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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, March 29, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 61        E-mail us
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Tax officials finally OK use of electronic records
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Here is some great news for green-minded expats.
The Costa Rican tax department required all tax contributors to keep their account documents for five years and their accounting books up-to-date at all times.   This meant gobs and gobs of paper and sufficient storage places to stash all the stuff.  Not very green thinking.

In a country that pledges to be carbon neutral by 2021 — different politicians have used a variety of different pledge dates — not allowing companies to digitize their accounting was insane. 

Until the very recent past, that was the rule.  Everyone needed to keep all their accounting in boxes to support what was reported to the tax authorities.  Well, good news, a recent request for clarification to the Ministerio de Hacienda, the mother organization of the local tax department  found that according to a resolution DGT-02-09 from the Direccion General De Tributacion, dated Jan. 9, 2009, people can keep electronic documents and forget the paper.

The only two major requirements set forth by the tax department are that individuals and companies electing to keep their documents digitally must guarantee the documents cannot be altered by others.  This means good security measures to protect the documents must be in place.  Also sufficient backup procedures also must be maintained.

This may sound real simple in theory, but it is not in practice.  Most people are lax in both areas.  Many do not keep their computers up-to-date with the latest virus and firewall software because it costs too much money.  In addition, people know backups are important but just never get around to putting a good backup system in place.

There is no excuse for not doing either.  These days there are a multitude of free virus and firewall programs available and they sometimes rival programs one can purchase.  Backup systems have come down in price drastically, and most backup equipment is designed for computer neophytes or, better stated, the downright computer dummies of the world.

Yes, granted, most of the accounting source documents an individual gets is on paper.  Cash register tapes, invoices, cash receipt forms, credit card vouchers, and the list goes on and on.  Many of the papers received in Costa Rica one cannot even read because they are printed on paper with microscopic printing or printed with a printer that has not had a ribbon replacement for years.

None the less, this paper can be recycled if it is digitized instead of stored in some storage area for years and years.  Better yet, the mentality of people is changing.  One now can request their light, water and phone bills digitally by having them sent to an e-mail address.   Once received, the bills can be paid online and the bill and payment can be put in a digital filling cabinet without ever printing a piece of paper.

For novices to this digital world, the best digital filing system for Windows operating systems to store documents is made by Nuance — once called ScanSoft — and it is called Paperport.  This program is easy to install, easy to use and comes free with many scanners.

Newer cellular telephones also make excellent expense-capturing devices.   One just takes a picture of an accounting document and using the telephone e-mails the photo to oneself for accounting.
green plant


Most newer accounting systems today have    incorporated ways to attach digital documents to transactions.   Two of the best are Quicken and QuickBooks 2010.  Intuit's Quicken and QuickBooks products have been around for years. A newer company, called NeatReciepts, is great for individuals who are looking for something very simple to use for their expense tracking and document archiving.

The secret for everyone is to "think green" and use the new Costa Rican tax law change to improve and protect the environment.  Thinking green is hard at first, but it gets easy real fast because people working green save money.  They do not buy as much paper and they do not have to pay for those outrageous printer cartridges or laser toner refills. 

Here is one example of green thinking and an accounting trick to avoid printing paper.  Request all utility bills to be sent online to an e-mail address as mentioned above.  Pay the bills using online banking, but when the payment receipt screen appears, do not print it.  Use a function on everyone's computer, called "print screen" or "Grab" and send the receipt directly to the computer and not to a printer.

The transaction can be posted to an accounting system like Quicken or QuickBooks and the bill and the payment receipt can be attached to the record.  So no paper printed, and the tax department states this is 100 percent acceptable.

There is an added benefit for expats and people in general that think and live green.  They do not have to lug accounting stuff around.  It makes them more mobile.  Everything they need to work and play in Costa Rica or in any other part of the world can be kept on a computer and backed up to a multitude of online sources.  The data can be encrypted to keep it out the reach of prying eyes.

Green thinking is good.  It saves money, makes one more mobile. It is good for the environment, and, best of all from a legal perspective, it complies with the law.  The surprise is that it took environmentally conscience Costa Rica so long to come up with a rule allowing for digitizing documents.


Garland M. Baker is a 38-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2010, use without permission prohibited.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 61

Costa Rica Expertise
Costa Rica Expertise Ltd http://crexpertise.com E-mail info@crexpertise.com Tel:506-256-8585 Fax:506-256-7575

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Smile, crook, your face
is headed for the Web


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats in Playas del Coco are going one step further than having a community anti-crime committee.  They are posting the faces of the local criminals on the Web.

Playas del Coco residents, as well as expats in Tamarindo say that burglars almost never are sent to jail and return to their normal lives a day after being arrested.

One woman in Playa del Coco posted a photo of the local thief getting arrested.  "He is selling drugs and stealing all around in Coco since many years," the Web site blog said.

The photo included the items that the man was suspected of stealing. When the man returned to town to live with an uncle, the Web site was updated.

A Tamarindo reader, who did not want to have his name used, said that the "problem is not the crime rate per se, but the lack of Costa Rican laws against home invasions and robbery or theft."

He said that a man tried to break into his home earlier this month and ended up attacking his wife. The intruder fled, and the man managed to alert police who arrived as he was chasing the get-away car. Nevertheless, police arrested just one of the three occupants in the car. The expat suggested that the police might be afraid of the criminals.

The Tamarindo residents contrasted the new stiff penalties for traffic violations against the lack of punishment for criminals.

Almost always the burglars and thieves are drug addicts. There is plenty of crack cocaine in the country now because traffickers use drugs as payment for services rendered.


Lower limit for alcohol
appears to be established


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislative deputies of the Partido Acción Ciudadana appears to have convinced other lawmakers to lower the threshold at which a driver is drunk.

This is part of the continual back and forth over proposed changes in the new traffic law. Lawmakers already agreed that the threshold would be .75 grams of alcohol per liter of blood. This usually is measured by a breath device.

But Acción Ciudadana has continually pushed for .5 grams per liter of blood to be the threshold.  The political party cites this number as that recommended by the World Health Oganization. For an adult male that is about three beers.

Lawmakers will be back April 5 to continue their discussions of a bill that will make changes in the law that just went into effect March 1.

Telecom giant told to pay
for cell telephone outage


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nearly 20,000 cell telephone customers are entitled to compensation because their service failed, according to the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones.

That is the agency that regulates telecom services, and the target of the criticism for the massive outage is the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The Superintendencia cited a section of the new telecom law that gives users the right to compensation when there are outages.

The former monopoly known as ICE said it was making a list of the services that were affected in the second week of march to see how much the compensation should be.


Cultural tax deadline
will be this Wednesday


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats who own corporations here have just three days to pay their cultural tax without penalty.

The last day for payment is Wednesday. An A.M. Costa Rica news story called the levy a pesky tax because the amount is small. Depending on the net capital of the company, the tax can be from 750 to 9,000 colons, That's $2.44 to $17.30.


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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
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.

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages
A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds
Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


For your international reading pleasure:


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News of Honduras
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 61

Colorful Semana Santa includes a procession tonight
By the A. M. Costa Rica staff

Semana Santa or the week preceding Easter is one of processions.

Tonight at 7 o'clock Archbishop Hugo Barrantes Ureña will lead the faithful on a Way of the Cross from the La Merced church to the Catedral Metropolitana along the Avenida 4 pedestrian mall.

Wednesday the Banda Nacional de San José is at the cathedral for a 6 p.m. performance.

Thursday begins with an 8:15 a.m. prayer service followed by a 9 a.m. Mass where priests will renew their vows. At 6 p.m. is the traditional washing of feet in the fashion that the Bible says Christ had his feet washed.  Across the street will be a live reenactment of the judgment of Jesus in Parque Central opposite the cathedral.

From there the procession of Jesús Atado a la Columna or Jesus tied to the column, leaves Parque Central for the El Carmen church on Calle 0. That is at 8 p.m. A veneration of the Eucharist starts at 10 p.m. at the cathedral and lasts most of the night.

At 9:15 a.m. the next day, Good Friday, a Mass at the El Carmen church is followed by a procession featuring Jesus Christ carrying the cross to his execution on Calvary. The
procession goes down Avenida 3 to Calle 2 and then to the building of the Correos de Costa Rica where the procession is met by Mary Magdalen and then to the Banco Central where an encounter with Veronica and her veil is enacted.

The procession goes all the way to the Mercado Central then to Avenida 2. Accompaniment is by the Banda de San José.

The high point of the procession is the simulation of the crucifixion of Jesus in Parque Central shortly after 11 a.m.

The funeral procession of Christ leaves the cathedral at 5 p.m. for Calle Central to Avenida 1 and then west to Calle 4 to the Banco de Costa Rica where the procession will go west to Avenida 2 and then back to the cathedral

The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated with another procession from the La Merced church at 10 a.m. Easter to the cathedral where a Mass is scheduled at 10:30 a.m. The procession will travel along the Avenida 4 pedestrian mall.

The Semana Santa events are open to the public, and even tourists who are not Catholic find that the events are highly photogenic.

Elsewhere in the country there are other processions. Nearly every Catholic church has at least one. Friday afternoon is usually the biggest reenacting the crucifixion or burial of Christ.


Public Housing
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
High density public housing development in Guararí de Heredia. Note green and white banners on post in support of the Partido Liberación Nacional.

Arias administration cites its success on housing front
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

As the Oscar Arias Sánchez administration draws to a close, the housing ministry has declared success in meeting the president's campaign promises, delivering a total of 47,000 grants to needy households. These range from money to repair an existing home or for construction, up to handing over the keys to a finished dwelling.

About 7,000 of the families were only reached by a “community grant” where the agency, officially the Ministerio de Vivenda y Asentamientos Humanos. repaired and put in infrastructure such as paved streets and storm water drainage. Many of these areas are old squatter settlements where the houses are steadily upgraded but common infrastructure is not.

The total amount expended for the 41,000 housing bonds was about 183 billion colons or about $352 million. Some of the bonds went to families who lost their homes in the Cinchona earthquake of Jan. 8, 2009. 

Urban renewal was not particularly successful due to the high cost of land and community resistance in some places. One large project in Hatillo was finished with a smaller one replacing a squatter slum right behind the upscale Mall de la Flores south of Heredia.

Projects are contracted to a developer who finds the land and builds the whole development. Political considerations are not unknown, as when the mayor of Paraíso refused to grant water to an already finished project. Those assigned the houses resorted to street protests before getting access.
Bliue house
Ministerio de Vivenda y Asentamientos Humanos photo
Homes like these built for native families are unique because they do not have inside toilets in deference to cultural norms.

The rural houses are a standard pre-fab design. They are 42 square meters (452 square feet) in size with two bedrooms, costing about 12 million colons each depending on land costs. That's about $23,000.

This is considerably more than at the start of the administration. Depending on local demand the projects range from 25 to 100 houses.

Families awarded the houses normally have incomes in the 200,000 colon or less per month range, and were living in shacks somewhere. That's about $384.

Although a new Cinchona is planned not far from the town destroyed by the earthquake, the ministry reported only providing homes for 70 earthquake affected families in its 2009 report.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 61


Growing frustrations appear to fuel protests in Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tens of thousands of people have marched in Miami to protest a recent crackdown in Cuba against dissident groups on the island. Cuban-Americans say there is a rising tide of resentment against the Cuban regime and the failure of promised reforms.

People dressed all in white filled the streets of the Miami neighborhood known as Little Havana for the march late Thursday. Many carried Cuban flags and chanted messages calling for freedom in Cuba.

Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan helped organize the event and led marchers in the singing of the national anthems of Cuba and the United States. Near the close of the march, Ms. Estefan said they had received word that a dissident group was also marching in Havana. "At this moment they are receiving violence again. They are joined with us here," she said.

News reports from Havana said Thursday that Cuban police dragged away several protesters from the opposition group known as ladies in white (Las Damas de Blanco). The group includes many spouses and other relatives of dissidents jailed in Cuba. They have held several marches this week to demand the release of loved ones and mark the seventh anniversary of a major crackdown called "black spring."

Supporters of pro-democracy groups say other recent protests have taken place in Havana and in the countryside, suggesting that frustration at the government is on the rise.

University of Miami professor Andy Gomez says it is partly due to President Raúl Castro's failure to deliver on his promises to improve the quality of life for many Cubans.

"The level of frustration has continued to increase and yet at the same time, they are going through the worst economic crisis since the special period when they lost their subsidies from the Soviet Union," he said.
Pro-democracy groups also have received a new boost from Afro-Cuban leaders, who traditionally were seen as a strong supporter of Communist policies. That image was shaken last month when black dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo died, after an 85-day hunger strike in prison.

"Here we have a working class black man from eastern Cuba who was peacefully advocating change," said Orlando Gutiérrez, who leads the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate. "They imprison him and then, when he goes on a hunger strike, they deny him water for 18 days. They kill him, and people know that."

U.S. President Barack Obama said Zapata Tamayo's death and the harassment of protesters was deeply disturbing, and he called for the release of political prisoners.

In Cuba, President Castro expressed regret for the death, but the incident sparked another wave of marches to protest the conditions of jailed dissidents.

Gutiérrez says if marches continue in Cuba, the movement is likely to generate even more supporters.

"Cuba's pro-democacy movement, the ladies in white, they're going into the streets, they are talking to people, they are carrying out protests throughout Cuba. People are seeing these guys are the option, they are the alternative," he said.

University of Miami's Andy Gómez says that frustration is also on the rise among Cuba's large youth population, especially university students concerned about their future in Cuba. But he says Cuba's government has a history of quelling dissent before too long.

"The question I ask myself is up to what point is the government going to allow this to continue, because it can get out of hand very quickly," he said.

Pro-democracy advocates say the United States could consider new measures as well, in an effort to push the Communist nation toward greater respect for human rights.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 61

Medical vacations in Costa Rica


Guatemalan rights activist
honored for his struggle


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Guatemalan human rights activist has been recognized by the advocacy organization Human Rights First, which cited his lifelong struggle for human rights for native people in his country.

The man, Jesus Tecu, has been awarded the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty for his efforts to promote human rights for Guatemala's Maya community and bring an end to impunity for perpetrators of genocide during the country's gruesome decades-long civil war.

Tecu was chosen from among dozens of nominees for the results of his work, and his determination in the face of overwhelming obstacles, says Andrew Hudson, a senior associate at New York-based Human Rights First.

"They consider a criteria like the effectiveness of the activist in terms of advancing human rights, the distinctiveness of their work, security risks they have faced, and the degree to which the award would help them," he said.

Hudson says a recent increase in threats and violence against Guatemalan activists contributed to the decision to honor Tecu. He said Tecu was also chosen for his perseverance in pursuing justice, after having witnessed the slaughter of much of his family by agents of the Guatemalan military during the civil war in the early 1980s.

"His story is incredibly compelling, the fact that as a child he witnessed the murder of his family in one of the worst massacres of the Guatemalan genocide, the Rio Negro massacre," he said. "The fact that he was then enslaved for a couple years by the very perpetrators that carried out the massacre. And the fact that after all of this he wasn't driven to revenge but the cruelty that he witnessed motivated him into seeking justice for the genocide that was committed."

Hudson says Tecu has played a key role as a witness against human rights violators both in Guatemala and in international courts.

Tecu says that as a result of his work with native communities in the central Guatemalan province of Alta Verepaz, he continues to receive death threats against him and his family, which he believes come from the perpetrators of civil war era massacres.

He says ultimately all human rights activists in Guatemala are fighting for justice and wish to see to those who committed crimes during the country's civil war punished and imprisoned.

Tecu adds that the award will strengthen his activities in the Mayan community of Rabinal. Tecu heads several organizations which work in the fields of education and empowerment for indigenous peoples in the region.

Alta Verapaz, home to a large concentration of Mayan people, and the scene of numerous massacres during the civil war, is among the poorest and least developed departments of Guatemala.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 29, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 61


Latin American news
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Sala IV reinstitutes rule
on age of fuel tankers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuel tankers should be no older than 10 years, the Sala IV ruled Friday. The high court overruled the environmental ministry which had suspended the age rule in favor of pressure and other tests on tankers.

The Sala IV ordered the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones to take whatever steps are necessary to comply with two executive directives that had been ignored.

The court said that there were tankers on the road that were more than 50 years of age. The court said that the ministry had six months to act. The rule applies only to those tankers that carry petroleum products. A man identified as a citizen brought the matter to the Sala IV.


Native groups meeting
on climate change here


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Native representatives from Central and South America are meeting this week in the Hotel Balmoral in San José to discuss climate change.

Involved are representatives of organizations in the Amazonas, the Andes, Mesoamerica and native women's groups, said the host, the Consejo Indígena de Centroamérica.

Breach in border wall
attracting illegal users

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration workers are handling a flood of persons leaving Costa Rica for Nicaragua, but there are many trying to get into the country illegally.

The Fuerza Pública said it had located a hole in a wall near the Peñas Blancas border station. Those who use the hole appear to wait until the view of immigration agents is blocked by trailers and other heavy vehicles, said police.

In some cases, persons hide in the searing heat of the day to make a try to reach Costa Rica through the damaged wall.

Some of these are persons who are parents of children born in Costa Rica but who lack a passport for themselves, police said. Some carry cédulas of residency, but a passport is a firm requirement, police noted.




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