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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 192          Email us
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Rapid legislative action sought for new tax plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators voted Tuesday to put the new tax plan presented that morning on a fast tract to passage.

Some 43 lawmakers voted in favor of that plan which mainly limits the time each member of the Asamblea Legislativa can speak on individual amendments.

The proposal still is basically hearsay because no copies have been released.  The document will be published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

Casa Presidential praised the vote by the 43 lawmakers. The coalition that supports the bill includes legislators from the Partido Liberación Nacional, the Partido Acción Ciudadana and the Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusion, Two independent lawmakers also support the plan.

Casa Presidencial hopes that the measure will be passed in December. It called placing the measure on the vía rápida a great first step. Basically the fast track prevents filibustering during which lawmakers can talk as long as they wish.

Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the minister of the Presidencia, said that Casa Presidencial would bring forth other reforms that the country requires because of the support shown by legislators.

The new plan is believed to increase the number of items that are not taxed. These are basic commodities that Acción Ciudadana sought to be exempted.

Of particular concern for foreign companies is a proposal to begin taxing firms that have located in the so-called free zones.

Expats are wary of plans to tax the global income of citizens and residents here.  Many U.S. citizens have pensions that come from the north, but these already are taxed in the country where they originated, so there probably will not be additional tax owed here. A greater concern is the fact that expats will have to report that income, thereby letting persons in Costa Rica know about their holdings up north.

The new tax plan is believed to still include a proposal for a 14 percent value-added tax that would bring in much more money than the current 13 percent sales tax.

Casa Presidencial has to promise to provide 2 percent of the gross domestic product to education to win support from some of the lawmakers. This
speedy congress
Usually slow lawmakers are asked to speed up.


is the Chinchilla administration's third attempt to get a tax plan passed. The national budget is about half borrowed money.

Meanwhile lawmakers continue to discuss the proposal to tax corporations about $320 a year. The measure, which passed on initial reading, went back to committee for possible revisions. The Sala IV constitutional court said last week that it did not find any legal impediments in the law. One lawmaker, Luis Fishman, said Tuesday that the government should take steps to make available the estimated $20 million it holds in confiscated property mainly linked to drugs. He said officials say that the goods cannot be sold while there has not yet been a declaration of guilty in the individual criminal cases.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados came out with its own 14-point plan Tuesday and it would present its proposals to the legislative commission that is being set up to study the tax package.

Among other suggestions was that those who report tax evasion should get a percentage of the money collected.

The union also wants a one-time tax on the holdings of the rich and a one or two-time special tax on luxury consumption. It also wants to tax money earned outside Costa Rican and brought back here.

The union also supports the so-called Tobin tax that takes a bite from financial transactions. The union also proposed a fund to give money to those who are deeply in debt.

Some of these ideas might end up in the final tax bill because the union has political weight.

The president's proposal already is believed to assess an extra tax on luxury cars. Experiences in the United States show that such taxes usually result in the reduction of jobs, such as that of auto salesmen because the wealthy retrench. A luxury tax on yachts during the Nixon administration basically destroyed firms that built the boats.


Legislature seeking a new $77 million office tower
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature is asking the Contraloría General de la República to approve a trust with Banco de Costa Rica to build an office tower and make repairs for $77 million.

This is another effort to build or find space for lawmakers. The tower, which will be built near the current legislature complex, would take two years.

The legislative complex has been condemned by the Ministerio de Salud, and members have been seeking options for at least three years. There
would be substantial repairs on the current structures under the plan.

If the plan is approved, lawmakers expect that planning will be completed by February and that construction would begin then. The site is the former Lamm building. Some of the other buildings that are considered in jeopardy are heritage sites.

Juan Carlos Mendoza García, assembly president, said he envisioned the central structure being turned into a legislative museum. This is believed to be Castillo Azul that is a unique building on Avenida Central. It once was the U.S. Embassy.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 192

Costa Rica Expertise

Great Sunrise

Sportsmen's Lodge

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.



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Emergency commission
warns of high seas


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national emergency commission is warning of high seas starting this morning and lasting through Saturday.

The commission said that the high waves might cause flooding in the province of Puntarenas. It said there also was the possibility of erosion. It said that there has ben erosion at Playa Azul near the mouth of the Río Tárcoles, Playa Hermosa, Palo Seco, Isla Damas and Esterillos.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that high tides are in the morning and  afternoons this week.


Southern zone search
part of probe of lawmaker


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents under the personal direction of the fiscal general searched the facilities of the Junta Desarrollo Regional de la Zona Sur in Golfito Tuesday.

The Poder Judicial said that the investigation has been going on for three months and has reached the stage where evidence is being sought.

Jorge Chavarría, the fiscal general or chief prosecutor, said that agents obtained a search order from the Sala III high penal court. The case not only involved the southern zone development agency but Jorge Angulo, a legislator with the Partido Liberación Nacional.

La Nación, the Spanish-language newspaper, disclosed months ago that the junta paid the bill for Angulo and his family at a local hotel. Both Angulo and a spokesperson for the junta said that the payment was a mistake.

The Poder Judicial said that the search results would determine if investigators would seek to have the Asamblea Legislativa lift Angulo's immunity to prosecution. He has not been arrested.


Tourism chamber plans
to make awards tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cámera Nacional de Turismo will be handing out 14 awards tonight at the Hotel Costa Rica Marriott. The gathering recognizes World Tourism Day,which was Tuesday. This is the fourth such awards ceremony.

The chamber is seeking to recognize the contribution of firms that have developed infrastructure, generated employment and continued to be an economic motor for the nation, said Juan Carlos Ramos, chamber president.

There were 70 nominations for the 14 awards. The categories range from beach hotel to tour operator, to rental car agency to socially responsible company.

The chamber holds the event every two years. The selection this year included input from the public. Some 4,500 persons voted on the chamber's Web page, it said.


Panamå offers itself
as regional emergency hub


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Panama has proposed setting up a regional logistics hub for the United Nations that will serve as a base to allow the quick distribution of humanitarian assistance to those in need across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Deputy Foreign Minister Francisco Álvarez de Soto told the General Assembly’s annual general debate Tuesday that a regional hub – to be based in the capital, Panama City – would strengthen coordination between the 16 U.N. agencies already operating in the country.

“The national government will finance this project, which will be a unique model of best practices in sustainable construction in Latin America and the world,” he said.

Mr. Álvarez de Soto said the combination of his country’s “privileged geographic position” and the logistical infrastructure that already existed in Panama City had over the past decade attracted a large presence of humanitarian organizations.

The proposed hub “shall possess the necessary agreements to expedite the entry and exit of humanitarian aid destined to help in the event of natural or other disasters, such as the one that took place in Haiti… and where humanitarian aid is still very much needed,” he said.

Álvarez de Soto said such a project also offered evidence that “small, lower-middle income developing countries are also providing international cooperation, even in these times of economic difficulty.”

 
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.
Click a story for the summary










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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 192

Teatro Nacional will again join the breast cancer campaign
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Teatro Nacional will be bathed in pink light starting Thursday night in support of the Movimiento Rosa, which encourages early detection of breast cancer.

This is a 4-year-old campaign by Auto Mercado. The historic theater now has lights of several colors.

The campaign encourages self examinations and then ultrasounds and mamograms for both men and women.

The pink lighting will last for 15 days.

In past years the campaign has raised millions of colons in funding. Hospital Calderón Guardia received an ultrasound machine and some 100 women with limited resources received chemotherapy.

The campaign this year is focused on prevention, and plans have been made to set up a mobil unit with the help of Clinica Biblica to reach other areas, including those that are rural, said the campaign.

Auto Mercado will be accepting donations at its checkout
Teatro Nacional
Teatro Nacional photo
This is how the theater will appear

lines, and other companies are contributing some of their income to the cause.

The campaign also will present a Feria Rosa the evenings of Oct. 15 and 16 in the Centro Comercial Plaza del Sol with music and entertainment.


There is one daily commodity that just can't be replaced
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats here know that utilities are sometimes unreliable.

Electricity goes off unexpectedly. The Compañía de Fuerza y Luz has a continuing maintenance program that results in neighborhood blackouts. Fixed-line telephone service is better than it has been, but there still are flaws. Cell telephones challenge peace of mind. Amnet's Internet experiences daily down times.

As necessary as these services are, water is the most important. The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados services much of the country. When this company experiences an outage, the suffering for customers is immediate.

Considering that the infrastructure is ancient in spots, the company known as AyA is generally responsive to outages and water leaks. Still, a cautious expat keeps a supply of bottled water on hand.

If a major earthquake hits, water pipes will be shattered or swept away. The country may need weeks to provide basic services. A rooftop tank would be helpful, but not all homes have one. AyA would be hard-pressed to service stricken areas with the tankers it now uses for local emergencies.

The country also is lucky that it has companies that sell water in big bottles. Some expats prefer the bottled waters because they see it as healthful and free of chemicals. That appears to be the case.

Both Agua Cristal, produced by Florida Bebidas S.A., and the newer Aqua Healthy use carbon filters and ozone to purify their products.

Cristal says on its Web site that the water comes from the springs of Echeverría de Alajuela that draws the water from the slopes of the Barva volcano.

The company Web site says it runs the water through a centrifuge to remove any unwanted solids. Then the liquid goes through an active carbon filter that absorbs odor or discolorations in the water. The next step involves cotton microfilters to catch any remaining solids or microorganisms. Finally the water ends up in a stainless tank where an electric current generates purifying ozone.

The 7-year-old Aqua Healthy says it does add Sodium hypochlorite as a purifying agent, but it said that the carbon filter removes that and any other chemicals. The
water tap
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Taken for granted until it is not there.

firm also uses sand and polypropylene filters, ultraviolet light and ozone.

Other firms use similar processes. Coca-Cola FEMSA, S.A. de C.V. markets Alpina, Dasani and Shangri-La brands.  Its springs are in San José.

The public must like the product because perhaps as many as 100 million liters of bottle water are sold annually in Costa Rica. The sales range from the 12-ounce bottle to the 18.9 liter bidón seen in many homes and offices.

Many areas of Costa Rica, despite efforts by AyA, do not have drinkable tap water. So bottled water is a necessity. A liter is 2.2 pounds, so the big bidón weighs in at nearly 42 pounds or nearly 19 kilos.

A United Nations water expert estimated in 2009 that 82.2 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water. That is one of the highest rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. But his report noted that the percentage dips to about 60 percent in rural areas.

Water also has played a strong political role. Residents of Sardinal have protested the use of springs there for development projects in Playas del Coco. The protests and legal actions have basically shut down a pipeline project and left many condos without water.

AyA is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, and Oct. 12 in the Teatro Popular Melico Salazár the institute will have the finals of a song contest it is running. The songs have to have water as a central theme and be unpublished.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 192

More thunderstorms and downpours are predicted for today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains lashed parts of the Central Valley Tuesday, and in some cases hail fell.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional predicted possible late afternoon thunderstorms, but the rain started in the morning. Early today some areas of the central mountains were being soaked with thunderstorms.

The institute is predicting about the same for today. With only the Caribbean coast being free of heavy rain.

The temperature along the coasts is supposed to reach at least
30 degrees C., about 86 F. The temperature reached 29 C. in San José Tuesday before the rains came. Humidity came in from the Pacific, said the institute.

The rain was highly variable. In San Pedro it was a mild thunderstorm. A motorist in Alajuela said the downpour there was as heavy as he had ever seen.

It was in La Unión where high winds tore the metal roofs off dwellings. There were no serious injuries, but there was panic.

As the rains started Tuesday, the institute put out a special bulletin, but the feared flooding and landslides have not been reported.


Some sea turtles show tolerance for hotter beaches, study says
By the University of Exeter news service

Research led by the University of Exeter and published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that some turtles are naturally heat-tolerant.

The study focused on green turtles nesting on Ascension Island, an overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. Scientists from the universities of Exeter and Groningen found that eggs laid by turtles nesting on a naturally hot beach withstand high temperatures better than eggs from turtles nesting on a cooler beach just a few kilometers away.

The warmer beach has dark sand, whereas the neighboring beach is two to three degrees Celsius cooler because it has white sand. Green turtles travel from the coast of South America to the tiny island to nest. Most female turtles nest on the beaches where they themselves hatched, so populations can become adapted to specific nesting locations.

The researchers placed some of the eggs laid on each beach into incubators of either 32.5 degrees Celsius or 29 degrees
Celsius and monitored their progress. They found that the eggs from the warmer beach were better able to thrive in the hot incubator than those from the cooler beach.

Jonathan Blount of the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: “We believe this is the first time that adaptation to local environmental conditions has been demonstrated in sea turtles, which is all the more remarkable because the beaches in question are just six kilometers apart”.

Heat-tolerant populations may be crucial in allowing species to adapt to a warming world, highlighting the need for conservation strategies which protect diversity in animal populations.

University of Exeter doctoral student Sam Weber, lead author of the study, said: “Such adaptations probably evolve over many generations, so whether turtle evolution can keep pace with the rapid climate change that scientists have predicted remains to be seen. However, occasional movements of heat-adapted turtles to other nesting sites could help to spread their favorable genes.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 192

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Bolivia's Morales halts
controversial road project


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivian President Evo Morales has suspended construction of a controversial highway through a rainforest as more government officials resign following a police crackdown on protesters opposed to the project.

Officials say the deputy interior minister, Marcos Farfan, resigned Tuesday and could be a subject in an investigation into the police action.  The immigration director, María Rene Quiroga, also stepped down, criticizing the crackdown as unforgivable.

Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon announced her resignation Monday. Ms. Chacon said she did not agree with the government's decision to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who have been marching since August toward La Paz from the city of Trinidad to show their opposition to the highway.

Morales also was critical of the police action against the demonstrators and promised an investigation. Sunday riot police fired tear gas at marchers gathered in the Yucumo area. Police rounded up several protesters, who later were released after area residents blocked an airport landing strip to prevent authorities from flying the detainees out of the area.

The demonstrators say the $415-million project threatens a protected area of rainforest and that their right to be consulted was violated.

The nature preserve is home to Amazon Indian groups, who have lived in isolation for years. The local people fear outsiders will try to develop the region.

Morales had angered native people by saying the road would be built through the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory National Park "whether they like it or not." Activists have said they will be ready with bows and arrows when the time comes to protect their land. 

Morales is Bolivia's first native president. In past speeches, he has said all nations must respect Mother Earth in their environmental policies.

In New York, a United Nations human rights expert called for negotiations between native people and Bolivian authorities.

James Anaya, a U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, called for the Bolivian government to “take all the necessary measures to guarantee the security of the people that are participating in the protest, in addition to preventing, investigating and sanctioning any act that affects the life and integrity of these measures.”

He also urged “the immediate start of a consulting process in good faith with indigenous people, with the end of finding a peaceful solution to this situation.”

In his annual report for U.N. Human Rights Council, Anaya remarked that development projects, along with the exploitation of natural resources, have become “one of the most significant sources of human rights abuse against indigenous people in the world.” He visited Costa Rica this year to inspect a hydro dam project in the southern part of the country.


Cuban foreign minister
says embargo is costly


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has criticized the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against his country, saying it has cost the Communist-led island $975 billion.

Rodríguez made the comment Monday during an address before the United Nations General Assembly.  Rodríguez, however, said Cuba's government reiterates its willingness and interest to move toward the normalization of relations with the United States.  He proposed talks on humanitarian issues as well as cooperation in countering the illegal drug trade, terrorism and human smuggling.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants improved relations with Cuba and in 2009, his administration eased travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island.  President Obama, however, has said the embargo will stay in place until Havana takes steps toward democratic reforms.

Separately, the continued detention of a U.S. contractor in Cuba has blocked efforts to improve relations between the two longtime ideological foes.  The contractor, Alan Gross, was convicted earlier this year for crimes against the Communist state and sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba.  Gross was arrested in December 2009 for bringing communications equipment into the country.  Gross has said he was trying to improve Internet access for the island's small Jewish community and that his actions were not intended to be a threat against Cuba's government.

The United States and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations, but have interests sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassies in each other's capitals.


Europe's border-free travel
joins euro as new concern

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As Europe scrambles to contain the financial crisis in the eurozone, another effort to deepen European unity is also being challenged, the Schengen passport-free travel zone.

Immigration, lax controls, corruption and sovereignty worries are undermining dreams of border-free travel.

Europeans now take for granted using the euro across the 17 countries sharing the currency. They also rarely think twice about crossing the borders of more than two dozen European nations without showing their passport. Launched more than a decade ago, the so-called passport-free travel Schengen zone now includes 25 nations, including some, like Switzerland and Norway, which are not part of the European Union.

European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who wants to set new rules for Schengen, argues its benefits are enormous.

"I think there is a general agreement about the importance of Schengen and the possibilities it gives for the citizens of the European Union and the Schengen member countries to travel freely, and we must really safeguard this fantastic achievement," said Ms. Malmstrom.  "It is also something really important for business, and it has facilitated life, and it has brought us huge benefits."

But today, Schengen's viability is being questioned. Last week, its members blocked Romania and Bulgaria from joining because of concerns they were not doing enough to fight corruption, crime and illegal immigration. Immigration fears are also eroding support for Schengen in countries that already belong like Spain, Germany, Denmark and France.

France, for example, reinforced controls on its border with Italy earlier this year to staunch a wave of illegal immigrants from North Africa. It joined Spain and Germany in expressing concerns about handing the European Union more say over Schengen.

The bottom line, says Brussels-based immigration expert Hugo Brady of the Center for European Reform, is a lack of trust.

"The politics of the Schengen area is that everyone wants more control over other people's borders while maintaining the same amount of control over their own, and that's the paradox of the matter," said Brady.

Today, anti-immigration politicians like European deputy Bruno Gollnisch of France's far-right National Front Party, are gaining public support with arguments that Schengen must either be tougher, or scrapped altogether.

Greece, which is at the heart of the European debt crisis, also has Schengen's most porous borders. Experts say the vast majority of illegal immigrants cross its border with Turkey. For the moment, the European Union's Frontex border control agency has been shoring up the Greek border.  Athens shares no land border with other Schengen countries, hampering immigrants' efforts to move on.

Even as Greece's debt crisis has shaken European confidence, Brady says, so has its immigration problem.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 192

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Latin America news
Four Latin countries seek
economic and food reforms


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Four Latin American countries have called for environmental and economic reforms to ensure growth in their region during the General Assembly’s annual general debate.

Ecuadorian Ambassador Francisco Carrion Mena Tuesday stressed the need for an increase in regional economic cooperation as part of “a new financial architecture capable of reducing the negative effects that our economies suffer from because of their intricate links to the international financing system.”

Carrion said regional cooperation was the first step for global economic reform, but remarked that regional initiatives need to be integrated under a new global institutional framework.

Uruguayan Vice-President Danilo Astori echoed Carrion’s remarks on the need for economic reform.

“The need to establish new regulations and global agreements has become more than apparent in recent years. We are entering a new era in international economic relations,” he said Monday.

Astori also spoke of the environment as a key factor for development, stressing that “lacking an adequate environment will limit the effect of any other development effort.”

In particular, he spoke of the importance of food security as “a fundamental component of Uruguay’s developmental agenda, as well as one of its national priorities. We remain convinced that the current critical situation is caused by structural causes that must be resolved collectively and urgently,” he said.

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos López, echoed Astori’s remarks on the issue of food security, stating that “the global economic and financial crisis has aggravated the already serious food crisis, primarily in the impoverished countries.”

For his part, Belize’s Foreign Minister Wilfred P. Elrington stressed the need for the transfer of environmentally friendly technologies and funding from the international community to small island developing states that are moving towards low-carbon and no-carbon emission economies.


Woman tricked trucker
into bandits' ambush


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A trucker stopped to help a woman he believed to be in distress and died when bandits shot him seconds later.

The crime happened about 10 p.m. Monday at a bridge over the Río Pacuare. The trucker, identified by the last name of Rivera, was 41. He suffered three bullets to the chest.

The man was believed to have struggled with the bandits. There were witnesses who called the Cruz Roja.


Two Canadians jailed
to await drug investigation


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Canadians have been jailed for three months each to await investigation on drug smuggling charges.

The pair, identified by the last names of Nigel and Nicholas, were detained at Juan Santamaría airport Monday. Anti-drug police said they were hiding a total of 2.25 kilos of cocaine in their boxer shorts.

They were booked on a flight from San José to Canada via Cancún.





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