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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011, in  Vol. 11, No. 18           E-mail us
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New Tarcoles bridge
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo
A new, two-lane bridge is taking shape on the Río Grande de Tárcoles between Orotina and Turrubares. This is where five persons died Oct. 23, 2009, when an ancient hanging bridge gave way and a bus tumbled into the river. The
Consejo Nacionald de Vialidad is investing 908 million colons in the project, about $1.8 million. The 110-meter (361-foot) bridge will include pedestrian walkways. Work was delayed because a redesign was required.

Minister defends administration's anti-crime efforts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister defended the actions of the police forces Tuesday and said they were in an unequal struggle with international drug cartels, organized crime and criminals.

The minister, José María Tijerino Pacheco, made a pitch for more resources and said that the Chinchilla administration is seeking to hire 800 new police officers now and 4,000 more later.

The unexpected declarations by Tijerino were seen as support for President Laura Chinchilla's tax proposals and also a response to criticism that the administration has done little to fight crime since it took office in May.

The ministry said that its officers have taken clear and concrete steps against crime. A summary by the ministry included a litany of achievements:

• 1,012 new officers on the streets;

• reinforcement of highway checkpoints consistent with specifics laid down by the Sala IV constitutional court;

• special operations in San José, called San José Seguridad y Esparcimiento;

• a similar effort in Pococí;

• a continuing anti-drug effort in Talamanca;

• outreach to hire new officers;

• special emphasis on 10 priority communities in the cantons of San José, Heredia, Tibás, Aguirre and Limón;

• 163 new officers assigned to these communities and more than 2,000 routine police actions against crime taken;
• the purchase of 58 new vehicles, 40 motorcycles, a small bus, 1,271 firearms with 7,537 bulletproof vests on order.

• The reactivation of the twin-engine Caribou aircraft that has been used in emergencies and to reinforce the northern border.

Security was a priority in the Chinchilla presidential campaign, but the proposals advanced so far are new taxes to put more officers on the street. None has been passed in the legislature yet. They include a tax, now $200, on every corporation and taxes on casinos.

Just last week, Casa Presidencial proposed $1 billion in new taxes and sent the measure that would raise that money to lawmakers. The centerpiece is a 14 percent value-added tax. Many lawmakers were unreceptive.

Ms. Chinchilla set up a citizen security council in her first days in office and named Mauricio Boraschi to be a vice minister with a specific assignment to fight drugs. The last report on the presidential Web site was Sept. 16 when Ms. Chinchilla lamented the fact that the United States had listed Costa Rica as a major drug transit country.

At that time Ms. Chinchilla was quoted saying that the central government had turned over money to the Poder Judicial for wiretapping and what is being called a police platform where investigators can exchange information by computer. She also reported that port security was beefed up. That happened after drugs turned up in a container.

Much of the fight against crime is out of the hands of the central government. The Judicial Investigating Organization is a Poder Judicial agency. Fuerza Pública officers under Tijerino are supposed to prevent crime. They do not investigate, except for the special anti-drug unit.

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Famed archaeologist Snarskis
found dead at his home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Michael Snarskis, a man who had a major impact on the archeology of Costa Rica, died earlier in the week. He was found in his Montelimar, Goicoechea, home Monday dead of apparent natural causes.

Snarskis, 65, was a Canadian who earned a doctorate in anthropology at New York's Columbia University in 1978. His dissertation was "The Archaeology of the Central Atlantic Watershed of Costa Rica."

He founded and directed the archeology department at the Museo Nacional for 10 years and was a professor of archaeology for 14 years at the Universidad de Costa Rica. A biography online said he had published 55 books and articles on Costa Rica and Central America. He also commented on Costa Rica's stone spheres for U.S. television.

He was associated as an archeologist with the Tayutic Foundation which seeks to preserve and explore the Guayabo monument.

Snarskis, himself, reported on his work with U.S. archaeologist Frederick W. Lange, on the Nicoya peninsula. He said that since the mid-1970s there was a quantum jump in scientific archaeology. He said that he assisted Lange to establish a comprehensive program for archaeological investigation based at the museum.

"Through a series of projects, knowledge of the settlement patterns and subsistence of past cultures has been greatly broadened, the classification of artifacts and other cultural features systematized, and the cultural sequence greatly lengthened," he said.

Snarskis also offered archaeological tours. A favorable comment on his tours also said that many of the tombs and artifacts displayed in the Museo Nacional were personally excavated by Snarskis and that he was the technical advisor for the original mounting of the jade museum and the gold museum.

Snarskis also wrote at times for The Tico Times.

Extradited pair takes plea
in U.S. tax fraud prosecution

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A California couple who were involved in an anti-tax scheme have reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

They are Lin M. Bartee and his wife, Christine J. Wenger-Bartee, who had the daring to dash off a letter to the Internal Revenue Service area director in Ogden, Utah, explaining why they did not have to pay taxes. They were involved with IRS Code Busters, a multi-level marketing scheme that purported to teach U.S. citizens why they need not pay income taxes.

They were well known among Costa Rican expats

They made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in January, 2010, when they entered innocent pleas.  A federal grand jury returned an indictment June 26, 2008, charging the former Grass Valley, California, couple with conspiring to evade the payment of federal income taxes, making false statements in a bankruptcy case and fraudulently concealing property in connection with a bankruptcy case, according to the U.S. Justice Department. In addition, Bartee was charged individually with evading the payment of federal income taxes.

The couple were arrested here in May 2009 and unsuccessfully fought extradition to the United States.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of California, the pair received two years each in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud and tax evasion. They were ordered to pay more than $200,000 in restitution.

According to the indictment, the pair failed to file a federal tax return for the year 2001. In 2002, despite receiving substantial sums in income and from the sale of assets, the pair again failed to file an income tax return for that year. At the same time, they transferred almost $240,000 to the woman's parents, who then transferred over half that amount to a bank in Costa Rica, said the indictment. In April of 2003, the defendants filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition in the U. S. Bankruptcy Court in Sacramento, California. The defendants failed to list the Internal Revenue Service as a creditor, and they also failed to identify all of the income they received in 2002, the indictment alleged. On Nov. 9, 2004, the bankruptcy court denied their petition. Shortly thereafter, the  defendants left the United States for Costa Rica, the government said.

IRS Code Busters provided information to people who do not want to pay income taxes. Much of the information is based on discredited legal theories.  For example, some anti-tax literature distributed in the multilevel scheme said that the IRS puts a code in each citizen's file that required them to pay taxes. Bartee appears to have wanted the IRS to remove the mythical code from his file and wrote the letter to request that, said the Justice Department at the time of his indictment.

School transport services
urged to get early approval

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Consejo de Transporte Público is urging those who drive children to school to make sure their paperwork is in order because classes start.

The agency said that it has received just 1,105 requests for permits and that last year there were 2,010 units hauling students. Only 631 have been approved for the coming year, it said. Public school starts Feb. 10.

Those who operate vehicles carrying students have to pay 71,715 colons, about $144, for a permit. They also have to show that they are current with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and have an active insurance policy. They also cannot have any pending traffic tickets.

Then the vehicle, which cannot be older than 20 years is inspected to make sure it has required seat belts and revisión tecnica approval.

In the case of pre-school children, the driver must have a second adult on board, according to the rules.

The Consejo cracked down last year and removed many vehicles from service for a time and caused problems for parents who were counting on the transportation for their children.

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
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New dam
Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad photo
Workmen watch the first flow of water enter the reservoir site.
First power expected in September from Pirrís project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad expects that its new Pirrís hydro generating station will be online in September.

Water began being diverted from the nearby Río Pirrís Tuesday, and engineers expect that the reservoir behind the new dam will require about three months to fill.

The dam itself is 113 meters high, some 371 feet, and 266 meters long, some 873 feet. The dam is on the division line between León Cortés and Dota. Workmen used 728,000 cubic meters of concrete to build the retaining structure. That's nearly a million cubic yards.

The electrical company said the concrete was enough to build 73,000 small homes. The dam is one of the largest in the world, the company has said.

The project represents an investment of $600 million, the company said. It will produce 134 megawatts of power, enough for 160,000 homes in Dota, Trrazú, León Cortés, Parrita and Aserrí, the company said.

The hydro project was reported to be about 96 percent finished, the company said there is work that could not be done until the reservoir began to fill.
reservoir tunnel
Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad photo
Tunnel will carry water 6.5 miles to a generating station in Aserrí.

Another project will be a road between San Carlos de León Cortés and Llano Bonito de Dota. That will be started in May, officials said.

In May 2008, the hydro project suffered a major setback when Tropical Storm Alma lashed the site.

The Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad and its contractor had to evacuate about 1,100 workers from the project because of the storm, which then inflicted costly damage to the construction.

Opposition lawmakers coming up with their own tax plans
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opposition parties are coming up with tax plans of their own to counter that offered by President Laura Chinchilla.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana was the latest to do so. Gustavo Arias Navarro, a legislative deputy of the party, offered a proposal Tuesday that does not involve new taxes. Ms. Chinchilla seeks a 14 percent value-added tax.

Arias Navarro said that better collection and preventing tax evasion coupled with cutbacks in government spending
could reach the same level of $1 billion that Ms. Chinchilla seeks.

Monday, Luis Fishman of the Partido Unidad Cristiana presented a proposal to use money held for other purposes by government agencies.

Arias Navarro called for reforming the current tax law to remove certain exemptions that he equated with evasion.  He also called for modernizing the tax collecting system and the customs system. He also offered the idea of an economic stimulus that would result in additional collections.

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The fire that ravaged Hospital Cooperativo San Carlos Borromeo in Ciudad Quesada did much more damage than reported earlier. The building has lost most of its third floor, and the second floor is gutted. The Saturday night fire at the private hospital was blamed on an electrical problem.
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Manager blames bad weather for Autopista del Sol woes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The general manager of the Autopista del Sol appeared before a legislative committee Tuesday and said that it was natural forces and not bad construction that caused problems with the new highway. He also denied that there were political forces at work that speeded up the project.

The general manager is Cristian Sandoval. He was before a commission that is investigating the concessions awarded by the government. The Laboratorio Nacional de Materiales y Modelos Estructurales of the Universidad de Costa Rica has issued a report that said the highway has sections that are dangerous for the public.

The highway runs from Parque la Sabana to Caldera and is considered a key factor in the future development on the central Pacific. Travel time to places like Jacó have been cut to 90 minutes from a previous two to three hours.

Sandoval dismissed the critique from the laboratory as an
opinion. The laboratory said there were places where the ground slumped and that there were cracks in the asphalt and some of the road covering was peeling off.

José María Villalta Florez-Estrada, a legislative deputy, suggested that there might have been bad management in the construction process.

The highway also has been plagued by landslides, and a woman motorcycle passenger died because the vehicle hit a boulder that had rolled on the road.

Sandoval said that the highway was completed sooner because 2009 was a year with good weather. Some have suggested that the roadway was opened prematurely because then-president Óscar Arias Sánchez wanted to inaugurate it before he left office. Sandoval rejected that idea. The highway is apolitical, he said.

He blamed all the problems associated with the highway on the heavy rains that hit the country after the highway opened last year.

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Haiti reconstruction moves
at a frustrating, slow speed

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

One year after the earthquake in Haiti, reconstruction is still in its infancy. No one expected the poorest country in the Western hemisphere to bounce back quickly from the quake that killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million homeless.

But although hundreds of non-governmental organizations have been working on the ground to make life tolerable for the Haitian people, there is widespread frustration with the pace of progress.

A year after the earthquake destroyed much of Port au Prince, there are few visible signs of reconstruction.

Only 5 percent of the rubble has been removed from the city.  An estimated 800,000 people are still living in tents.  And according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, only 38 percent of the $1.4 billion in charitable contributions from U.S. donors has been spent.  Many are asking why. 

“When people ask me in one word, which is tough to answer, what is wrong with Haiti today, and why haven’t we moved forward, the answer is leadership.  We need leadership, and we are really relying on the next administration to provide that,” said Julie Schindall, the spokesperson for Oxfam International.

It’s a common theme.

The Haitian government has been unable to fully respond. Thirteen of the 15 government ministry buildings collapsed in the quake.  Some 30 percent of the government's workforce was killed.  

In addition, November’s election results have not been finalized, amid allegations of fraud. 

Non-governmental organizations agree that the funds and knowhow for reconstruction are in Haiti. But they say there is no viable government to partner with. 

“The money will only be released when there are realistic plans because we want the money to go to the right place.  We don’t want the money to disappear into a black hole.  Everybody has an interest in results out of this," said Leonard Doyle, with the International Organization for Migration, an non-profit agency working in Haiti.

Aid organizations say the initial phase of disaster relief, providing basic shelter, food and water, went well given the enormous destruction. 

The second phase, getting people into temporary housing and starting permanent construction, has been problematic.

Matthew Cochrane with the International Red Cross, who has been working to build transitional homes in Port au Prince, says finding space to build in the city is not easy.  Land records have been destroyed and obtaining clear title is often complicated.

But he is optimistic the coming year will be more productive. “I think a lot of the legal hurdles are beginning to be overcome.  I think in the next month you will see a significant increase in the rate of construction,” he said.

There has also been criticism of the agencies operating in the country. 

Ms. Schindall of Oxfam says donors would rather spend money on sexy projects like building a school or a hospital, rather than removing the mass of debris from the city. “We need to think what is our added value here.  What do we have to bring.  And it has to be something that doesn’t exist inside of the country.  And it has to be something where we end up training Haitians and giving Haitians the skills to carry out those projects themselves,” she said.

The agencies agree that reconstruction will take years. They say now is the time to redouble their commitment and work toward moving the country forward.

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BBC announces cutbacks
in language broadcasting

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The state-funded British Broadcasting Corp. has announced plans to shut down five language services as part of its efforts to cut costs.

The BBC World Service said Tuesday the five languages to be cut are Albanian, Macedonian, Serbian, the English service for the Caribbean region and Portuguese for Africa.

The BBC says it will release details on the service cuts Wednesday, while the National Union of Journalists plans to hold a protest march outside BBC headquarters in London.

Union officials say the language cuts will cost hundreds of jobs and severely damage British national interests.

The BBC announced Monday it plans to close down 200 Internet websites and cut 360 jobs over the next two years. Officials say they will save about $54 million.

They say the move is a response to funding cuts by the British government.

Web sites to be closed include those targeting teenagers and a football (soccer) chat site.

Perú recognizes Palestine
as an independent state

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Perú has become the latest Latin American country to recognize an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.

Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde announced the decision Monday, but did not detail which borders Peru recognizes for the state.

He also said Peru maintains there should be an Israeli state with secure borders.

Brazil and several other Latin American nations have said they would recognize a Palestinian state based on borders established before the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel gained control of East Jerusalem and other Palestinian territory.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last week his country continues to support the Palestinians' "inalienable right" to establish an independent state.

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