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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, March 17, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 55          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Import surcharges not considered tariffs
Free trade treaty does not apply to auto taxes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The taxes that Costa Rica assesses on imported vehicles will not change regardless of whether the free trade treaty with the United States is ratified. Many expats were expecting a break from taxes that frequently are more than half the value of the vehicle.

The United States contends that Costa Rica does not levy an import duty on vehicles.

Instead, what owners pay to bring their favorite vehicle here is considered internal taxes outside the scope of the free trade treaty between the United States, five Central American nations including Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

The information was provided through a spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy even while Costa Rican officials dodged the question for a week.

When the trade treaty was announced, F. Tomás Dueñas, then the minister of Comercio Exterior, said that automobiles and high taxes imposed on them were an important part of free-trade negotiations.

That was Jan. 18, 2002, the day after President George Bush announced his desire to negotiate a regional treaty.

Since then, Costa Rican officials have said little about imported vehicles, and the treaty itself does not mention the topic. The question had been raised how Costa Rica would replace the taxes it now gets from vehicle imports.

The fact is that taxes on car imports are internal taxes imposed by the Costa Rican government and not taxes imposed as import duty, according to a commerce official in the U. S. Embassy. Imports duties on vehicles entering Costa Rica are currently at zero percent, he said.

“There are no taxes on imports of new cars.  Auto imports from the United States are subject to internal taxes, specifically, consumption and sales taxes,” he said, according to comments relayed through Elaine Samson, a press officer. Embassy officials declined to let the commerce officer be interviewed directly.
The commerce officer listed a current 30 percent selective consumption tax, a 1 percent economic stabilization tax, a 25 percent estimated profit tax, and a 13 percent sales tax. There are also additional taxes according to age of the vehicle, and the newer the vehicle, the higher the percentage of additional tax, he said.

The estimated profit tax is assessed because the owner of a vehicle is likely to make a big profit when selling the imported item because Costa Rican taxes artificially drives up resale value.

Costa Rican officials were even more shy when it came to discussing the issue. A spokesperson at the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior maintained that a series of e-mails outlining the question never arrived over the course of a week. An expert designated by the nation's Aduana or customs department was unreachable.

The reluctance might be because the treaty is in the Asamblea Legislative for discussion and ratification. The treaty is a hot political issue.

A man who just purchased a new vehicle in the United States said he paid 53 percent to cover the required taxes apart from the purchase price of the car, shipping charges and registration and insurance costs.

The main advantage to car buyers here if the treaty is ratified would be providing encouragement to further negotiations to reduce taxes, the embassy said.

If the free trade treaty is implemented, official discussions would take place around the possibility of reducing or eliminating these internal taxes, technically termed as non-tariff barriers, said the U.S. Embassy. These discussions would be initiated and coordinated by both U.S. and Costa Rican officials, the embassy said.
Car dealers interviewed throughout the country overwhelmingly expressed their approval of the treaty. In their view, it would facilitate a process of reducing car prices for buyers. In the words of Xinia Rose, director of Puerto Limón Agency “it would be great for car businesses in the country, because it will make cars cheaper.”

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Ireland's castoffs found
Latin opportunities, too

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Because today is St. Patrick's Day, corned beef will be served in Santa Ana's Rock 'n Roll Pollo and the Tica Irlanda Irish Pub in downtown San José will be setting them up.

The day is primarily a North American transplant echoing the times when downtrodden Irish immigrants flexed their social and political muscles with confrontational parades in Boston, New York, Chicago and other hostile lands.

But Latin America has its own Irish tradition, too. That's why the national hero of Chile is named  Bernardo O'Higgins. He is the architect of independence and the nation's first president.

A quick check of academic sources shows a strong Irish presence in Argentina, Irish commanders and common soldiers in the army of Símon Bolivar, the Venezuelan Liberator, and assorted Irish priests ministering to the continent.

As an oppressed dependency of England, the rocky island yielded soldiers, writers and clerics to the world. The national religion is Catholicism, so the Irish could pass easier in the Catholic Empire of Spain.  Much of the Irish troubles in North America hinge on the conflict between Catholicism and the Protestantism imported from England.

As mercenaries, Irish soldiers fought and intermarried all over the southern continent. Their children, like the son of Spanish Viceroy Ambrose O'Higgins, became Latin.

An Irish Jesuit founded missions in  Paraguay as early as the 1600s.

One academic source traced  3,667 original Irish immigrants to Argentine.

There is even Irish Eliza Lynch who was the partner of  Paraguay's leader Francisco Solano López in the 19th century and helped lead the country into war in 1865.

There were Irish newspaper publishers, Irish tobacco growers and certainly Irish crooks and con men.

There was the San Patricio Brigade fighting the U.S. Army under the Mexican flag in 1846 to 1848. In Mexico today this is the day of the Irish Martyrs, commemorating the brigade soldiers who were executed after being captured by Gen. Winfield Scott.

In Latin America, there were never the great masses of Irish here that resulted in parades and drinking holidays. But celebrants of the Irish holiday today also should look south as they raise their glass.

Ministerio de Agricultura y
Ganadería photo
Grower shows the size of typical chiverre

Fair to highlight squash
that's an Easter tradition

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It is a sure sign that Semana Santa and Easter are coming. The  Feria del Chiverre will take place two weekends in  Laguna de Alfaro Ruiz, about two miles from Zarcero.

The event will be March 24, 25 and 26 and March 31, April 1 and April 2.

The hard-shelled agricultural product is the squash from which Ticos make  miel de chiverre, a sweet staple of the Easter holidays.

The plants are sown in April and May and the  squash are ready for market in January and February. No traditional Tico family would be without its  chiverre, scientifically a member of the cucurbit family, Cucurbita ficifolia.

Producers say that a disease has reduced the available crop this year. In Alfaro Ruiz  abut 20 hectares are sown in this crop each year and the usual harvest is about 30,000 chiverre. Another big producing area is around Cartago.

The squash sells for between 1,500 and 2,500 colons, some $3 to $5, depending on weight, which can run to 12 kilos, some 27 pounds.

At the fair and also at stores and roadside stands all over the Central Valley the processed honey or miel is available as well as the semi-processed vegetable pulp. The conserve is used in empanadas and other baked products.

The  Asociación de Desarrollo that is putting on the festival uses the funds to help the local school. 20 million colons, some $40,000 was raised last year, the Ministerio de Agricultra y Ganadería said.

Rock group to close concerts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Las Tortugas, a rock group, will play Saturday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the final free concert of the season put on by the Banco Central. The location is th esplanade of the Museos del Banco Central, just east of the Plaza de la Cultura in the center of the downtown.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 17, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 55

The Broken Window Theory, manners and a play
The Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica continues its run of quality productions with the presentation of “Lettice and Lovage.”   The play is about Lettice Douffet, an aging tour guide to one of England’s most boring homes. Ann Antkiw, one of LTG’s most veteran actors has turned herself into Lettice with energy and enthusiasm that is incredible (at least to me) given that she is onstage for the entire three acts. 

Vicky Longland makes a perfect foil/match for her as Charlotte Schoen, the person responsible for firing her.  Lettice’s problem is that she is wont to embellish, even re-write, history when it is dull.  That will not do for some sticklers of history.   For her part, Lettice seems to be a stickler for proper behavior (outside of tampering with the past).

I particularly noticed the role of British etiquette throughout the play because I happen to be reading a book about good manners and the role they play in maintaining order. I was also thinking about a statement my daughter once made that if people remembered their manners, there would be less crime.  I know that over time, little by little, good manners have fallen along the wayside and today, interactions between people are not only more casual, they are often downright rude.   I don’t know if that is responsible in any way for the increase in crime in Costa Rica, but presently one of every four households has experienced some sort of crime.

Recently there was perspective in the Nación by Professor Mauricio Jenkins.  He was responding to a  comment by a public prosecutor that he would much rather arrest drug traffickers and child abusers than petty bicycle or jewelry thieves, even though these crimes are annoying to the citizens of San Jose.  Professor Jenkins, who teaches Finance at INCAE, maintains that if these petty thieves are not stopped now, they will be the carjackers and drug traffickers and even murderers in the future. 

Professor Jenkins points to “The Broken Window” theory.  Implementing this theory, he maintains, is in large part responsible for the drastic drop in serious crime in cities like New York.   The theory compares a city to a building.  A well-maintained      
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building is less likely to be vandalized than a building in disrepair with broken windows, peeling paint, etc.  Ignoring petty crimes like pickpocketing would be comparable to leaving a graffitied building unrepaired and the perpetrator unpunished.  Having gotten away with that, the graffiti artist would soon be throwing rocks at the windows, and from there to more serious crimes.  Part of the Broken Window Theory is an attitude of zero tolerance.  This would require a large, well-funded and motivated police force, but the rewards would be great.

Critics of the claims for the effects of this theory say that reducing crime is a combination of things such as prevention and education (true, but The Broken Window theory is a form of prevention).  They also say that zero tolerance can lead to police abuse (also true).  But I am in accord with Professor Jenkins that ignoring the petty crimes to go after the more serious ones is self-defeating in the long run.

When I worked as director of a residence hall for university students, and later an International House, we practiced the Broken Window Theory (not knowing there was such a theory). Small damages, broken furniture, etc. were immediately repaired and the offending student taken to task, when possible. For good measure, I also designed a course in etiquette for the resident advisors.  My buildings won accolades for being the best-maintained and cleanest on campus.

So, I was shocked when Lettice, given her good manners, was arrested for committing a serious crime.  Did that shoot down my daughter’s theory about manners?  Could Lettice have gone from simply lying about the past to violent behavior without breaking a single window or yanking a single necklace in between?  This is the last weekend to find out.  You can call the box office at 355-1623 for reservations.

Ayre off to L.A., but police here are still fuming
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Calvin Ayre, the gambling entrepreneur, has left the country briefly to work on future television show projects in Los Angeles, California, he said via e-mail Thursday.

Meanwhile police officials continue to deny his allegations that officers behaved unprofessionally in a raid a week ago on the Ayre mansion by eating food served up in a buffet and by swimming in his pool.

Thursday it was Paul Chávez of the security ministry, who directed the police officers on the raid. Chávez said that Ayre, by making his allegations, was simply trying to divert attention from the issue that prompted the raid.

Chávez was emphatic that policemen did not eat food that had been laid out for a party at the Ayre home. He said he normally would not comment  on such charges, suggesting that he did Thursday because they constituted a smear against the police.

Rogelio Ramos, head of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, denied the allegations Wednesday, and the Judicial Investigating Organization issued a denial statement and challenged Ayre to produce videos.
Ayre, in his e-mail, did not respond directly to the challenge that he make available the videos he said showed the police behaving badly.

"I am letting it rest," he said. "I made my points related to what was witnessed by those present, and everyone has heard both sides and can make their own conclusions.  But we are still evaluating our course visa vis rights abuses of the search itself."

Police, prosecutors and a judge thought that illegal gambling was taking place at the Ayre home. The CEO has been participating in a television series featuring his lifestyle and a $500,000 poker tournament.

However, Ayre said that the poker sequences had been recorded at the Sabana Oeste studios of Canal 7 in conjunction with Fox Sports. The gathering at his home, he said, was simply a party marking the end of the television shoot.

Ayre said he was still interested in doing business in Costa Rica "since I am confident this is just a misunderstanding that has already been corrected."

Chavez said that there will be no internal investigation at the security ministry because the allegations by Ayre are so preposterous.

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Some union leaders accept invitations to visit with president-elect
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not every union leader declined an invitation to visit Óscar Arias Sánchez, the president-elect.

Neither the location nor differences between the politics of Arias and the position of unions were enough to close the door on dialogue, according to Xiomara Rojas Sanchez of the Sindicato Trabajadores Estatales.

She and fellow union leaders spoke with reporters after a Thursday morning meeting with Arias at his home in Rohrmoser. With her were Eugenio Barrantes Espinoza of the Union de Empleados de la Municipalidad and Luis Alberto Arias Sibaja of the Asociación Nacional de  Empleados de Correos, the postal union.

The union leaders used the two-hour meeting to express their concerns about the free trade treaty with the United State, with social security and with agriculture and health.

Absent were Albino Vargas of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados and  Fabio Chavez of the Frente Interno de Trabajadores del Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Xiomara Rojas Sanchez, flanked by Eugenio Barrantes Espinoza and Luis Alberto Arias Sibaja, discusses the meeting with Óscar Arias Sánchez.

Both declined to meet with Arias at his home because they said they preferred neutral ground. They said this Tuesday.

Arias said their actions were like a slap in the face because it is an honor to be invited to someone's home. Still, he said he would meet with them after he takes office May 8 in Casa Presidencial.

Bolivia rejects negotiations exploring a free trade treaty with U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President Evo Morales has ruled out a free-trade agreement with the United States, despite an offer of support from Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Morales vowed Wednesday to refrain from trade talks with the United States, saying a free-trade agreement would harm local producers. Several South American 
countries are negotiating with the United States on free trade agreements, since a system of preferential trade tariffs expires at the end of this year. Washington had been giving trade advantages to countries that cooperate with the United States on anti-drug efforts.

Tuesday, Uribe, who has been negotiating with the United States for a Colombian free trade agreement, offered to assist the United States and Bolivia.

President in Ecuador says he will not yield to Indian protests over trade
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — President Alfredo Palacio is vowing not to give in to protests by Indians demanding the government end free trade talks with the United States.

In a nationally televised address late Wednesday night, Palacio described the protests as an attempt to divide the country.

The protests began Monday with blockades of roads and highways.
Protesters say the trade deal will put them at a disadvantage with U.S. farmers and further disrupt Indian culture.

The rallies have taken a toll on businesses, disrupted food deliveries and caused price increases. Authorities also say at least 16 people have been arrested following the rallies and a dozen others injured.

The protests have already caused dissension within Palacio's government. Interior Minister Alfredo Castillo resigned Wednesday after suggesting the protests could bring down the government.

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