gómez Obando to treatment at Hospital México Thursday after the Fuerza Pública officer suffered an attack by a machete wielding assailant and was airlifted from Suretka in the Talamanca mountains to
San José. He lost four fingers and sustained a gash on his cheek. The suspect is in a Limón hospital with three bullets in his body.

Our story is HERE.

Ms. Chinchilla brands tax cheats as criminals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Speaking to a friendly crowd from the budget ministry, President Laura Chinchilla lashed out Thursday against tax evaders and said they should be called by what they really are, criminals.

She also spoke in depth about the central government's lack of resources that jeopardize its ability to fulfill all the demands of society. She promised that her government would be responsible with spending and just in tax collection.

The president is beginning a personal campaign to sell her tax increase plan that many pronounced dead on arrival when it reached the legislature Monday. Among other changes, the plan calls for a 14 percent value-added tax instead of the current 13 percent sales tax.

Ms. Chinchilla and Fernando Herrero, the minster of Hacienda, spoke in the Teatro Nacional to workers from the ministry, which includes among others, Tributación, the tax collecting agency.

At the same time the administration is negotiating with public employees over a pay raise for the first half of 2011. The raise for private employee minimum salaries already has been set at 2.63 percent for the first six months of the year. A list is on the Web site of the Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social HERE. In past years when negotiations failed, the government fixed the rate of increase. However, the increases cover all the salaries of some 175,000 public workers, not just the minimum salaries.

Ms. Chinchilla said this week that she would freeze government hiring.

By addressing the topic of tax cheats in her talk, Ms. Chinchilla touched on one of the major criticisms of the tax increases. The government has not been successful in getting the tax money it already is owed. Some estimates say that cheating costs the central government up to 3 percent of the gross domestic product.
The most obvious is evasion of the sales tax. In some Pacific coast towns, store owners call it the resident discount. They simply do not collect the 13 percent tax from repeat customers and do not issue a formal receipt.

Tributación has held lotteries in the past where they asked residents to submit receipts they obtained from their local businesses. Presumably inspectors followed up on the receipts that did not show tax collected. Still even a furniture store in the shadow of the Tributación offices in San José gave customers the option of not paying the tax.

Another loss to the country is when a real estate investor sells property and then transfers the proceeds from his or her Costa Rican corporation to a personal account without paying the required tax. There does not appear to be a system in place to track such activities.

The Chinchilla tax plan would raise 500 billion colons or about $1 billion, according to government estimates. However, the government has grossly overestimated expected tax income in the past.

For expats the increases in taxes would include a doubling of the real estate transfer fee, which is now 1.5 percent.

There also would be taxes assessed on a number of daily activities that are now free of tax, like lawyer services. A summary is HERE.

Ms. Chinchilla received some backhanded support from La Nación Thursday. The newspaper editorialized that the legislature should study the fiscal situation from its roots and not concentrate on percentages of taxes and the problem of evasion.

It noted that Chile has a 19 percent value-added tax. And the editorial said that the opposition parties in the legislature would be seeking more money if they were in power.

The government has run a deficit for the last three years, it noted.

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Limón dock workers voting
today for union directors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members of the dock workers union in Limón have their general assembly today, and the big item is the election of a board of directors.

There are two competing factions. One group wishes to retain state control of the docks at Limón and Moín. The other wants union members to accept a payoff from the government and allow the docks to be let out in concession to private firms.

This has been a long-running dispute.  The union is the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica,

In late 2009 the government ordered the leaders of the Limón docks union to hold a general meeting and vote on the government's plan to award the port in a concession to a private operator.

The dock concession and the improvements expected to be brought by a concession holder are the keystone to a plan to develop the area around Limón Centro. So the government was thrilled that the pro-concession faction won the 2009 vote.

But a court reversed the voting and put the former leadership back in charge.  The vote today is basically between those two factions.  Under the plan formulated by the Óscar Arias Sánchez government each dock worker would get a payoff of as much as $99,000. Each also may be rehired by the successful concession bidder.

The Limón docks are notoriously slow and inefficient. The docks lack modern equipment, and the unions have engaged in repeated work stoppages. Many agricultural exports pass through this port, including bananas and pineapples.  Work stoppages have been costly.

The general assembly opens today at 9 a.m. in the Gimnasio Eddy Bermúdez in Limón.

Immigration seeks members
for new appeals tribunal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería is seeking members for the new Tribunal Administrativo Migratorio, an independent unit created by the new immigration law.

The tribunal hears and resolves appeals of resolutions issued by the immigration department. Such appeals could be refusal to grant a visa to a foreigner.

Members of the tribunal must have five years experience in immigration matters and hold a licenciatura or master's degree in a related field, including law. Applications will be accepted in the first few days of February.

Our readers' opinions
Helicopter plan advanced
to fight fires on coast

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
The solutions to the fires along Costa Rica's Gold Coast and in its mountainous areas during the dry season are not going to come from the badly stretched land-based fire departments but from the sea and from innovation and a little bit of copying what is done in my home state of California. 

In addition to a great deal of education regarding fire prevention, we need a helicopter based on the coast between Papagayo and Nicoya that would provide large buckets to pick up ocean water and drop it directly on to those fires.  In the case of fires in more heavily populated areas, perhaps those filled buckets could be lowered near the fires and those same buckets could be equipped with hoses and additional equipment to allow those trained volunteers on the ground to successfully contain the flames and reduce the damage.
Conceivably, this helicopter could be run privately and used when there were no fires for tourists wanting a bird's eye view of the area, for travelers wanting to move quickly or for medical emergencies demanding swift transportation to hospitals.
Given that most fires occur during the dry season and many occur in places where there simply are no water mains, the ocean seems to be our only solution and while this idea is not fully developed, I hope it may act as a seed to combine innovation, volunteerism, contributions, perhaps from the large hotels and developments sprouting along the coast, into a working project to benefit the area and those who live and vacation within it.
Kent Carthey
San Francisco, California
Playa del Coco 

Article was not responsible
in talking about Internet plan

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have to admit that I enjoy reading A.M. Costa Rica regularly, including the give and take debates in the letters to the editor.  But a recent news article concerning a new initiative by President Chinchilla, which uses a miniscule portion of the $170 million multinational corporate cell phone company deal, to help fund universal access to the Internet, crossed over the line of responsible journalism.

Rather than simply reporting the news, the article contained biased innuendos such as “the project seemed to have the trappings of social work,” which sounds like something straight out of Fox News’ “Fair and Balanced Reporting” (sic) approach to journalism.

The article noted that funds would be used by the government to help bridge the digital divide, which will undoubtedly help lower-income Costa Ricans and increase educational levels for the workforce.  This is a bad thing?  And the article also noted that program funds will be used to help “hook up schools and medical clinics” to the Internet.  Blasphemous.   Perhaps the U.S. could learn a little something from Costa Rica about trying to help support schools and encouraging workforce development in these difficult times.

If your writers must editorialize, then please add the word “Opinion” to the top of the stories, so that we do not confuse you with Fox News.
Jeff Wells
Dominical and
Santa Cruz, California

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!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

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Acelera hookups getting faster but phones were a problem
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is good news and bad news from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The company said Thursday that it has been increasing the speed of its Acelera Internet connection with the goal of enticing customers to buy the higher velocity later.

But the company also admitted that its GSM telephone system had suffered failings this week because the firm that provided the system was making improvements. That company is Ericsson.

The institute, known as ICE, said the outages of the phone system were in the metro area Wednesday and in the early hours of Thursday. Phone customers could not complete their calls and many could not access their electronic messages.

Ericsson has a contract to maintain the system. The phone company did not say exactly what the problem was but added that the contractor acted to remedy it.

There were many complaints by cell phone users. ICE said
there was a similar problem in December. As a result the phone company said it raised the issue with Ericsson management, which agreed to change its processes.

With its Acelera customers, the company said that it was increasing the speed for those whose technical conditions would allow higher velocities. The customers getting the increased speed are in the 256 Kbps to 2 Mbps range, the company said.

The Acelera system has been troubled, too, and many customers complain that they are not getting the speed for which they have contracted. ICE said it is sending out text messages, e-mails and phone recordings to those who might get the free upgrade.

But the upgrade is only free until the promotional period is over, said the company. ICE will be holding a raffle in late April for those who choose to retain the higher Internet speeds, it said. That's when the new rates will be ready.

Not coincidental is that ICE is facing more and more competition from television cable companies and wireless firms, thanks to the opening of the Internet market to private operators.

China and the United States ought to work together
A year or so ago I wrote about the different ways the United States and China were trying to win the hearts and minds of the world’s populace as well as compete fairly in the world’s marketplaces.  Many people now seem to be concerned that this competition, along with currency manipulation and human rights concerns has caused such hostility that it will lead the two countries into becoming armed enemies.  But, in fact, I have figured out that far from being enemies, we are partners and should be friends.

The U.S. has become a warfare state and China has become a we-fare-well state.  One is spending its treasure and people to fight two worldwide wars – the war on drugs and the war on terrorism and taking other military actions to bring peace and calm to countries.  The purpose is to make the world safe for democracy and global commerce. China, thanks to the U.S, and by taking a page from American capitalism, is using its money and people to insinuate itself into countries around the world by building hotels and businesses, roads and sports arenas and making loans to the developing Third World countries, especially in Africa and Latin America.

The real problem is not that China refuses to revaluate its currency or treat its people more humanely, but that it does not share the cost of making the world safe for free enterprise.  And to add to this, countries seem to appreciate what China is doing more than what the U.S. is doing.  If both countries recognized this, they would realize they are partners and could work matters out from there.

Case in point is right here in Costa Rica.  The U.S. has sent equipment for the police and to help fight the war on illegal drugs, even anchored a navy carrier in the port of Limon where doctors brought medical help to some poor people who needed it. But Ticos were suspicious and not all that appreciative since they really do not like even a lamb dressed in military trappings and the crackdown on illegal drugs is more according to the dictates of the U.S., not necessarily that of other countries.

Meanwhile, the Ticos love the sports and entertainment stadium built and paid for by the Chinese. I keep  mentioning this structure because it is so in my face every
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

day, and I worry about the inadequate parking and the noise when it opens so I don’t appreciate it as much as the Ticos do. One can only wait to see what follows either the wars (if they ever end) or the largesse of the Chinese.

I also find it ironic that Iran (not beloved by the U.S.) has adopted an idea from capitalistic entrepreneurship for which the United States is famous.  They opened an ice cream parlor (serving something like 34 flavors) in the Green Zone of Baghdad!  Why didn’t some American company figure out that there would be a demand; people tire of war, but never get tired of ice cream.

We know we can’t blame the Chinese for all of our problems.  We can’t expect them to dumb down their educational system or stop their investments in other countries, especially those with energy sources.  But we can improve our own population of truly educated people and refuel our own creativity.

And we might question the cost of being the world’s only superpower that is first in everything. Throughout history other countries have survived after no longer being first.  Let’s not forget that China is about 2,000 years older than the United States.  It has had its ups and downs throughout this long history and is facing necessary changes today, much like we faced in the 1950’s and 60’s. Both countries should be wary of making mistakes vis a vis one another.  And speaking of mistakes,

I did just that in last week’s column when I gave the wrong location for the Women’s Club Used Book Sale.  It is going to be the same date, (tomorrow, Jan. 22) but it will be held at the Pan-American School in San Antonio de Belen, which is 300 meters south of El Rodeo.

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Bilingual toddlers seem to have an advantage in thinking

By the Concordia University news service

Toddlers who learn a second language from infancy have an edge over their unilingual peers, according to a new study from Concordia University, York University and the Université de Provence.

As reported in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, the research team tested the understanding of English and French words among 24-month-olds to see if bilingual toddlers had acquired comparable vocabulary in each language.

By 24 months, we found bilingual children had already acquired a vocabulary in each of their two languages and gained some experience in switching between English and French,” says senior researcher Diane Poulin-Dubois, a psychology professor at Concordia University in Montreal,
“ Quebec. “We found the cognitive benefits of bilingualism come much earlier than reported in previous studies.”
As part of the investigation, 63 toddlers were divided into groups of unilingual and bilingual infants.

To assess levels of bilingualism, parents completed a language exposure interview and vocabulary checklists, while children completed five basic language and cognitive tests.

“Bilingual children outperformed their unilingual counterparts on tasks where they were distracted,” said Ms. Poulin-Dubois. “The small bilingual advantage that we observed in our 24-month-old bilinguals is probably due to a combination of infants’ experience listening to and using their two languages.”

These new findings have practical implications for educators and parents, said Ms. Poulin-Dubois. “Exposing toddlers to a second language early in their development provides a bilingual advantage that enhances attention control,” she said.

Police officer shoots assailant who attacked with machete

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A family dispute erupted into bloodshed Thursday when a man with a machete came at a police officer. The wounded police officer fired on the assailant, said the security ministry.

The ministry said that Héctor Gómez Obando, 34, responded to a domestic violence call in Shiroles in the Cantón de Talamanca. 

A man was reported acting aggressive toward his female companion and the rest of the family.

The ministry said that the man, identified by the last names of Pastran Selles, came at the officer and cut off four
fingers on the left hand. The officer also suffered a machete wound to the left cheek.

The ministry said that Gómez fired on the assailant, although other reports said that a second police officer shot the man. Pastran suffered three bullet wounds and was reported under police gauard at Hospital Tony Facio in Limón.

Police called in the ministry's Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea to bring the injured officer to Hospital México in La Uruca. The officer lost a lot of blood, according to pilot Alex Ulloa, but the man still was conscious when he reached the hospital.

Gómez is a four-year veteran of the force.

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Now Aristide wants to join
the complex scene in Haiti

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Deposed former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he is ready to return to his homeland from exile in South Africa, days after former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier made an unexpected appearance after 25 years.

Aristide said in a statement that he is ready to come back "today, tomorrow, at any  time."  The former president said he hopes the governments of Haiti and South Africa will make that possible.  Aristide, who fled Haiti in February 2004 during a popular revolt, says his goal is to contribute to "serving my Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education."

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to the remarks by saying the U.S. does not doubt the former president's desire to help his nation.  But Crowley said Haiti needs to focus on its future, not its past.

In 1990, Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president, but he was soon ousted in a military coup. He returned to power in 1994 through U.S. military intervention and served until 1996. He was re-elected in 2000.  His political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was not allowed to participate in the presidential elections Nov. 28.

Meanwhile, Duvalier has denied a remark by his lawyer, Reynold Georges, that he hopes to run for president.  Duvalier said in a statement Wednesday that he formally denies all political statements, "vague or otherwise," that are attributed to him.

Authorities have confiscated Duvalier's expired passport.  Since arriving in Haiti late Sunday, he has been charged with corruption, embezzlement and other abuses of power from his brutal 15-year rule that ended in 1986.  Duvalier returned to Haiti from France, where he has been living in exile.

In addition, a former United Nations spokesman and three other prominent Haitians have filed criminal complaints accusing Duvalier of crimes against humanity.  It is not clear whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Duvalier for atrocities during his rule.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says Haiti must carry out the recommendations of an international report on Haiti's disputed November election.  At a security council briefing Thursday on Haiti, Ms. Rice said sustained support from the international community, including the United States, requires a credible process that represents the will of the Haitian people, as expressed by their votes.

The Organization of American States has called for the government-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, to be eliminated from the runoff vote.  A report cited irregularities and fraud in the election.  A runoff had been scheduled for Jan. 16, but was postponed.

The Caribbean nation, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is still struggling to recover a year after an earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million others homeless. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in tent cities, and many parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, remain in ruins. The country also is battling a deadly cholera epidemic.

An updated travel warning issued by the United States makes note of the cholera outbreak, along with crime, violent disturbances in Haiti, lack of adequate medical facilities, and limited police protection.

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Jacó raid finds pair
suspected in store stickup

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained three persons in Jacó Thursday when they raided a cabina in the center of town in a robbery investigation.

In Desamparados other agents detained a man who is suspected of being the robber who shot a woman clerk in a supermarket stickup in December. The security video of the man shooting the store clerk seemingly without reason was a popular presentation on local television, and the suspect was identified because of the footage.

The raid in Jacó netted a 16 year old and a man, 23, in the stickup of the Soda Nenita in Barrio Camboya of that community. Agents also found a man with the last names of Herrera Salas, who was facing an open charge of theft in Puntareans, they said.

The supermarket shooting was in Santo Domingo de Herredia, and the raid Thursday was in Los Guidos de Desamparados. The woman has recovered from the bullet wound she received in the stomach after she complied with the man's demands. Agents said they confiscated a .38 caliber handgun. The search continues for a second man seen in the background of the video.

Paseo Colón closed again
for family entertainment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday is another big day on Paseo Colón, but not for cars.

The municipality is closing down the street again so that pedestrians can hear popular live music, watch cheerleaders and see colonial dress.

The street is being closed every Sunday until Easter for exhibits, sports and other events. There even is story telling this Sunday between 11 a.m. and noon.

This week the street is closed to traffic form 10 a.m. to   3 p.m.

Park in Dota will host
band for Saturday show

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The municipal park will be the setting Saturday for a free concert in Santa María de Dota at 6 p.m.

The singer Francisco Murillo will be accompanied by his band and the group Post Meridiem, according to an announcement.

The performance is being called an effort of youngsters in the area who are working with the Muncipalidad de Dota to provide artistic events for the community. Post Meridiem was described as a group that mixes metal, rock, alternative and acoustical music.

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