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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, March 25, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 59            E-mail us
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Yes, U.S. expats qualify for big stimulus giveaway
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. expats in Costa Rica can share in the stimulus giveaway planned by the federal government starting in May as long as they file a tax return for the 2007 year.

The U.S. government plans to give up to $600  to each eligible citizen and $300 to parents for each dependent children.

This is the Bush administration's plan, approved by the U.S. Congress, to stimulate the economy. The idea is controversial and some economists say the idea is counter productive.

Just because someone lives overseas is no barrier to getting the money. But those getting the checks must have valid U.S. Social Security numbers and have at least a $3,000 taxable income.

Escazú tax expert Randall J. Lindner pointed out that there are some pitfalls for expats. Among these, he said, is that a U.S. citizen filing a joint tax return with a non-citizen, perhaps Costa Rican, spouse who does not have a Social Security number will lose out. The law requires joint tax filers to each have Social Security numbers. So the citizen should file a separate return this year, he said.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service says that those eligible include millions of retirees, disabled veterans and low-wage workers. Some of these will
receive just $300 per person based on the government's calculations.

High-income earners also will lose out because the payment is reduced at $75,000 incomes (or $150,000 on a joint return).  Then the stimulus payment is reduced further by 5 percent of the amount over the threshold.

The stimulus payment itself is not taxable for 2008. Of course, the government is going to check for unpaid tax liabilities before sending out checks or making electronic deposits.

Those who file electronically will get the stimulus payment the same way, probably by the end of May, according to the Internal Revenue Service timetable. Those paying by checks will get the stimulus by checks, and the date of payment will be based on the last two numbers of their Social Security number.

Taxpayers living overseas have 60 more days after the normal April 15 filing deadline to send in their tax return, noted Lindner. But if they do, he said, their stimulus payment will be delayed.

The Internal Revenue Service has extensive information on the stimulus payment on its Web site as well as a calculator so taxpayers can see what they will receive. Lindner said that for those expats who are still mystified, his staff will field questions via his firm's Web site.


Sala IV tells mayors to act against illegal dumps
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has given local mayors the job of eliminating unlicensed and unapproved garbage dumps.

The court made the decision on two cases, one from Curridabat and the other from Orotina. In both cases citizens complained about long-running informal garbage dumps in their neighborhoods.

In the Curridabat case, one of the parties to the appeal, a woman with the last names of Ríos Quintero, told the court that in the Urbanización La Colina in Tirrases de Curridabat a vacant lot was being used as a dump even for waste generated by a butcher shop.

The court agreed this was a violation of the
constitutional right to live in a safe environment and ordered the local mayor to take appropriate action under threat of a criminal violation.

The other case came from the Municipalidad de Orotina where a dump had been established along the Río Grande de Tárcoles. The dump was the subject of a similar appeal in 1998, but the persons using the area took no action to mitigate the situation, said the court summary.

The court said that the municipality should block vehicle access to the dump.

The decisions were announced Monday by the Poder Judicial, but there was no indication when the court actually made its rulings. Typically that would have been in the two weeks before Semana Santa.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 59

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3437-4/1/08
Border police blame group
of taxi drivers for illegals


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials discovered a group of pirate taxi drivers known as “The Taliban” (“Los Talibanes”), during Semana Santa efforts, said the security ministry Monday.

The group is suspected of transporting illegal immigrants into Costa Rica from Nicaragua, according to a security ministry spokesman. The drivers use microbuses and other vehicles, according to Francisco Castaing, head of Policía de Migración.

“The vehicles are in a terrible state, endangering the lives of those who think they will have a better future in Costa Rica," Castaing said, according to the security ministry. Many times these undocumented immigrants tell authorities that they are friends of the driver and that they are headed back to their own country. In these types of situations, the court cannot act, said a spokesman from the security ministry.

Police found one of the so called “Taliban” drivers in San Carlos in a recent case, they said. The vehicle contained three women, originally reported to be underage, said a security ministry spokesman. The women later said they were friends of the driver and presented false documents, said the spokesman. They were presumably headed to San José where they would possibly be sexually exploited, said the security spokesman.

Along with the discovery of the group of taxi drivers, police and border workers rejected thousands of illegal immigrants Holy Week. They refused entry to 3,130 travelers at the Peña Blancas crossing alone, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Officials seized 10 false cédulas in Los Chiles, Alajuela, according to the ministry. They rejected 200 undocumented travelers in the same city, said a ministry spokesman.

According to Castaing, illegal immigration has gone down, since last year's Semana Santa, according to the security ministry. Last year the Policía de Especial de Migración rejected 3,406 foreigners of various nationalities during Holy Week, said the ministry spokesman.

Gunman on motorcycle kills
car passenger in Curridabat


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man riding on a motorcycle shot and killed a car passenger in Curridabat, Friday night, according to the Fuerza Pública.

The victim, identified as Jairzinho Alexander Jones Henry, 32, died on the scene, according to the Cruz Roja. The Judicial Investigation Organization, which is now investigating the case, has not yet released the nationality of the victim. But the man is believed to have ties to the United States.

Jones was riding in a car with his brother when two men on a motorcycle approached the vehicle and one began to shoot, said Héctor Guerrero Gómez, chief of Fuerza Pública operations in Curridabat.
 
“I don't think they wanted to kill both men, because they had ample opportunity,” said Guerrero.

Our reader's opinion
Peaceful protest at embassy
rattles a platoon of guards


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

To observe the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, for about 90 minutes last Wednesday morning, 19 March, eight of us, all devoted to peace and non-violence, waved signs and handed out flyers in front of the U.S. Embassy in Pavas.

Well somehow we must have frightened the embassy authorities because soon after our arrival, in short order there were seven pistol-packing guards, plus a supervisor posted in front of the gates.  We had a good laugh over their ludicrous overreaction.  At the same time it seemed both sad and ironic that the greatest “superpower” on the face of the earth felt so insecure when up against a bunch of peace lovers.

When is the U.S. administration going to wake up, wise up, and start making friends — instead of enemies  —  with the rest of the world?  I realize it might put a few defense contractors out of work, but it would certainly be more in keeping with the Christian principles [Do unto others as …  ] which the military so prominently espouses, as well as making it a waaaay lot cheaper for us taxpayers.  
Bill Read
Centro de Amigos para la
Paz / Quaker Friends Peace Center
San José

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 59


Violence in the mass media seen as a pathway to dictatorship
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A newsman from Paraguay says that excessive reporting of criminal cases in his national media might soften up the population for a dictatorship.

His concerns about violence and news reporting are similar to those that have been voiced in Costa Rica.

The newsman is Benjamín Fernández Bogado, a radio and newspaper journalist in Paraguay, who is at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a Nieman fellow. He also has a law degree.

Paraguay is a special case because the country lived through the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship from 1954 to 1989.
"Paraguayan society is captured by fear," said Fernández in an essay. "There is a sense of living in a democracy that is not able to control violence, a fact that makes some citizens yearn for dictators and dictatorships."

Echoing sentiments frequently heard in Costa Rica, he said "Paraguayans remember years when they slept with open windows. . . ."
The country will experience a general election in April. Fernández said that "The lack of effective response to actual and perceived crime has led some voters to consider candidates with demagogue positions . . . ."

"The way in which violence is reported is an important element in analyzing social, legal and political conditions in a country," he said. "Paraguay could be a very good country case study in which to evaluate how the media play a very naïve role by stressing nostalgia for an authoritarian government without analyzing how this return might affect the freedom of press and expression.

"The media most likely would be the first victim of that kind of government, and yet they lay the groundwork for the authoritarian government by sensationalizing violence."

Fernández will be visiting Costa Rica on a lecture tour in June. He also serves as a professor of political and social studies at the National University in Asunción.

He is a visiting scholar at Harvard's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies for the spring semester. His essay was published in the center's magazine Revista.


No one wants to be considered a friend of Colombian rebels
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Who are the friends of the Colombian terrorists in Costa Rica?

The Partido Acción Ciudadana is making a strong effort to show that its members are not.

The political party called on Fernando Berrocal to tell what he knows about friends of the Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia here in Costa Rica. He is the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. March 15 he hinted that the Colombia terrorists had friends here when he said "what doesn't fit in Costa Rican democracy is an alliance of political sectors with these criminals of FARC and these narcotrafficking criminals."

The Fuerzas Armadas has been waging a four-decades-long war against the Colombian central government and raises funds via extensive drug shipments and kidnapping. The United States and other countries have branded the organization as terrorists.

Berrocal was speaking a day after police and agents raided a home in Santa Bárbara de Heredia and found about $480,000 in wet and tattered U.S. banknotes in a home safe.

Even the two people who own the home have disavowed close contact with the Colombian terrorists, although captured e-mails shed some doubt on their claims. They are a former Universidad Nacional professor, Francisco Gutiérrez Pérez, 79, and his wife, Cruz Prado Rojas, 52. The professor is identified with leftist causes.

Berrocal has not responded publicly to the Acción Ciudadana request, although it is assumed that he knows
more about the situation than has been reported in newspapers. He has been in direct contact with Colombian officials.

The information about the small safe came from one of three laptop computers confiscated when Colombian soldiers, perhaps with help from elsewhere, raided an encampment across the border in Ecuador and killed more than 20 persons including a top rebel leader, known as Raul Reyes.

E-mails within the computers directed police to the Heredia home and the stash of U.S. currency. The Colombian  prosecutor, Mario Iguarán, said the money belonged to Rodrigo Granada Escobar, a high official in the rebel organization. More than likely it had been there since Granada was last in Costa Rica in 2000.

Acción Ciudadana has been trying to disassociate itself from Berrocal's comments, and the party's second in command in the Asamblea Legislativa, Rafael Elías Madrigal Brenes, said Monday in the organization's public session that he thought Berrocal should be asked to come before lawmakers and explain himself.

Some Costa Rican politicians are known to have traveled to South America to meet with individuals allied with Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president. Chávez seems to be forging an alliance with the rebel group. Some Costa Rican political figures fear that Chávez is bankrolling activities here, including efforts against the free trade treaty with the United States.

Chávez is trying to establish his own regional trade group. He also has found a friend in Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega.


Another free trade treaty companion measure wins approval from legislators
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's lawmakers approved for the second time the fifth measure that will implement the free trade treaty with the United States in this country.

The measure, ratification of the Treaty of Budapest, won approval 31 to 13 Monday.

The treaty commits Costa Rica to recognize for litigation purposes a series of depositories for specimens of microorganisms and seeds around the world. The
depositories are key elements of other laws that protect the ownership of patented seeds and organisms.

Each measure in the legislature requires two votes on non-consecutive days. In the case of the treaty, it was reviewed by the Sala IV constitutional court between votes. The court found no constitutional flaws.

The seven remaining measures of the so-called implementation agenda for the free trade treaty are in various stages of consideration in the Asamblea Legislativa, which may increase its meeting times to study them.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 59


Trio of robbers sticks up restaurant, but one suspect is caught
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As families enjoyed Easter dinner in a Curridabat restaurant Sunday night, armed men in hoods burst through the front doors and demanded money from frightened customers and the cashier, said a security ministry spokesman Monday.

The men got away with 6 million colons ($12,000) in cash, along with customers' cell phones, wallets and jewelry, said a Fuerza Pública spokesman.

Police arrived at the restaurant, El Bálcon de Mariscos, as the holdup was taking place, said Héctor Guerrero Gómez, chief of operations in Curridabat. The three robbers arrived in a car but were forced to escape on foot when Fuerza Pública officers arrived, said Guerrero. “Seven officers were chasing the robbers on foot and 10 more arrived during the chase,” said Guerrero.                
The officers cornered one young suspect in an abandoned lot and afterwards the boy was identified by victims of the robbery. The suspect is a 16-year old boy and is being held by authorities. The minor carried a pistol, a knife, a ski-mask and a sweatshirt at the time of arrest, said a Fuerza Pública spokesman.

During the robbery the men used hooded sweatshirts, and their faces were only partially covered, said Guerrero. The other two robbers are presumed to be adults, according to Guerrero. Police were unable to capture them and no further arrests have been made since the incident.

Police officers from San Pedro, Desamparados, Zapote, and Curridabat showed up at the scene, said Guerrero.

The case has been sent to the Judicial Investigation Organization for investigation.


Nicaragua plans a $120 million Pacific highway from Costa Rica to Honduras
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nicaragua is getting help from Venezuela to build a Pacific coast highway.

The Instituto Nicaragüense de Turismo said the project will be 130 kilometers (about 81 miles) and cost $120 million.

The coastal highway will link Costa Rica with Honduras, the tourism institute said.
Mario Salinas Pasos, president of the institute, said that the project was designed by previous governments with unrealistic standards, so it never was built. So the current government has redesigned the entire highway, he said.
The route will take advantage of existing roadways, he said.

The tourism institute is anxious to provide the access to the Pacific coast of the country where some major projects already are being constructed and more are in planning.


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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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Mexican party politics
could cause U.S. oil woes

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Results of an internal party election in México have raised fears of more political turmoil with possible implications for the United States as well.

At a time when world demand for oil is growing, Mexico's production is falling and efforts by President Felipe Calderón to reverse the trend are likely to face even stiffer opposition as a result of an internal election within the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática.

Last week, Alejandro Encinas claimed victory in the election for party leader over rival Jesús Ortega. Encinas was backed by radical firebrand Andres Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City who narrowly lost the presidential election in 2006 to Calderón and who continues to claim that he was deprived of victory through fraud. Calderón belongs to the Partido Acción Nacional.

Ortega, who is regarded as a moderate, might have been more willing to consider reforms proposed by President Calderón. But Professor George Grayson of the College of William and Mary, one of the top México experts in the United States, says López Obrador will fight any energy reform proposal.

"López Obrador, who was just about on death's door politically a couple of weeks ago, now has become Mexico's Lazarus. He has risen from the dead and he is going to turn heaven and earth to make sure there is no progressive energy legislation passed," he said.

President Calderón says his proposal would only open México to limited public-private partnerships so that outside companies with technological expertise can help the state-owned oil company known as Pemex develop oil deposits that are now out of its reach. Production at Mexico's main field is falling and may run out within 10 years.

Grayson said a reform that would save Mexico's energy industry from decline seems unlikely given the radical position of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática, and there are implications for the United States as well since México is the nation's fourth largest source of foreign oil.

"This should be a wake up call to the U.S," he said. "We have got to move to alternative energy sources and the fact that we are not going to be able to count on México after about 10 years should give impetus to the next president to completely overhaul America's energy policy."

Grayson said the decline in México's petroleum production and looming recession in the United States, which will also affect México, could exacerbate one of the principal areas of friction between the two neighbors — immigration.

Supporters of Andres Manuel López Obrador say he will find a way to rebuild the state oil industry without outside help and provide a better future for the poor.


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