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(506) 2223-1327           Published Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 180          Email us
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for Sept. 11

The U.S. Marine color guard presented the U.S. Flag at a ceremony Sunday morning commemorated Sept. 11, 2001.  In the background is the monument that is the centerpiece of the small park in Sabana Norte.

Our story in HERE!

Temporary luxury housing tax is now permanent
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla and the legislature have quietly removed an expiration deadline on the luxury home tax.

The original law, No. 8683, contained a clause, Article 19,  that specified that the tax would only last for 10 years. Many accepted the luxury home tax because of the expiration date.

Without any public comment and in an obscure way, the legislature passed Aug. 25 a revision of the tax law. That was No. 8981. The new measure reaffirmed that the tax should be paid in the first 30 days of the calendar year and that persons who purchase property are responsible for the entire tax when it is due. That means that buyers should require those closing the deal to prorate the luxury home tax if the property is subject to the law.

In a single sentence in Article F of the Aug. 25 law, the legislature repealed Article 19 of the luxury tax measure, which was passed Nov. 19, 2008. The tax is supposed to help build decent homes for those living in slums, but the government has not done that yet with the money that came in at the first of 2009, 2010, and 2011. However, the tax collecting agency, the Dirección General de Tributación, has made a lot of publicity chasing down professional soccer players who did not pay the tax.

Now the tax appears to join the nation's other levies that will be collected annually forever.

There was no public announcement of the new law, but a copy showed up in the La Gaceta official newspaper. Even with a close reading of the text, most would not realize the effect. There was no mention of this repeal on public statements by the legislature either.
The 2008 law can be found HERE.

A copy of the law extending the tax can be found HERE!

The luxury tax is based on a sliding scale from .25 percent to .55 percent, depending on the value of the dwelling and the grounds immediately around it.

According to the original law, properties equal to or less than 100 million colons (now about $196,250) are exempt from the tax, but the president has the power to change that number.  Owners of properties valued at more than 100 million colons up to 250 million (about $490,600) pay the lowest tax, .25 percent of the estimated value.

The tax was sold to the public as a 10-year assessment to eliminate slums, and many expats thought that this was a reasonable levy, particularly since it would go away in 10 years. The measure seems to have had an effect on the real estate market, although the extent is hard to tell because there are other factors influencing sales.

The biggest problem with the luxury home tax was that the value was based on a complicated evaluation of the replacement cost of a property rather than the market value. Many homeowners had to hire experts to establish a value under the government's complex system.

The expiration date was deleted during a period when all legislation has to be initiated by the chief executive. Casa Presidencial is desperate for funds, and nearly half of the future budget is financing by borrowing. The possibility exists that the money from the luxury home tax could be diverted into the general budget with another inconspicuous legal change.

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Our readers' opinions
Are Sept. 11 attackers simply
misunderstood freedom lovers?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read with interest Ms Stuart's remarks about 9/11 anniversary. Apparently the people who planned and executed this attack are mislabeled ? Are they just poor misunderstood freedom loving people who decided to massacre 3,000 innocent women children, and, oh yes, us war mongering men in the U.S.

I don't know what country Ms Stewart hails from, but it must be the Land of Oz if she really believes that these people are not anything but religious fanatics who will gladly kill and take their own lives to kill anyone who does not believe as they do. 

Yes, even I would agree that we have made our point in the wars which followed this tragedy, but as long as these people are on the defensive, they have much less ability to plan finance and execute more innocent lives. We all wish we lived in a beautiful, peaceful, "Let's all get along," world. Unfortunately, that has not happened in the last 5,000 years, and it is unlikely that it will anytime soon.

Thank God for the the men and women who voluntarily risk and lose their lives to keep this from happening again. That, Ms. Stewart is why we honor them on 9/11 and will continue to do so.                  
Fred Cole
Nuevo Arenal

Speeding fines ridiculous
and disproportionate

Dear A.M Costa Rica:

I felt I had to write a comment on the new traffic cameras, and their fines. Are they insane ? They already have thousands of appeals pending on the existing disproportionate traffic fines, now they are going to add thousands more.

We all surely agree with fines and points for exceeding speed limits, but they must be appropriate to the offense and within the means of the offenders. $600, for most Ticos, would probably rob their families of food for a month. For many, the car is not worth $600.

The idea of a three-year prison term for speeding is even more ridiculous. Without any benefit system, how would the offenders family survive. I know they should not have offended in the first place, but there has to be a better solution than this. Make the fines in line with other countries. The fines should include bans on licenses for excessive speeds. If you are caught driving after that, then threaten the prison system.

My real gripe with the driving laws that are being passed, is over the way people drive. I am sure most readers have been nearly injured by some maniac overtaking in an impossible situation, like blind corners and heavy traffic. They may not have been speeding as they performed their stupid action, but they risked several people's lives at the time. Where are the traffic cops and cameras then ?

Let's get the idiot drivers, uninsured drivers, and unroadworthy vehicles off the roads first.
Mike Keelan

Find out what the papers
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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, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 180

Prisma dental

Mario Zamora, Anne S. Andrew and Johnny Araya pause for a minute to render tribute to those who died Sept, 11, 2001. They were at a park in Sabana Norte Sunday morning.

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Expats and diplomats gather to remember Sept. 11, 2001
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister, Mario Zamora Cordero, likened drug traffickers to terrorists when he spoke to a mixed expat-Costa Rican gathering Sunday morning.

Zamora was the highest ranking government official to attend the ceremony commemorating the deaths of nearly 3,000 persons at the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists 10 years earlier. Zamora is on the front lines battling drug gangs, and he expressed concern about the development of narco states in Central American countries.

U.S. Ambassador Anne S. Andrew correctly noted in her talk that citizens of 90 countries were among the victims of the four coordinated suicide attacks that day. She delivered her speech in Spanish and in English.

Like some of the expats in the audience, Ms. Andrew said many to whom she spoke about that day were outside the United States far from their homes and that these individuals had stories different than those who were in the States. She was speaking principally of State Department employees.

Costa Rica suffered from the attack mainly through the freeze on air transport and the impact that had on tourism.

Johnny Araya, mayor of San José also spoke. The three were at the Parque 11 de Setiembre in Sabana Norte. In concluding the ceremony, the three speakers stood in front of the monument there for the attack victims for a minute of silence.

Members of the year-old Costa Rica Detachment of the Marine Corps League and Post 10 of the American Legion from Escazú had a strong presence. There also were foreign dipomats.

The ceremony was conducted under tight security by the Fuerza Pública and the K-9 patrol.

Zamora and the ambassador headed for Juan Santamaría
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Ambassador Anne S. Andrew greets an audience member

airport where another ceremony saw the arrival by helicopter of the image of the Virgin de Los Ángeles, the patroness of the country. The security ministry and its  Dirección del Servicio de Vigilancia rendered homage to those who died in the terrorist attacks and attended a Roman Catholic Mass at a chapel at the headquarters of the aviation section.

Later Zamora told reporters that Costa Rica has one of the most secure air terminals and that this has been verified by international audits. Many of the security measures were instituted as a result of the terrorist attacks. There also was additional training, he noted. 

Oldemar Madrigal Medal, director general of the ministry's air service, said that security will be stepped up next month at Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia.

Agents believe 19,000 ecstasy tablets were for local use
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An agricultural inspector at Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia came upon more than 19,000 ecstasy tablets during a routine inspection, said law enforcement officials.

The discovery resulted in the detention of a 52-year-old Israeli tourist named Avi Revach.

Officials said that the inspector for the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería at first thought the four black plastic bags in the luggage might contain seeds, which are subject to inspection.

The tourist had arrived from Belgium on a Jet Air Fly aircraft. The man had not been in Costa Rica previously but had visited Colombia, said agents from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. They said the tablets were for the local market.

This is the type of drug that youngsters use at dance clubs and rock concerts because it generates a short-term euphoric feeling. The tablets sell in the underground market for up to 10,000 colons each. That's nearly $20.

Revach was ordered held for six months pre-trial detention, the ministry reported.

smuggled pills
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
These are some of the confiscated tablets

In another drug incident over the weekend, agents said that a Guatemalan trucker had 45 packages of cocaine in one of the fuel tanks of his rig. The man who has the last names of Alvarado Acevedo was traveling from San José to Nicaragua, said agents. He was detained at the Peñas Blancas border post.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 180

New coral dating method shows sea levels were unstable
By the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
news service

New evidence of sea-level oscillations during a warm period that started about 125,000 years ago raises the possibility of a similar scenario if the planet continues its more recent warming trend, says a research team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In a paper published online in this week's Nature Geoscience, the researchers report data from an improved method of dating fossil coral reef skeletons in the Bahamas.  By calculating more accurate ages for the coral samples than previously possible, they found that sea levels were considerably less stable than earlier believed — oscillating up and down by 4 to 6 meters (13-20 feet) over a few thousand years about 120,000 years ago during a period known as the Last Interglacial.

“This was the last time that climate was as warm as — or warmer than — today,” said geochronologist William G. Thompson, lead author of the study.  “If today’s ice sheets continue to melt, we may be headed for a period of ice sheet and sea-level change that is more dynamic than current observations of ice sheets suggest.”

The polar ice caps currently are shrinking and sea level is rising at a rate of about 30 centimeters (one foot) per century.  “How much sea level will rise over the next century or two is a crucial question for the significant part of the world’s population that lives in coastal zones,” Thompson said.

A better understanding of sea-level change in the past can help to inform predictions for the future.  Historical records such as those from tide gauges extend back only a century or so.  “The geological record offers a longer perspective on rates of change,” Thompson said, “and sea-level changes during previous warm intervals are especially relevant to today’s situation.”  Sea levels during the last interglacial are known to have been about 6 meters (20 feet) higher, on average, than they are today.  “The real surprise is that sea levels were oscillating during this period.”

To get more accurate age estimates from the geological record, Thompson developed an advanced way of interpreting the uranium and thorium isotope ratios that have been traditionally used as a coral dating method. Until now, scientists attempting to date last interglacial coral reefs concluded erroneously that sea level was relatively stable during this period. “Our analysis of last interglacial fossil reef ages represents a breakthrough in our understanding of U-Th coral dating, leading to improved chronologies of past sea-level change,” Thompson said.
Sea level change
Photo by H. A. Curran, Smith College
William G. Thompson, lead author of the study, samples a fossil coral on Great Inagua Island, Bahamas.

Thompson teamed up with colleagues H. Allen Curran and Brian White of Smith College, and Mark A. Wilson of the College of Wooster, experts on the key Bahamas fossil coral sites.  “The geologic evidence for sea-level change at these sites is convincing,” said Curran, “but we couldn’t absolutely prove sea-level oscillation without more precise dating.”

Because coral reefs grow near the sea surface, they are accurate markers of former sea levels.  Two fossil reefs are evident at the Bahamas sites, separated by an erosional surface that was cut by wave action.  The first reef grew when sea levels were about 4 meters (13 feet) higher than today.  “The fall of sea-level is indicated by the wave-cut erosion of this first reef,” said Wilson, “and the second sea-level rise was recorded by the growth of new corals on this eroded surface.  The dating of fossil corals below and above this erosional surface, using our new methods, reveals important details about the timing of sea-level change that were previously obscured.”

The finding of a significant sea-level oscillation 120,000 years ago is in sharp contrast to the last 5,000 years, where sea level has been relatively stable.  “It appears that the smaller ice sheets of the last interglacial were significantly less stable than today’s ice sheets,” Thompson said.

Should the current warming trend continue, Thompson said, a scenario similar to that of the last interglacial could result.  “Variable sea level during the last interglacial points to instability in the polar ice sheets, which were somewhat smaller than today.  If changing climate leads to smaller ice sheets in the future, this may provoke similar instability.”

Greenland ice cores show that climate can change rapidly
By the University of Cardiff news service

Drill cores taken from Greenland’s vast ice sheets provided the first clue that Earth’s climate is capable of very rapid transitions and have led to vigorous scientific investigation into the possible causes of abrupt climate change.

Such evidence comes from the accumulation of layers of ancient snow, which compact to form the ice-sheets. Each layer of ice can reveal past temperatures and even evidence for the timing and magnitude of distant storms or volcanic eruptions. By drilling cores in the ice scientists have reconstructed an incredible record of past climates. Until now such temperature records from Greenland have covered only the last 100,000 years or so.

An international team of scientists, led by Stephen Barker of Cardiff University, has produced a prediction of what climate records from Greenland might look like over the last 800,000 years.

The team's reconstruction is based on the much longer ice core temperature record retrieved from Antarctica and uses a
 mathematical formulation to extend the Greenland record beyond its current limit.

"Our approach is based on an earlier suggestion that the record of Antarctic temperature variability could be derived from the Greenland record,” said Barker. "However, we turned this idea on its head to derive a much longer record for Greenland using the available records from Antarctica."

The research published in the journal Science demonstrates that abrupt climate change has been a systemic feature of Earth's climate for hundreds of thousands of years and may play an active role in longer term climate variability through its influence on ice age terminations.

"It is intriguing to get an insight into what abrupt climate variability may have looked like before the Greenland records begin. We now have to wait until longer Greenland records are produced so that we can see how successful our prediction is,” Barker added.

The new predictions provide an extended testing bed for the climate models that are used for predictions.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 180

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Just 3 percent of votes
counted in Guatemala

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Guatemalan election officials say retired Gen. Otto Pérez Molina has taken the lead in the presidential election with 37 percent support with only about 3 percent of the votes counted.

Guatemalans looking for relief from poverty and out-of-control crime went to the polls Sunday to choose a new president.

Pre-election opinion polls favored 61-year-old Pérez of the Partido Patriota as the leading candidate, but with far less than the 50-percent support needed to avoid a runoff in November.

Pérez will likely face conservative businessman Manuel Baldizon in a second round.

The country's Tribunal Supremo Electoral issued the report on voting about 10:30 p.m.

The campaigns have focused on who will do the best job in controlling crime, primarily linked to drug trafficking.

The winner will take over in January, replacing President Álvaro Colom, who is barred by law from running for re-election. Pérez lost a tight race to Colom in 2007 when the contest went to a runoff.

Chávez demands evidence
his officials help rebels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez challenged U.S. President Barack Obama Friday to prove U.S. claims that four Venezuelan officials are involved in drugs and arms trafficking.

The U.S. accused the four men Thursday of providing arms, security and training to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the country's main rebel group. 

The Venezuelans were placed on the U.S. narcotics kingpins list, freezing any assets they might have in the U.S. and barring Americans from doing business with them.

Washington identified the men as Gen. Cliver Alcala, lawmaker Freddy Bernal, Amilcar Figueroa, a delegate to the Latin American Parliament, and intelligence official Ramon Madriz.

President Chávez says by putting the Venezuelan men on the blacklist, the U.S. might be laying the groundwork to eventually place Venezuela on a list of countries that support terrorism. 

Venezuelan authorities delivered a formal complaint about the sanctions Friday to the U.S. Embassy.

Cliff Robertson dies at 88
after long dramatic career

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

American movie actor Cliff Robertson, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a mentally disabled janitor in the 1968 movie “Charly,” died Saturday, a day after his 88th birthday.

Robertson's long career began in the mid-1950s and continued into the 21st century.  His later roles included kindly Uncle Ben in the Spider Man movies.

In 1963, Robertson starred as Lieutenant John F. Kennedy in the naval war film “PT 109” about the military days of the young man who would become a U. S. president.

Robertson created a string of impressive performances in television and on Broadway, but always saw his stage roles played in films by bigger names.  His TV performances in “Days of Wine and Roses” and “The Hustler,” for example, became movies starring Jack Lemmon and Paul Newman.

Robertson was determined that would not happen with his role in the TV story “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon.”  He bought the movie rights, changing the movie title to “Charly.”  Robertson won an Oscar for his portrayal of the mentally disabled man who is transformed into a genius in an experiment, only to regress to his former self.

Robertson is also remembered for exposing powerful Columbia Studios chief David Begelman, who had forged the actor's name on a $10,000 check in the late 1970s.  The ensuing scandal saw Robertson essentially blacklisted in the film industry until the early 1980s.

Robertson's second wife was actress and heiress Dina Merrill, daughter of financier E.F. Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune and one of the world's richest women.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 180

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Latin America news
tiny frog
Photo by Manuel Antonio Ramirez Corrales
A tiny frog blends well with the background. The endangered critter was found in Lomas de San Rafael Arriba de Desamparados by a youngster, Ariel Guzmán Ramírez, and liberated after the photo.

High seas drug suspects
included minor as crewman

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the Costa Ricans nabbed on the high seas by a U.S. Navy ship was a minor. He was delivered to port along with four adult Costa Ricans and one Nicaraguan citizen.

All were part of the crew of the María Canela, a fishing boat with a Puntarenas home port. The USS Boone intercepted the craft en route north from the Galapagos Islands, thus setting off a minor diplomatic conflict. Some lawmakers did not want to allow the U.S. Navy ship to dock in Costa Rica. Such legislative approval is required.

As it turned out, the Boone already had planned to refuel at another Central American port, and the prisoners were transferred to the USS Rentz, which got a last-minute permission from the Asamblea Legislativa Wednesday. Some lawmakers contended that because the María Canela flew a Costa Ricans flag, it was an extension of the national territory. However, the U.S. Navy works under an agreement with Costa Rica that regulates anti-drug patrols.

The Poder Judicial identified the captured Costa Rican crewmen by the last names of  Núñez Núñez, Moreira González, Rivas Castrillo and Campos Bolandi, the Nicaragua has the last names of Díaz Pérez. All five were being questioned Friday by prosecutors. The youth was directed to the Fiscalía Adjunta Penal Juvenil.

Three Colombians on the same boat are headed to court in the United States. The U.S. Navy said they confiscated 1,200 kilos of cocaine, and some lawmakers were anxious to have the entire amount unloaded in Puntarenas. The Navy just provided 10 kilos as a sample for use at trial.

Costa Rica has not been rigorous in safeguarding cocaine. Men later identified as police officers, stole a large shipment from the prosecutor's office in Golfito. In another case, men working at an incinerator where drugs are burned liberated some of the substance. Both cases resulted in arrests.

Utility fraud suspected

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bank customers noted between March and July this year that someone was paying unknown utility bills from their accounts. The Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization looked into the case and made two arrests in Tirráses de Curridabat Friday. One of the suspects is a Fuerza Pública officer, the agency said.

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