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(506) 2223-1327       Published Monday, March 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 46          E-mail us
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Ms. Chinchilla seeks help from above on Isla Calero
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With a decision expected early Tuesday from the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, President Laura Chinchilla sought help from a higher power Sunday. She attended Mass at the Catedral Metropolitana and heard Archbishop Hugo Barrantes ask for peace here and in Nicaragua.

Casa Presidencial, also Sunday, released a sometimes sarcastic reply that the president made to her counterpart in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega Saavedra. Ortega Saturday asked Ms. Chinchilla to join him at the border to receive the news from the court Tuesday.

Ms. Chinchilla said that she was pleased that the note from Ortega said officially that his government will abide by the decision of the international court. Costa Rica is seeking what amounts to a restraining order against further dredging and waterway construction on the Isla Calero, where Nicaraguan troops invaded in October. Any decision may be too late because Nicaragua already has punched through a new mouth for the Río San Juan that can only be enlarged by continuous river flow.

"Next Tuesday we await with serenity the decision of the International Court of Justice," said Ms. Chinchilla in the letter. "I will do it together with my people who freely elected me and to whom I render accounts every day with transparency and serenity as in all democracies."

The president made reference to transparency and democracy several times, clearly a criticism of Ortega and his authoritarian regime.

Ms. Chinchilla also said that after the court decision she was hoping that the countries of México and Guatemala would help in the process of normalizing relations.

The Chinchilla administration has taken steps to reinforce security around the Nicaraguan Embassy on Avenida Central in San José. During the entire conflict with Nicaragua, officials here have been aware of the substantial Nicaraguan population, both legal and illegal, of Costa Rica.

They go out of the way to promise fair dealings and just treatment to all residents.
President and archbishop
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President Chinchilla stands with the archbishop at the end of Sunday Mass.

In her letter, Ms. Chinchilla said that Ortega has distorted the message given by beefed up security. She said she was not surprised that he did so.

In the cathedral Sunday Ms. Chinchilla sat alone to the right side of the altar. Her husband was with the rest of the congregation.

She also appeared on television to give her weekly message and mentioned the Tuesday decision. Although Costa Rica expects a favorable decision, courts are unpredictable, and Nicaragua fashioned a creative defense.

The Río San Juan is Nicaraguan territory, and the international border is the south bank. Ortega wants to open up a new river mouth because the existing meandering channel is heavily silted. A new mouth would mean new life for the Río San Juan with transportation and tourism. Costa Rica is outraged at the environmental destruction the work has caused.

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Our readers' opinions
Costa Rica officials learn
from tax policy in Europe

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It seems that the government is slowly catching up with taxes that are common in other parts of the world.

In Germany we don't have the luxury tax on certain houses. Therefore every property pays a certain tax every year, be it for living quarters, industrial or agriculture.

Apart from that, every sale of a property is taxed with 2,5 or 3,5 percent of the value of the notarial document (depending on the county/state where the property is situated).

The government seems to be comparing its tax system with other countries, especially Europe, where nearly everything is multiply taxed. And it is learning quick. And you can rest assured that the taxes well known in other countries will in time also appear here!

Klaus Ebeling
Zeitz, Germany

Not much likely to come
from fiscal reform  push

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Last Friday, there were a couple of good articles on Costa Rican taxes: one reflecting an ignorant and impractical as always mentality, and the other one showing some common sense creeping in. And bear in mind this is after the IRS has had several agents stationed for months in the country advising the Costa Rican authorities how to collect taxes as done in the U.S. Surely the topics of thumb screws, the rack and jail time were discussed, none of which is known in this little Latin country.

Of course, there is never open debate in government as to why there is such a high degree of tax evasion in Latin American, unless the answer is thought to be known beforehand: all Latins are non-civic and have no trust in their governments, and do whatever they can not to pay.  In no way, I am implying that others in other countries are happy to pay taxes, but there is a psychological factor called when it comes to paying: feeling you are getting your money’s worth. In Costa Rica, the taxpayer is definitely not, so he therefore feels screwed, thus avoids paying taxes whenever he can by looking for loopholes in the tax laws, which are probably left there by the legislators writing the tax to benefit their special interest friends and themselves, or simple assuming that the collection system is so deficient that by the time his non-payment is discovered, the statute of limitations has expired, which it does after three years on property taxes you pay at your local municipality.

I find this a rare situation taking place in Costa Rica: all of a sudden discovering the need for a huge amount of new tax revenue. Of course, Doña Laura did promise a lot during the campaign, and all those promises cost money, especially keeping us safe from the bad guys, which ain’t gonna happen, and did not realize the cupboard left by Dr. Arias was bare. Remember, it was during Oscar Arias’s administration that there was a budget surplus, the only one I can remember in all the year’s I have been here. Maybe Dr. Arias’ government did a lot of scrimping and saving to get that surplus, so it could go into its last two years on a spending binge, having lots of projects to inaugurate with plaques bearing the Arias name, so that brother Rodrigo, former White House Chief of Staff, now running for president in 2014, can say, “See what my brother and I did for the country. Let me do it again. Laura tried but was not up the task.”

For whatever it is worth, my view is that little will come out the finance committee to be voted on the floor in the tax bill. “Tax packages” have been presented before over the decades, and only small portions got passed. Some minor adjustments will be made, but nothing to halt private investments or drive off new pensionados.

Yes, I am aware Tico legislators do pass some stupid laws, but they know that it is harmful to their political health to make their voters pay more to a corrupt and inefficient government of their own making. Somewhere, hopefully, there is a moral question involved, as well. Kinda doubt it though.

My suggestion to those who might owe the luxury tax on your house is to go the national tax office and talk with people there. They are very helpful, or contact a reputable appraiser. The tax office has patience with those who are willing to find out if they owe. I know from the experience.  But if you hide from them, they will find you, and quite simply, by going to the municipal tax records. And there you, bared naked, photos and all, and then they will sock it to you 10 times. The new tax office director may sound nice, but he has his marching orders, which tomorrow might be a pit bull, after a phone call from his frustrated boss.

Robert Nahrgang S.

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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 46
Latigo K-9

Wikileaks makes public more cables from Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wikileaks has posted more than 130 diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in San José.

The disclosures come as La Nación, the Costa Rican Spanish-language daily, is publishing news stories about the same cables. The newspaper made a deal with Wikileaks to get copies of the cables.

Except for some candid comments by diplomats, most of what is in the cables comes from news sources in Costa Rica and contacts diplomats have made with Costa Rican officials.

As expected, the cables that are dated from 2005 to 2009 chronicle the efforts by embassy employees and officials from Washington to encourage Costa Rica to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement. An example of the embassy's reporting to Washington is an Oct. 15, 2008, cable that is titled "Costa Rica staggers into second CAFTA extension."

Despite a referendum on the trade treaty, the country had to seek extensions to pass implementing legislation, including one relating to intellectual property. The free trade treaty contains strong intellectual property requirements, and U.S. officials are seeking to protect the rights of U.S. songs, movies, T-shirts and other trademarked products. Counterfeiting is rampant in Costa Rica.

One cable outlined a Dec. 2, 2009, event at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano where the National Geographic's film "Illicit" was shown. The embassy cable said that copies of the film were being made available to educational institutions.

The increasing influence of the People's Republic of China also was a frequent topic. The Óscar Arias Sánchez government broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of the Communist regime.

The cables are HERE!

Wikileaks justifies its publication of the stolen cables this way: "This document release reveals the contradictions between the U.S.’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes."

In the case of Costa Rica so far there is no smoking gun
Leaks logo
Founder Julian Assange and the Wikileaks logo

of illegality, payoffs or excessive arm-twisting by embassy staffers. There still are seven cables marked secret that came from San José that have not been released. There is no hint what they might include.

Wikileaks has 251,287 cables that came from 274 U.S. diplomatic posts. A U.S. soldier is in jail awaiting a court martial on the allegation that he supplied the cables to Wikileaks.

Elsewhere the cables are fairly predictable. The United States seeks to counter the influence of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and that of Iran in Latin America. In the Middle East it is counting on the support of Jordan, which has troops in Afghanistan.  In Yemen, officials there have been holding suspected terrorists for U.S. officials.

The Costa Rican cables did illuminate efforts by Costa Rican officials to stop an attempt by a Chinese criminal gang to send 300 youngsters from that country to here. The embassy said the children were to be indentured servants here for 10 years.

Then-ambassador Peter Cianchette wrote the cable, but the accuracy is put in doubt because he gave the wrong name for Mario Zamora, the immigration director. He called him Manuel.

According to the then-ambassador, Chinese gang members sought out Costa Ricans with Chinese surnames and offered them money to use their name. Then a visa was sought for a Chinese immigrant on the grounds of family reunification.

The case was covered heavily in newspapers at the time, but the ambassador reported that Chinese police also reportedly uncovered a how-to manual for Chinese clients applying for Costa Rican visas.  He also noted that a foreign ministry official had been fired on the allegation that he tried to bribe consular officials at the Costa Rican embassy in China.

"Two other non-official Costa Ricans of Asian origin are also under investigation, though the lack of a judicial cooperation agreement between Costa Rica and China might limit the information that could be used in court if charges are brought against the individuals," said Cianchette. The case has not yet come up in court.

Center to monitor telephone calls by crooks advances
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial, the Instituto Costarricense contra las Drogas and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad  entered into an agreement Friday that will result in the construction of a center for investigative eavesdropping.

The center, which will be called the Sistema Nacional de Interdicción de las Comunicaciones, will be built at the Ciudad Judicial in San Joaquín de Flores de Heredia.

The Poder Judicial will provide the land. The anti-drug agency will provide the funds, and the telephone company will provide the expertise and design.
This is the long-sought center where investigators can listen in on telephone calls made by suspects.

The eavesdropping will require a judicial order, said the Poder Judicial in a release.

The center will cover the entire range of voice communications as well as messages and allow tracking of calls.

By law the Instituto Costarricense contra las Drogas receives the proceeds of money laundering investigation as well as any money or possessions confiscated from traffickers.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 46

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Hundreds of police sweep the country in weekend effort

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers conducted what they call a mega sweep over the weekend. The policing effort covered the entire country.

At 6 p.m. Friday police from Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago and San José began a sweep in the center of the capital. Police set up checkpoints on Avenida 2 and at Parque Morazán to verify identification and paperwork for motorists.

More than 400 officers were involved in San José and Puntarenas. Members of the Fuerza Pública reserve also were involved.

Similar sweeps took place in Guadalupe, Tibás, Pavas, Alajuelita, Desamparados, Zapote and Curridabat, said the Fuerza Pública. In all police showed up in 300 barrios, 122 parks, 120 bars and questioned more than 1,000 
persons, said the Fuerza Pública. There were 18 different sweeps in the province of Limón.

In Escazú police said they and the local municipal police found a nightclub where minors were being served alcohol, including a 12 year old who was obviously drunk even though she was in the care of her mother.

Police said they confiscated 91 doses of crack in Puntarenas and questioned 296 persons.

Police in San José said there were drugs confiscated.

However there were no reports of arrests despite the police sweeps.

Crime still continued. In Calle Blancos north of San José in Goicoechea, two men were shot, one fatally, Saturday night. The shooting appeared to be a revenge slaying because the gunman ran after and killed one of his victims.

16 year olds are suspects in two major crime investigations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Juvenile criminals continue to be involved in major crimes.

Early Saturday Fuerza Pública officers detained a 16 year old in Ticabán, Pococí, after a man suffered fatal bullet wounds in the chest. Police were alerted by a 911 call from neighbors who heard a shot.

Dead was Rito Chavarría Carranza. Police quickly located
a suspect, who has the last name of Castro, in his home.

In San Pedro, another 16 year old was one of two persons detained in the shooting of a motorist. The man, 62, suffered a bullet wound to the leg from robbers who saw him leaving his home. They took the vehicle, but Fuerza Pública officers said they caught two suspects in the center of San Pedro a short time later. They said they confiscated a .22-caliber pistol. The second suspect was identified by the last names of Tencio Martínez.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 46

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U.S. contractor's trial ends,
verdict awaiting in Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The American contractor accused in Cuba of supplying dissidents with communications equipment could be facing a verdict soon.

An official statement said lawyers gave evidence and closing remarks in the case against Alan Gross Saturday.  Under Cuban law, judges can give verdicts immediately following the presentation of evidence. In this case a verdict is expected in a few days.

Gross was arrested in Cuba in December 2009.  He is alleged to have violated the integrity and independence of Cuba by distributing Internet equipment and satellite phones to Cuban dissident groups.  He could face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Gross's wife and U.S. officials were present in the court.  However, the trial is closed to the media.  Gross's American lawyer said the contractor and his Cuban attorneys presented a vigorous defense during the first day of the hearing Friday, and urged Cuba to release the ailing 61-year-old on humanitarian grounds.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday appealed to Cuba to release Gross unconditionally and allow him to return to his family.

Gross was working for a private firm, Development Alternatives International, contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development, when he was arrested.

The company says Gross was working on a project to bring Internet communications equipment to members of Cuba's small Jewish community, and denies he was working with dissidents.  The firm has since ceased its activities in Cuba.

The United States has repeatedly called for his release and says he was not doing anything illegal.

Mardi Gras taking streets
in many parts of world

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

From Brazil to the United States, Carnival celebrations are picking up, with the grand finale, Mardi Gras, just days away.

In Rio de Janeiro, the party kicked off Friday after the mayor handed the key to the city to the mythical figure, King Momo, who reigns over carnival's five-day marathon of dancing in the streets, parades and alcohol.

In the United States, the first of hundreds of thousands of expected revelers are in New Orleans, Louisiana, for one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations in the country.

From the famed Bourbon Street, masked revelers are dancing their way across the city, usually with the help of plenty of libations.

The around-the-clock party features several parades of floats that wraps up on Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday's start of Lent.

In Costa Rica there is no tradition of a pre-Lenten carnival, although there may be private parties.

Bus-truck crash in Brazil
puts damper on annual party

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A truck has smashed into a bus in southern Brazil, killing at least 25 people.

Brazil's federal highway police said the truck overturned around a curve in the highway in Santa Catarina state before dawn on Saturday. The fallen truck slid into the oncoming lane, colliding head on with the bus.

The truck driver was killed, along with two dozen people on the bus.  At least 17 people were injured and taken to local hospitals.

The truck's cargo of wooden boards scattered across the roadway, blocking traffic for several hours as authorities worked to clear it up.

Local officials have declared three days of mourning for victims of the accident, which comes as people across Brazil are gathering for festive carnival celebrations leading up to Mardi Gras on Tuesday.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 46

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Quick fix is predicted
for crumbling bridge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The contractor who renovated the bridge over the Río Virilla has reported that the deteriorating concrete can be fixed in just one weekend.

Exactly when that will be done probably will be announced early this week. That means there will likely be more traffic restrictions on the Autopista General Cañas where the bridge is located.

The contractor, Soares de Costa, will bear the expense because the new renovation has not yet been accepted by the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes.

The concrete is crumbling under traffic and the rebars that were placed on the bridge deck are beginning to show. The ministry said that about 10 percent of the bridge deck is affected, but that may be a low estimate.

The contractor plans to use an air compressor to blow up the crumbled concrete and install a fresh mixture. Officials still are uncertain what happened, and some blame the rebar and other suggest the concrete was faulty.

Fitch upgrades its rating
of Costa Rica's credit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fitch Ratings has upgraded Costa Rica's credit worthiness and said the outlook for the country was stable.

"The upgrade reflects Costa Rica's better than expected economic resilience during the global credit crisis, steadily improving macroeconomic stability underpinned by lower inflation and higher international liquidity as well as the country's relatively modest external indebtedness," said Fitch, one of the world's major rating agencies.

"Costa Rica has been able to manage balance of payments pressures despite its vulnerability to high commodity prices, structural current account deficit and limited exchange rate flexibility, reflecting its improved shock-absorption capacity," said Director Erich Arispe in a release. '"Moreover, continued accumulation of international reserves, lower dollarization and close relations with multilateral institutions reduce Costa Rica's external vulnerabilities."

Fitch said that tax reform was needed to increase the central government's tax base but it said recent tax proposals face an uncertain future. So it urged cutbacks in government spending.

Pennsylvania music group
to give two free concerts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A percussion group form the University of West Chester in Pennsylvania will give two concerts this week. The first is Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in the Paraninfo Daniel Oduber Quirós at the Universidad Estatal a Distancia. This is located 600 meters east of the Rotonda de la Bandera on the road to Sabanilla.

The concert is to honor the university on its 34th anniversary.

The second free concert is Thursday at 7 p.m. in the  Teatro Eugene O’Neal of the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses. Both concerts are free.

The Ensamble de Percusión Costa Rica visited West Chester University in January.

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