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(506) 2223-1327                      Published Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 106                           Email us
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Majestic Volcán Arenal is one of the signature sites that Correos de Costa Rica has put on a new series of postcards.

Story is
Arenal volcano
Correos de Costa Rica/Eric Hernández Morales

Business leaders have chance to assess state of nation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another report is due of the confidence and perceptions of the economy by business leaders. The triple Index that is produced by the national business chamber has shown vast improvement since scraping the bottom during 2009.

Yet, most business people are waiting for the other legislative shoe to drop.

There was a general sigh of relief in the business community when the Sala IV constitutional court sidetracked the Chinchilla administration plans for massive tax increases. But now that appears to have just been the end of Round One. Many lawmakers who were in the opposition last session appear to have cast their lot with the party of President Laura Chinchilla. The major barrier to the tax plan was a coalition of opposition parties. That coalition no longer exists.

The Partido Liberación Nacional managed to win the leadership spots in the new legislature. That was May 1. Members of independent parties who voted with Liberación got the titled jobs in the legislative directorate. But Liberación managed to get all the powerful slots as presidents of commissions. The commissions are the committees that get a first look at legislation, become experts on the topic and eventually produce a draft which may or may not be similar to the original effort.

The Asamblea Legislativa is not considered highly. In its last three-month survey the Unión de Cámaras y Asociaciones de la Empresa Privada asked business leaders to assess the job both the president and the legislature were doing. President Chinchilla got 5.4 on a 10-point scale, but the legislature, being led at the time by opposition parties, got  4.6.
With Liberación now in charge, some form of the original tax plan is expected to be resurrected. Ms. Chinchilla issued an interim directive putting the sales tax on what her aides considered luxury foods. The list has had to be revised three times.

Ms. Chinchilla, her administration being ravaged by allegations of corruption, did what any head of state would do in a similar situation. She went to Europe for two weeks.

No legislative action is expected until she returns. However, lawmakers have a measure that would allow the country to borrow $2 billion more, mostly from foreign sources. That may be an easy way out of the nation's financial crisis. Half the annual budget already is borrowed money, and interest rates are creeping higher.

Presidential elections are in February 2014. Already would-be candidates have come forth. Others are more coy. All are professional politicians who have not outlined a plan to step away from the current tax-and-spend policies. Many would-be candidates are members of the legislature. So they may not want to put their name on a new tax bill.

The legislature is two years old this month, and members still are wrestling with revisions of the new traffic law that was left for them by the prior groups of lawmakers. That has priority as do two dozen other bills.

How these are handled will give an indication if the new leadership is functional.

Meanwhile, the business chamber's  Pulso Empresarial gives a good look on how non-politicians assess the economy and the country's future. The latest survey results come out this week.

Guardacostas increasing its presence on both coasts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas is beefing up its presence in the Pacific and in northeastern  Costa Rica.

The agency will have a new station in Tortuguero in the province of Limón and a stronger presence in Murciélago in La Cruz in the north Pacific. The United States is investing $1.25 million for infrastructure at the Flamingo station, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Uncle Sam's interest is generated by the war on drugs. The coast guard celebrated 12 years of existence last week. Previously it was called the  Servicio de Vigilancia Marítima.

The name change took place in 2000, but it was not until 2005 that the coast guard intercepted its first load of cocaine, officials noted. Since then members of the agency have captured 30 tons, they said.

The service also plans to obtain two more fast patrol boats to join the current fleet of six. These boats are

a match for the crafts used by drug smugglers.

Officials said that the law creating the Guardacostas was more than just a name change because it gave more flexibility for training and increased professionalism.  The service added 29 new members last week.

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Consumer agency cracks
down on Asian markets

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The consumer police conducted another one of its sweeps last month, and the target was Chinese markets. Only two of the 10 markets received a passing grade.

The biggest problem was listed as imported food that did not have a label written in Spanish. This is required by law.

The Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor of the economics ministry conducts these surveys frequently, but this is the first to target stores selling mainly Asian foods. All were in San José.

A smaller percentage of the 368 products studied had other problems, such as a failure to list the country of origin or the name of the importer.

The surveyors said they would file complaints against three markets, Super Los Ángeles, Supermercado 88 and Distribudora Hong Kong. Some 304 products were frozen until labels in Spanish could be added. About 2 percent of the products studied had an expired date, said the surveyors.

Service station quality
said to be improvement

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Of the 1,186 service stations inspected in 2011, four were found to be delivering short amounts and 21 had quality problems with the gasoline or diesel, according to the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.

This is the same agency that sets the prices of public services. Its quality control program involved laboratory testing of the fuel in the tanks of service stations. The work is done at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

The agency said that the results were better than in the past.

The short deliveries were from 240 to 310 milliliters per 20 liters of fuel. Involved were service stations in Buenos Aires de Puntarenas, Alajuela, Orotina and Cartago.

The quality problems included lower octane than specified or water and sediment in the service station tank, among other woes, said the agency.

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.
Click a story for the summary

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 106
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New postal release features 11 famous scenes of the country
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Correos de Costa Rica has another postcard deal for residents and tourists. The postal service has come out with a series of 11 postcards that show 11 of the major attractions of the country.

Correos has printed 16,500 of these to be sold as sets for 5,500 ($11) or individually for 500 colons, about $1. The price includes postage to anywhere in the world, Correos said.

The photographs are by Eric Hernández Morales, and the scenes are mostly in the national parks. They include major volcanoes, the Río Celeste waterfall, the port of Puntarenas, the Reserva Gandoca-Manzanillo in Limón and Cabo Santa Elena in the Parque Nacional Santa Rosa in Guanacaste.

Correos issued these this month, and they are available at most postal outlets.

Correos said it wanted to promote the natural beauty and 
cruise ship
Correos de Costa Rica/Eric Hernández Morales
 This cruise ship is about the only man-made object featured
 on the post cards.

biodiversity of the country. Of course, the postal service also is trying to make money because most of the postcards never will get in the mails because tourists will keep them as souvenirs, just as collectors do with commemorative stamps.

Correos comes out with a postcard issue about twice a year. The current issue is displayed HERE!

Sales tax forms will be online, but payment is to a bank
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Business operators who pay sales tax will have to file their paperwork online via the special software provided by the Dirección General de Tributación next month.

The deadline is June 15.

This is the next step in putting much of the government's paperwork in electronic form. Since last November, sales tax forms had to be generated on the Tributación  EDDI-7 software. Instead of filing electronically, the resulting documents had to be printed out. The software added a readable bar code to the form that identified the taxpayer electronically. Taxpayers took these to a bank with payment.

The first two months were messes, but the agency updated the software.

Those who pay sales tax will do essentially the same thing in early June. They will list their sales and compute the taxes they owe. But then the electronic form will be transmitted to the tax
agency. Then taxpayers will have the option of visiting their local bank to pay what they owe or doing so electronically online.

The agency said that the estimated 70,000 sales taxpayers have 10 financial entities that are ready to accept payment. The required data is either a personal cédula number or the cédula juridica of a company.  The banks will not accept the previous form with the readable bar codes, said the agency in a news release.

Tributación is anticipating confusion. It said that there are 40 places where sales taxpayers can go for help. These include the municipalities of Barva, Curridabat and Belén.  Help also can be found at offices of the Ministerio de Hacienda of which Tributación is a part, the Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología, and the Universidad Estatal a Distancia, it said.

Tributación said that the electronic transmittal of documents will save the government a lot of money and that more forms are expected to be online this year. These will include the D-103 form for employee withholdings, it added.

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Hurricane prediction for eastern Pacific also listed as normal
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The latest prediction says that the eastern Pacific hurricane season will be normal, just as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted for the Atlantic.

The agency's Climate Prediction Center said that climate conditions point to a near-normal eastern Pacific hurricane season. The outlook calls for a 50 percent probability of a near-normal season, a 30 percent probability of a below-normal season and a 20 percent probability of an above-normal season.

Seasonal hurricane forecasters estimate a 70 percent chance of 12 to 18 named storms, which includes five to nine hurricanes, of which two to five are expected to become major hurricanes. There already was on hurricane, Bud that moved into the Mexican mainland and disapated.

An average Eastern Pacific hurricane season produces 15 named storms, with eight becoming hurricanes and four becoming major hurricanes.

The Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 through Nov. 30, with peak activity from July through September.

This outlook is based on the analysis and prediction of two competing climate signals, the agency said:

• Ongoing conditions, such as increased wind shear, that have been suppressing eastern Pacific hurricane seasons since 1995, and

• The possible development of El Niño later in the season, with warmer waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which can
decrease the vertical wind shear and increase hurricane activity in the eastern Pacific region.

“The eastern Pacific has gotten off to a busy and early start of the season, with Tropical Storm Aletta. . . and Hurricane Bud churning off the Mexican coast. . . ,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center, part of the U.S. National Weather Service. “NOAA’s seasonal hurricane outlook gives people an idea of how the season will likely unfold so they will be prepared and equipped to respond when disaster strikes. Despite our predictions, it only takes one hurricane to cause a lot of damage and loss of life if people aren’t prepared.”

The outlook is a general guide to the overall seasonal hurricane activity. It does not predict whether, where, or when any of these storms may hit land. Residents, businesses and government agencies of coastal and near-coastal regions should always prepare prior to each and every hurricane season regardless of the seasonal hurricane outlook, the agency said.

Eastern Pacific tropical storms most often track westward over open waters, sometimes reaching Hawaii and beyond. However, some occasionally head toward the northeast and may bring rainfall to the arid southwestern United States during the summer months. Also, during any given season, two to three tropical storms can affect western Mexico or Central America.

The U.S. National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. The agency says it operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

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New cyber threat, Flame,
calls most sophisticated ever

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Russian Internet security company says it has discovered what it calls the most malicious cyber menace known to date.

Kaspersky Labs says the computer program known as Flame is the most complex and sophisticated malware program it has ever seen, avoiding detection by security software.

It says Flame has been active for more than two years with the ability to steal information from infected machines, including documents, screenshots, and audio recordings. Kaspersky says it uncovered Flame while investigating another malware program.

Flame's targets and the damage it has done are still unclear. But officials with Iran's oil ministry have reported a cyberattack on its computers reportedly caused by Flame.

It is also unclear who is responsible for Flame. But some computer security experts say the sophistication and complexity of the threat points to government involvement.

Obama places a wreath
at Tomb of the Unknowns

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to the nation's veterans and their families during the Memorial Day holiday, as communities across the country host their own festivities.

President Obama joined his wife and top military commanders under the midday sun to solemnly place a wreath of flowers at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The memorial at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington is dedicated to the U.S. service members whose remains have not been identified.

Speaking to a crowd of veterans, their families and other spectators, Mr. Obama noted this was the first Memorial Day in nine years without U.S. troops fighting in Iraq. "After a decade under the dark clouds of war, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon," Obama said.

But the president emphasized how he understands that the end of U.S. wars abroad will hold little comfort for the relatives of the fallen. "Especially for those who have lost a loved one, this chapter will remain open long after the guns have fallen silent," he said.

Half a world away in Kabul, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan General John Allen held a memorial service for all troops that have died there since the start of the war.

General Allen, who also leads the North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition in Afghanistan, read the letter of a young Marine who wrote to his parents before his death by a homemade bomb earlier this year. "We remember his life and his words, for they speak resoundingly and timelessly for our fallen brothers and sisters-in-arms," he said,

More than 6,400 U.S. service members have died in the Afghan and Iraq wars following the 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

This is the 145th anniversary of the large-scale observance, originally called Decoration Day, that took place in the United States three years after the country's civil war ended with more than 600,000 casualties.

Financial woes threaten
Portugal's free health care

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Free state-funded health care is one aspect of the post-World War II political settlement of which Europeans are most proud. But now it could be under threat as governments are strapped for cash, and in Portugal, one of the continent’s poorest performers, the question of whether free health provision is still affordable is pressing.

Portuguese citizens have their vices like anyone else. But if their health deteriorates, they know, like most Europeans, there is a high quality yet mainly free health care system to look after them.

But big spending cuts were a condition of the country’s recent bailout, and hospitals are cutting salaries and getting rid of staff.

In short, people have to pay more to see the doctor.

Antonio Arnaut, former minister of social affairs, helped set up Portugal’s health service after the fall of the dictatorship in the 1970s. Now a lawyer in Coimbra, north of Lisbon, he’s angry at the cuts.

"I'm worried about the future of the national health system, but not because of the economic difficulties that Portugal is now experiencing, my main concerns are about this right wing government," he said. "There’s an ideological project to destroy the national health system. The national health system is a part of the European social model."

Regardless of costs, the Portuguese have benefited greatly from Arnaut’s creation. Forty years ago, 1-in-20 Portuguese children didn’t survive infancy, and now it’s only 1-in-300, and general life expectancy has increased by 12 years over the same period. But the specter of massive government-spending cuts has thrown this success story in question: What happens when a billion euros get slashed from a 7.5 billion euro health budget?

Pedro Barros, a professor at Nova business school in Lisbon, isn’t overly pessimistic. Two-thirds of the savings, he said, will be achieved by reducing drug prices and cutting staff wages, limiting the impact on services. Significant change, he said, will come in other forms.

"I think that people want a health service the way it is: Funded by government and mostly free at the point of use," he said. "The discussion is on how people provide healthcare, whether it is going to be the private parties to provide it, including the non-profits."

Not only have private health care providers already started running hospitals on behalf of the Portuguese government, the country has a thriving private health sector.

The Malo Clinic in Lisbon is one the world's largest centers in implantology and dental aesthetics. Dental care is not covered by the state, and the clinic's boss, Paolo Malo, said Portugal's financial difficulties mean more people should pay.

“We should not have universal healthcare that gives care to anybody that comes to a public hospital. Only the people in need or below a certain income should benefit from this," he said. "That change will happen. It’s not a question of if you like it or not like it -- that will happen.”

Malo may have expanded his business all over the world, but Portugal’s overall economy is in its worst recession since the 1970’s.

If the country has to continue cutting government spending for years to come, perhaps a system almost all of the country still holds dear will have to be slimmed down.

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Pope and president
Casa Presidencial photo
Pope Benedict XVI chats with Presdient Laura Chinchilla at the meeting Monday in the Vatican. Among other comments, the Pope urged dialogue between Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans over the Isla Calero conflict.

Lawmakers visit Caribbean
and consider city status

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members of the legislature's Comisión de Asuntos Agropecuarios went to the Caribbean coast over the weekend to see first-hand the situation in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. There long-time residents are in danger of losing their homes because the properties are in the nation's maritime zone where construction is prohibited.

Walter Céspedes, a lawmaker with the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana again raised the issue of incorporating both communities as cities. That has been tried before, but the Sala IV constitutional court voided the last bill. Residents prefer city status because then the land is not involved with maritime zone issues. Puntarenas Centro on the Gulf of Nicoya, for example, is a city.

At the very least, lawmakers seem in agreement with an executive branch proposal to freeze demolitions of properties for a year. The Contraloría General de la República is urging that the structures that infringe on the maritime zone be demolished. Two hotels that the government said were in the limits of the Parque Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo already have been destroyed.

There is another measure in the legislature to modify the limits of the park.

Quakes reported offshore
in Caribbean near Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 3.5 magnitude earthquake took place at 2:44 a.m. Monday in the Caribbean north and east of Matina, Limón. The quake was felt most intensely in Limón Centro.

The Laboratorio de Ingenieria Sismica at the Universidad de Costa Rica said this was the second quake in the Caribbean in three days.

However, the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica reported a 3.2 magnitude quake in the same area at 7:29 p.m. Monday.

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