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These stories were published Friday, Feb. 6, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 26
Jo Stuart
About us
Commission has until Feb. 26 to study it
Fiscal reform package advances in legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional voted Thursday to set up a special commission to study the proposed fiscal reform package, a necessary step for eventual passage.

The commission has until Feb. 26 to make its report. Nine legislators from six political parties were named to the body.

This is the second time that the national deputies tried to set up such a group but it is the first time that they got the needed 39 votes in favor.

The members of the commission are Nury Garita and Bernal Jiménez of Partido Liberación Nacional, Carlos Avendaño of Renovación Costarricense, Humberto Arce of Bloque Patriótico, Epsy Campbell and Margarita Penón of Partido Acción Ciudadana, Federico Malavassi of  Movimiento Libertario and Mario Redondo and Olman Vargas of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana.

Rodrigo Alberto Carazo of Acción Ciudadana said he voted to set up the commission and advance the measure because although there were errors in the proposal there also was much that was good. He said he hoped that the commission would improve the bill.

However, Malavassi, whose libertarian party generally disapproved of more taxes, said that the measure contains so many articles that to understand all of it would require 20 months of study instead of just 20 days.

The Abel Pacheco government is pushing to get the proposals approved by April 30. Among the more controversial measures is taxation of income that residents here generate in other countries, so called universal taxation. The measure also calls for a value added tax to replace the existing 13 percent sales tax.

The proposal incorporates many of the taxes levied by an emergency fiscal reform package that expired Dec. 31.

The administration is anxious to get the fiscal plan approved because the flow of new and additional taxes will strengthen its chances of getting help from international agencies. The government plans to borrow against the anticipated income from the fiscal plan.

One loan is for some $350 million from the Interamerican Development Bank. The loan would have a 20- to 25-year term and add to the country’s $2.2 billion external debt.

The development bank is inclined to make the loan, in part to soften the impact of a proposed free trade treaty with the United States. Some $40 million would go for road improvements and trickle down to private enterprise. Some $25 million would go to education. About $100 million will be given to the Central Bank to offset its long-standing losses.

Loan proceeds also will go to science and technology projects ($35 million), administration ($70 million) and for the reform of the Tributación Directa, the tax collecting agency ($40 million).

The new maid passes the sock test easily
The past week has seen the return of typical summer weather — at last, after an unusually cold Christmas season and changeable weather into January.

We are now enjoying warm sunny days with blue skies and a cool breeze.  Then the clouds gather in the afternoon making for chilly evenings. 

My friend Sandy came in from Tilaran for the Pavarotti concert.  It was held in the large soccer stadium in la Sabana. 

She said she was almost freezing and so far away her binoculars were not strong enough to see the legendary tenor.  But there were huge screens and it was all worth it.

This week I acquired a new maid (empleada) after months of trying to keep my apartment clean myself, and failing miserably — the bottom of my socks are black in no time.   Her name is Socorro, which is very fitting because I was in need of help. 

So today I was able to sit on my balcony in the sun and read (after showing her the ropes and doing some work myself). 

Someone sent me some Tico Sayings.   Typical sayings tell you something about a people, usually their ability to make fun of the less admirable traits they have . . . or sometimes they just tell a universal truth.  So here is a Spanish lesson of a few Tico sayings:

Tener la conciencia limpia es síntoma de mala memoria. 
A clean conscience is a symptom of a bad memory.

Pez que lucha contra la corriente, muere electrocutado. 
Fish that fight against the current get electrocuted.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

La esclavitud no se abolió, se cambia a ocho horas diarias. 
Slavery has not been abolished; it changed to eight hours a day. 

Si la montaña viene hacia ti . . . Corre, es un derrumbe. 
If the mountain comes to you, run, it’s a landslide.

No soy un completo inutil. . . Por lo menos sirvo de mal ejemplo. 
I’m not completely useless.  At least I serve as a bad example.

Errar es humano, pero echarle la culpa a otro es mas humano todavia. 
To err is human, but to put the blame on another is even more human. 

Hay dos palabras que te abriran muchas puertas: "Jale y Empuje". 
There are two words that open many doors:  "Pull and push."

In the case of my balcony door, it is "slide."  Socorro and I agreed that next time she will get rid of all the dead plants on my balcony and from now on I will have artificial or dried plants and flowers.  After she left, I padded around my apartment, enjoying the neatness and the feel of clean tiles. 

Checking the bottom of my socks, I discovered them still pretty clean.  Socorro is a keeper. 

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Pavarotti event got
public cash for ads

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sponsorship of the Luciano Pavarotti concert here Jan. 31 has become a hot topic.

The newspaper Diaro Extra reported Wednesday that the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo gave 42 million colons of public money in support of the private concert. That’s about $100,000.

The concert was put on by American Express Centroamérica-Credomatic, the big financial services firm here. The tourism institute responded that it sponsored other events in much the same way. At least some of the money went for advertising.

Thursday Diario Extra reported that the manager of Credomatic is José Ignacio Cordero Ehrenberg, who happens to be a director of the tourism institute’s multimillion dollar Gulf of Papagayo project. Cordero also was in charge of the concert.

The initial complaint came from Albino Vargas, secretary general of the Asociación National de Empleados Público y Privados. He also claimed to Diaro Extra that the tourism institute deliberately structured the payment of money to Credomatic in a way to avoid scrutiny by the Contraloría General, the governmental financial watchdog.  By laws the watchdog agency reviews contracts in excess of 30 million colons.

The tourism institute paid Credomatic under two contracts, one for 29 million colons and a second for 19 million colons, said Vargas.

Legislators have taken an interest, and the Comisión de Control Ingreso del Gasto Público is expected to call Rodrigo Castro, the minister of Turismo, for testimony, said Diaro Extra Thursday.

Bring your kid
for a U.S. passport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. government wants parents to present their child when the child is applying for a passport.

All minors applying for a passport must now appear in person, the Bureau of Consular Affairs said Thursday. The bureau is part of the U.S. State Department.

The requirement is : To enhance the accurate identification of passport applicants and aid in the prevention of international child abduction and trafficking," the bureau said.

For Costa Rica, a personal appearance means a trip to the U.S. Embassy in Pavas.

Said the bureau in its announcement:

"This applies to all regular, official and diplomatic passports for children under the age of 14, even if the child has previously been issued a passport. Prior to the introduction of this requirement, parents were not routinely required to bring a child under the age of 14 with them when they applied on the child's behalf. 

"Now, when applying for a passport on behalf of a minor under the age of 14, parents are required to have their child present and submit documentation of parental relationship and consent, as well as comply with all other documentation requirements for the issuance of a passport."

The requirements are spelled out in the bureau’s Web site.

Hemisphere trade talks
hit serious impasse

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PUEBLA, México — Talks among trade officials from the Americas to create the world's largest free trade zone have hit an impasse. 

Reports say the major sticking points at Thursday's meeting here included export subsidies for agricultural products. 

The trade officials from 34 democratic nations are trying to put in place a Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, by early next year. Their four-day meeting is scheduled to end today.

Western Hemisphere trade ministers meeting in November agreed on a draft for the free trade zone, which would stretch from Alaska to Argentina.  The draft was the result of a compromise between the United States and Brazil, which have had serious differences on trade issues. Brazil is South America's largest economy.

Grammy nominees
must stay in Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Officials say the U.S. government has denied visas to Cuban musicians nominated to receive awards at the Grammys Sunday in Los Angeles. 

Cuba's vice minister of culture, Abel Acosta, told reporters Thursday the Bush administration has barred the musicians entry for political reasons. 

Five Cuban musicians have been nominated to receive Grammys. They include singer Ibrahim Ferrer of the Buena Vista Social Club, a multiple Grammy winner; percussionist Amadito Valdes and lute player Barbarito Torres. 

The Bush administration requires extensive background checks for Cuban citizens applying for visas. The State Department classifies the Communist island as a state sponsor of terrorism. 

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Third-world science needs a boost, U.N. told
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An international panel of scientists is urging a global effort to strengthen the science and technology capabilities of countries so they can address their critical needs. The group's focus is on improving research in developing nations to help them fight scourges like poverty, hunger, and disease.

A group called the InterAcademy Council based in Amsterdam says scientific and technological advances are occurring at a dizzying rate and are driving forces in the world. But it notes that research benefits are unequally distributed throughout the world.

The council is a four-year-old grouping of 90 national science academies, including that of the United States.

In a new report delivered to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan Thursday, the panel calls on public and private sector decision makers to form a global movement to build scientific and technological capabilities in all nations, especially poor ones.

"It is no longer brawn but brains that make up the bulk of wealth around the world today," said the InterAcademy Council's co-chairman, Ismail Serageldin of Egypt's Alexandria Library. At U.N. headquarters in New York, he pointed out that rich nations invest 220 times more per capita in science and technology than poor ones, and warned that this ratio must change.

"There is a serious risk that business-as-usual will exacerbate the divide as the 'haves' and 'have-nots' become entrenched among the 'knows' and 'know-nots,' those who know and those who simply consume," Serageldin said.

The InterAcademy Council encourages governments to develop national science and technology strategies to conquer poverty, hunger, disease, and other social problems.

These strategies, it says, should attract human talent and develop first-rate research institutions with resources based on merit. The council says nations should create incentives for private sector participation because business is responsible for two-thirds of all research investment.

To complement national efforts, the group calls for creative new ways of financing science and technology building.

Panel member Mamphela Ramphele of South Africa, the World Bank's managing director for human development, says the group believes the new report will cause development agencies and donors to take a new look at the importance of building up science and technology in their financing plans.

"The use and the focus on science and technology will enhance development effectiveness if you build the capability of people to be able to tackle their own problems. We believe science and technology will add value to the way we do development," he said.

Talk about putting pure profit before honor!
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW DELHI, India —  A Web site here is selling counterfeit contraceptive patches that, contrary to advertising, provide no protection against pregnancy. There is no active ingredient.

According to a news release this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the site, www.rxpharmacy.ws, apparently operated by the Indian company American Style Products, is advertising FDA-approved Ortho Evra transdermal patches made by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. However, the site is actually selling counterfeit products that do not contain the active ingredient necessary to make the patches effective.

The FDA news release said the site's U.S.-based Internet service provider was shutting down service, and urged customers to treat any drugs purchased from www.rxpharmacy.ws as being suspect. 

"None of these products should be considered safe or effective. Consumers who have any of these products should not use them, but instead contact their healthcare providers immediately," said the news release.

FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan said the case "highlights the serious risks posed by foreign drug operations that bypass FDA safeguards. People are risking their health, in some cases their very lives."

New peace plan generates optimism with OAS
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The secretary general of the Organization of American States says the organization has signed a new agreement with Colombia that aims to verify the process of demobilizing the country's illegally organized armed groups.

In a statement this week, the secretary general, Cesar Gaviria, himself a native of Colombia and a former president of that country, said the new agreement specifies that his organization will play only a technical role in the demobilization and will not intervene in matters that are the responsibility of Colombia's "democratic institutions."

Gaviria told the organization’s Permanent Council that Colombia is at a "critical stage" and needs immediate help from the international community to continue the process that began with the demobilization of more than 1,000 paramilitary forces in November 2003. He recalled that the Permanent Council reiterated in 2003 its unequivocal support for the Colombian government's efforts to find a "firm and lasting peace" in the Andean nation.

For its part, the United States is also playing an active role with President Bush's budget for fiscal year 2005 proposing $463 million for the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Bush said the money for Colombia will be used to 

support Uribe's "unified campaign against drugs and terrorism," known as Plan Colombia. In the budget, Bush praised Uribe's efforts to fight Colombia's armed opposition groups, which are designated by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations.

Under the terms of the "Agreement on Monitoring the Peace Process in Colombia," signed Jan. 23 by representatives of the Colombian government and the Organizatinon of American States, the organization may verify compliance with the peace process, including a cease-fire and cessation of hostilities, as well as the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration into society of illegally organized armed groups.

The agreement establishes an organization mission to support the Colombian peace process. The mission will be headed by Argentine diplomat Sergio Caramagna, who previously oversaw the demobilization process in Nicaragua and in recent years has headed the organization’s national office in that Central American nation.

The Organization of American States said the agreement "opens the door" for negotiating with "all those illegal armed groups that may wish to return to democratic life in the country, on condition that they first declare a 'cessation of hostilities,' for the sole purpose of achieving a reduction of violence and safeguarding respect for human rights throughout the national territory."

Crisis in Colombia is called hemisphere's worst
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — The U.N. assistant high commissioner for refugees says Colombia is suffering from the worst humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere. 

Kamel Morjane said Wednesday here that between two and three million people have been forced from their homes in Colombia, but because they are in mostly isolated, mountainous regions, they are "invisible." He said the humanitarian situation is worse in only two other countries in the world — the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. 

Morjane is trying to raise awareness about the issue after a trip to Colombia and surrounding countries. He said the U.N. refugee agency cannot solve the problem alone. Most of the displaced are minorities who are cut off from any services. 

The U.N. official said as many as 250,000 people have fled across the border to Ecuador, where the government is respecting its obligations to them. Morjane estimated another 15,000 are in Venezuela, and about 2,000 are in Panama. Colombia is mired in a nearly four-decade-old civil war involving government forces, leftist rebels and rightist paramilitaries. 

Jo Stuart
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