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(506) 2223-1327           Published Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 151           Email us
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More transparency would help the budget crisis
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla showed up at the basilica in Cartago Monday night just in time for the 7 p.m. news. She started walking at 4 p.m., according to Casa Presidencial.

There was no report on what petition the president brought to the Virgen de los Ángeles, but a good guess would be help in getting her $1 billion tax plan through the legislature. Costa Rica, like the United States, is deeply in the red and borrowing in massive quantities to keep afloat.

Clearly both Costa Rica and the United States are living far beyond their means, and some tough decisions will have to be made to maintain financial stability. Sucking $1 billion a year from the Costa Rican economy with new taxes probably is self-defeating.

Here are some suggestions that might help:

1. Every payment made by the central government should be listed and made public on a special Web site. Some counties in the United States are required by law to do this, and some alert citizens closely follow the list.

So when a government official takes his secretary on a trip to México, the expense report eventually will be made public. When a minister orders an expensive bottle of wine at a government lunch and then charges it to the public, that, too, will show up.

And when the government awards a $6,000-a-
month pension to a magistrate who was in office less than a year, the public will know quickly.

Making public certain key records, such as salary payments, expense payments and payments on contracts and purchases, should have a beneficial effect on government operations and provide what officials also say they have: transparency.

2. Property tax records should be open to public inspection. Taxes should be listed, and the record should show if they have been paid. This is Government 101. Individuals are more likely to pay property tax when they can see others are doing the same. In addition, tax assessments and the subsequent tax are notoriously inconsistent. Sometimes the inconsistency is the result of having political buddies. Open records exposes these flaws. And citizens like to inform on their neighbors.

The government would have a lot fewer headaches enforcing the luxury tax law if citizens could see who has reported the value of their home and who had paid the tax.

3. Administrators at public agencies should obtain monthly reports on the Internet sites visited by their employees. Such records can be obtained from the various computer servers. Right now many public employees shirk their work and spend the day with Facebook, YouTube and a host of other social sites. They should be fired unless they can demonstrate a good reason.

4. President Chinchilla instituted a hiring freeze in an effort to win support for her tax plans.That freeze should be reconsidered, in part, because it prevents the tax collectors from hiring more inspectors. The tax collectors who work at the Dirección General de Tributación now seem to be challenged when seeking sales tax violations.

Any person on the street can see merchants ducking sales tax every day, but tax inspectors seem to be blind to these practices.

5. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the agency that runs the clinics and hospitals, is in trouble because income is lower than expenses. Yet many private firms owe vast sums of money for the social security payments. This is over and above the estimated $2 billion that the central government owes the Caja. Caja collectors should move in when a company falls behind by a small amount, perhaps several thousand dollars. Business people know that small debts must be collected quickly because large debts frequently are uncollectable. One hotel is standing vacant now, in part, because the management owes the Caja $300,000.

6. Does Costa Rica really need 22 ministries? The latest is a ministry of sports. Even individuals conversant in Costa Rican politics frequently have no idea what some of these ministries do, if anything.

7. No central administration will be able to sell off national parks or reserves. The act would generate a public uproar. But there are many public properties without any clear use. And there are many public buildings underutilized with whole floors empty. And the former Banco Anglo building on Avenida Central has been turned over to the Academia Costarricense de la Lengua.  A full inventory of pubic holdings certainly will show many that can be divested and the proceeds paid on the public debt.

8. Curiously, Costa Rican politicians shy away from extractive industries. The vocal environmentalists oppose any project proposed by a North American corporation. There is gold to be mined and petroleum to be sought. But Casa Presidencial wants no part of this. In fact, Monday officials said they would put a moratorium on petroleum exploration. Each one of these industries pay a handsome tax on what it produces. But Casa Presidencial finds it more political to tax its citizens.

9. There also has been no discussion about dumping some of the government monopolies. The Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo would bring a good price. After all, it has a monopoly on importing and producing motor fuels and cooking gas. And the railroad is a diamond in the rough.

Latin Americans, including Costa Ricans, do not like to make clearly public information public. That can be seen in the court system when much of the action takes place out of the public view, and court records are only open to those directly involved in the case. So making tax payments public might ruffle some feathers.

But as a New Mexico newspaper editor says: Democracy dies in the dark. And an informed public is the best bulwark against a repressive government.

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Slight reduction decreed
for gasoline and diesel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos has decreed a slight reduction in the price of motor fuels for August. The reduction is based on a complex formula that includes the dollar exchange rate and the New York price of petroleum from June 23 to July 7. Costa Rica imports all its petroleum.

Super gasoline is going down 6 colons or about 1.2 cents per liter. Plus gasoline is decreasing 8 colons or about 1.6 U.S. cents per liter, and diesel is being reduced 17 colons or 3.4 cents per liter. There are similar reductions for other petroleum products including liquid petroleum gas used by many Costa Ricans for cooking and hot water.

The regulating agency said it expected the new prices to go into effect in about five days after the decree is published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

The liter price of super will be 706 colons, about $1.41. Plus will be 683 or $1.37 per liter, and diesel will be 634 per liter, about $1.27 a liter. There are 3.785  liters in a U.S. gallon, so the gallon price will be super, $5.34; plus, $5.17, and diesel $4.80, based on a 500-colon exchange rate to the U.S. dollar.

Internet café owner
dies at 56 in Atenas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A former Marine who operated an Internet café in Atenas died Sunday of an apparent heart attack.

He was Richard "Rick" Derlin Mazza, 56. Friends said he operated Rick's Internet Cafe in Atenas and was partial owner of Coffees of Atenas and Cafe Atenas. He was born in Monterey, California.

Mazza served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1971 to 1977 and attained the rank of staff sergeant.

Friends said he was once a GT-1 race driver and while in Costa Rica owned and managed the Atenas Racing Moto-Cross team. He sponsored many young, up-and-coming riders, they said. He was an orphan and had no family. All he had were his many friends, they added.

A memorial service will be conducted at Poco Cielo Resort in Atenas at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Anyone wishing to pay respects or to speak about their memories of Rick is welcome to attend, friends said. Poco Cielo is on Ruta 3 (the main road toward Jacó) three kilometers west of the Atenas gas station.

Man shot in his home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another murder took place early Monday in San Ramón. A 39-year-old man with the last name of Baltodano died after being shot several times, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The shooting took place in the man's home at  Bajo del Tejar  in San Ramón, agents said. Men showed up and engaged the victim in a discussion that ended in shots being fired, they added.

San Ramón has been a priority of police after a wave of robberies and one murder there in the last month.

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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 151

Prisma dental

A little rain does not hamper the massive flow of pilgrims
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pilgrims got a break Monday when afternoon rains changed to cloudy skies.

Although some pilgrims to Cartago were soaked when the rains began around 1 p.m., others waited until the storms moved on to begin their trek. Thousands were in the plaza of the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles by mid-evening, and thousands more were on the way, guarded by a major police effort.

The Cruz Roja reported that its 400 volunteers had treated more than 1,600 persons at aid stations all over the country. The bulk of the exhausted hikers were treated at the Cartago aid station. About 40 persons had to be transferred to a hospital due to more serious maladies. The bulk of the wounded complained of sore muscles. Volunteers provided massages of sore limbs.

Some had sore knees. One man claimed to have traveled 70 kilometers (about 44 miles) on his knees. Knees were the order of the day once pilgrims reached the basilica. Entry into the middle aisle of the church is limited to the faithful who travel on their knees. That is a year-round rule, but waves of pilgrims were headed to the altar and the small rock statute of La Negrita, the affectionate name for the country's patroness. Presumably President Laura Chinchilla, who arrived at the basilica about 7:45 p.m., also traveled the length of the church on her knees, but security officials and Fuerza Pública officers kept the press outside.

The plaza was like a party with bands, singing and food.

This is an annual event culminating in a Mass and a series of prayers and speeches this morning. Each year the number of faithful seems to increase. Some say the number this year will reach 2 million persons. The number last year was easily 1.4 million.

In addition to knees and feet, some came on horseback or on bicycles. Some who live in Cartago chose to walk west to San José and then return so that they, too, would experience the sense of the pilgrimage. Most who participated nursed a private petition to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, or were participating due to promises made over past favors.

The darkest cloud over the pilgrimage was the death early Monday of a woman who was among those hit by a car Sunday morning in San Juan de La Unión de Cartago. Coincidently, that same area was the scene of another fatality involving a pilgrim several years ago. Family member erected a small shrine.

The latest fatality was  Rosa María Arguedas Vargas, 58, a teacher. The driver of the vehicle, a 19 year old with the last names of  Bolaños Valverde, was hospitalized because other pilgrims attacked him after his vehicle ran into 14 person, including Ms. Arguedas. When he left Hospital Max Peralta in Cartago Monday, he was detained by the Judicial Investigating Organization and brought into court. He was not jailed, but told he must sign in

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Caught in the afternoon rain, pilgrims soldier on.

with prosecutors every 15 days while they consider his case. The accident happened when he turned from a side road into a main avenue filled with pilgrims.

There were reports Monday night of yet another death of a pilgrim on a main street in San José.

The police agencies were out in force. The security ministry's Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea put a helicopter in the air and quickly pointed out that the agency just spent $250,000 to repair the craft.

The ministry also  was preparing its own devotions for early today. As the Día de La Virgen de Los Ángeles began, security officials were planning to fly a fixed-wing craft above the Cartago church and dump flowers on the faithful gathered below. They said this would be their homage to the Virgen de Los Ángeles.

Traffic was cut off or restricted on a number of roads around Cartago. Thousands were still on the highways early today.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional predicted cloudy skies for today with the possibility of light rain in the afternoon. Most pilgrims should be heading home by then.

The rains Monday were only a few millimeters but very penetrating and accompanied by humidity that made wearing plastic rain gear uncomfortable.

Many businesses and officers were closed Monday because employees were hiking to Cartago. But it is today that is the official  legal holiday.

In most cases, the employer still has to provide holiday pay
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The labor law has two categories of holidays. One is called pago obligatorio. The other is pago no obligatorio.

The only holidays or dias feriados in the second category are today, the celebration of the Virgen de los Ángeles, and the Dia de la Cultura, Oct. 12.

A close reading of the Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social Web site shows that there really is little difference for an employer. Unless a worker is on a weekly schedule, he or she is paid for every holiday and double pay if the empoyee works that day.

The ministry's new Web site has a special section where
questions about holidays receive answers. The text is in Spanish

In fact, there now is a long list of employer questions ranging from vacations to how to handle a pregnant employee. The page also includes a Google calendar that specifies important dates, like the date of the next holiday. It is Aug. 15, El Día de la Madre, and it is pago obligatorio.

It also shows that Wednesday, Oct. 12, is a holiday that is being moved to the following Monday, Oct. 17.

For those still struggling with the July 1 increase in the minimum wages, there is a link to a list of job categories and the new salaries, both daily and monthly.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 151

11 firms submit bids for Cañas-Liberia Interamericana job
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Constructora MECO was the apparent low bidder Monday when the transport ministry opened bids for rebuilding the Interamericana Norte into a four-lane road between Cañas and Liberia. It is now two lanes.

In all, there were 11 firms that submitted bids. The proposal was complex in that firms had the option to bid a job with asphalt that had a useful life of either 20 or 12 years. Also possible was a bid to use concrete for a useful life of 20 years.

The four-lane project will include a bike trail and sidewalks, said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. The contract covers 50.6 kilometers or about 31.3 miles. Included are the jobs of enlarging some 19 bridges and building three underpasses.

The total investment is expected to be $154 million, most of which is a loan from the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo.

MECO bid on all three options. It offered 47 billion colons (about $94 million) for the 20-year asphalt and  60 billion colons (about $120 million) to put the same stretch in concrete. The 12-year asphalt bid was 40 billion colons or about $80 million.
road bids
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes/A.M. Costa Rica
Entire sseries of projects stretches to Nicaragua.

The ministry's Consejo Nacional de Vialidad has six weeks to study the proposals.

The Cañas-Liberia section is just one of four jobs that will widen the entire highway from Barranca to the Nicaragua border.

Officials said they were pleased at the response to the bidding and the amounts that were bid.

Golfito municipal trio remanded to jail in bribery investigation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge has remanded three officials of the Municipalidad de Golfito to prison for six months while allegations of bribery are investigated, said the Poder Judicial Monday.

The trio was detained over the weekend after a sting operation engineered by two North Americans who were seeking a concession from the municipality, the Poder Judicial said.

The officials were identified as the mayor, Deylon Gerardo Arroyo Blandón; the president of the municipal council,  Rodolfo Delgado Jiménez, and other official, Alexis Rojas Rojas.

The suspects are being investigated for seeking $75,000 from the foreign couple in exchange for permission for a concession
on Playa Pavones, said the Poder Judicial.

The trio was arrested about 1:30 p.m. Ssaturday in a hotel near the  Depósito Libre Comercial in Golfito where they wer in a meeting to accept payment from the couple, said the Poder Judicial.

Subsequent to the arrests, agents searched the municipal building.

The arrests followed a series of meetings between municipal officials and the couple. The couple contacted investigators when they thought that they were being solicited for a bribe. Marked bills were used in the exchange.

The municipality faces other unrelated investigations in the awarding of concessions.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 151

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Exiled Cuban writer and poet
dies at 56 in México City

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban-born writer and journalist Eliseo Alberto, living in exile in México, has died at the age of 59.

Alberto, nicknamed Lichi, died Sunday at a hospital in Mexico City after receiving a kidney transplant July 18.

He was celebrated as one of the best contemporary Spanish-language poetry and prose writers. He also wrote television scripts and taught at film schools in México and elsewhere.

Alberto said his books explored Christian themes such as regret, forgiveness and punishment.

In 1998, he received the Premio Alfaguara de Novela, an international Spanish-language literary award, for his novel "Caracol Beach."

Alberto was born in 1951 in Arroyo Naranjo, Cuba, and was the son of Cuban poet and intellectual Eliseo Diego.

In his autobiographical work "Informe contra mi mismo" he described how the Cuban security authorities asked him to report on his father's activities.

Chávez continues support
for Gadhafi in Libya

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says his country will not recognize Libya's opposition, calling the rebel Transitional National Council a group of terrorists.

Chávez Monday praised Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and criticized other nations that have recognized the opposition council.

The Venezuelan president has repeatedly condemned the international military operation in Libya. The North American Treaty Organization has enforced a no-fly zone and carried out airstrikes since March under a United Nations Security Council resolution to protect civilians from attacks by Gadhafi's forces.

More than 30 countries, including the United States, France and Britain, have recognized the opposition council as Libya's interim government.

Also Monday, France said it has released $259 million in frozen Libyan funds to the Transitional National Council for humanitarian needs.

Buenos Aires mayoralty
won by opposition figure

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The mayor of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has been re-elected in a runoff, defeating the hand-picked candidate of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

With about 99 percent of the votes counted from Sunday's election, Mayor Mauricio Macri had 64 percent. Macri is a businessman and former head of a soccer club. He ran against Sen. Daniel Filmus, who took 36 percent of the vote and has conceded defeat.

The capital's 2.4 million voters represent nearly 10 percent of the country's voting population.

The elections were widely viewed as a test of President Fernandez's popularity.

However, analysts have said a defeat for Ms. Fernandez's candidate in Buenos Aires would not hurt her chances of winning re-election Oct. 23.  Under Argentina's electoral system, candidates can win the presidency in the first round with 40 percent of the vote as long as their nearest rival trails by at least 10 percent.

A candidate who gets more than 45 percent of the vote wins the presidential election outright.

Sunday's runoff election took place one week after the president's candidate for governor of Santa Fe province finished third in that race.

Judicial agent foils
bus robbery in Atenas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers picked the wrong Atenas-bound bus Sunday night.

About 11 p.m. as the bus was entering Atenas three of men among the 35 passengers aboard stood up and announced they were robbing the driver and passengers, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Among the passengers was a judicial agent who announced that they were under arrest. One of the men fired on the agent injuring him in the arm, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The agent returned fire and hit the man in the stomach. At that point a second man picked up the weapon and fired on the agent. He, too, was shot by the agent, the agency said.

A third suspect, who was unhurt, was detained in the location, said investigators.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 151

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House passes legislation
raising U.S. debt limit

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. House of Representatives late Monday passed a bill to raise the country's debt ceiling in exchange for cuts in government spending - one day ahead of a potential default on America's $14.3 trillion national debt.  The action now shifts to the Senate.

The spotlight was on the House of Representatives as the speaker, Republican John Boehner, read the vote tally on the final vote to raise the debt ceiling and avert default.

"'Ayes' are 269, the 'nays' are 161," said Boehner. "The bill is passed, and without objection a motion to reconsider is laid on the table."

House Democrats had a surprise to make the vote even more momentous, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi explained:

“To witness the return of our colleague who is the personification of courage, of sincerity, of admiration throughout the country, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords," said Ms. Pelosi.

Rep Giffords of Arizona was shot and critically wounded in January during an assassination attempt and has been recovering ever since.  It was the first time in  the House chamber since the shooting.  Ms. Giffords waved and thanked her congressional colleagues, who gave her a standing ovation.  In a statement, she said she wanted to return to Congress to vote for the debt ceiling legislation.

After weeks of negotiations between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders to forge a deal to raise the nation's borrowing limit, attention shifted Monday to House Democrats, who were unhappy with the agreement crafted late Sunday.  A turning point might have come when House Minority leader, Ms. Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer came out in support of the bill on the House floor.

“I am voting for this bill - not because I like this bill, although it does do some things that I think need to be done," said Hoyer. "We need to bring down the [budget] deficit; we need to address the debt; we need to return to fiscal responsibility.  But default for the United States of America is not an option.”

The bipartisan bill would raise the U.S. debt ceiling by more than $2 trillion, enough to assure the federal government’s financial solvency through next year’s national elections — something the president insisted on.  It also provides for two rounds of spending cuts.

Several liberal Democrats said they could not support the bill because they feel it is unbalanced — cutting social programs for the America's least fortunate and not asking anything of the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers.  They said President Obama had compromised too much to win the support of conservative and libertarian Tea Party Republicans.

On the other side of the aisle, several Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee expressed concern about potential cuts in defense spending.   Before the vote, Rep. David Dreier, a Republican, appealed for lawmakers from both major parties to vote for the legislation.

The debt ceiling compromise faces its final hurdle with a vote planned today in the Senate, where analysts say it will likely pass and to go to President Obama for his signature.

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