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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Tuesday, March 27, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 62                            Email us
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Immigration agency ready to issue new set of rules
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The immigration department confirmed Monday that a new set of regulations is close to being approved and published. This would be the second set of regulations that cover the finer points of the March 2010 immigration law.

When the first set of rules became public last October, many expats and their legal and residency advisers were surprised that there was little mention of topics of interest to foreigners. About the only mention of foreigners related to human trafficking.

Now the second set of rules is expected to address some crucial topics.

Chief among many expats is the issue of perpetual tourist. These are foreigners who live and sometimes work in Costa Rica on a tourism visa. Many U.S. and Canadian citizens leave the country and return every 90 days to renew the visa. Some have reported problems at reentry. In some cases, the immigration agency awards a visa much shorter than 90 days.

The biggest fear of some foreigners is that the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería will pass rules that limit the number of times a year a foreigner can visit Costa Rica as a tourist.

Before the last set of rules became public, Mario Zamora Cordero, then the director of immigration, gave an extensive interview in which he outlined in detail restrictions on tourists. For example, he said that tourists would have to leave Costa Rica to a different country each time to renew a visa.

Later Zamora said that he was incorrect in outlining these major changes to immigration procedures. His response left the impression that the restrictions had been discussed but for some reason were not being promulgated as part of the regulations at that time. He is now minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, a post that includes responsibility for the immigration agency.
During his time at immigration Zamora also issued a memo that allowed foreigners seeking residency as inversionista to count their personal home as the required investment.  Until then an inversionista or investor had to put money in some profit-making, commercial venture.

Some in the residency field have said that Zamora did that, in part, to boost the country's sagging real estate values. Because of the memo, some expats obtained inversionista status by purchasing a home valued by the local municipality at $200,000 or more.

Residency experts fear that the new rules or reglamentos will reverse this benefit. Some are pushing through applications for inversionista status because of their fears.

Javier Zavaleta of Residency in Costa Rica follows developments in the immigration agency closely. In an email message he noted that by issuing regulations, the agency would be canceling Zamora's memo.

“The problem is that once the new reglamento is printed in La Gaceta, the official newspaper of the government of Costa Rica, all internal memos and rulings still in effect are automatically voided and are no longer valid,” he said.

Zavaleta noted what he said were consistent rumors in the agency that rules for inversionista will be tightened.

Although a spokesperson at immigration Monday said that the new rules had not been signed, Zavaleta said that he has been told that approval is complete and all that is lacking is publication.

He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the reglamento is published by April 15.

The immigration spokesman declined to provide a copy to a reporter and said that everyone must wait until publication. She said that she did not know the contents of the new rules.


Fuerza Pública will be out in force for Semana Santa
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 3,800 Fuerza Pública officers will be on duty for Semana Santa. The number doesn't include the special unit forces such as Policía Turística and the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas.

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a national holiday during the week before Easter Sunday. This is a Catholic country, but many residents go the beach or mountains. This year the week begins Monday and runs until Easter, April 8.

As part of the observance there is the Ley Seca, or dry law, from the night of Wednesday, April  4, to dawn Saturday, April 7. This means there is no legal sale of any alcoholic beverage. During this time bars and nightclubs close. Fuerza Pública officials said they will be out in full force to enforce this specific law. They also help close off the sections of stores where alcohol is sold and put seals on refrigerators and even doors of bars.

The police said in a press conference Monday that they will be counting on six planes, 10 boats, 11
 horses, 80 mobile jail tanks, 91 bicycles, 315 police cars, and 372 motorcycles for increased security in the country.

The extra police officers will be at the beaches. They said the more populated spots during this observance are the beaches of Guanacaste, central Pacific, and the south Pacific.

The Guardacostas will join in the patrol along the coast. Representatives said they will also serve double duty as lifeguards during the time. Some of the recommended safety tips are to avoid places without security and to avoid obvious dangers such as solitary beaches and going into the water under the influence or after a heavy meal.

The borders also will have enhanced security measures. The Peñas Blancas border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica will have the most increased security personnel during the holiday.

Officials said they don't want human traffickers to take advantage of the excess activity of travelers at the border. Officials also are said to be on the lookout for the trafficking of arms and drugs.

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A.M. Costa Rica's  Second news page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 27, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 62
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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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President launches campaign
to reduce carbon footprint


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla launched a new green campaign for the country Monday to remind the people of Costa Rica about their carbon footprint.

The campaign, Limpia tu huella or “Erase your print,” aims for environment responsibility. The project is to inform individuals about actions they can take to reduce their carbon footprint.

The president along with Renee Castro, the minister of Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones can already count on the participation of certain corporations, private and public institutions that have signed the environmental agreement. Some of the names to participate in the campaign are Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social and the company S.C. Johnson de Centroamerica S.A., the Pavas-based insecticide distributor. Some of the actions taken by the institutions and corporations are to save energy, use renewable energy, and to carpool.

The president has taken a role to promote Costa Rica as a green country. She has blamed First World industrialization for global warming and hurricanes. This new campaign  was created by her administration.

This program is part of the Costa Rican government goal to become carbon neutral by 2021. 


History seminar Saturday
on country's currency


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museos del Banco Nacional Costa Rica is hosting a seminar on the history of the country's money Saturday at 10 a.m.

The lecture, “De la Palmera al Colón: Ocho Reversos de Monedas del Siglo XIX.” will take place in the auditorium of the underground museum. It's located underneath the Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José.

The speaker will talk about the eight different coins of the country during the 19th century. Including the first form of currency for the young country.

This form is part of the Feria de Monedas y Billetes, or the money currency fair. There will be an exhibit of coins and paper money in the museum from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. inside the lobby.

The museum will hold a variety of numismatic activities inside the museum.

Those interested can visit the museum Web site at www.museosbancocentral.com.

 
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
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 27, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 62
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President blames carelessness for ministers' tax evasions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla characterizes as regrettable carelessness the evasion of local property taxes by a handful of her ministers.

Casa Presidencial issued a statement just hours after the Spanish language daily La Nación reported that some ministers had not taken the legally required step to report the value of their properties to municipal officials. Among those named is Fernando Herrero, the minister of Hacienda and the spear point of Ms. Chinchilla's efforts to get a package of new taxes passed in the Legislature.

La Nación said Herrero and his wife failed to report the value of an Escazú home for nearly a decade. Municipal tax is assessed on the self-reported values of homeowners, but the newspaper used established land values to make comparisons between what was on the books and actual value.

The statement said that the president asked her minsters who were not current with taxes to take immediate steps to become so.  She also said that the issue of ministers evading tax should not become a smoke screen to reduce the importance and the
 value of her tax plan, which includes a 14 percent value-added tax to replace the current sales tax.

The president defended the ministers by saying that some of them, like the majority of Costa Ricans due to tradition, thought that the valuation of the properties was done by the municipality. The current law requires property owners to report the estimated value of their property to municipalities every five years. But the president said that there was no penalty for not doing so. Some of the ministers, like the president, have served in the legislature.

She suggested that the job of assessing the property should be done by municipalities and said she supported legislation to change the law in that direction. She also pointed out that there are several projects in the works to aid in the evaluation of properties.

In many cases the ownership was not obvious because many properties of the minsters are held in corporations, and that requires research to determine who is the human owner.

La Nación said that the president and her husband had reported values for their property that were probably accurate.


Four bus robbery suspects
captured in morning raids


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial police have detained four men and said they made up a gang that robbed passengers and drivers of public buses on the San José-Alajuela route. The men, 18, 21, 24, and 26, were taken into custody during early morning raids in La Uruca and Barrio México.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that prosecutors were going to link these men to at least 10 robberies of buses.

When agents raided the four homes Monday to make the arrests, they said they found marijuana, cocaine, cash and cell telephones they believe had been taken in robberies. The cases had been under investigation since December, said agents.

The gang that robbed the buses would split up and board the vehicles at different stops, said agents. They would seat themselves in different parts of the bus and communicate with their associates via cell telephones.

At the time of the robberies they would pull out weapons and strip passengers of their belongings and take money and other items from the bus driver.

The Alajuela route has been plagued with robberies, mostly in the evening hours.
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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fourth News page
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 27, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 62
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An A.M. Costa Rica guest editorial
Experience with Amnet cable firm leaves a lot to be desired

By William Ruzicka
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I would like to take this opportunity to express my unhappiness with Amnet. I have lived in Belen, Costa Rica, for 4 ½ years and my only choice in TV and Internet service here in Belen is Amnet.  The poor service and signal delivery issues with Amnet have been well documented both here and in other publications with Amnet holding the proud distinction of having the most consumer complaints filed with the consumer protection bureau in 2011. But it seems that the services of Amnet have gotten consistently worse with time.

In my neighborhood in Belen we have experienced cable and Internet outages that have lasted from hours to four to five days.

One of my neighbors relayed a story that they signed up for Amnet Internet at the lowest connection speed of 1Mbps, but each month and without the customers permission, Amnet would charge them for a faster connection speed at a higher price.  My neighbor was shocked to receive a bill for over $100 U.S. dollars for a service that they contracted for at $18.95.

My own personal experience is even worse.  I have been a basic Amnet cable customer for years, but in January added the HDTV and Internet service. I chose the Amnet Internet service over RACSA because Amnet offers a feature called ESPN Play that allows an Amnet customer to stream live sports events like football and basketball over the web.

I also purchased the 2Mbps connection speed which both my computer consultant and Amnet told me was an acceptable speed for streaming sporting events.

I have had the upgraded services from Amnet for nearly 90 days.  Here are the results from the first 90 days of the new service:

HGTV 
• Had to have the Amnet technical teams in my home eight times after initial installation.  Tech teams replaced the HDTV box two times, replaced all the connections inside and outside of my home and the HDTV service comes and goes pretty much at will.

• Stations will disappear from minutes to hours to days in some cases.  In order to even get volume on some stations, the customer has to make special adjustments to the setup for that particular station and then readjust the setup procedures in order to receive any other station (no more channel surfing).

INTERNET 
• I have had Amnet technical teams in my home six times to deal with the Internet.  I have not been able to stream one single sporting event on ESPN Play in the 90 days I have had the Amnet proprietary service without losing the signal or having the picture freeze every 5 seconds sometimes for seconds, sometimes for hours.

• I even stepped up my internet connection speed (at and added cost) from 2 to 3 Mbps and began plugging the ethernet cable directly into my computer (both suggestions from Amnet) to help the connection speed.

• Amnet even offers a speed test on its Web site that allows a customer to check the connection speed of the internet signal that they are receiving.  I have done at least 200 speed tests of my connection from Amnet (these are logged on the sites
Amnet logo

history file) and only 14 percent of the 200 tests show a signal that is even half of the 3Mbps speed that I contract with and pay Amnet for.

Last night when the stream disappeared in the middle of the NCAA basketball game, I did a test and it showed that I was receiving a signal from Amnet of .68 Mbps and I contract and pay for 3.0 Mbps.  A funny thing, the speed site grades each test and the score of the .68Mbps test vs. the 3.0 Mbps promised was an F+.

Customer Service:
• I have had an ongoing email conversation with Amnet about my problems.  Currently my email string is 137 emails back and forth in 90 days.  I have had limited success in obtaining some credits from Amnet due to the multitude of service issues, ( yes, I actually got money back from a semi-monopoly of Costa Rica).

Unfortunately, Amnet even fumbled this part of the problem when they cancelled my service for “non-payment” because the customer service director handling the credit did not communicate the credit to the A/R department and I lost all of my services for 3 days.  Of course, I had to straighten out that nightmare, with no help or acknowledgement of fault on the part of Amnet.

The problem has gotten so bad that I contacted an attorney to see if I had cause for an action against a company that advertises services that they can not deliver.  Unfortunately, after the attorney reviewed the standard Amnet contract that customers sign, buried in the fine print is a clause that states that all problems must be resolved via an arbitration proceeding at the chamber of commerce.  Translated:  The customer jumps through a bunch of hoops and Amnet gets a slap on the hand at best.

It is very frustrating to deal with a large organization like the cable or phone company, no matter what country one is in, but here, where a semi-monopoly controls all the available offerings, the individual seems to have no rights at all.  A monopoly on any service offering should be treated as a privileged right by the holder and not a blank check to provide poor service and rip customers off. If your readership shares similar experiences with Amnet, I encourage them to take the time to file a complaint  with the consumer protection bureau, the Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor.

The offices are in Sabana Sur, 400 meters south of the Contraloría General de la  República in the building of the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio.  Phone number: (506) 2549-14-00.

The attorney suggested this option as the only real way for an individual customer to be heard.  If enough people stand up, maybe just maybe the service will improve.  We all know that just putting up with poor service guarantees more of the same.


Study cites Latin health care ripple due to U.S. economic woes
By the University of Michigan news service

The national recession didn’t just hit people living in the United States. The downturn made it more difficult for people to pay for medical bills in poor countries like Honduras, according to a new University of Michigan study.

As employment opportunities have dried up for Latin immigrants in the United States, so has their ability to send financial assistance to chronically ill family members in their home countries, according to a study published Monday in the International Journal of Health Services.

"Remittance payments from relatives living in the United States are a major source of income for chronically ill people in Latin America,” says lead study author John D. Piette, professor of internal medicine at the university's Medical School.
 
“It may be hard to imagine causal linkages between a factory closing in Michigan or a pay cut for restaurant workers in Iowa and the health care of someone in rural Honduras. But the results of this study suggest that economic stresses in the United States ripple outward.”  

In a 2009 survey of 624 chronically ill adults in poverty-stricken Honduras, investigators found that more than half reported relatives living outside of the country, and of that group, two thirds received remittances. Some 74 percent of those receiving the support reported a decrease over the prior year, mostly due to job losses among relatives abroad.

Decreases in remittance payments averaged roughly $700 per year, a significant loss in a country where many families live on less than $200 per month, the study said.

Patients receiving reduced support from families overseas were
less likely to visit a hospital for a health emergency and were more likely to take less of their medications than prescribed because of financial strain, the study concluded.

Among patients receiving less aid from relatives abroad, nearly 40 percent said they were sometimes unable to buy medications and roughly a third skipped medical visits. Others reported spending less on basic needs such as food and education.

The study was conducted in Santa Cruz de Yojoa in north central Honduras among patients making non-urgent visits to primary care centers.

Remitances were most common among patients who had less education, larger families, and multiple chronic health problems including hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.

All respondents reported that they had to pay 100 percent for their health care out of pocket, with no access to insurance.

The study’s findings reflect U.S. employment data.  Latin immigrants have been especially hard-hit during the nation’s financial crisis, partly due to major job losses in housing construction, which is a leading source of employment for them. Between the end of 2007 and the end of 2008, the percentage of working-age Latins with jobs fell at almost twice the rate for the overall population.

“Unfair labor practices, language barriers and low education levels for Central American immigrants make it likely that they will continue to face economic hardships in the U.S.,” Piette says. “These immigrants have made astounding and noble sacrifices by sending aid to relatives in their home country despite their low wages. Those commitments may be unsustainable without a strong recovery in the U.S. economy.”

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Pope says church ready
to help Cuba move ahead


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Communist Cuba with the aim of awakening the faith in what was once officially an atheist state.

Benedict was greeted Monday by President Raúl Castro at an airport in Cuba's second largest city, Santiago. His visit marks the 400th anniversary of the religious icon, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, venerated by many Cubans regardless of their faith.

The pontiff said he came to Cuba as a pilgrim of charity, and he made a veiled reference to Cuba's political prisoners. "I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be, their sufferings and their joys, their concerns and their noblest desires, those of the young and the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need," he said.

He also said change is in Cuba's future. "I am convinced that Cuba, at this moment of particular importance in its history, is already looking to the future and thus is striving to renew and broaden its horizons. Of great help in this enterprise will be the fine patrimony of spiritual and moral values which fashioned the nation's true identity and which stand out in the work and the life of many distinguished fathers of the country," he said.

The pope arrives at a time when church-state relations are warming.  The Roman Catholic Church has grown to become the most influential institution behind the government. Cuba was officially an atheist state from 1959 until a constitutional change in 1992 abolished atheism as the state creed and called for separation of church and state. At that time, the Communist Party also lifted its ban on members with religious beliefs.

Pope Benedict set the tone for his trip Friday when he said the Catholic Church is ready to help Cuba move away from communism. He said the Marxist ideology no longer corresponds to reality, and he offered the Church's help to move Cuba ahead without trauma.

Cuban dissidents hope they will be able to present the pope with their views about the government.

A group that monitors detentions on the island says 70 government opponents have been arrested in the four days leading up to the pontiff's visit.

Pope Benedict was to celebrate Mass in Santiago before heading to the capital, Havana, to complete his three-day visit. It is not clear whether he will meet with Fidel Castro or Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who is in the Cuban capital for cancer treatment.

Cuba is the last stop on the pontiff's five-day Latin American trip that began last week in Mexico.


Demonstrators pro and con
show up at Supreme Court


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

One of the most closely-watched U.S. Supreme Court cases in years began Monday as oral arguments got under way in a legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s health care law, the signature achievement of his presidency so far. Analysts say the outcome of the case likely will affect this year’s presidential election as well as the scope and cost of health care coverage in the United States for decades to come.

The health care case drew scores of demonstrators to the Supreme Court steps, both in favor of and opposed to the law.

Ed Hale is among those supporting the health care reform act. He said "it is unfortunate it was passed during the great recession."

"It puts people in a foul mood. "But there is a 100-year struggle to pass this sort of law, and it is time to do it. It is time to join the rest of the world.”

A woman named Daveta, wearing a union T-shirt, also supports the law because it extends health care coverage to millions of people who cannot afford health insurance.

“Because we all need health care. And you know, it is not so much those that have it, but those who don’t have it, Daveta said. "I’m out here because I got it and it’s good but I’m out here for those who don’t have it.”

But there were plenty of protestors against the law, including Ken Campbell, a California dentist. He objects to a part of the law that requires everyone to buy some form of health insurance coverage by 2014 or face a penalty.“

These bureaucrats in Washington, they do not know the name of my family," said Campbell. "They do not know the names of my kids. They do not need to be telling my family what I need to buy and what I need to do.  They need to get out of my life.”

Campbell is active in a Tea Party group, as is Amy Brighton, another opponent of the Obama law from Ohio.

“This bill is unconstitutional as it stands. We are not against health care reform," Brighton said. "We are just against this current law.”

The Supreme Court of the United States is hearing 5 1/2 hours of oral arguments over three days, an unprecedented amount of time devoted to a single case.

At the heart of the case is whether a majority of the nine justices on the high court will side with the Obama administration and uphold the law or take the view of opponents who argue that it is an unconstitutional intrusion of the central government into the lives of American citizens.

How the court rules by the end of June could have a major impact on this year’s U.S. presidential election.
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Latin America news
Cartago residents given
a cut in electrical rates


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cartago residents will be getting a reduction in their electrical rates, but residents of Alfaro Ruiz will be paying a bit more, according to rates published by the nation's price fixing agency.

The Junta Administrativa del Servicio Eléctrico Municipal de Cartago sought a 17.6 percent increase but the application was lacking in certain required details, said the agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos. So a rate cut was ordered. The amount for 2012 is about 1.9 percent. For 2013 the reduction is about 8 percent of the current rate.

The Coopealfaro Ruiz R.L sought a 14.98 percent increase but the price agency approved just 1.2 percent.


Information on new tax
due to be public today


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Registro Nacional is expected to make public today its plans for collecting the new tax on corporations.

Collection of the tax is supposed to begin Monday, but so far the Registro and its parent, the Ministerio de Justicia Y Paz, have not announced how anyone can pay.

Officials were meeting Monday to develop a plan of action. Lawmakers designated the Registro as the agency to collect the money.


Gas stations are closed
by environmental agency


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An agency of the environmental ministry said that it has closed three gas stations and threatened to close two more if they did not meet with the rules on handling fuels.

The closed stations are Servicentro Filadelfia in Carillo de Guanacaste, The Estación de Servicio Aranjuez in Barrio Aranjuez and Servicentro La Sabana in Sabana.

The Servicentro El Cocal in Puntarenas and the Estación de Servicios Santa Eduviges del Pacifico in Parrita are operating but have 30 days to bring their operation into conformity with the rules, said the agency, the  Dirección General de Transporte y Comercialización de Combustibles.


Quake in Caribbean

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 3.1 earthquake took place Monday 27 kilometers southeast of Sixaola on the southern Caribbean coast at 2:09 a.m., according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. The epicenter was off the coast in the ocean.








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