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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Feb. 17, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 35          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Big tax plan gets its first legislative approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican legislature approved on first reading Thursday the fiscal plan that is designed to tax incomes anywhere and to institute a value added tax. The vote was expected.

Opponents said they would refer the measure to the Sala IV constitutional court, thereby halting progress, at least for a time.

Proponents hoped to have the measure approved for a second and final reading next week. The vote Thursday was 32 to 15 with members of the Partido Liberación Nacional and the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana voting in favor. Deputies of Movimiento Libertario and some from Acción Ciudadana voted against the plan, as did some independents.

There is a constitutional question if just 29 or 38 deputies are required to pass the measure.

President Abel Pacheco, who had urged that
the "rich pay like rich people," is ready to sign the measure.

The extensive rewrite of the Costa Rican laws also gives more teeth to the tax police. It is a highly technical document of nearly 500 pages.

Already the plan is sending shivers through the Costa Rican real estate market for expats and at those companies that help foreigners obtain residency status. Although lawmakers in the Asamblea Legislativa have claimed that foreigners would be able to deduct taxes paid on their global income elsewhere, the details still are a little foggy. Some wonder how easy Costa Rican officials will make it to show payments elsewhere.

The principal beneficiaries of the plan would be government officials who are expected to reap some $500 million more a year.  Pacheco said the money is needed to ease the country's debt crisis and meet the demands of its social security system and other needs.

Captive cop is exonerated and comes home
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican policeman, detained and jailed in Nicaragua since Oct. 1, went free Thursday and was given a hero's welcome in San José.

The man, Diego Ortiz Ortiz, went free after a 20-minute court session in San Carlos, Nicaragua, that cleared him of all charges.

Ortiz returned to the northern zone of Costa Rica in a panga, a small boat, from the rural part of Nicaragua where he was jailed. His bosses at the Fuerza Pública flew him to San José for a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Ortiz was off duty involved in agricultural work when Nicaragua soldiers apprehended him and two others. Costa Rican use of the border area has become contentious since Nicaragua was hailed into the International Court of Justice over Tico rights to use the Río San Juan.

Ortiz was charged with kidnapping Nicaraguan border policeman Victoriano Castillo, who was arrested at the border on a warrant at approximately the same time to face an unrelated charge in San Carlos, Costa Rica. Castillo has said that Ortiz had nothing to do with his arrest. Ortiz faced a possible sentence of 15 years, until Judge Julio Acuña of the Tribunal de San Carlos de Nicaragua set him free.

Castillo also has been freed in what Rogelio Ramos, minister of security, called a coincidence, despite rumors of a deal between the two countries. The Fuerza Pública is an element of the Ministro de Gobernación, Policía y Seguirdad Pública.

Ortiz showed up at the ministry accompanied by Erick Lacayo, the new director of the police force. Ortiz looked tired and in shock

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Diego Ortiz Ortiz at press conference
over the rapid change in his condition.  Ortiz, who appeared to be emotional, said he was ready to return to work immediately. He has been a policeman for 11 years.

He said his treatment for a month in the San Carlos jail was repressive and he was not allowed many visitors and then only for short periods.  Sanitary conditions were not good nor was the bed nor the food, he said. Later he said he was moved to a jail in Jigualpa used for pretrial detention and conditions were similar to what prisoners face in Costa Rica. Later he was moved to a home owned by María López López, who offered her house as a property bond, set at 600,000 colons.

Ortiz lives in the town of México de Upala near the border. He had not seen a daughter, Yancel Nicole, who was born just a few days after he was jailed. He said the worse part of his ordeal was the suffering inflicted on his family.

Although the Río San Juan is part of Nicaraguan territory, Costa Rica claims a right of free transit including by armed policeman.  The river is a principal way of getting around in the area. Nicaragua refused to allow policemen to transit the area while carrying a weapon.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 17, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 35

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New British ambassador
named to fill post here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thomas John Kennedy has been appointed to replace Georgina Butler as Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Republic of Costa Rica and non-resident Ambassador to the Republic of Nicaragua, said the British Embassy. 

Mrs. Butler is transferring to another diplomatic post, the embassy said.  Most recently, Kennedy served as the consul general in Bordeaux, France.  He has held that post since 2002. 

Kennedy's diplomatic career began in 1992.  He has served in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as in northern and southern Europe. He is a lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order.  The order is a knighthood created by Queen Victoria in 1896.

Kennedy, 49, is married with a 5-year-old son, the embassy said.  He will take over the post in July, the embassy said.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
This is one of the devices that will be attached to containers and cargo trailers.

Chips on trailers allows
government to track loads

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tractor-trailers entering or transiting the country with a load of goods will be fitted with an electronic device that will track their route and notify officials if the trailer is opened.

The proposal was outlined Thursday even as truckers in Panamá and Nicaragua protested the idea.

Officials said that goods that are suppose to pass through Costa Rica frequently are diverted to use here without the appropriate import taxes being paid.

Costa Rica is on a major route between Panamá and North America, and traffic is expected to increase under terms of various free trade treaties that are either approved or still are being negotiated.

The use of the device will cost transportation companies $40 each plus an undetermined cost for personnel to fit the device to the trailer or cargo container.

The smart chip in the device allows the trailer or container to be tracked by satellite and warns officials if the load is opened or if the truck deviated from its approved course. The idea is to keep the load sealed during the entire time it is within the national territory or until final delivery.

Officials point out the device also offers security to truckers because hijackers would be easy to trace.

The companies Aeromar S.A and Marchamo Electronico S.A. are providing the devices and service. Both the Ministerio de Obras Públicas and the Ministerio de Hacienda will monitor the shipments. The customs department or aduana is part of Hacienda. The use of the devices was mandated in a decree issued Jan. 25.

Orosi festival will see
some giant tortillas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For those who are handy within the art of tortilla making, or baking bread, there may be a prize available at the VI Expoferia Orosi Colonial.

The fair, which starts today and runs through the weekend is having two competitions Sunday.  One will crown the creator of the largest corn tortilla using the brand Maseca.  The other winner is the baker of the largest loaf of bread.  But there's a catch, the loaf must be baked using traditional methods.

Organizers said the fair will also have more than 20 booths featuring art work, traditional food, as well as fruits and vegetables grown near the town.  Fairgoers can also take a tour by air, horse or tractor of some of the farms of the area.

All activities will take place in front of the Templo Colonia de Orosi.  The event is organized by the Asociación Cívica Orosi Colonial with the support of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.  Organizers hope the fair will rescue the values and traditions of the town as well as promote the Orosi Valley as a tourist destination. 

Environment is focus
at fair in Tilarán

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials in Tilarán, Guanacaste, are hoping to clean up the region's farming systems.  To this end, they have organized the II Expo Feria Turística, Ambiental y Cultural del Área de Conservación Arenal Tempisque.  The event starts today and runs through Sunday in the community's Parque Central.

Organizers hope the fair will promote more environmentally friendly farming methods for both small and large-scale farmers. 

The Área de Conservación Arenal Tempisque is a group that develops administration and development strategies for both private and public enterprises but their focus is on conservation of the area's natural resources, the group said. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 17, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 35

Embassy will study case of Cuban rookie for Mets
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Michel Abreu's story looks like it may have a happy ending.  Elaine Samson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy asked that any information from the New York Mets regarding Abreu's invitation to spring training be sent to officials there.

Abrue's story appeared in Thursday's A.M. Costa Rica. He is the Cuban refugee who wanted to make an appointment so he could go to the United States and play ball. He is a well known Cuban player.

“We process visas for hundreds of baseball players.  This is not new.  We had never heard of this guy before and hadn't received anything from the Mets,” Ms. Samson said. 

The letter from John Fantuzzi, the assistant director of player development for the Mets requesting that the embassy issue Abreu a visitor's visa was addressed to the Consulate of the United States, Nicaragua. 

That may explain why the embassy had never heard of Abreu. 
The other problem was that Abreu tried to contact embassy officials through the published visa process and ran into stonewalls. First a call center operator under contract with the embassy refused to give him an appointment because he did not have a passport.

Cuban baseball officials had confiscated his passport to keep him from leaving the country. He did anyway.

Then a guard at the embassy turned him away when he showed up without an appointment. That's when his friends contacted A.M. Costa Rica.

Upon learning of his status, Ms. Sampson provided a fax number to which Abreu could send his copy of the Mets letter. If everything goes correctly, Abreu will get his appointment, get his visa, and be in Florida in time for the start of spring training March 5. 

Richard Sims, a friend of Abreu, was planning to fax the letter Thursday night.  Fantuzzi's letter asks whoever it may concern to “Please be advised that Michel Abreu is employed by the New York Mets as a minor league player.  He is being invited to attend Spring Training and Extended Spring Training 2006 in Port St. Lucie, Florida.”

There seems to be a change in fashion in politics, too
I am not the only one without a cell phone.  Doug writes that he doesn’t have one either.  He adds that every time he comes to San José he gives to his favorite beggar at the Coca-Cola bus stop.  Tattered and dirty, she usually thanks him graciously.  The last time he dropped some money into her cup she did not thank him – she was busy talking on her cell phone.

I doubt I will ever get one.  If I did, my life would be a living hell.  I have been looking for my reading glasses for two days now. They normally are on a chain around my neck.  While I was hunting for them, I came across a pair of old glasses, ones that helped me see at a distance as well, and corrected my astigmatism.  They must be 10 years old.  I would become the focus of disbelieving stares if I wore them out. 

They have blue rims and are the size of goggles – the kind that looked cute on Audrey Hepburn a long time ago.  Amazing that when something goes out of fashion how ridiculous one looks still wearing it.  It’s a shame when it comes to something like glasses because these are still beneficial.  I say that I don’t even remember a face, let alone a name.  Now I’m using these glasses to watch television and realize it is probably because I don’t have a clear picture of faces I see. 

When a fashion becomes popular, everyone wears it, it seems, and that is all you can find in the stores. I am waiting for the low slung jeans and the skimpy tops to no longer be fashionable.  Brittany Spears, not a fashion designer, made them famous.  I have no idea who designed them. But now that they are showing up in the Ropas Americanas stores, they may be on their way out. Even in Costa Rica where there are some of the most beautiful women in the world, there are among them some who should not wear this current fashion.

Spring fashions are hitting the runways in the fashion capitals of the world so I am seeing everything from a fashion point of view – what is in and what is out

So, I notice that the fashion in governments seems to be changing, at least in Central and South America.  Except for a few dusty examples, communism today is really declasse throughout the world. And dictators are so out of fashion, too.  But the once popular free enterprise democracies of the 90s that were prevalent in countries like Argentina, Brazil,  
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Chile and Costa Rica seem to have fallen on hard times (partly because of the corruption of some of these regimes, and partly because of the widening gap between the rich and the poor — so notable in Central and South America).  Populism is becoming popular. 

What was considered a sure thing for Óscar Arias has now teetered toward Otton Solis, who is more of a populist.  Of course, that teeter-totter could tilt in the other direction by the time this goes into print.

Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Michelle Bachelet are considered populists. Or perhaps more accurately, socialist populists. 

One of the problems with populism (to my mind) is that it is often accessorized with extreme nationalism and a fundamentalism of one kind or another.  (Bachelet is an exception in that she is an agnostic.) 

Another problem is that when it comes to promises, populist leaders talk a good game  — sometimes the same game as their opponents — but when it comes to follow-through, they often are no different from their adversaries.  Could it be that power really does corrupt?

Meanwhile, I sadly view my blue-rimmed goggle-sized perfectly good glasses that I wouldn’t be caught wearing out in public, because I, like so many others, in some things, like it or not, am a slave to fashion.

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A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 17, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 35

Leila Rodríguez de Pacheco, the first lady, introduces a 30-second television commercial that will be part of a publicity campaign to raise public awareness about the damage and consequences of family abuse and violence. The spots, done by Alianza Creative, will begin to be aired next week under the general title "Todos Somos Uno."

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Immigration officials ponder what to do with survivors of boat mishap
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Migration officials are puzzling over the fate of the 20 foreigners, survivors of a boat that sank near Tortuguero in the Caribbean Tuesday.  Wednesday, the foreigners were taken to the immigration lockup in San José, and now officials are trying to decide whether to return them to their own countries, or simply deport them. 

The group is made up of 10 Chinese, two Ecuadorians, four Dominicans and four Colombians.  Five of the group had no passport or other transit documents.   

The Chinese all had entrance visas to Venezuela and
 Colombia stamped in their passports but none of them had visas to Costa Rica, officers said.   

“Today (Thursday) we started interviewing the foreigners to determine what happened.  In the case of the Chinese, we will need a translator since none of them speak Spanish.  Once this stage is over, we can determine whether we will deport them or repatriate them,” said Johnny Marín, director general de Migración. 

The migration director added that the agency deported 775 foreigners in 2005 most of which were Nicaraguans.  That number is down from 959 deported persons in 2004. 

California man faces federal charge for uploading Johnny Cash movie
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Corona, California,  man was charged Thursday with criminal copyright infringement for uploading onto a computer server a copy of the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” that had been sent to a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The man, Luis Ochoa, 25, was named in a federal criminal complaint filed Thursday morning with violating the criminal copyright laws, a charge that carries a penalty of up to one year in federal prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, Ochoa boasted to others in an online chat community that he had a copy of “Walk the Line” and wished to upload it onto the Internet. One of the chat room members contacted the academy, which created a Web site on one of its internal computers that looked like a Web site typically used by persons who illegally swap movies.

Dec. 21, just a month after “Walk the Line” debuted in theaters, Ochoa uploaded his copy of “Walk the Line” onto the academy server. Digital testing
revealed that the copy of “Walk the Line” that Ochoa uploaded had been created for purposes of screening for the Academy Awards. Further investigation revealed that the screener had been intercepted in the mail before it reached the intended recipient.

Ochoa is scheduled to appear in federal court in Los Angeles on March 28.
Fencing tournament starting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fencing tournament spanning over three weekends starts Sunday in the Gimnasio No. 1 del Comité Cantonal de Deportes de San José, in Plaza Víquez. 

The tournament is sponsored by the Asociación Costarricense de Esgrima, or, the Costa Rican fencing association.  Everyone, including those who have never seen the sport, are invited to the competition which starts at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to end by 1 p.m.  Besides the actual competition, viewers can also find more information about the sport and clubs that cater to both children and adults, an announcement said.

Secretary Rice says that U.S. is ready to work with new Haitian president
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the United States is ready to work with newly declared Haitian presidential election winner Rene Preval, and wants his government to succeed. In congressional testimony Thursday, she indicated the Bush administration will look for ways to provide additional aid to Haiti.

Officials here say the deal under which Preval was declared the election victor appears to uphold Haitian laws and regulations, and that the United States is ready to work with his government to help build a better future for the impoverished Caribbean state.

Man found on beach ID'd

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization confirmed the identity of a Nicaraguan who was found on the beach near Tamarindo Feb. 8. The man, Jeffery Vladimir Arevalo González, was found near the popular tourist destination and was taken to the morgue Feb. 9, agents said.  Agents are still looking into the causes of his death, they said. 
The internationally brokered arrangement ended an increasingly bitter dispute over whether Preval, a former Haitian president, had obtained enough votes in the February 7th elections to avoid a run-off.

Ms. Rice responded to the Haitian agreement in testimony to the House International Relations Committee, saying the United States wants Preval to succeed and will look into ways to provide further assistance.

The secretary's remarks came in response to critical questions by Rep. Barbara Lee of California, who suggested that U.S. officials and non-governmental organizations had worked against former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who went into exile two years ago in the face of widespread unrest. Preval is an associate of Aristide.

Rice said the United States had not tried to undermine Aristide, while asserting that the former Haitian leader reneged on a list of reform pledges made to the Clinton administration after it helped restore him to power in 1994 following a coup that unseated him three years earlier.

She also suggested that Aristide was a major contributor to the instability that led to his resignation and exile in South Africa in 2004.

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