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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 23, 2003, Vol. 3, No. 101
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U.S. expats dodge a tax bullet
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

A congressional conference committee Wednesday decided to keep the $80,000 exemption from income tax that U.S. citizens living abroad enjoy.

The U.S. Senate approved the repeal of the exemption when it passed its version of the tax bill May 15. The U.S. House versions of the bill retained the measure, the so-called Section 911 exemption.

The bottom line for U.S. citizens living abroad is that they can continue exempting the first $80,000 in earned income that they make overseas from the amount on which they pay U.S. income taxes.

The wrangling over the proposed overseas tax change was a very small part of a $350 billion tax cut plan that is expected to get final approval in both chambers today.

The exemption does not cover dividends, interest paid to taxpayers or other forms on non-earned income. Nor does the exemption cover pensions and annuity payments that originate in the United States. The exemption also does not apply to U.S. government employees who are working abroad, including members of the military.

The Senate included the repeal of the 

exemption when it passed its version of the tax bill because it planned to allocate the money raised that way to other types of tax cuts.

An estimated 4 million U.S. citizens live overseas, according to a congressional estimate.

President George Bush went to Capitol Hill Thursday to thank congressional leaders for the legislation to cut U.S. taxes. Bush claimed victory in the congressional struggle over tax cuts even though the deal cuts taxes by less than half of what he requested. Republicans said Thursday that they had enough votes in both the House and Senate to pass the final version today.

The president's original plan for $726 billion in tax cuts was rejected as too high by members of both political parties. He failed to line up support for a slightly smaller plan while criticizing a competing $350 billion package as, "itty bitty."

Bush is now set to sign an even smaller plan approved only after a legislative bargaining session called by Vice President Dick Cheney. 

Despite the difficulties behind the deal, Bush Thursday praised the plan as giving more people more money to spend to help the economy.

Democrats say the tax cuts unfairly favor the rich by reducing taxes on corporate dividends. 


 
There is culture and then there is culture
Many people who visit Central and Latin America comment that Costa Rica lacks the rich culture of other countries like Guatemala or Ecuador. They are talking, of course, about the native Indian cultures that still exist with their different customs, colorful costumes and handicrafts. In Costa Rica one does not get a sense of the exotic or of a different world, except perhaps way in the campo. 

But if one talks about culture in a different sense — the culture that is intended to refine and improve the sensibilities, culture that includes the arts, like music, painting, theater and dance, Costa Rica, specifically San Jose, is a treasure trove. I realized this last week. Wednesday I attended a Women’s Club meeting at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Barrio Dent. The guest speaker was Manuel Arce, cultural director of the center. Señor Arce explained the services and programs offered at the center, which houses the Mark Twain Library and the Eugene O’Neill Theater. 

When I first moved to Costa Rica, I spent many happy hours in the Mark Twain Library. There I could keep in touch with what was happening in the U.S. via the magazines and newspapers that were there. As a member, I could also check out books, videos, and tapes of books and CDs. They also have computers to access the Internet. The restaurant there has the best lemon meringue pie in the city. 

Thursday night was the opening performance of the new Philharmonic Orchestra at the National Theater. It was free, as will be every performance with a few exceptions. I went there but arrived too late: it was "sold out.’ I was sorry to miss the program of music from Broadway and films and popular composers. 

It looks like the purpose of the orchestra — to get people interested in music —  is working. 

Friday morning I attended a free performance of the jazz quintet in the Eugene O’Neill Theater (also in the Centro Cultural). The group from the University of Northern Iowa was going to perform again that evening. Not only were they fine musicians, they composed most of their own music. The 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

center sponsors a series of programs of visiting artists of dance, music and theater for the price of a movie ticket. Phone 207- 7574 for info. 

Saturday night I was off to Escazú and the Blanche Brown Theater where the Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica was showing "You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown." This is a musical version of the comic strip with the characters (all of them delightful) portraying the range of human temperaments from the pitiful and phlegmatic Charlie Brown to his bipolar peripatetic dog Snoopy. Reservations at 289-3910.

Sunday morning I was at the National Theater again — this time in plenty of time — to enjoy the National Symphony Orchestra’s Concert of Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Berlioz, the first two pieces featuring the cellist Maria Tchaikovskaya, from Russia. 

Concerts at the National Theater are on Friday nights and Sunday mornings at 10:30. For anyone so inclined the entire weekend can be taken up with cultural activities. And during the week there are many movie houses that show current films in English (with Spanish subtitles), as well the Sala Garbo, our art film theater. 

There are over a half dozen theaters that present plays in Spanish. And besides the Costa Rican Art Museum and the Children’s Museum (a wonderful Medieval looking castle that used to be a prison), there are a number of art galleries in downtown San Jose. And I am touching just the tip of the iceberg. If you peruse the calendar sections of the local newspapers, you will discover an impressive array of events.

What is so wonderful for me is that I am able to AFFORD all of these cultural events. My weekend of entertainment cost (not counting transportation) 4,000 colons ($10).

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Probers arrest owner of ranch for troubled youth
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have detained Narvin Litchfield, owner of the Academy at Dundee Ranch for troubled youth, mostly from North America.

The arrest Thursday night came after two days of investigation at the facility in La Ceiba de Cascajal de Orotina. Officials said they were holding Litchfield for, among other allegations, deprivation of liberty of the youngsters placed in his charge by their parents.

Meanwhile, parents of the children there have been arriving from the United States to collect their children because officials said they would close the facility.

A group of youngsters fled the facility Tuesday when a public prosecutor told them they had rights under Costa Rican law and could not be kept there against their will. Some still are missing. 

The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia said the facility did not provide appropriate food. Immigration officials said that more than half of the estimated 190 youngsters at the facility did not have correct paperwork to be in the country.

Although officials criticized the physical plant of the facility, television shots broadcast all over Costa Rica showed a swimming pool, computers and a mostly U.S.-style boarding school setting.

The campaign against the school has been carried on for at least eight months by a non-custodial 

mother, Susan Flowers, who had a 15-year-old, Nicole Helene Deniken, at the school. The girl was sent to the school by the father who has custody under a U.S. court order. Ms. Flowers has been working at odd jobs at the beach in order to stay near her daughter.

She was assisted in her campaign by Casa Alianza, the child advocate organization.

Among the complaints that the Patronato had about the facility is that the staff of the school lacked training and that staffers managed communication between children and their parents. 

The school is designed for troubled youth who have become involved in drugs, early sex, alcohol or other delinquent behavior. The school calls itself an academic behavior modification facility and awards students various liberties based on their progress. Their parents pay about $30,000 a year for the youngsters to study at the academy.

The walkout of youngsters took place when a public prosecutor told them that if they are over 15 they cannot be held against their will in Costa Rica, according to an e-mail Wednesday from Ms. Flowers.

The raid on the academy was not totally unexpected. The discipline that the academy used to train the youngsters is alien to Costa Rican child-rearing methods. Ms. Flowers has gone so far as to begin and lose a Sala IV constitutional court case, a sure way to attract official attention.


 
 
Teachers to join
striking ICE workers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The teachers are joining the communication workers on strike today.

The Ministerio de Educación Pública estimated that only about 20 percent of the nation’s school teachers will show up today. Teachers are unhappy with the government’s inability to pay them correctly.

Meanwhile, employees of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad held another march and rally Thursday and plan to remain on strike today.

President Abel Pacheco sent a letter to Pablo Cob, executive president of the institute known as ICE. Pacheco asked for additional information so that he could aid ICE in solving its financial problems.

Cob said later that ICE staffers would work through the night to prepare the information that Pacheco wanted and that the material would be delivered this morning.

ICE wants the Banco Central to float some $100 million in bonds for the institute on the international market. The Central Bank balked because it said that financial information provided by ICE does not justify the bonds.

The Central Bank is an independent agency and cannot be ordered to issue the bonds. However, at least in public, Pacheco has supported the strikers. Employees believe that the bond issue will keep the institute strong and protect their jobs.

On the education front, the ministry has been unable to make correct payments to the nation’s teachers. Officials have been blaming computer sabotage since February. Only two of the nation’s three major teacher organizations will be on strike, although the third group is considering a similar action next week.

Canadian at wheel
during fatal mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian was identified as the driver of a vehicle that killed a woman late Wednesday in Villa Real de Santa Cruz on the Nicoya Peninsula. The victim was identified as María Rufina Obando, 40.

Investigators said she inexplicably walked into the path of a vehicle driven by Daniel Harrington and was struck down.
 

Man dies at home
when bandits visit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man died when robbers burst into his home and shot him in the head Wednesday night.

The victim was Juan Rafael Monge Aguilar, 59, and he was watching television when at least two robbers entered. The home is in the center of San José near Plaza González Víquez.

An unofficial report said that Monge fought back by throwing a television remote control device at one of the bandits.

Major drug figure
arrested in Jacó

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators in Jacó have arrested a man they described as a drug wholesaler in that community.

They identified him by the last names of Campos Alvarez and said he lived in Quebrada Seca de Jacó.

The man had been under observation by police for some time, and eight purchases of drugs were made by undercover officers who used marked bills, investigators said.

Police raided the home Tuesday and found 5,000 grams of crack cocaine, a pistol, money and a vehicle that the man used to transport the drugs, they said.

The raid involved Judicial Investigating Organization agents, a judge from Puntarenas and the prosecutor from Garabito.

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Cardinal's unsolved murder prompts flurry of dirt
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUADALAJARA, México — Ten years after the death of a Catholic church official here after being caught in the middle of an apparent shootout between drug traffickers, his successor is trading charges with the man who once led the investigation into the case. The nasty dispute is keeping the case alive in the public arena. 

Ever since Guadalajara's Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo died in a hail of gunfire at the Guadalajara airport May 24, 1993, authorities have clashed with critics over whether this was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or an intentional murder. 

Guadalajara's current Catholic cardinal, Juan Sandoval Iniguez, is accusing former Mexican Attorney General Jorge Carpizo of being part of a plot to kill the prelate. He says Carpizo and other government officials wanted Posadas dead in order to prevent him from testifying about links between drug traffickers and high-ranking officials in the government of then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. 

Cardinal Sandoval also accuses Carpizo of hiding or destroying evidence. 

The former prosecutor has denied the charges and accuses the Catholic official of involvement in criminal activity. Tuesday, Carpizo went to the Attorney General's Office to ask for an investigation of Cardinal Sandoval. 

He said Cardinal Sandoval has been involved with a businessman and well-known casino operator 

named Jose María Guardia, whom he calls "one of the czars of gambling in Mexico." Carpizo added that both men sought to establish casinos in Mexico and in Cuba, which he implies could have been used for money laundering. 

Carpizo recently published a book in which he dismisses suggestions that there was some plot to kill Posadas. His view is backed by several other former prosecutors and investigators who say all evidence indicates the killing of the prelate was a tragic mistake made by gunmen who were attempting to kill a rival drug lord. 

But also on Tuesday, a lawyer representing Cardinal Sandoval, José Antonio Ortega Sanchez, appeared before a federal judge here in Mexico City to present evidence that Carpizo and other authorities hid evidence in the Posadas investigation. 

He said there were irregularities from the beginning of the investigation and that evidence disappeared without anyone looking into where it had gone or who had taken it. 

The Posadas case was officially closed in the year 2000, but it was later re-opened after it was discovered that around 1,000 pages were missing from the case file. Federal agents currently investigating the case appear to be no closer than earlier investigators were to resolving the case definitively. 

As the 10th anniversary of the Posadas killing approaches on Saturday, the Mexican public is left more confused than ever by the flurry of charges and counter charges. 


 
U.S. predicts a tough hurricane season in Caribbean
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

This year may bring an unusually difficult hurricane season to U.S. eastern coastal areas, the Caribbean region and the Gulf of Mexico. In an announcement this week, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a potential for 11 to 15 tropical storms, six to nine hurricanes with two to four of those classified as major.

Ten tropical storms, with six hurricanes, is the average for an Atlantic hurricane season. The reappearance of the La Niña system, marked by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the 
equatorial Pacific, is one reason for the predicted above average hurricane season. The cold ocean 

temperatures influence tropical rainfall patterns, which in turn can have a domino effect on weather conditions elsewhere in the world.

During La Niña episodes, rainfall is above average across the western equatorial Pacific, Indonesia and the Philippines and is nearly absent across the eastern equatorial Pacific. 

Elsewhere, wetter than normal conditions are common during December-February over northern South America and southern Africa, and during June-August over southeastern Australia. Drier than normal conditions are generally observed along coastal Ecuador, northwestern Peru and equatorial eastern Africa during December-February.


 
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