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(506) 2223-1327        Published Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 219       E-mail us
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Expats surprised by contents of immigration bill
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some expats reacted with surprise Monday when they learned about a proposed rewrite of the nation's immigration laws that would mean pensionados and rentistas would need to show a lot more financial depth.

The draft would require pensionados to show they had an income of $2,000 a month, and rentistas would have to show a continuing monthly income of $5,000. Pensionados now must show a monthly income of at least $600. Rentistas must show a continuing income of at least $1,000 a month.

Some expats said in e-mails to A.M. Costa Rica that they felt they had been blindsided. There is reason to their claim. Representatives from many government and non-governmental groups met for nine months to devise the new draft. It replaced one introduced at the beginning of the Óscar Arias administration.

However, there was no indication that any expats or expat groups were invited to participate in the discussions.

Some expats pointed to a proposal to tax so-called luxury homes as another example of killing the golden goose. The Arias administration will assess a .25 percent tax on homes worth from $150,000 and up. Most homes owned by expats would fall into that category as would condos where the share of the commons area would be included in the value.

The immigration measure is in the Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración. The luxury home tax is on the verge of being approved a second and final time, perhaps this week.

Some callers and e-mail authors cited the current world economic situation as a reason Costa Rican officials might want to go easy on expats.

But some also brought up the basic xenophobia of Costa Ricans and the jealousy that has been building up as land prices rise and more and more well-off North Americans take over choice locations.

There is a certain trend that way in both the Arias administration and the previous Abel Pacheco administration. When the update to the immigration law came to the legislature in 2005 the category of rentista had been stricken.

The rentista status is a major category in which well-off individuals who are not retirement age can come to Costa Rica and remain legally. At the time spokesmen for Pacheco said that the category was being exploited by foreign criminals who wanted to move here. Eventually the category was put back in the bill, which then passed. This is the law that the
Arias administration seeks to replace.

At least two e-mail authors were so surprised by the bill that they said they thought the news story Monday was a hoax created by A.M. Costa Rica. One was a Costa Rican. They were given this link to the draft law published Oct. 27 in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

The Arias bill is being touted as another weapon against crime, but one e-mail author pointed out that only rich crooks would be able to settle in Costa Rica if the draft became law.

Expats sent in a handful of letters to be published, but none wanted their name associated with the letter. All cited the economic benefit to Costa Rica in having expats live here. The benefits included job creation, purchasing power and increases in bank deposits.

Several were livid that those who already live here would have to meet the new requirements the next time they have to renew their residencies. That thought they had some legal claim to a grandfather clause. The draft law does not create a safe harbor for these people, although the courts might. The draft says they must meet the requirements in "the present law." The phrase is a bit ambiguous, but the draft seems to be talking about the new law when it goes into effect.

At least one poster to an online discussion group claimed that the draft was just another idea that soon would die on the vine. But this draft law is strongly supported by the Arias administration, which has rallied nearly every public and private body interested in immigration behind it, including the Catholic bishops. It has been the policy of the administration since the president's inauguration to restructure the existing immigration law.

Some e-mail writers said they would take refuge in being a perpetual tourist and leave the country every 90 days to renew their tourism visa. Many expats do that now. But another aspect of the draft law is to strengthen the immigration police, and this could mean a crackdown on those tourists working for pay or running businesses.

Curiously, no rules about perpetual tourists are included in the draft legislation, nor are any specifics on the residency category of inversionista or investor.

Those who drafted the legislation have bigger problems than expats. They are trying to overlay rules on a mostly uncontrolled immigration movement from Nicaragua and provide a framework to fight Central American youth gangs and human trafficking. these topics are stressed in the legislation.


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Cédulas will now carry
information in braille


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones and its Registro Civil is dispensing cédulas to Costa Ricans that are marked in braille for the benefit of the sightless. This started Monday.

The small plastic cards will also be useful for the blind who do not read braille because the number of the cédula, the unique number every Costa Rican has, is embossed into the plastic.


Distance learning school
gets TV, radio approvals


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is getting another television and radio station. This one will be operated by the Universidad Estatal a Distancia mainly to provide teaching at a distance.

The university has 22,000 students all over the country.

The measure to allow the university to operate the stations received the first of two approvals in the Asamblea Legislativa Monday.

The school, known by the initials UNED, has become the largest in the country, lawmakers noted, and studies show that the parents of 85 percent of the graduates did not go to university themselves.

Other universities already have stations and are the Costa Rican version of public television. The Universidad de Costa Rica, for example, airs concerts, dance, cultural material and lengthy interviews with newsmakers.


Report of bad blacktop
launches investigation


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's regulador general has ordered an investigation of the government refinery monopoly because a sampling of its asphalt some months ago did not measure up to the required quality. It was too thick, according to the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.

The regulating authority routinely checks the quality of materials being produced by the refinery, the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo. The work is done by the Laboratorio Nacional de Materiales y Modelos Estructurales of the Universidad de Costa Rica.

The regulador is Fernando Herrero. His agency said that a thicker mix of asphalt makes the material weaker and subject to cracking.  The refinery could receive a fine if the investigation lays blame.


Juveniles are taking lead
in Central Valley stickups


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With police making a greater effort to grab known crooks downtown in the low-income neighborhoods, youngsters seem to be taking over their role as criminals.

Four of seven robbery suspects detained Sunday night and Monday morning were under 18. Consequently they will go to juvenile court where penalties are lesser.

Two men and a 16-year-old are accused of robbing those waiting for buses in Barrio Las Luisas, Quesada Durán, in Zapote Sunday night. Fuerza Pública officers attributed six separate robberies to the trio.

Meanwhile in Heredia three of four persons detained Monday morning were juveniles. They are accused of robbing a young man on a bridge between Los Lagos and La Milpa in Guararí. The robbers fled in a vehicle, but police managed to locate four suspects, two 15 year olds, a 17 year old and a man of 23. Investigators located a firearm in the vehicle.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 219

A.M. Costa Rica likes trees
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Hardy tree here shows it can stand up to climate changes
By the University of Michigan press office

A living fossil tree species is helping a University of Michigan researcher understand how tropical forests responded to past climate change and how they may react to global warming in the future.

The research appears in the November issue of the journal Evolution.

Symphonia globulifera is a widespread tropical tree with a history that goes back some 45 million years in Africa, said Christopher Dick, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who is lead author on the paper. It is unusual among tropical trees in having a well-studied fossil record, partly because the oil industry uses its distinctive pollen fossils as a stratigraphic tool.

About 15 to 18 million years ago, deposits of fossil pollen suggest, Symphonia suddenly appeared in South America and then in Central America. Unlike kapok, a tropical tree with a similar distribution that Dick also has studied, Symphonia isn't well-suited for traveling across the ocean — its seeds dry out easily and can't tolerate saltwater. So how did Symphonia reach the neotropics?

 Most likely the seeds hitched rides from Africa on rafts of vegetation, as monkeys did, Dick said.

Even whole trunks, which can send out shoots when they reach a suitable resting place, may have made the journey, he said. Because Central and South America had no land connection at the time, Symphonia must have colonized each location separately.

Once Symphonia reached its new home, it spread throughout the neotropical rain forests. By measuring genetic diversity between existing populations, Dick and coworker Myriam Heuertz of the Université Libre de Bruxelles were able to reconstruct environmental histories of the areas Symphonia colonized.

"For Central America, we see a pattern in Symphonia that also has been found in a number of other species, with highly genetically differentiated populations across the landscape," Dick said. "We think the pattern is the result of the distinctive forest history of Mesoamerica, which was relatively dry during the glacial period 10,000 years ago. In many places the forests were confined to hilltops or the wettest lowland regions. What we're seeing in the patterns of genetic diversity is a signature of that forest history."

In the core Amazon Basin, which was moist throughout the glacial period, allowing for more or less continuous forest, less genetic diversity is found among populations,
Central Amrerican tree
Rolando Pérez, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
The distinctive trunk and aerial roots of the tropical tree Symphonia globulifera in a rain forest.

Dick said. "There's less differentiation across the whole Amazon Basin than there is among sites in lower Central America."

The study is the first to make such comparisons of genetic diversity patterns in Central and South America. "We think similar patterns will be found in other widespread species," Dick said.

Learning how Symphonia responded to past climate conditions may be helpful for predicting how forests will react to future environmental change, Dick said.

"Under scenarios of increased warmth and drying, we can see that populations are likely to be constricted, particularly in Central America, but also that they're likely to persist, because Symphonia has persisted throughout Central America and the Amazon basin. That tells us that some things can endure in spite of a lot of forest change. However, past climate changes were not combined with deforestation, as is the case today. That combination of factors could be detrimental to many species, especially those with narrow ranges, in the next century."


Costa Rica maintains its ranking as a full democracy in magazine classification
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica maintains its classification as a full democracy in a study published by The Economist magazine. The authors lament that democratization is stagnating around the world, with few countries progressing and some falling, according to the indicators used.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy reflects events through September 2008. Costa Rica is in 27th place, just behind Uruguay for the best in Latin America. Only 30 of the 167 countries covered qualified as “full democracies,” with Italy and South Korea improving enough since 2006 to escape the “flawed democracy” category.

The index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Each category is quantified on a 1-10 scale with the overall average as the country’s score.
Sweden takes first place with perfect scores in all but the political culture rating. North Korea is the worst by a fair margin over Chad, though Somalia is not rated.

About half the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, as India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Brazil are all rated as flawed democracies. Full democracies serve only 14 percent of the world’s citizens.

Undemocratic governments are divided into “hybrid regimes” and “authoritarian.”

In Latin America in general, most countries are democracies with Costa Rica’s neighbors in Central America (except Panamá) bringing up the rear of the flawed democracy category.

Higher rates of political participation would move Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Chile up to the levels of most European countries in the overall rankings. Cuba is the only authoritarian regime in the Americas.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 219


Study shows some strong advantage to shade grown coffee
By the Univesity of Michigan news service

Chalk up another environmental benefit for shade-grown Latin American coffee: University of Michigan researchers say the technique will provide a buffer against the ravages of climate change in the coming decades.

Over the last three decades, many Latin American coffee farmers have abandoned traditional shade-growing techniques, in which the plants are grown beneath a diverse canopy of trees. In an effort to increase production, much of the acreage has been converted to "sun coffee," which involves thinning or removing the canopy.

Shade-grown farms boost biodiversity by providing a haven for birds and other animals. They also require far less synthetic fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides than sun-coffee plantations.

In the October edition of the journal BioScience, three university researchers say shade-growing also shields coffee plants during extreme weather events, such as droughts and severe storms. Climate models predict that extreme weather events will become increasingly common in the coming decades, as the levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas continue to mount.

The scientists warn Latin American farmers of the risks tied to coffee-intensification programs — a package of technologies that includes the thinning of canopies and the use of high-yield coffee strains that grow best in direct sunlight — and urge them to consider the greener alternative: shade-grown coffee.

"This is a warning against the continuation of this trend toward more intensive systems," said Ivette Perfecto of the Ann Arbor-based School of Natural Resources and Environment, one of the authors. "Shaded coffee is ideal because it will buffer the system from climate change while protecting biodiversity."

Ms. Perfecto has studied biodiversity in Latin American coffee plantations for 20 years. The lead author of the BioScience paper is Brenda Lin, whose 2006 doctoral dissertation examined microclimate variability under different shade conditions at Mexican coffee plantations.

Ms. Lin is currently a science and technology policy fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. The other author of the BioScience paper is John Vandermeer of the Uuniversity's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

The livelihoods of more than 100 million people worldwide are tied to coffee production. In Latin
Shade grown coffee
Photo by Shinsuke Uno
Coffee berries on a branch of the coffee bush. These happen to be in Chiapas, Mexico

America, most coffee farms lack irrigation and rely solely on rainwater, which makes them especially vulnerable to drought and heat waves.

Shade trees help dampen the effects of drought and heat waves by maintaining a cool, moist microclimate beneath the canopy. The optimal temperature range for growing common Arabica coffee is 64 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Shade trees also act as windbreaks during storms and help reduce runoff and erosion.

Ms. Lin's work in southern Mexico showed that shady farms have greater water availability than sunny farms, due in part to lower evaporation rates from the coffee plants and soils. More shade also reduced peak temperatures between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when southern Mexican coffee plants experience the greatest heat stress.

"These two trends — increasing agricultural intensification and the trend toward more frequent extreme-weather events — will work in concert to increase farmer vulnerability," Ms. Lin said. "We should take advantage of the services the ecosystems naturally provide, and use them to protect farmers' livelihoods."



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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 219




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.


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.

Statistics

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

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.


Venezuelan convicted
for role in Argentina scandal


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S. court has found a Venezuelan businessman guilty of acting as an illegal foreign agent to cover up a political scandal involving Argentina. The trial has sparked criticism from the governments of Venezuela and Argentina.

The guilty verdict ended the two-month trial against Franklin Duran, a 41-year-old businessman who was accused of acting on behalf of the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Prosecutors said Venezuelan officials asked Duran to come to the United States to pressure a friend who had been caught entering Argentina last year with a suitcase filled with $800,000. U.S. officials say the money was a campaign contribution from Venezuela to Argentina's president, and that Caracas wanted to conceal the source of the money.

Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has accused the United States of a smear campaign. Chávez says the U.S. is trying to discredit his socialist government.

The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill, told reporters the trial was not about politics. "Obviously, the United States takes very seriously the actions of any agents on its soil," said Mulvihill. "And that is what the case was about."

Three other men, including Duran's former business partner, have pleaded guilty in the case. Another suspect remains at large.

Duran's former partner told the court about a series of kickbacks and bribes involving Venezuelan federal and state officials. Prosecutors said the testimony showed that Duran was closely tied to officials and was eager to maintain those lucrative relationships.

Defense lawyers argued that the testimony about alleged corruption would likely trigger a new scandal in Venezuela.

Attorney Ed Shohat said the trial was motivated by politics. "I am not going to elaborate on that any further," said Shohat. "I believe it is a political circus, and I believe Franklin Duran is a pawn in that circus." Shohat said he plans to appeal the conviction.

The corruption allegations heard at the trial have generated widespread attention, especially in Venezuela.

Television reporter Verioska Velasco is one of several Venezuelan journalists who have been covering the trial in Miami. She says there is new pressure on Venezuela's government and civil society to take a fresh look at possible corruption.

She says there should be an investigation into the allegations to see whether they are politically motivated or if there is corruption at high levels in the government.

Duran is scheduled to be sentenced in January and could receive the maximum term of 15 years in prison.   


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The contents of this Web site are copyrighted by Consultantes Río Colorado 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007  and 2008 and may not be reproduced anywhere without permission. Abstracts and fair use are permitted.  Check HERE for more details