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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Tuesday, April 10, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 71                            Email us
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Sala IV faults way in which tax plan won approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday

Without making a decision on the contents of President Laura Chinchilla's tax plan, the Sala IV constitutional court has ruled that the process by which the measure passed through committee and ended up being approved in an initial vote was unconstitutional.

The Poder Judicial announced the decision Tuesday afternoon. The decision means that the Asamblea Legislative will have to start all over again to
 consider the measure which seeks to impose a 14 percent value-added tax among other levies.

The decision by the magistrates was unanimous. The summary of the decision said that there were problems with the the procedure. The summary cited the fact that the president of the special legislative commission considering the bill extended the life of the body without approval of the full legislature.

The magistrates also noted that amendments approved in the special commission were done without publication.

Despite scandals, president says she won't dump taxes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla addressed the nation Monday night and promised to forge ahead with her plan for new taxes.

“I arrive to your homes after days of consideration and reflection to give you an explanation that you deserve in relation to the information that days ago became known that questioned the fulfillment of certain obligations by members of my cabinet,” said the president.

Our opinion

She meant, of course, the fact that members of her cabinet had evaded property taxes by failing to report higher values for their properties. She also mentioned the minister of Hacienda without naming Fernando Herrero, who resigned after tax evasion allegations were raised by the newspaper La Nación. She said she accepted his resignation and that of the nation's chief tax collector despite their valuable services to the country because their jobs required absolute adherence to their tax obligations. Francisco Villalobos Brenes, the director of Tributación, quit after it became public that he had not paid certain taxes in 2008.

Ms. Chinchilla said that despite all this the country was advancing and citizen security was improving. She said the country was beginning important work to improve the highways. She also mentioned child care centers, education and health.

“The events of the last few days do not stop me in pushing all these efforts,” she said. “We will not permit them to become a sly attack on the reforms that we promote.

“Despite the many difficulties that I have faced and the fierce opposition of some sectors that desire to maintain their privileged situations, I will continue with the same firmness and conviction fighting to give Costa Rica a more efficient public sector with
less privilege and better financing,” she said.

Absent from the president's message, which was aired on the various national television stations, was any mention of her own responsibility for the tax problems of his closest advisers.

Meanwhile, opponent of the president's plan for new taxes have called on her to withdraw the proposal from the legislature. The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados sent the president a letter Friday asking this.

Also Monday the Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza called a one-day strike for April 19 in different places in the country.

The teachers organization said it rejected the tax plan, tax evasion and more price increases and impunity.

The day is a Thursday, so if there is broad participation, school children will not have teachers that day. The teachers plan to gather in front of the  Ministerio de Hacienda on Avenida Secunda and march to the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

“While we workers in education pay all the taxes and even a little more, the defenders of the fiscal plan and certainly big businessmen and industrialists are able to give themselves the luxury of not paying their taxes,” said Beatriz Ferreto López, president of the teachers group in a statement published on the organization's Web site.

The teacher statement also called on the Partido Acción Ciudadana and its president Ottón Solís  Fallas to clarify if they support the tax plan or the Costa Rican people. Votes by Acción Ciudadana lawmakers are crucial for the tax plan to pass on second and final reading.

The measure calls for a 14 percent value-added tax and other new assessments. The proposal already has received an initial approval in the legislature, but lawmakers are awaiting approval from the Sala IV constitutional court, which is reviewing the plan.

Kidnapped Tico diplomat liberated in Caracas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Updated at12:45 p.m.

Costa Rica's foreign ministry confirmed Tuesday morning that  Guillermo Cholele, a diplomat at the nation's embassy in Caracas, had been liberated.

Cholele appeared to have been hit on the head but was otherwise in good condition, said sources in Venezuela. More information was expected there later today.

The news came from  Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela's foreign minister, who posted the information on Twitter shortly after 4 a.m. He was being questioned by police but had been in contact with his family there and Costa Rica's ambassador, Nazareth Avendaño, said the foreign ministry here.

Cholele, 59, Argentine by birth, is a naturalized Costa Rican citizen and has worked in diplomatic positions since 2004, said the ministry. He is a commercial attaché.

Cholele was confronted by a carload of men when he returned to his home in Urbanización Urbina in Caracas about 10 p.m. Sunday. They not only abducted him, but they took his car, too.

Caracas has a soaring crime rate, and might be the most dangerous capital in the world. Abductions for ransom are epidemic, and at least 11 diplomats have been kidnapped since 2010. There was no word is any ransom had been paid for Cholele.

Police in Caracas triangulated a cell telephone call to Cholele's home demanding ransom, and then they invaded two downtown towers that have been taken over by squatters since 2007. More than 100 police officers were in the raid,
discussion over Venezuela
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto photo
Aura Mahuampi, the Venezuelan ambassador in Costa Rica, discusses the abduction with Carlos Roverssi, vice chancellor, and Mauricio Boraschi, the nation's security adviser.

but they did not appear to find the diplomat. News reports incorrectly reported that they did for a time, raising the hopes of Cholele's children and ex-wife here.

Shortly after noon Monday Costa Rica's foreign ministry summoned the Venezuelan ambassador here,  Aura Mahuampi, to a meeting. Carlos Roverssi, vice minister, and  Mauricio Boraschi, the presidential security expert, issued a demand for guarantees of Cholele's safety. The ministry said that officials were worried by the abducted man's health because he suffers from heart problems and hypertension and needs medicine.

Kidnappers grabbed and held Mexico's ambassador to Caracas in January. In November kidnappers held and then released a U.S. Major League Baseball player.

The crime rate may be a factor in the Oct. 7 presidential election. President Hugo Chávez recently set up a new police force to deal with organized crime.

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Nicaragua also is offering
free trips to tourists

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nicaragua, too, has turned to Facebook and a free trip giveaway to promote its tourism.

The Nicaragua tourism board said Monday that the launch of the Facebook campaign is the beginning of a $3 million marketing campaign. Nicaragua has experienced a steady increase in U.S. travelers over the past couple of years and now is priming for future growth, it said.

Costa Rica has been offering free trips to random participants in its campaign. That, too, was announced through Facebook.

Nicaragua also has set up a new U.S. web site,, to promote the country.

The Nicaragua Ultimate Adventure Sweepstakes contest runs through May 23, 2012. Visitors can enter to win at The drawing for the first prize will be held Wednesday. The drawing for the second prize is May 2, and the drawing for the third prize is May 23.

Said the tourism board:

The first prize is the Cities and Nature trip, which includes touring the historic colonial city of Granada, zip-lining through the forest canopy, kayaking and hiking a volcano. The second prize, the Pacific and Volcanoes trip, offers a tour of the colonial city of León, exploring Masaya volcano, ash-boarding down Cerro Negro volcano, touring a cigar factory, horseback riding and surfing. The third prize, the River Adventures trip, is an exciting journey down the San Juan River, visiting castle ruins, spotting jungle wildlife and fishing.

Semana Santa death toll
reported to be 34 persons

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Semana Santa recorded 34 violent deaths, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

There was a total of 19 traffic-related deaths, making the highways the leading cause of deaths in the country for the week. Eight people drowned. Five died by gunshot, and two died from stab wounds, said the agency.

The number is a collection from all the security forces that were out patrolling the streets, and waters during the seven days.

The tally began from April 1 to this past Sunday. There were no deaths recorded for Palm Sunday. On Monday there were eight deaths. Tuesday there were seven deaths. On Wednesday there were two, and the same was recorded for Thursday. Friday there were three deaths. For the weekend there were seven recorded for Saturday and five for Easter Sunday.

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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beach view
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
These are the lucky ones who got a chance to enjoy the waters of the Pacific this Semana Santa.
Flight for life
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
This is one of 34 ambulance flights made by the Dirección del Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea during the week.

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
When the beaches are crowded, Guardacostas officers have to use something other than boats to get around.
 Semana Santa meant
more work for cops

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While many Costa Ricans enjoyed a week off, the law enforcement agencies were working overtime.

The Policía de Tránsito is taking credit for holding vehicle deaths below the 2011 level. There were just eight deaths, three fewer than the year before.

The Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas said its members saved 46 persons who were at the point of losing their life in the surf. Costa Rican beaches can be treacherous, and even Costa Rican frequently forget this.

Pilots of the Dirección del Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea of the security ministry spent 87 hours in the air transporting the injured and observing what was taking place mostly at Pacific beaches.

Ambulance flights included trips from Quepos, Golfito, Nicoya, Upala, Coto 47 and Ciudad Neilly, the ministry said.

Much of the work for the week was preventative in trying to help beach visitors stay out of trouble.

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
At least 46 bathers were happy that lifeguards like these were around. That is the number of saves they made during the week.

patrol boat
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo

The Guardacostas crews frequently patrol just off shore at a busy tourist beach. That way the patrol boat is there if a bather gets into trouble. And the crew also can chase down reckless boaters before they hit someone or something.

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More techs now processing Pap samples at Caja laboratory
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's public health system said Monday that it has added 17 new technicians to the central cytology laboratory.

Last month public health workers issued a chilling report: That there are 200,000 cancer tests awaiting analysis and that the wait for women with suspected cervical cancer might be as much as a year. That claim came from the Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y la Seguridad Social.

Monday Rodrigo Álvarez Ramírez, director del Laboratorio Nacional de Citologías, reported that 44 technicians are working to speed up the analysis of the pending tests.

He said that the technicians also will work Saturday starting this week to clear up the backlog. He estimated that the technicians could complete 1,800 studies a day.
The cost of the new employees is 100 million colons, some $200,000.

The new lab technicians come from the Universidad de Costa Rica, which has an agreement with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

The director said that the lab processes 350,000 cancer tests per year. Most are Pap smears to protect or detect cervical cancer in women.

The Caja said that the mortality rate from these types of diseases had declined from 7.8 per every 100,000 women to 5.3 in 2010, in part due to the work at the lab.

When the union staged its protest March 8, a spokesman said that there were 200,000 samples awaiting inspection by a technician and that the samples were being handled incorrectly.

Bocas del Toro study shows coral has suffered for years
By the Scripps Institution of Oceanography news staff

The decline of Caribbean coral reefs has been linked to the recent effects of climate change. However, new research led by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California — San Diego suggests an even earlier cause. The bad news – humans are still to blame. The good news – relatively simple policy changes can hinder further coral reef decline.

Employing a novel excavation technique to reconstruct the timeline of historical change in coral reefs located on the Caribbean side of Panamá, a team of scientists led by Scripps alumna Katie Cramer and current Scripps Professor of Jeremy Jackson has determined that damage to coral reefs from land clearing and overfishing pre-dates damage caused by climate change attributed to humans by at least decades.

“This study is the first to quantitatively show that the cumulative effects of deforestation and possibly overfishing were degrading Caribbean coral and molluscan communities long before climate change impacts began to really devastate reefs,” said Ms. Cramer. She is now based at the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Coral reefs have suffered alarmingly since the 1980s due to coral bleaching and coral disease, thought to stem from the warming of the oceans due to climate change. However, until recently, the impact of prior human activities on Caribbean coral reefs had not been studied with experimental techniques.

Historical records and qualitative surveys provide hints that declines in corals in some parts of the Caribbean occurred as far back as the early 1900s after coastal lands began to be cleared to make way for plantations. However, the current study is the first to quantify the changes that reef corals and mollusks have undergone as a result of long-term stress caused by the deposition of silt, nutrients, and pollution onto coral reefs from land clearing and the depletion of reef fish that prevent algae from overtaking reefs.

“Because researchers did not really begin to study Caribbean reefs in detail until the late 1970s, we don’t have a clear understanding of why these reefs have changed so dramatically since this time,” said Ms. Cramer. “So, we set out to reconstruct an older timeline of change on reefs by looking at the remains of past reefs – coral skeletons and mollusk shells.”

To reconstruct this timeline, the team dug below modern reefs in incremental layers and, using radiocarbon dating of the coral skeletons they found, linked fluctuations in the types and numbers of coral and mollusks over time to historical records of land clearing. Changes in the relative numbers of these various species represent clear indicators of the overall health of the coral reef.
coral example
Scripps Institution of Oceanography photo
Novel excavation technique results in specimens like this and attributes prior damage to land clearing and overfishing

The team also improved upon the standard technique of taking long, narrow core samples of coral fossils that cannot track fluctuations in the numbers of larger species of coral.

“We wanted to look at the whole complement of the coral community,” said Ms. Cramer.

To catalog the relative numbers of dozens of coral and molluscan species, the researchers dug two-foot-wide by three-foot-deep pits into reefs at several coastal lagoon and offshore sites near Bocas del Toro, Panama, that were heavily affected and less affected by land runoff, respectively. At each of these sites they also conducted surveys and recorded the composition of living corals.

“We dug up over a ton of coral rubble and tens of thousands of shells,” said Ms. Cramer, who led the fieldwork at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and likened the laborious experience to doing underwater construction.

Systematically sifting through the coral and shell fossils, the scientists noted several indicators of environmental stress, including a decrease in the overall size of bivalves such as oysters, clams, and scallops, a transition from branching to non-branching species of coral, and large declines in the staghorn coral and the tree oyster, which were once the dominant coral and bivalve on these reefs.

These indicators were observed in layers of the excavated pits at coastal lagoon sites that were dated before 1960 and as far back as the 1800s, corresponding to a period of extensive deforestation in the Bocas del Toro region. Similar evidence of environmental stress at offshore sites was dated after 1960, indicating that the negative impacts of land clearing have more recently begun to affect reefs further offshore.

With the decline of the branching coral species, the reefs now have fewer nooks and crannies that are used as habitat for reef fish and other organisms. Also, the non-branching species that have taken their place grow at a much slower rate. “Consequently, there is less of a chance that the reefs will be able to keep up with sea level rise from climate change,” said Ms. Cramer.

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Obama and Brazil's president
White House photo
Presdient Obama gestures during a press conference with the president of Brazil.

Obama cites progress
in relations with Brazil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama says there has been enormous progress in the U.S. relationship with Brazil, though more work needs to be done. The president spoke after Oval Office talks with Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, covering economic and trade relations, and global issues including the world economy.

President Rousseff's visit came a little more than a year after President Obama traveled to Brazil as part of his first extensive trip through Latin America.

The world's sixth largest economy, Brazil has extensive exploitable oil reserves and an expanding middle class. It also has an increasingly assertive leadership role in global affairs, including such organizations as the Group of 20 leading industrialized and developing economies.

Among the issues discussed were trade, investment in technology and innovation, alternative energy and joint education initiatives, including scholarships for Brazilians to attend U.S. universities.

President Obama pointed to Brazil's social progress and stronger voice in world affairs.

"Moving from dictatorship to democracy, embarking on an extraordinary growth path, lifting millions of people out of poverty, and becoming not only a leading voice in the region but also a leading voice in the world," said President Obama.

Obama called Brazil a leader in bio-fuels, and said the U.S. is a potential large customer for Brazil's extensive oil and gas deposits. President Rousseff called the oil and gas sector a tremendous opportunity for cooperation. 

President Rousseff said the two leaders also discussed the global financial situation, including steps in Europe to stabilize the debt crisis there. 

Ms. Rousseff said she voiced concern to Obama about expansionary monetary policies that she said can lead to depreciation of currency values in developed countries and impaired growth in emerging nations. 

President Rousseff's U.S. visit came just days before she and President Obama meet again at the sixth Summit of the Americas, which will bring 33 hemisphere leaders together in Cartagena, Colombia. Cuba will not attend.

Imported European fungus
blamed in bat disaster

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. and Canadian scientists say a fungus that was likely brought to North America from Europe is responsible for a disease that has killed millions of bats.

White Nose Syndrome is named for the powdery-white substance that clusters on the bats' nose, ears and wings. It causes bats to wake up frequently during hibernation and waste badly-needed body fat.

The experts said Monday they suspect tourists from Europe accidentally brought the fungus into the United States and Canada and into caves.

The experts noted that European bats may have developed an immunity to the virus. But they say there is currently no way to prevent the disease from infecting American bats other than trying to halt its spread. White Nose Syndrome has killed around 6 million bats in 16 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces since 2006.

Iberia pilots planning
30 days of work stoppages

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Spanish airline Iberia grounded 150 flights Monday as pilots struck to protest the start-up of the low-cost carrier Iberia Express.

The Iberia pilots say they plan to strike 30 times, every Monday and Friday between now and July 20. The pilots said the start of the new airline is a threat to their jobs and working conditions, and violates labor agreements forged when Iberia merged with British Airways.

Low-cost Iberia Express started operations late last month. Its shorter routes to Spanish cities and some European destinations are designed to supplement Iberia's longer flights to other locations.

The owner of the airlines, International Consolidated Airlines Group, said it had to create the low-cost carrier to increase its profitability.
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Political parties pick
leaders for new term

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There will be a change in the Asamblea Legislativa come May 1, and the two dominating political parties in the country are ready to lead the new term.

The Partido Liberacion Nacional and the Partido Acción Ciudadana have already chosen their new political party chiefs and sub-chiefs for the May 1 to April 30, 2013 term.

The presidential party, Liberacionistas, voted unanimously on both positions. Fabio Molina Sánchez is the new Liberacion fraction leader. He is a representative from Alajuela. And the new deputy chief will be Siany Villalobos Argüello from Heredia.

Acción Ciudadana named Yolanda Acuña Castro as the new political fraction leader. She is from Heredia. Victor Hernández Cerdas from Cartago will be the new deputy chief.

May 1 also marks the date for a vote in the assembly for a new legislative president and other leaders.

Last year's vote turned into a fiasco as lawmakers couldn't agree on a president. Instead of the traditional vote that is done in one day the Assembly took two days.

San Ramón Action Alliance
plans another book sale

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Community Action Alliance will be holding its second Gran Venta de Libros Usados April 28 at the Regional Museum of San Ramón.  The first book sale was a huge success with nearly 1,000 people attending and over $2,200 raised for the two beneficiaries. 

The April Book Sale will feature an offering of over 4,000 used books, CDs, DVDs, magazines and other educational materials, both English and Spanish.  There will also be a collection of jewelry and other handicrafts available for purchase.  Prices for paperback books will be 1,000 colons. Hard bound books start at 2,000 colons.  Discounts are available to all students.  One hundred percent of the proceeds will benefit the Regional Museum and the Hogar Para Ancianos de San Ramón, the senior center.

To ensure that the sale is successful the Community Action Alliance is requesting donations of used books and other educational materials.  Drop off locations have been set up in San Ramón at the following locations: Cruz Roja, Aromas, Café Delicias, Bocaditos, and the Regional Museum.  Arrangements can be also made to receive donations from contributors outside the area. 

More information on the Community Action Alliance and the Book Sale can be found at  Questions or suggestions regarding the book sale should be directed in English to Louisa Wittman: 8997-9903 and or in Spanish to José Esquivel: 8702-8479 or 

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