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(506) 2223-1327        Published  Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 199       E-mail us
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New fungus disease jeopardizes nation's sugar cane
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just when it looked like all the crises had been outlined, lawmakers Monday asked the central government to declare an emergency in the Pérez Zeledón and Buenos Aires regions because of the fungus disease orange rust.

The rust disease, caused by the Puccinia kuehnii fungus, has caused extensive losses in sugar cane in Australia, Africa and Asia.

In an unusual show of unity, lawmakers from the major political parties petitioned President Óscar Arias Sánchez to declare a plant disease emergency for the region.  Lawmakers said that at least 95 percent of the 4,500 hectares (11,100 acres) in sugar cane in the area has the disease.
A decree of emergency would allow more use of government money in the area.

The rust first was discovered in the Western Hemisphere in June 2007 in Florida, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many commercial sugar cane species are resistant to other types of rust, but not Puccinia kuehnii, the U.S. agency said.
Sugar cane
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Tractor hauls a load of cane to a nearby collection site in Grecia.

Last month Brazil issued a warning about the rust even though the disease has not been found there. It said the disease was in Guatemala and Nicaragua. The fungus spores travel through the air. Other sources said the disease might be found in Cuba and in the Dominican Republic.

The orange rust severely stunts the growth of sugar cane, a major agricultural crop in the tropics. The disease can be controlled with fungicides but the long-term answer is developing resistant strains, according to plant pathologists at the Louisiana State University.


Tax collectors change the rules to make more work
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's tax collecting agency just made a change in its rules that will mean more paperwork for businesses and individuals.

For at least 10 years businesses have had to report expenditures in excess of 2.5 million colons to a single party on a special form by Nov. 30. This is 15 days before the regular tax return is filed. Most Costa Rican businesses and individuals are on an October to September fiscal year.

Last Sept. 23, a week before the tax year ended, Tributación, the tax collecting agency, published new rules that drastically reduced the threshold of payments that have to be reported and also extended the rule to cover individuals filing personal tax returns, according to tax experts.

The new rule says that taxpayers must report certain expenditures they have made to a single entity when the amount is greater than 50,000 colons. That's just $91 dollars.

This would include landlords, commission workers, those providing professional services and interest. Professional services include physicians, accountants and probably even mariachi bands.
Some who have heard about the new rules are unhappy because the change comes so close to filing time.

The correct form, the D-151, requires the name and cédula number of the person or company getting the money. Filers will have to hustle to obtain identification information from persons who only did a small amount of business during the year.

The idea is that Tributación will try to match up the reports with the tax returns of those who were supposed to get the money. Most accountants will not let tax filers deduct amounts that are not listed correctly on the D-151

Professionals, like physicians and lawyers, are notorious for working off the books. Frequently they fail to provide clients with facturas or invoices. This system is the way Tributación attempts to double-check the truthfulness of the tax returns.

Some corporate tax filers who face massive amounts of new work by Nov. 30 might file a court case against Tributación to delay the new rules.

Some are talking about the retroactivity of the measure, which is prohibited by law.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 199

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Two plastic surgeons held
in embezzlement probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two plastic surgeons at Hospital Calderón Guardia were taken into custody by investigators Monday as part of a probe into professionals using their public work time for private practice, according to the Poder Judicial.

Investigators also conducted searches at Hospital Clinica Biblica and Clinica Católica seeking evidence.

The two physicians were to give statements and appear before the Juzgado Penal del II Circuito Judicial in San José to determine if they would be jailed or given conditional freedom.

They both are employees of the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social, which operates the nation's public hospitals. Conducting private work during working hours on the public payroll amounts to embezzlement.

The Poder Judicial said that investigators were trying to determine which plastic surgeons use their working hours to practice in private clinics or if they use facilities of the Caja to conduct private operations for money.

Much of the plastic surgery work done by the Caja physicians is restorative for persons who have been injured or suffer obvious birth defects. The work is not normally cosmetic.

The Poder Judicial said that investigators for the Fiscalía de Fraudes will have to evaluate the evidence collected in the searches to see if other physicians would be detained. A number of documents were seized that might implicate surgeons in illegal practices, said the Poder Judicial.

The activities of some of the plastic surgeons were reported by Channel 7 Teletica last week, and the investigations seem to step from the work by the television reporters.


Abduction-murder case
results in three arrests


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One man died and another suffered injuries after they were confronted and abducted Saturday night in Barranca.

Investigators think that the motive for the crime is that a businessman thought that the two men had robbed his mechanics shop.

Dead is a man with the last name of Mora. He suffered a bullet wound to the head. Injured was a man with the last name of Maroto, who appears to have injured himself when he threw himself down a hill to avoid the same fate as his companion.

Investigators made two arrests in the mechanics shop in Barranca, Puntarenas, Monday and at a home in Santo Domingo de Heredia. A fourth man still is being sought, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents said that the men were abducted as they walked in the public roadway and were taken in a Toyota Prado to Turrubares where the murder took place.  A gray Toyota Prado was confiscated to be studied for evidence, agents said.

Both victims worked in the shop at one time, agents said.


Pastor's son who shot thief
faces allegation of murder


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The son of an evangelical pastor saw a man making off with the electrical power plant in the church early Sunday and fired at him with a shotgun.

The man, later identified as Rodolfo Alberto Villalta Pérez, 28, fell and died.

Now the son, identified by the last name of Porras, is in the court system facing a homicide charge and must sign in every 15 days and not leave the country, according to the Poder Judicial. That was the ruling of the Juzgado Penal de Puntarenas.

The church is in Urbanización Monseñor Sanabria in El Roble de Puntarenas, the Poder Judicial said.


Court sides with couple
over unapproved stop


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A couple in Villa Bonita de San Antonio del Tejar in Alajuela have won a case against the local bus company that was using an unapproved stop in front of the couple's home.

The Sala IV constitutional court ordered the bus company, the Consejo de Transporte Público and the Policía de Tránsito to solve the problem.

The couple, identified by their last names of Arroyo Solera and Alvarez Alfaro said in their filing that the buses using an unapproved stop created a lot of smoke and caused accidents in the location. They said that because of their advanced age, the smoke and noise could cause health problems.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 199


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Murder figure Burgos takes own life, prison officials says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The man who brought a cloud of scandal over the judicial branch hanged himself in his prison cell Monday, officials said.

He was Luis Fernando Burgos, a former public defender who was serving a 35-year, three-month sentence for the murder of his wife, Mauren Hidalgo Mora, also an employee of the judicial branch.

Burgos hung himself in the bathroom of his cell after stacking up a blanket and covering it to make it look like he was asleep in his bed, an official said.

He is believed to have hanged himself about 9:30 a.m. At that time there was a major shakedown going on in other parts of the El Centro Penitenciario, La Reforma, in San Rafael de Alajuela. Television crews were on the grounds.

He was discovered hanging about 10 a.m., according to Reynaldo Villalobos of Adaptación Social, the agency that runs the prisons.

The cell has an anteroom to the bathroom and an interior room with a toilet. The area, section 7, is designed for high security individuals. As a former public defender, he would be accorded such treatment anyway, but Villalobos said Burgos had been visited by a psychiatrist Friday, and was being examined for depression.

Burgos used a bedsheet and draped it over an exposed beam in the bathroom area, said the director.

The Sala III criminal appeals court last month upheld the Burgos sentence. The court rejected all the arguments presented by the defense. Burgos was convicted Sept. 25, 2007.

The court also asked the trial court to reexamine the award of conditional freedom for a second trial figure. She is Zulay Rojas Sánchez, a fired prosecutor, who was convicted of failing to tell authorities that Burgos confessed the murder to her. She is an ex-girlfriend, and the trial shed light on the romantic activities of the workers in the court system.

The woman was sentenced to two years but given conditional freedom and did not have to serve time.

The dead woman was found July 16, 2006, in a ditch on a road near Atenas. Burgos had said she was missing for several days.

There was no clear evidence of the guilt of Burgos, but the three-judge panel spoke at length of the supposed domestic violence to which Burgos subjected his wife of a year. The judges also accepted the testimony of other persons who said Burgos asked them to help him get rid of the body.

In a dramatic moment during the trial, Ms. Rojas stood and confronted Burgos and told him that she knew he killed his wife. Evidence showed that the pair were in contact by telephone and e-mails after the wife's death.
la reforma sweep
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguirdad Pública photo
Police put on a show of force at the La Reforma prison as they seek contraband in the cells of inmates.

Ms. Rojas had gone to a hospital during part of the trial and told judges that she was afraid of her ex-boyfriend.

Burgos had reported his wife as missing and said she had gone out with a large amount of money to purchase a car. He blamed a gang of car thieves for the murder.

Burgos had served more than two years in jail, first awaiting trial and then after conviction.

Villalobos said the man had a visit from his aunt last week and that prison officials found a letter to the aunt in the cell. The body of Burgos went to the Morgue Judicial for an autopsy.

Meanwhile, during the sweep of the prison, police officials said they found 387 baggies of marijuana, three cell telephones and 65 knives. The police action involved the Fuerza Pública, the Judicial Investigating Organization, the Policía Penitenciaria, the Unidad de Intervención Policial and the Unidad Especial de Apoyo.

Raúl Rivera, the Fuerza Pública officer in charge, said that searchers sought cell phones because prisoners have been involved in extortions that originated inside the prison. One man who had a cell phone also had 250,000 colons or about $454, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Rivera revealed that even though the Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia had installed a system of antennas to block cell calls, the devices only work against GMS-type phones.  The older TDMA cell phones are not blocked, he said.


Lawmakers move to fix final trade treaty legal change
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Legislativa agreed Monday to eliminate a section of an intellectual property law that was deemed unconstitutional by the Sala IV of the Corte Suprema de Justicia. The proposal is the measure that needs to be approved so that Costa Rica can be in compliance with the free trade treaty with the United States. It is the last of 13 such legal changes.

But that action Monday may not be enough, said several lawmakers. They proposed returning the measure to committee instead so that a larger section could be eliminated.

Costa Rica is working under a deadline to have the bill passed into law by Jan. 1.

The court found an amendment to the proposed law to be in conflict with an international treaty. The court said that lawmakers had an obligation to consult with native groups before passing the measure. That had not been done.

So in the floor action Monday lawmakers simply removed the offending section by a majority vote. The alternative
would be to spend months conducting meetings with the nation's native groups.

The assembly also ordered that the changed bill be published in the La Gazeta official newspaper. After that is done, lawmakers can take the first of two required votes.

The Movimiento Libertario and the Partido Acción Ciudadana said that the minor surgery done on the floor may not be enough.  Luis Antonio Barrantes and Francisco Molina, two lawmakers, said the measure should be returned to a committee for three days of study.

Barrantes said he fears the revised measure would be declared unconstitutional again and that the country would not have time to fix the mistake, which would be a violation of the legislative procedures.

Molina said that the entire disputed article be deleted instead of just a section to avoid the necessity to consult with native groups.

The section involved relates to biodiversity and the regulation of intellectual property, including discoveries and inventions.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 199


Weather returns to normal as nation assesses the damages
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency officials are reluctantly lifting the weather alert that they imposed last week.

However, they say that two weeks of heavy rain caused a lot of damage and dislocation.

A low pressure area that was off the Pacific coast no longer is affecting the country's weather, said the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. The Instituto Meteorológical Nacional is credited with providing this information. 

Late last week a nearly stationary weather system parked offshore and raised official concerns. Now officials said that the weather is returning to its normal seasonal condition.

Still, the commission reports that during the end of last week and over the weekend some 77 communities were affected and 305 dwellings suffered in some way from the
weather. An estimated 1,235 persons were involved, said the commission.

The official report shows that a bridge in Guadalupe de Cartago and eight bridges in Desamparados suffered some kind of damage as did a dike in Cartago and another in Río Claro de Golfito.

As of Monday night there still were four shelters open. One was in Paso Ancho and three were in the Cantón de La Unión in the Provincia de Cartago.  It was Cartago and Desamparados that took the brunt of the flooding and landslides. Some in Desamparados lost their homes.

The commission listed these other communities that suffered damage:  Cartago Centro, El Guarco, Oreamuno, Paraíso and Turrialba.

In the Provincia de San José these other communities had problems, the commission said:  Alajuelita, Aserrí, Coronado, Curridabat, Escazú, Montes de Oca, Moravia, Pérez Zeledón and San José Centro.


Stadium fans hope for quick action on legal challenge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those who want to see a new soccer stadium in Parque La Sabana are hoping that the Sala IV constitutional court quickly makes a decision on issues raised by opponents of the project.

The stadium, which will cost about $75 million, is a gift from the People's Republic of China and will be three times as large as the previous stadium that has been demolished.

The site is the northwest corner of the park.

Opponents are a who's who of Costa Rica society, including
Guido Saénz, the former minister of Cultura. The basic complaint is that the larger stadium will bring too many vehicles and cause problems in and around the park. The plea to the Sala IV noted that the usual environmental studies had not been done. Opponents also said that the new stadium would fragment the park.

The court did not trash the stadium plans. It only halted construction until the legal questions are resolved. Construction on the stadium was supposed to start next month and be done in 2010. The court did not say when it might evaluate the facts in the case.

The court decision was released Monday.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 199



A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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New U.S. television show
will focus on world news


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A new nightly world newscast is being launched on U.S. public television, and producers of the new show say they intend to present foreign news in a way that is interesting and significant to American audiences.

Producers of the new show "Worldfocus" say there is little foreign news coverage on television in the United States and what is covered is often glossed over or not explained very well to American viewers.

Referring to what he calls a "void in television news," the executive producer of the program, Marc Rosenwasser, said he wants to focus on foreign news in a way that shows Americans how international events and happenings impact their lives. He said "Worldfocus" will draw from a large network of global newsgathering organizations and individuals, and the staff purposely comes from all over the world.

Rosenwasser says the show will incorporate diverse voices and viewpoints, something lacking in a lot of foreign news coverage in mainstream media.

"We have assistant producers who come from the Middle East, Taiwan, Brazil, Africa. By having people who hail from all over the world, we think we can easily get well beyond the typical coverage of the same two or three major stories and extend our region to all kinds of stories," he said.

Those sorts of stories, said Rosenwasser, include examining major world trends, such as the effect of higher food prices on various nations and regions, as well as breaking foreign news, analysis and longer feature-type reports. The executive producer says he thinks Americans would be more interested in foreign events if they were better presented by the media and made to be more meaningful to them.

"Worldfocus" has recruited a big name in the U.S. news industry, correspondent Martin Savidge from NBC News, to be its anchor, and it plans to feature other top news and foreign affairs experts on a regular basis.

"Worldfocus" analyst Richard Haass is the president of the private Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He said Worldfocus comes at a time when the need for Americans to connect to what is happening around the world has never been as great, yet there is a lack of committed, regular, and substantial American programming on international news.

Rosenwasser said the half-hour newscast has already secured coverage on eight out of the top 10 public television stations in the United States, with two New York stations airing the program twice each night.


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