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(506) 2223-1327          Published Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 22     Email us
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Despite survey results, government defends tax plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica

According to the central government it is common that a tax increase generates predominately negative reactions among the public.

That was the essence of the response to a survey that said that three quarters of the public opposes President Laura Chinchilla's tax plan. The Spanish-language daily La Nación contracted with  Unimer to survey public views on the tax proposal which still is in the legislature.

Casa Presidencial was quick to respond and pointed out that 70 percent of the new taxes will be paid by the top 20 percent income earners.

Casa Presidencial noted that the government has put up a special Web page that promotes the tax plan. It is The Web page repeats the same claims. And it also contains a link to the text of the tax proposal and a summary.

The Web Page tends to discount any serious effects on the average Costa Rican. The tax would tax about $500 million out of private hands.

The proposed value-added tax is efficient and used in the more developed countries for years, said the text. The Web page says that Costa Ricans will pay just 14 percent instead of the current 13 percent.

However, the Web page does not say that the value-added tax will include many more financial transactions, like visits to professionals such as lawyers, accountants, private physicians and private dentists. Generally such taxes raise much more money than a simple sales tax.

The Web page also says that this tax only will be charged on commissions that banks assess to withdraw money via automatic tellers. An early incorrect claim was that the government would tax the withdrawal. If the bank does not charge a commission, there will be no tax, the Web page says. Of course, state banks do not charge a commission on automatic teller withdrawals by their customers. But expats who take money from their accounts in the countries usually face fees up to $3.50. So they would pay 49 U.S. cents more.
pro-tex web page
A necessary project, said the pro-tax Web page.

The exchange of money, such as dollars for colons, will not be taxed, it says.

The tax reform will guarantee the sustainability of public polices, especially those that are directed to the most vulnerable sector of the population, said the Web page. The Web page likens the current financial situation of the county to that of a household where the outgo is more than the income. The result is more debt, it notes. About half the current national budget is financed with debt.

The Web page brags that 233 products used by the bulk of the citizenry will not be taxed.

The Web page also says that tax collection is up and that evasion is being controlled by a lottery to promote the use of credit cards and by visits to companies to check on tax payments. Merchants are less likely to cheat on remitting tax from credit card purchasers because there is a paper trail.

The governmental claims are not always totally candid. The Ministerio de Hacienda where the tax-collecting Tributación is located, said this month that income from the luxury home tax was up 19.03 percent when compared to the year before. The government collected nearly 2 billion colons by Jan. 16, it said. That is about $3.96 million. However, a check of the records shows that this amount is just 10 million colons higher than the 2010 total of 1.99 billion colons or about $3.94 million.

Collections took a $612,000 plunge in 2011, the year to which the ministry made the comparison.

The tax proposal also would increase the transfer tax on real estate valued at more than 50 million colons or about $99,100.

Here's a missing person case with a happy ending
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U. S. citizen who was reported missing since mid-December is alive and well at a spa and holistic healing center in the Nicoya peninsula. The man's wife of 23 years reported him missing to judicial police in Heredia over a month ago after he had been gone for 10 days and had not contacted her. She said the last she knew of him was that he left on a bus and was going to a spa in Nicoya.

The man, John Harold Nelson, was featured Saturday in an article accompanied by a picture in the Costa Rican newspaper Diario Extra. After several phone calls Monday a reporter easily contacted Nelson. He
 said he was safe and secure near the Pacific Ocean. Nelson said he takes the blame for not contacting his wife, Sonia Delgado.

He is retired, and the couple just returned to Costa Rica after 23 years and two children in the United States.

Before Nelson was located, he briefly joined the list of other missing foreigners. Among others, investigations continue in the missing persons cases of a French couple who vanished last March, British journalist Michael Dixon, who was last seen in Tamarindo October 2009, and David Gimelfarb, 28, an Illinois resident, who vanished August 2009.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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Our readers' opinions
Chávez endorsement
of Obama is scary

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read the article this morning in A.M. Costa Rica that reports on Chavez's endorsement of sorts for President Obama. I find this very interesting and only wish this story would be picked up by major news outlets here in the States. It clearly shows that Socialist leaders (Communist and dictators as well) relate to and appreciate President Obama's view of the world. This scares the heck out of me.

We are supposed to be the protector of democracy worldwide but under Obama's presidency he gets the support of socialist and lunatics like Chávez!!! This alone should wake Americans up to NOT vote for Obama. In fact I feel the majority of this "do-nothing" Congress, Republican and Democrat, alike should be voted out if up for re-election. It is past time for the politicians in America to realize the importance of their party affiliation pales in comparison to the importance of being an American. We are near an economic collapse, yet nothing gets done.
I have never written to A.M. Costa Rica before concerning American politics, but today reading the article of Chavez thinking Obama was best for America's relationship with Latin America I could not stop myself. Wake up.  A bankrupt America will be no help to anybody, especially Latin America.  As I have ties by marriage to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, family in both countries. I have a stake in this and believe Obama is not good for Gringos, Ticos, or Nicas. Floridians speak at the polls. Its primary day! Americans speaks in November. Value our way of life!
Patrick Mach
St Augustine, Florida

BBG system is similar
to that used in U.S. prisons

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

BBG is a U.S.-based telecommunications vendor owned by a Mexican family. They have a number of subsidiaries around the world, but concentrate on the Americas.

Their business is supported by various telecommunications vendors (like ICE), whose lines and equipment they need to conduct their business.

Their customers are the largest and most luxurious hotels and hospitality providers in the world. They also include smaller hotels of all varieties. The hotels get a big cut of each call made, which is their motive to use BBG instead of less expensive alternatives.

Interestingly, the same type of operation is run in every jail and prison in the U.S. Prisoners are only allowed to make collect calls through the prison's contracted system, and are charged exorbitant fees. Sadly, it is the people called — the families of prisoners — who bear the brunt of these collect calls. And the prison gets about 45 percent of each call. Talk about being held captive!

But even prisoners are not hit as hard as the clients of hotels here in Costa Rica. SHAME ON YOU, hotel owners who use this service!!
John French

EDITOR'S NOTE: A.M. Costa Rica has reported that BBG blindsides callers with exorbitant fees.

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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Bandits take 215 pistols from traffic police storage facility
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of bandits robbed more than 200 firearms from a Policia de Transito temporary storage area early Monday morning after subduing two private security contractors assigned to cover the building.

The Judicial Investigating Organization confirmed that four men had taken part in the heist and accomplished it by gagging and tying the guards then entering through the main entrance at about 1 a.m. One of the guards was an employee of the security firm contracted to guard the premises while the other was an employee of the construction company working on the new police facilities adjacent to the warehouse, said César Quirós, director of the traffic police force.

The Ministry de Obras Publicas y Transportes reported the warehouse was being used to house the guns as well as other equipment while the construction work on the regular facilities was under way. A ministry spokesperson declared none of the radio equipment or bullet proof vests was stolen from the premises. Also 165 firearms identical to those stolen were left untouched by the burglars, the ministry said. The 215 guns stolen were all 9-mm. Glock pistols used by the transit police. The value of the stolen guns amounts to about 83 million colons, the ministry reported. That is about $165,000.
The warehouse is in Plaza González Víquez in the center of San José where the ministry is located.

The robbery came only weeks after the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública vowed to get tough on the circulation of elicit and unregistered guns in Costa Rica.

The Transit police are not part of that ministry. Transit officials report they will be conducting an internal investigation into the incident. The Judicial Investigating Organization Robbery Division is in charge of the principal investigation.

Judicial agents searched several homes Monday night in search of the weapons.

The Glock 19 pistol is a compact weapon with a 15-round magazine. It is slightly smaller than the Glock 17 that is a standard with many U.S. police agencies. The Glock 19 only weighs 21 ounces or about 595 grams.

The Glock 19 appears to sell for around $500 in the States, although some Web sites say that there are discount prices for military and large police purchases. The transit police appear to have paid $765 each, although there are a number of accessories available.

Nicaraguan cheese will not make it to the table in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In what police are calling the biggest border bust of the year, agents confiscated Sunday 1.5 tons of cheese made in Nicaragua and illegally imported into Costa Rica.

The Policía de Fronteras in Upala said the discovery of the illegal cheese came because of an anonymous tip and credited the Programa de Seguridad Comunitaria en la Frontera Norte.

The cheese was taken from a Nicaraguan man with the last name Quintana, police said. He is 37 years old and also a resident of Costa Rica. He was transporting the Nicaraguan cheese by truck, police report.

The bust was made by border patrols in Calle del Muerto, sector Jomuza, in Upala.

After coordinating with inspectors from the Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal of the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería, the cheese was declared unsanitary.
Policía de Fronteras photo
The only refrigeration is from the wind.

The ministry said importing cheese illegally and in unsanitary  conditions puts at risk the health of the consumers. The suspect, Quintana, was released on his own reconnoissance, and the cheese will be destroyed, agents report.

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Tourism to learn seen as area for major growth for industry
By the Oregon State University news staff

New research suggests that major growth in the travel, leisure and tourism industry in the coming century may be possible as more people begin to define recreation as a learning and educational opportunity – a way to explore new ideas and cultures, art, science and history.

Some of this is already happening, although the expansion of tourism in much of the 20th century was often focused on amusement parks and tropical resorts.

A recent study published in the Annals of Tourism Research says that increasingly affluent and educated people around the world are ready to see travel in less conventional ways, and that lifelong learning and personal enrichment can compete favorably with sandy beaches or thrill rides.

“The idea of travel as a learning experience isn’t new, it’s been around a long time,” said John Falk, a professor of science education at Oregon State University and international leader in the “free-choice learning” movement, which taps into personal interests to help boost intellectual growth beyond what’s taught in schools and through formal education.

In the 1700s and 1800s, a grand tour of Europe was considered an educational rite of passage for upper-class citizens of the gentry or nobility, in which months of travel throughout the continent offered education about art, culture, language, everything from history to science, fencing and dancing.

“For a long time the travel industry has been focused on hedonistic escapism,” Falk said. “That’s okay, but as more and more people have the time, means and opportunity to travel, a lot of them are ready to go beyond that. There are many other interesting things to do, and people are voting with their feet.

“You’re already seeing many tour operators and travel agencies offer educational opportunities, things like whale watching, ecotourism,” Falk said. “The National Park Service does a great job with its resources, teaching people about science, geology and history. The push for more international travel experiences as a part of formal education for students is an outgrowth of this concept.

“We’re convinced this is just the beginning of a major shift in 
how people want to spend their leisure time, and one that could have important implications for intellectual and cultural growth around the world,” he said.

Among the observations the researchers make in their study:

    * More leisure time and lower relative cost of travel near the end of the 20th century has opened the door for people to consider different types of recreation focused on intellectual engagement.

    * A growing appetite for lifelong learning is being underserved by the existing tourism industry.

    * A major expansion of learning-based tourism will require both participants and the tourism industry to overcome a long-standing bias that recreation and education are opposite ends of the spectrum – to accept that learning can be fun.

    * The cultural impact of “being there” makes for a memorable learning experience of great personal value to participants, and is often just the beginning of a continued interest in a topic.

    * People seek experiences that are sensation-rich, alter their view of the world, or instill a sense of wonder, beauty and appreciation.

    * A down side to travel and learning can occur if tourists use the experience to reinforce colonialist, racial or cultural stereotypes.

    * Tourism activities are most successful if the participant feels active and engaged, rather than just receiving a recitation of facts to correct a “knowledge deficit.”

Collaborators on this research were from the University of Queensland in Australia.

“It is expected that tourism will become ever more centered upon a quest for something larger, something more personally fulfilling,” the researchers wrote in their report, adding:

“It is argued that the quest for knowledge and understanding, enacted through travel, will continue to be a dominant theme of the new century.”

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Mexican envoy and wife
freed in Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Mexican ambassador to Venezuela and his wife are free after being kidnapped in the latest high-profile abduction in that country, where crime is soaring.

Authorities say four armed men seized Ambassador Carlos Pujalte and his wife at around midnight Sunday as they left a reception near the capital, Caracas.  The two were released a few hours later in a slum. 

Mexican officials said Pujalte and his wife were both in good health and thanked Venezuelan security forces for their efforts to free the couple overnight.  He said the two gave statements to Venezuelan authorities Monday.

Few details were given about the kidnappers or whether a ransom had been demanded.

Caracas is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with a high rate of murders and violent crimes.

Two months ago, a Chilean diplomat in Caracas was abducted, beaten, and shot before being released two hours later.  And Major League Baseball star Wilson Ramos was seized during a visit to his parents in late 2011, and held for two days before security forces freed him.

6.4 magnitude quake hits
devastated Peruvian town

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Geological Survey says an earthquake with a 6.4 magnitude has hit the coast of central Peru.

The Survey says the quake happened Monday shortly after midnight local time, 15 kilometers (9 miles) southeast of Ica and 280 kilometers (174 miles) south-southeast of Lima, at a depth of 39 kilometers (24 miles).

Officials said nearly 100 people suffered minor injuries. There were no reports of deaths or major damage.

In 2007, Ica was devastated by an 8.0 earthquake.

Fierce killer freeze puts
much of Europe on ice

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

Weather forecasters say there is no immediate relief in sight to the eastern European cold snap that has killed at least 36 people since Saturday.

Forecasters expect temperatures, which have been as low as minus 30 degrees C (-22 F) in some places, to drop even more this week.

Police in Ukraine say 18 people, most of them homeless, froze to death, while 10 died in Poland.

Deaths also are reported in Bulgaria and Romania, where prison inmates dug through heavy snow and ice to rescue hundreds of stray dogs left behind in an animal shelter.

The freezing weather caught many eastern Europeans by surprise. This winter had been unusually mild with spring-like temperatures in many cities.

Intel joins U.N. effort
to cut childbirth deaths

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U. N. Population Fund and the computing company Intel Corp. Monday unveiled a joint effort to strengthen the skills of midwives and community health workers through technology, in a bid to reduce the number of pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths across the world.

The initiative will increase the capacity of health workers around the world through software and technical assistance provided by Intel and wider availability of higher-quality education through training and materials from the fund.

Intel will build on its commitment to the U.N. Every Woman, Every Child initiative to help train one million frontline health workers by 2015 under the Intel 1Mx15 Health project.

An estimated 360,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth and up to two million babies die within the first 24 hours of life, largely because of a lack of access to properly trained health workers, according to the U.N.

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Latin America news
French cultural center
plans to show comedies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Alliance Française is hosting a French comedy film screening, “Viernes Cinéfilos,” every Friday beginning this week at 6 p.m. The event is free.

Every Friday a different French film will show with Spanish subtitles on a large screen at the center in Barrio Amón.

The first film to inaugurate the month-long screening is the 2010 film “Potiche” (“Trophy Wife” in English) with director Francois Ozon. This is a story about a woman who takes over the family business after her husband has a heart attack in the late 1970s. She goes from being a trophy wife to the head of an umbrella-making corporation.

The film “Les Côtelettes” (“The Chops”) will be shown Feb. 10, “Play Time” Feb. 17 and “Drôle de Drame” (“Funny Drama”) Feb 24.

Every first Friday of the month Alliance Française has an open space for children to come and watch a French film with Spanish subtitles at 3 p.m. This month the cutural organization will show “Une Vie de Chat” (“A Cat”) .

Another Pacific quake

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pacific coast residents felt another offshore quake two minutes before midnight Sunday.

The epicenter was estimated to be 12.2 kilometers (7.5 miles) west southwest of Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio and 15.8 kilometers (9.8 miles) southwest of Quepos in the Central Pacific, said the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica of the Universidad de Costa Rica. The quake was estimated to have been 38.2 kilometers (23.6 miles) deep under the Pacific Ocean.

There had been a quake a little less than eight hours earlier, at 4:11 p.m., in the Pacific off Potrero in the Gulf of Papagayo in northwestern Costa Rica. The Quepos quake was estimated at a magnitude of 3.1. The Papagayo quake was about 3.4, the laboratory said.

Bomb threat nets prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man accused of phoning in a bomb threat to the courts in Heredia got six months in prison Monday at the Tribunal de Flagrancia de Heredia.

The man has the last names of Iglesias Villalobos, and the Poder Judicial noted he was arrested Thursday just 100 meters from his home in San Pablo de Heredia. Agents quickly tracked the call to a cell telephone used by the suspect.

The man submitted to an abbreviated judicial process in the flagrancia tribunal which is designed to handle cases where suspects are caught red-handed or nearly so.

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