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(506) 2223-1327               San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 214       E-mail us
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Luxury home tax may influence political campaign
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Foreign owners of property here and Costa Ricans are just waking up to the fact that the luxury home tax will take a bite out of their wallet this Christmas season.

Some have expressed the idea that repeal of the tax will become a key element of the presidential election campaign. Laura Chinchilla, said to be the front runner, is closely identified with the tax that was created by the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration. She was a vice president for a time, and the tax is the product of a legislature controlled by her Partido Liberación Nacional.

An analysis of the news

The tax has been the subject of just three articles in the Spanish daily La Nación since 2006, according to a search of the newspaper's archives. The last article was just eight short paragraphs and appeared Sept. 30. It said that the law would go into effect the next day.

The full consequences of the tax have not been revealed to the Costa Rica community.

For example, a home worth one colon more than 100 million colons is subject to the tax. That seems like a big number, but in dollars it is $172,500.  Owners of such a home on the threshold of the tax would have to pay 62,500 colons for the last quarter of 2009 and quickly pay 250,000 for all of 2010. The money is due Jan. 15. That is 312,000 colons right at Christmas time, some $539.

A number of Costa Rican homeowners are going to have to dig into their Christmas aguinaldo to pay the tax. Most are not aware of that fact yet. The Dirección General de Tributación was ordered by the law to publicize the tax in the nation's news media. To date no such advertising has been seen even though the tax-collecting agency is quick to pounce on those who do not submit the proper forms.

An additional problem is that homeowners are faced with an elaborate and confusing system for determining the tax. A.M. Costa Rica has labeled the system unfair and the worst of all possible appraisal systems. Some savvy Costa Ricans already have hired professional appraisers.

An additional implication for homeowners is that 
 
More about the tax

Expats likely to be blindsided by new 'luxury home' tax

Most expats who own what the government categorizes as a luxury home probably are unaware that they are subject to a special tax Jan. 1. Oct. 12.

Tributación tries to reduce land value to a math formula

Someone stayed up nights exerting gigantic effort to make the new luxury tax law as complex as possible. Oct. 12.


Here's 20 questions about the tax on luxury homes

A news story Monday about the tax on luxury homes that went into effect Oct. 1 has generated lots of questions. Not all of them are answered easily. Here are 20. Oct. 13.


Editorial: Sala IV should ashcan unfair 'luxury home tax'

The Sala IV, when asked, should void the luxury home tax because it is unfair. Oct. 28.

Tributación will forward the estimated value of the property to the municipalities, which, in turn, will adjust the value for local tax purposes. Municipal assessments have been notoriously much lower than true value. So many homeowners will see a steep increase in municipal tax, too.

Perhaps particularly grating to Costa Ricans will be the use to which the tax will be put. The money is to be used to clear slums, but many who live in such deplorable conditions are not Costa Ricans.

No political party has seized this situation as a campaign element yet, but as Christmas and the time for paying the tax approaches, one or more certainly will. And it will not be Liberación Nacional, which must defend the tax and the way it was put into force.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 214

Costa Rica Expertise
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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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Judicial police planning
 a big show for telethon


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There will be some funny business going on at the main headquarters of the Judicial Investigating Organization today. But it is for a good cause.

The normally staid judicial policemen are welcoming in magicians, singers, clowns, comedians and others for what is being called a mini-telethon for the benefit of the trauma center at the Hospital Nacional de Niños. The goal is to raise 4.5 million colons, about $6,000.

The event is being staged from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the agency's auditorium on the first floor of the headquarters in the San José court complex. A number of national performers will participate, the agency said.

In addition to donations there, the agency has set up two bank accounts at Banco de Costa Rica:  152-0100102767066-5 and 001-0276706-6. Plus donations are being accepted at every Judicial Investigating Organization office in the country.

The televised telethon in Costa Rica is Dec. 4 and 5. The organizers, the Club Activo 20-30 Internacional de San José, hopes to raise 500 million colons, about $860,000. The money donated today will go toward that goal, the Judicial Investigating Organization said.


Tico said to be cartel aide
linked to crash of helicopter


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators and anti-drug agents have detained a Costa Rica who, they say, is the logistical arm of the Sinaloa drug cartel in this country. He was identified as Luis Enrique Barrantes Benevides. They said he was linked to the drug shipment that caused a helicoptero crash near Cerro de la Muerte May 1.

The Policía de Control de Drogas detained the man early Wednesday in Urbanización Campos Verdes in Guápiles de Pococí in the province of Limón.  The man had purchased a house for cash there for his girlfriend, agents said.

Barrantes has been on the run since Oct. 14 when two men on a motorcycle, believed to be representing the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, tried to kill him.  He suffered two superficial wounds, and his vehicle sustained bullet damage. The vehicle was recovered in Alajuela.

The Colombian terrorist drug trafficking organization is believed to be contesting control of certain smuggling networks in Costa Rica.

Investigators became aware of Barrantes as they investigated the crash of the helicopter. The pilot was a former aviator for the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. He was Edgar Arguedas Alfaro, and he died in the crash as did a Mexican citizen who was flying with him. The crash was blamed on bad weather and overloading with the estimated 400 kilos of cocaine. that the craft carried.  Most of that was found in the wreckage.

The helicopter was en route from Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula to Turrialba where Barrantes had negotiated the purchase of a hotel for his Mexican employers. That was the Cerro Alto Pochotel. The five Mexican nationals who were awaiting the arrival of the cocaine fled the country when they learned of the crash, security officials said.

Wednesday investigators confiscated four vehicles used by Barrantes. They conducted searches at a home in Villa Bonita, Alajuela, and of a used car dealership in San Joaquin de Flores in Heredia, as well as a property in Golfito. Agents said that Barrantes owned the Alajuela home as well as the dealership. He also owns properties in Sámara, they said. Barrantes also is listed as an officer of corporations that also have some Mexican partners, agents said.

Doctors treated Barrantes after he was shot, but he left the local hospital before agents arrived.

Gasoline going down a bit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national regulating agency is cutting the price of gasoline by some 11 colons per liter. That's a bit less than 2 U.S. cents.

This is the sixth time this year that gasoline declined in price. The price is subject to monthly fixing, so what is charged the consumer changes each month.

The new price is based on the period from Sept. 24 to Oct. 8 and includes a calculation of the value of the colon vs. the U.S. dollar.

Super goes from 575 colons per liter to 564, and plus goes from 558 colons to 547. Diesel increased 4 colons. Liquid petroleum gas was unchanged.

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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 weekday.

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.

Newspages

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.

Classifieds

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.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 214

Protesting contract drivers shut down transportation system
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Many of the 10,000 contract drivers in Costa Rica staged a nationwide protest for more than three hours Wednesday morning and stopped transportation in the country.

Drivers even pulled cars onto the tracks of the San José-Heredia train forcing passengers to abandon their seats and walk to their destination.

Elsewhere, a man forced to walk fell and fatally damaged his skull on the sidewalk in Guadalupe. An ambulance had difficulty reaching him because of the tieups. He was going to his first day of work at a local hospital.

Protests took place all over the country, including Liberia and Santa Cruz, said a spokesman for the porteadores, as the drivers are called.

They are protesting a proposal in the legislature that would ban their activities, which are now marginally permitted by the commercial code.  Porteadores are not licensed as taxi drivers. They are supposed to pick up an individual from one point and take them to another under a formal written contract. They are not supposed to engage in picking up passengers on the street, although many do.

The Movimiento Libertario and the Partido Acción Ciudadana are sympathetic to the porteadores although
perhaps not to the road blockades.

All major roadways in the Central Valley were blocked, including the Autopista General Cañas that connects San José with Juan Santamaría airport.

Spokesmen for the protesting drivers said they would stage more blockades next week. Many motorists called on the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration to clear the roads, but police and traffic officers did nothing. The blockade was similar to the protests during the Abel Pacheco administration. Those protests were mainly against the U.S.-Central American free trade agreement.

The blockades took a heavy toll on workers. Many were late to their places of employment, and some will face pay deductions. School children also were stranded in traffic. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social said that some 300 medical appointments had to be rescheduled. The protesters began to clear the roads by 10 a.m.

The protesters prefer legislation that would create more taxi licenses or at least assure them that their work would continue to be legal. Some porteadores fail to carry accident insurance like the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes requires formal taxi drivers to have.

Drivers of licensed taxis also have staged protests against exactly what the porteadores are seeking.


Investigation launched of Teatro Nacional box office
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Teatro Nacional said Wednesday that it has launched a financial investigation of its box office.

The parent Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes said that the probe followed complaints of supposed irregularities in the management of the ticketing operation.

The Dirección General del Teatro Nacional has asked for a full internal audit. The audit is supposed to be finished later this week.
Theater officials said they would make no comments until the investigation is concluded.

Although the irregularities cited by the theater officials might be totally financial, the Judicial Investigating Organization has a case under way in which a private ticket supplier, Special Ticket, was compromised. Its own employees are suspected of using company devices to clone tickets to popular events.

Arrests have been made but there have been no formal charges.


1,000 expected to dance in three-day Nandayure festival
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 1,000 dancers are expected to participate in the  VI Festival de Danza: Jóvenes Bailarines Guanacaste 2009 in Nandayure Friday through Sunday.

The object of the event is to pass on the Guanacaste dance tradition, said organizers. More than 50 groups are scheduled to participate, including dancers from ages 3 to 35. Groups are expected from Nicaragua, Honduras and
Guatemala. The groups are members of the Central American dance network that was formed to share experiences to strengthen the dance tradition, said organizers.

Entrance to the various presentations is free. The three-day program begins with an inauguration tonight and then with parade of the participants at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Centro Cultural de Nandayure, Parque Central de Carmona. The community is in the middle of the Nicoya Peninsula.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 214

   
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Scientists find that migrating birds stop to breed in México

By University of Washington News and Information

Biologists for the first time have documented a second breeding season during the annual cycle of five songbird species that spend summers in temperate North America and winters in tropical Central and South America.

It was known that these species, which migrate at night when there are fewer predators and the stars can guide their journey, breed during their stay in temperate regions of the United States and Canada.

But it turns out that they squeeze in a second breeding season during a stopover in western Mexico on their southward migration, said Sievert Rohwer. He is a University of Washington professor emeritus of biology and curator emeritus of birds at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the university.

"It's pretty much unheard of to have a nocturnal migrant with a second breeding season. It's a pretty special observation," Rohwer said. "We saw these birds breeding and we were completely surprised."

Migratory double-breeding has been observed in two Old World bird species on their northward migration, but this is the first documented observation of migratory double breeders in the New World, and the first anywhere for the southward migration, Rohwer said.

The scientists traveled to the lowland thorn forests of coastal western Mexico to survey and collect songbirds that had raised their young in the United States and Canada and then immediately migrated to Mexico to molt, or shed and replace their feathers.

But during July and August in three consecutive summers, 2005 to 2007, the researchers found individuals from five species — yellow-billed cuckoos, orchard orioles, hooded orioles, yellow-breasted chats and Cassin's vireos — that were breeding rather than molting.

They found evidence that the birds had, in fact, bred earlier that year. Females of all five species examined in July had dry and featherless brood patches, indicating they had bred earlier that summer. To more efficiently transfer heat to eggs, the abdominal brood patch becomes featherless and thickened with fluid when females are incubating, but as the young mature it dries out and remains featherless. In the Mexican breeding ground, there was a complete absence of young birds, indicating the females had not bred in the area of the thorn forests.

Active nests were found for two species and males of all five species were singing and defending territories or guarding females, behaviors associated with breeding. In
addition, isotopic analysis of the birds' tissues showed that many had recently arrived in west Mexico from temperate areas farther north.

Rohwer is lead author of a paper describing the findings, published this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

The observation is much more than an oddity in bird behavior, Rohwer said. He noted that orchard orioles might raise a first brood in the Midwestern and south-central U.S. and a second on Mexico's western coast, yet both sets of offspring find the same wintering area in Central America. The question is how both groups find the right place, since they must travel in different directions.

Then there is the yellow-billed cuckoo, once commonly seen throughout the western United States and as far north as the Seattle area but now seldom seen along the West Coast. Disappearing habitat in the U.S. is usually cited as the reason.

But Rohwer believes the real problem could be the transformation of thorn forests of southern Sonora and Sinaloa, states in northwestern Mexico, into irrigated industrial farms.

That loss of habitat, he said, could mean not enough young are produced in the second breeding season to sustain the populations previously seen on the U.S. West Coast.

"It turns out that many of those migrants, both molt migrants and the newly discovered migratory double breeders, are dependent on the low-altitude thorn forests that become very productive during the monsoon," Rohwer said.

The thorn forests lie in an arid and forbidding scrubland that springs to life with the monsoon lasting from June through August. The monsoon brings virtually all of the area's annual rainfall.

The small trees leaf out and insects become abundant, making an ideal stopover for migrating songbirds.

However, with plenty of biting insects, temperatures often at 100 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity hovering near 100 percent, it is a difficult place for researchers to work, so there has been little previous documentation of life in the thorn forest. The new findings could spur more work there.

"For western North America, the conservation implications are pretty serious," Rohwer said. "Biologists know theoretically that they should pay attention to these migration stopover sites, but they've been largely ignored for their conservation implications."


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 214

Casa Alfi Hotel

U.S. defends Cuban embargo
in face of massive U.N. vote


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Obama administration on Wednesday defended the long-running U.S. economic embargo against Cuba in the face of another overwhelming U.N. General Assembly vote condemning American policy toward the island nation. But administration officials also stressed efforts to reach out to Cuba's Communist government.

The Obama administration says it has broken with its predecessors in opening dialogue with Cuba on several fronts. But it also says it does not intend to reward Havana by lifting sanctions until it improves human rights conditions.

The comments followed an overwhelming vote in the U.N. General Assembly on a non-binding resolution condemning the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and urging Washington to lift the restrictions.

This is the 18th consecutive year that the assembly has gone on record against U.S. Cuba policy. The number of countries supporting the United States on the matter has dwindled over the years.

Wednesday's resolution was 187 votes in favor, three against and two abstentions. Only Israel and the Pacific island state of Palau sided with the United States. Two other Pacific states, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, abstained.

Addressing the assembly, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called the embargo an "act of arrogance" and said it has cost the Cuban economy tens of billions of dollars over the years and deprived children of needed medical care.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said it is wrong to blame U.S. sanctions for deprivation in Cuba. While calling the Cuban statement hostile and reminiscent of the Cold War, the ambassador, Susan Rice, said the Obama administration is committed to trying to write a new chapter in relations with Cuba by engaging the Havana government.

Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the annual exercise in the General Assembly obscures the fact that the United States is a leading source of food and humanitarian relief aid to Cuba.

He said that since taking office in January, the Obama administration has eased various restrictions and opened new dialogue on migration and postal links.

But Kelly said the administration wants to see improvement in human rights conditions and respect for fundamental freedoms in Cuba before it will consider normalized relations.

"The suggestion that we're not assisting Cuba is just false. We are one of the major providers of humanitarian assistance to Cuba. But we don't believe that while there are repressive measures in place in Cuba that we should reward the government of Cuba by lifting the economic sanctions that could assist the government of Cuba in its repression of its own citizens."

Amid pressure from U.S. farm states, the Bush administration eased restrictions on sales of agricultural goods to Cuba. Spokesman Kelly said U.S. exports of food, lumber and medical items to Cuba exceeded $700 million last year.

The Obama administration has lifted limits on travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans and initiated talks on reinstating direct postal service between the two countries for the first time since 1963.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 214


Latin American news
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Proposed U.S. bill would bar
searches of bookstore data

By the International Freedom of Expression Exchange

The Campaign for Reader Privacy has welcomed a new House bill that will restore reader privacy protections that were eliminated eight years ago by the USA Patriot Act.

The USA Patriot Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 3845), introduced Oct. 20 by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan and Committee members Jerrold Nadler of New York and Bobby Scott of Virginia, prohibits the use of Patriot Act Section 215 searches to obtain documentary materials from a library or bookstore that contain personally identifiable information about a patron or customer. The provision would effectively bar the government from engaging in fishing expeditions to identify people who are reading "suspicious" books. All of the lawmakers are Democrats.

Section 215 allows the FBI to secretly obtain any "tangible thing," including any business records that are "relevant" to an investigation. It can be used to search the records of people who are not suspected of any criminal acts. Congress is now debating changes in Section 215 and other provisions of the Patriot Act that expire in December.

Oct. 8, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1892, which reauthorizes Section 215 for four years. The bill contains additional protections for the privacy of library records but fails to extend that protection to bookstore records. The introduction of H.R. 3845 means that the House will give serious consideration to protecting reader privacy in both libraries and bookstores. "Notably, the bill would allow Americans to use libraries and bookstores without fear that their choice of books will be monitored by overzealous federal agents," Nadler said in a press release Wednesday.

The Campaign for Reader Privacy was organized in 2004 by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center. Its goal is to ensure that Americans can purchase and borrow books without fear that the government is reading over their shoulders.


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