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(506) 2223-1327      Published Friday, Feb. 13, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 31       E-mail us
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Government sets up task force to stem tax evasion
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 17 agencies of the government agreed Thursday night to study and create a plan to reduce tax fraud.

The project was praised by President Óscar Arias Sánchez, who said that someone who commits tax fraud is a criminal and not a clever person.

The agencies have five months to report back. Representatives of the 17 agencies are supposed to identify and analyze the most significant types of fraud, their cause and effects; to evaluate the legal framework for prevention and repression of fraud; to analyze the systems of prevention and control established by the taxing agencies, and to include the study in a document that suggests methods to improve prevention and correction of fraud.

The project is being promoted by the Ministerio de Hacienda, the budgeting and tax collecting agency. The final report from the agencies will go to the consejo de gobierno, the president's cabinet.

Tax fraud is a national pastime here. Retail outlets frequently shave sales taxes from cash purchases. The system for assessing and taxing real estate is faulty. Landlords frequently do not report rents. And professionals frequently work off the books to earn income they do not report.

In a recent trip to Quepos, an A.M. Costa Rica contributor ran into what was called by a restaurant owner "our little local discount." She said this was a savings local store owners passed on to tourists. What she was doing was failing to charge her customer the 13 percent sales tax.

When she was asked for a formal factura or to accept payment by credit card, she said she would have to charge the 13 percent.

One problem is that in an effort to combat fraud Tributación, the taxing agency within Hacienda, has created so much paperwork that employees are pushing papers and not investigating. All Costa Ricans are supposed to report each year payments of more than 50,000 colons (now about $90) to professionals like lawyers and physicians. And they have to report payments totaling 2.5 million colons (about $4,500) to any vendor or supplier.

Workers at Tributación match up these reports to make sure that businesses and individuals report and pay income taxes on these incomes. They also have help from the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social which gets a monthly record of salaries paid to employees.

There is a political dimension in tax collecting in which wealthy, connected individuals have many techniques to avoid paying taxes, including offshore accounts. These are not disturbed by Tributación.

In a talk Thursday, Arias praised taxes as a route to development. He said that the Teatro Nacional itself was the product of a tax on coffee.

The professional who does not register as a taxpayer is not doing damage to the Dirección General de Tributación but to the thousands of older adults who receive a special pension from the government, said Arias.

Guillermo Zúñiga, minister of Hacienda, noted that during the first three years of the Arias administration tax collection increased by 2
money getting away
percent of the gross national product without any new taxes, thanks to a program to combat fraud. But for the country to develop, he said, the government needs to collect more than the current 15.4 percent of gross national product.

To do this, he said the country had to stem evasion and have a simplified and modern, progressive system of taxation.

Arias planned a series of tax reforms when he took office, including a value-added tax. However, the administration and the legislature became bogged down with the free trade treaty with the United States.

Lawmakers did pass a tax on so-called luxury homes but the money that would be generated is designated for replacing slum housing. In fact, a number of Costa Rican taxes are earmarked for specific purposes and do not end up in the general treasury.

According to Casa Presidencial, the agencies that will participate in the fraud study are the ministries of Hacienda, Educación, Justicia y Gracia, Salud; the Corte Suprema de Justicia; the Judicial Investigating Organization; the Ministerio Público, and the Defensa Pública. 

Also the Consejo Nacional de Rectores, the colegios de Abogados, Ciencias Económicas and Contadores Públicos, the Procuraduría General de República, the Defensoría de los Habitantes, the Contraloría General de la República, the Caja and the Instituto de Fomento y Asesoría Municipal.

What was unclear is why the government needs a five-month study to determine what tax officials should already have close at hand.

This newspaper already has reported frequently on how persons who purchase property work in collusion with their lawyers to report artificially low sales prices to reduce property taxes.

Tributación has made no efforts to collect the 15 percent taxes that are due when a principal takes money for a corporation. Although Costa Rica does not have a capital gains tax, a corporate principal is supposed to pay a 15 percent distribution tax. Many foreigners who make a killing in the once-hot real estate market simply took all the money from their real estate corporation which they then abandoned.

There also is a tradition in Costa Rica of paying employees as if they were on contract. The employer saves the social security payments. Although the contractor is supposed to pay that, the arrangements are frequently short-term, and the employee/contractor leaves the country without paying any taxes or social contributions.

Although Tributación has its own police agency, the fiscal police, there have been few major cases.

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Heredia train line remains
an uncertain project

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The time has not yet arrived to buy tickets for the Heredia train. In fact, no one knows what the price will be.

Karla González, the transport minister, said Thursday that rail cars purchased in Spain might be in the country by May.

Officials have been giving conflicting information on the Heredia train line. Passenger service was to be instituted at least by this month, and rail cars were being purchased from the Spanish national railway agency. The line is open and traveled daily by work crews.

But it turns out that the rail car deal is not yet firm because Costa Rica is seeking a bargain price. And the agency of the transport ministry that handles the trains, the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarrilles, may not have yet sought rate approval from the price setting agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos. Ms. González said Thursday she did not know.

The train runs from a new station just north of the northeast corner of Parque Central through Tibás into the east side of the Provincia de Heredia. Traffic between Heredia centro and La Uruca is a continual jam, so the rail line would be popular for those who wish to avoid tieups.

From Parque Nacional train customers can walk to the downtown or catch the east-west metropolitan train to arrive in either Pavas on the west or the Universidad Latina on the east.

Rig yields 304 kilos of coke
at Peñas Blancas crossing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police found 304 kilos of cocaine hidden among products including diapers in the trailer of an 18-wheeler Thursday at the Peñas Blancas border crossing. They arrested two men from Guatemala. That's about 668 pounds.

Investigators said they think that the cocaine originated from a storage location in the Central Valley. Costa Rica has an international reputation as a transit point for drugs. Cocaine frequently is brought to the country by boat and then prepared for shipment over land.

The tractor-trailer involved in the confiscation Thursday was headed north as was a companion vehicle that also was seized.

Agents of the Policía de Control de Drogas said they became suspicious because the vehicle had different license plates than it did when the rig entered the country Feb. 5.

When the 53-year-old driver, identified by the last names of   Orozco Hernández learned that the vehicle was being selected for a rigorous inspection, he tried to flee across the line to Nicaragua, officials said. He was captured and returned a short distance to Costa Rica, they said.

Information in the cab of the rig showed that another tractor-trailer was traveling with Orozco. That driver, identified by the last names of Cid Cáceres, was located and detained, too, police said. He is 54.

Investigators said they thought the amount of the drug and the way it was being transported suggested the cargo belonged to a Mexican cartel.

Effective policing credited
for keeping El Paso calm

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's ongoing war with drug smuggling cartels claimed more than 5,300 lives last year and one of the most violent places in the Latin American nation is Ciudad Juárez, right across the border from El Paso, Texas in the United States.

Drug cartel killers have decapitated policemen, shot up restaurants and left bodies on streets all over the city of more than one million 300,000 people. El Paso remains relatively calm, but, the climate of fear affects both cities.

El Paso and Juarez represent a tale of two cities, linked economically and through social and family ties, but as different as night and day when it comes to crime.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón sent federal police and army units to Juarez to fight the powerful drug gangs more than a year ago, but the violence continues as rival gangs compete for the lucrative drug trade.

Howard Campbell, a professor at University of Texas at El Paso, said more effective law enforcement on the U.S. side of the border has kept most of the violence out of El Paso for now.

"Juarez last year had approximately 1,600 drug-related murders and El Paso, in the whole city, I think, had something like 16," he said.

Many wealthy citizens of Juarez have purchased property across the border in El Paso to protect their families, helping El Paso avoid the real estate slump affecting most of the United States.

"We have heard stories recently that some of the most prominent families of Juarez, essentially, are now living in El Paso and trying to manage their business interests from El Paso and very seldom even going to Juarez," said Campbell.

But thousands cross the bridges over the border each day and the commerce that links the two cities continues.

U.S. and Mexican authorities recently established a caravan to escort assembly plant managers and business owners from the U.S. side of the border to their facilities in Juarez and back across the border each day.

The U.S. government remains committed to helping México and is providing training and some material assistance to Mexican authorities.

U.S. Embassy closed Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday is Presidents Day in the United States, and the U.S. Embassy said it would be closed that day.

The day replaced two holidays when it was decreed in 1971: Feb. 12, the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, and Feb. 22, the birthday of George Washington.

The day is not unlucky here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is Friday the 13th, but for those lucky enough to be in Costa Rica, the date does not matter.  Friday the 13th has a reputation as an unlucky day in the English-speaking world. But in Latin countries the day to stay in bed is Tuesday the 13th.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 13, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 31

Witness, victim protection bill gets final legislative approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature passed for the second and final time Thursday night a proposed law that is designed to protect victims and witnesses.

But the law also now contains wording that will allow judges to send suspects to jail sooner. The measure increases the possibilities of judges using preventative detention. Suspects can be jailed in sexual crimes, drug crimes and crimes against property, health or human life, according to a summary from the Asamblea Legislativa.

In addition, the law provides preventative detention for suspects who have been accused although not convicted on
two or more occasions. Preventative detention would be more possible now in organized crime cases in which three or more persons participate.

The measure, which now must be signed by President Óscar Arias Sánchez, is part of the citizen security initiative being studied in the legislature. All 42 lawmakers voted for the witness and victim protection bill Thursday evening.

The main thrust of the law is to give the Ministerio Público, the prosecuting agency, the necessary funds to provide protection to witnesses and victims.  There is a long tradition among Costa Rican criminals of threatening those who might testify against them. Several persons have been murdered in the last year to eliminate their testimony.

Biologist reports drastic decline in leatherback turtle arrivals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Universidad Nacional professor told lawmakers Thursday that only 28 leatherback turtles arrived in Costa Rica for the nesting season that ended in January. He said this was a drastic decline from the 1,500 or so animals that have arrived each year in the past.

The professor, Freddy Pacheco, is an outspoken critic of the government. He was appearing before the Comisión de Control de Ingreso y Gasto Público , which is looking into the relationship of the U.S.-based Leatherback Trust and Costa Rica's national parks.

Pacheco also brought up a study by the trust in 2002 that
he said resulted in the death of some 400 newly hatched turtles.

He said he was seeking an official investigation by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

Pacheco, a biologist, is a frequent writer on environmental themes.

The Parque Nacional  Las Baulas on the Pacific coast has become controversial because of development nearby and also for the presence of Leatherback Trust activities there. A legislative summary of Pacheco's appearance did not say where he obtained his information about the number of turtles,

Shared living can be an answer to the financial bumps
It seems as if the last six months have been nothing but Fridays the 13th.  Hardly a sunny Saturday has emerged.

Things are really bad when people go on strike because there are no jobs.  But instead of keep asking, “Are we there yet?” (into a Depression), perhaps it is time to start doing something at a grassroots level to ease our personal crises.  Just maybe we are ready for a true paradigm shift in how we live our personal lives.

Countries commonly have measured the wellbeing of its citizens by the money they have and what they own and what they can buy in the way of material things.  But when it comes to happiness people often measure that by what they share with friends and families, the support and love given and received.  Maybe it is time to concentrate on sharing, not having.  I’m not talking about being more charitable. People continue to be charitable, even when money is in short supply, as it is now.

Two of the basic necessities in life, housing and food are responsible for the largest expenditures of most people, unless you own your home outright and live on a farm. Food and shelter are two things that people can save money by sharing – and gain much more in the process.  As an adult, I have spent a number of years living cooperatively with other people who are not family, and those years were some of the most rewarding.  And just plain fun.

I once saw a motel that was closed because a new highway bypassed it, and thought what a good place to remodel as a shared adult living complex.  It didn’t happen.

Today there are homes being abandoned and homes that people bought that are way too much house for their needs – and their pocketbooks.  They could be shared.  In Costa Rica there are luxury homes waiting for buyers.  A group of people sharing the rent would solve the problem, and sharing the cost of food and the chore of cooking also saves considerable money and time. 

In most of my shared living experiences we took turns as cook, server and clean-up person one day a week. (The clean-up part was included when the rest of the house saw the mess I left when I cooked.) The other days we got to enjoy being served.  This made for long dinner conversations and trying new gastronomic experiences. 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart


I talked to my friend Sandy who has lived most of her life in some sort of shared living arrangement – hers because of the work she was doing.  Her situations were different because there was a higher purpose, which they all concentrated on while overlooking personal living habits.

Sharing a living situation for friendship or to save money is different.  But she offered three topics to consider discussing: how you will cooperate, what needs to be coordinated, and what and if there will be collaboration in some particular pursuit. 

The idea of shared living is not new and not uncommon today, although it is mostly young people moving back home or parents moving in with their children.  (Just as I thought it would be a good idea for families to exchange teenagers, perhaps it would be smart to do the same with adult children).

Shared living is not new, but is considered to be more onerous than beneficial and positive.  In Costa Rica, for older unattached adults, there are many benefits.  Among them, being able to leave your home without hiring someone to look after it, affording household help, and perhaps even a visiting nurse, not to mention having ready partners for bridge games or games of Trivial Pursuits (just to keep the mind healthy.) 

Just as the bully pulpit was used to laud buying and owning, it can be used to praise sharing. We do follow the leader.   Humans also respond to and what is “in” and fashionable. 

This is not a proposal to be used as stopgap until we can go back to "business as usual."  The world has changed. Our planet and its resources are finite. Wiser sharing is an important part of the new paradigm.

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Credit card-like chip gives coral reefs a health checkup
By the Lawrence Berkeley National Laborator
news service

The answer to what’s killing the world’s coral reefs may be found in a tiny chip that fits in the palm of the hand.

Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Merced, are using an innovative DNA array developed at Berkeley Lab to catalog the microbes that live among coral in the tropical waters off the coast of Puerto Rico.

They found that as coral becomes diseased, the microbial population it supports grows much more diverse.

It’s unclear whether this surge in microbial diversity causes the disease or is a result of it. What is clear is that coral disease is accompanied by a microbial bloom, and the DNA array, called the PhyloChip, offers a powerful way to both track this change and shed light on the pathogens that plague one of the ocean’s most important denizens.

“The PhyloChip can help us distinguish different coral diseases based on the microbial community present,” says Shinichi Sunagawa, a graduate student in Merced campus' School of Natural Sciences who helped to conduct the research. “This is important because we need to learn more about what’s killing coral reefs, which support the most diverse ecosystem in the oceans. Losing them is much more than losing a reef, it means losing fish and marine mammals, even tourism.”

Worldwide, coral is threatened by rising sea temperatures associated with global warming, pollution from coastal soil runoff and sewage, and a number of diseases. The organism’s acute susceptibility to environmental change has given it a reputation as a canary in the coal mine: if it suffers, other species will soon follow.

Fortunately, there are ways to give coral a health checkup. Scientists have recently learned that healthy coral supports certain microbial populations, while coral inflicted with diseases such as white plague disease support different populations.

Understanding these microbial shifts could illuminate the magnitude and causes of coral disease, and possibly how to stop it, which is where the PhyloChip comes in. The credit card-sized chip can quickly detect the presence of up to 9,000 species of microbes in specially prepared samples of air, water, soil, blood, and tissue. The chip is carpeted with thousands of probes that scour a sample for the unique DNA signatures of most known species in the phyla bacteria and archaea. Specifically, the probes bind with a gene, called 16S rRNA, which is present in all life.

Developed by Gary Andersen, Todd DeSantis, Eoin Brodie, and Yvette Piceno of Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division, the PhyloChip offers a quick and low-cost way to canvas environmental samples for the presence of microorganisms.
coral chip
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory photo
The PhyloChip boasts a lot of analytical power in a small package. It quickly detects the presence of up to 9,000 species of microbes in samples.

“It’s a fast and inexpensive way to conduct a complete microbial community assessment of healthy and diseased corals,” said DeSantis.

In a study, the PhyloChip was used in conjunction with a more common technique, clone library sequencing, to analyze healthy and diseased samples of the coral Montastraea faveolata, which were plucked from reefs in the waters off Puerto Rico. The PhyloChip analyses, which were conducted at Berkeley Lab, found more species than the slower and more expensive clone sequencing technique.

But neither technique yielded what the scientists anticipated. The diseased coral was expected to contain the pathogen Aurantimonas corallicida because the coral exhibited symptoms identical to another coral species stricken by the pathogen. In this case, however, A. corallicida was not found.

“This means there are possibly other pathogens out there that we don’t know about,“ said Sunagawa. “There are only a handful of known coral pathogens, and we didn’t find the pathogen that causes a similar display in a different species of coral.“

In addition, the scientists have yet to determine whether the microbial bloom that accompanies coral disease causes the disease, or is caused by it.

“We need to determine what comes first: the disease or the microbial population change,” says DeSantis. “We don’t know if the disease-associated microbial population kills the coral, or if the microbes are simply feeding on dead coral tissue.”

Adds Sunagawa, “We have only recently realized how microbes, and microbial diversity, play an important role in the health of coral reefs. And the PhyloChip offers a great way to catalog the microbiota associated with coral reefs around the world.”

Venezuela's Chávez reports another pre-election coup plot
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is reporting a new coup plot against his government, just days before a referendum on allowing him to seek re-election.

In an interview on state television Wednesday, Chávez said some active duty soldiers were arrested after collaborating with a Venezuelan soldier who, he alleged, is on the run in the United States.

He said the troops were trying to infiltrate his palace and that they had sent messages to military units in areas governed by the opposition.

The Venezuelan president gave few details about the
alleged plot, but said officials had confiscated military weapons, including several different kinds of explosives.

Chávez was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup and frequently tells of alleged plots to remove him.

The Venezuelan leader is finishing a campaign to amend the country's constitution to allow the president and other politicians to run for re-election as many times as they like. Venezuelans will vote on the issue in a referendum Sunday. Venezuelans in Costa Rica will be voting at the nation's embassy in Barrio Escalante.

Before regional elections late last year, the president said there was a plot within the Venezuelan military to assassinate him and carry out a coup.

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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

Chilean president reports
ailing Fidel Castro is OK

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has met with Cuba's ailing former leader Fidel Castro as she continues her three-day visit to the Communist-led island.

Ms. Bachelet met with the 82-year-old former president Thursday for about 90 minutes, telling reporters later that he was in very good condition. She said Castro was very active and knew the most important details about a range of topics.

Ms. Bachelet is the latest foreign leader to visit the former president. He has not been seen publicly since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006 and handing power to his brother, Raúl, who is now the president. 

Ms. Bachelet's trip to Cuba is the first by a Chilean leader since socialist president Salvador Allende went to the island in 1972.

Last month, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner met with Fidel Castro when she visited the Caribbean island.

Swiss officials will give
Haiti Baby Doc's millions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Swiss authorities say they have decided to turn over the assets of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier to the Haitian government.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice ruled the $6 million in funds must be used for "social or humanitarian projects to benefit the Haitian population."

The money has been frozen in Swiss bank accounts since Duvalier was ousted from office in 1986.

The Swiss justice office statement said the Duvalier family failed to prove the money is of lawful origin and is therefore, not entitled to it. The family has 30 days to appeal the decision.

Duvalier, known as "Baby Doc," succeeded his father as Haiti's leader in 1971. He has been accused of stealing state funds while in charge of the government and is believed to be living in exile in France.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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