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(506) 2223-1327         Published Friday, Jan. 28, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 20           E-mail us
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Climber and Ms. Chinchilla
Casa Presidencial photo
They hope it will be
a high flying flag

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With plenty of effort and a lot of luck, the Costa Rican flag being presented to Gineth Soto by President Laura Chinchilla will be flying at the peak of Mount Everest.

The Costa Rican climber visited the president Thursday, a day after she announced she was determined to scale the world's tallest mountain this year. Ms. Chinchilla said the woman was an inspiration to all Costa Ricans.

Chinchilla tax plan called urgent and necessary
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's finance minister carried the case for the administration's new taxes to the legislature Thursday and said that the proposals were urgent and necessary.

The minister, Fernando Herrero Acosta, is the administrations pointman in trying to get the proposals approved by an unconvinced legislature. He was before the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Hacendarios.

Among other points, the minster said that the nation's income was already allocated. Education gets 37 percent, social program spending gets 20 percent and security and justice gets 11 percent. The total is 68 percent, and he did not mention debt service.

In addition, the administration increased expenses in naming 2,900 school teachers, 300 police officers and 200, prison guards, he said.

He defended the 14 percent value-added tax as a good way to reduce tax evasion. That is because every entity that pays the tax has an interest in seeking that others pay the tax, too.

The government political party, Liberación Nacional, does not have enough votes to pass the measures without getting votes from opposition parties.

Two opposition parties have proposed their own plans that mainly concentrate on better tax collection.
The proposal also calls for a 15 percent tax on interest, dividends, profits and money sent from outside the country.

"This tax reform is necessary and urgent. We need to confront the fiscal problem in a responsible way and our major challenge is fiscal sustainability," he told the committee.

The tax plans are designed to be paid by those who have and spend money. For example, private school tuition greater than 110,000 colons ($220) a month is to be taxed under the plan.

Herrero's Ministry of Hacienda and its tax-collecting agency, Tributación, appears to be having problems collecting existing taxes. The agency reported Thursday that the luxury home tax only brought in 2 billion colons this year, a drop of nearly 25 percent from the year before. This is the progressive tax on homes of more than 100 million colons.

The tax agency estimated that about 10,000 homes in the country were subject to the tax. Only 2,998 homeowners filed and paid the taxes by the Jan. 15, 2010, deadline. The government collected about $5.5 million. That was the first year of the tax.

This year there were 1,400 home owners who paid the tax. That brought in the 2 billion colons, about $4.1 million.

Despite threats when the tax was passed, Tributación does not seem to be seeking out those who did not pay, although those who do not face penalties and interest.

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Nine held in car thefts
that involved extortion

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained nine persons Thursday and said they were members of an extortion car ring that had been taking cars on the pretext of taking them for a test drive. Two of those involved already are in prison, and agents said they ran the ring via cell telephones.

Agents had been pursuing the case for seven months, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. Detentions were made in  San Antonio de Coronado, Granadilla Norte, Purral de Guadalupe and Barrio Cuba as well as La Reforma prison in Alajuela.

Agents confiscated 14 stolen vehicles and found 12 cell telephones and chips at the prison, they said. The phones, all TDMA types, had been smuggled into the prison.

The gang targeted those who had listed their vehicle for sale in the classifieds of a newspaper or on the Internet. They would meet the seller at a mechanic's shop or similar.  When the seller was not paying attention or on the pretext of a test drive, the supposed buyer would drive off with the car.

That is when one of the imprisoned leaders would call the individual on the cell telephone to offer a return of the car for money. Some car owners paid but the vehicle was not returned. The amount varied by the type of car.

Agents said that a policeman was involved with the gang and was providing information about the vehicles and the owners.

Investigators have at least 23 complaints from persons who lost their cars. Others may have paid and never reported the crime. More arrests are possible.

The prison system has devices to prevent convicts from making calls on GSM-style cell phones. But the older TDMA phones are not impeded by the system.

no star hotels
Ministero de Gobernación, Policía 
y Seguridad Pública photo 
This is one of the hotels that was inspected

Early police inspections
zero in on cheap housing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police are making early morning calls on downtown hotels that may house drug vendors and illegal immigrants.

They did so Thursday, beginning at 4 a.m. Some 146 persons were checked, and one man was detained because he is the subject of a sexual abuse warrant. Three Colombians and a Guatemalan were found to be without a legal right to be in the country. They were turned over to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería for deportation. Four Nicaraguans were also ordered to report to immigration officials to present their papers.

Police confiscated 52 doses of crack cocaine, too.

The hotels and lodgings involved are definitely not the Ritz. They are called cuarterías in Spanish and sometimes consist of a large house cut up into small rooms that rent at a low price. The buildings checked out Thursday are in San Jose's downtown and in Barrio La Cruz of the capital.

Virilla bridge expected
to be four lanes today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry said that it expected to have four lanes in service this morning on the Río Virilla bridge on the Autopista General Cañas.

The location has been a bottleneck since December when crews started working on the bridge. At one point the bridge was down to one lane in each direction. Thursday there were three lanes. The traffic jam was miles long on either side of the bridge.

This is the famous bridge where workers could not fasten down a piece of metal over an expansion joint in three or four attempts. It has been the topic of jokes and song.

Although four lanes are expected to be open today, the work is not over. The speed limit is 30 kph, which is about 19 mph. Crews still are putting down concrete.

The highway is the main route to Juan Santamaría airpot form San José.

Murder sentences vary

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 13 year old who beat to death a 78-year-old man Sept. 23 got six years in a specialized center, the Poder Judicial said. The minor was not named. The case was in the Juzgado Penal Juvenil de San José. The murder took place in Salitral de Santa Ana.

In another murder case, a 54-year-old man with the last names of Calderón Campos got 20 years Thursday in the Tribunal de Juicio de Desamparados for killing his 47-year-old wife last March 28. The couple had been married 30 years.

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, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 20
Latigo K-9

Jaco condos

Modest recovery in construction reported for 2010
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Construction bounced back in 2010, according to the Cámara Costarricense de la Construcción.

In terms of the square meters of permits approved, the increase was about 11 percent, the chamber said.

Ricardo Castro, president of the business group, said that another increase of about 12 percent is expected this year. However, he called upon the government to take action to stop the deterioration of competitivity and reactivate the national economy.

He said at a press conference that the reduction of paperwork, the development of infrastructure through concessions and better access to housing are key points to a quick recovery of the construction sector.

For example, he said there are 73 projects that mean 14,000 jobs that are hung up over paperwork. He said that the
country suffers from lack of medium and long-term planning.

He proposed a new regulation covering approval of building plans with an eye to reduce paperwork and a single regulation for building in municipalities.

Castro also said that 50 percent of the population does not have access to good housing. He urged improvements in credit to better conditions for those who seek their own home. He urged that the government postpone its proposal for a 14 percent value-added tax because this would only increase the cost of housing.

The statistics from the construction chamber show that all provinces except Puntarenas had increases in the amount of construction approved in 2010. The national total was 501,048 square meters. That is 5,393,236 square feet. Still construction is some 30 percent behind November 2008, Castro noted. Most of the increase in 2010 was commercial space, the statistics show.

Agents find suspect in murder of woman on way to work
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents tracked down a suspect in the murder of a woman pedestrian to a home in La Aurora de Alajuelita and detained him Thursday.

This is the case of the woman on her way to work at the Hospital de Mujeres about 5:30 a.m. Jan. 6 who was confronted and stabbed by a robber. The case got headlines because the killing happened on the south side of Plaza Víquez in the presence of other individuals.

The victim, Alice Fallas Rivera, 27, had just gotten off a
public bus from her home in San Miguel de Desamparados, She was walking the half mile or so to work at the hospital.

The man detained was identified as a 23-year-old drug addict who had no fixed place of residence and spent his time walking the streets of the city, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents got a good description from a taxi driver who saw the robbery and tried to intercede. Ironically the taxi driver's actions may have cause the man to stab his victim.

She died at the scene from a chest wound.

High season: The halls are alive with the sound of tourists
These past two weeks have been filled with the happy sounds of tourists in my building.  First, two mutual friends from Florida visited my neighbor and friend, Doug.  As soon as Pat and Joann arrived, they were off on tours.  The first two days of their visit were rainy and windy and they were not able to see the Arenal volcano in the fog but loved the Tabacon spa. It was cold and wet on their trip the next day, but they said they had a wonderful time anyway because of the scenery and delicious lunch. Then they were off on a coffee tour where once again, they enjoyed great food and learning about the history and cultivation of coffee, as well as a bit of Costa Rican culture.

On their third day we all welcomed the grand entrance of sunshine and blue skies which made their tour of the city warm and comfortable.  Like most people who visit San José, they enjoyed the museums and buildings.  I suspect tour companies with destinations in other parts of the country of purposely warning people to stay away from San Jose, but I have to admit I’m biased.

At the end of the week, both women declared they would be coming back for more tours.  This surprised me because they are in their 80s.  I couldn’t keep up with them just walking in the neighborhood.

Then my son arrived.  I delight in seeing him, but I am not used to feeding someone who is a foot taller than I am with an appetite to match, not to mention a different schedule for eating.  Like most Gringos, he eats dinner at night, while I have adjusted to having my main meal midday and a very small snack around 6 and I’m good till bed time.  In between eating and snacking (both of my children tell me they are always hungry when they visit me), he helped me operate my computer and my Kindle. He is a good teacher.

Then he, too, was off on a tour, zip lining and riding the gentle rapids of the Rio Sarapiquí.  It was great fun, he said. He met some interesting visitors from Puerto Rico and India and had a chance to practice his Spanish. And by now the good weather seems to have settled in.  This makes me, a non-tourist, very happy.

Because I am not used to cooking three meals a day (how 
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

do mothers with families do that!), we ate out a few times.  It was my turn for new experiences. We went first, to a Japanese restaurant for sushi, one of his favorite dishes.  It is in a local hotel and had the reputation for being the best in San José.  Years ago I took my much-traveled Norwegian friend Nina, there and she declared it the best sushi she had tasted anywhere.

This time, the sushi was ordinary and could not be improved because the ginger was soaked in vinegar. When I asked about it, the waitress shrugged. That was the way it came.  Sushi needs both wasabi and a slightly sweet ginger.

Another day we went to the restaurant row on the balcony of the Rohmoser Plaza and chose a fairly new Arabian food restaurant.  Justin had falafel and I a chicken pita.  Both came with french fries.  French fries seem to be part of every country’s cuisine.  I never order them, but if they are served, I will taste them and decide if I want to eat them.

I have not been to Belgium to try their famous fries, but I have heard how they are twice-cooked and can imagine how they might taste.  These also were twice fried (I asked). They were very hot, lovely and soft — almost creamy on the inside — and brown and crisp on the outside, and the most delicious and filling I have tasted in Costa Rica or anywhere.

I’ve never zip lined and have no desire to. Two times river rapids rafting has been enough, and years ago, I was lucky on my first trip to Arenal to see huge red boulders roll down the mountainside.  I don’t expect to repeat that.

A new Japanese Korean restaurant has opened just two blocks from me, I will try it.  I am, however, counting the days in anticipation of more of those Arabian french fries.

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This is one of the units of professional firemen who have training for woods fires and who will be competing this weekend.
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Forest fire fighters show their outdoor skills this weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those who fight forest fires are competing in Agua Caliente de Cartago this weekend in an annual contest  sponsored by the Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación.

The Movilización de Brigadas Forestales requires these specialized firefighters to compete as individuals and as teams.

The physical condition and the way in which they handle their tools are judged, said the Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica, which entered two teams in the events.
The event is being held through Sunday at the Ciudad de los Niños in Agua Caliente. Fire fighters also will have to confront obstacles and battle simulated blazes.

Each year hundreds of acres of public land is charred by fires. The current dry season is a prime time for blazes to break out. Some are caused naturally by lightning and combustion but others are caused by humans.

The issue is in the news this month because expats living on the Pacific coast are trying to get support for a legislative bill that wouldd give the bomberos more money via a tax on electricity. Many well-known Pacific coast towns do not have fire protection.

Bill penalizing violence against women gets green light

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has given the go-ahead to a revised proposal that would penalize violence against women.

The judicial review was sought by the Asamblea Legislativa.

This is the law that was found to be unconstitutional in
several aspects. It had been promoted heavily by the women's lobby in the wake of murders of companions by men.

The basic objection to the proposal is that it treats women different than men. It also provides stiffer penalties for actions against a woman if the woman happens to be a spouse or companion. The measure also penalizes those who might insult their wife or companion in public or cause what is being called psychological violence.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 20

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

México's violence appears
to be spreading south

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Much of Mexico is now under the grip of drug-related violence that has claimed 30,000 lives since president Felipe Calderón declared war on organized criminal gangs in December, 2006.  While polls show support for the president's policy, they also show that a large percentage of people believe the government is losing the war.

While crime is a big concern in Mexico City, people feel far removed from what is happening along the northern border or in other violence-plagued areas.

News media report almost daily about ghastly mass murders, beheadings and large-scale gun battles in other parts of the country. But for many people in the capital, it seems far away.

But some parts of central and southern Mexico are starting to witness brutal murders and shootouts on a regular basis, and security analyst Ana Maria Salazar says no part of the country is totally safe.

"People sometimes think I exaggerate when I talk about Mexico being at war, but there are certain parts of the country which clearly have war-like conditions," said Ms. Salazar.

While some Mexicans criticize president Calderon's war on drug traffickers for causing an increase in violence, Ms. Salazar says the Mexican leader had to act.

"When you consider how dangerous these organizations are and how well armed they are and how well organized they are, the Mexican government really did not have many other options," she said.

One border area where the president's strategy is showing some results is the city of Tijuana, just over the border from San Diego, California.

The violence has subsided there as police have regained control. Crime is still a problem there, but it is far less a problem than it is in cities like Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Tijuana resident Gerardo Mora credits cooperation between various levels of government and police. "For us, what really worked is that municipal police, state police, federal agents, the governor, they got together and worked as a group," said Mora.

But Mora says citizens also need to do their part, by reporting criminal activity to the police. Widespread official corruption has discouraged many Mexicans from trusting the police and efforts to root out corruption and reduce violent crime have made slow progress.

Still, Ana Maria Salazar says people need to be patient.

"Any impact, in terms of reducing the violence in this country, from these reforms, is going to take years," she said.

With less than two years left in his term, though, President Calderón may be running out of time, and Ana Maria Salazar says his success may ultimately depend on the level of support he gets from north of the border.

Gang kills U.S. missionary

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. police say an American missionary was fatally shot in México Wednesday.

They say gunmen tried to stop the vehicle the 59-year-old woman and her husband were travelling in near San Fernando.  The men shot at the car as her husband sped away.

The woman later died at a hospital in the U.S. town of McAllen, Texas, which is near the Mexican border. The couple was returning from a mission near San Fernando when the shooting occurred.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 20

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Nicaraguan TV station
facing closure and threats

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association expressed concern Thursday at the censorship of a television channel in Nicaragua after the cable carrier cut it off, supposedly under pressure from the government. The press advocacy organization called for the immediate reinstatement of service.

The case involves Canal 15 Condega TV, located in the town of Pueblo Nuevo, Condega in the northern province of Estelí. The broadcasts were taken off air Jan. 17 by carrier Telecable de Condega. While the company claimed publicly that its decision was made in response to complaints by a cooperative claiming it was being affected negatively by reports aired on the channel, it later became known that one day before the removal of Canal 15 a fiber optic cable had been cut and a note had been found nearby that read: “We warned you, we didn’t want Canal 15 in Puerto Nuevo.”

According to information provided by Canal 15, the incident clearly shows the kind of intimidation and threats that it has been receiving from local officials belonging to the federal government party. Carlos Cerda Acuña, the channel’s director, said that it occasionally received threats in the past that its headquarters would be bombed if it continued criticizing the government.

Gonzalo Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre and Inter American Press Association president, said “Apart from whomever is responsible for this censorship, whether it is a supplier or, indirectly, the government, what is clear is that we are witnessing an obvious act against press freedom, a company’s right to its editorial position, and the public’s right to information.”

Colombia coal mine toll
is at least 20 miners dead

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

At least 20 people have been killed and six others injured in an explosion at a coal mine in northeastern Colombia.

Officials say the blast happened early Wednesday at La Preciosa mine in Norte de Santander province, which borders Venezuela.

So far, at least eight bodies have been recovered. Reports say rescuers were searching for survivors.

Officials say early indications point to a methane gas buildup as the cause of the explosion. The Mining and Energy Ministry says the facility will be shut down indefinitely.

Colombia is among the world's five largest coal exporters.

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