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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 39                            Email us
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U.S. proposes minimum tax for overseas subsidiaries
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

President Barack Obama's proposed revision of the U.S. Internal Revenue code would subject subsidiaries of U.S. corporations operating abroad to a minimum tax.

“This would stop our tax system from generously rewarding companies for moving profits offshore,” said the Framework for business Tax Reform released by the White House.

The proposal has relevance in Costa Rica where many subsidiaries of U.S. firms are located.

Foreign income deferred in a low-tax jurisdiction would be subject to immediate U.S. taxation up to the minimum tax rate with a foreign tax credit allowed for income taxes on that income paid to the host country, according to the proposal. The minimum tax rate was not specified.

The president's proposal would end tax deductions for U.S. companies that move productions overseas and provide new incentives for bringing production back to the United States, the Framework said.

The president's proposal is to give a 20 percent income tax credit for the expenses of moving operations back into the United States.  He suggested some kind of advantage for firms that do this but did not clarify in his State of the Union Address.

The current U.S. tax code allows companies to deduct interest expenses for borrowing and investing overseas even if they pay little or no U.S. taxes, the Framework notes. Obama wanted to eliminate this practice.

“Our tax system should not give companies an incentive to locate production overseas or engage in accounting games to shift profits abroad, eroding the U.S. tax base. Introducing a minimum tax on foreign earnings would help address these problems and discourage a global race to the bottom in tax rates.” said the Framework.

Obama aims to cut the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35 to 28 percent, while eliminating dozens of tax-saving deductions American companies now enjoy.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner unveiled the tax overhaul Wednesday, two days before a tax proposal being offered by one-time venture capitalist Mitt Romney.  He is one of the leading Republican presidential contenders seeking his party's nomination to face Obama, a Democrat, in next November's national election.
tax reform report
The face of the joint Framework report

Government officials said the plan would cut the effective tax rate for manufacturing firms from the current 32 percent average to 25 percent.  But the proposal would raise taxes on oil and natural gas companies.

The top U.S. corporate rate of 35 percent is among the highest in the world, putting American firms at an economic disadvantage.  But numerous U.S. corporations, after taking allowable deductions for business expenses, often pay at a substantially lower rate, and occasionally, nothing.

The Framework also discusses the advantage of a Subchapter S corporation where any profits are passed without tax to the shareholders. Although there is no specific mention of a plan to end this type of corporate structure, the Framework characterized as a distortion the difference between this time of firm and a typical corporation that pays taxes before distributing dividends.

The Framework document is clearly a political one. It is filled with words like loophole, distortions and subsidies.

The conservative Heritage Foundation quickly issued a lengthy critical commentary.

“The vision Obama outlines is to punish firms that outsource jobs and incentivize 'insourcing,'” said the column by J.D. Foster. “The net effect, however, would be quite different. The net effect is to put a 'for sale' sign on every profitable U.S. multinational company. The buyers, however, won’t be U.S. companies. The buyers will all be foreign companies.”

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Physical kilogram being
replaced by new standard

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The value of things like the watt, the meter and the kilogram would seem to be pretty well established. But these are the things that keep some scientists awake at night.

The kilogram is based on a chunk of platinum and iridium kept in a bell jar at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures near Paris. But it is shrinking since it was produced in 1889. Scientists say that the piece of metal has lost the weight of at least a fingerprint, which does not seem to be much. However, more accuracy is required in the modern world.

Research at the National Physical Laboratory in Britain has tied the kilogram to a mathematical constant based on the frequency of light instead of a physical mass.

"This research will underpin the world's measurement system and ensure the long term stability of the very top level of mass measurement,” said Ian Robinson, the project leader. “Although the man on the street won't see much difference — you'll still get the same 1-kilogram bag of potatoes – these standards will ultimately be used to calibrate the world's weighing systems, from accurate scientific instruments, right down the chain to domestic scales."

Scientists said the system might go into effect by 2014.

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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 39
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Crucita gold mine project gets another rejection in court

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala Primera rejected yet another appeal by Industrias Infinito, the Poder Judicial said Wednesday.

This is the company that has a concession to mine 800,000 ounces of gold near the Nicaraguan boarder in Cutris.

The company asked the Sala Primera to reconsider its rejection of its appeal of a lower court decision. The Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo found against the company and ordered that its concession be annulled. The Sala Primera upheld that decision earlier.

The new appeal basically sought reconsideration, but the court said there were no grounds for doing so.

Infinito, the subsidiary of a Canadian mining firm, is doing the legal work that is required before bringing the case to international arbitration where it stands a good chance of winning.

Former president Óscar Arias Sánchez was a strong supporter of the company and even issued a decree that said the project was in the interest of the country. To mine the gold, the company began cutting down some protected trees. Environmentalists were outraged.
The Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo not only found against the company but suggested that prosecutors examine the role that Arias played.

To dig a pit to extract gold, workers would have had to cut down trees, including the protected mountain almond tree (almendro amarillo in Spanish with the Latin name Dipteryx panamensis).

The Arias decree specifically permitted cutting such trees, but prosecutors had opened a criminal case to see if the president himself and other officials violated the law.

The court suggested they do so again, saying there was no basis for the action Arias took.

The lower court in November 2010 also said it was ordering Infinito to pay damages for environmental damage. The company said later that it had planted 300 trees for each tree it had to cut. The great green macaw nests in the mountain almond trees. The bird is called lapa verde in Spanish, and they are endangered.

If an international arbitration panel makes an award to Infinito and its parent firm the financial repercussions in Costa Rica could be enormous. The price of gold has skyrocketed since Infinito got the concession.

University group comes out in support of Térraba natives
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Students and professors at the Universidad Estatal a Distancia have come out in support of native families who had taken over a school in Brorán de Térraba in southwestern Costa Rica.

The more than 200 signers of the petition said they seek immediate intervention by the government to protect the parents, school children and leaders of the Térraba movement.

The petitioners come from the central location of the university in Sabanilla de Montes de Oca.

They also asked for a declaration of a state of emergency for the educational system there and that national education officials in the shortest time possible take action specified by international conventions.

They also asked for an investigative commission to evaluate the state of international agreements in native territories. They also want an investigation of the violence that took place Monday.
Costa Rica subscribes to various international treaties that carry the same weight as the Constitution.

About 60 of the native people had been occupying a small schoolhouse in the community since last week, demanding that the school's administrators hire native people as teachers, according to Fuerza Pública commander of that sector Edwin Miranda. The school is Academic Lyceum Térraba. Monday about 200 residents of the community decided to disrupt the sit-in and broke through the closed schoolhouse door and provoked a physical confrontation.  Some 18 persons suffered injuries.

International treaties give native groups rights to direct their own education and create their own institutions, the university group noted. They called the events at the school house the tip of the iceberg and said that the indicators of well being for native groups was less than the nationwide levels. They also noted that some 10 percent of the native reserve will be flooded by the Proyecto Hidroeléctrico Diquís dam and that the culture is seriously threatened.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 39
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Scammer index suggests that the times are getting better
By Jay Brodell
A.M. Costa Rica editor

The appearance of English-speaking beggars this week may be a sign that the economy is recuperating.

For the last several years, San José has not hosted the scammers, pickpockets and assorted bad sorts of years past.

A case in point is the Viper Lady, who was no lady. This was the woman who confided to expats that she admired them from afar and was lonely because the day was her birthday. And she would ask to share a drink in a dark bistro. The poor expat victim would awaken nearly naked in some lot hours later with only a dim memory that he happily surrendered his credit card PIN number.

The question of whether the Viper Lady really was a woman or a cleverly disguised male never has been answered. She blew town as the stock market plunged.

There is a certain nostalgia for the high-living days around the turn of the century. A lot of the activity was keyed to the Villalobos high interest borrowing operation that went kaput in 2002. The Villalobos brothers paid about 3 percent in cash a month on deposits of $10,000 or more.

A Costa Rican court said that the operation was a ponzi scheme when it convicted Oswaldo Villalobos of aggravated fraud. But not everyone is sure.

What is sure is that plenty of expats made extravagant use of the Villalobos income. An investment of $1 million would generate $30,000 a month, payable in cash in a brown envelope without any messy Internal Revenue Service forms. And individual investors had up to $16 million placed with the Villalobos Brothers.

That kind of money on the street attracted all kinds of criminal types. A lot of U.S. and Canadian expats moved here to keep track of their money and lived a rich lifestyle. Others spent their monthly winnings in a couple of boozy weeks at the Del Rey Hotel and other exciting nightspots.

Street crimes against expats seem to have declined in direct proportion to the financial well being of Villalobos investors.

This year will mark a decade from when Luis Enrique Villalobos had a fax sent to A.M. Costa Rica announcing that he was closing down his business. He still is a fugitive, but some diehards hope he will take advantage of the statute of limitations and return to pay them off. Hope springs eternal.

Although Luis Enrique styled himself as a religious man, he must have had second thoughts about the culture he was creating. Those who remember this period in San José can agree that for many the time was one continual party. Investors rode in limos, lived in posh surroundings and accumulated many, many friends.

The lifestyle was not only in San José. Pockets of expats all
Champagne lifestyle

over the country shared in the Villalobos regular monthly   stipends. A group near San Isidro de El General, for example, used to designate one of their number to take a bus to San José at the beginning of each month to collect the envelopes.

There were similar operators all providing monthly cash flow
to hundreds of expats. There was Luis Milanes, who seems to have successfully bought his way out of a prison term this year. There was this fund and that fund. And there was Roy Taylor who operated something called The Vault, which promoted a series of real and imagined investment opportunities. Taylor killed himself in his offices on the downtown pedestrian boulevard when investigators moved in June 2003. A check of his books showed that he, too, invested with the Villalobos Brothers.

Those who fared the best were those who invested in the Villalobos through a licensed U.S. stockbroker. Several accompanied their customers to San Pedro to make deposits. Presumably they received some kind of commission. When the Villalobos bubble burst, some of the customers contacted the brokers' employers, major New York firms. The companies, recognizing the idiocy of their employees making deals with unlicensed and unregistered operations, quickly wrote checks to the victims.

The economic hit caused by the collapse of the Villalobos operation was masked by the strength of the real estate market at the time. Hundreds of North Americans were shipping their pension funds, life savings and second mortgage money to Costa Rica to buy a dream. Some made out very well. Others fell in with the brothers and sisters of the Viper Lady. There were plenty of shaky projects that eventually went bust.

Some purchasers still are trying to get some satisfaction in courts here and in the United States.

A new story Wednesday reported on the exploits of some slick, English-speaking beggar types who seem to home in on expats. They have been absent from the city for several years. But they have returned. That may be a good economic sign.

President Chinchilla defends her blanket 5,000-colon pay hike
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is at a crossroads, and has to face situations for which the solutions have been postponed for a long time, according to President Laura Chinchilla Miranda.

She gave this summary in a bulletin the Casa Presidencial puts out periodically.

The president was defending her decision to give each public employee a 5,000-colon wage hike regardless of base salary. That's about $10.

She said the country must go forward with responsibility and solidarity following the route of dialogue.

She held a six-hour session with union leaders Monday in an effort to head off a threatened indefinite general strike. The results of the meeting are several work groups to spend a week
 to consider changes in the salaries of public employees. The president said she has to take the long view and not make decisions now that would have negative impact in the future. She said the 5,000-colon raise was aimed at helping those with the lowest salaries.

About half the national budget is borrowed money, and the president has pointed out that any salary raises also will come from borrowing.

She is trying to get lawmakers to pass a major tax increase that is estimated to bring in some $500 million to the government. Although some analysts see the tax bill as dead, lawmakers continue to discuss it periodically. The proposed law has been referred to the Sala IV constitutional court for an opinion on the process that legislative leaders are using to speed passage. Meanwhile, in little more than two months the legislative leadership will be elected again. The fate of the proposal would seem to rest on who wins the election.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 39
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Coconut husks and pits
seen as generator fuel

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

More than 1.5 billion people don't have access to electricity, according to the U. N. Development Program. That means, among other things, that school children with homework to do are left in the dark.

But some poor, rural areas that lack electricity may find they can generate it from something many do have plenty of: coconut shells and fruit pits.

University of Kentucky plant scientist Seth DeBolt and colleagues wanted to find a fuel that people in poor, rural areas could use to generate electricity. While on a study trip in rural Indonesia, he was struck by something he saw everywhere he went:

“The incredible efficiency at which agricultural products are used in Indonesia," DeBolt says. "There’s very little waste.”

Little waste means little left over that could be used for fuel. Farmers grew mangoes and jackfruit above coffee bushes and livestock fodder. Everything they grew was used for something. Even the scraps of fruit were fed to chickens. So growing a separate fuel crop would take land away from food crops, something DeBolt definitely wanted to avoid.

“The people at most risk with respect to energy poverty, typically they’re the same people who have food insecurity issues as it is," he says. "And any change in availability would be most detrimental to that group of people.”

But there is one promising item DeBolt found in abundance that would not create competition between food and fuel.

“It’s the shell of a coconut, or the pit of a mango. And these are generally thrown out.”

Though you can’t eat it and you can’t feed it to livestock, DeBolt says a coconut shell or mango pit has a lot of energy in it.

“It compares roughly to low- to moderate-grade coal in its heating value," he says, "which is excellent.”

The same is true for the pit of an olive, peach or cherry, or the shell of an almond or walnut. All that is needed is a way to release the energy.

DeBolt says a company in India called Husk Power is using small generators in local villages to turn rice hulls into electricity. They use a process called gasification: heating plant matter in a low-oxygen chamber releases gases that can be burned in an engine that spins a power-generating turbine.

DeBolt says his team saw the possibilities for coconut shells and mango pits.

In a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DeBolt and his colleagues used some rough calculations of coconut, mango and other fruit production and the efficiency of the gas generators. And they found in a country like Indonesia, for example, these systems could provide as much as 13 percent of the national energy needs.

U.N. rights office urges
probe into Mexican deaths

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U. N. human rights office has called on Mexican authorities to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the killing over the weekend of 44 inmates at a prison in the country’s north, apparently by members of an organized criminal group.

Another 26 detainees – most of them accused of grave crimes – escaped from the prison in the state of Nuevo León Sunday, the same day that the killings took place.

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said this week that an investigation must take place into both the killings and the mass escape.

“Those responsible, including relevant prison authorities, must be brought to justice and all necessary measures taken to prevent such attacks from recurring,” she said.

Sunday’s killings and mass escape occurred little more than a month after 31 prisoners died and 13 others were injured during a confrontation between rival groups at a jail in Tamaulipas, a state which borders Nuevo León.

Gangs and criminal networks involved in drug trafficking have killed thousands of people in recent years in Mexico.

Last week, the agency spoke out about conditions in prisons across Latin America, saying there was an alarming pattern of violence and voicing deep concern at overcrowding, excessive pre-trial delays, judicial delays and a lack of access to basic services.

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Thief raids Escazú home
while its owner is dying

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thieves ransacked a home in Escazú and took a collection of antique guns. The home was unattended for a span of days by the couple who lived there while the husband battled with a cancer which eventually took his life.

The man was American-born Robert S. Nahrgang who lived in San Antonio with his Costa Rican wife. He was a long-term expat in Costa Rica. He died earlier this week.

Nahrgang and his wife had not been staying at the house when the robbery took place. Police say the theft occurred sometime between Feb. 16 when a caretaker checked in on the residence and Wednesday when the son of the dead man, who was visiting from Texas, entered the property at 11 a.m. and noticed it had been burglarized.

The son's name is also Robert Nahrgang. The Judicial Investigating Organization said his plan was to take the firearms back to the United States when he left this coming Saturday.

Police report they found evidence that someone had entered through a window on the backside of the house. The thief had removed an air conditioning unit and broken the glass. Then he or she broke into a safe that contained the firearms. Police report that 11 firearms were stolen, including shotguns, pistols and revolvers.

Police say the late Robert S. Nahrgang was a hunter and a sportsman, so he had an extensive collection of guns. A value of the heist has not yet been calculated.

An agent working at the Fuerza Pública station in Escazú said the thief most likely had the guns in mind when he or she entered into the house because many other objects were left undisturbed. The case is currently under investigation with the Judicial Police.

Nahrgang was a frequent commentator on the Costa Rican social scene via letters to the editor of A.M. Costa Rica.

Police track theft suspects
from Quepos to Santa Ana

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Only hours after thieves had stolen belongings from the rental car of a pair of Canadian tourists in Quepos, tourist police, working in conjunction with the Judicial Investigating Organization, were able to locate three suspects in Santa Ana.

Tourist police said that between 2 and 3 p.m. Tuesday in Quepos thieves broke into the trunk of the rental car and stole about $2,000 worth of the couple's personal belongings. The car had been parked on a public street while the Canadians were enjoying the area, they said.

Police were able to obtain a description of the suspects and their vehicle from witnesses and issued an alert with the judicial police, which led to the arrest of the men in Santa Ana at 6 p.m. that day. The men arrested were identified as two Nicaraguans, ages 29 and 31, and a 58-year-old Colombian. Not all of the stolen belongings were recovered in the arrest, police report.

An officer with the tourist police recommended that visitors park their cars in protected parking areas staffed with guards, keep the doors locked and valuables out of sight to avoid as much as possible car break-ins.

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