A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 18, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 97
Jo Stuart
About us
You do not just endure rain, you cherish it
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a turnaround time for people who move to Costa Rica.

If they have a secure roof, they stay dry during the downpours. And the result is a fresh smell that says life is being renewed.

Newcomers to Costa Rica frequently are put off by the rain. It can be intense, and it can last for months. The worst times are in September, October and November when nature leans on Costa Rica. But this May is setting records on the Caribbean coast.

Some 50 years from now this downpour will be like gold from the sky. Costa Rica will occupy a position equivalent to the Arabs today because the world will run on water. This country has plenty.

Ticos and residents who have been here longer know enough to get up early and complete their errands long before 1 or 2 p.m. when the rainy season sky is sure to open up.

Blue skies at 10 a.m. give way to clouds at noon and what locals call an aguacero at 2 p.m. The downpour cleans the streets, feeds the rivers and keeps the vegetation alive.

Unfortunately, the heavy rains also wreak havoc in the mountains and flood the lowlands. Inundations are a fact of life for thousands of Costa Ricans who live in flood plains. They expect high waters and they are prepared to rebuild.

President Abel Pacheco, himself a former resident of the Caribbean slope, has promoted 

the use of stilts for new construction. Years ago Caribbean dwellers put their homes on stilts, but the arrogant modern developers put homes where rising water can rush in the front door.

Pacheco’s edicts promoting stilts for public facilities may be the greatest legacy of his presidency. In richer countries families can afford to avoid floodplains, but in Costa Rica much of the country is a flood plain at one time or another. The land is still a work in progress.

Those who hate the rain also hate the end of the dry season. They grouse about the rain, but when there is no rain they grouse about the dust and the dirty streets and the dying vegetation.

A real good gully washer is great for the soul. After all, the human body is mostly water.

New tax plan is weighted in favor of schools
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

National deputies have approved changes in the proposed tax reform package that could give schools more money..

Lawmakers suggested that the new tax plan would bring in from 16 to 20 percent of the gross domestic product. They approved changes in the plan to provide more money for schools if the cash flow from taxes came in higher than expected.

The constitution provides that schools should get 6 percent of the gross domestic product. Lawmakers, encouraged by a motion put forth by the Bloque Patriótico decided to increase this amount to 7 percent if the taxes generated an amount equal to 16 percent of the gross domestic product. If taxes totaled 20 percent of the gross domestic product, schools would get 8 percent, lawmakers said.

This is the first report from the congress that suggested the new tax plan might take in a fifth of the annual value of all the goods and services in the country. However, lawmakers have been told that the new tax plan, including a value added tax and taxation of income generated outside the country would bring in about $500 million more a year. 

In education, the goal is to close the gap between rural and urban schools, deputies said.

Deputies also decided to exempt deposit certificates issued by the Banco Popular and of the Desarrollo Comunal from the income tax.

Those taxes now will range from 5 percent of income from persons earning 2 million colons or less a year (about $4,600 at the current exchange rate). The top tax rate for those earning 30 million colons a year or more will be 30 percent. That income is about $69,200 at the current exchange rate.

The tax is progressive in that everyone will pay 5 percent on the first 2 million colons of income, 12 percent on any amount between 2 million and 4 million, 18 percent for any amount between 4 million and 8 million, 22 percent for amounts between 8 million and 15 million and 26 percent between 15 million and 30 million.

In case anyone is planning on avoiding the tax, deputies also approved five- to 10-year prison terms. Financial penalties would apply to those who did not provide sufficient information to taxing authorities.

Deputies also agreed to eliminate the value added tax on a host of medical products.

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Cops put squeeze
on mellow audience

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police turned out in force Saturday when a thick haze with a distinctive smell settled over a reggae concert in an Alajuela stadium.

The group Zizzla was performing, and fans were accompanying the group by puffing on with funny cigarettes.

More than 100 officers, members of the Unidad de Intervención and the Policía de Control de Drogas arrived to unmellow the crowd.

Police said that thousands of cigarettes were confiscated as were baggies of marijuana. Many of the smokers were underage, police said. The total take was more than two kilos, some 4.4 pounds, police said.

However, no arrests were made because personal consumption of marijuana is not punishable in Costa Rica, police said.

Car crash results
in man’s murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What appeared to be a traffic accident on the Florencio de Castillo Autopista Monday turned out to be a murder.

Judicial Investigating Organization agents from Tres Ríos said that a man with the last name of Mora and a second man was riding in a car when the vehicle left the road and struck a small wall.

Both men got out of the car, according to witnesses, but quickly the second man left and Mora was left fatally shot, said agents.

The events took place about 1:30 p.m. not far from the toll station in the autopista.

Homeowners facing
possible auction

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Would you pay 100,000 colons, some $230, too keep your house?

Officials in Desamparados will find out because they have hailed 70 homeowners into court on the grounds that they have not paid required municipal taxes.

The amount in question is 7 million colons, some $16,100, and the number of properties is 70, according to an announcement from the municipality.

Officials said they expected to auction off the properties under the jurisdiction of the Juzgado Civil de Hacienda of the Segundo Circuito Judicial in Goicoechea. Although the action is scheduled for June, owners of the residents are expected to cure their defaults.

Two die in Jacó wreck

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men died north of Jacó early Monday when an oncoming car veered into their lane, said officials. A man with the last name of Mora, who was 30, and a 47-year-old man with the name of Rojas died at the scene after the 6 a.m. mishap.

Plenty of change

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Be careful if you run into some suspicious men with lots of coins. Two carloads of crooks pulled up to a toll plaza in the Braulio Carrillo highway about 2 a.m. Monday.

The bandits got out and disarmed the security guard there and then took millions of colons and fled. 

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Dawn prison fire kills at least 90 in Honduras
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — A fire at a prison in northern Honduras has killed at least 90 inmates and injured 27. 

The jail fire occurred just before dawn Monday in this community some 180 kms. (about 108 miles) northwest of the capital city of Tegucigalpa. Vice Minister of Security Armando Calidonio said the fire quickly spread through a section of the jail 

that reportedly housed gang members. Most of the inmates were asleep when the fire broke out. 

Officials said firefighters responded quickly but the fire had already consumed a large part of the jail. They say they believe an electrical short circuit caused the fire. 

Minister Calidonio said the prison is meant to hold 800 prisoners, but currently houses more than twice that number. 

Three Irish citizens still in Colombia for appeal
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

 A Colombian judge says three Irishmen acquitted last month of training leftist rebels cannot leave Colombia. 

Judge Jairo Acosta told Martin McCauley, James Monaghan, and Nial Connolly Thursday they would have to stay in the country while government lawyers prepare an appeal of their acquittals. 

The men sought to leave Colombia after their verdict, saying they feared reprisals by 

right-wing paramilitary groups. They could have left jail after paying a $6,500 fine, but they worried they would not survive outside the La Modelo prison. 

The Reuters news agency reports Judge Acosta ordered police officials to keep the men safe. 

The three were charged in August 2001 with training Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels in bomb making. Authorities say they were members of the Irish Republican Army, but the men deny any links to that group. 

European Union criticizes Cuba for rights abuse
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The European Union has strongly condemned the  convictions of 13 human rights dissidents and journalists by the Cuban government.

In a statement released in the name of the EU presidency, the bloc said the defendants had been punished for exercising their rights to free expression and assembly.

The statement said the European Union deplored the disproportionate severity of the sentences handed down to the defendants. Nine were ordered jailed for seven years, while four others were sentenced to house arrest.

The organization recalled the resolution passed last month by the United Nations Commission on 

Human Rights condemning the Cuban government's convictions one year ago of 75 dissidents. 

It cited reports that some prisoners had suffered from ill-treatment and ill health and urged the Cuban authorities to comply with international human rights standards.

A number of former communist governments seeking EU membership — those of Bulgaria, Romania, and three former Yugoslav states — joined in the declaration against Communist Cuba.

Earlier this week, prominent Cuban dissident Elizardo Sanchez charged that there are about 100,000 people in prison in Cuba today, compared to 4,000 before President Fidel Castro seized power in 1959.  Sanchez said 300 of those prisoners are behind bars for political crimes. 

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Survey gathers state-by-state data
Money sent home from the U.S. totals $30 billion
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Latin American migrants living in the United States will send some $30 billion back to their countries of origin in 2004, according to an estimate released Monday by the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund.

The estimate was based on U.S. Census data and the results of an unprecedented survey among Latin Americans in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Around 10 million of the 16.7 million Latin America-born adults in the United States send money regularly to their families abroad, the survey found.

The results present a profile of these immigrants, whose money transfers vastly surpass all the foreign aid provided to their homelands by developed nations. Remittances typically go to low-income households in economically disadvantaged areas, raising the standards of living of tens of millions of people across Latin America.

At the same time as billions of dollars flow south of the U.S. borders, Latin American immigrants contribute an estimated $450 billion to the U.S. economy, often doing jobs spurned by others. Taken as a whole, this population’s output would rank as the third biggest economy in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico.

"The dramatic growth of international remittances is testimony to the hard work and commitment of migrant workers seeking better lives for themselves and their families," fund director Donald F. Terry said at a news conference held at the National Press Club here. "It also reflects the increasing integration of labor markets across national borders, as the economies of developed countries require the skills and dedication of workers from other countries.".

The survey commissioned by the fund and conducted by the Miami polling firm Bendixen & Associates provides the first state-by state breakdown of remittance flows, which largely reflect recent Latin American migration patterns.

The data shows that, while states with large Hispanic populations are still the leading sources of remittances, significant amounts are flowing from states that are not usually associated with Latin American migration.

California ($9.6 billion), New York ($3.6 billion), Texas ($3.2 billion) and Florida ($2.5 billion) lead the ranking, but Georgia ($947 million), North Carolina ($833 million) and Virginia ($586 million) are among the top 10 states.

During the past decade, industries such as poultry processing, meatpacking, hotels, restaurants and construction attracted Latin American migrants to these non-border states and others in the Midwest. As a result, remittances from the Mid-Atlantic region (Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia) are over $1 billion a year, largely to countries in Central America and Mexico.

On average, Latin American immigrants send 

money home once a month, typically in amounts 
ranging from $150 to $250. Unlike previous surveys among remittance senders, this one found a great number of people who make money transfers more than once a month, probably a reflection of the fact that services have become cheaper over the past few years.

Recently arrived individuals earning low wages are more likely to send money to their home countries than their more established counterparts. Nevertheless, a majority of respondents said they have been sending money for more than five years.

Nearly eight in 10 remittances senders use money transfer companies. Others use informal couriers known as viajeros, banks and credit union or mail. Only half the Latin American immigrants have bank accounts.

According to the responses, 24 percent of the interviewed were U.S. citizens, 39 percent were legal residents and 32 percent are undocumented. The survey was based on 3,802 interviews conducted between January and April. The states and the district covered in this survey represent more than 99 percent of the population of Latin American-born adults in the United States. It did not include Haitians and immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean.

The Multilateral Investment Fund, which promotes the development of the private sector and efficient markets in Latin America and the Caribbean, has been studying remittances since the year 2000 to gauge their economic and social impact in the region.

Its initial research focused on the big fees Latin American migrants were paying to send money home. Over the past few years, competition among services providers, which now include major U.S. banks, and new technologies have helped bring down costs considerably.

The fund is financing projects to help Latin American credit unions and microfinance institutions enter the remittances market, assisting them in forging partnerships with service providers in industrialized countries and in improving their technology and training.

Remittances can provide these financial institutions an alternate source of revenue to expand their lending to microentrepreneurs and small businesses and to offer the families that receive these money transfers more options for savings and investments.

According to Terry, remittances could be a key to financial democracy in Latin America, where banks have traditionally been open almost exclusively to upper and middle class clients.

The Inter-American Development Bank is the leading source of long-term multilateral financing for social and economic programs and projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its 26 borrowing member countries hold a majority of the voting power. The United States is the largest shareholder among the IDB’s 20 non-borrowing member countries. 

Tiny border town is magnet for illegal aliens
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SASABE, México — In recent weeks, thousands of people have come to a dusty little town on Mexico's border with the United States in hopes of crossing over the border before a major crackdown by the U.S. Border Patrol takes effect. But, there are many rumors, myths and dreams that will be left to bake in the desert sun. 

This is one of the most remote communities along the 3,000 kilometer U.S. Mexico border. On the Mexican side, El Sasabe consists of a handful of scattered houses and two or three stores, one of which is called "El Super Coyote." The owner says it is named after the animal, but "coyote" is also the word used for human smugglers, the people who guide immigrants across the border, for a price.

The manager, who declines to be interviewed, denies any involvement with the smuggling rings, but she says many immigrants do stop by her store to buy water and food before making their trek. 

A few hundred meters away, on the other side of the border, lies the town of Sasabe, Arizona. Alice Knagge is owner of a general merchandise store with gasoline pumps out front. She says the wave of immigrants has taken a toll. "They vandalize the houses. They come into the vacant homes or rented homes when no one is there. They go in through the windows. They leave tons of garbage behind. They have a lot of clothes and all kinds of things they leave behind. In the last year or so it seems like it has increased tremendously. It just seems more people are coming from down south. Thousands are coming," she says.

In response to the increased incursions through Sasabe and the desert areas around it, the U.S. Border Patrol sent in more agents and more vehicles to apprehend the illegal aliens, something Alica Knagge says has created yet another problem. "They do not care how they do it. They just chase those people in their vehicles. Also, they are driving all over the terrain around here, all over the land. They make roads with their four-wheelers and their bikes and their cars. They just go all over the place, you know," she says.

In recent weeks, the flow of immigrants has increased because of false rumors that President George Bush would grant amnesty to anyone already in the country by June 1. One rumor that is true is that the U.S. Border Patrol plans to step up enforcement in this sector by June 1.

Back on the Mexican side of the border, residents 

of El Sasabe also complain about some of the effects of immigrants, who mostly come from central and southern Mexico and use the little ranch town as a base.

One woman says they knock down fences and let cattle escape. They leave garbage behind as well. On the other hand, she says, the influx of immigrants has been good for business. She says lots of people coming from down south stay in local houses and help the local economy by buying things in stores.

The reason immigrants have come to this remote and desolate area on the border is because of tighter enforcement elsewhere. The human smugglers have established themselves here as well, charging several hundred dollars to take a person across the border, through the desert and to a pick-up point somewhere farther in. Usually a van or truck then transports the immigrants to Tucson or Phoenix, where they either find work or travel on to other U.S. cities. 

If immigrants do not have the money to pay the coyote, they can borrow the funds from the same smuggler at a high interest rate. Usually a family member back in Mexico must guarantee the payment. 

Some, however, like a man from the southern state of Oaxaca, prefer to take their chances crossing alone. He says he came up with all the others heading to this town. He just followed the crowd. He says he has six children back home and that it was difficult to find work to support the family. 

He says he and his companion each have a bottle of water, but he seems unconcerned about the dangers they will face once they enter the desert. 

Most of the people coming north from the interior of Mexico are ill-prepared for what they will face here. Because of the expanded Border Patrol operations on the other side, they cannot travel on roads or highways without being detected. That means they must cross over the rocky, dry landscape of the Sonora desert, where there is little shade and temperatures reach 44 degrees Celsius by midday. 

Even at night, at this time of year, the desert temperatures may remain as high as 36 degrees Celsius. Last year, 340 people died trying to enter the United States illegally and a high percentage of those deaths occurred in the Arizona desert. But the lure of wages several times higher than those of Mexico lures the immigrants over the line and on to the dangerous trail.

Jo Stuart
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