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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Thursday, April 12, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 73                            Email us
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Tax proposal and scandals resonated with the public
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The effort by the Laura Chinchilla administration to put through a 14 percent value-added levy and other taxes has had significant impacts.

Many more Costa Ricans are taking an interest in politics. But expats are concerned that they will be the sacrificial lambs as the government rushes to raise more money.

The revelations by La Nación over what it called editorially a clique showed how money is passed around by those in power. Not only did many well-connected politicians duck taxes, but there is a criminal investigation.

Prosecutors are looking into a contract given without much notice to the wife of the former finance minister. The woman, Florisabel Rodríguez Céspedes, was working as a special assistant to President Chinchilla until the news broke that she and her husband failed to update the value of real estate. The issue was more critical because the couple were leasing the property to the state.

Ms. Rodríguez still had time to run a company called Procesos that sought the contract from the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A., the state fuel monopoly. She had a lot of support. The petroleum firm received endorsements from Luis Liberman, a vice president, the minster of education, and Ms. Chinchilla's brother, who was her campaign manager.

There was not much competition. A spokesman for the refinery firm said staffers there made a computer error and only invited three other firms to submit bids for the direct contract. And those three firms do not do the public relations work that the contract required. They supply building materials.

A segment of the public always knew that the Chinchilla tax plan would cost them more money despite her claims that only the rich would pay. A minority of the legislators opposed the measure. But the administration stitched together a coalition of the ruling Partido Liberación Nacional and Partido Acción Ciudadana and a few other lawmakers to pass the measure on first reading.

What generated the fury among the members of the public were the La Nación articles that began in late March.

The result is an Internet petition that seeks to have the president fire all the ministers who the newspaper reported failed to update the values of their property and, thereby saved on municipal taxes.

The petition also seeks the removal of any high official who is behind on payments to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

The internet demands also include fast-track passage of several anticorruption and illegal enrichment measures now in the legislature.

The petition also seeks the suspension of efforts to pass the tax plan again until all the debts are paid to the Caja and to the nation's tax collectors.
Ms. Chinchilla
Casa Presdiencial photo
Ms. Chinchilla likened her presidency to a battle in the trenches when she spoke Wednesday in Alajuela before the statue of Juan Santamaría. The story is HERE!

Already the petition has more than 2,000 signers.

There also are two other demands that are not directly related to taxes. One request is for passage of a forest protection law and another to stop the creation of a colegio of professionals in the arts, a measure that the petition originators say will hamper liberty of expression. A colegio is a legally binding organization of professionals that demands certain types of education or competency. An example is the Colegio de Abogados to which all practicing lawyers must belong.

Expats here have been concerned about the tax bill, including a measure that would tax upscale rentals. But now they also fear that the Chinchilla administration will try to tax money coming into the country. That idea has been considered in the past, and the then-finance minister, Fernando Herrero, had to explain that the tax bill would only put a levy on the commissions charged by banks. But there have been proposals in the past to tax money, such as pensions and cash for home purchases at the bank level. The tax plan put a 10 percent levy on money going the other way. The tax was on money remitted to a foreign parent company by a firm doing business here.

The Sala IV constitutional court rejected the tax plan in a decision announced Tuesday. But the court only had trouble with the way lawmakers passed the measure. Magistrates reserved comment on the contents of the legislation. Now the bill is back in committee, and may come out unchanged but with the required procedural changes the court demanded.

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Severed head of panther
prompts students to march

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The discovery of the head of a black panther is providing the impetus for a march today in the community of  Pejibaye.

The animal head was found at Parque Nacional Tapantí in  Paraíso de Cartago earlier this month after two youngsters were pictured with it on a social media page.

Many of the marchers today will be from the Colegio Ambientalista de Pejibaye and the event is titled Marcha Pacífica de Sensibilización a favor de la Vida Silvestre or "a peaceful mark to raise awareness in favor of the forest life."

The event begins at 8:30 a.m. at the colegio.

As a Costa Rica Report said April 3 authorities working for the National System of Conservation Areas and the Judicial Investigation Organization found on Monday afternoon the severed head of a black jaguar. Police near Tapantí National Park in Paraíso de Cartago made the gruesome discovery after deciding to investigate images seen circulating on Internet social networks.

Our reader's opinion
Soil scientist applauds
article on ancient farming

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article "Pre-Columbian raised beds may save vanishing Amazon," by the A.M. Costa Rica wire services is to be greatly applauded. I hope you will pass this article on to the Spanish language news services of Costa Rica and across the world.

As a retired soil scientist, I can appreciate the good scientific truths in this article. We have long known that slash and burn agriculture was/is a non-sustainable agricultural method, but I did not know the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas had long ago discovered this.

I hope persons in all parts of the world will be energized to learn more about what was long forgotten. Now that this information has been rediscovered maybe we can use our modern technology to better understand how to live a bit more sustainably. People with indigenous ancestry in the Americas should be filled with pride.

Thank you for providing this important information to your readers.  I look forward to learning more about this in the future.
Robert Ranson
U.S.D.A. - NRCS soil scientist - retired
Playa Palo Seco, Parrita

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
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Guest opinion
Government praised for taking action in Puerto Viejo, Cahuita

By Carol Meeds
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica's Environmental Laws have teeth! 

I retired from a career in environmental protection in Florida to move here to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica where the environment is a source of pleasure and appreciation for me and many others.  Some come here to appreciate the incredible biodiversity of an ecosystem in balance. 

Some come here to make money from those eco-tourists who come here to appreciate the birds, the animals, the plants and butterflies and great trees like no others in the world!  

This creates a conflict between the amount of land left natural for the environment and the amount of land altered for businesses, as wetlands are filled for mosquito control and gravel is added for parking pods.  Trees are cut for additional housing, restaurants and even swimming pools, and shrubbery is cut down to remove hiding places for robbers.   All of that is habitat removed.  Systems are broken and disrupted.  Water is rushed quickly out to sea as wetlands shrink and wells run dry and still others would seek to make money selling bottled water. 
Florida used to be a beautiful sub-tropical coastal paradise too.  It got developed.  Environmental enforcement is always underfunded and responded only to complaints after the damage was done and after enough people were living in the area to notice and complain about their neighbors.  Developers were allowed to pay triple for after-the-fact permits. 

Beautiful, sacred old wetlands forests were replaced with plantings of trees and engineered storm water systems and called "mitigation."  Beaches became private  guarded, gated, sea walled and fenced off.  Public beaches, fishing, boating . .. . all required permits and prohibited many things... Paradise truly lost!

That is why I am thrilled to see the Costa Rica government take serious enforcement to protect the unique habitats.  This is not a popular view here in Puerto Viejo where demolition orders have been issued for structures built in the maritime exclusion zone in violation of law.  The law was made thirty five years ago and it has real teeth... no after the fact permits, no "mitigation," just bulldoze it and give the clean-up bill to the owner.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A news story on the demolition orders can be found HERE!

Despite frequent busts, truckers keep moving cocaine north
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The penalty for international drug smuggling can be 20 years in prison. The usual term is more like eight years. But that does not seem to stop truckers who try to evade detection at the Peñas Blancas border crossing.

The latest case was Tuesday night when anti-drug police inspected a tractor trailer loaded with candy heading from Panamá into Nicaragua. They found 224 kilos of cocaine hidden in a compartment in the trailer.

The Guatemalan operator of the Honduran-registered vehicle, identified by the last names of Pacheco Godoy, was taken into custody. He was jailed to await an interview with a prosecutor. He is 51.

Anti-drug agents have found false walls in trailers behind which were stashes of cocaine. Recently they found cocaine hidden in the roof of a truck cab and even in the tires of another vehicle. So far this year, the Policía de Control de Drogas said its agents have confiscated 8,600 pounds of cocaine at the border crossing and at other points in the country.
more cocaine
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Guillermo Solano
Anti-drug officers do the heavy work after finding packages of cocaine in the body of a trailer.

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President describes citizens as being in the trenches every day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda put herself in the heat of the battle along with Juan Santamaría in her patriotic speech Wednesday.

She said the gains of her administration were the result of a general battle plan. She said they also are the result of a large framework of men and women who with valor and a great feeling of responsibility have accompanied her from various trenches.

The atypical battle metaphors filled the speech and took their key from the heroic effort of Santamaría, a drummer boy who used a torch to ignite the thatch roof of the enemy strongpoint in the Battle of Rivas 156 years ago.

That battle is behind, but civic duty transcends time, said Ms. Chinchilla, and “every day in our civic lives is transformed into an 11th of April.” Citizens are in the trenches every day in the factories, the schools, in the furrows in which they sow and in the paths that they open for science, culture, sports and life, she said based on a written text of her talk. The speech was in Alajuela at the celebration of the national holiday.

Ms. Chinchilla gave these examples of modern day heroes and heroines: The neighbor who files a complaint against criminality, the student who burns the midnight oil to move his family ahead and simple volunteerism.

Ms. Chinchilla said it was her government that designed a plan of battle against the principal modern threats. These included the economy, which she said was improving with 80,000 persons employed in the last 12 months.

She also addressed citizen security, which she said was improving based on falling crime rates and rates of victimization. She also said that her administration has brought greater security to the nation's borders and have delivered blows to narcotraffickers. She emphasized the improved condition of citizens along the northern border with Nicaragua. The central government moved to build a major road, install electric power and make other improvements after Nicaraguan soldiers invaded a small part of Costa Rica there, although the president did not mention this.

She also spoke of valiant and responsible actions to salvage social security and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Among the actions the government has taken was to pay off the massive debt it owed to the Caja, although the president did not mention this.

Finally the president turned to the issue of the day, government finances. She said the government had had an impact of tax evasion and had advanced the process of laws to increase tax collection and close the doors to fraud. The bulk of the tax evaders who were exposed were members of the president's own cabinet and the nation's chief tax

parade in alajuela
Casa Presdiencial photo
Alajuela street was lined for morning parade

collector. Although the president took credit, the bulk of the exposure was by the Spanish daily La Nación.

The administration Tuesday did say that it would push two proposed laws against tax evasion. The measures are languishing in the legislature.

The president then defended her plan for $500 million in new taxes that has been undermined by the revelation of the tax evasions of her closest advisers.

The president said that her goal was to modernize and make more equal the tax system and that a group of lawmakers acted responsibly. But she said the governmental setup of three powers has turned the process into interminable confusion where the veto of the minority imposes its will on the democratically elected majority.

“That great courage to push a policy although unpopular is responsible,” the president said of her tax plan. “What great valor to put oneself above the corporate pressures, unions and the power of the news media to defend that which we know is necessary for the country.”

The president did not mention clearly that the tax plan hit its biggest roadblock in the Sala IV constitutional court when magistrates ruled that the way the measure gained an initial vote was constitutionally flawed. The Poder Judicial announced the decision Tuesday evening. The measure has gone back to committee.

Some resistant algae may help coral survive expected warming
By the  University of Miami news service

A new study by scientists at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science suggests that many species of reef-building corals may be able to adapt to warming waters by relying on their closest aquatic partners — algae. The corals’ ability to host a variety of algal types, each with different sensitivities to environmental stress, could offer a much-needed lifeline in the face of global climate change.

Using a highly sensitive genetic technique, doctoral student Rachel Silverstein analyzed 39 coral species from DNA collected in the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean collected over the last 15 years. Most of these species had not previously been thought capable of hosting more than one type of the single-celled symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, which live inside the coral and help to supply them with energy.

Silverstein’s results revealed that at least one colony of all 39 species tested had at least two varieties of algae, including one thought to be heat tolerant.

Over half of the species were found to associate with all four of the major types of algae found in corals.

“This study shows that more coral species are able to host multiple algal symbionts than we previously thought,” said Andrew Baker, associate professor at the Rosenstiel School and co-author of the study. “The fact that they all seem to be capable of hosting symbionts that might help them survive warmer temperatures suggests they have hidden potential that was once thought to be confined to just a few special species.”
More than 10 years ago, Baker was one of the first scientists to suggest that the ability of corals to associate with diverse algal symbionts may be one mechanism by which they are able to rapidly respond to environmental changes, such as increased ocean temperatures due to climate change.

“Although our study shows that different coral species do tend to have preferences in their algal partners, the fact that these preferences are not absolutely rigid means that we cannot ignore the possibility that most corals might change partners in response to environmental changes in the future,” said Silverstein.

Globally, reefs have lost more than 70 percent of their corals as a result of pollution, disease, overfishing, and climate change. Increased temperatures cause coral bleaching, in which corals expel their algal partners, turn pale, and often die. However, some symbionts can resist bleaching in warmer waters and may help the corals survive during stress. The ability to host multiple symbionts may help save coral reefs from future losses during expected ocean temperatures increases of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

“These new findings should encourage us to find better ways to protect coral reef ecosystems from overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction, and buy us some time to avoid the worst climate change scenarios,” said Baker, who is also a research associate of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York.

The study, titled “Specificity is rarely absolute in coral-algal symbiosis: implications for coral response to climate change,” was published in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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Obama travels Friday
to hemispheric summit

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama departs Washington Friday for Cartagena, Colombia, where he will participate in the sixth Summit of the Americas.

At Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 2009 the president attended his first Summit of the Americas, pledging to seek equal partnerships with other nations in the hemisphere.

He also had his first encounter with Hugo Chávez, the fiery Venezuelan leader and critic of U.S. policies.

Three years later, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will host the sixth summit. The agenda includes development and economic issues, and regional security.

Obama claims substantial progress in the region. In 2011, he traveled to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador to press the U.S. trade and investment agenda, praise democratic and social progress, and urge greater cooperation in the war on transnational criminal cartels. 

Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas offers this assessment:

“The hemisphere is maturing in its own self-confidence. It is strengthening in terms of its economies. And politically there are some challenges to democracy in certain countries, but overall democracy is secure and the countries are trying to find ways to develop those issues even further.”

On the agenda in Cartagena: poverty reduction and inequality, economic integration, technology and cooperation to cope with natural disasters, and citizen security, a reference to drug and criminal violence.

Some Latin American leaders want a reexamination of what they call the failed war on drugs. They urge decriminalization of cocaine, heroin and marijuana. The U.S. disagrees. Obama remains focused on military and security aid, and intelligence cooperation.

“We’re going to be coordinating our efforts more closely than ever, especially when it comes to supporting Central America’s new strategy on citizen security, which will be discussed at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia next week,” said the president.

Absent from the summit will be Cuba. It is not a member of the Organization of American States, which represents democracies.

Washington opposes Cuba’s participation on political and human rights grounds. Colombia’s president said the issue will be discussed.

“There will be debate around Cuba’s non-inclusion in the forum. I think nearly every country in the region except for the U.S. wants Cuba to be able to participate in these forums,” said Alexander Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

Farnsworth said nations are not allowing the issue to block expanded cooperation.

“They are not hung up on the Cuba issue. They are diversifying their relationships. Their main issue is economic development and continuing the political legitimacy that is brought through democratic governance," said Farnsworth.

It remains to be seen what drama Venezuela’s Chávez, with his antagonistic attitude toward the U.S., may cause in Cartagena.

“He is certainly a gifted thespian, and he will make the most of every opportunity to make his influence felt,” said Stephen Johnson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Chávez has deepened Venezuela’s relationship with Iran. Analysts say his policies, however, are increasingly viewed with skepticism in the hemisphere.

Stop the killing of lawyers,
U.N. experts tell Honduras

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Two United Nations independent experts today called on the Government of Honduras to adopt concrete measures to stop the killing of lawyers in the country, stressing that they should be able to carry out their functions without risking their lives.

According to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, 74 lawyers have been killed in Honduras in the past three years without the government responding adequately to the crimes. In recent months, nine lawyers have been assassinated, six of them in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

“In addition to the frequency of the killings and the death threats against lawyers, we are worried about the impunity of these crimes in Honduras,” said the the special rapporteur on the independence of magistrates and attorneys, Gabriela Knaul, and the special rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, said in a statement.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.

The most recent murder occurred in January, when Ricardo Rosales, a lawyer in the city of La Ceiba, was killed after denouncing human rights violations in a local newspaper.

“Governments have the obligation of guaranteeing that attorneys can carry out all their professional duties without intimidation and without risking their safety and that of their relatives,” said Ms. Knaul. “They should guarantee adequate protection to lawyers when their safety is threatened because of their job.”
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New study reports:
College becomes more fun
and little real learning

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

After two years in college, 45 percent of the students show little improvement in key intellectual and creative skills, according to a recent study.

This is the time of year when millions of American high-school seniors and their parents scramble to complete the process of finding, and getting accepted by, a college to begin the higher education process in September.

But there’s some doubt about how high that level of learning will be.

The title of a new book tells the story. Based on a recent study by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roska of the University of Virginia, the title is: "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses."

The professors interviewed 2,300 U.S. college undergraduates and reviewed their academic records.

They concluded that after two years in college, 45 percent of the students showed no significant improvement in key intellectual and creative skills such as critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.

These results come at a time when President Barack Obama, his education department and outside reformers are all saying that the United States had better start producing smarter college graduates if it wants to remain competitive globally. 

The study of students’ behavior during those first two years in college may provide a clue as to what’s breaking down.

The researchers found that freshmen and sophomores are more concerned with socializing and communicating with friends than with what used to be called “cracking the books.”

Their critical thinking would appear to involve choosing the right pizza joint or bar at which to meet those friends. 

“It’s good to lead a monk’s existence," says Eric Gorski, an Associated Press writer who reported on the study. "Students who study alone and have heavier reading and writing loads do well.” 

Unfortunately for U.S. educational achievement, not many monastic types appear to be applying to college these days.

4.1 quake takes place at border

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Laboratorio de Ingenieria Sismica at the Universidad de Costa Rica is reporting a 4.1 magnitude quake today at 3:42 a.m. not far from the Panama border

The epicenter is said to be 9.1 kilometers (about six miles) northeast of San Vito de Coto Brus.

Automatic sensors said that the quake was felt as far away as the Central Valley but strongest along the border.

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