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These stories were published Tuesday, May 24, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 101
Jo Stuart
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It was a telephone, not a slot machine!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A New York State woman was a little surprised when she got the bill for calls her daughter made while on a school trip to Arenal and Monteverde.

An 11-minute phone call home cost $69.88. In all, the teenage daughter spent $324 for seven calls home, the longest being 11 minutes, and for a total of 46 minutes connection time.

By contrast, A.M. Costa Rica paid 5,032 colons for a 40-minute call to New York about the same time via the government Costa Rican telephone system. That’s about $10.73.

The daughter stayed at a hotel that did not permit her to use her international calling card, said her mother. Instead, the calls were routed through a San Diego, Calif., company, BBG Communications, that has advertised elsewhere that it will give the hotel a 25 percent cut of international calls.

Neither the mother, Barbara Hayden of Plattsburgh, N.Y., nor the daughter appear to have known about the costs of the calls during the time the girl was in Costa Rica. Only when credit card charges arrived did the woman learn of the expenditures.

Noemi Olmos, who said she was in charge of customer service for BBG, defended the costs in an e-mail to Mrs. Hayden:

"You must take into consideration that this was an international call that was connected 
via operator assistance and billed through a 

credit card. As such, it is inherently more expensive than other forms of payment. These variables always add a significant increase to the price of any call, regardless of the country that the call is originated from. It is worth noting that prior to the connection of the call; rate information is always available upon your request."

Ms. Olmos said a $121.75 rebate had been posted.  She identified her client hotel involved in the telephone transaction as Hotel Fuego del Sol. However, Mrs. Hayden said her daughter stayed at Ecolodge Arenal and Cabanas Los Pinos in Monteverde.

"This is a wonderful way to take advantage of the tourists who are trying to call home, especially teenagers on school trips," said the New York woman.

U.S. Embassy investigating soccer team scam
 By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials at the U.S. Embassy here say they are investigating the case of a soccer team that received visas to participate in a youth tournament in Dallas, Texas.

According to the daily la Nación, the soccer team was a thinly disguised effort to smuggle Costa Ricans into the United States to work as undocumented aliens.

A spokesperson for the embassy said that although the Spanish-language newspaper mentioned two other teams, the newspaper did  not provide enough identifying information for the embassy to check its records.

The spokesman did not say how many soccer teams have been granted visas to the United States in the last year.

The spokesperson said that unless a person commits a crime, or otherwise violates the 

terms of a visa (for example, by working while on a tourist visa), the person is in legal status in the United States until he or she overstays the authorized period of entry.

The newspaper article, which appeared Sunday, said that at least one of the alleged soccer players was working in the United States and sending money home.

The Consular Section of the embassy is where visas are issued. The section periodically reviews its procedures to help ensure that legitimate travelers may obtain a visa to visit the U.S., and that persons who would violate U.S. law cannot, said the spokesperson. The presentation of false information on the visa application form, on documents, or during the interview, can result in a permanent bar to travel to the U.S., said the spokesperson.

La Nación attributed the soccer team method of sneaking Costa Ricans into the United States to a smuggler in the southern part of Costa Rica.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 24, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 101

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Tax plan gets boost
with assembly vote

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The massive new tax plan pushed by the Pacheco administration got a big boost Monday night when lawmakers voted to put it on a fast track to passage.

Gerardo González, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, said he would let all the lawmakers vote on the question of whether the proposal should get fast-track treatment.

Lawmakers voted 38 to 14 to do just that. This means the measure will be presented to the full chamber, but deputies will have limited time to discuss the measure. During the first presentation each deputy will have 20 minutes to speak on the matter and five minutes to justify their vote when voting takes place.

During the second required discussion each deputy will have 10 minutes.

This is a new procedure for the legislature, and it was designed specifically to prevent the Movimiento Libertario from tying up the measure on the floor with multiple amendments and discussion.

The vote by 38 members of the legislature suggests that this number also would vote for the final proposal, thus passing the 409-page tax plan.

Earlier González said he would study the measure to see if it needed a two-thirds vote and if there were elements included that precluded fast track treatment. Instead, he bucked the question to the assembly.

All the deputies from both the Partido Liberación Nacional and the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana voted for the measure, as did some deputies from the Partido Acción Ciudadana and independent lawmakers.

The new tax plan is designed to raise some $500 million in new money for the government, which showed a $130 million deficit in the first four months of 2005. More than a quarter of the national budget is debt service.

The proposal calls for a global tax in which every resident here would have to pay taxes on his or her worldwide earnings. This is one idea that troubles expats living in Costa Rica because they fear they will have to pay double taxation on their pensions or annuities.

The measure also establishes a value added tax that generates revenue at every stage of the fabrication of a product.  However, lawmakers are planning to pass various exemptions to the tax.

The proposal also taxes vehicles worth more than $35,000 from 15 to 50 percent more and establishes taxes on casinos and gaming parlors.

President Abel Pacheco has said that many Costa Ricans will pay no income tax under the proposal, but it is not known if the taxation limits are indexed to inflation or if more and more citizens will pay higher and higher taxes each year due to the devaluation of the colon.

RACSA cuts off clients
to stem spam attack

By Saray Ramírez Vindas 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sober computer virus probably will continue to cause damage during 2005, according to Miguel Montero of Radiográfica Costarricense S.A.

A new variant of Sober was detected several weeks ago and around 40 clients of the Internet company, known as RACSA, have been disconnected because of the virus, Montero said.

The virus gets into e-mail programs and sends spam or massive numbers of messages.  This new version sends messages in both English and German. Also the virus offers ticket sales for the 2006 World Cup of Football in Germany. In addition, many messages promote neo-Nazi philosophy or point to neo-Nazi Web sites.

The virus has its own internal messages motor which infiltrate and absorbs information in the infected computer and automatically sends messages with different subjects to e-mail addresses.

This new behavior makes this virus one of the smart ones of this year, said Montero.

RACSA is having trouble with its mail server due to the massive number of e-mails generated by the virus. It is not alone. All over the world servers are coping with this new form of the Sober virus.

Montero said the most important procedure for computer users is to check daily e-mails and to clean up and trash all the suspicious ones.

Also it is important to identify the kind of virus because at least three kinds appear daily, said Montero. Various anti-virus programs should be updated to recognize the new virus variants.

RACSA  will disconnect the accounts of heavily infected machines and advise the owners to call 800-navegar to find out more about the viruses and to receive technical support, said Montero.

A.M. Costa Rica has analyzed this new virus attack and concluded that the waves of neo-Nazi spam messages were being directed by individuals. Reporters concluded this because new e-mail addresses that never had been used in the past began to attract spam messages as soon as they were published in the newspaper.

This suggested that a human source is harvesting new e-mail messages for the spam attack.

Immigration combines
services for foreigners

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dirección General de Migración has combined all the services for foreigners into one department.

The new section of Extranjería includes what used to be the offices for pensionados, rentistas, refugees, residencias, temporary permission and amnesty.

The restructuring began May 19, and the immigration offices were closed for much of the week to customers.

Although the immigration agency has been hit with a scandal recently over fake marriages and other problems, the restructuring has been planned since 2002, officials said. This is the first structural change in the 65 years the agency has been established, according to an announcement.

The immigration officials noted that they have taken over the rentista and pensionado responsibilities from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the amnesty office from the Poder Judicial. Many expats here are either pensionados or rentistas.

The restructuring also is in anticipation of passage of a new immigration  law that will broaden the responsibilities of certain divisions of the agency.

Six face formal allegations
in murder of Ivannia Mora

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio Público has filed accusations against six men in the murder of magazine executive Ivannia Mora, who was gunned down two days before Christmas in 2003.

Among those charged is Eugenio Millot, the former boss of the 33-year-old editor, who had left Millot’s Estratagía & Negocios to work at a rival. Also charged were five persons who are accused of setting up and carrying out the murder. Two men on a motorcycle intercepted her car in traffic in Curridabat.

The accusations will now lead to a preliminary hearing in the Juzgado Penal del II Circuito. The charges had been expected. Millot has been jailed since a few days after the murder.

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Tiny vampires will be sought around Parrita
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials are planning another vampire hunt, something they do periodically to cut down on 

incidences of rabies in animals.

The object of the hunt will not be long-toothed counts from Transylvania but the vampire bats that earn their food by licking blood from farm animals and others.

The capture of bats is scheduled Monday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday morning in the vicinity of Parrita on the Pacific coast. Iván Quesada Monge, coordinator of the cattle development program in the area, estimates that some 130 bats will be captured.

In addition to the possibility of spreading rabies to livestock, bat punctures damage the hide of cattle and 

reduce their economic value, according to the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

Rabies also is carried in the wilds by all sorts of small, warm-blooded creatures and by dogs and cats in domestic situations. The disease has no cure in animals, and death takes place within three to 11 days, the ministry said.

But not all bats are blood eaters. The ministry said that more than eight families of bats and more than 100 different species exist in Costa Rica. Some eat fruit, others honey or pollen and even fish and insects.

For cattlemen who suspect their stock is being troubled by bats, the ministry suggests leaving lights on in barns and trying to capture some of the bats to send to experts for identification and study.

Quesada also is seeking volunteers to help with the captures. He can be reached at 416-5081 or via a beeper,  283-2626.

Pacheco is seeking a free trade treaty with a heart
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Any free trade treaty must benefit the very poor, President Abel Pacheco said Monday after meeting with three bishops representing the Conferencia Episcopal.

Pacheco also said he hoped to have a final list by the end of the week of the four remaining honest and objective individuals who will study the treaty and give him a report.

Pacheco noted that the Roman Catholic Church is concerned for the very poor and representatives have asked him to be clear that the treaty benefits this disadvantaged element of society. Such benefits begin with a sharing of the wealth as is contained in his tax reform package, said the president, adding that "I don’t know how it is possible that people do not understand or want to understand this thesis."

Roman Catholic Church officials have been suspicious of the free trade treaty. Monday Pacheco met with Archbishop Hugo Barrantes and bishops Ángel San Casimiro and José Francisco Ulloa. The episcopal conference is the official organization of the country’s Catholic bishops.

After the meeting Pacheco said "the bishops have doubts and I also have doubts, and for this reason I have convened a group of notables, people well recognized for their objectivity and honesty."
The only person Pacheco has named so far is Franklin Chang Diaz, the Costa Rican-born U.S. astronaut.

The bishops said they were interested in a treaty that is based on ethical principles, social justice, solidarity, seeking always to help the most vulnerable sectors . . ."

The clergymen stressed a complementary agenda, which Pacheco said later would result in a free trade treaty a la Tico.  Pacheco said that he is a person who believes in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. In fact, he is a member of the political party Unidad Social Cristiana.

He said he wanted to visit with the people to dispel myths and preoccupations about the treaty and that he would send others to do likewise. He specifically mentioned farmers and small industrialists being among those who had concerns.

The Roman Catholic Church is the official religion of the country and carries a lot of political power.

Pacheco has been criticized for seeming to waiver on the free trade treaty that was negotiated and signed by members of his administration. He has declined to send the document to the Asamblea Nacional for possible ratification. When he visited the United States two weeks ago news reports from there suggested Pacheco had given unqualified support for the treaty.

There was no specific examples on how the free trade treaty might benefit the very poor. Certainly some of the benefits, such as cheaper food prices, would be vigorously opposed by other members of Costa Rican society, such as farmers or certain crops, including rice.

One jailed U.S. citizen leaves, another is detained
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For accused murderer Dean Anthony Faiello it was good-bye to Costa Rica Monday morning as he returned to the United states in the custody of FBI agents.

He is the man accused of practicing medicine without a license and of burying a woman who died in his care under his garage in Newark, N.J.

Then later in the day, law officers took into custody yet another U.S. citizen, John Peter Miesen, who is wanted in Illinois to face a tax evasion charge.

Faiello, 45, was arrested here in February 2004 after an investigation involving the International Police Agency (INTERPOL) and Judicial Investigating Organization agents based in Liberia. The suspect was found at a beach hotel in Guanacaste.

Faiello faces three charges of second-degree assault, 17 charges of practicing medicine illegally and five charges of possessing a controlled substance without the appropriate permits.

But he also is a suspect in the death of María Cruz, an upwardly mobile Wall Street executive who disappeared after her appointment with Faiello. He ran a practice in New York City in which he removed tattoos and other skin blemishes and did what amounted to plastic surgery. However, he had never attended medical school.

Faiello was convicted of practicing medicine without a license in New York but fled before he could be sentenced. He had been released on bail.

Ms. Cruz was seeking surgery of her tongue when she vanished. Her body was found Feb. 16, 2004, stuffed in a suitcase and buried under concrete of the garage of 

Dean A. Faiello
John P. Miesen

the former Faiello home in Newark. He fled to Costa Rica in 2003.

Miesen was arrested about 11:15 a.m. Monday in San José. He faces three counts of tax evasion in federal district court in Illinois.

Miesen, 62, is accused of failing to pay some $100,000 in 1996 taxes and of transferring all his money to Switzerland when the U.S. Internal Revenue Service notified him of penalties and interest in February 1998. In 1998 Miesen and a business partner sold a $1.2 million building and failed to report the capital gain or pay the tax, officials said. The total evasion amounts to $1.5 million, said officials here after his arrest.

He was detained by the Sección de Capturas of the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad/International Police Agency. He will face extradition.

Chavez threatening to cut ties with U.S. over Posada
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez is threatening to sever ties with the United States over a Cuban dissident wanted in Venezuela on terrorism charges. The Venezuelan leader's comments could further escalate tensions between the nations. 

In a national address, Chavez threatened to severe diplomatic ties with the United States if it does not extradite Cuban dissident Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela.

Posada was arrested last week in Miami for entering the country illegally, a violation of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.

President Chavez accused the United States of harboring Posada, who he called an "assassin and terrorist." Posada is wanted in Venezuela for masterminding the bombing of a Cuban jetliner over Venezuela in 1976, killing 73 people. The Venezuelan leader says United States has 60 days to turn over Posada. 

Chavez said, if they don't turn Posada over by the deadline stipulated, Venezuela will "fully revise our diplomatic relationship with the United States."

Both Venezuela and Cuba are demanding his extradition to Venezuela.

Posada has also been accused of participating in an assassination attempt on Cuban President Fidel Castro in Panama in 2000 and a series of bombings in Cuba in 1997.

He has repeatedly denied his involvement in the 1976 airline bombing. Posada did admit to participating in the 1997 Havana bombing, only to deny the accusation a year later. 

According to news reports Posada was a paid CIA informant and anti-Castro operative in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Bush administration has expressed concerns that the leftist Chavez is pushing Venezuela toward becoming a Cuba-style state. In turn, the Venezuela president says the United States is meddling in Venezuelan affairs and plotting his demise. 

Chavez also recently moved to further meld the economies of Venezuela and Cuba. Last month, Chavez met with Castro in Havana in hopes of wooing other Latin American nations into an alternative trade pact. 

Latin-U.S. trade is predicted to triple by 2020
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. — Because trade and shipping between Latin America, the Caribbean, and states in the southeastern United States might triple by 2020, regional ports and infrastructure must adapt to accommodate this expansion, says Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Steven Blust.

In remarks to the Sea Cargo Americas conference here, Blust explained that although trade volumes are expected to increase rapidly, existing ports and infrastructure are already operating at or near capacity and will require significant changes.

Blust said that greater efficiency and creativity will be necessary to ensure that ports and related infrastructure can accommodate and fully benefit from increased trade volumes.

"Everyone must work together to take the steps necessary to ensure tomorrow's efficiencies — to create better, faster, and more cost-effective transportation infrastructure and supply lines," he said. "We all have a role to play, and we all have a responsibility to work together to ensure we are prepared to meet tomorrow's challenges."

To this end, Blust noted that U.S. and Latin American ports are investing in port development and improvements to meet demands. He said that there are several substantial projects "on the drawing board" in Central America, including the development of La Unión in El Salvador and expansion and upgrading 

of the ports of Balboa, Manzanillo and Colón in Panamá.

Studies estimate that free trade agreements with Central America and the Dominican Republic could increase U.S. manufactured exports by $3 billion, and agricultural exports by $1.5 billion, he said.

There is also remarkable reciprocity in trading with Central America that does not exist in some other major trade lanes, said Blust. Approximately 40 percent of all U.S. yarn, and 25 percent of all U.S. fabric are exported to Central America, and 56 percent of Central American apparel imports are produced with U.S. textiles, he said. 

These numbers indicate the potential for reciprocal trade between the U.S. and the Caribbean and Latin America, he said, adding that as free trade progresses, the benefits of breaking down trade barriers will continue to contribute to rising cargo volumes — both import and export.

In South America, he said, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile are all upgrading port facilities. He cited the construction of a new terminal in Montevideo and the construction of a new container and cargo facility in Port Angamos in Chile as examples of this trend.

These and other timely efforts will ensure that trade among the nations of the Americas continues to flourish, Blust added.

"It is far better to prepare for the growth in volumes, than to play catch-up when the cargo is at the water's edge," he said.

Jo Stuart
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