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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 39          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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18,000 margin for Arias bigger than expected
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Óscar Arias Sánchez seems to have won the nation's presidency by more than 18,000 votes. That's the result of a meticulous hand count conducted by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones.

That's 8,000 more votes than party leaders estimated based on a combination of election returns two days after the Feb. 5 voting.

The Tribunal finished counting the ballots from the last polling place Wednesday afternoon. However, no formal declaration will be made that Arias, the Liberación Nacional candidate, won the presidency until the deadline for political parties to file objections has passed, said a statement from the Tribunal. That would be Monday.

The vote-counting process has been long and complex. The Tribunal issued figures at 3:15 p.m. Feb. 6 based on electronic returns from 88.45 percent of the 6,163 polling places. That gave Arias a slim 3,250-vote lead. Then the Tribunal turned to hand-counting the votes from the remaining 712 polling places that had not sent in the returns electronically.

Some 250 polling places more from all over the country were counted and the results gave Arias a 3,868 vote lead by late Feb. 7. By Feb. 8, election officials had counted the remaining polling places and told party officials that Arias appeared to have a 10,000-vote margin.

Party officials were urged to refrain from declaring victory until the official count was

Liberación maintained its own running totals

A.M. Costa Rica photos/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
José Lobo Vargas carries a sign alleging fraud at the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones Wednesday. He claimed dead people voted.

made of the polling places that had reported results electronically.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana on behalf of its candidate Ottón Solís filed a number of challenges alleging irregularities at various polling places. Solís himself asked for a recount of some of the polling places. For the most part, the objections were dismissed, but his supporters are not confident with the outcome.

The final count based on Tribunal reports gave Arias 664,556 votes or 40.9 percent. Solís got 646.391 votes  or 39.8 percent. There were  1.623.959 valid votes cast.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 39

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Solís vehicle is upright and awaiting the tow truck.

Spectacular crash kills
one driver, injures second

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man lost control of his Honda Civic on the Circumvalación late Wednesday morning, and the car spun into the oncoming lane. The driver died in the subsequent collision with a second vehicle, and the other driver went to Hospital Calderón Guardia, said officer Eduardo Bolaños of the Policía de Tránsito.

The accident happened at the Rotunda de la Y Griega near Parque de la Paz. Bolaños and the Judicial Investigating Organization said that the dead driver, 33-year-old Henry Solís Rodríguez, was speeding, Bolaños said that the man may have had a heart attack or other health problem that caused him to lose consciousness before the accident.

The eastbound Solís vehicle ended up on its side in the westbound lanes.

The other driver, Eduardo Ugarte Chávez, was driving west on the multi-lane highway when the Solís vehicle hit his.  Ugarte went to the hospital, agents said.

Helicopter brings two
to San José for treatment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública had to use its emergency helicopter to airlift two infants to the Hospital Nacional de los Niños from remote parts of the country Wednesday, the security ministry said. 

An Indian baby had to be transferred from Sixaola after he pulled boiling water on himself, causing second and third degree burns over his body, the ministry said.  The child's mother, Matilde Abrego Serrano, first took the 10-month-old baby to the clinic in the town but doctors there made the decision to airlift the child, Crecencio Bécquer Abrego, to the hospital.  An ambulance and police escort awaited the family at Juan Sanatamaría international airport and transferred the child to the children's hospital, the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Securidad Pública said.

Another baby, 5-month-old Alison Reyes Sánchez, was taken to Hospital de la Anexión in Nicoya with respiratory problems and inflammation in her skull, the security ministry said.  Doctors made the decision to transfer her to the Hospital de los Niños and the emergency helicopter was called once again, the ministry said.   

Water, sewers, emergencies
topics of conference here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Directors of companies that deal in the water, sewer and environmental industries are meeting this morning in the first part of a two-day conference where water infrastructure, sewer service prices, the efficient use of water and other themes will be discussed. The meeting starts at 8:30 o'clock at Hotel Radisson.  Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, minister of Ambiente y Energía, is scheduled to inaugurate the proceedings. 

Other themes the officials hope to discuss include those relating to natural disasters.  The flooding from last year's Atlantic hurricane season is still on the minds of  officials, but they also hope to discuss ways to combat a hypothetical drought. 

Two more arrests made
in probe of stolen cars

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization raided six customs agencies and three houses Wednesday as part of an investigation of a complex car theft ring that would recycle cars stolen in Guatemala, Nicaragua, the United States and Costa Rica to look as though they were imported here.

During the raids, agents arrested two persons.  In San Ramón, agents detained a 48-year-old man who had a warrant out for his arrest, they said.  In Desamparados, the agents arrested another 45-year-old man who sold cars, agents said.  In the customs agencies, agents seized six computers. 

Altogether, agents have arrested 16 persons and seized 90 vehicles during the course of the investigation, they said.  Agents allege that the entire gang is made up of car thieves and customs workers who falsified documents to import the stolen cars into the country.  The cars stolen in Costa Rica had their papers modified to look imported, agents said.   

Conficated drugs go to incinerator

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization incinerated nearly five tons of marijuana, cocaine and crack cocaine that agents had seized during 2005, agents said.  Four tons and 219 kilos of the stash was cocaine, agents said. 

Some 82 kilos of the seized drugs was marijuana. and crack cocaine composed a kilo and a half. This is the first such incineration of the year, agents said.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 39


Tax package analysis (3)
Capital gains tax does not seem to be indexed to inflation in new law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A capital gains tax, as outlined in the Costa Rican tax reform proposal, has the same deficiency as a similar tax in the United States. But in Costa Rica, the result is worse for the taxpayer.

Neither country indexes the capital gains tax to inflation. Instead, the tax is applied to the difference between the old purchase price of an asset and the new sales price.

The problem is clear in real estate. Someone who purchased a home more than 20 years ago, paid for it in currency of that day.  On Feb. 22, 1985, the colon was valued at 48.2 to the dollar. So a home purchased for 964,000 colons would have been worth $20,000. The colon today is about 500 to the dollar.
That amount in colons is worth today $1,928. If the home sells for 40 million colons ($80,000), the 10 percent capital gains tax is assessed on 39,036,000 colons, and the owner has to pay 3,903,600 colons or $7,807. If the purchase price were indexed to inflation, the tax would be 3 million colons or $6,000.

And that does not take into consideration that even the U.S. dollar has deflated in value some 88 percent over the last 21 years. And the citizen is paying tax on the government-caused inflation.

Capital gains is a new tax concept here and contained in the tax reform package that has been passed once in the Asamblea Legislativa. The measure is now being reviewed by the Sala IV constitutional court before a possible second and final assembly vote and a signature by the president.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas          
Protesters camp outside the fence surrounding Casa Presidencial
Crowd vents its anger against police at Casa Presidencial protest
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Seven policemen suffered injures, and four persons went to jail Wednesday when a protest over rights to land flared into violence in front of Casa Presidencial in Zapote.

Problems started when some in the crowd of an estimated 100 began hurling eggs at Casa Presidencial, the office complex where the nation's president and executive staff work. Police came and quieted down the individuals.

But when a fight broke out between protesters and police tried to intervene, members of the crowd hit the police with sticks, threw rocks and even bit the officers, according to Randall Picado, the area commander of the Fuerza Pública.

One officer suffered a broken nose. Others had bites 
on the legs and others on their arms. Six  officers were hospitalized.

The protesters, including men, women and children, represented 135 families that had been thrown off government land they invaded in San Miguel de Desamparados, said Jesenia Obregon Mora, one of the protesters. They live on the streets, she said.

The anger against the police stemmed from the members of the crowd being kicked off the property by the Fuerza Pública and the Unidad de Intervención Policial tactical squad.

After a meeting inside Casa Presidencial, one of the leaders, Saide Espinoza Vindas, said the government would make arrangements for them by Friday.  The four persons arrested, identified by their last names, are Gómez Sánchez and Loaiza Ulate, both Costa Ricans, and Jiménez López and Zuñiga Pérez, both Nicaraguan.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 39

Regional development banks will target corruption
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Inter-American Development Bank has announced it will work with other international banks located in Africa, Asia, and Europe to address the global problem of fraud and corruption.

The bank said Tuesday that the international financial institutions had established a task force that will develop what is called a "Framework for Preventing and Combating Fraud and Corruption."  The task force was formed by the international banks at a meeting last week in Washington.

Besides the development bank, the other institutions involved in the task force are the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The task force plans to identify opportunities for collaboration among the institutions on helping countries strengthen their own capacity to fight corruption and on improving cooperation with other
groups, including civil society groups, to enhance transparency and accountability.

The banks will seek to complete a joint accord in time for the September 2006 annual meeting of the World Bank and the monetary fund boards of governors.  The accord would increase information sharing, standardize definitions of corruption, improve the consistency of investigative rules and procedures and ensure mutual support for compliance and enforcement of actions taken by any one of the international banks to combat fraud and corruption.

The development bank said corruption is one of the most significant obstacles to the success of a nation's development.  With this in mind, the bank is planning its first anti-corruption conference for the Americas, at a date and place still to be decided.  Regional public financial institutions and civil society will be invited to help prepare the conference.

The U.S. Agency for International Development says nothing does more to alienate citizens from their political leaders and institutions and to undermine stability and economic development than endemic corruption.

Brazilian president seems to have rebounded in popularity after scandal
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — New survey results indicate Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is rebounding from a corruption scandal in time to save his chances for re-election.

The results show that if the presidential election scheduled for October were held today, the president would win 48 percent to 43 percent against Sao Paulo mayor Jose Serra, who is expected to run. He would also prevail in a match against another popular contender, Sao Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin.
Serra and Alckmin are competing for their party's nomination.

The survey of more than 2,600 people was taken Monday and Tuesday by the Datafolha survey company, with a margin of error of two points.

President Silva, also known simply as "Lula," lost popularity last year when his political party was accused of bribery and illegal campaign financing.

He is expected to run for re-election this year, although he has yet to declare his intentions.

Concern and shock follow murders of two journalists in Ecuador
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The global press advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders, says it is shocked by the murders of two journalists in Ecuador less than a day apart.

The Paris-based press group said the murders of journalists in less than 24 hours "gives rise to the fear that there is a growing climate of insecurity for the media" in Ecuador, "even if it is not yet proved that the victims' journalistic work was the cause of their murders."

Reporters Without Borders said freelance photographer Raúl Suárez Sandoval was shot dead Feb. 14 in Durán, near the city of Guayaquil, 24 hours after the killing in Guayaquil of José Luis León Desiderio, of Radio Minutera.

The press group said the "motive of theft appears to be ruled out in both cases" so the journalists' professional work "should therefore be taken into account."

Reporters Without Borders urged authorities in
 Ecuador "to do their utmost to see that light is shed on these two murders."

Another press advocacy group, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists,  said in a statement that the broadcast journalist, León, had received anonymous calls at Radio Minutera threatening consequences if he continued to report on gangs. 

León had criticized, in particular, gang activity in a district of the city where he lived, said the committee.

Press reports said León's wife and daughter found his body near their home.  He had been shot three times but was not robbed, according to reports. Local police are investigating the shooting but have not commented on possible motives.

Less is known about the circumstances behind the murder of the photographer Suárez.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it had urged authorities in Ecuador to conduct a thorough and timely investigation into these murders and bring those responsible to justice.

Jo Stuart
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