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These stories were published Monday, April 8, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 68
Jo Stuart
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Pacheco accepts 'honor' in his amiable style
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica elected its grandfather Sunday in a runoff vote that polling firms had accurately predicted.

The genial winner, Abel Pacheco, 68, was effusive in his thanks. But a hard side emerged when he told his supporters that people who were not good better watch out. He listed among them those who would sell children to sex tourists, drug traffickers and those who do not pay their fair share of taxes to support needed social programs.

Pacheco, the candidate of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana pulled 738,751 votes with about 95 percent of the polling places reporting. That represented 1,272,977 valid votes. 

Rolando Araya Monge, candidate of the Partido Liberación Nacional, pulled 534,751, some 42 percent.

The abstentions represented about 39 percent of the Costa Ricans eligible to vote, and the number prompted handwringing by politicians and television commentators.

Polling firms correctly called the election, and the publicity that Pacheco would win by 17 points might have prompted some voters to stay home.

The election drama was short. The polls closed at 6 p.m., and by 8:15 p.m. Pacheco was arriving at the entrance to the San José Palacio Hotel where his supporters had gathered. A

Tax restructuring proposed
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few minutes later he took a call from Araya, 54, in which he told the losing candidate that he was still a young man and that he should take a vacation for awhile.

The red and blue crowd in the hotel shouted "Ah’ bell, Ah’ bell" to greet the candidate. But the warmup came first, delivered by Lineth Saborío, former director of the Judicial Investigating Organization who now finds herself as vice president-elect.  She praised Pacheco for his values and told the crowd that democracy has triumphed.

Pacheco was his typical humble self in telling the crowd that they had bestowed on him an immense honor. "It is a triumph for all of us." 

As he had done in his campaign, he promised special consideration for the poor, the indigenous, the abandoned and child drug addicts. And he praised outgoing President Miguel Angel Rodríguez who, said Pacheco, 

 President-elect Abel Pacheco

had taken over in a period of economic downturn.

Pacheco even turned the microphone over to his wife Leiha Rodríguez Stahl. President Rodríguez later spoke. He took no role in the campaign, which Pacheco ran on a personal basis with little mention of the current president who is of the same political party. This is the first time in recent history that a candidate from the party of the serving president won the job. Presidents in Costa Rica can serve but one four-year term.

Pacheco takes over officially May 8.

Meanwhile, at the Hotel Corobici, Araya gave a long talk to his Liberación supporters. Unlike Pacheco, he went on the attack. He said he had great fear of the results of neoliberal policies of the winner. He said that Pacheco would deliver the country tied hands and feet to foreigners, a clear reference to free trade and the likelihood of more such agreements.

An adult male member of his family could be seen crying.

The runoff election became necessary when neither candidate got the constitutionally required 40 percent in the Feb. 3 election where other candidates participated. There was some concern that supporters of Ottón Solís might boycott the elections.

Solís finished a strong third Feb. 3 but did not make the cut for the runoff. He formed his young Partido Acción Ciudadana after he left Liberación. Many in that party blame Araya’s loss on Solís. He told his supporters to follow their own conscience and that he would cast a null vote Sunday.

Public assassination in Sabanilla raises concern
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A double execution in heavy traffic Friday in Sabanilla raised the possibility of violent conflicts becoming public here.

The two dead men are recently arrived citizens of Colombia, and the killing could have been scripted in Hollywood: Two men riding on one motorcycle pulled up to the Mazda station wagon as it was stuck in traffic. The passenger on the motorcycle unloaded the clip of a 9-mm. machine pistol into the two men, killing them as they sat.

The dead men were identified as Jorge Avendaño Aragón, 20, and Juan Diego Muñoz Zapata, 40. 

The shooting took place just before 6 p.m. in La Paulina de Sabanilla, Montes de Oca, near the University of Costa Rica and in front of a supermarket. Police said dozens of motorists and passersby saw the crime, but the faces of the two motorcyclists were hidden by the tinted glass visors of the helmets they wore. The Mazda was headed to San José.

A similar motorcycle driveby took place in late March in Paso Ancho when another Colombian, Jorge Angulo Caidedo, was shot down by a man who came to see him at his home in the evening. Police at that time 

attributed the shooting to a private dispute, perhaps related to an extortion charge that had been pressed against Angulo.

Now some police sources expressed concern that a big influx of refugees from the Colombian civil war has provided cover to criminal gangs that wish to expand their holdings.

Costa Rica has long been a transfer point for drug traffickers. Traditionally, drugs, principally cocaine, are brought into Costa Rica and provided to a new courier, one with a "clean" passport, that is one that does not show a Colombian entrance and exit visa. Such visa stamps subject the bearer to intensive interrogation in the United States, the usual destination for such contraband.

The Colombian influx has raised alarm in the government which now says it will withdraw its general offer of refugee status for Colombians and instead require them to apply for visas.

Investigative sources say that the branches of the Colombian gangs here in Costa Rica have access to heavy firearms, although they traditionally have kept  low profiles. The gangs also are involved in money laundering and prostitution, activities that are not hard to carry on in Costa Rica.

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Foreign incomes would be taxed here
Massive changes proposed in Costa Rica's tax law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A presidential panel has set up a complex plan to end deficit spending by the end of 2006.

To accomplish this goal, the panel recommends taxing income from outside Costa Rica, tightening up, simplify and make more equal the tax collection system and cracking down on tax evaders.

Tax income has been more or less stable since 1995, said the panel. That has amounted to from 12 to 13 percent of Costa Rica’s gross national product. "This level of income, however, has been inefficient to cover the total government expenditures, and this level is significantly much lower than the average" for similar countries, said the report issued by the panel.

The panel, composed of former ministers and headed by the current minister of the hacienda, Alberto Dent, has these other recommendations:

• eliminate laws that force the government to spend a certain amount of money for certain causes, thereby providing more flexibility;

• tighten controls on spending, eliminate excessive spending and provide more openness to the public;

• make the national budget a legitimate document that clearly reflects expected costs; 

• create a system to keep the legislature from increasing expenses to favor special interests;

• create a commission to coordinate all the agencies of government and to make sure they are continuing to do what they were supposed to do when created;

• write into any legislation creating new government agencies a "sunset" provision that automatically eliminates the agency at a certain date unless specifically reauthorized;

• transfer more power to the municipalities where the work will be done more efficiently;

• reform civil service so public employees could be fired easier;

• create incentives for public employees so they get raises based on performance rather than automatically;

• create one basic system of national pensions;

• Double the property tax on vehicles and boats; 

• set up a system to begin imposing tax on companies now located in the tax-free zones so that they will be paying a full tax by 2008.

• eliminate the geographical distortions in the tax law by voiding such free zones as that in Golfito.

• impose an annual minimum $200 tax on sociedades anónimas, the Costa Rican version of corporations.

• create a super tax-collecting agency that would oversee all the collecting activities of other government agencies. This would be "Agencia Nacional de Recaudación Tributaria."

The government’s financial situation is not good, 
the panel noted. In 1983, interest payment on the internal and external debt was about 11.5 percent of the annual budget. In 2001 those payments were about a quarter of a much larger budget and consumed about a third of the taxes collected.

What the government paid in interest in 2001 was about 84 percent of what it spent on education, seven times what it spent on security and nine times the amount allocated to health, said the panel.

At the end of 2001 the combined national debt was 2.1 trillion colons or about $6 billion, said the report. The deficit is a result of public finances during the last decades, said the report, calling the problem "an accumulation of an old problem." 

Income taxes bring in from 25 to 27.6 percent of the government’s income. Sales tax and consumption tax bring in about 50 percent, according to the report. A lot of nuisance taxes cost more to collect than they bring in, so the commission suggested eliminating these.

The commission noted that the current income tax setup gives favorable treatment to income coming from some sources and not from others. It suggests levying the same tax no matter what the source. It proposed a "global and unitary tax."

This global tax would make no difference in the origins or destinations of the tax nor for the type of taxpayer. Costa Rica does not now impose taxes on money earned outside the national territory

"The tax ought to have a universal or world base, that is, it ought to apply to all the income without regard to the territory where it was generated," said the report. To do this, the country must, among other things adopt a network to exchange information about income with other countries, said the report.

The country also must adopt unilateral or bilateral conventions or agreements to avoid double taxation of income earned elsewhere.

The commission also said that the country’s value added tax of 13 percent should be changed to apply to consultancies and professional services.

The commission said that geographical "distortions," such as the free depot of Golfito were set up to solve social problems, but that this was an inappropriate approach.  The lack of transparency and corruption has developed a system that causes Costa Ricans to bear unnecessarily high taxes for goods that should be accessible for all.

The commission predicted that if its recommendations were enacted into law, by 2008 government income would be about 16.2 percent of the gross national product, up about 3 percent from 2001. External debt would be cut in half. The deficit would be eliminated.

The commission makes no apparent provision for increases in the world interest rates on which external debt is based. Current interest rates are the lowest in 40 years.

The bipartisan commission said that the adoption of these reforms will not be easy but that without them the economy of the country would suffer a serious deterioration in a short time. 

World’s forests found
much more degraded

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A series of reports based on new maps covering nearly half the world's forests warns that unsustainable development practices are responsible for the degradation of vast areas of wooded land.

The World Resources Institute's Global Forest Watch released reports covering Chile, Venezuela, Indonesia and North America, and the first detailed atlas of the forests of Russia. The institute is an environmental research and analysis organization based in Washington, D.C.

The reports, which took more than two years to produce, include maps created through a combination of on-the-ground knowledge and satellite data, and provide accurate forest information to anyone with access to the Internet.

Institute President Jonathan Lash said the data show that much of what was thought to be vast, untouched stretches of intact forests in the world are already crisscrossed by roads, mining and logging concessions.

For example, the Russian taiga, stretching in a long band across the country's northern latitudes, has long been viewed as an expanse of wilderness protected from human encroachment. But the new atlas of Russia's forests indicates that the taiga now consists of fragments of wilderness, separated by logged and otherwise degraded forests.

In North America, less than half of the region's forests and woodlands are in tracts of land at least 200 square kilometers in size, and more than 90 percent of these are found in Alaska and Canada.

The reports note that while many countries have taken great strides in enacting laws to protect their forests, in many places regulations are simply not enforced.

More detailed information of the reports and maps can be found at: http://www.globalforestwatch.org/

Blair backs action
against Saddam

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON, England — British Prime Minister Tony Blair has sent his strongest signal yet that he would back U.S. military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. 

Blair says the fight against terrorism should involve military action if necessary, and should include ousting regimes if justified. 

He says there should be no let up in efforts to rid the world of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Blair says the Iraqi regime is "detestable and brutal." He added that President Saddam should allow international weapons inspectors unlimited access to suspected Iraqi weapons facilities or face the consequences. 

Blair spoke in Texas Sunday shortly after wrapping up a three-day visit to President Bush's ranch, where the two leaders agreed that all options are under consideration for dealing with Baghdad. 

In Baghdad, President Saddam vowed to confront any U.S. military action with all possible means. Iraqi state-run media quoted him as saying Iraq will fight the U.S. with "missiles, warplanes, marsh reeds, and even stones." 

Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says there currently are no plans to launch an attack on the Iraqi leader. Powell says the escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians is complicating the consideration of options against Iraq.

Much of world
springing ahead

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Most of the United States returned to daylight saving time early Sunday That means Americans in most of the country skip an hour as their clocks move forward. 

New York time is now two hours later than the time in Costa Rica. The time in Los Angeles, California, is an hour earlier.

The change is designed to save energy and make better use of daylight. The idea was conceived by Benjamin Franklin during a trip as an American delegate in Paris in 1784, in an essay called "An Economical Project." 

Some areas in the United States do not observe the change, including the states of Arizona and Hawaii, the territory of Puerto Rico and parts of Indiana. 

Meanwhile, clocks in Pakistan are also moving forward by one hour Sunday, making the country the first in South Asia to observe daylight saving time. Pakistan's government says the move is an experiment and will be adopted annually if liked by the population. 

Parts of Canada, Cuba and Mexico also moved their clocks forward this weekend for the summer. Europe and parts of the Middle East have already made the seasonal time change. The practice is less common in Asia and Africa.

Chavez fires execs
from state oil firm

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has dismissed seven executives of the state oil company who were seen as ringleaders of escalating labor protest. 

Appearing on his weekly radio show Sunday, Chavez warned there might be more firings.  His announcement was in response to a month-long strike at the state-owned monopoly, Petroleos de Venezuela. 

President Chavez said 12 other executives have been sent into early retirement.  The Venezuelan leader says he considers the protesters' attempts to disrupt the strategic oil industry as "subversive actions close to terrorism." 

The dissident executives and employees are demanding the resignation of a new management board appointed by Mr. Chavez.

Parliament dissolved
in Trinidad & Tobago

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Patrick Manning has dissolved parliament after failing to elect a speaker for the national assembly. 

The action was taken late Saturday after the island nation's two main political parties, the United National Congress and the rival People's National Movement, failed to select a speaker. 

The two parties met Friday to nominate candidates for the position. But neither side has been able to agree on a candidate. This latest crisis comes nearly four months after the Dec. 10 election in which both parties each won 18 seats in the 36-member chamber. 

Car bomb blasts
town near Bogota

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A powerful car bomb has exploded in Colombia, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 50 others.  Police say the blast went off early Sunday in the city of Villavicencio, which is located about 75 kilometers southeast of here. 

Authorities say the bombing occurred in a popular area where hundreds of people were at restaurants and nightclubs. Hospitals in the city are overflowing with injured people and health services have made an urgent plea for blood donors. 

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, which damaged several buildings, including a radio station and shops. Police suspect the country's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was behind the blast. 

The guerrillas have attacked Villavicencio and nearby areas repeatedly in recent months. Currently, Villavicencio is playing host to the Davis Cup tennis tournament between Colombia and Uruguay. 

Colombia is the scene of a longstanding conflict pitting leftist rebels against government troops and right-wing paramilitary forces.

Meanwhile, Colombian leftist rebels have shot and killed a kidnapped policeman whose terminally ill son died last year after making an unanswered plea to see his father before he died. 

Police say rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia gunned down Norberto Perez and another captive police officer as they apparently tried to escape from their jungle prison somewhere in western Colombia. 

The guerrillas had held Perez captive for more than two years. They delivered his body and that of the other slain officer late Friday to Red Cross officials in Antioquia Department (northwest of here).

Perez's 12-year-old son, Andres, died in December of cancer. The boy's heart-wrenching televised plea to the rebels prompted offers from several prominent Colombians to switch places with the father. It is not known whether Perez knew of his son's death. 

The rebel group, known as FARC, is holding captive scores of Colombian security force members. It uses money gained from ransoms to finance its nearly four decade old war against the government. Slow-moving peace talks between FARC and the government collapsed in late February resulting in an escalation in rebel attacks throughout the country. 

 U.S. remembers prisoners of war

Special to  A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush observed National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day by issuing the annual proclamation and noting that "this year, as we remember our former prisoners of war, we also mark the anniversary of the Bataan Death March" of World War II. On this day, he said, "we recognize the sacrifice of POWs and remember with honor their heroism."

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