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(506) 223-1327         Published Tuesday, March 7, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 47            E-mail us    
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A great spring break here demands safety first
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Spring break time approaches at North American campuses, and Costa Rica continues to grow as a place where college students spend their week free from classes.

In addition to the general dangers that are the subject of the seasonal U.S. State Department warnings, Costa Rica offers some unique perils.

The death of an Australian student who traveled to Tamarindo with his U.S. school friends still is an open case but a cold investigation. The student, Brendan Dobbins, vanished March 4 a year ago while taking a morning walk on the beach. His skull and some bones turned up in early June. Some think he fell in with predatory drug dealers.

Natural dangers from the tide, rapids, traffic and falls also can cut short a spring break vacation. The dangers of rip tides cannot be underestimated. They continue to take a toll of young visitors who may not have learned how to beat them, sometimes as many as three a week.

Adventure tours, be they rafting or zip line canopy tours also pose unique dangers, and the best defense is to deal with established and recommended companies. Costa Rica's feeble personal injury laws are unlikely to provide much protection to tourists, although an emergency medical and evacuation insurance policy is a good idea.

The natural dangers are more obvious than the dangers from people: robbers, drunk drivers and even misguided friends.

The U.S. State Department said in its annual country report of Costa Rica: 

"In recent years, several Americans have been murdered in Costa Rica in urban, rural and resort locations. U.S. citizens have been victims of sexual assaults both in cities and in rural areas. In some of these cases, the victim has known the assailant. There have been several sexual assaults by taxi drivers."

The government of Canada said about the same thing last month, reminding citizens to take care.

The U.S. Embassy gets more than 1,000 reports a year of lost or stolen passports. Many of these have been taken by thieves. Canada fields about 150 reports of stolen passports.

Spring break, institutionalized by the 1960 film "Where the Boys are," has become a U.S. ritual. Increasingly afluent college students now look to México, Costa Rica, the Caribbean and even Asia to participate in excessive drinking and drug use with the opposite sex. Television shows like "Wild On" fan desires but never mention the dangers.

The U.S. State Department, in its annual warning, says this about bad behavior:

"Some young Americans go abroad assuming that local authorities will overlook such conduct, believing that they are immune from prosecution in foreign countries because they are American citizens. The truth is that

 
Tips for college kids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica staffers have composed some random tips:

1. Just because he or she speaks good English does not make the individual a good person.

2.  Why would you ever drink from a glass or bottle that has been out of your sight?

3. Keep that passport safe at the hotel and carry a photocopy of the face page and the page with the entry stamp.

4. Stay off the roads at night.

5. Stay with friends at all times.

6. A hotel bar is much safer than one in the town.

7. Door locks are there for your security.

8. The cheapest fishing trip might be      one-way.

9. Volcanoes look best from afar.

10. You can't be safe on the cheap.


Americans are expected to obey all of the laws of the countries they visit, and those who break these laws could face severe penalties, including prison sentences."

Officials also warn that alcohol or drug use can amplify the dangers in sports and other risky behavior. More than 2,500 American citizens are arrested abroad each year -- about half on narcotics charges, including possession of very small amounts of illegal substances, said the State Department.

The danger probably is less in places like Tamarindo where drugs are sold openly on the street and in nightspots, in part due to a small police presence. However, the danger of  homemade substances and date-rape drugs are perhaps more acute.    

Visitors also run the risk of trying to take home illegal drugs easily purchase here. That can land someone in a notorious Costa Rican prison.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 7, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 47


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Taxi, bus drivers plan
massive protest today


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi and bus drivers plan a general strike today all over Costa Rica. The target is the proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

Taxi drivers will attempt to bring their vehicles to Casa Presidencial in Zapote and later to the Asamblea Legislativa in central San José.

Elsewhere in the country similar protests will take place.

The protest or strike comes just four days after Ottón Solís conceded the presidency to Óscar Arias Sánchez. Solís, the candidate of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, opposed the trade treaty.  Arias strongly favors the measure.

The treaty is in the Asamblea Legislative for ratification. There has been no news of progress, but the transportation workers suspect that the treaty soon will be advanced from a committee to the full assembly and possible ratification.

It is unclear why transportation workers as a class would oppose the treaty, but they were vital allies to public employee unions more than a year ago when a general strike and road blockades shut down the country.

Tuesday is the traditional time for President Abel Pacheco to meet the press and hold a cabinet meeting at Casa Presidencial.

A similar strike last week by the unlicensed taxi drivers was more specific and focused on a law in the legislature that would eliminate their right to work in door-to-door transport services.

Taxi drivers today are expected to assemble in the La Sabana areas and drive through town. One taxi official estimated the 10,000 vehicles would be involved in protests all over the country.

Princess comes here
to promote rural radio


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The principality of Liechtenstein has been financing small, rural radio operations for 30 years in Costa Rica.

Now Princess Nora of the tiny European state has come to visit. She met with President Abel Pacheco Monday.  The purpose of the rural transmitters are cultural and educational.

Monday the princess also met with students in San Marcos de Tarrazú and visited Radio Cultural Los Santos, one of the beneficiaries of the country's grants.

The head of the Liechtenstein state, Otmar Hasler, will be in Costa Rica Wednesday and both he and the princess will travel to Tilarán to inaugurate one of eight new rural radio stations the country has financed.

Suitcases full of cash
lead to airport arrests


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Romanian citizens were carrying 172,435 euros (about $207,000) when they were stopped at Juan Santamaría airport Friday, said the Policía de Control de Drogas.

The men, Constatin Bucataru, 38, and Flavius Manta, 30, are being investigated for money laundering.

The currency was contained in luggage and wrapped in magazines and newspapers, police said. The men were coming from Germany and had left Costa Rica the previous Monday.

A year ago, police confiscated two Mexicans carrying $407,742 at the same airport.

Karate teams fails
to get to border


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The self-described karate team of Pérez Zeledón probably will be returned to Costa Rica by Mexican officials Wednesday, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The 20 individuals, 19 Costa Rican, were flagged by Mexican police over the weekend as presumed illegal immigrants trying to make their way to the United States. They arrived by air to the Distrito Federal.

Anabella Castro is the consul general in México for Costa Rica. She reported by telephone that Mexican authorities had found inconsistencies in the stories of the Costa Rican travelers and doubted that their real reason for the visit was tourism, the foreign ministry said.

Pérez Zeledón in southern Costa Rica is a source of many illegal aliens who enter the United States. The activity reaches the level of a business there with financing, transportation and smuggling all planned in advance.

Last May it appears that groups of young men, pretending to be soccer team members, obtained tourist visas to the United States. Many are believed to have jumped their visas.


Murder suspect is held
for three-month term


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Villareal man has been ordered held for three months pre-trial detention as a suspect in the murder of Yamil Orias Orias, 36, according to a spokesperson from the Poder Judicial.

The case was opened in the Juzgado Penal de Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, against the suspect identified by the last names of Sánchez Angulo.

Orias died early Feb. 27 when he was set upon by a bigger man, knocked to the ground, beat about the head with a metal tube and then run over repeatedly by his assailant in a pickup truck.

The assailant threatened passersby with a gun and forced them to load the body into the pickup, police said at the time. Later the body was found in Santa Rosa de Villareal, some 15 kms. (some nine miles) from the assault site, the court spokesperson said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 7, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 47


 

German, Spanish and Canadian pacts advancing
Tax treaty with Swiss in the works to avoid evasion

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

Switzerland and Costa Rica have agreed to negotiate a tax treaty.

The treaty would exempt Swiss investors here and Costa Rican investors in Switzerland from double taxation, said officials of both countries.

Switzerland taxes its residents on their worldwide income that comes from sources other than business operations and real estate in foreign countries. Residents are taxed on income generated in Switzerland but the rate is based on the taxpayer's worldwide income.

Costa Rica is trying to institute a worldwide taxation for its citizens and residents.

In addition to double taxation, the proposed treaty would target tax evasion by providing for an interchange of information between the countries, so-called transparency.

The formal ceremony beginning the negotiations took place Monday morning in the Costa Rica Tennis Club in Sabana Sur.  José Adrián Vargas Barrantes, vice minister of Hacienda, and Gabriela Nützi Sulpicio, the Swiss ambassador, signed documents.

Costa Rica wants to have such treaties with all countries with which it maintains commercial relations, according to Francisco Fonseca Montero, director general of Tributación, the tax collecting agency.
Double taxation generally is avoided by providing taxpayers credits for taxes that they have paid in other countries.

Costa Rica is seeking treaties with Germany, Canada and Spain. The German treaty is a renegotiation because the Germans did not accept the original deal made by its negotiators. The Spanish agreement had been completed and is being studied for ratification in the Asamblea Legislativa, and negotiators are finishing the first round of negotiations with Canadians.

Costa Rica's plan for worldwide income taxes is contained in the fiscal package that has been approved for the first of two times in the Asamblea Legislativa. The 385-page document is getting an optional review by the Sala IV constitutional court based on a request by some legislators.

If the plan passes a second time and is approved by the president, Costa Ricans and residents here will have to pay income tax on their worldwide earnings.

This is particularly troubling to some expat retirees here, although the tax rate on the first 4 million colons (about $8,000) will be negligible. Costa Rica also seeks to impose a capital gains tax on the sale of assets, including real estate. Switzerland has a capital gains tax, too, but the picture there is muddled because each canton levies taxes as well as the federal government. There even is a special tax for non-resident foreigners who claim Swiss residency.

In the case of Costa Rica, foreigners will be subject to taxations as residents if they stay more than 183 days a year here, according to the proposed law.


World can view selected climates real time with Web site update
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weather institute has expanded the number of locations on its real-time system. This allows visitors to the institute Web page to check conditions in Liberia, Santa Bárbara de Heredia, Manzanillo-Limón and the Liberia airport.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional has had real-time figures for San José and more recently Pavas on its site.

In addition to local weather conditions, the Liberia, Pavas, Limón and a special Juan Santamaría section have information for aviators, including barometer
settings. These are airport locations.
Some of the reports are delayed, but most are only one to two minutes off. Manzanillo-Limón is 10 minutes behind.

A typical report will show wind speed, direction and rainfall data for the previous 48 hours. Current and daily high and low temperatures plus barometer readers also are shown.

Costa Rica has so many climates that San José is not likely to provide correct weather information for other sections.

The Web page is available from all over the world. The wording is in Spanish but the value of the numbers is obvious.






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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 7, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 47




Super study planned of pollution around México City
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

During March, scientists are in México City conducting one of the most complex atmospheric chemistry projects ever undertaken.

Researchers from the National Center for Atmosphere Research in Boulder, Colorado, and about 60 other institutions in the United States, México and other nations are working on the project, called Megacity Impacts of Regional and Global Environments.

México City was chosen for the work because it is the world’s third-largest urban area, has severe air-quality problems and is located in the tropics, as are most expanding megacities where air pollution is  a major health and environmental problem.

“We’re not looking so much at pollution inside the city, because that’s already fairly well known,” said NCAR scientist Sasha Madronichy. “We’re looking at the outflow. For the first time, we’ll have an idea of how much pollution is affecting areas outside the city, and be able to understand its full importance.”

The research, backed by the U.S. National Science Foundation, seeks to determine how far downwind
Mexico City’s pollution cloud goes; how pollutants are transformed as they move downwind in chemical reactions occurring inside the plume; how pollutants affect visibility and climate; and how urban pollutants interact with those from other sources in the region, such as agriculture or forest fires.

To gather the data needed to reach those answers, the researchers will fly multiple missions through the pollution plume in aircraft carrying instruments to test the smog’s components.

From the ground, scientists will send specially equipped helium balloons that will take further measurements of the behavior of the pollution.

The project is distinctive for several reasons. Much of the existing body of air pollution research has been conducted in cities in industrialized nations, and computer models that study the behavior of smog are based on those conditions.

Developing-nation cities and their pollution are different from their industrialized counterparts. People use different fuels, drive different cars and generate emissions in different ways, all of which will affect how pollution behaves, a release said.


$50 million plan revealed to help Amazon Basin
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Agency for International Development will provide an initial $50 million investment over the next five years — 2006 through 2010 — in an initiative to help preserve the Amazon Basin's biodiversity.

The agency's investment will support community groups, governmental entities and public and private organizations in the Amazon region to conserve the basin's "unique and globally important resources," the agency said. It also announced it had posted a request for applications from parties interested in obtaining grant money to participate in the Amazon Basin Conservation Initiative.

The Amazon Basin holds the world's largest area of contiguous and relatively intact tropical forest, said the agency.  The drainage areas of this river basin's system possess 20 percent of the world's freshwater resources and support critical aquatic habitats and ecosystems.
The agency said the initiative is needed because the region's biological assets are threatened.  The initiative's aim is to bring together indigenous and local communities, conservationists and decision-makers from the Amazon region countries to help address common conservation challenges, such as conflicts over the use of forests and other valuable natural resources.

In a June 2005 18-page strategic plan on the initiative, the agency said about 15 percent of the Amazon Basin has been deforested.  The document said continued large-scale deforestation within the basin might disrupt local and regional climate processes, resulting in less rainfall with far-reaching effects on biodiversity, agriculture, fisheries and the livelihoods of indigenous people.

Sound development options with the potential to equitably benefit the approximately 30 million residents of the Amazon Basin must be a key component of addressing these conservation challenges, according to the plan.






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