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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Monday, July 2, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 130                          Email us
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archaelogical find
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo

Back into
the light

The humanized animal figure had not seen the light for centuries. But pot hunters resurrected it from a site on the campus of Earth University in Guácimo. University security agents and the Fuerza Pública rounded them up before they could make a getaway.

Our story is

Most expats need not worry about Obamacare tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. expats here do not have to worry about the health mandate and its accompanying penalty tax found in the Obamacare legislation.

This is the U.S. law that was upheld in a 5-to-4 U.S. Supreme Court vote. Even if Republicans are not successful in repealing the law, most expats here either are specifically excluded from the penalty or already have health insurance that qualifies.

The advocacy group American Citizens Abroad agrees. In an email, the organization that follows U.S. legislation closely said:

“Americans who are bona-fide residents overseas are not subject to Obamacare tax or penalties.  However, the new Medicare tax in the Affordable Care Act (3.8 percent on incomes over $250,000) will be applicable.”

The law officially is called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Starting after 2013 the law requires most American citizens and residents to maintain what is called minimum essential health coverage.

Specifically Chapter 48 of the Internal Revenue Code says that anyone living outside the United States will be considered to have coverage for the months they are not in the United States. Many really do. The law cites basic Medicare coverage as being in compliance. Also in compliance is the government's Tricare program for retired military personnel. Many expats here have these types of coverage.

Also approved are U.S.-based private health plans, the health plans extended to Peace Corps volunteers and health plans provided by private employers.

The penalty tax for those who do not maintain coverage is paid with the annual income tax and appears to be capped by a percentage of a taxpayer's gross income. For the 2014 tax year, the cap is 1 percent. For the 2015 tax year and subsequent years, the percentage rises to 2.5 percent.

The act exempts members of certain religious groups from the penalty. Also exempted are individual in prison and individuals who cannot afford coverage.

The law does not seem to include enforcement teeth. There are no criminal penalties for not paying the extra tax, and the Internal Revenue Service cannot file a lien on a taxpayer's property to collect the money as agents can do for the regular annual income tax.
Affordable care act

For expats in Costa Rica, health plans provided by the Instituto Nacional de Seguros do not seem to meet the requirements of the plan, although there may be additions later. The law is silent on coverage by the Caja Costarricense de Seguros Social, but those legal residents who have that coverage probably also are exempted legitimate overseas residents.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision generated discussion on a number of expat Internet lists all over the world. There are many gray areas in the law that will require clarification. Simply taking an overseas trip for a few months probably will not satisfy the requirement for that tax year. Some expats expect the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the same requirements that are applied for the earned income deduction.

The IRS says to qualify for the earned income exemption,  a U.S. citizen must be a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year or be U.S. citizen or resident alien who is physically present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months.

The IRS is likely to have the same or a similar definition for the health care mandate penalty tax.

And U.S. expats who use Florida addresses for mail courier service are likely to have to explain that somehow to the IRS.

One gray area here is the status of perpetual tourists who really are residents but live here on tourists visas and renew them every 90 days by making foreign trips. The IRS does not discuss this, but on its Web site it says that the agency is not particularly concerned with the status of foreign work permits, although it encourages U.S. citizens to comply with local laws.

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quakes on Sunday
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico/A.M. Costa Rica graphic 
Flags show location of the four Sunday quakes.

Sunday saw four earthquakes
ranging from 2.8 to 3.7

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Nicoya Peninsula and the Los Santos region each experienced two felt quakes Sunday.

The first was at 4:23 a.m. about 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) south southwest of  Santa María de Dota or 10 kilometers (6 miles) southeast of San Carlos de Tarrazú. The magnitude was estimated by the Laboratorio de Ingenieria Sismica at 3.7. Just 30 seconds later a second quake, this one estimated at 3.5 magnitude, took place at the same spot.

Then at 5:40 p.m. a 2.8 quake took place on the west shore of the Nicoya peninsula, according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico at Universidad Nacional.

At 9:35 p.m. a 3.2 quake took place in the middle of the gulf of Nicoya. The location was about 18.8 kilometers (about 12 miles)  southeast of  Paquera, said the Laboratorio de Ingenieria Sismica.

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
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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montage of artifacts
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photos
Artifacts do not look like museum quality while still covered with dirt.
Pot-hunting expedition foiled on the Earth University campus
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They call them pot hunters. They seek out pre-Columbian sites, mostly burials, to find objects to sell.

The pieces they recover end up on some collector's shelf or maybe even at San José's Sunday flea market. But that time the objects are just curiosities because they lack the site description and other information archaeologists try to preserve.

Instead of a trowel and paint brush to remove the dirt. Pot hunters are in a hurry and use a shovel and, sometimes even a backhoe.

Four persons suspected of engage in in this illegal activity came into police hands Sunday after security agents at Earth University spotted them digging on the sprawling campus.

The university grounds north of Guácimo appears to have been a bustling pro-Columbian metropolis.

The university reported in February that an international team of archaeologists made significant new discoveries at the Las Mercedes archaeological site on the campus.

The findings provide new insight into the native populations that inhabited the Limón province more than 1,000 years ago, said the report..
During their third excavation, the team of archaeologists from the University at Albany-State University of New York and the Museo Nacional  confirmed a theory that the Las Mercedes site was a center of religious and political power during the pre-Columbian era, the university reported. Among the artifacts found was a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican stone statue known as a chac-mool in perfect condition, they said.

Archaeologists are tight-lipped about the location of productive sites. Prosecutors probably will learn through interrogation that the men caught Sunday has some inside information that directed them where to dig. From photos provided by the Fuerza Pública, pot hunters appeared to have dug holes into rock-covered graves.

The men are residents of nearby Siquirres. Police recovered about 20 artifacts. All are considered to be part of the national heritage and protected by law.

Museo Nacional experts were called to the location to identify and take custody of the artifacts. Most were ceramic pots. But there also were small statues of birds and the photo on Page one which could be a humanized tapir, called in Spanish a danta.

Digging into graves is not a new occupation. Grave robbers were a major reason that Egyptian pharaohs built pyramids and also rested in hidden tombs. Nevertheless, most were raided.

Vacation break reduces traffic and puts police on alert
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Many Costa Rican families are on vacation until July 16 because the public schools are too.

There was a discernible push toward the Pacific beaches Friday, and traffic was slow mainly at the short bypass around the hole in the westbound lanes of the key General Cañas highway.

Later and through Sunday traffic was reported lighter than normal with no delays.

There already were two unusual and fatal accidents reported. Saturday morning a man lost control of his vehicle on the Interamericana Norte in Abangares and the car killed four men on their way to a bus stop and work as it left the road, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. Three of the workmen died at the scene and the fourth died later at  Hospital Monseñor Víctor Manuel Sanabria in Puntarenas. The driver and a passenger also were injured.

Saturday night on Ruta 142 between  Cañas and Tilarán a truck loaded with scrap metal appears to have lost its brakes and struck a microbus containing a family of seven. A 37-year-old woman died and the others suffered a range of injuries, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. Agents detained the 33-year-old truck driver for investigation.

In another case, a man was found dead on Ruta 27, the Caldera highway, early Sunday. He appeared to have suffered a head wound, although it still is uncertain if he was a traffic fatality. The body was found in an eastbound lane.

The Fuerza Pública issued its standard warning about leaving a home unprotected during a vacation period. The director general of the police force,  Juan José Andrade Morales, also
urged residents to remain calm if bandits violently barge into a home. He said officers would try to keep a close eye on residential areas.

Also on vacation alert are the  Policía Turística, the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas and the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea of the security ministry.

Traffic police have their hands full at the scene of the crater on the General Cañas highway. The agency has canceled the central city restrictions on license plate numbers for two weeks.

A bailey bridge over the crater in the highway probably will not be in service until Tuesday morning, said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. Officials blamed heavy rains for delaying work on the approaches to the temporary span. The bridge is 90 centimeters or nearly three feet above the highway, so workmen are building ramps. The bridge was supposed to be open Friday. A bypass using one of the eastbound lanes appears to have kept traffic moving.

The Fuerza Pública gave these tips for vacationers:
• Anyone who sees people breaking into a home should call 911 and not assume that the event is a police raid;

• residents should report any activity involved in moving furniture from a home, particularly if the occupants are on vacation;

• vacationers should turn off the lights and have someone trustworthy keep an eye on the home;

• vacationers should disconnect the telephone so crooks will not know that no one is home by hearing the phone ring and ring.

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Mexicans choose a young face from a long-time political party
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico's Partido Revolucionario Institucional appears to have won the presidency in that county.

The results of what is being called a fast count were to be released late Sunday by the Instituto Federal Electoral.

However, there appeared to be an unexplained delay in the planned television broadcast by  Leonardo Valdés the president of the election institute. Still to be counted are votes of Mexicans living overseas.

Other sources give  Peña Nieto about 42 percent of the vote with  Andres Manuel López Obrador of the Partido Revolución Democratica behind by about 10 points. Josefina Vazquez Mota of the Partido Acción Nacional, the party of sitting President  Felipe Calderón, was a distant third with an estimated 24 percent of the vote.

López Obrador, who also ran against Calderón, is declining to concede defeat.

Peña Nieto brings bis party back into power. The Partido Revolucionario Institucional  ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000. Its critics blamed the long hold on power on corruption, electoral fraud and repression. But the party has been bolstered recently by voter fatigue from economic stagnation and a wave of lawlessness that have plagued
Pena Nieto
Tribunal Electoral Federal photo   
Enrique Peña Nieto in a June 10 debate appearance.

Mexico under the conservative Partido  Acción Nacional.

A large part of that lawlessness has stemmed from the country's drug violence.  Since Calderón deployed the military against Mexico's drug cartels in 2006, more than 50,000 people have been killed.

There also are elections for state governors and legislators.

Hearing starts Tuesday for those who lost vacation club cash
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

 Prosecutors are convening a private audience for persons defrauded by a vacation scam.

Some 161 persons have filed complaints, and prosecutors estimated that each lost about $1,000 on average.

The hearing will start Tuesday in the  Juzgado Penal de San José. It is expected to last nearly the entire month. The Poder Judicial has posted a list of those who are official complainants who can attend the hearing. It is HERE!
The case involves the company Antur and five individuals. The firm engaged in telephone solicitation to offer attractive tours to Cancún and other locations, said the Poder Judicial. Initially the company workers told members of the public that they had won a trip but that certain fees had to be paid upfront.

Sometimes would be customers were invited to dinners at top restaurants.

Prosecutors contend that the vacation packages were false and are seeking to bring the case to trial.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Killer storm hits northeast
and knocks out power

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Violent storms that tore through the eastern United States late Friday have left at least 12 people dead and more than 3 million without power.

The storms hit the region amid a record heat wave, uprooting trees, knocking down power lines.  Emergencies have been declared in Washington, along with four states, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio.

The emergency declarations typically gives governors the option of activating National Guard troops, and lets them use resources to support the safety of citizens.

Six deaths were reported in Virginia, two in New Jersey, two in Maryland and one each in Ohio and Kentucky. Most were the result of fallen trees.

Widespread power outages spanned the region, with officials saying it could be days before all electricity is restored.

Many of the outages were centered in the U.S. capital and surrounding areas, where broken tree branches littered the streets.  Some residents are under mandatory water restrictions.

The Washington area power company, Potomac Electric Power Company, says it could be a week before power is restored to some 378,000 customers in the nation's capital and the suburban Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George's.  A company spokesperson says at the height of the outages Friday night, 443,000 customers were without electricity.

The spokesperson said the company has 800 crew members working around the clock to restore service, and the company expects several dozen more crews from Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Oklahoma to arrive by Monday to help restore service.

Temperatures in Washington reached a record 40 degrees C (104 F) Friday.  Continued extreme temperatures Saturday prompted officials of golf's AT&T National just outside Washington to suspended play for several hours.  Extreme heat is expected again Sunday.

Grandmother gives up try
to swim from Cuba to U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A marathon swimming grandmother has ended her attempt to become the first person to swim from Cuba to the U.S. without a shark cage.

Penny Palfrey's Twitter account says she had to be pulled out of the water early Sunday because of a strong southeast current that made it impossible for her to continue swimming.

The 49-year-old grandmother had been swimming for more than 40 hours. 

Her support team said earlier Ms. Palfrey has been swimming well, but had suffered numerous jellyfish stings and had briefly spotted hammerhead sharks.  Ms. Palfrey was using equipment that emits an electrical field to keep the sharks away.

Ms. Palfrey, who is the mother of three and the grandmother of two, completed more than 140 kilometers (87 miles) of the 166-kilometer journey Saturday.

The British-Australian woman had expected her swim through the shark-infested Florida Straits to take as long as 50 hours. 

Ms. Palfrey had wanted to break her own world record for the longest unassisted ocean swim, which she set last year when she swam 109 kilometers (68 miles) without a shark cage or wetsuit in the Cayman Islands, south of Cuba.

Ms. Palfrey's aborted swim through the Florida Straits comes after 62-year-old U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad tried twice last year to make the trek without a cage, but was not successful.

Australian Susie Maroney swam the straits at age 22 in 1997 using a shark cage for protection

Sponsor confident of OK
for law to restrict lobbying

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf has expressed confidence that an amendment restricting former U.S. government officials from lobbying on behalf of certain foreign nations will soon become law.

Wolf said Friday that countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Iran, among others, need to be reminded that their government policies, or illegal human rights abuses, are not acceptable to American people.  He said there have been cases where former members of Congress, former CIA station chiefs and other former U.S. officials have lobbied for these countries after they leave office. 

"If you are given the opportunity and the honor to serve in Congress, it is a great honor, you then should not trade on that and represent the government that is cracking down its own people," Wolf said.

As a particularly egregious example to show why the ban is necessary, Wolf cited a case of a former CIA station chief in Burma who left government service several years ago and went to work for a D.C. firm that took on the Burmese military junta as a client.  Newspaper reports had said he made about $5,000 a month trying to persuade U.S. officials to adopt a more friendly policy toward Burma's repressive former regime.

Wolf said the law would prevent such practices and it would apply to governments that have especially bad human rights record, like Sudan.  

"If you want to become an ambassador, it is a great honor to be an ambassador, but then leave and go out to represent a nation — a government that persecutes its own people, the Sudanese people, the Sudan government bombing its own people, the Sudan government starving its own people in Darfur. So why should somebody who had been an ambassador or CIA station chiefs then go out and work for that country? They have all top secret of information from all the security briefings and they can take that and turn it against the people," Wolf said.

Wolf said the law would apply to countries of special concern listed by the State Department.   China is listed because it suppresses human rights and religious freedoms.

"They are prosecuting the Catholic churches.  A number of protestant pastors are in jail. If you haven't seen the pictures of people, people who have set themselves in flame in Tibet, you might want to take a look at those pictures. I think people in China ought to see what Chinese government’s policy has done to drive people in Tibet, and Tibetans to set themselves to flame. So because of that policy, it’s not appropriate for former members of Congress and ambassadors to lobby for these countries," Wolf said.

Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, says Saudi Arabia is included because its official textbooks are filled with messages of hatred against other religious minorities, such as Jews and Christians and the country's radical form of Islam is taught in some mosques and religious schools.

He said, in addition to foreign governments, the ban could affect foreign state-sponsored businesses.

Wolf's amendment has been approved by the House Appropriations Committee and he says he has heard no objections yet to it being passed into law next year.

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Two children, one dressed as an astronaut and the other as a fire fighter, present a fire helmet to Franklin Chang Dias.

Firemen honor astronaut
with honorary designation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Franklin Chang Diaz, the U.S.-Costa Rican astronaut, has had plenty of honors, but a new one was to become an honorary fire fighter.

The  Cuerpo de Bomberos honored him Saturday with a ceremony attended by some 400 fire fighters from the 69 stations in the country. There were paid fire fighters and volunteers.

Firemen said Chang demonstrated sacrifice, honor and discipline.

Chang's mother,  María Eugenia Díaz Romero, attended the ceremony along with her brothers. One brother is a volunteer fire fighter.

The former astronaut is now engaged in building a plasma rocket engine at facilities near Liberia.

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