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(506) 2223-1327          Published Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 167          Email us
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Tax on corporations hits new legislative roadblock
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A proposal to assess an annual tax on corporations ran into another problem in the legislature Tuesday.

Juan Carlos Mendoza García, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, confirmed during Tuesday's afternoon legislative session that 12 lawmakers have signed a request to send the measure to the Sala IV for judicial review.

Other lawmakers noted that this means a second vote on the tax measure will be put off until the court makes a decision and formally notifies the legislative leadership. Because 45 lawmakers did not sign the request suggests that the measure may get their votes when it is returned. That is enough to pass the bill.

This is the estimated $316 tax on active corporate entities. Monday the measure was sent back to committee for revision. Now the Sala IV constitutional court will review it for legal technicalities. One point will be if the Registro Nacional can be given the job of collecting a tax as the bill now provides.

The Movimiento Libertario has opposed the measure and lawmakers from that party were among those who signed the request for a high court opinion.

The bill is of high interest for some expats because many hold property in corporations to protect their
personal assets and to make sales easy and without transfer taxes.

There is an additional complication based on the technicalities of the Costa Rican constitution. The corporate tax bill has a high priority now because the executive branch has designed it as a high priority item. During August, the Presidencia controls the legislative agenda. But after Aug. 31, the bill may become lost among the other actions of the Asamblea Legislativa.

Lawmakers already have approved it on first reading. The second vote would have been final, but that seems to be put off for at least a couple of weeks. Sometimes the Sala IV takes months to issue a ruling.

This is the measure that President Laura Chinchilla has been trying to get passed because it will generate a windfall in the first week of the new year when the tax is supposed to be paid.

The money is supposed to be used for security to counter rising crime, but nearly half will go to financing a police school.

Meanwhile a committee will consider proposals for a sliding scale for the amount of the tax. Some lawmakers objected to the same tax for a large corporation as for a small one. The bill does provide that firms registered as a micro or small enterprise can be exempted from the tax. Inactive corporations are supposed to be half.


Anti-tobacco bill also suffers a setback in committee
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-tobacco activists suffered a setback Tuesday when a legislative committee agreed to consider an alternate text to a bill that would ban smoking in public places.

The Red Nacional Antitobacco sent out a message Tuesday morning saying that the members of Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales were likely to pass the bill out to the full legislature. That did not happen.

The bill is designed to bring the country into conformity with an international treaty on tobacco that entered into force in 2010.

Members of the Movimiento Libertario on the committee presented the new bill which makes substantial changes in the earlier document.
Committee members will take at least a week to study it.

The earlier bill also eliminates tobacco advertising and imposes a tax.

One version forbids selling cigarettes individually as is often done in Costa Rica.

A proponent of the anti-tobacco bill, José María Villalta Florez-Estrada, spoke out against the delay in the afternoon full legislative session. He blamed the tobacco lobby and called them representatives of companies that make business with death.

His comments came as lawmakers in the first debate and vote approved a law that creates a professional organization for physical therapists. The measure will require a second vote to be passed to the president, but there does not seem to be opposition.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 167

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Corte Suprema to support
stiffer parole measures


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Corte Suprema de Justica has agreed to stiffen the requirements for conditional liberty of prisoners. The court was acting on a review of bill No. 17.490 that is now in a legislative committee.

Under the current law a prisoner can request conditional liberty after having served half the term specified in a trial court sentence.

The proposed change would require the prisoner to serve three-quarters of the sentence. In addition, if the prisoner does not comply with the conditional aspects of the release or is involved in another crime, the bill would require that the prisoner be returned to serve out the rest of the penalty.

A new twist is that criminals sentenced for serious crimes like narcotrafficking, kidnapping or attacks against police would not be eligible for conditional release. The court was comfortable with this but suggested in its reply to the  Comisión Permanente Especial de Seguridad y Narcotráfico that the bill spell out specifically which crimes would be covered by this change, according to a summary released by the Poder Judicial.


Another officer involved
in Puntarenas illegalities

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another police officer from the Puntarenas area has been detained on the allegation that he tampered with evidence during a big sweep.

The sweep was last Wednesday when the Judicial police and prosecutors detained 19 persons in the vicinity of Puntarenas Centro on allegations of robbery, threats, extortion and drug trafficking.  The Poder Judicial said 12 of the suspects are current police officers and that three were former police officers. One person detained was a priest from a Puntarenas church.
 
The latest detainee was identified by the last names of Bogantes Cortés. He was attached to the El Roble police station. Prosecutors allege that he broke the seal on a confiscated car to remove evidence against one of a former officer.

The Poder Judicial said he was surprised in the act. Prosecutors were seeking preventative detention Tuesday afternoon in a court hearing. Most of the others detained have been jailed.

The Fuerza Pública moved 30 officers into the communities over the weekend to make up for the detained police officers.


Vice president treated at CIMA

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Presidencial reported Tuesday night that Alfio Piva Mesén, the country's first vice president, was treated at Hospital CIMA in the afternoon for what was described as a variation in blood pressure. His appearances for the rest of the week have been canceled and he has been ordered to rest at home, said a short report. However, he is in prefect health, the report said.


 
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.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 167

Prisma dental

Homeowners' garbage is a gold mine for the night army
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Call them the army of the night or the midnight recyclers.

They are the vast number of the country's poor who supplement their living by salvaging what they can from garbage. They mostly are invisible to the average citizen.

They also are some of the same folks who alternate as car guards or any number of other informal and irregular jobs.

There is a good aspect and a bad aspect. The trash treasure seekers recycle items that might otherwise be hauled to a dump and placed in a landfill.

In the negative column are the messes some leave and the possibility that they might come into possession of valuable personal information like credit card or bank statements.

Then, too, some also are crooks who seek any information that might give them access to a home. Others might be psychotic.

The night and early morning before garbage pickup might see five or six of these individuals, mostly men, sorting and inspecting garbage in urban areas. It is not a job for the faint of heart because some of the garbage left in those green plastic bags verge on disgusting.

Typically the trash pickers know the schedules of collection trucks. Others have made deals with
trash mess
A.M. Costa Rica photo
A midnight recycler left this mess.

homeowners along the route to collect their aluminum cans and newspapers.

Sometimes the competition can generate anger and lasting hard feelings. At other times the trash recyclers can be confrontational.

Generally workers on collection trucks also carry brooms and shovels to remove the mess  left much earlier in the day.


Tour of five city churches planned by Alliance Française
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alliance Française plans another walk into the history of San José Sept. 10. this time the topic is the five centrally located Roman Catholic churches.

The organization said that architect Andrés Fernández will discuss the structures.

The churches are the Catedral Metropolitana, El Carmen, La Dolorosa, La Solidad and La Merced.

La Merced, located east of the park by the same name on Avenida 2, has undergone a $1 million restoration financed by the Cervercería de Costa Rica, the Municipalidad de San José and the Catholic Church.
The five churches are major players in the Easter processions and other activities of Semana Santa in San José.

The walk begins at 9 a.m. The day is a Saturday, and there is a 15,000 colons admission, about $30, but that includes brunch. Tickets are available at the three locations of Alliance Française.  The main location is in Barrio Amón, but there are offices in La Sabana and Heredia.

The French cultural organization just had a similar tour of Barrio México, also an historic section of the city.
La Merced church
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Interior of Iglesia La Merced glitters in gold


Dinner for the ocean will raise funds for September cleanup
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The organization Terra Nostra plans a benefit dinner Aug. 30 with the theme Cena por el Océano, “Dinner for the Ocean.”

This is the organization that has been organizing the massive cleanups of beaches and of potential breeding spots for dengue mosquitoes. The money raised by the event will be used in September for its third national cleanup campaign.

Those who attend the $100-a-plate even are urged to wear comfortable clothing with an aquatic theme in white and blue colors. The dinner begins at 7 p.m. at Restaurante 
Tin Jo in San José. There are discounts for groups. The organization plans a magic show, live music and a silent auction.

The organization noted that the oceans are threatened by trash, among other things. The organization cited estimates that each year 6.4 million tons of trash arrive in the seas mainly from urban areas.

In Costa Rica, the organization said, 30 percent of the solid waste ends up in the streets and vacant land where much is eventually washed into the sea. Tickets are available at 2228-4317 or via email to matildes@terranostra-cr.or.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 167

Environmental groups unify against fishing in national parks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Environmental organizations are coming out against a legislative proposal to open up the waters of national parks to commercial fishing.

The Programa para Restauración de Tortugas Marinas issued a statement against bill No. 17.715 that has been approved by a committee in the Asamblea Legislativa. The organization known as Pretoma also issued a joint statement with Preserve the Planet and Promar against the proposal. The lengthy statement was signed by a number of organizations including the Leatherback Trust.

“National parks are the last refuge for many overfished species,” the organizations said.  “Conch and lobster, two heavily overfished species, still find refuge in national parks.  It has recently been proven that national parks are in fact effective tools to restore degraded ecosystems and recover not only biodiversity, but the processes that keep the planet alive as well, such as the recycling of nutrients, the absorption of CO2, and the production of new organisms.”

The statement noted that fishing for personal consumption already is allowed with conditions in national parks.
“The marine protected areas of national parks represent only 0.64 percent of Costa Rican jurisdictional waters,” the statement added. “As these marine protected areas include less
 than 1 percent of Costa Rica’s waters, it is unnecessary to promulgate a new law to open these areas to fishing.  99 percent of Costa Rica’s waters are available to promote projects that benefit the artisanal fishing sector, as well as others interested in responsible fisheries.”

The organizations noted that promoters of the bill said that it would prevent illegal activity, meaning the illegal fishing in restricted areas now. Said the statement:
 
“Social problems can’t be solved by legalizing illegal activities, they only get worse.  According to a recent press release issued by the national Liberation Party, bill # 17.715 seeks to 'avoid piracy and illegal fishing' in national parks.  In our view the bill doesn’t avoid piracy or illegal fishing at all, it just legalizes both.  To argue that the solution to such a complex problem such as illegal fishing in national parks lies in the legalization of such activities, is like trying to solve illegal logging in national parks by allowing it.  Illegal fishing currently represents a serious problem in national parks and the Ministry of Environment lacks the financial resources to fight it.  We would like to ask the authorities the following question:  How will the children and grandchildren of the artisanal fishermen make a living when no more populations of fish remain that can be sustainably exploited, not even in national parks?”

The statement urged more discussion of the issue with an eye toward establishing a solid fisheries policy.


U.S. firm admits faking invoices for trade treaty benefits
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A New Orleans, Louisiana, firm has pleaded guilty to transporting German-made hearing aides into Latin America and ducking import duties by pretending the devices were made in the United States. Such devices are exempt from customs duties if made in the United States under the Central American Free Trade Treaty and trade treaties with other countries.

One of the shipments intercepted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement involved a package to a Costa Rican customer valued at $22,946.50. The case was based on U.S. export laws that require accurate information about countries of origin.

The firm, American Overseas Trading Corp., admitted guilt in U.S. federal court. Sentencing is set for October, and the fine could range as high as $500,000, said the government.

By falsely classifying the German made hearing aids as products of the United States, the company also helped their customers avoid paying import duties under the North American Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated import tariffs on U. S. products in Mexico, said the U.S. Justice Department.

The investigation also revealed that the firm was carrying out the smuggling scheme by falsifying the country of origin on the shipper’s export declarations/certificates of origin, providing inaccurate values on the corresponding invoices and illegally repacking the merchandise, the agency said.
In the case of Costa Rica, customs enforcement agents intercepted a shipment in October 2008, at an office of DHL Express. The package contained a large quantity of hearing aids manufactured by A&M Hearing, a subsidiary of Siemens Audiologische Technik, which is based Germany, said the Justice Department. The shipping invoice, valued at $22,946.50, noted that the merchandise was manufactured in the United States of America, said the government, adding that later that day agents conducted a search of the firm's records of imports and discovered that it had imported the A&M Hearing aids from Germany.

Other countries involved in intercepted shipments were  Paraguay, Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, the government said. The company also used human smugglers to carry hearing aides overseas, said the Justice Department.

Double invoicing or stating a lower value on a shipment to reduce import duties is a traditional activity by some business people in Latin America and in the United States.  One Costa Rican scammer actually set up a company in Florida with a name similar to a large manufacturer of electronic equipment so he could issue himself false invoices that looked like the real one to save Costa Rican import duties.

Law enforcement agents in the United States and Latin America are increasing oversight because of the various trade treaties. U.S. officials worry about falsely labeled merchandise coming in from the south as well as mislabeled  products being exported.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 167

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Hurricane Irene takes aim
on Bahamas and then U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hurricane Irene is bearing down on the southeastern Bahamas as it also takes aim at the eastern coast of the United States.

The National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin Tuesday that the storm was about 145 kilometers (90 miles) east of Great Inagua Island, moving to the west-northwest with 150 kph (93 mph) winds.

Officials say that on the forecast track, Irene's core will move near or over the southeastern and central Bahamas later Tuesday and Wednesday, and near or over the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday.

The storm's core has been impacting the British territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands, where residents stocked up on supplies and took steps to safeguard property.

Irene is currently a Category One storm on the five-point scale of hurricane intensity, but is forecast to strengthen by Thursday. Forecasters say it could become a major hurricane by then.

Irene is the first storm to seriously threaten the United States in three years and could have an impact from Florida to the New England area.

Authorities have said Irene has the potential to cause flooding in the U.S. mid-Atlantic and New England regions, where soil is saturated from recent heavy rains. They also say Irene is a very large system whose tropical storm-force winds extend 330 kilometers (204 miles) from the center, bringing the entire East Coast of the United States in range of the hurricane.

The White House says officials briefed President Barack Obama on Tuesday about federal coordination with authorities in states that may be affected by the storm.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, said Tuesday the agency also is in contact with the National Park Service in Washington about the storm's potential to disrupt a Sunday dedication ceremony for a memorial to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning that urges Americans to carefully consider the risk of traveling to the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos due to the hurricane. The notice said Americans likely to be impacted by the storm and who do not have access to adequate and safe shelter, should consider leaving until Irene has passed and while commercial transportation is available.

Irene intensified into a hurricane over the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico before dawn Monday, flooding streets, knocking down trees and cutting power to about 1 million residents. There were no reports of serious injuries. President Obama declared an emergency in Puerto Rico late Monday, authorizing federal aid to help local authorities recover.


Sustainable sea bass found
to include some imposters


By the Clemson University news service

Clemson University population biologist Peter Marko and his colleagues have found that not all certified Chilean sea bass are what they are claimed to be. Some fish sold in stores are not from the fishing grounds certified as sustainable, and some are not Chilean sea bass at all.

The research by Marko, Holly Nance and Kimberly Guynn is reported in the Aug. 23 edition of Current Biology. The findings raise questions about the integrity of the chain of custody for retail fish certified to be from sustainable fisheries. Somewhere along the fish supply chain, which starts with the Marine Stewardship Council certifying that a location is a sustainable fishery and ends in a market with fish on ice eco-labeled as sustainably harvested seafood, a significant number of impostors are introduced.

Analyzing the mitochondrial DNA from fish purchased at retail outlets in eight U.S. states, the researchers found that 8 percent of 36 fish sampled were actually other species, according to Marko, and that 15 percent of 33 fish sampled had mitochondrial DNA variants that are not known from the South Georgia/Shag Rocks population, which is the only certified Chilean sea bass fishery. The location is in the South Ocean between Antarctica and the southern tip of South America.

“Our data point to a problem with the supply chain,” said Marko. “Fish are being sold that are improperly labeled. Where and how the uncertified fish reach market was not the focus of our research but are issues that deserve attention.”

Marko has been a fish sleuth before. In 2004, he and his students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill used genetic analyses to identify red snapper, finding out that a significant number of the fish sold in markets were not what were advertised.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 167

Costa Rica Reprot promo


Latin America news
Laura Chinchilla
Casa Presidencial photo
President Laura Chinchilla beams after being declared a distinquished guest during her visit to the administrative offices of the Mexican Federal District Tuesday, the last day of her visit there. With her is Marcelo Ebrard, chief of the Federal District government.


Social agency earmarks
$50,000 for fire victims


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's major social agency, the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social, has earmarked 25 million colons to help the 20 families who lost their homes in a spectacular blaze in Curridabat Monday. Some of their luckier neighbors will receive help, too.

That's about $50,000 that will first be used to provide daily necessities, clothing and food, depending on the economic condition of each family, said Fernando Marín Rojas, executive president of the agency.

The bulk of the families at the site of the fire, Barrio Nueva, are low income. Many lost everything when 10 homes were leveled by a fire fire fighters said was caused by children playing with matches. Others suffered some damage.

The affected families will receive a statement from the Cuerpo de Bomberos on the extent of their loss.


Museum closed for a day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo de Arte Costarricense is not closed for a month. It only was closed Sunday for electrical repairs.

The museum staff sent out an incorrect press release saying that the museum would be closed until Sept. 23. What they meant was Aug. 23, they confirmed Tuesday.

A.M. Costa Rica published the incorrect information last week. The question came up because the museum is hosting  Yogarte Saturday, which would not be possible if the museum were closed. The event includes a 9 a.m. tour of the museum with yoga and meditation to follow.





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