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(506) 223-1327         Published Friday, Feb. 8, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 28            E-mail us
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Tax collection in Cóbano slows to a trickle over new assessments
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Only two persons with maritime zone concessions have paid their taxes in Cóbano, according to the municipal mayor. But more than 30 persons have appealed the higher taxes and new assessments levied by the Ministerio of Hacienda, the mayor said.

Cóbano, at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, is where appraisers from the ministry revised the values of concessions upwards to create and estimated 1,600 percent increase in annual taxes.

The mayor is José Eladio Cortés, who also holds a concession within the maritime zone. He said this week that residents had 90 days to appeal the new valuations to the municipal council. The council passes the appeal on the the ministry. If the appeal is rejected or the property holders are unhappy with the results of the appeal, the next step is the courts.
In October the Dirección General de Tributación sent experts to do 487 reevaluations. As a result of their work, based on the current market value of such concessions, a property of 1,400 square meters (about a third of an acre) whose owner paid $300 a year in taxes will generate a current tax bill of $6,000, the mayor said. The soaring values are a product of the soaring values of real estate along the Pacific.

The maritime zone is the first 200 meters inland from the mean high tide line. The first 50 meters always remains public land, but municipalities in conjunction with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo can award lengthy concessions or leases to individuals or corporations to develop tracts within the next 150 meters. The land may be used for hotels, homes or other tourism projects.

A property holder who actually tried to pay the taxes on a concession in Cóbano reported that municipal officials seem to be confused by the situation and did not want to accept payment.

University of Florida taps Ottón Solís to teach about free trade
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The most visible opponent to the free trade treaty with the United States is spending the spring semester at the University of Florida teaching graduates students about free trade treaties.

The visiting scholar is Ottón Solís, who narrowly lost Costa Rica's presidency to Óscar Arias in 2006. Solís also is head of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, which consistently opposes any legislative measures
Otton Solis
Ottón Solís
linked to the pact known as the Central America Free Trade Treaty.

Solís recently penned an open letter on the free trade treaty from Florida. He is there at the Center for Latin American Studies as the Bacardi Family Eminent Scholar.

The Bacardi Chair in Latin American Studies was
established in 1991 with a gift from Bacardi Imports
and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, said the university.  Matching funds were received from the State of Florida, raising the endowment to $1 million. Since 1992, 14 individuals have held the chair with expertise in diverse fields, such as economics, politics, tropical conservation, history, dance, and literature, said the university. Bacardi is the 168-year-old liquor importing company that had roots in Cuba.

The first Bacardi scholar was Arias after he left his first term as president here.
Solís has a master's degree in economics and served as minister of Planificación in Costa Rica. He broke with Arias' Partido Liberación Nacional to form Acción Ciudadana before the 2002 race.

As part of his agreement, Solís will deliver a public lecture Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. The title is reported to be “Winners and Losers in Free Trade  Agreements: The View from the South.” Mark Rosenberg, chancellor of the State University  System of Florida and himself an expert on Central America, will be the commentator, according to the university.  Rosenberg is a proponent for equipping high education students with the tools necessary to compete in the global economy.

Solís also is conducting research on  the impact of free trade agreements on development and democracy, said the university.

Solís is best known in Costa Rica for his claim that the free trade treaty should be renegotiated. He traveled to Washington to present this view, although there never was any clear statement as to what needed to be renegotiated.

Costa Ricans rebuffed the views of Solís a second time when voters narrowly approved the free trade treaty in a referendum Oct. 7. Since then Acción Ciudadana has engaged in stalling tactics to prevent passage of local legislation that would implement the treaty. The nation has a deadline of Feb. 29, but Arias has said he will seek an extension. There is no guarantee that every other nation will grant Costa Rica more time.

The treaty also is being opposed covertly by the government of Venezuela and that of Cuba.

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Miramar organizes to fight
growing crime problems

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Citizens and local authorities in Miramar, Puntarenas, are getting together to combat increasing drug and criminal problems, announced officials Wednesday.

The chief of the Judicial Investigation Organization in Puntarenas said Wednesday that the organization will open a new office  and help organize a security committee in Miramar. The office will serve citizens and provide a police-like presence, he said.

In late January, the people of Miramar held a meeting to discuss what they called increasing drug addiction and criminal related activity in their area.

The mayor, Alvaro Jiménez Cruz, called on citizens and the Judicial Investigation Organization in Puntarenas to come together and create some sort of solution to the problem. Citizens discussed security and social problems, and decided to create a special organization to combat growing violence.
A group, which includes Jiménez, the local priest, and business leaders in the community, will work with the Judicial Investigation Organization to create a security committee and continue to discussing problems in the area. Officials emphasized that one of the main goals is to combat an increasing drug problem in the area.

Legal documents custodian
will speak here Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An American guardian of legal documents from all over the world is to come to Costa Rica to make a presentation about the impact of the Global Legal Information Network.

Part of the Law Library of Congress, the network is a database of texts, judicial decisions and legal sources that have been collated from international organizations and government agencies of many countries.

Costa Rica joined the network in 2002. The idea is that the network provides reliable information on laws operating in different countries around the world, and its aim is: “To work together to further the rule of law through peaceful cooperation for the exchange of legal information”

Documents are mostly kept in their original languages, although a summary is provided in English and sometimes other languages, and the database can be searched online.

Janice Hyde is the program officer, and will be speaking in the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses Monday at 9.30 a.m. Entrance is free.

Fight ends with shooting
and Heredia woman injured

By A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fight between neighbors ended in shooting and with a woman hospitalized, Wednesday morning in Heredia, said officials.

At about 10 a.m. a group of neighbors began to argue in La Lucía de Guararí de Heredia, said the Judicial Investigation Organization. Although it is not sure exactly what the argument was over, officials did say it involved personal matters. After the argument, one person went inside their house and came out firing, said officials.

Yorleni Rodríguez Campus, 32, was shot in the stomach. She remains gravely injured in Hospital de Heredia, said the Judicial Investigation Organization. Officials detained Evenor Mesén Monge, 66 and Silvia Hildago Quirós, 22, who live together and are neighbors of Ms. Rodríguez.

Suspect in street robberies
detained in Cartago raid

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police Wednesday arrested a man suspected of belonging to a group that robbed pedestrians in Cartago, said officials.

A group of three men have been surprising pedestrians in Cartago by pulling up in a red truck and pointing guns in their faces, said officials. The men then demand that the victim hand over all of their money and personal belongings, according to officials.

After months of investigation, officials raided three houses, one in Río Azul and two in Jesús María. Officials arrested Jerson David Valverde, 21, and said they have high hopes that the other two suspects will be detained shortly.

The operative was a cooperative effort between the Servicio Policial de Intervención Inmediata, the Judicial Investigation Organization of Cartago and the Fuerza Pública. 

Officials say they have linked four cases to David, but they said they expect the number to rise after continued investigation.

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An analysis on the news
Trade treaty battle has many regional consequences

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The nation is in the middle of an international chessboard in which the battle over the free trade treaty's implementation is merely a sideshow.

More and more concern is developing in Washington and elsewhere over the relationship between Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and the Colombian rebels known as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias.

Chavez made headlines last month when two hostages held by the rebels for years were released to his aides. Chávez, at the same time, suggested that the rebels, who are branded terrorists by most western nations, should be considered freedom fighters.

The  Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias is heavily involved in drug smuggling, kidnapping and other horrors honed by 40 years of warfare with the Colombian central government.

Military and political planners are worried about some kind of union between the rebels and Venezuela, which is floating in oil revenues. They expect the type of relationship that the United States had with its contra minions during the Nicaragua civil war.

They also remember that Chávez is making an expensive weapons deal with Russia. The deal includes purchasing submarines and high-performance military aircraft.

Tuesday the U.S. director of national intelligence told a congressional committee that the Venezuelan government continues to push an anti-U.S., radical leftist agenda among its Latin American neighbors. What was left unsaid is that the rhetoric is backed up by cash.

A growing scandal in Argentine and the United States involves an secret $800,000 donation to the campaign of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The money seems to have come from official Venezuelan sources to help her in her successful presidential campaign. Similar presents certainly are being spread elsewhere in Latin America without publicity.

Some believe that Chávez is helping the rebels in an effort to unseat the elected Colombia government, now headed by Álvaro Uribe. But they see the ambitions of Chávez to be much greater, attempting to stitch together the Gran
Colombia that the Liberator, Simón Bolivar, could not. He has allies in the presidents of Ecuador and Bolivia.

Meanwhile, the Colombian rebels are knocking on the back door of Panamá.

In Costa Rica the primary effort has been to derail the U.S.-inspired free trade treaty. Treaty opponents have visited Caracas and received political training. It is not known if any funds have been disbursed here. The goal is to prevent Costa Rica from joining the free trade pact. Instead, planners in Caracas would like the country to be part of a trade network being organized by Chávez.

That would explain why official Cuban news services maintain a negative drumbeat over the trade treaty, Costa Rica and even President Óscar Arias Sánchez. Chávez has found his political mentor, Fidel Castro, in Cuba.

A Feb. 7 Washington Times column by Thor Halvorssen, president of the U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation, outlined some of the close relationships between Chávez and the Colombian rebels. He even noted that some rebels carry "standard-issue Venezuelan army rifles."

Chávez also has forged good relationships with Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan president. Ortega is one of the national leaders that must approve an extension for Costa Rica, which has been unable to pass implementation legislation for the free trade treaty by the Feb. 29 deadline.

Approval of treaty-related legislative measures has been slowed by opponents, some of whom are the people who attended seminars in Caracas.

If Ortega and his Sandinista legislators do not approve an extension for Costa Rica, the deal falls through. He would certainly remain true to his Venezuelan friends by turning a blind eye. He also would benefit directly when Costa Rican textile manufacturers dash across the border to set up shop in his home country, which already has approved the treaty.

This would generate instability in Costa Rica, and the friends of Chávez here have had their eyes on the 2010 elections for a long time.

Treaty proponents have been circulating e-mails urged approval of the legislation so that, as they say, Daniel Ortega will not be allowed to determine the future of Costa Rica.  But the consequences are much deeper than a trade treaty.

Back in the city but living without television and Internet
Back in the city. And I am getting back into the swing of things.  Monday night I went to the monthly meeting of the Little Theatre Group, now meeting at the Laurence Olivier Theatre off Paseo Colón.  Membership has grown exponentially.  There was a preview of the upcoming production of “Hysteria.”  (Box office: 355-1623) It’s a very funny farce about Freud, listed on the playbill as being “for mature audiences.”  Indeed.  

I also went to the Saturday feria in Pavas. I went a little crazy with my purchases in spite of the fact that prices have gone up considerably.  The rise in the cost of living in Costa Rica, as elsewhere in the world, is very noticeable.  Still, I came back to my apartment and stuffed my fridge with string beans, broccoli, spinach, carrots, corn, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, red peppers, an avocado, a head of romaine, onions, mangos, strawberries and a melon.  And flowers, of course.  All this cost over $18 (although I wasn’t really counting). But I am set for the week.  The problem facing me is what to do with all this food?

I began with a vegetable pasta, using some of everything but the spinach, corn and mushrooms.  Bonnie, my visitor, had come from three days in the campo with her Costa Rican friends whom she has known since she was in the Peace Corps.  The food she had was delicious but mainly starch and fats and “not a single green vegetable,” so Bonnie watched every move I made preparing the vegetables.  I have learned to cook the capellini in the same water I parboil the vegetables before I sauté them in garlic and olive oil.

On one of my visits to the States, my daughter and her husband took me to a steakhouse.  Lesley commented how much she loved the creamed spinach they served.  Remembering that, the next day I had some corn and made creamed spinach and mushrooms garnished with a hardboiled egg. The spinach in Costa Rica is thicker than the spinach in the States, but very tasty.  I have even eaten the smaller leaves raw in a salad.

I must get myself out of the kitchen, I think.  But still without either TV or Internet, the kitchen is my favorite place while I listen to jazz or classical music on the radio.  I have even pulled out some of my old Barbra Streisand tapes and a Zen meditation tape.  (I don’t cook while I
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

listen to the latter. I sit on my balcony in the morning sun and breathe).

I have learned that you should always get a copy of a contract you think you have made and the name of the person who wrote it.  I called Amnet to find out if they could at least tell me when they would be connecting me.  After the frustration of learning I wasn’t even scheduled, I called my friend James.  I always call James to help me with tramites.  Another visit to Amnet informed us that whoever came to my apartment and wrote the contract must have disappeared into thin air.

With James telling me to calm down and shush, a new contract was written and a new future with a TV and Internet was promised.  But only, I am sure, because James was charming, patient and conciliatory and kept me from sharing my annoyance. (Although I deny it, I think I am short tempered from suffering withdrawal pains.)

I have discovered that I prefer cooking to watching TV.  I have often called myself a political news junkie, but the times I have gone to my neighbor downstairs to watch the news, I am quickly bored.  I mean, after all these months of watching the campaign debates in the U.S. even a junkie like myself has had enough.  I would rather open my fridge than turn on the TV. 

The Internet is another matter.  My mail is piling up. I am behind in responding to the e-mails from widows and orphans who want to share their millions with me.  And even to people who just want to share their thoughts. Getting my column to my editor has been a major undertaking involving plenty of mishaps before I figured out a very simple way to do it with one of those cute little things that have replaced a CD, which replaced the floppy, and can evidently store more words than I will write in a lifetime.

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Three African e-mail scammers plead guilty to wire fraud
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Three defendants have pleaded guilty to federal charges of running an “advance-fee” scheme that targeted U.S. victims with promises of millions of dollars, including money from an estate and a lottery, U.S. officials said.

The guilty plea proceedings were held before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ramon E. Reyes, Jr. at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York.

The investigation was initiated by Dutch law enforcement authorities. After identifying victims in the United States, the Dutch authorities notified the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which opened its own investigation, resulting in the charges against the defendants. Three of the defendants were arrested in Amsterdam in 2006, and were subsequently extradited to the United States.

They are:

• Nnamdi Chizuba Anisiobi (a/k/a Yellowman, Abdul Rahman, Michael Anderson, Edmund Walter, Nancy White, Jiggaman, and Namo), 31, citizen of Nigeria;

• Anthony Friday Ehis (a/k/a John J. Smith, Toni N. Amokwu and Mr. T), 34, citizen of Senegal; and

• Kesandu Egwuonwu (a/k/a KeKe, Joey Martin Maxwell, David Mark, Helmut Schkinger), 35, citizen of Nigeria.

Anisiobi pled guilty to one count of conspiracy, eight counts of wire fraud, and one count of mail fraud. Ehis pled guilty to one count of conspiracy and five counts of wire fraud. Egwuonwu pled guilty to one count of conspiracy, three counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud. The fraud victims allegedly lost more than $1.2 million.

A fourth defendant, also a Nigerian citizen, Lenn Nwokeafor (a/k/a Eric Williams, Lee, Chucks, and Nago), fled to Nigeria and was subsequently arrested by the
 Nigerian Economic & Financial Crimes Commission, pursuant to a United States arrest warrant. He is being held by the Nigerian authorities pending extradition.

According to the indictment and an earlier filed complaint, the defendants sent “spam” e-mails to thousands of potential victims, in which they falsely claimed to control millions of dollars located abroad.

Attempting to conceal their identities, the defendants used a variety of aliases, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. In one scenario, the defendants sent emails purporting to be from an individual suffering from terminal throat cancer who needed assistance distributing approximately $55 million to charity. In exchange for a victim’s help, the defendants offered to give a 20 percent commission to the victim or a charity of his or her choice.

Subsequently, as part of the ruse, the defendants would send a variety of fraudulent documents, including a “letter of authority” or a “certificate of deposit,” making it appear that the promised funds were available, and pictures of an individual claiming to suffer from throat cancer. Defendant Anisiobi allegedly telephoned victims, disguising his voice to give the impression that he was suffering from throat cancer.

After obtaining their victims’ trust, the defendants asked them to wire-transfer payment for a variety of advance fees, ostensibly for legal representation, taxes, and additional documentation. In return, the victims received nothing. In a variation of the scheme, if the victims said they could not afford to pay the advance fees, the defendants would send them counterfeit checks, supposedly from a cancer patient, to cover those fees. Many victims deposited the checks and then drew on them to wire-transfer the advance fees. Subsequently, when the checks did not clear, the victims suffered substantial losses.

The maximum penalty for mail and wire fraud is 20 years in prison. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

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Freestyle motorcycle competition is Saturday in  Tibás
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

X-Knights have arrived in San José.  The freestyle motorcycle competition takes place Saturday night at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in Tibás.

The freestyle event features three elimination heats and 10 motorcyclists from countries around the world, including France, Chile, Spain, Panamá and the United States.  Three freestyle quad riders also will perform.

The first heat, starting about 7 p.m., features all 10 motorcyclists strutting their stuff, and half are eliminated. Five compete in the second heat with three participants guaranteed spots in the final heat.

The two competitors whose scores fail to qualify duke it out in a losers round, with the better rider advancing to the third heat.

Heat three determines the winner and the runners-up.  Following this is the freestyle quad competiton.
motorcycle competition
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Todd Potter, left, poses with models and other X-Knights competitors during a presentation Thursday.

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