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(506) 2223-1327         Published Friday, March 4, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 45          E-mail us
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Proposed law would tax all property transfers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The finance ministry is preparing a proposed law that would simplify reporting for tax purposes, double the penalties for false reporting and also apply the 1.5 percent property transfer assessment to properties that are held in corporations.

Fernando Herrero, the minister of Hacienda, outlined the changes to reporters Thursday. He said that one goal would be to bring together the rights and guarantees that taxpayers have. These rights are spread through a number of laws now.

Herrero said that the proposal would double the penalties for incorrect reporting of taxes or false reporting from 25 percent of the tax, or in some cases 75 percent of the tax, to 50 percent and in some cases 150 percent.

The property transfer tax now applies to conventional sales in which a notary prepares a document of sale for the Registro Público. Many homes, however, are held in a corporation, and frequently are sold by a simple transfer of stock certificates. Such is the case with many properties held by expats.

Francisco Villalobos Brenes, the director general of Tributación, confirmed that the legislative proposal would seek to make this type of transfer taxable, too. In the case of transactions that contain more
than real property, such as a business, taxes would have to be paid on the estimated value of the real estate transferred, he said.

Herrero is one of the driving forces in the legislature in seeking to have adopted President Laura Chinchilla's tax reform package. That package contains a 14 percent value added tax, and had run into trouble in the legislature. Opponents have criticized the reform package as not being necessary because the nation should collect its overdue tax bills first. The measure announced Thursday would seek to do that.

The proposal also includes changes in the Dirección General de Aduanas, the customs agency. There are increases proposed here for understating the value of imported goods and other violations.

Herrero also said that the proposal would modernize the tax code so that electronic accounting systems and other technological advancements are accepted.  The current law requires archaic methods with hand-written accounting books. Herrero said that a program like Quick Books would be acceptable. Most companies use these systems now.

He also said that the proposal would be submitted to Casa Presidencial Monday. Until May 1, lawmakers can consider only those measures submitted by the executive branch. President Chinchilla is expected to include this measure on her legislative agenda.

Tax chief trying to make paying luxury tax easier
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's top tax collector has a message for those who have not paid their luxury home assessment.

"You do not need to pay the penalty to pay the tax."

He is Francisco Villalobos Brenes, whose official title is director general de Tributación. He has been on the job since the middle of last December, and he inherited the job of collecting the luxury home tax.

One of his first revelations was that some 1,000 persons who reported their house as a luxury home last year and paid the tax did not do so this year. The tax was due Jan.15.

Villalobos is a lawyer and law professor who in private life questioned the constitutionality of the luxury tax penalties in columns he wrote for a national newspaper. Now he said he wants to make life easier for taxpayers.

Because he speaks English fluently, he is comfortable addressing the expats, who may live here part-time. He said Thursday he just prepared a list of 30 frequently asked questions that will be posted to the Tributación Web site. These are in English. He also has drafted a non-threatening letter, also in English, asking those subject to the tax to pay. But he also is the man who authorized the publication of the names of individuals and corporations who did not pay the tax this year.

Villalobos said he is aware of the complexities and confusion that accompanied the enactment of the tax in late 2009 and early 2010. Then those who owned homes around a value of $180,000 or more probably had to hire an appraiser to determine the value of their home. Due to the devaluation of the U.S. dollar over the last year,

rancisco Villalobos
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Francisco Villalobos is trying to make paying the luxury tax easier for English speakers.

the threshold for payment probably is about $200,000 now.

Villalobos said he was creating a form in English with just four blanks: Name, location of the property, estimated value and the land value. The simple form will be used to register those who should be paying the tax. And the taxpayer will be able to make and estimate of the values.

The luxury tax law contains draconian penalties, including a fine 10 times the tax. But there may be part-time residents of Costa Rica, such as U.S. snowbirds, who are unaware that they owe the tax. The money is supposed to pay for housing for those now living in slums.

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Oh no! Not more woes
at the Río Virilla bridge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Río Virilla bridge has made transport officials laughing stocks for the last year.

This is the bridge on the Autopista General Cañas that has resisted repairs. At one time there was a metal plate over an expansion joint. Try as they may workmen could not secure the metal plate to the rest of the bridge. The metal jumped around, and motorists generally slowed down to cross that section.

Eventually newscasters, reporters and then average Costa Ricans began calling the plate and the bridge platina, the little plate. That is the diminutive form of plato, and there is a touch of scorn in the usage.

At least three times workmen closed off part of the bridge to reattach the metal plate. Usually the repair lasted about six to 12 hours.

Soon there was YouTube mockery of the plate. El Diario Extra sent out some models wearing hardhats, tool belts and not much else for a front page photo. That caused a traffic jam at the bridge, too.

Finally the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes had enough. They announced they were closing down the entire highway to fix the bridge. They did so just after Christmas, and the traffic jams were historic. Slowly the bridge was reopened. First two lanes and then more.

Workmen ripped up the entire bridge deck and applied a fresh layer of concrete.

Not being content with bridge repair, highway officials installed a bus only lane that became a trap for many passenger car drivers.

The repair was not without cost. A highway worker died one Friday night when a car hit him and the driver fled. That case still is being prosecuted.

Now just when the bridge is to become fully operation, there are more problems. Some 10 percent of the concrete used in the bridge deck appears to be suspect.

María Lorena López, a vice minister, visited the bridge site Thursday and met with Soares Da Costa, the contracting firm, and representatives from Cemex, the concrete company, and the company that supplied the rebar. She was reported to say that solutions were being sought to repair the problem and that the government has not yet accepted the work.

Our reader's response
Central Pacific development
gets environmental OK

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My name is Aaron Dowd, and I am the managing partner of Cabo Caletas Ocean & Golf Club, which is a 450-acre oceanfront master planned community located along the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica in the town of Esterillos Oeste.

I am writing this letter in an effort to update the general public in regards to an environmental case brought against our project in April 2008 that was well publicized in many of the local newspapers and online publications.

Due to the lack of general exposure to these types of cases, I felt it was necessary to give an update to clear any doubt over the viability of our project in the eyes of the environmental agencies and the general public.

After enduring a three-year legal process during one of the worst economic cycles ever experienced, I am pleased to announce that we have finally received the official ruling which has cleared all environmental infractions that our project was charged with committing.  There are no limitations for the future development of our project, according to the master plan approved by all of the government authorities involved.

This is tremendous for all of our customers who have supported us though out this delay, our investors whose investment had been tied to an unchartered legal process and our development team members whose businesses have been delayed from employing hundreds of workers within our local economy.

We very much look forward to advancing the project especially now that this environmental case has finally been put to rest and we expect to make a few large announcements in the near future which will certainly raise the general profile for both the central Pacific of Costa Rica and Cabo Caletas Ocean & Golf Club.

Aaron Dowd
Cabo Caletas Ocean & Golf

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

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!

From the Costa Rican press
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 4, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 45
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Diver moves freely amid a gathering of sharks in the Isla del Coco underwater park. The U.N. said it designed the area world heritage site because of the critical habitats the site provides for marine wildlife especially sharks.
Coco underwater
A.M. Costa Rica archive photo/Frank Stenstrom

Chinchilla decree greatly expands Coco's protected waters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla signed a decree Thursday that creates a massive undersea protected area around Isla del Coco in the Pacific. The undersea landscape contains mountains so the new tract is called the Área Marina de Manejo Montes Submarinos.

The executive decree said that the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura is in charge of issuing licenses for sports fishing and low impact commercial exploitation of the area.

The organization Conservation International, which promoted the project for years, said that the new area is nearly a million hectares around the 200,000 hectares that already is Parque Nacional Isla del Coco.

The Park is a U.N. world heritage site. One hectare is about 2.47 acres.

Conservation International noted that some 300 fish species had been recorded in the waters around Isla del Coco. The area is known for its sharks and other large marine creatures.

A report on the island appeared HERE in A.M. Costa Rica
"This is an historic responsibility with which we seek to establish clear parameters in defense of the cycle of life in one of the zones of great marine richness in the world," said President Chinchilla in signing the decree.

The tiny island technically is part of the province of Puntarenas, but it is more than 300 miles out in the Pacific. Nearly all of the few residents are government employees and their families.

Scott Henderson, regional marine conservation director for Conservation International said in a release that “Protecting threatened marine life and ensuring thriving fisheries is what our Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape Program is all about. Costa Rica and its neighbors are enormously important centers of marine diversity and abundance that underpin valuable fisheries and tourism industries.  Today’s announcement reconfirms Costa Rica’s role as a regional leader in green economic development – extending this approach from its land to its oceans. Tomorrow’s fisheries will show that the expansion of Cocos benefits fishermen, too.”

Costa Rican law enforcement has had trouble patrolling the existing underwater national park. There have been many cases of poaching, mostly by commercial fishing boats.

About that schizophrenic attitude toward women's freedom
Freedom has been in the news, in the conversation, and on the minds of people lately.  In the Middle East the oppressed are fighting for their freedom and human rights after years of the deprivation of both their freedom and their rights under the will of dictators.

In the midst of all of this, a couple of small news items have started me thinking about freedom as it has applied to women over the centuries, and how we continue to have to fight for our freedom because it continues to be curtailed with each generation.

One of the odd bits of news was actually just an aside to the ongoing saga of actor Charlie Sheen, who plays a boozing, womanizing, gambling good hearted brother on TV, and in real life continues the character, and is still acknowledged as a good father to his children.  But that is beside the point. What bothered me each time the reporting involved his children, who were living with him, was the fact that he is living with a “porn star.”  The tone of voice of the reporter implied that a porn star could not possibly be a good surrogate mother.

As a matter of fact, it is often a woman’s sexuality that is the object of the most control and lack of freedom granted her by society.

I have mentioned before the schizophrenic attitude many societies have regarding sex.  It seems to be an evil thing except when it is engaged in by a male and a female within an institution called marriage. Then it is sacred.

Female porn stars are tolerated, if often ridiculed, but, as I have said before, in many countries a woman is prohibited from selling her body legally.  Illegally, she not only is a criminal, she is prey to pimps who protect her.  With or without a pimp, she is in danger of every sort of abuse, including death.  Pimps and even police make millions from prostitution.  Legal brothels are the safest places for sex workers and their clients, and now Sen. Harry Reid wants to close down the few in the State of Nevada!

As late as the 1950s a female teacher (and most teachers were women) had to be single, or past child bearing, and a pregnant woman was expected to resign her job whatever it was, once she looked pregnant. (That certainly has changed!)  If a poor woman became pregnant, and for whatever reason, felt she could not possibly endure that pregnancy (which she did not achieve on her own), she became a criminal if she tried to get an abortion. Rich women went to other countries.
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

If she had the baby and could not take care of it, society offered her little support except the option of adoption. She was and is considered a terrible person (sometimes a criminal) if she takes money from the adopting couple.  At the same time, the doctor, the lawyers, and all of the go-between people involved in the process, make money legally.  Today a pregnant woman can be punished if she is not a healthy incubator for the growing fetus.

One of the often overlooked, least understood medical/mental problems is post-partum depression.  It is a devastating condition that can render a mother incapable of caring for herself or her child.  Yet one of the most heinous criminals in the eyes of society is a woman who kills her infant or child — and postpartum depression is seldom a successful defense.

And now, the second bit of news:  Breast feeding is being touted as the best thing a mother can do for her baby.  Unfortunately, not every mother can breast feed. Only a minority can.  Some mothers have more than enough milk so they are selling their surplus for about $5 an ounce to other mothers.  However, now there seems to be concern that this milk might be contaminated by HIV or some other microbe passed from mother to child, and pasteurization is being considered before it is sold (by a third party, of course). Then it will cost $125 an ounce.  The fact that mothers already involved in this exchange, get to know one another and take precautions  — women have a long history of cooperating and helping one another — or that HIV mothers seldom nurse, is not enough.  Once again, it is the middleman who profits from a woman’s sex.

Women have come a long way, but still, in subtle ways in many countries their rights are restricted or being challenged just because they are women. 

In Libya and other countries the people are fighting for their freedom and their human rights.  I just hope that when they achieve their goals they remember that women are people, too, and that other already democratic countries will more fully acknowledge that truth.

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Policeman hacked by machete, and assailant killed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers tried to arrest a man who has been terrorizing his neighborhood near Cóbano Thursday, but the man rushed one officer and slashed him with a machete.  Then the assailant died as a result of police bullets.

The police officer, identified as Roy Valladares Fuentes, 32, suffered a severe wound on the right arm, so much so that officials fear he might lose it. They took him from Cóbano to Hospital México in San José by security ministry helicopter.

The dead man was Santos Vásquez Gómez who tried to drown a policemen in a nearby river several months ago, the security ministry said. He had a history of violent behavior and spent time in a psychiatric clinic in Pavas, they added.
Fuerza Pública officials said they had been getting complaints from residents of the area called Río Frío some 30 kilometers from the center of Cóbano that the man was acting in a threatening manner. One of the complaints came from the local school director, officials said.

So Thursday Héctor Murillo, the chief of the local Fuerza Pública detachment, other officers and a traffic policeman went to the area to check out the situation, officers said. Included was Valladares.

When Vásquez noticed the presence of police, he rushed Valladares and slashed at his arm. Officials did not say exactly who shot the man.

The Judicial Investigating Organization is involved now in the case. The security ministery characterized the shooting as self defense. But an investigation is always conducted in such cases.

More suspect liquor bottles
snagged by Fuerza Pública

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers have confiscated another load of counterfeit liquor and uncovered a storage location for the same commodity.

Officers said they stopped a truck that was carrying 26 cases of either adulterated or bootlegged liquor in Hatillo Thursday. Employees of the Fabrica Nacional de Licores, the state alcohol monopoly, also participated in the siezure.

The bottles contained false labels with a high concentration of ethanol, police said.

The storage facility was located in Sagrada Familia  where 192 bottles were confiscated. That confiscation was by the San José police and the Ministerio de Salud.

confiscated alcohol
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y Seguirdad Pública photo
Confiscated bottles appear to include some that contain wine.

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Obama and Calderon
White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Filipe Calderón and President Barack Obama share a one-on-one meeting in the White House Thursday.

Obama and Calderón agree
to a deepening relationship

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Barack Obama and his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón, say they have agreed to deepen their cooperation in the fight against Mexico's drug cartels.

In a joint news conference at the White House Thursday, Obama said Calderón has shown extraordinary courage in battling the cartels and stressed that the U.S. accepts shared responsibility for the drug violence.

President Obama said the U.S. is speeding up efforts to equip and train Mexican forces and is also working to reduce the demand for drugs and combat the flow of weapons and money to Mexico.

Both Calderón and Obama also pledged to work to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border, following the killing in Mexico last month of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata.

Calderón expressed his deepest condolences to Zapata's family and said Mexico hopes to bring to justice the drug gang leader arrested in connection with the shooting.  Obama said the U.S. has requested the extradition of the suspect and expects the "full weight of the law" to be brought against him.

The two leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to work together on immigration, the economy, climate change and clean energy.  Obama also said the United States and Mexico have found a clear path to resolving a long-running dispute over trucking between the two nations.

As part of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican truckers were to be able to deliver goods into the United States.  However, the United States had refused to allow them in, over safety and environmental concerns.  Mexico imposed higher tariffs on some U.S. goods because of the dispute.

More than 34,000 people have been killed since Calderón launched a crackdown on drug cartels in 2006.

In congressional testimony this week, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she is very concerned about escalating violence on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

On whether the U.S. would arm its agents in Mexico to ensure their safety, both Obama and Calderón said Mexican laws do not allow foreign agents inside Mexico to be armed. Obama said the United States' job in the fight against drug cartels is to help with information, equipment and coordination, but stressed that the U.S. does not carry out law enforcement activities in Mexico.

Calderón said Mexico is exploring alternatives for protecting U.S. agents.

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Lawmakers give initial OK
to trade treaty with China

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators approved on first reading Thursday the proposed Costa Rica-China free trade treaty.

Some officials are anxious to pass the agreement before the official opening of the soccer stadium that China constructed. The vote Thursday was 42 to 11.

One critic was Luis Fishman of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana and a former presidential candidate. He said that a democratic country like Costa Rica should not have a free trade pact with a country like China that does not respect human rights and prohibited its people from thinking freely.

The treaty will have to be voted on one more time but before then the Sala IV constitutional court will get a chance to review the document. That is a routine review.

Pair linked to drug rings
jailed for six months

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A worker in the organized crime prosecutor's office has been remanded to jail for six months for investigation, the Poder Judicial reported. His associate, a Colombian, has the same fate.

Both were detained in raids Wednesday, and investigators alleged that they were part of an intelligence net for drug gangs. Investigators said that the judicial employee, identified by the last names of Valverde Fernández, provided detailed information to drug gangs about the investigations that were going on in his office. That formerly was called the narcotics trafficking prosecutor's office.

The Colombian, identified by the last names of Vallego Molano is alleged to have assisted Valverde.
Agents said the network was run by a man in México and had members as far away as France and Colombia.

Highway to be closed again
mornings through Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workmen are continuing with painting the lines and placing lane markers on Ruta 32 today, and the highway will be closed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. though Sunday, the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said.

The highway has been closed during the week while the work goes on in some 30 kilometers of the highway.  This is the San José-Limón highway.

The work suffered some unexpected setbacks when rain fell Monday and Tuesday.
Women's Club panning
annual kickoff luncheon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Women's Club of Costa Rica has its kickoff luncheon for the year Wednesday at the Aurola Holiday Inn in downtown San José.

Founded in 1940, the Women's Club of Costa Rica is one of the oldest, continuously operating service organizations in Costa Rica. Current programs focus on education, primarily through scholarships and development of school libraries for children.

The event Wednesday starts at 11 a.m.  Tickets are 10,000 colons. Tickets are available by calling 2249-9071 or 2293-6548 for tickets. More information is on the club's Web site

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