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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 19     Email us
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President Laura Chinchilla isn't really on a new 5,000-colon banknote, but unhappy public employees made it look that way Wednesday as they mocked a monthly wage hike of that amount decreed by the president. The banner calls the salary hike a handout.

Our story is
President Chinchilla on banknote
A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela

Realities of new corporation tax begins to sink in
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats who hold a vehicle or a home by means of a corporation are unhappy because they will have to pay a special tax between April 1 and April 30. The amount this year could be as much as $240 on an active corporation. Next year the bite will be more because corporation owners will have to pay for a full year.

Suppose, however, someone owns 200 or 300 corporations. Some lawyers have that many because they created the legal entities for resale.  Some expat developers set up large subdivisions with 100 or more lots with each lot owned by a separate corporation, usually a sociedad anonima or a limited liability entity.

Others who provide legal and financial services for foreigners also have responsibility on the corporations. The new law that went on the books before the first of the year says they are responsible for paying the tax.

These situations can mean thousands of dollars in taxes or thousands of dollars in Registro Nacional and lawyer fees simply to kill the corporation.
The law says that if the tax is not paid three years in a row, the Registro can move to abolish the company and snag any assets to pay the accrued taxes and the fees for making the entity inactive. Among other fees, the Registro has to advertise the action in the official La Gaceta newspaper.

Some constitutional court cases are expected. Some argue that the Registro is not the appropriate 
agency to collect a tax. So far there have been no reports from the court of cases that have been filed on this topic. Others cite the cases of individuals who face thousands in taxes as examples of disproportionality.

And professionals who do business with expats point out that many foreigners own corporations here but may not have visited the country for several years.

They are unaware of the new tax, and there has been no government effort to alert them.

The tax in 2012 will be prorated for the remaining nine months and the first tax will be just 75 percent of the stated amount. The money must be paid within 30 days, that is by April 30. Subsequent tax payments will be due Jan. 1 each year and have to be paid by the end of that month. Those amounts will be increased, too, as the base salary is raised.

The text of the new tax law can be found in the Dec. 27 digital edition of the La Gaceta. It is HERE. The text is linked to “Alcance Digital Numero 111-A PDF” which can be found in the right hand column

As a news story pointed out in July, disbanding a corporation to avoid the tax is costly because the process requires the assistance of a notary. That story is HERE!

And lawyers warn that holding assets as personal possessions rather than in a corporation can subject the survivors of an expat to lengthy probate procedures here.

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State bank told to pay
for a lack of security

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Banco Nacional got some bad news Wednesday when a branch of the Corte Suprema de Justicia reaffirmed a decision in favor of a debit card holder.

The decision said that the bank has to reimburse the customer for money that was taken from her account in six illegal transactions.

The court also said that the bank has an absolute responsibility to promote security methods to prevent illegal withdrawals from the machines.

The Sala Primera of the high court characterized the decision as coming under the rights of consumers. It said there existed shortcomings in bank security that violated the customer's rights. The bank had failed to install a security camera at the specific automatic teller that was used in the crime.

The case had been heard in the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo where the Heredia bank customer first filed the complaint. That court ordered the bank to pay the woman 490,000 colons that she lost, plus interest from 2009 plus 500,000 in damages. The award is about $2,000.

The bank's lawyers appealed the lower court decision to the Sala Primera. The woman customer said she never gave anyone her debit card nor did she share the PIN number. She also said she did not bank online.

Our reader' opinion
Expats need representation
in the U.S. Congress

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

They want us filing tax forms every year. We are considered “U.S. PERSONS” (Note: not citizens). We get to vote from where we came from – usually irrelevant.

How about a category – EXPAT?

Our desires, needs, outlook, are different. We form a distinct group – Unrepresented.

Somebody said something like: “No taxation without representation”.

I have to vote “in” Arkansas.  I have nothing to do with Arkansas – if I lived in Arkansas I would NOT want some guy in Costa Rica watering down my vote.  Personally, after 15 years, I could give a rat’s petunia who represents the Hillbillies.

However, I think most EXPATS think about the same, have the same issues, and are as big a group as a congressional district. (Size figures are nothing more than feelings, NO research).

It seems to me that if THEY want to call us U.S. PERSONS and want us filling out forms from January through April, then by God, what about Representation?  About 250 years ago some trouble started over this.

Charlie Merritt
San Isidro de Alajuela
Costa Rica (not part of a congressional district)

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.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 19
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A.M. Costa Rica guest editorial
Frequent visitor writes of the warmth and compassion of Ticos

By Megan Börner*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I feel compelled to write to you about the time my family and I spent recently in Costa Rica. This past Christmas and New Year’s my husband and I and our three children (ages 13-20) lived two weeks of joy, fun and tragedy. Throughout our vacation and the extreme range of unexpected adventures we experienced, the Costa Rican people showed warmth, compassion and poise.

Two of the events in which we were involved were reported in the Costa Rican news: the drowning on Christmas Day near Puerto Jiménez and the escaped jaguars at La Paz on Dec. 30th.  The tragic drowning deeply affected the people who attempted the rescue and resuscitation of the swimmer.  Our children were boogie-boarding in the same waves as the victim who was bodysurfing and was knocked unconscious.

Despite a pounding surf and a challenging road to the local clinic, my brother, a resident of Puerto Jiménez, and my daughter, a certified lifeguard, along with the employees and owners of the lodge where we were staying, did not give up efforts to revive the drowned man. I have never seen anyone sprint so fast into the water as the Costa Rican lodge employees did that day.

At La Paz Waterfall Gardens, the employees of the nature reserve and the tour bus operators needed to take a different kind of action.  Approximately 300 visitors were calmly told to evacuate the property because two jaguars had escaped from their cages. There was no panic as the visitors were efficiently guided away from the dangerous areas of the reserve. Given
the many narrow steps and paths and the variety of ages and abilities of the visitors, the cool-headedness of the employees was vital.

The situation had all the ingredients for another tragedy.

The events above would be enough to impress upon us the warm character of the Costa Rican people, but other situations we experienced confirmed it. On Christmas Eve, on the way to Puerto Jiménez, the brakes of our rental van failed. As luck would have it, we happened to be in front of a gas station in the town of Palmar Norte.  Thanks to a taxi driver who saw our predicament, we were set up with a local mechanic, and within two hours we were on our way again. The taxi driver did not charge a fee for guiding us as we crept along in first gear to the mechanic’s house. “It’s Christmas!” he said. Even the mechanic did not charge extra for doing rush repair work on Christmas Eve.  Another instance of excellent customer service and helpfulness came from the owner of a zapateria in Santa Ana, who because “it was on his way to San Ramon,” actually delivered a pair of handmade boots we had ordered to our B&B near Grecia.
To top off our wonderful interactions with Costa Ricans, we celebrated New Year’s Eve with what has become our Costa Rican family: the employees of Posada Mimosa. We were welcomed into their houses to ring in the New Year with dancing, food and games.  As you might have guessed, we are frequent visitors to Costa Rica. We have encountered on every visit, the warmth and hospitality of Costa Ricans whether it be in Guanacaste, the Central Valley or in the Osa Peninsula.

* Ms. Börner lives in Toronto, Canada.

Embassy email says argumentative Tico talked about a weapon
By Andrew Rulsek Kasper
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U. S. Embassy officials say Oscar Mora Morales, a Costa Rican father of two American citizens, talked about bringing a weapon onto embassy grounds, became argumentative and refused to answer simple anti-fraud questions and lied about having the two U.S. born children when he initially applied for a visa.

The embassy staff finally replied to news stories about Mora but in an unusual way. A press spokesman sent Mora an email presumably with the expectation that he would share it with reporters. The embassy staff has declined to discuss the case directly with this newspaper even though Mora signed a privacy act waiver for reporters.

The embassy email sent by spokesman Eric Turner said the staff decided not to engage in a public discussion of his case with A.M. Costa Rica and the Facebook community, in part, to protect his privacy and to avoid causing undue embarrassment to him and his family. Turner welcomed Mora to re-apply for the visa but asked Mora to stop posting negative comments on the embassy’s Facebook page. He threatens to delete all of them. “We appreciate free speech,” said Turner but said he classifies Mora’s comments as spam.

Óscar Mora was the 50-year-old Guanacaste businessman whose U.S. visa was canceled summarily by a vice consul at the embassy Jan. 12 while Mora was pushing for a U.S. passport for his Florida-born daughter. A.M. Costa Rica ran news stories Friday and Monday but could not obtain explanations from the embassy because staffers declined to comment.

Said Turner in the email:

“Do you really want us to explain to the Costa Rican public that we had to inform our security officers that you had talked to our security guards about bringing a weapon onto embassy grounds? Or that you actually demanded in front of the entire waiting room that consular officer cancel your visa, after you became upset during your daughter’s passport application?  Or that you were uncooperative and argumentative answering routine anti-fraud questions?”

Mora said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the embassy public relation’s officer is exaggerating in order to justify the consul’s actions. The consul lost her temper, said Mora.  Mora possessed a 10-year business and tourist visa that wasn’t dated to expire until 2015.

Mora said he was irked when a Costa Rican interviewer asked
him if he paid the hospital bill for his daughter's birth. He noted that his daughter is now 13 and he has no way of proving that he did. Mora said he did pay the bill but said the interviewer pushed him for documentation. He said the request for medical receipts from 13 years ago was absurd and it should not have any bearing on whether his dual-citizen daughter receives a U.S. passport.

Mora admitted Wednesday that afterward he mentioned as a joke to an embassy security guard he said he has known for years that he felt like killing someone because he was so frustrated with the situation.

Said Turner:

“In your last visa application, you concealed that you had not one, but two children who were U.S. citizens by answering 'no' to that direct question.  Having children while on a tourist visa is not against the law, but doing so without paying for it is a problem and a potential reason to be ineligible for a visa.  My understanding is that because you refused to address any questions on that subject, your visa was cancelled.  If you re-apply, consular officers will need to examine this issue again.”

Mora also said that on his last visit to renew his visa five years ago he was never asked if he had U.S. citizen children and therefore could not have lied.

Mora said the family has been planning a trip to Florida for more than a year as a way to show his daughter the United States. Although his 13-year-old daughter is a citizen of that country, she was only born there and has never returned. His other child, a boy, is 15 and also a U.S. citizen. He said his daughter cries about the situation and apologizes to her father because she feels guilty that his visa was canceled while he was getting her passport.

Before getting the email from Turner Mora was clinging to the hope of having his visa reinstated. Now he has to make a decision to seek a refund for the airline tickets for the trip he had planned with his family in February.

Mora routinely visits the United States to purchase computer equipment for his electronics resale business in Guanacaste. He also conducts several other business endeavors in Costa Rica including a television show and a tour company.

He said he has never once overstayed a visa, has no plans of illegally staying in the United States and that both his children were born there legally.

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Demonstrating public employees carry a sign that asks for dignity as an ice cream vendor appears to lead the procession.

Someone's got to work
A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela

First major protest of year centers on decreed pay increase
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hundreds of government workers gathered Wednesday in front of the Ministerio de Trabajo to protest a salary increase that workers and union officials repeatedly said was an insult. This was the first major protest of the year for Costa Rica.

More than 20 different unions that represent government workers stood in front of the ministry for hours where they chanted, waved their union flags, made noise, passed out fliers and expressed their opinion toward the 5,000-colons raise, approximately $10.

This is an extra 166 colons a day for a 30-day month, approximately a 33 cent daily increase, one protester noted.

“The 5000 colons is a ridiculous sum! It's a slap across the face,” said Beatriz Ferreto, spokesperson for Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza, during the rally. “This is just one of many ridiculous things the Chinchilla administration has done.”

A decree established the 5,000-colon monthly raise for all government workers regardless of current salary when negotiations broke down.

During the rally leaders said the wage decree was a result of corruption in the country. José María Villalta Florez-Estrada, sole legislator for the party Frente Amplio, said during a public talk that the workers are paying for corruption.
The protesters demanded change and respect. They said they are treated unfairly by the people who hold higher positions as government employees, such as ministers, lawmakers and the president. They said they are worthy, hard working and deserve respect. One speaker said that they will make the country tremble with what is next, if there is no rapid change.

Carlos Cabezas, spokesperson for Central General de Trabajadores Costa Rica, said that everyone needs to mobilize for their protests to actually work. He said that a representative isn't enough.

“That isn't going to work anymore! Every upset individual needs to mobilize for this to have an effect,” said Cabezas.

Speakers also used the space provided to oppose the proposed fiscal plan that is currently being discussed by the legislature. George A. Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece, said he approved of the budget plan for Costa Rica, during his visit to the country for a Socialist International meeting. This news infuriated the crowd and some said he was a traitor to the people and that is why Greece is the way it is now.

His approval only strengthened the opposition of the Costa Rican union, said a speaker from Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados.

Many union officials have said they want a tax plan that does not affect the working class but takes more from the wealthy. President Chinchilla proposed a 14 percent value-added tax that will be paid by everyone.

Astronaut Chang named for another space-related honor
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans, particularly those in official positions are thrilled that Franklin Chang Díaz has been named for induction into the Astronaut hall of fame at the Kennedy Space Center.

The Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología issued a statement Wednesday extending congratulations to Chang and said that the Costa Rican-U.S. Astronaut had inspired many youngsters in the country.

Chang, 62, is currently president and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Co. which is constructing a plasma rocket engine.

He is the first naturalized U.S. citizen to be an astronaut and served on seven space shuttle missions.

Chang went to school in San José and eventually received a doctorate in plasma physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Chang will be officially inducted May 5 along with astronauts  Kevin P. Chilton and Charles J. Precourt, said a release from Kennedy Space Center.

This is the 11th group of space shuttle astronauts named to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, the center said. Earlier inductees represent the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs. The addition of Chang, who has logged more than 1,601 hours in space; Gen. Chilton, the pilot on space shuttle Endeavour’s maiden voyage and the commander of STS-76; and Col. Precourt, who served as shuttle mission specialist, pilot and spacecraft commander, will bring the number of space explorers enshrined in the Hall of Fame to 82, the center added.

Chang also completed three space walks. He retired from NASA in July 2005 and then founded Ad Astra. The firm's efforts have led to the production of a rocket that has the theoretical capability of carrying a manned mission to Mars in just 39 days, said the center.

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U.S. says Ortega's reelection
was setback to democracy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States says Nicaragua's recent elections were a setback to democracy and warned it would now review aid to the country.

In a statement Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Nov. 6 re-election of President Daniel Ortega was marred by significant irregularities.

The statement said the process was not transparent or impartial and undermined the ability of Nicaraguans to hold their government accountable.

Mrs. Clinton says the U.S. and other countries must therefore look for ways to hold Nicaragua accountable — such as applying aggressive scrutiny to project loans at the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank. She says the U.S. will oppose any project that doesn't meet the high standards of the banks or provide adequate development impact.

The comments follow the final report of the Organization of American States election observation mission.

President Ortega won more than 60 percent of the first-round vote in November, enough to avoid a runoff. A onetime Sandinista revolutionary, Ortega is the first Nicaraguan president to serve back-to-back terms since the end of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.

He first came to power in 1984 after earlier leading a movement to overthrow the country's dictator . He lost his re-election bid in 1990, but regained power in 2006.

Google's privacy switch
prompting some concerns

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

If you are one of the millions of people who use Google's online search engine, email or YouTube video site, you might want to pay close attention.  Google is changing its privacy policy to allow it to track users across services.

The company says beginning March 1, it is turning its more than 60 different privacy policies into one policy that will cover multiple products and features to create a simple and intuitive experience.

Google says it may combine information users have provided from one service with information from other services to better tailor search results and advertising.

But critics are concerned that Google is not providing a way to opt out of the tracking.  The chief executive of nonprofit advocacy group Common Sense Media issued a statement calling Google's new privacy announcement frustrating and a little frightening.  He said consumers, especially kids and teens, should have the option to opt out.

Google and social media titan Facebook have faced privacy disputes in the past.

The European Commission proposed new rules Wednesday to require such companies to give consumers more control over their personal data or be fined up to $1.3 million or 2 percent of their annual global turnover.  EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding called the protection of personal data a fundamental right, but said people do not always feel in control of their information.

Her proposal includes the controversial right to be forgotten, allowing users to get data about them deleted if there are no legitimate grounds for keeping it.

Rio conference outline
being designed at U.N.

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The first round of informal discussions on the proposed outcome document of the United Nations conference on sustainable development that will be held in Brazil in June got under way in New York Wednesday with a senior U.N. official calling for an ambitious and yet practical conclusion.

“When world leaders gather in Rio in five months, we need to present them with an ambitious and yet practical outcome that equals the magnitude of today’s challenges,” said Sha Zukang, the secretary general of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, called Rio+20, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro beginning 20 June.

“We need a robust outcome from Rio+20, with reinvigorated political commitments by all countries. We need strong decisions…strong in commitments and strong in actions,” he said.

The informal round of talks on the outcome document is the first in a series of negotiating sessions to be held in March, April, May and June in the run up to the conference.

Sha urged governments and civil society to focus on possible sustainable development goals, and on whether these would take into account specific national circumstances.

He also urged them to consider the complementarity between the proposed Sustainable Development Council and the Economic and Social Council and how the conference would drive the dissemination and transfer of state-of-the-art technologies on mutually agreed terms from developed to developing countries.

Eradicating poverty and building socially just and inclusive societies, while protecting the planet’s fragile eco-systems remain the defining challenges of the 21st century, Sha said.

The multiple crises of food, energy, climate, finance and employment shape the different facets of the challenges, he said, adding that they reminded humanity that problems are interconnected and must be tackled together.

The so-called “zero draft” of the outcome document was prepared from more than 6,000 pages of submissions from Member States, international organizations and civil society.

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Agents lead the child sex suspect to detention.

El Roble man held in case
of sex abuse of minors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents from the regional Judicial Investigating Organization office in Alajuela detained a 55-year-old man Wednesday morning in El Roble on allegations of rape and sexual abuse of minors.

The agency reported that the arrest of the man came as a result of surveillance, investigations and monitoring. The suspect’s name is Juan Rafael Ramos Ramos, and he is Costa Rican, according to a press officer at the organization's headquarters in San José.

The investigators claim to have linked Ramos with two incidents of rape and sexual abuse of minors, which supposedly involved two girls. one 11 and the other 7. Upon completing a search of the suspect’s house investigators said they discovered toys such as stuffed animals and Barbie dolls. They said that the man used these to bring girls into the home.

They also said they uncovered other evidence and video tapes which they believe to contain sexual material.

Home invasion leads
to detention of suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members of the Policía de Fronteras in Sarapiquí captured four home invasion suspects Tuesday night after bandits forced their way into a home in Finca 2 de Río Frío, threatened those living there and took 1 million colons, about $2,000.

The bandits fled on two motorcycles about 9 p.m.. Police intercepted the four men on a public highway about a half hour later. They said they recovered cash and confiscated a .22-caliber revolver.

Police identified the four by the last names of Omares Quirós, Solano Solís, Durán Ramírez and Miranda Hernández. They said that Miranda had been in court before to answer robbery allegations.

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