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(506) 223-1327                   Published Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 160            E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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Legislators will get measure to end maternity fears
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the questions that runs through the mind of a Costa Rica women when she finds out she is pregnant is "Will they fire me?"

Employers routinely discharge women who admit to being pregnant to save themselves the cost of a 120-day leave. Women in their child-bearing years also face a harder time when they seek jobs.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and President Óscar Arias Sánchez took steps Monday to diminish this problem. The president and the head of the Caja said they are sending a proposal to the Asamblea Legislativa under which the Caja would assume all the salary expenses associated with women who take maternity leave. Right now the employer pays half and the Caja pays half.

The extent of the problem was outlined by  Eduardo Doryan, executive president of the Caja. He said that 527 women filed labor complaints in 2006 about employers who did not live up to the law. He estimated this number might be from 10 to 20 percent of those who actually were cheated.

". . . we are not disposed to accept that the act of giving life, to bring a son or daughter to this marvelous world, an act most miraculous of all, should be an obstacle to the professional achievements of our women," said Arias.

The change in the law would cost the Caja about 6 billion colons a year, said Doyran. That's $11.5 million.
you're fired

Technically the legislature would have to change a section of the Codigo de Trabajo, and the Caja board would have to make a change in its regulations.

Women still would have the right to a month off before giving birth and three months thereafter, as the law specifies now.

The measure has strong support in the legislature because some lawmakers feel that the current system is highly discriminatory to women and tends to prevent most women from rising to tops levels in their profession. There also are the related problems of female unemployment and underemployment.

Adding to the problem is the fact that many homes are headed by single mothers.

You can count on gasoline and diesel price hike every second Friday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sick of seeing the price of gasoline and diesel go up every other day? Tired of waiting on line to fill the car up on those days before the price hike takes effect?

Well, the price regulating agency decided Monday that it would only change the price once a month — on the second Friday. And the agency will use a simple methodology that will only consider the international price and the exchange rate.

Petroleum in Costa Rica is a state monopoly of the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo.
The decision was by the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos and will cover all petroleum products, not just gasoline and diesel.

The agency was rebuffed by the Sala IV constitutional court in May for not providing sufficient input from citizens under a system that it had been using. So it set up hearings on this new proposal that will be published Thursday in the la Gaceta government newspaper.

Costa Rica imports all its petroleum. An effort by a U.S. company to do exploratory drilling on the Caribbean shelf was cut short on environmental grounds.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 160

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Contraloría says Limón
can't handle garbage needs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de Limón does not have the ability to administer garbage collection and is failing in its constitutional duty to maintain a health environment, said the Contraloría de la República Monday after a study.

Garbage always has been a problem on the Caribbean coast, but the Contraloría report said it deplored the fact that Limón is spending more than 300 million colons ($577,000) already this year to haul trash some 200 kms (124 miles) to the Los Mangos landfill in Alajuela.

Limón is not collecting enough money to pay for this service and has run a large deficit said the Contraloría, which is the nation's financial watchdog.

The report called on the mayor and municipal council to immediately address the problem.
Saudi investor considers
more hotels for Papagayo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saudi investor Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud helicoptered into San José from his Guanacaste vacation spot to meet with President Óscar Arias Sánchez Monday. The meeting was quietly relocated from the Arias Rohrmoser home to Casa Presidencial.

An Arias press release said that the man, one of the world's richest, was considering more hotel investments in Costa Rica. He has a 20 percent stake in the Four Seasons group where he is staying as well as other hotel properties around the world.

The release said that Costa Rica had an appropriate democratic system and political stability. His country is an absolute monarchy. Al-Waleed said that he might open two hotels more in Papagayo and suggested the Fairmont chain and Raffles, as well as the possibility of putting four to six hotels elsewhere. Papagayo is a government project directed by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

Trade treaty opponent here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

David Edeli, senior organizer for Global Trade Watch, will talk about the Free Trade Treaty with the United States today at 2:30 p.m. at the chapel in the former Sión building on the grounds of the legislature. His organization is part of Public Citizen, which opposes the treaty. He is being hosted by the Partido Acción Ciudadana.

New university on agenda

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers this month will see a proposal to found a new public technical university in Alajuela. The bill was listed as a priority by the executive branch Monday. This would be the fifth public university, but officials of the other four have not been strongly supportive.

Our reader's opinion
Insurance and real estate tax
contain hidden aspects

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A couple of comments on the insurance and home tax situation here in Costa Rica.

The idea of a "progressive" tax is very popular. The more the house costs, the more the tax will be. That seems fair with the popular idea that the rich should pay more.
The catch here is inflation. The house that today costs $100,000 will cost $200,000 in a little over 7 years at the current rate of inflation. Houses that cost $200,000 will cost $400,000, etc. By passing this legislation the government is, in effect, voting themselves more of your money when you want to buy a new house in the future.

The demand for housing will increase in the future as more U.S. citizens retire. This will also cause an increase in the taxes.

Progressive income taxes killed production in England around the 1960s. And increase in pay meant that the government people were actually making less money because it put them in a higher tax bracket. Thus people were refusing raises and refused to take more responsibility or be more productive. The entire country went into a slump as a result until this situation was reversed.
The wealthy can afford to a pay for accountants and legislators to keep their taxes low. Warren Buffit, the second richest man in the U.S. recently told one of the presidential candidates that the percent of taxes of some of his executives was higher than his taxes. He was pointing out the inequity of this situation.

Chavez in Venezuela was essentially able to take over because you had a legislature and government that was owned by the rich that was setting up systems that allowed them to become more rich while keeping the vast majority poor. This was capitalism to an extreme. Chávez has the wrong target if he thinks it was the U.S. that caused this situation in Venezuela. He need only look in his own back yard. My wife is Venezuelan and from what I hear Chávez is only putting his people in positions to receive the benefits of being a government. No real change is taking place in the long run.
So much for taxes. Let's move on to insurance.
I hear from the U.S. that 40 percent of the people in the U.S. don't have health insurance. Isn't that terrible. When I was there I was one of that 40 percent. And the reason I was was because I was healthy. And I would suggest to you that a good portion of those 40 percent are healthy. I eat well and am not overweight. Why should I pay for those who do not eat well and do not take care of themselves?
The same applies for auto Insurance. I have been driving for almost 40 years. I have been involved in only two minor accidents at the beginning of that 40 years. I am what you would call a good, aggressive, defensive driver. And yet I pay the same insurance rates as a person who is a bad driver. That is not fair.

I would like to see Costa Rica put in a system of everyone paying a low rate for insurance. And if you have an accident then your rate would go up. If you have several accidents, then you loose your license. This system would encourage poor drivers to drive better because they would know that they would have to pay more if they had an accident. It would encourage better education of new drivers because they would know that they will be paying a high price if they aren't careful.
Mark Mobley
San José, Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 160

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Rental car prices show wide range, economics ministry says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rental car rates can vary by as much as $23 a day for economy vehicles and as much as $48 a day for all-terrain vehicles, according to the economics ministry.

In one of the ministry's consumer studies, employees went looking for rental cars in the greater metropolitan area two days in July. In addition to price variances from 49 to 57 percent, they also reported that only four of the 14 firms studied complied with a law requiring keeping public vital consumer information.

For example, two companies did not have signs showing the rates for various types of vehicles and eight companies did not display the money exchange rate for the day.

And just one had signs in a language other than Spanish, said the ministry.

The Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio conducts periodic surveys of compliance in a number of industries. It also maintains a consumer complaint bureau.

The surveyors fond that the price of an economy car like a Nissan Sentra or a Toyota Yaris ranged from $40 to $62.95 a day. That included basic insurance. The most inexpensive firm was Mapache and the most expensive was Dollar Rent a Car. To rent a 4x4, Economy charged
Daily rate
1. Mapache
2. Avis
3. Toyota
4. Hertz
5. Tricolor
6. Alamo
7. Eurocar
8. Sixt
9. Economy
10. Budget
11. National
12. Payless
13. Hola
14. Dollar
*Final figures include some small tax charges

$98 a day and National charged $146.35.

Jorge Woodruff, a vice minister, reminded shoppers that cars rented at airports usually carry a 12 percent surcharge.

U.S. paying to find ways to interest public in trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States will pay up to $150,000 for ideas on how to encourage citizens to participate in environmental decision-making and in the development of cooperative related activities.

The regional environmental hub of the U.S. Embassy here published the request for proposals Sunday and specified an Aug. 20 deadline.

The proposals not only include Costa Rica, which has not approved the treaty, but also those countries that have.

Those who oppose the free trade treaty argue that the agreement will weaken national environmental laws. But the treaty's chapter on environment appears more designed to encourage paper-pushing.

Chapter 17 of the free trade treaty says that each country should enforce its own environmental laws, whatever they are. The treaty established an Environmental Affairs Council. However, the treaty also says countries are not supposed to evaluate how well other countries are enforcing their environmental laws.

Specifically it says: ". . . nothing in this chapter shall be construed to call for the examination under this agreement of whether a party’s judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative tribunals have
appropriately applied that party’s environmental laws."

Unhappy citizens of the countries participating in the treaty can approach the new Environmental Affairs Council, which will hear the environmental complaint as long as it "appears to be aimed at promoting enforcement rather than at harassing industry."

The council staff can then investigate and make a report, but since the council's decisions are by consensus, there is little chance that a country's representative on the council will find against the homeland.

The chapter appears to put nearly all the responsibility for environmental enforcement on the laws of the various countries, although the signatory nations agree to have impartial panels and courts decide the local cases.

In addition to the United States, these countries have ratified the agreement: the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Costa Ricans will get a chance to vote on the treaty Oct. 7.

The grants promised by the request for proposals can range from $5,000 to $25,000. They seemed to be geared to finding ways to get citizens of trade treaty countries to attend the occasional environmental council meetings.

More details are HERE.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 160

Guatemala sets up independent group to fight criminals
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A new international commission will aid Guatemalan authorities in investigating and prosecuting illicit groups engaged in violence in the Central American nation.

The new commission’s work in curtailing violence in Guatemala is seen as boosting that nation’s human rights condition and the rule of law. The Guatemalan Congress Aug. 1 approved creation of the body, called the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.

James Derham, U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, said that the United States, along with other international donors, plans to contribute funds for the commission and is in the process of identifying sources to help get the commission operating as soon as possible.

Derham said that under an initial two-year mandate, the U.N.-led commission will investigate crimes committed by “criminal structures and clandestine security organizations that threaten civil and political rights and undermine the rule of law in Guatemala.”  Derham added that the commission will assist Guatemalan government institutions in prosecuting the clandestine groups, promoting justice
and police reforms, and implementing institutional screening processes.

The commission will be an independent body with headquarters in Guatemala City, although its commissioner will be appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The commissioner will report periodically to Ban.

Derham indicated that while the United Nations has supported both international and national “truth commissions” in Latin America and worldwide, this will be the first time that a U.N.-sponsored commission will support local authorities in their work to prosecute crime.  Truth commissions, such as one established in Guatemala in 1994, are used to clarify events that occur during a country’s internal conflict.

As part of its mandate, the commission will seek to strengthen Guatemalan government institutions, such as the public prosecutor’s office, police and judiciary, to dismantle clandestine groups.

Guatemala was ravaged by a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.  More than 200,000 people were killed in the conflict.

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U.N. fund says women curtailed

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Although the rate of female participation in the workforce in Latin America and the Caribbean is at an all-time high, women are still being prevented from reaching their economic potential by their child-rearing and caretaking responsibilities, as well as their low status in some countries, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

This was the main issue discussed as part of a fund-organized event in Quito, Ecuador, called “Toward a New Social and Gender Pact: Shared Responsibility for Productive and Reproductive Work in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Nearly 60 per cent of the reasons given by women in the region for either not entering or leaving the job market are related to their roles as mothers and caregivers, according to a press release.

The fund said that statistically, there is a correlation between poverty and high birth rates, which curb women’s prospects to earn a better livelihood.

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