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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, May 26, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 103             E-mail us
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Every rainy day here is like a new driving test
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The highway agency came out with a list of warnings for motorist now that the rainy season has arrived.

The message was not unique: Break evenly on wet roads because they are slippery. Keep lights on in bad weather. Be careful in moist fog that also can rob efficiency from breaks. Make sure tires are adequate and within the legal limit of tread depth.

But there are a few aspects that the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad did not mention.

1. Giant rocks might come tumbling down on Ruta 32 around the Zurquí tunnel. Ditto for the Autopista del Sol and the Interamericana Sur.

2. Roaring streams might suddenly take away the roadway beneath and any nearby cars. Not to mention flash floods. After all, some places get 15 feet of rain a year.

3. Some crazy nuts will roar by at high speeds even when the visibility is just 15 feet. His brother is parked in the middle of the highway around the next curve.

4. Hydroplaning is bad but much worse when the tractor trailer is doing it sideways coming down a hill right at you.

5. The best use of alcohol is when the weather
flash floods

looks terrible and expats decide to stay home and drink instead of braving the highways.

6. That dip in the roadway fills up in a few seconds and unwary motorists are swept out to sea.

7. Crocodiles have a habit of strolling across the highway during heavy rains. They respond badly to fender benders.

8. Frugal motorists and even taxi drivers will only use their wipers occasionally even in the heaviest of rains. It is your responsibility to watch out for them.

9. Traffic police are really surly when they have to cover an accident in the driving rain.

Bad weather is not always a laughing matter. The highway agency reports that there were 81 fatal accidents last year during rainy weather and 213 other mishaps when visibility was restricted by the weather.



Clean-up campaign targets mosquitoes and dengue
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San José and the nation's public health provider have embarked on a mission to cut drastically the cases of dengue this year in the metro area.

The campaign is titled Yo quiero mi distrito limpio or "I want my district clean." The Municipalidad de San José and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social are joined by Bridgestone de Costa Rica, the tire maker.

The dengue virus is carried by mosquitoes, and the way to reduce the cases is to eliminate the breeding places. Old tires filled with rainwater are perfect for mosquito breeding.

The Central Valley is seeing more and more cases of dengue because there is more travel to the coasts where dengue is a real problem. In 2010, the Caja
saw 31,234 cases nationwide. The disease is called bone breaker because of the deep, agonizing pains that seem to be in the bones. A second infection with a different strain of dengue virus can be fatal.

Gabriela Murillo Jenkins, manager of infrastructure and technology for the Caja, said that the place to combat the disease is not in the clinics or the hospitals but in the heart of the communities.

More than 3,900 persons had to be hospitalized last year due to the disease.

Pavas, La Uruca, San Sebastián, Hatillo and Paso Ancho are among the most vulnerable areas because of the high concentration of people, said the Caja.

The rainy season provides a boost for breeding mosquitoes, which is why the cleanup campaign is being kicked off now.

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Consultantes Río Colorado S.A., the parent company of A.M. Costa Rica, announces that it will be increasing advertising rates as of June 1. The increases, between 0 and 9 percent, will affect display as well as some classified rates.

Sales executives will provide existing clients full details. They also will point out that the company will stand behind advertising agreements made between now and June 1 at the current rates for a period of up to one year.

The company last raised rates in 2007 and held the line for the benefit of clients during the recent recession.

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Tax filing time nearing
for U.S. citizens abroad


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. citizens overseas face a June 15 deadline to file their 2010 tax return, and the best advice an expat organization can give is to see a professional.

Geneva-based American Citizens Abroad has an extensive outline of U.S. taxes on its Web site, including links to the dreaded Foreign Bank Account Report regulations. Citizens who do not file by June 15 face penalties and interest on taxes due. But they also can file for an extension with the Internal Revenue Service.

There are many pitfalls. American Citizens Abroad pointed out one:

"Another quirk regarding the 15 June 2011 deadline is that returns mailed to the IRS are treated as filed on the date of domestic or foreign postmark. However, payments with foreign postmarks are not considered received until the date of actual receipt rather than the postmark date. So it is possible that your return mailed close to the deadline can be deemed as filed on time, but the payment in the same envelope with it may be arriving late!"

Local tax expert James Brohl has noted that U.S. citizens can exclude $91,500 in overseas earned income for 2010. But there are plenty of footnotes for that rule, too.

U.S. citizens also have to report their assets in some cases.

Said American Citizens Abroad: "Remember that the report on foreign bank accounts which have at any time during the tax year totaled more than $10,000 is due (in the sense of received) by 30 June 2011."

Randall J. Lindner, of Rohrmoser-based U.S. Tax International, points out on his Web site that the $10,000 figure means for even one minute of one day and that U.S. expats must file for accounts they have signature power over but may not own.

The stories of expats confused by U.S. tax rules are legion. Complications set in when one member of a couple is not a U.S. citizen. In the past, the Internal Revenue Service used to have agents stationed at embassies to answer questions and help with tax filing. Those days are gone.

The only overseas offices now are in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Beijing, noted American Citizens Overseas. U.S. Embassy officials here say they get their tax information from the Internal Revenue Service Web site, too.

June also is a time to consider the fairness of U.S. taxes overseas. Both American Citizens Abroad, Association of Americans Resident Overseas and the Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas have filed congressional testimony that favors  residency-based taxation to put the United States in line with taxation policies of the rest of the world. In the alternative, the groups argue, the federal government should at least remove the cap on foreign earned income exclusion and make some other adjustments favorable to overseas Americans.

The summary continues:

The present system, under which Americans abroad are liable for taxation both in their country of residence and in the US, constitutes "a unique competitive disadvantage that the United States has created for itself," the overseas groups posit. "Government and professional studies have systematically concluded that eliminating America's citizenship-based tax burden would increase exports, and furthermore the administrative burden for the taxpayer and the IRS is out of proportion with the tax revenue generated." The paper ends with an appendix listing almost a dozen examples of US tax code discrimination against Americans residing abroad.

German airline coming

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Air Berlin will begin flights to Liberia's Daniel Oduber airport Nov. 12, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo said Wednesday. The flight from Dusseldorf also will stop in Cancún, México.

 
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
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 26, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 103
Latigo K-9

British government warns that tourists may go missing here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The British government has updated its travel advice about Costa Rica to note that eight foreign nationals, including one British citizen, have gone missing in the last two years with some related to criminal activity.

The update this month followed an appeal by the family of missing British journalist Michael Dixon, the family said.

The addition of a single line in a lengthy bulletin about Costa Rica followed an exchange of letters between the Dixon family and Foreign Secretary William Hague. The family said that Minister of State Jeremy Browne replied May 12 that "Violent crime against tourists is increasing. The recent increase in the number of foreign nationals missing in Costa Rica is also worrying."

"There is a common misperception that Costa Rica is a safe place to go on holiday," said David Dixon, brother of the missing man. "While it is a beautiful country, travelers need to be aware of the increasing number of tourist disappearances and exercise a much greater degree of caution."
Michael Dixon, a journalist, vanished after leaving his hotel
in Tamarindo Oct. 18, 2009. His family has been persistent in keeping the case before the public eye even though extensive effort has not turned up any clues.

David Dixon has visited Costa Rica several times, and the family has been featured in a BBC documentary. This week the Dixon family contacted Prime Minister David Cameron by letter and asked him to give clearance to British investigators to travel to Costa Rica to follow up on leads. Costa Rican police have declined to issue a formal invitation to British investigators, a requirement in international diplomacy. Browne told the family that Costa Rican police said they would participate in a teleconference with British counterparts, but that offer was turned down, said the family.

The latest foreign tourists to vanish is a French couple who were traveling on the central Pacific coast March 31. They are Gerard and Claude Dubois. Their rented car was found near the Río Naranjo south of Quepos. The couple had said they were on the way to Dominical. Passports were found a few days later in a trash container in Jacó. The Dominical-based CAP on Crime has offered a reward.


Defensoría cites torture claims of maximum security inmates
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Defensoría de los Habitantes has characterized the nation's prisons as a system in crisis due to overcrowding, poor infrastructure and other woes.

The governmental ombudsman agency also said it received reports of torture, beatings and other serious human rights violations from prisoners in the maximum security section where an escape attempt took place May 11. Prisoners said they faced death threats and feared for their life even before the jail break attempt that resulted in the death of a guard and two would-be fugitives.

The Defensoría called upon prison officials to change the guards at the maximum security wing either temporarily or permanently until the complaints could be resolved.

One of the would-be jail breakers died Sunday in the maximum security wing. He is Jovel Guillermo Araya Ramírez, who also led a 2006 breakout that resulted in the death of a guard.
An autopsy is being done, and the initial cause is reported to be an aneurysm, but prisoners said they feared being poisoned.

The Defensoría said that its investigators believe they have uncovered elements that suggest torture, it said in a release.
Interviews with two prisoners resulted in the claims that some were taken from their cells, threatened and subjected to physical and psychological abuse. Guards also put ants in their underwear, they said. In another case, a prisoner said that water and coffee were dumped on his face all night. Another said guards destroyed his personal items in his cell, such as a television, a radio, clothing, personal hygiene products and a pillow.

Although prisoners have been known to exaggerate to gain better treatment, these individuals were hospitalized and treated for injuries, the report said.

As far as the prison system, the Defensoría said there were more than 10,500 prisoners, and that the job slots for guards were not keeping up with the growth in inmates.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 26, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 103


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Amphibian photo project hopes to tap citizen scientists

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Any adventurer, hiker or backyard naturalist with a camera can help scientists survey and hopefully save the world’s amphibians, thanks to a new social networking site that links citizen scientists with researchers tracking the decline of amphibians around the globe.

The Global Amphibian Blitz is a new partnership between the University of California at Berkeley’s AmphibiaWeb, a comprehensive database of the world’s nearly 7,000 amphibians; Amphibian Ark; the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; the Amphibian Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission, which is part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature; the Center for Biological Diversity; and iNaturalist.org, a San Francisco Bay Area social-network for naturalists.

The Web site allows amateur naturalists from around the world to submit their amphibian photographs along with dates and GPS locations. The project is evaluated by a team of scientists who will identify and filter the submissions in search of rare species or out-of-range occurrences of interest to the scientific and conservation communities.

“The distributions of many amphibian species are so poorly known that every observation helps,” said herpetologist Michelle Koo, a Berkeley research scientist, who helps manage AmphibiaWeb, which is hosted by Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. “Museums can’t be everywhere. We need to be at once to get the data sets we need. Using social networks to partner with amateurs is a powerful new tool for scaling biodiversity data for science and conservation.”

Amphibians around the world are disappearing at a rapid rate, said iNaturalist co-director Scott Loarie, who is a post-doctoral fellow at the Carnegie Institution for Science Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University. Recent estimates suggest that nearly one-third of all amphibians, some 2,000 species, are threatened with extinction. In the last two decades alone, nearly 168 species are thought to have gone extinct.

The sharp decline in some frog species in Costa Rica has been tied to deadly gusgus infections.

With increasing land-use and climate change around the world, these trends are likely to worsen, Loarie said. To better understand and conserve these diverse and fascinating creatures, museums are looking for new ways to efficiently collect large quantities of information on where amphibians persist, he said.

In the past, however, the usefulness of citizen science
projects such as eBird has been questioned because of the difficulty in validating amateur data, such as bird species identification.

The new project’s emphasis on photographs and scientifically verified identifications changes this, Loarie said.

“The collaboration between the amateur and scientific communities is what makes this project unique and exciting,’ Loarie said. ‘We’re not asking amateur naturalists to provide expert identifications. That’s for the scientific community to do. But by being in the right place at the right time and armed with a camera, amateurs can provide information that scientists could never dream of collecting on their own.’

iNaturalist, the social networking site that will link amateurs and scientists, began as a master’s project by Ken-ichi Ueda and two other students at Berkeley’s School of Information in 2008 and has continued to grow, with Ueda and Loarie as co-directors. Last month, Save the Redwoods League partnered with iNaturalist to distribute an iPhone app that will help the group track the migration of redwood trees in California and Oregon.

“This is a social networking site for naturalists and a way to pool and share observations about the natural world for a common cause,” Ueda said. “Anyone can start a project, whether it’s counting crows nesting in San Francisco or amphibians around the world, or even keeping track of raccoons eating garbage in your neighborhood.”

Global Amphibian Blitz, the first partnership between iNaturalist and a museum, hopes eventually to census every one of the world’s surviving amphibian species, which AmphibiaWeb counts this week as 6,813.

“We’re not sure how many species we might tally in the first few months or even after the first year,” said Vance Vredenburg, an assistant professor at San Francisco State University who helped start AmphibiaWeb while a student. “But exploring this kind of crowd-sourcing of biodiversity data is a critical step towards using our scarce conservation money wisely.”

The public locations of rare and endangered amphibians contributed to the project are obscured so that the exact locations are only visible to the scientific community.

"Up until now many of these amphibians are going extinct completely under the radar screen with no one watching at all," said Ms. Koo. "We’ve taken a lot of care to protect sensitive information, and we have an opportunity to recruit thousands to help us keep an eye on these animals so we can ensure they persist through the 21st century."



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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 26, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 103

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Hemispheric organization
votes on Honduras June 1


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Organization of American States says it will convene a special General Assembly June 1 to decide on whether to readmit Honduras.

Honduras was suspended from the regional body following the June 28, 2009, coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya.  But the announcement Tuesday comes just days after Zelaya and current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo reached a deal for Zelaya's safe return to the Central American country. 

The deal was signed in Cartagena, Colombia, and was brokered by presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. 

Critics say Zelaya was deposed for trying to illegally change his country's constitution to extend his term in office.  He was flown out the country to Costa Rica after he was ousted and replaced on an interim basis by Roberto Micheletti. 

In September of that year, Zelaya made a surprise return to Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa under the threat of arrest.  He flew to exile in the Dominican Republic Jan. 27, 2010, the day President Lobo took power.

Lobo was elected in November 2009 in a vote the United States said was free and fair.


World economies rebound,
monitoring agency reports


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says the world economy is recovering, but warns against a series of risks, including high energy prices and government debt. 

The organization offered a middling report card for 2011 that is expected to improve next year.  It predicts the world economy will grow by 4.2 percent this year and 4.6 percent in 2012 with emerging economies in Latin America and Asia leading the pace.

The U.S. economy is expected to grow 2.6 percent in 2011, up from the 2.2 percent the organization projected in November, and 3 percent next year.  The 17-member eurozone is expected to grow by 2 percent for both years.  And while Japan's growth will be negative this year, the organization says the country is rebounding strongly from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in March.  The Japanese economy is expected to grow 2.2 percent in 2012.

Angel Gurría, head of the organization, says overall, the world is definitely on the road to recovering from the worst recession in more than half a century.

"With private consumption and investment acting as its engines, growth is becoming self-sustained, that is, less driven by temporary government aid or by external demand," said Gurría.

But Gurría outlined a two-speed growth, with emerging economies like Brazil, China and India forging ahead.

"A key message is that there is no room for complacency," he said. "The crisis is not over yet, it has just changed its skin.  Downside risks predominate."

Those concerns include high public debt levels in the U.S., Japan and the eurozone.  Gurria also warned against other risks preying on recovery such as a further increase in energy prices and the chance of a Chinese economic slowdown.

The organizations's release of its latest economic report comes as the 34-member organization celebrates its 50th anniversary.  The event was attended by a number of high-level officials, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Tuesday, the Paris-based organization launched a so-called "happiness index,"  which is a new way of measuring countries' well-being through indicators like health, housing, education and employment.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 26, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 103

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Contract driver proposal
gets final approval


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers approved on a second and final vote Wednesday the much debated change in the commercial code that eliminates the concept of porteadores and changes them to transporte especial de taxi.

For years porteadores and taxi drivers have taken turns protesting and blocking streets and highways. The proposal that was approved had been the result of extensive negotiations. Basically the former porteadores must comply with more of the requirements for operating a taxi, including insurance. They still will be carrying fares from point to point on contract and theoretically not competing with licensed taxis.

Lawyer ordered off case
of Mexican drug suspects


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The case of the two Mexicans being held as drug smuggling suspects continues to take strange turns. In a quick hearing Wednesday a judge ordered Leonel Villalobos to be suspended from the case after an allegation was raised that he tried to get a witness to change his testimony.

The judge ordered that the case be referred to the  Colegio de Abogados, the lawyers' professional organization, and to prosecutors.

Principal suspects in the smuggling case are Rubén Martinez Trujillo, and Elvis Mendoza Rivera, who operated an air transport business in Pavas until one of their planes crashed because it was overloaded with cocaine. They had been seeking release from prison where they have been since Oct. 11 in exchange for house arrest. Their lawyers had been trying to find them a place to stay.

The Poder Judicial said that the allegation against the lawyer was that he approached the police officer who had arrested his clients at the Nicaraguan border and suggested the officer change his report that had been submitted to investigators.

The hearing resumes Friday with another defense lawyer.

Curridabat home invaded

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men pretended to be friends coming to visit pulled guns on the occupants of a home in Guayabos de Curridabat Wednesday morning, tied them up and ransacked the place, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. They took four flat screen television sets, a personal computer, jewels and a computer game console.


Ad rates are going up

Consultantes Río Colorado S.A., the parent company of A.M. Costa Rica, announces that it will be increasing advertising rates as of June 1. The increases, between 0 and 9 percent, will affect display as well as some classified rates.

Sales executives will provide existing clients full details. They also will point out that the company will stand behind advertising agreements made between now and June 1 at the current rates for a period of up to one year.

The company last raised rates in 2007 and held the line for the benefit of clients during the recent recession.







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