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(506) 2223-1327           Published Tuesday, July 12, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 136           E-mail us
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Tax collectors are using carrot-and-stick approach
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The finance ministry is taking actions to increase collection of sales taxes and to crack down on those who understate income taxes.

Once again the ministry, officially the Ministerio de Hacienda, plans a lottery. This time the lottery will offer prizes to those who use credit or debit cards in everyday transactions.

The ministry said that a comparison between sales reported by bars, stores and restaurants and reports from credit card agencies disclosed a 30 percent difference. In other words, merchants have been understating their credit card sales to the tune of 200 million colons, nearly $400,000, in just this one study.

The ministry and its tax collector, the Dirección General de Tributación, are trying to urge a higher use of credit cards. Although the ministry did not say so, many merchants do not assess sales tax when a customer pays cash. The deal never makes it to the company's financial records, and no sales tax or income tax is paid.

Merchants are supposed to issue facturas for each sales. These are invoices that are numbered and uniquely identified to the merchant.

The last time that the ministry offered a lottery citizens were asked to submit facturas they had obtained as a result of purchases.

Ministry workers studied the facturas to make sure they conformed to existing laws.

The villain is not always the merchant in such off-the-books transactions. Clerks may simply pocket the money if they do not have to provide a factura, which also constitutes a record for the employer.

Under the ministry plan, each credit- or debit-card user will accumulate points for each 3,000 colons of purchases. These points or what the ministry is calling acciones, are basically electronic tickets for participation in the lottery.

The ministry said that 2,121 prizes are available.

The points begin to accumulate Aug. 1, and the first drawing is Sept. 14, said the ministry.

The ministry said it expected to improve sales tax collection with higher credit card use and the lottery. The agency estimated the amount of new income at 26 billion colons or about $52 million.

The  Cámara Nacional de Bancos, the Asociación Bancaria Costarricense and credit-card issuing companies are assisting the ministry with the lottery.

The ministry also said that the computerized 
credit cards
The preferred payment method, tax officials say

systems by which it tracks taxes are being improved and that it has entered into an agreement with the government of Spain for technical cooperation.

As a result of its credit card study that showed underpayments, the ministry has launched 700 audits and has contacted some 1,700 tax-paying entities about stepped up controls that will be instituted toward the end of this calendar years.

The ministry already enforces a system that requires taxpayers to report by Nov. 30 for the preceding fiscal year major purchases and major transactions that produce income. Tributación computerizes and matches up these reports to provide individual income reports for each taxpayer. Then workers compare the data to what taxpayers have submitted.

The stepped-up effort to collect sales and income taxes is related to the Laura Chinchilla administration's proposals for new taxes. Opposition lawmakers in the legislature have said there is no need for new taxes when the government is not doing a good job of collecting current taxes.

The ministry also has said it is conducting audits of professional football players and private educational institutions. Some 29 individuals who appear to have underreported income already have been notified. The ministry said that 15 well-known educational institutions will be audited because the amount of their income is disproportionate to the amount they have declared as net income for tax purposes.

In one case, a school that had 1.13 billion colons in income paid 845,000 colons in income taxes, the ministry said. That is a tax of $1,684 on gross income of $2.25 million.

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Zarcero park
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Zarcero's Parque Central at night

Let there be light in Zarcero
for the town's central park

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central park in Zarcero is glowing at night because the local electric cooperative and the municipality installed lighting.

The job received the technical expertise of the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, which considers the effort as something enhancing security in the community.

The local electric company is CoopeAlfaroRuiz. The national electric company became involved because of the proximity of its Daniel Gutiérrez hydro plant. Zarcero is a well-known agricultural community and a place frequented by tourists.

Man accused of murder
has 40 prior arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

 A man accused of killing a hotel guest during an abortive robbery two weeks ago in Pococí has been jailed 40 times for robbery, police officials said Monday.

The man is  Alexander Amador Jiménez, 32, who is now in jail for six months while prosecutors investigate the murder at the Hotel  Tortuguero. He was detained over the weekend by Fuerza Pública officers and judicial agents.

Agents have been after Amador since the June 27 shooting. A companion suffered a bullet wound when the hotel guest, who had the last name of Fernández, shot it out with two men who tried to stick up the hotel staff about 1 a.m., said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Fernández apparently became aware of a robbery of hotel staff at the reception desk and pulled his own gun to stop the crime. One of the robbers suffered wounds, agents said. A short time later a man showed up at a local clinic with bullet wounds in his body. He was detained as a suspect, and agents were on the trail of Amador.

Police officials did not explain why Amador was free after having been involved in so many robbery cases.

Theater to honor Liszt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saturday the Teatro Nacional and the Librería Francesa  are presenting a tribute concert to Franz Liszt at 5 p.m.  Jacques Sagot is the pianist who will play a number of pieces composed by the Hungarian artist. The concert is in the foyer of the theater. Admission is 2,000 colons or about $4. Seniors with a gold card get in for half price. This year is the bicentennial of Liszt's birth. Although Hungarian, he lived for many years in Paris.

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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.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 136

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Rain drenches the country, and there is more on the way
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rain Monday afternoon and evening was courtesy of tropical wave No. 15, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.  The instability generated storms that dropped nearly 3 inches of water on parts of the Central Valley.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said that the wave was accompanied by a weak surface low pressure system near the coast of NIcaragua. The combination produced a large area of cloudiness and thunderstorms.

However, the center said it doubted that the system would become stronger as it moved slowly west northwest.

The bulk of the rain will fall on Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize, it said.

Yet another tropical wave is headed in the direction of Costa Rica. At midnight it was about 250 miles east of the Windward Islands and just north of the Venezuelan coast. Forecasters said they also doubted this would grow into a more serious storm.

Some of Monday's heaviest rain seems to have fallen at the Universidad de la Paz in Ciudad Colón. An automatic weather station there measured 66.8 millimeters or about 2.63 inches. The rains began about 2 p.m.

Juan Santamaría airport measured 52 millimeters or about 2.04 inches. The biggest downpour, some 73.9 millimeters or 2.9 inches, fell on desolate Volcán Turrialba, according to the weather station there.
U.S. National Hurricane Center graphic
Weather is delivering a one-two punch

Meteorologists at the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional were  concerned enough to issue a special bulletin at 7 p.m. The bulletin said rivers were rising on the Pacific coast as a result of rain in the vicinity of 50 millimeters. The weather service warned about the Río Caño in the south Pacific, the Río Parrita in the central Pacific and the Río Tenorio in the north Pacific.

The weather service emphasized the potential danger at vulnerable areas where slides can be provoked by wet soil.  The bulletin warned of possible problems in  Escazú, Santa Ana, Alajuelita and Desamparados.

Early today the Policía de Tránsito reported no slides or road blockages, but the full extent of the rain's impact will not be known until later today.

The storm ended four days of cloudy but generally dry weather that made for a comfortable weekend.

Another high-traffic downtown street will be reconstructed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If motorists liked the Avenida 8 detours, they will love the one at Avenida 3.

Work crews have begun to tear up that vital downtown artery. The street will be blocked for at least four month.

The section of street is one of the best traveled in the city. The work area runs from the intersection at the Correos de Costa Rica some 400 meters to the west. The roadway is being replaced with new concrete.

The project is being done by the Municipalidad de San José.
There were two recent project on Avenida 8, which also is a major route. That street was rebuilt in two stages.

The work on Avenida 3 involves replacing the water line, storm sewers, sanitary sewer lines and other utilities below ground as well as the road surface, which is  why the project will last so long.

Also planned are new sidewalks.

The work area runs along the north side of the main offices of Banco Nacional and along a section high in commerce to the Mercado Borbón. Much of the area is populated by small stores that will suffer the impact of the construction.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 136

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environmental problems
Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo photos
Invasion of waterways with trash or land movement and illegal logging are two big problems

Environmental agency reports an upswing in its cases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The environmental policing agency said Monday that complaints had an upward trend in the first six months of the year. From 24 new complaints in January, the total in June was 57.

The biggest number of complaints stem from the alleged intrusion into protected zones around waterways and water courses. These totaled 83 in the first six months or a third of the 254 complaints the agency received, it said.

As expected, the sprawling province of Puntarenas with its many mangroves and rivers generated the most cases, 77. The province of San José was second with 73, said the agency, the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo. It is a  dependency of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

The illegal cutting of trees, change of land use and the movement of earth drew 40 complaints, the agency said.

Much of the tree cutting was to provide agricultural land or space to erect buildings, the agency said.

Other complaints had to do with improper disposal of solid
waste, air pollution and invasion of the maritime zone. The agency made special note of the Puntarenas mangroves that has come under heavy pressure from humans. This is in the area of El Encanto, Chomes, Punta Morales and Miramar.

A photo from the air showed human invasion of this important protected zone.

The Peninsula of Nicoya continues to generate problems from tourist and housing projects in the vicinity of Cóbano and Paquera, said the agency. Also a problem spot is the coastal area of Osa in the central Pacific.

The Tribunal said that in the Cantón de Mora and Ciudad Colon the municipality had presented 12 complaints against property owners who had invaded zones of protection. 

In Río Jesús de San Ramón residents had presented five complaints against operators of a pig farm for improper handling of animal waste, bad odors and contamination of water sources.

Each of the cases is in various stages of litigation before the Tribunal, which has the power to halt construction, order  mitigation of environmental problems and assess fines.

Scientists seek to zero in on long-term ocean-carbon trends

By the  University of Wisconsin-Madison news service

As one of the planet’s largest single carbon absorbers, the ocean takes up roughly one-third of all human carbon emissions, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide and its associated global changes.

But whether the ocean can continue mopping up human-produced carbon at the same rate is still up in the air. Previous studies on the topic have yielded conflicting results, says Galen McKinley, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor.

In a new analysis published online in Nature Geoscience, Ms. McKinley and her colleagues identify a likely source of many of those inconsistencies and provide some of the first observational evidence that climate change is negatively impacting the ocean carbon sink.

“The ocean is taking up less carbon because of the warming caused by the carbon in the atmosphere,” says Ms. McKinley, an assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and a member of the Center for Climatic Research in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

“Because the ocean is so variable, we need at least 25 years’ worth of data to really see the effect of carbon accumulation in the atmosphere. This is a big issue in many branches of climate science – what is natural variability, and what is climate change?”

The analysis differs from previous studies in its scope across both time and space. One of the biggest challenges in asking how climate is affecting the ocean is simply a lack of data, Ms. McKinley says, with available information clustered along shipping lanes and other areas where scientists can take advantage of existing boat traffic. With a dearth of other sampling sites, many studies have simply extrapolated trends from limited areas to broader swaths of the ocean.

Ms. McKinley and colleagues at Madison, at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, and at the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris expanded their analysis by combining existing data from a range of years (1981-2009), methodologies, and locations spanning most of the North Atlantic into a single time series for each of three large regions called gyres, defined by distinct physical and biological characteristics.

They found a high degree of natural variability that often masked longer-term patterns of change and could explain why previous conclusions have disagreed. They discovered that apparent trends in ocean carbon uptake are highly

dependent on exactly when and where you look – on the 10- to 15-year time scale, even overlapping time intervals
sometimes suggested opposite effects.

“Because the ocean is so variable, we need at least 25 years’ worth of data to really see the effect of carbon accumulation in the atmosphere,” she says. “This is a big issue in many branches of climate science – what is natural variability, and what is climate change?”

Working with nearly three decades of data, the researchers were able to cut through the variability and identify underlying trends in the surface CO2 throughout the North Atlantic.

During the past three decades, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide have largely been matched by corresponding increases in dissolved carbon dioxide in the seawater. The gases equilibrate across the air-water interface, influenced by how much carbon is in the atmosphere and the ocean and how much carbon dioxide the water is able to hold as determined by its water chemistry.

But the researchers found that rising temperatures are slowing the carbon absorption across a large portion of the subtropical North Atlantic. Warmer water cannot hold as much carbon dioxide, so the ocean’s carbon capacity is decreasing as it warms.

In watching for effects of increasing atmospheric carbon on the ocean’s uptake, many people have looked for indications that the carbon content of the ocean is rising faster than that of the atmosphere, Ms. McKinley says. However, their new results show that the ocean sink could be weakening even without that visible sign.

“More likely what we’re going to see is that the ocean will keep its equilibration but it doesn’t have to take up as much carbon to do it because it’s getting warmer at the same time,” she says. “We are already seeing this in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, and this is some of the first evidence for climate damping the ocean’s ability to take up carbon from the atmosphere.”

She stresses the need to improve available datasets and expand this type of analysis to other oceans, which are relatively less-studied than the North Atlantic, to continue to refine carbon uptake trends in different ocean regions. This information will be critical for decision-making, since any decrease in ocean uptake may require greater human efforts to control carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Ms. McKinley’s work on the project was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 136

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Economist is optimistic
over population growth

By the  University of Michigan news service

World population will reach 7 billion this year, prompting new concerns about whether the world will soon face a major population crisis.

"In spite of 50 years of the fastest population growth on record, the world has done remarkably well in producing enough food and reducing poverty," said University of Michigan economist David Lam.

Lam is a professor of economics and a research professor at the university's Institute for Social Research. He delivered the presidential address, titled "How the World Survived the Population Bomb: Lessons from 50 Years of Exceptional Demographic History," at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America earlier this year.

In 1968, when Paul Ehrlich's book, "The Population Bomb," triggered alarm about the impact of a rapidly growing world population, growth rates were about 2 percent and world population doubled in the 39 years between 1960 and 1999.

According to Lam, that is something that never happened before and will never happen again.

"There is virtually no question that world population growth rates will continue to decline," said Lam. "The rate is only as high as it is because of population momentum, with many women of childbearing ages in developing countries because of rapid population growth in earlier decades."

World Population Day, celebrated annually on July 11, was established by the United Nations Population Fund to established to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues.

Lam cited a variety of factors that have worked together to reduce the impact of population increases. Among the economic forces, he noted that the green revolution, started by Nobel prize-winner Norman Borlaug, that increased per capita world food production by 41 percent between 1960 and 2009.

"We've been through periods of absolutely unprecedented growth rates, and yet food production increased even faster than population and poverty rates fell substantially," he said.

The capacity of cities to absorb the growth in world population is another major reason that the world was able to double its population in the last 40 years without triggering mass starvation or increased poverty, Lam told the group. Along with urbanization, Lam pointed to the impact of continued declines in fertility and rising investments in the education and well-being of children. Work Lam did in Brazil with institute social demographer Leticia Marteleto shows a mean increase of 4.3 years of schooling among 16-17-year-olds from 1960 to 2000.

"This increase clearly involves more than just reductions in family size," Lam said. "For example, children with 10 siblings in 2000 have more schooling than children with one sibling in 1960.

"There is no Norman Borlaug of education to explain how schooling improved so much in developing countries during a period in which the school-age population was often growing at 3 percent or 4 percent a year. This is one of the accomplishments of the last 50 years that deserves to be noted and marveled about."

In conclusion, Lam said, "The challenges we face are staggering. But they're really nothing compared to the challenges we faced in the 1960s."

Copper miners in Chile
stage 24-hour strike

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Unionized workers at Chile's Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, have begun a 24-hour strike in a dispute with the government over the future of the company.

The workers walked off the job Monday over modernization plans that union officials say will lead to huge job losses and possible privatization of some of the company's plants.  Codelco officials say the plants will not be privatized.

This work stoppage is Codelco's first in nearly 20 years.  Codelco says the strike would halt production of about 4,900 tons of copper and generate losses of more than $40 million.  Codelco produces 9 percent of the world's copper, or about 1.7 million tons per year. 

The strike coincides with the 40th anniversary of Chile's nationalization of the mining industry, a move by then-President Salvador Allende.  The nationalization of the mines led to the creation of Codelco.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 136

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U.N. human rights expert
criticizes abuses in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, is concluding a weeklong visit to Mexico, where she expressed concern over abuse of citizens by police and soldiers fighting organized crime groups. The major effort against drug cartels and other criminal organizations that began shortly after Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office in December, 2006, has now claimed around 40,000 lives.  Experts say ending official corruption and impunity is the biggest challenge the government faces in trying to win the war.

On her visit to Mexico, Ms. Pillay looked into problems including abuse of migrants and women.  In a meeting with President Calderón, Ms. Pillay mentioned allegations against police and military forces in the war on drug traffickers.

"I view with concern the increasing reports of human rights violations attributed to state agents in the fight against organized crime," Ms. Pillay said.

She said authorities should not view respect for human rights as an obstacle, but as part of the solution in combating crime.

President Calderón responded that the worst abusers of human rights in Mexico are the criminal gangs that have tortured, mutilated and killed thousands of people.  The drug cartels are fighting the government and each other as they compete for lucrative smuggling routes and drug profits.

At the inauguration of a new criminal investigation laboratory, supported in part by funds from the United States, President Calderón spoke of the need for reform and modernization of police forces.

Calderón said human rights are protected when police use evidence to prove their case rather than confessions that might be made under duress.

Human rights groups complain that, in far too many cases, police without proper investigative skills detain suspects and torture them until they confess.

But President Calderón also condemned faults in the system that have allowed criminals to escape justice.

Calderón added that as long as criminals get away with crimes and go unpunished they will continue their illegal operations. He said Mexico must break the vicious cycle of impunity that allows transnational criminal organizations to operate.

To circumvent corrupt police, Calderón has used military forces against the powerful drug cartels. But deploying soldiers while trying to protect human rights is problematic, according to Mexico expert George Grayson of the College of William and Mary.

"Mexico has never, never had an honest, reliable, professional police force and this goes back to colonial times," Grayson noted.  "So Calderón had no choice, when he found areas of the country dominated by cartels, but to use the military and the military is trained to pursue, to capture, to kill and, in the process, there is often collateral damage of civilians."

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