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These stories were published Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 184
Jo Stuart
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Sala IV to hear case of big jump in boat taxes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s constitutional court will hear a claim that deputies have levied a confiscatory and arbitrary tax on large boats.

The decision came last week in the case of Calypso Tours, S.A., the company that owns the popular 70-foot catamaran Manta Ray which conducts tourist voyages in the Pacific from its Puntarenas home port.

Allan Garro Navarro is the lawyer who maneuvered the case to the Sala IV, the constitutional branch of the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

The court noted in the decision to hear the case that Costa Rica has raised the tax on the Manta Ray from 200,000 colons to the current 3 million. That’s a jump from under $1,000 to $8,274 at the current rate of exchange. 

An increase of that nature is confiscatory, violates property rights and is arbitrary, unreasonable and totally disproportionate, Garro told the court.

Court papers calculated the increase to be 1,400 percent.

According to Garland M. Baker, vice president of finance for Calypso Tours, the  case began in 1997 when deputies removed a limit on the tax. Up until that time, boats were assessed at 1 percent of their imported value, but no more than 200,000 colons. Baker said that without the cap, the tax was as high as $16,500 per year.

Calypso’s efforts will be opposed before the court by the Procuraduría General of Costa Rica and the Dirección General of Tributación Directa, the tax collecting agency.

The case is a constitutional one because the Costa Rican Constitution forbids confiscatory taxes, that is taxes that are so high that they effectively take the property away from the owner.

No date has been set for a full hearing before the court.

Baker said the case has relevance for other boat owners in Costa Rica. He also is unhappy that Costa Rican law lists boats as either fishing vessels or recreational craft. 

He said the Manta Ray is neither: it is a tourism boat that should receive special treatment under the law.

Hidden museum holds history of postal service
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Where in the world can you find Costa Rica’s oldest stamp? Well, in downtown San Jose, of course. 

The Museo Filatelico de Costa Rica, located on the second floor of the main post office, offers a unique experience for the avid stamp buff or even for just your average culture junkie.

From stamps, including the oldest one Costa Rica has issued, to old typewriters, weighing scales dating from 1939, and Morse code equipment, the museo has it all. 

The stamp displays largely focus on series from the 60s, 70s and 80s, but there are a number of stamps from the world’s seven continents, which are cleverly arranged in cases containing colorful maps pinpointing the stamps’ origins.

As far as the overall layout goes, there are three staggered sections or rooms starting at the entrance, where there is an old-style magnetic working telephone, through to the kid-themed middle room, and culminating in the focus of the museo: the stamps.

The oldest stamp, issued in 1863, is a bold blue print depicting a mountainous landscape. The original is housed here. Also in residence is a photocopy of the first ever stamp in the world, the famous 1840 one penny black.  It’s British and is of a young Victoria in the standard side-profile pose, as seen in British stamps today.

One thing that might be of caution, though, is how to get there. Grant Robinson, a tourist from Auckland, New Zealand, said: "This place isn’t so easy to find. It’s not too well marked."

But for a building that was built by the English Construction Co. in 1917 for 27,114 

Christian Burnham/A.M. Costa Rica
Grant Robinson of Auckland, New Zealand, a self-described typical tourist, checks out some recent commemorative stamps.

British pounds (around $35,000), it has stood the test of time well. The outer appearance is an impressionable one. There are few other buildings in the area of equal visual variety.

As Lica. Yolanda Salmevon Barquero, regional director, states: "This place is protected, it is of national repute." That’s not something that can be taken lightly.

For those of you out there who want to see some postage history, this is well worth a few moments of your time. For everyone else, go along anyway, there’s a fine array of recent history and geographical information at hand — you never know what you might learn.

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Old-world style barbershop cuts to the chase
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The sign outside is resoundingly succinct: Cuts, unisex, 500 colons. But the Peluqueria Rex, a barbershop on Avenida 6 in the center of San Jose, has much more to offer than possibly the cheapest haircut in town.

To pass through its entrance way, marked by images of old-fashioned red, white and blue-striped barber poles, is to step back into an earlier era. This modest establishment hearkens back to a time when barbershops served as unofficial town hall meeting places.

Its narrow quarters houses two reclining barber chairs. And a row of plastic chairs line a cement wall plastered with faded posters displaying Latin men modeling outdated styles, such as “the professional,” “the helmet” and “the sportsman.”

Despite the variety of doos to choose from, both barbers seem to execute their crafts in only one style: short. The owner and operator José Torres, a Nicaraguan who opened the barbershop two years ago, works quickly. After a rapid succession of accurate cuts of the scissors, clumps of hair fall to the floor and are swept away seconds before the next customer sits down.

Torres along with his partner, Ines Suavez, handle up to 70 cuts per day. The clientele is a composite of Costa Rican residents including natives as well as gringos who are privy to the great bargain.

The crowd in waiting included a middle-aged Tico, arms folded on his chest as he dozed off while waiting for his turn. Seated in one barber chair was a 3-year-old boy who cried in protest while getting his sides trimmed. His facial expression changed dramatically after receiving two lollipops.

In the other sat an elderly Chinese man, his daughter and her young son looking on to make sure the barber preserved the long, gray hairs growing out of a mole on his chin — a status symbol in some Asian cultures.

Taking notice of the crossroads of culture present in his shop, the owner remarked: “Look at us, we’re speaking three languages and somehow we’re still able to communicate — what a precious thing.”

A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay
Snaider Diaz Sota, 2, is supported by father Alberto and Ines Suaves doing the cutting.

With that, the overgrown hairs on my neck stood on end. I was instantly put under a spell by the old-world atmosphere. It even made me nostalgic for a shave with a straight razor, even though I have never had one before.

It was just as I had pictured it. From getting lathered-up to that bit where he pinched my nose, it was hard not to be charmed by Torres’ attentive treatment. And who can argue with the price? Perhaps it was the aftershave, but I left feeling completely refreshed.

Of course, there are alternatives. Another place in San Jose offers a different brand of special treatment where a full-figured woman will cut your hair in a variety of kinky outfits determined by the spin of a roulette wheel. As haircuts go, I prefer to keep mine short and sweet.

So the next time I want to experience the hairs on my neck to stand on end again, I’ll go to Peluqueria Rex to get them shaved off.

Bush leery of Iraq's weapon inspection approval
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced Monday that Iraq has agreed to re-admit weapons inspectors, without conditions, after a nearly four-year absence. Baghdad's decision comes under pressure from the international community and President George Bush's warning that Washington is prepared for military action against Iraq, if necessary.

The secretary general made the announcement after a day of anticipation that something would be decided in Baghdad at any moment.

"I can confirm to you," Annan said, "that I have received a letter from the Iraqi authorities conveying their decision to allow the return of the inspectors, without conditions, to continue their work, and has also agreed that they are ready to start immediate discussions on the practical arrangements for the return of the inspectors to resume their work."

The letter from Baghdad, delivered by Naji Sabri, Iraqi foreign minister, says Iraq wants to implement all relevant Security Council resolutions and to remove any doubts that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction. It goes on to say that Iraq considers its decision to allow the inspectors back in the indispensable first step toward a comprehensive solution, which includes the lifting of the U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Until now, Baghdad had linked the lifting of sanctions to the resumption of arms inspections, a condition the United Nations said was unacceptable.

The Iraqi letter also calls on all members of the Security Council to respect Iraq's territorial integrity and political independence, an obvious reference to the United States, which has threatened possible military action to oust Saddam Hussein.

What happens now remains unclear. Annan has turned the Iraqi letter over to the 15 members of the Security Council, who will have to decide what to do next. Washington has been pressing for a

new resolution warning Iraq of consequences, if it refuses to let the inspectors return.

The secretary general said he believes President Bush's U.N. speech last week accusing Iraq of undermining the U.N.'s credibility galvanized the international community. Nearly every national leader and minister addressing the new session of the General Assembly urged Iraq to accept the return of the weapons inspectors.

Arab ministers in New York, anxious to avert a possible U.S. military strike in their region, also put the heat on Baghdad, sending messages to Saddam Hussein to be flexible.

The Bush administration has responded skeptically to suggestions by Iraq that it will agree to the return of U.N. weapons inspectors.

In a statement from the White House deputy press secretary, the Bush administration said Iraq's agreeing to inspectors is a "tactical step," in hopes of avoiding strong action by the U.N. Security Council. As such, the statement says, it is a tactic that will fail.

The statement says the U.N. Security Council needs to decide how to enforce its own resolutions, which the Iraqi regime has defied for more than a decade. This requires a new, more effective U.N. resolution, according to the White House statement, one that deals with the threat Saddam Hussein poses to the Iraqi people.

This is not a matter of inspections, the Bush Administration says. It is about disarmament of Iraq.

There have been no U.N. inspections in Iraq since 1998, when Baghdad expelled the team. The Bush administration says Iraq has used the four-year lull to build more chemical and biological weapons, and to further its efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

President Bush wants quick action on a U.N. resolution forcing the Iraqi leader to disarm. If he refuses, and the international community fails to disarm Iraq, Bush says the United States is ready to act on its own.

Cuban al-Qaida prison
camp under scrutiny

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The U.S. currently holds nearly 600 suspected Taleban and al-Qaida combatants here at the U.S. Naval Station, but just what will become of them, and how long they remain in U.S. custody, is not known. 

But the base commander here said ongoing, long-range planning for the remote U.S. facility encompasses the possibility of holding the detainees for years, perhaps decades. 

Captain Bob Buehn likens his role at Guantanamo to that of a mayor. The naval station's commanding officer says he does not expect the detainee operation to end anytime soon. "We are definitely in the mindset that we are talking years, not months now," he said.

Buehn's comments can be seen as an indication that the U.S. may hold the detainees, most of whom were captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan, for an extended period of time.

Officially, the U.S. said no decision has been made as to how long the detainee operation will last. But Buehn said he is currently planning the base's budgetary, personnel and other administrative affairs for the year 2005, and that the plan includes provisions that would allow the detainee operation to continue through that date. 

Catholic pilgrims
plunge into gorge

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CATAMARCA, Argentina — An overcrowded bus carrying Roman Catholic pilgrims has plunged into a gorge in the north here, killing nearly 50 people and injuring 26 others.

Investigators say the bus overturned in Catamarca province late Sunday as the pilgrims headed home to the neighboring Tucuman area after visiting a local shrine. 

Pictures taken from the crash site showed the bus turned upside down among broken tree limbs in the heavily wooded gorge. An international news source said emergency workers had to use rope to pull victims up the steep embankment. 

The bus was said to be so crowded that some of the passengers were forced to stand and that children were sitting in their parents' laps. The vehicle had a 52-person seating capacity. 

Authorities are investigating survivor accounts that the bus lost its brakes before it overturned.

Workers to hold
strike in Bogota

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — State and rural workers are holding a nationwide 24-hour strike here to protest President Alvaro Uribe's proposed reform bills to reshape pension and labor laws. 

Officials say the strike interrupted air traffic here and at other major airports. There were no reports of violence. 

Last month Uribe introduced two bills to Congress that seek to cut the country’s budget deficit and help the struggling economy. Union officials say the bills cut employee benefits and threaten workers' job security. 

Decades of fighting between rebels and paramilitaries has scared off foreign investment and wreaked havoc on the economy. 

Americas charter
celebrates anniversary

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The Organization of American States and the George Washington University Center for Latin American Issues jointly hosted a symposium to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Peruvian president, Alejandro Toledo, whose administration in Peru is working to overcome the authoritarian legacy of exiled former president Alberto Fujimori, was the keynote speaker at the symposium.

Toledo, opened the session by outlining the evolution of the Charter. In his fight for democracy in Peru, Toledo said he found that existing hemispheric mechanisms such as the 1992 Washington Protocol were ineffective in addressing the abuses of the Fujimori regime. 

Elayne Whyte, Costa Rica's deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, also attended the event. "We must be mindful that democracy is being threatened by poverty, illiteracy, crime, terrorism, international organized crime, corruption, scarce human development opportunities and the threat of economic collapse."  She explained that "preserving, strengthening and entrenching democracy in the Hemisphere is the shared responsibility of the member states and the inter-American community."

Toledo remarked that on its first anniversary, the Charter provides a modern and comprehensive vision of democracy and a guide for hemispheric leaders to promote and defend democratic order.

Border Patrol releases
breach figures

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Border Patrol has released official figures for apprehensions and drug seizures during the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2002 and gave a preliminary look at the figures for August 2002.

During the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2002, official figures indicate that agents apprehended 799,281 undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the United States illegally, which is down 28 percent from the Fiscal Year 2001 apprehensions of 1,116,698 for the same 10 months. 

Preliminary totals for the month of August 2002 indicate 85,257 apprehensions compared to last year's monthly total of 88,057 apprehensions, a reduction of roughly 3 percent. 

During the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2002, the Border Patrol seized 1,160,804 pounds of marijuana valued at $955 million  and 11,138 pounds of cocaine valued at $353 million.

113 for the road
leads to problems

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Perhaps it was the clinking of the bottles. Or maybe the police officers just have a nose for good liquor.

In any event, officers of the Fuerza Pública encountered a rolling liquor store Sunday morning on the Interamerican Highway some 53 kms. (about 33 miles) north of the Panamá line.

The driver of the vehicle was identified by the last names of Gómez Pérez. Police say he dropped into Panamá City for a little pick-me-up. So they picked him up.

Found in the vehicle was a litany of liquor and wine, some 113 bottles ranging from Passport Scotch to a case of Malibu.

More rain predicted
due to tropical low

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is more rainy weather ahead for Costa Rica.

The major weather influence is a low-pressure area east-southeast of Jamaica that might turn into a true tropical depression today.

The effects of this low-pressure area will be causing heavy clouds and rain throughout the country for a long period, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Costarricense.

In addition there were several low-pressure areas in the Pacific that were headed toward landfall in Costa Rica. The Central pacific coast felt the effects of these atmospheric disturbances Monday afternoon.

Jane Goodall visits
to plug sustainability

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco had lunch Monday with Jane Goodall, who became famous for her work with chimpanzees and other primates.

She now is associated with the Jane Goodall Institute and spends about 300 days a year on the road. In addition to her institute work that will take her to California later this week, she is a special envoy for the United Nations.

She is a proponent of sustainable development, and attended the same Johannesburg environmental summit as did President Pacheco.

More jail time set
for murder suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men who are suspects in the murder of a U.S. citizen will spend another three months in jail while officials investigate the case.

That was the decision last week by a criminal judge. The men are suspects in the death of Roy W. Karsh, who was found dead in his home in Los Faroles de Curridabat Aug. 29, 2001.

The three men are identified by their surnames. Two are Mora and the other is Chacón.

Karsh was found naked on the floor of his bedroom with wounds to the head and chest.

The murderers left the home with appliances and took the victim’s BMW automobile, as well as money and jewels.

Karsh was a well-known figure in the San José downtown.
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