A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Thursday, May 27, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 104
Jo Stuart
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Residency and income tax changes will damage country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an open letter to deputies in the Asamblea Nacional on the topic of pending legislation.

Dear sirs,

The reason for this letter is to call attention to two pending laws and their pernicious effects on the flow of potential residents to Costa Rica and the possible flight of many current residents and investors.

Specifically, these changes are for the residency category and the imposition of a global income tax. These measures certainly will generate a massive exodus of many North Americans and will cause Costa Rica to lose its attraction as a retirement paradise for foreigners and will most certainly adversely affect an already shakey economy and occasion a flight of capital caused by these draconian and myopic measures.

I write the best-selling travel guide for retirement in Costa Rica. Personally I am responsible for having brought thousands of persons to relocate themselves to Costa Rica. I also publish two other guides that offer retirement information for Nicaragua and Panamá. 

Curiously, the sale of both works has 

skyrocketed since the announcement of the possibility of a universal tax and the changes in the categories of residency. There is more interest than ever in the neighboring countries due to the changes mentioned above.

I urge you to consider the grave consequences that these measures will have on tourism, the image of the country, employment generated each year by the current residents spending power, and the future of foreign investment in Costa Rica. There still is time to avoid an economic disaster whose repercussions will be felt the length and breath of this marvelous country.

In 1992 Costa Rica elimated the perks for pensionados. In doing so it became the only country in Latin America not to offer certain exonerations for foreign pensionados. Who knows how many potential foreign residents have been scared away by this measure and how much money the country has lost over the last 12 years.

 Thank you for the attention you have given this letter, and I offer you my greatest appreciation and consideration.

Christopher Howard 
president, Costa Rica Books 
Live in Costa Rica Tours 

He says sex tourism strawman is a way to divert public concern
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Well, the heat’s on the Costa Rican government again. At least one online publication yesterday announced that the Taiwan government was paying the salaries of some of the employees of the foreign ministry including the president’s daughter. 

So now the president goes back to his old tricks of bringing up the "sex tourist" bit. It seems that anytime the heat is on El Presidente, he starts complaining about gringo sex tourists who come here to defile Costa Rican youth. He cites the case of one gringo dentist, the first U.S. citizen ever extradited  from the U.S. as proof of mass sex tourism. 

It was a strange venue for such a speech: Expotur, a show for tourism professionals to promote Costa Rican tourism. 

But I guess the real reason was to take the heat off the current administration’s misdeeds and not to address the real problems of child abuse by the Ticos. 

As a resident, I do resent the being labeled as a molester because a corrupt government is trying to divert the heat from their misdeeds. 

I guess that the Costa Ricans have learned a lesson from the Bush/Carl Rove gang. 

Doug Gesler 
San Jose 

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Magazine offices
shut down by judge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The publisher of two sexy magazines rejects the idea that they are pornography, so he has refused to submit them to a censorship board.

He also refused to pay a fine levied by the censorship board. So judicial officials showed up at the magazine’s offices Wednesday and closed them down.

The judicial action was not expected because the publisher, Jorge Chaves, has an appeal pending with the Sala IV constitutional court.

The magazines are Chavespectáculos and Sexxxo Caliente, which are widely sold on newsstands. Although the magazines feature photos of unclothed women, the presentation is hardly pornographic.

In Costa Rica even the general circulation daily newspapers feature scantily clad women on their pages.

The agency involved is called the Comisión de Control y Calificación de Espectáculos Públicos. The judicial agency ordering the closure is the Juzgado Contravencional del Primer Circuito Judicial de San José.

The little-known 1994 law regulates movies, live performances, radio, television and all forms of satellite and wireless transmissions, video games, video rentals and written material of a pornographic character. Nowhere in the 33-section law is pornographic defined.

The commission is under the jurisdiction of the Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia but representatives of a number of ministries serve on the commission.

The commission has been inactive regarding nearly all types of activities it is supposed to regulate, and Chaves suggests that it is the content of his magazine rather than photos that has brought officials down on him.

The law gives the commission the authority to close up the offices for a month for a first offense. Further offenses result in longer closures and eventually permanent suspension.

As a result of a 2003 decision the commission seeks to levy a $2,300 fine which Chaves refuses to pay. The Chavespectáculos magazine is much more than just photos. It includes political satire, jokes and even sports. The magazine is a best-seller handled by newspaper street vendors in most cases. However some Web sites offer it for sale internationally.

New research net
due for Latin America

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A research and educational network will connect Latin America with Europe. The project, the ALICE Initiative, was outlined Wednesday in a news release.

Startup date is set for Aug. 1. Initially Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Panamá and México will be connected directly with Madrid, Spain, and Venezuela will be connected indirectly through Brazil.

The ALICE project was set up in 2003 to develop a research network within the Latin American region and towards Europe, according to the project’s  Web site. The network aims to promote the Information Society and fight the digital divide throughout Latin America, it said.

The European Commission is actively supporting ALICE and invested 10 million Euros. 


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Saray Ramírez Vindas............ associate editor

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Now faking goods is considered terrorist activity
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRUSSELS, Belgium — INTERPOL, the international police network, is warning that terrorists are turning to the lucrative trade in counterfeit goods to finance their operations. The agency says governments are only beginning to wake up to the threat. 

At a two-day conference here, law enforcement officials and international business leaders sought to form a common front against counterfeiting, which is estimated to yield $600 billion a year for criminal organizations. That is equivalent to 6 percent of total global trade last year. 

Counterfeiting does not just involve compact discs, clothes or cosmetics. Fake medicines and baby food are also a growing problem, as are counterfeit auto parts and even aircraft parts, said officials at the meeting.

Despite the threat counterfeiting represents for safety and health, most governments overlook the problem, said INTERPOL. 

INTERPOL chief Ronald Noble told the conference that counterfeiting is now being used to finance terrorist activities. He cited the seizure last year in Lebanon of $1.2 million dollars worth of counterfeit brake pads and shock absorbers. The profits, he said, were destined for supporters of Hezbollah, 

which the United States considers a terrorist organization. 

Noble told the gathering that paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland and Colombian Marxist rebels also benefit from sales of fake CDs and cigarettes.

INTERPOL calls counterfeiting a low-risk, high profit crime that is not a high priority for most governments and police forces. Counterfeiters, says the agency, face a low risk of prosecution if caught and relatively light penalties if convicted. 

The main goal of the Brussels conference was to spur greater cooperation between law enforcement and business in the fight against counterfeiting. But William Dobson, who heads a private sector anti-counterfeiting alliance, says it will not be easy. 

"This is a unique area of enforcement, where the legislation and the controls are all in public hands but the knowledge of the products and so on is largely in private ownership, and that's why we need this partnership to come together," he said. 

Dobson says even though companies are the main victims of counterfeiting, they have often been reluctant to publicize their losses. He says clothing and footwear companies lose $9 billion a year in Europe alone due to counterfeiting. The illegal trade is also responsible for the loss of up to 100,000 European jobs a year. 

Colombia braces for attacks on anniversary of rebel group FARC
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia's armed forces have gone on a heightened state of alert, ahead of today’s 40th anniversary of the nation's largest and most notorious rebel group.

A senior army official made the announcement in Bogota Tuesday.

Colombian officials say the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was formed on 

May 27, 1964, following a government attack on a small band of farmers in southern Colombia. 

The officials say the rebel group has used the lucrative cocaine trade to finance its growth. They say the group has some 17,000 fighters and has been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. 

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe came into office in 2002 pledging to wage war on the rebel group. He has worked to increase military spending and cut off the drug trade. 

Honduras getting special treatment to forgive international debt
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An international group will meet with members of the government of Honduras June 10 and 11 in Tegucigalpa to discuss the country's plan for economic progress, a debt-relief initiative, and efforts to decrease poverty.

The Inter-American Development Bank, whose representative will chair the meeting, said that the gathering will offer the Honduran government an opportunity to discuss pressing issues facing the country.  The group, the Consultative Group for the Reconstruction and Transformation of Honduras, includes representatives from the United States, Canada, Japan, and several European nations.

The development bank said that during the meeting the Honduran government will present its 2004-2006 plan for carrying out a national poverty-reduction strategy.

The U.S. Agency for International Development provided assistance in developing that strategy and is also playing a role in financing key elements of its implementation.

In addition, the agency is helping Honduras in such areas as improved management of the country's watersheds, sustainable improvements in family health, strengthened rule of law and respect for human rights, improved opportunities to obtain basic education and vocational skills, and more 

responsive and effective municipal government.

The Development Bank said the Tegucigalpa meeting will help Honduras "advance towards a new phase of development, in which the continuous implementation" of the poverty-reduction strategy "will make improvements in economic growth and poverty abatement possible."

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have included Honduras in the program for Highly Indebted Poor Countries in order to relieve the Central American nation of some of its foreign debt. The goal is to redirect the money that would have gone to pay the foreign debt, targeting it to the funds for social investment instead.

In a statement issued this week finance ministers from the world's seven major industrial nations reaffirmed what they said was their strong commitment to ease the foreign debt burden of Honduras and other nations with dramatically high poverty rates.

The statement was issued following a meeting of the finance ministers in New York.

The program for poor countries, conceived in 1996, was the first comprehensive approach to reducing the external debt of the world's poorest, most heavily indebted countries, and represents what its founders said was an important step forward in placing debt relief while reducing poverty. 

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Death toll in Haiti and Dominican Republic now more than 600
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Search teams in Haiti and the Dominican Republic are continuing to dig through mud and debris in hopes of finding victims of the devastating floods that have claimed at least 610 lives.

Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for as a result of the flooding. It started Monday after days of torrential rains caused a river to burst its banks, washing away hundreds of homes and people. 

On the Dominican side, officials said the death toll had climbed to at least 250, with many of the victims coming from the town of Jimani. Across the border, at least 360 Haitians in the agricultural town of Fonds-Verrettes were killed.

In response, helicopters from the U.S.-led multinational force in Haiti flew emergency 

supplies to Fonds-Verrettes on Tuesday. Interim Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue also traveled to the region to view the devastation.

The World Food Program has also released $200,000 in food aid to help the victims in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which form the island of Hispaniola. 

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered condolences, saying he is saddened by the heavy loss of life. He said U.N. teams in Haiti and the Dominican Republic are currently assessing the extent of needs created by the flooding.

Pope John Paul, meanwhile, has offered prayers for the families and the victims of the disaster. He sent sympathy telegrams to authorities in both Caribbean countries, assuring the homeless and other survivors that he is with them spiritually.

U.S. donates $50,000 to help Dominican Republic deal with flooding
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON. D.C. — The U.S. Agency for International Development has contributed $50,000 to its mission in the Dominican Republic to help that nation deal with heavy rain and persistent flooding that has already displaced more than 13,000 people, according to a press release issued Wednesday.

Due to the extent of the flood damage, the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Hans H. Hertell, issued a disaster declaration.

The agency’s $50,000 contribution to its mission in the Dominican Republic will assist disaster-relief efforts undertaken by a non-governmental organization and by the Dominican government.

The agency mission will provide $40,000 to the humanitarian organization World Vision to purchase and distribute emergency non-food relief supplies. The mission will also provide $10,000 to the government of the Dominican Republic to purchase fuel needed to repair roads and improve humanitarian access to affected areas in the southwest of the country.

Jo Stuart
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