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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Wednesday, April 4, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 68                            Email us
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Evasion disclosures jeopardize tax package approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If public opinion matters, the president's plan to impose a package of taxes is in deep trouble.

Revelations that large companies and also government officials have been dodging taxes have brought sharp rebukes from both La Nación and el Diario Extra, the two most influential daily newspapers.

The editorial positions followed revelations mostly in La Nación that government ministers had not filed declarations of value on real estate and then paid the resulting tax. Even worse, the finance minister, Fernando Herrero, resigned just as La Nación was reporting Tuesday morning that he and his wife failed to pay income tax on earnings of a private corporation. Then later Tuesday the same newspaper revealed that the chief tax collector, Franciso Villalobos Brenes also had a tax debt stemming from 2008.

The revelations gave support to the continued insistence by the nation's public employees union that the solution to the country's financial crisis was not more taxes. The union, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, has been promoting for months better tax collection. Now the organization is saying “We told you so!”

“Reading the editorial opinions this date, Monday April 2, 2012,  published by the newspapers Diario Extra and La Nación generated extreme satisfaction,” said the union on its Web site.

The actions of government officials undermined the moral authority to continue the fight for a reform, said La Nación, noting that it had supported the tax proposal by President Laura Chinchilla Miranda. As well as reforms to the tax code to better control evasion, the newspaper said it urged a modification of the tax culture in all levels of Costa Rican society.

That was an obvious jab at Herrero and the ministers as well as Ms. Chinchilla who initially dismissed the finance minister's property tax undervaluations as a regrettable carelessness. That was before it became clear that Herrero was careless on more than one tax issue.

The finance minister, of course, was the man managing the administration's effort to get new 
opinion leaders
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
The nation's opinion leaders

taxes passed in the legislature. Lawmakers already have approved the 14 percent value-added tax on first reading awaiting approval of the text by the Sala IV constitutional court.

El Diario Extra, in its editorial, said it was easier to slap more taxes that in the end are paid by the poor and the workers. It also cited revelations that 450 of the largest companies paid small amounts of taxes.

They are robbing progress, the future and development of a country,” the newspaper said.

El Diario Extra said that the director of Tributación Directa, Villalobos, had put on a bulletproof vest in the hunt for tax evaders and gave him encouragement.

That was a day before the tax problem of Villlaobos became public in La Nación Tuesday afternoon.

Channel 7 Teletica also has been critical of the tax evasion, and even the Roman Catholic Church checked in with a criticism of the tax reform plan in the 2012 pastoral letter emitted by the country's bishops.

Ms.Chinchilla hopes to raise $500 million a year with the new taxes to reduce the country's crushing international debt.



 
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A.M. Costa Rica will continue to publish this week through Thursday. That is part of the newspaper's commitment to keeping expats here and readers outside Costa Rica informed.

The newspaper will not publish Friday, a legal holiday, and the Barrio Otoya offices will be closed Thursday and Friday. However, editors will continue to monitor the news and update the newspaper or issue special bulletins as developments warrant.



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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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More thunderstorms come
from humidity and heat

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More thunderstorms swept across the Central Valley at midday Tuesday bringing variable amounts of rain and charging the air with electricity.

There were a number of brief blackouts in the Central Valley, but the most rain was reported at Juan Santamaría airport with 10.1 millimeter (about four tenths of an inch). The eastern and western mountains continued to get a drenching. There was an automatic station report of 46.2 millimeters of rain, about 1.8 inches in the mountains east of Santa Ana.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional issued a warning at midmorning that thunderstorms were on the way. The storms were heavier than had been predicted earlier.

The weather institute said that similar conditions would prevail today: A lot of humidity coming in from the oceans with high temperatures favor the creation of storms mainly in the Central Valley and the Pacific coast. The forecast also says that there might be evening showers in the higher elevation of the Caribbean and the northern zone.

Readers reported 30 minutes of showers around Parque La Sabana Monday, a day when there was supposed to be just light rain. That shows that the showers are highly variable in quantity.

Expats who have been in Costa Rica for at least one rainy season know that the electrical storms can do heavy damage to electronics. That can take place when the rain is elsewhere as the damaging electrical surges travel over power lines and also cable television lines.

A single storm has been known to fry televisions, computers and even the electronic components of microwaves and other household appliances. Land-line telephones also are vulnerable.

Of course, the weather institute also warns about landslides and flooding, but that would require heavier downpours.

Our reader's opinion
Compensation for climate
can be seen in another way

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

When I read the article " President joins others at U.N. seeking new economic paradigm,"  my head almost exploded. Yet again, another Third World country is holding out it's hand for money based on the slimmest of excuses.  Costa Rica is a "rain" forest. It has been a "rain" forest for thousands of years before man came along. They are saying that the First World is responsible for the massive amounts of "rain" they get in their country and they should be compensated for this. This makes as much sense as saying that Costa Rica has received more than its share of "rain" and that the drought in Texas and the rest of the southern U.S. is the responsibility of Costa Rica. Perhaps the Ticos should be taxed to compensate the citizens of these southern states.

Dan Jackson
Calhan Colorado

 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
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Drink your Costa Rican coffee, it's good for you, scientists say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Coffee is emerging as the miracle product, especially if you are a mouse. The Costa Rica cash crop has been getting plaudits for years from medical researchers.

The most recent report says that the combined effect of caffeine and exercise may protect against skin cancer caused by sun exposure.

The Rutgers University study said that mice at high risk for developing skin cancer showed 62 percent fewer skin tumors when they were fed doses of caffeine, according to the  American Association for Cancer Research, which is ending its annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, today.

“I believe we may extrapolate these findings to humans and anticipate that we would benefit from these combination treatments as well,” said Yao-Ping Lu, the principal researcher at the New Jersey university's pharmacy school.

Last year, researchers at the same university suggested that a sun screen containing caffeine might ward off dangerous rays.

Also last year a report in the The Journal of Physical Chemistry B of the American Chemical Society said that caffeine seems to protect against Alzheimer's and heart disease. The report was based on the consumption of coffee and tea.

The society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reported in 2010 that drinking coffee may cut the risk of Type Two diabetes, at least in mice.

A 2009 Indiana University found that caffeine can reduce exercise-induced asthma.

Other medical studies in 2007 report a reduced risk of liver
coffee and smoking
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Although many coffee drinkers like to smoke, too, scientists say that tobacco heavily outweighs the benefits of caffeine.

 cancer with coffee drinking and that coffee may protect against uterine cancer.

Scientists say that coffee has far more antioxidants  than many vegetables and fruits, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study. Drinking coffee also reduces body weight, according to another study.

In most cases, the studies were conducted of varieties of mice, but scientists believe that the results are applicable to humans. The uterine cancer study was based on a 26-year study of women, but the researchers noted that the coffee drinkers were not randomly selected and randomly assigned to test groups.

Costa Rica exports some 200,000 tons of coffee a year, and the coffee grown here is believed to be higher in caffeine than crops elsewhere. The bean is the country's third largest export.


shotgun anbd handguns
Minsterio de Gobernación. Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
In addition to this shotgun and the two handguns, police found several stashes of ammunition.
Police defuse family dispute that involved shotgun and handguns
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who has had 51 run-ins with the law has had a 52nd. The Fuerza Pública said officers received a call early Tuesday from a 10-year-old girl, who reported that her father was threatening her mother and younger sister with a firearm and also beating them. The girl told police that the man had a pistol against the mother's head.

The 4 a.m. call came from a home in Carmen Lira in Turrialba where police had received a violence complaint the day before, they said. However, they twice were unable to locate the man involved. This time they did, and detained a 52-year-old man with the last names of Solano Solano.

The Fuerza Pública reported that the man has a record of
 robberies, frauds, aggression and resisting arrest in San José. A domestic violence judge ordered him not to approach his family, but prosecutors are seeking pre-trial prevention because they deem him dangerous, said police.

Officers searched the home with the permission of the mother and turned up a loaded 12-gauge shotgun and two pistols.

The Fuerza Pública noted that last Jan. 10, Mario Zamora Cordero, the security minister, issued a decree to prevent persons with a criminal record from obtaining a gun permit.

The crimes that preclude a permit are domestic violence, crimes against property or life and drug trafficking.

Not clear was whether Solano had any type of permit.

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Immersion reported as best way to a native speaker's brain
By the Georgetown University news staff

A first-of-its kind series of brain studies shows how an adult learning a foreign language can come to use the same brain mechanisms as a native speaker. The research also demonstrates that the kind of exposure an individual has to the language can determine whether you achieve native-language brain processing, and that learning under immersion conditions may be more effective in reaching this goal than typical classroom training. The research also suggests that the brain consolidates knowledge of the foreign language as time goes on, much like it does when a person learns to ride a bike or play a musical instrument.

The latest in this series of studies was published online in PLoS ONE by researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“In the last few years, research has begun to suggest that adults learning a foreign language can come to rely on the same brain mechanisms as native speakers of a language, and that this might be true even for those parts of a foreign language that are particularly difficult to learn, such as its grammar,” explains Michael Ullman, a professor of neuroscience at Georgetown. “We confirmed this in our studies.”

However, even if it’s true that foreign language learners might be able to achieve native-like processing of grammar, Ullman says it has not at all been clear just how they can get there, that is, what exactly allows a learner to attain native-like processing.

Ullman and Kara Morgan-Short of the University of Illinois at Chicago, first tested whether the conditions under which a person learns a foreign language matter. Specifically, is the type of foreign language exposure typically found in classrooms, with a lot of explanations about the grammar, more or less beneficial than the type of exposure in an immersion situation, in which there are no such explanations, but simply many language examples?

“Surprisingly, previous studies have found that the type of exposure typically found in classrooms leads to better learning than that typically found in immersion. However, no studies have looked at the actual brain mechanisms after different types of exposure,” Ms. Morgan-Short says. Also, because a foreign language is so slow to learn, previous studies have not examined the outcomes of different types of exposure beyond the early stages of learning, since it would take far too long to wait until participants reached high proficiency, she said.

To get around this problem, the scientists came up with a clever solution. Rather than teach people a full foreign
language, they taught them a very small one, with only 13 words, which referred to the pieces and moves of a computer game. The language itself was made-up, and its grammar was constructed so that it was like that of other natural languages, but differed from the participants’ native language English in important respects, such as its grammatical structure.

The scientists found that after a few days, adults had indeed reached high proficiency in the language, whether they had undergone classroom- or immersion-like training. However, measures of brain processing showed that different types of training led to different brain mechanisms.

“Only the immersion training led to full native-like brain processing of grammar,” Ullman says. “So if you learn a language you can come to use native language brain processes, but you may need immersion rather than classroom exposure.”

For the study published in PLoS ONE, the researchers asked another question: What happens after you’ve reached high proficiency in a foreign language, if you’re not regularly exposed to it? Do you lose the use of any native-language brain mechanisms that you’ve attained? Many learners do not always have ongoing exposure, which makes this is a critical question, Ullman said.

So, without having warned their research participants beforehand, the researchers called them an average of five months later, and asked them to come back for another round of brain scanning. Because the language was made-up, the scientists were sure that the participants hadn’t had any exposure to it during this entire time.

The researchers weren’t sure what they would find, since this was the first study examining the brain after such a period of no exposure. However, previous studies testing only proficiency changes found, not surprisingly, that foreign language learners generally did worse after such periods, so the scientists assumed that the brain would also become less native-like.

“To our surprise, the participants actually became more native like in their brain processing of grammar,” Ullman said. “And this was true for both the classroom and immersion training groups, though it was still the case that only the immersion group showed full native-like processing.”

Ullman said he believes that, over time, memory of the language was consolidated in the brain, probably by the same mechanisms that also underlie native language. He says this process is probably similar to the consolidation of many other skills that a person might learn, such as learning to ride a bike or play a musical instrument.

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Tornadoes ravage Dallas
and ground airliners

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Residents of Dallas, Texas are cleaning up after at least two tornadoes ripped through the city midday Tuesday, causing widespread destruction and more than a dozen injuries.

Weather forecasters described the storms as large and extremely dangerous. The twisters picked up large trucks and slammed them to the ground. They also tore through residential neighborhoods, demolishing homes, smashing cars, and uprooting trees.

American Airlines canceled all flights from the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport until Wednesday. Airline officials say they must inspect more than 100 planes for damage from hail.

Authorities report more than 12 injuries so far, including some severe.


Rebel release of hostages
praised as promising step


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia's leftist rebels have freed 10 hostages held in the jungle for more than a decade, in a move the country's president hailed as a step in the right direction.

The four soldiers and six policemen were airlifted from their jungle prison Monday aboard a Brazilian air force helicopter bearing the Red Cross logo. The men, who had been held for 12 to 14 years, appeared to be in relatively good health as they greeted relatives in Villavicencio before being flown to Bogota.

The Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia had promised to free the captives in February. They also promised to stop carrying out ransom kidnappings for profit. The rebels said the 10 were the last police and military hostages it was holding.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos said the prisoner release was a positive step for the country's main rebel group, although insufficient to start peace talks toward ending Latin America's oldest insurgency.

"This release, and above all, the promise of the FARC not to return to kidnapping, is a gesture that we appreciate. We appreciate it in all its dimensions. Without a doubt, it's a step in the right direction, a very important step," Santos said.

President Santos has said the government will not negotiate with the rebels until it stops kidnappings and releases all of its prisoners.

Some Colombian civilian groups believe the rebels are still holding as many as 700 hostages and they doubt the rebels are serious about talking peace.

The rebels have been active since 1964, saying it is fighting for the rights of the poor. It funds its operations mainly through drug trafficking and holding hostages for ransom.

Colombia, the European Union, and United States regard FARC as a terrorist group.


U.S. Marines begin stay
for Australian exercises

 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The first wave of U.S. Marines has arrived in northern Australia, marking the start of a larger U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australian Defense Secretary Stephen Smith greeted the 200 Marines as they stepped off a charter flight in Darwin Wednesday. The Marines are the first contingent of an eventual 2,500-member Air Ground Task Force that will engage in joint military exercises with Australian forces.

Under the agreement, Australia also will facilitate an increased use of Darwin air base by U.S. military aircraft, including jet fighters and bombers.

The Marines will not establish a permanent outpost in Darwin. Instead, they will be based at a military barracks on the city's outskirts and deploy to the region on a six-month rotational basis.

The deployment is part of an agreement announced in November by U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard during events marking the 60th anniversary of the two nations' military and strategic alliance.

The agreement was met with open suspicion by China, which fears the U.S. seeks to stifle Beijing's rise as a global economic and military power.
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Latin America news
Dry law goes into effect,
sort of, at midnight


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Teams of Fuerza Pública officers will be making the rounds of supermarkets, pulperías, hotels and bars this evening to enforce compliance with the nation's Semana Santa dry law.

Meanwhile, residents all over the country will be preparing clandestine drinking spots to hold neighbors over the drought.

Police officers generally block off or cover displays of alcohol in supermarkets. Sales of wine, beer and other alcohols are prohibited until midnight Friday. Businesses that do the bulk of their business with alcohol, such as bars, will be closed completely around midnight tonight, and officers will paste seals on the doors. At hotels and restaurants, the seals will go on the beer coolers and the cabinets where wine and whiskey are kept.

If anything, the dry law promotes the sale of alcohol because residents know they have to stock up today.

The law is rooted in the Catholic faith which considers Holy Thursday and Good Friday to be days of meditation, fasting and penance.

Tourism operators have been trying for years to have the measure rescinded. Last year they thought they had been successful, but a new law on alcohol was frozen by a Sala IV decision about the distance alcohol vendors should be from schools. The law would give municipalities the right to maintain the dry law or to let it lapse.

The tourism operators note that visitors to Costa Rica generally want to drink alcohol.  The Cámera Nacional de Turismo expressed its preoccupation with the court decision when it was announced. The chamber said that the new law would cutdown on the black market in liquor licenses, called patentes here.

Still, local municipalities might choose to continue the ban if the law eventually is passed giving the municipal councils that power.

Anyone who forgot to stock up and craves a drink probably does not have to go far. Illegal bars pop up all over during Semana Santa. In fact, there are many underground bars in Costa Rica, mostly in working class neighborhoods, year around. Bar operators who do not have to pay taxes can sell shots cheaper.

Still there are more available during the times that alcohol sales are banned.

At tourist resorts, hotel and restaurant operators become creative to provide for the needs of tourists. The most basic is selling alcoholic drinks in paper cups. The use of swizzle sticks and little umbrellas is discouraged, but most police officers will not choose to sample what appears to be grape juice. Most officers know what is going on but do not trouble tourism operators.






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