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These stories were published Friday, April 26, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 82
Jo Stuart
About us
Deputies get some more details on tax proposal
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister of hacienda, Alberto Dent, went before the National Assembly Thursday to formally present the vast restructuring of the countryís tax laws he and former ministers are proposing.

Some new details emerged, including a proposal to tax non-residents who earn any money at all in Costa Rica. Included among these would be artists, musicians and sports team members who may only be here for a short time. Such performers and others will have to pay a 16 percent tax, perhaps in some system set up at the nationís two big airports.

As outlined by Dent, the law also would seem to apply to consultants and others here on short-term assignments. Current law requires a withholding of tax by employers of short-term employees, but the proposal would cover the self-employed and more categories of workers.

The law still is unclear as to how much the country will push this measure. For example, will jet pilots and merchant seamen have to pay taxes on the part of their work spent in the national territory? Or will the tax only apply to money actually paid here?

A second new fact was that the Ministerio de Hacienda, the tax-collecting agency, would require residents and citizens making a big-ticket purchase, such as of an expensive car or of real estate to report exactly from where the money came to make the purchase. A foreign resident purchasing anything of significant value in Costa Rica would seem to fall under that law.

Dent also told deputies that the former ministers who prepared the report also supported a 12 percent capital gains tax. This idea probably was not in the original reports issued three weeks ago, and it has not been reported here earlier. The report by the ministers was very general, and the real details were included in a 500-page document delivered to the National Assembly.

Under the capital gains tax plan, anyone who makes a profit on a real estate transaction would have to pay the tax. The amount of the profit would be adjusted for inflation, but skyrocketing property prices, particularly in the beach and other tourist areas, would seem to outpace inflation.

Dent seemed to say that the tax would apply to sales of private dwellings, too.

Dent did say that some taxes would be eliminated or not assessed. For example, taxes would not be collected on the rent paid to landlords for the use of an apartment or house. Officials did not want to assess a tax on basic housing needs.

Institutions like zoos, libraries, museums and businesses involved in financial services would not pay taxes, Dent said. Under the original plan, income-generating government agencies would be taxed on the money they took in but they could spend it on their own needs. Some taxes are assessed now on some financial transactions. These taxes would be among the nuisance taxes the ministers wanted to eliminate.

Also being eliminated under the plan would be taxes on motor vehicle tires, said Dent. Taxes would be lifted on international airline tickets in the same way. The goal is to exempt transportation from taxes.

And consistent with international accords, there will be no effort made to tax foreign diplomats working here in Costa Rica, Dent said.

The measure prepared at the behest of President Miguel Angel Rodríguez is an effort to help the government pay for some of the staggering internal and external debt accumulated over the last 20 years. A large part of the national budget goes for interest. There still are many details to come out on the plan, and there is little sense of what deputies will do. Abel Pacheco will be sworn in May 8 as president, and he has said he would continue pushing the plan.

Jo muses on birds, water and her umbrellas
The yiguirros are chirping like crazy. I say chirping, but the sounds these robin-like creatures make are not even as melodious as a chirp. Local lore has it that this one note melody of birdland is a request for water and announces the rainy season. I can hardly wait. Iíve had enough of summer and dust and dry skin and worrying about the water shortage getting worse. 

In preparation for all of this, I have started trying to take cold showers. It didnít start out as preparation. I started taking cold showers because I keep reading that they are healthy, and Katharine Hepburn and thousands of Costa Ricans do it every day and swear by it. Actually I am killing two birds with one stone. (Just a manner of speaking I wouldnít hurt the yiguirro because this little nondescript dun-colored creature is Costa Ricaís national bird, which I think is wonderful.)

My shower takes at least two minutes to warm up, and I have decided that instead of waiting for it to get warm, getting right in and starting out with a cold shower is both healthy and conserves water. The negative thing about this is that my water pressure results in a shower that falls like gentle rain so my cold shower doesnít have the invigorating effect that a powerful blast of water would. Itís more like an enthusiastic Chinese water torture. But I am getting used to it.

At least, when the rains come I wonít be devastated if I donít have my umbrella. Actually, I am starting the season with three working ones. All different sizes; a big one (a gift from a casino) that could double as a staff should I choose to take a hike, a smart black one with a loop so I can dangle it from my wrist (another promotional umbrella that my daughterís friend, Cathie, gave me) and one that fits in my purse but is quite heavy. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Itís heavy because I wanted one that was wide enough so that my pant leg didnít get wet every time I took a step. This last one I found in a great little store devoted to selling and repairing umbrellas. It is the Paragueria Rego and it has been in business for 54 years on the street behind the Iglesia de la Merced just off Avenida Segunda. 

Armed with any one of these umbrellas I am a menace on the streets of San Jose. Bobbing and weaving and avoiding poking someone in the eye seems to come naturally to Ticos. Some things you learn more easily when youíre young ó like speaking another language, or riding a bicycle or driving a car, or how to do the umbrella ballet on a crowded street. 

Ticos have obviously grown up learning how to wield umbrellas. They even sell tiny ones in the supermarket, and I see little tots with their very own umbrellas. I never owned an umbrella when I was growing up. When it rained, if we were allowed to go out at all, we put on some rain gear and went out and stomped in puddles and picked up what we called "angle worms." I still know how to do that. 

The words "disculpe," "perdon," "lo siento," and that international word, "OOPS!" become part of my vocabulary during the "green" season. I make use of these words quite frequently once I have opened my umbrella. Sometimes I use them all in one sentence. 

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The newest e-mail virus is speaking Spanish, too
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Spanish speakers are transforming the current Internet computer viruses to make them speak their language. And not very nicely.

The headquarters of the Partido Acción Ciudadana in San José appears to be one of the locations hit by the virus. A message to party leader Ottón Solís early Thursday resulted in a highly vulgar response written in Spanish in the name of a woman who works with him.

The office confirmed by telephone that computer workers were having virus problems. The virus sent the vulgar message.

The new virus probably is a version of W32.Klez.H@mm, which was discovered April 17, according to Symantec Corp., maker of anti-virus software. http://securityresponse.symantec.com

Like many e-mail computer viruses in the past, this one arrives in an attachment and infects PC computers. When opened, the virus executes a program. The virus searches out the Microsoft Outlook address book and sends out random messages with copies of itself as attachments.

A.M. Costa Rica has been receiving up to 20 such virus e-mails a day from subscribers and clients. Until Thursday all virus responses were in 

At first, the virus sent blank e-mail messages. But later versions began to insert interesting messages to trick the recipient into thinking some had sent photos or similar in the attachment. In the message body is where the Spanish response was that came from the PAC headquarters.

One version even pretends the e-mail comes from Microsoft Corp., makers of the Outlook program. The e-mail promises a computer patch to guard against viruses. But the attachment is a virus. Microsoft reported it never sends out computer updates. Instead, it send e-mails suggesting that the recipient find a patch on the firmís Web page.

The W32.Klez.H@mm virus also randomizes the subject line of the message it sends, using upwards of 100 different subject lines that would make a recipient believe that it is a harmless message. Some messages have inserted the name of the recipient into the subject line.

The usual caution protects computers against Internet viruses: computer users should never open an attachment unless they are absolutely certain they know what is inside. 

Symantec warns that yet another virus is making the rounds. This one is the W32.DSS.Trojan, a Trojan horse that inserts a small Web page onto a computer system. The Web page is then launched in a hidden Internet Explorer window that contains a link to an adult Web site.

U.S. House votes
to split INS tasks

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to break up the Immigration and Naturalization Service into two separate agencies: one to handle the citizenship process for legal immigrants and the other to guard the nation against potential terrorists and other unqualified entrants.

The measure to abolish the existing agency, which has been embarrassed by a recent series of highly publicized errors, passed by a 405-9 vote Thursday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft had visited the Capitol earlier in the day to endorse the measure. But he said the Bush Administration hopes that the Senate, which still must take up its own version of the legislation, will change some of its provisions.

"This is not the end of the journey. This is an important first step essential to the journey's end, but not sufficient to get us there.... We are committed to ending the INS as we know it," Ashcroft said.

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Republican of Wisconsin, a key proponent of the measure, told the House, "It is beyond time to restructure one of the worst-run agencies in the U.S. government."

Sensenbrenner suggested that the administration's shift from neutrality to a last-minute announcement of support reflected the bill's overwhelming popularity. 

Under the existing system, he said, "most of today's eight million illegal aliens are assured that they will never be deported." 

Long-smoldering dissatisfaction with the INS reached a peak in recent weeks, after reports surfaced that the agency had mailed out visa confirmation notices for two of the suspected Sept. 11 hijackers six months after the attacks  in which they died.

The enforcement and naturalization functions have been carried out by a single agency since 1933.

Dengue epidemic
easing in Brazil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil ó Brazilian health officials say the dengue fever epidemic that has killed at least 50 people in Rio de Janeiro State this year appears to be slowing down. 

Authorities Thursday said fewer than 3,000 cases have been registered so far this month compared to the 37,000 cases reported in March. The officials, however, are advising people to remain alert to prevent another outbreak of the epidemic. 

Officials also say more than 95,000 cases have been reported in Rio since Jan. 1. The state has been hardest hit by this year's epidemic that health experts say is the worst on record. The epidemic has sent demand for blood transfusions soaring. 

The dengue fever outbreak follows a period of heavy rains that provided breeding grounds for the white-spotted mosquitoes that carry the illness. Several weeks ago, thousands of firefighters and volunteers joined the Brazilian army in mobilizing to eliminate the mosquitoes' breeding areas. 

The common form of dengue fever causes severe headaches, joint and muscle pain, a lack of appetite and fatigue. Usually, it is not deadly and most sufferers recover within one week. Some people, however, can develop the potentially fatal hemorrhagic dengue. 

No problems here,
church leader says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The Costa Rican media finally talked to Catholic Church leaders here about priests and sex abuse. Channel 7 interviewed Archbishop Román Arrieta.

Several other media outlets talked to church officials with lesser rank.

The word from Arrieta was that the scandal has not touched this country and there is not a single case of a youngster accusing a priest of improper conduct.

The reserve of the Costa Rican media was unexpected because the media in the United States is being credited with hammering away at the church leaders to force the issue of priest molesters into the public eye.

For example, Thursday a headline in Rome's La Stampa newspaper read "Dirty Linen Washed in Public." A rival paper, Corriere dell Sera credited "daily hammering" by the U.S. media for forcing the Vatican to react quickly and publicly to the scandal. U.S. Church leaders have been accused of moving pedophile priests from parish to parish in an attempt to cover up the scandal. 

Meanwhile, U.S. Roman Catholic Church leaders are returning home from the Vatican armed with proposals that make it easier to dismiss priests who sexually abuse children, but fall short of a so-called "zero tolerance" policy. 

Pope John Paul II summoned the senior U.S. clergy for unprecedented talks this week to address the crisis, which has shaken the Catholic Church in the United States. He called sexual abuse both a crime and an appalling sin in the eyes of God. 

But in their final statement, the U.S. cardinals came up with a process for dismissing pedophile priests that depends on whether they are repeat offenders or not. A final decision on immediately defrocking first-time offenders under the proposed "zero tolerance" policy was put off until a June meeting. 

Abuse victims say the cardinals failed to take a clear, uncompromising position against child abuse. 

U.S. cardinals appear divided on the "zero tolerance" policy with some convinced the pope meant a priest should be dismissed from active priesthood forever after a single instance of abusing a minor and others speaking of defrocking only for "notorious" offenders. 

Activists and media in several nations wracked by similar scandals hailed the Vatican summit as a landmark occasion and called for a worldwide crackdown on child abuse within the priesthood. 

Colombian police
uncover explosives

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia ó Police say they have seized 3.5 tons of explosives and arrested 17 suspected leftist rebels near here.

Police said Thursday they suspect the explosives belong to the country's largest Marxist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish language acronym as FARC. 

The rebel group has not commented on the seizure of explosives or the arrests. 

Rebel violence has increased across Colombia since late February when three years of slow-moving peace talks collapsed. The talks were aimed at ending the nation's 38-year civil war.

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