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(506) 2223-1327               Published Friday, Oct. 2, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 195           E-mail us
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Nation would take in $100 million a year
Proposed bill would tax gross gambling income

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch will sent legislators a bill to regulate gambling, casinos and games of chance in a few days, said Roberto Thompson, a vice minister of the Presidencia. The bill, as described by government sources, is likely to have a major impact on the gambling industry and society in general.

The government proposes to tax gross income, that is all the money customers place on bets, even if the gambling company pays out a lot of money in winnings. No rate was specified, but Thompson estimated in a summary of the measure that the government would rake in $100 million in new taxes a year.

The bill would create a  Comisión Nacional Reguladora de Apuestas y Juegos de Azar to regulate betting and a supervisory authority within the commission. The commission would supervise online gambling activities, too.

Casa Presidencial said the bill has three main goals: regulation, taxes and the protection of employees. A text of the measure was not available.

The summary said that gambling operations would have to be licensed and that they would have to open their books to the commission. Current permissions for casinos are at the municipal level.

Thompson said that betting operations would have to provide information about their investors and managers. He said that the proposed law was designed to generate public confidence in the gambling business to avoid suspicions that the companies are covers for illegal activities. The bill would not affect the  Junta de Protección Social, which runs the nation's lotteries, nor the Cruz Roja, which uses bingo to raise funds.

Also excluded would be the  Instituto Costarricense del Deporte y la Recreación, which runs some sports betting.

Thompson said the proposed law would be a legislative priority for the administration. However, the term of Óscar Arias Sánchez  will be coming to an end in May, and lawmakers also will be vacating their seats. Typically, even priority measures take a long time to get through the Asamblea Legislativa.

The former Arias vice president, Laura Chinchilla,
who is the Liberación Nacional candidate for
president, launched a campaign against physical casinos before she left office. She said they were centers off prostitution and helped prepare a decree that caused casinos to restrict their working hours. Most do not open now until 11 a.m.

Ms. Chinchilla said nothing about the actual houses of prostitution that flourish in San José and elsewhere. It is possible that administration officials are unaware of the extensive number of places of prostitution in San José. There are four to five such locations in a single city block in some areas. Most of these do not cater to tourists or expats but to the Costa Rican working man. There are gay houses of prostitution, too.

There has been some concern that casino-type activities can be money laundering operations.

Online operations have generally not faced regulation here. Some are scams in which big winnings never are paid. Foreign bettors have no recourse. Other well-established sportsbooks and gambling operations have been linked to organized crime in the United States.

The bill as outlined would  face some technical problems. One such problem is that many betting and gambling operations do not bring the money to Costa Rica. This diversion has accelerated because the George Bush administration cracked down on the use by U.S. bettors of credit cards and other methods to transfer money. Bush administration prosecutors also jailed U.S. and foreign managers of casinos here when they could collar them.

Thompson noted that thousands of person here work at such gambling operations and said that these workers should receive all the labor guarantees that the law specifies. A number of illegal foreign workers are now employed in various gambling operations, and  employers do not pay their social security charges.

Thompson said that the law would be very lucrative for the country. Although brick and mortar casinos have fixed locations, online operations are highly mobile. A number of Caribbean countries would love to host companies that are now here. In fact, some of the operations here now have contingency plans to seek more friendly venues if Costa Rica tries to squeeze them for taxes. The companies also have friends in the legislature who might derails the proposed law.

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These lush plants look like they are doing well in pots nurtured by a hydroponic system.

Hydroponic marijuana plan
thwarted by investigators

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three suspected marijuana farmers from Escazú came into the hands of investigators Wednesday night when they tried to move some 60 marijuana plants to another location. The three are 22, 24, and 26 years of age.

Agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization said they located an apartment in Escazú Centro where they suspected marijuana was being grown via a hydroponic method. They also located properties in Barrio México and Rohrmoser that they believed were related to the scheme.

The three were picked up when the marijuana was being transported in a van accompanied by a passenger car, said agents. The confiscated plants, all 60, were between 15 centimeters, about six inches, and 1.3 meters or a little over four feet. The arrests happened on the road in Escazú Centro.

This is the second hydroponic operation dismantled in the same area in two months. Anti-drug agents raided an operation in San Antonio de Escazú Aug. 4. Arrests here, too, were made as marijuana plants were being transported from one location to another.

Yule fiesta yields $319,000
for Hospice de Huéfano

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de San José turned over 182 billion colons to the Hospice de Huéfanos. the amount, some $319,000 represents half the net proceeds from the Christmas Fiesta de San José,

Under the law, the other half goes to other social agencies. The orphans' hospice depends on the income, but there still is a question if there will be a fiesta at the Zapote fairgrounds this year due to swine flu concerns.

The municipality took over control of the fiesta in 2007 and there was a significant increase in income. The money comes from renting spaces for entertainment and food booths, plus a percentage of the admissions charges for the Tico bull fights.

Infinito investors agree
to await Sala IV decision

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investors have waived default on some $50.5 million in notes issued by Infinito Gold, Ltd. This is the company that seeks to develop the controversial La Crucitas gold mine in north Costa Rica.

The gold mine project is being fought vigorously by environmentalists, and the grant of the land use permit is still being challenged before the Sala IV  constitutional court, the company said.

The notes are held by Exploram Enterprises Ltd., the controlling shareholder of the company, and  and Auro Investments Ltd., a company associated with Steven Dean, Infinito's chairman. The extension of the notes is through this month.

These waivers represent the fourth time since June 30 that the noteholders have waived default relating to the delay in receipt of a decision by the Sala IV, said the company. Each previous waiver have been given for a period of approximately one month.

Nicaraguan migrant's tale
inaugurates film festival

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

"El Camino," a work by Costa Rican director  Isthar Yasin, will open the  V Festival de Cine Latinoamericano organized by the Embassy of México. The festival runs from today through Oct. 12 in the  Cine Variedades in downtown San José.

The festival is coordinated by the Centro Costarricense de Producción Cinematográfica of the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes as well as other Latin American diplomats in the country.

Showings are at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The work by Ms.  Yasin is done in 35 mm. It tells the story of a 12-year-old Nicaraguan girl, Saslaya, who with her younger brother Darío, embark on a long trip to seek their mother who came to Costa Rica eight years earlier. The story is part documentary and part fiction.

The film has been received well internationally and was selected for inclusion in the Cannes Festival.

Truck driver is convicted
but will not do any time

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tractor-trailer driver who survived an accident in El Coyol got a three-year sentence Thursday, but the court, the  Tribunal de Juicio de Alajuela, granted him the benefit of conditional liberty.

The man, identified by the last names of  Arrieta Alvarado was at the wheel of his truck when it collided with a vehicle containing Marco Vinicio Umaña Vega and Dora Olivares Miranda, a couple who had been married for 38 years, and Haiskel Lucero Espinoza, a Venezuelan tourist. All but Arrieta died in the July 18, 2006, crash.

Ticos in Europe now able
to apply for passport there

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 20,000 Costa Ricans living in Europe now have the same opportunity to renew their passport as Ticos living here. The Costa Rican consul in Madrid, Spain, has computerized devices to capture photos, fingerprints and other personal identifying data.

Just like in Costa Rica, the information is transmitted to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, where the passport is made. Correos de Costa Rica carries the finished document to Europe, said the immigration department.

The department announcedd that one of its employees, Steven Badilla, was the first person to take advantage of this new system. Previously, the passports were created by the consul in a way that would not meet international standards now.

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For your international reading pleasure:

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Did you try
to call us?

We're not trying to avoid you. We just are victims of another ICE problem.

It is hard to believe that our company telephones have been out of service  for at four weeks.

The workmen came and disconnected the phones in our old office before they found out that they did not have sufficient space to install the lines in the new office.

Calls to ICE are met with yawns.

You can reach us at 8832-5564.

But Internet is best.

-A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 2, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 195

Still no solution on what to do with 600 displaced families
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 600 families live on what is now the  Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional on the Pacific coast, and the Sala IV constitutional court has ordered that they leave by January.

That is the problem facing lawmakers who are trying to come up with a solution to the massive dislocation. So far, lawmakers admit, there is no satisfactory solution of where the people should go.

That problem dominated the discussion Thursday at the meeting of the  Comisión Permanente Especial de Ambiente. Several members of the committee suggested a site inspection. The committee has invited representatives from the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones to testify Thursday. Also invited were international development bankers.

The Sala IV order does not apply to anyone who has been living on the site since before 1983 when the refuge was created. The order also does not apply to those involved in
research, protection of the local turtle nests, training or ecotourism, said the Poder Judicial last February when the decision was announced.

The case was brought to the court by a resident of Nicoya who objected to the fact that an overall plan had not been drafted for the management of the area. The court ordered that such a plan be created by the Area de Conservación Tempisque

The commission did not take any official action on Ostional, but it did reject a measure that would have regulated plastic bags in Costa Rica. The measure was considered not viable due to technical problems, said the commission. The bill would have prohibited the production, importation and use of such bags.

Some local companies have voluntarily stopped using plastic bags. PriceSmart announced last February that it would not dispense the bags to shoppers. The petroleum content of the plastic is not good for the environment and that thousands of marine animals die each year because of plastic bags, the company said at the time.

Revisions in marina law get initial legislative approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers Thursday approved on first reading revisions in the marina law that are supposed to make the process of getting approval easier.

Just 31 of the 40 lawmakers present voted in favor of the bill which is titled officially "Concesión y Operación de Marinas Turísticas."

The bill, if passed on second reading next week, would cut from two months to 45 days the time that the Comisión Interinstitucional de Marinas y Atracaderos Turísticos has
to study the proposal for a marina or dock. That is an agency of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. The bill also would require developers to construct an area for immigration and customs officers to review income boat passengers.

Lawmakers heard that the biggest problem with the current situation is the long process of getting approvals. The bill also makes a clear distinction between marinas and  docks.

The new bill was put forth also because the existing legislation had gaps and inconsistencies, legislative aides said.

The question is what do the Ticos think of the Gringos?
Lately there has been quite an exchange of opinions about the culture and people of Costa Rica.  Many of the opinions have been coming from U.S. expats.  Browsing through some old columns, I came across one I wrote in 2006 about what Ticos think about expats in their country, especially those from the States (estadounidenses).

 I had quite a long talk with a Tico who has family in both the U.S. and Costa Rica.  He is also a keen observer of people and owns a popular business in downtown San José that is frequented by people from all over the world.  He seemed like a good informant.  (My anthropology background was emerging.)  So I asked M (I will call him “M”) what he thought of the statement that people “hated” those of us from or in the United States. 

Much to my surprise, he agreed with this statement.  He went on to deny my contention that it was just the policies of the administration.  “No,” he said.  “They hate everything about the U.S. and often like anything or anyone who is not from the U.S..  I call it ‘the Oliver Stone syndrome.”  (Film director Stone has made a number of movies highly critical of the U.S. government.)

“Mostly the Gringo bashers are Americans who have left the U.S,” he explained.  He went on to say that Germans came in a close second for their antagonism toward the U.S.  And he reminds them that there is probably more German blood in the veins of U.S. citizens than any other kind.

But we were not off the hook yet.  M went on to say that there are generally three types of Americans living in Costa Rica.  They make up the continuing comedy/drama that takes place in his store.

First are the Republican types who are easy to deal with because they generally stick to themselves, live in their gated communities, invest their money in offshore businesses or real estate and enjoy life. 

Then there are the Democrats who are silly because they want to do good – help out the local population, become friends and generally get involved with the community.  He could not come up with what he meant by silly except his description of their activities.  And finally, he said, there are the religious types, the missionaries who usually are ardent supporters of George Bush, who have learned Spanish and want to convert the locals.  They are beyond silly. 

Well, I thought, I would have to find another informant   
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

to  see if he or she would validate M’s stereotypes.  I called A.  She, too, is bilingual, practically bi-cultural.  She comes in contact with perhaps a different type of Gringo (she pointed out that just as Tico is not pejorative, neither is Gringo when Ticos use the term.)  She works for a Spanish language school.  A wide variety of foreigners come to learn the language and experience the culture: professionals, academics, students, and families.  She totally disagrees with M’s description of Gringos, saying he must be very bitter.  I said no, not bitter, but cynical, perhaps.  She allowed that some students arrive loudly expecting more attention and pointing out that the U.S. is the world’s police.  But most of them change during the course of their stay. The more educated students are low key, very polite and very appreciative. 

When I brought up American expats’ feelings about other Americans (actually citizens of the U. S. are called estadounidenses in Costa Rica, a mouthful for most of us.), A discounted that by saying that she is very critical of Ticos, especially when she is abroad.  In her opinion, Ticos in general like Gringos because of their unparalleled generosity.  They have always been the first to offer help, get organized and get involved when there has been a crisis in this country.  She does not mean the government, but rather the people themselves. 

The one President who personifies the American people, she feels, was John Kennedy, with the Peace Corps, his attention to Central America, the things he did for the “little people.” 

The one criticism she agreed with is that so many Americans who come here are ignorant.    They know nothing of the culture, the geography, the people, or of Central America in general.  (I agree here and recommend that as part of planning a stay in Costa Rica, people read "The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica" by Mavis, Richard and Karen Zubris Biesanz.)

As for my investigation, I decided not to get a third opinion.  I just hope readers remember that it is not nice to shoot the messenger.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 2, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 195

Latin Urban unemployment is estimated at 8.5 percent

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Urban unemployment rates in Latin America and the Caribbean reached 8.5 percent in the second quarter of the year and could average the same at the end of the year, estimated the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean  and the International Labour Organisation in a joint bulletin.

This means that 2.5 million additional people will join the ranks of the urban unemployed, which would then reach 18.4 million, say the organizations in their second joint bulletin "The Employment Situation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Crisis in Labour Markets and Countercyclical Responses."

The 8.5 percent estimate for 2009, calculated on the basis of a 1.9 percent drop in gross domestic product this year, is slightly more optimistic than the forecast published in the first bulletin in June (between 8.7 and 9.1 percent) and is one percentage point higher than the unemployment rate in 2008 (7.5 percent).

The adjustment of the estimate is due mainly to the fall in the participation rate during the first half of 2009 and which is expected to maintain throughout the year. This could be largely due "to a sense of discouragement as a result of scarce job opportunities in the context of the crisis".

In this second bulletin, the Economic Commission, a U.N. agency, and the labor organization analyze how the impact of the crisis has deepened in labor markets in the region during the first semester of this year and examine the progress made in public investment in infrastructure and emergency employment programs implemented to counteract its effects.

They conclude that labor markets in the region continue suffering the impact of the international crisis and
deteriorated even further in terms of employment levels during the second quarter of 2009, according to the latest available indicators from countries in the region.

The bulletin asserts that regional unemployment reached 8.5 percent in the second quarter of 2009, up from the 7.7 percent registered during the same quarter last year.

In addition, some indicators reveal a rise in labor informality, a weakening of social-security protected employment and a contraction of full-time jobs.

"Youths have paid a high cost for the crisis or economic slowdown, given that unemployment among youths has increased significantly," said the bulletin.

Nevertheless, both organizations see signs that the economic crisis already reached bottom in mid-year.

In many countries, production has stopped declining and there are signs of an incipient recovery, partly due to the impact of countercyclical policies implemented there, which could prop up labor markets in the region during the fourth quarter, the organizations said.

However, they stress that greater economic growth will not solve labor problems immediately. Recovering employment levels will lag behind economic activity, and will be gradual and heterogeneous in the different countries in the region, they said.

Labor demand and job creation will continue weak as well, they added.

The Economic Commission  and the labor organization called on countries to redouble their efforts to stimulate decent job creation, strengthening the effectiveness of available instruments. Through this, they may advance in social inclusion and towards compliance of the Millennium Development Goals.

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U.S. Supreme Court begins
term Monday with key cases

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Supreme Court opens its annual term Monday with a new justice and a new slate of potentially significant cases.

The Supreme Court traditionally opens its annual term on the first Monday in October and usually renders its final decisions of the term by the following July.

In recent years, the high court has considered an average of about 80 cases each year selected from about 8,000 requests for review.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the newest member of the high court, following her confirmation by the Senate in August.  She is the first justice with Puerto Rican heritage on the nine-member court and is the second woman on the current court, joining Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ms. Sotomayor recently told the CSPAN public affairs network that President Barack Obama asked her to make two promises shortly after accepting his offer for nomination to the Supreme Court.

"The first was to remain the person I was and the second was to stay connected to my community," she said.  "And I said to him that those were two easy promises to make because those two things I could not change."

In the months ahead the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to render important judgments about gun rights, anti-terror laws, freedom of speech and punishment for juvenile criminals.

One of the most closely watched cases involves the rights of gun owners in the city of Chicago, where the city's ban on handguns is being challenged by 2nd Amendment advocates.

Last year, the court ruled the U.S. Constitution's 2nd Amendment protects the right of an individual citizen to own a handgun in the District of Columbia, a federally governed enclave.  Gun activists are hoping to use that five to four ruling by the Supreme Court to challenge local and state gun control laws around the country.

The high court has also agreed to hear a case involving part of an anti-terrorism law the government says is a vital part of its effort to fight international terrorism.

The law in question bars material support to groups designated by the U.S. government as terrorist organizations.  But the statute is being challenged by the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.  Those groups say they are engaged in peaceful activities in the U.S. even though they have been designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department.

The court is also scheduled to consider whether a law that prohibits pictures of animal cruelty constitutes a violation of free speech under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In addition, the nine justices will also hear arguments about whether sentencing juveniles to life in prison without paroles for crimes other than murder violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Generally, five of the nine justices make up a conservative majority on the high court, including Chief Justice John Roberts.

Justice Sotomayor is expected to generally side with the liberal minority on court, following in the footsteps of the man she replaced, retired Justice David Souter.

The high court is expected to rule soon on a case unresolved from last term involving long-standing restrictions on corporations and labor unions contributing to political candidates.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 2, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 195

Latin American news
Clash over petroleum law
results in death and injuries

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuadorean police clashed with Amazon Indians protesting new laws they fear will increase oil drilling. One person died and at least 49 others suffered injured.

Authorities say the violence occurred Wednesday in Morona Santiago province, a major oil producing region. Officials say the clash came after three days of demonstrations in which native groups had blocked roads in the jungle region to protest laws they say would encourage more oil drilling.

The officials say one protester was killed and 40 police and nine protesters were injured.

At a news conference late Wednesday, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa blamed the protesters for the clash, calling them tremendously violent armed groups that waited for police with shotguns and rifles. 

The president also repeated his call for dialogue with the native people to address their concerns.

For years, native communities in Ecuador have accused oil companies of damaging the environment and the health of community members while operating petroleum facilities. 

Five detained in Limón raids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police detained five persons, three men and two women, when they made two raids in Cieneguita, Limón, thursday morning.

The  Policía Control de Drogas agents were accompanied by the local prosecutor who will bring allegations of sale and possession of drugs, said the Poder Judicial.

Agents reported that they confiscated 39 kilos (86 pounds) of marijuana and 17 baggies prepared for sale.

Also Thursday anti-drug agents detained a man and a womannnn in Barrio La Esperanza of Río Claro, Golfito, and said that they confiscated crack cocaine. They credited calls to the 176 drug hotline for the information leading up to the arrests.

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