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These stories were published Monday, Nov. 10, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 222
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Special corporate tax form hides real motive
By Garland Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Have you ever read that the police sent out letters or placed classified ads offering some phony promotion to catch criminals or parking ticket violators?  This year Costa Rica’s tax form D-175 is a sting operation of sorts, too.

For many years, in fact since the beginning of transferring property began in Costa Rica, a company could be created and a property could be placed in that company so when the property was sold again, only the company needed to be signed over to the new owner. The sale could be done rapidly and without payment of  trasnfer taxes. This kind of company is referred to as an inmobiliaria or a company holding real estate. 

However, very few of these entities ever signed up with the tax department, the Tributación Directa.  There are an estimated 308,000 companies listed at the Registro Nacional, the national registry. But a far fewer number are listed with the tax department, and the country want to fix this anomaly so it will be able to collect more taxes in the future.

Here’s the catch:  Most inmobiliarias generally do not have to file any tax returns because they are not operating businesses because they were just created to hold property.  But this tax year all companies must file Form D-175 by Dec. 31 or be subject to a fine of 76,500 colons or roughly $185.

The fine is not the only sanction. The most important one is that companies that do not file Form D-175 will no longer be able to make any movements at the national registry. This mean you will not be able to transfer a property when you want to sell it and/or make any changes to the company holding the property like adding, amending, or deleting partners, changing powers of attorney or directors, etc.

Why is this a trap?  Well the International Monetary Fund has been working very hard for over 10 years to get Costa Rica to collect its taxes.  In the most simplistic of terms, if Costa 

Deadlines for filing corporate forms
Form
Purpose
Date
D-150 Withholding summary Dec. 1
D-151 Clients/vendor summary Dec. 1
D-154 Credit card trasnaction
summary
Dec. 1
D-101 Income taxes Dec. 15
D-121 Vehicle property taxes Dec. 31
D-175 Special one-time fiscal tax Dec. 31

Rica doesn’t improve it tax collections, the monetary fund could withhold future loans and loan guarantees. Actually, Costa Rica has done a pretty good job of getting its tax house in order but needs to get inmobiliarias on the books to complete the job. 

This does not mean big tax revenues now because only companies with equity more than 35 million colons will need to will to pay a one-tenth of a percent tax.  Most properties held in companies have a very small book value and will not be over the minimum. 

But wait. Look into the future for a moment.  Once the tax department finally has all these companies inscrito or registered they will begin to collect additional taxes like the Timbre de Educación y Cultura (Stamp of Education and Culture) which needs to be paid by all registered companies each year. 

Also, if you read over the future law projects on the Tributación Directa Web site  other taxes are being proposed.

The wisest move for someone here is to file the form and bring a company up-to-date with the tax people.  Benjamin Franklin once wrote to Jean-Baptiste: "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." No one likes big tax penalties and interest. 

Garland M. Baker is a local businessman who provides business services to the international community.

Dead girl, 9, found, and suspect, 28, jailed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A policeman found the body of Ana Isabel Sáenz Orozco Friday morning, less than a day after she vanished while walking home from school in Río Cuarto de Grecia.

About 12 hours later investigators announced the arrest of a 28-year-old man who is believed to be the killer. Officials said the girl was raped.

The suspect was identified as Roberto Girardo Artavia Porras. The man had a bite mark on his arm and scratches on his face, according to a statement by the Fuerza Pública. Investigators found some clothing they believe belonged to the girl in his home. He was jailed for investigation in Ciudad Quesada.

The body of the 9 year old was in the water near the mouth of the Río Hule when the policeman found her. Fuerza Pública officers from the San Carlos detachment launched an extensive search at daybreak Friday.

The body was partially dressed and showed 

signed that someone beat her around the face, perhaps with a rock.

The girl was walking home from school in Barrio El Carmen Thursday and got within 1,500 feet of her house before she ran into the person who would be her killer. A school friend accompanied her much of the two kilometers (about a mile and a quarter), and shoes and a backpack of the girl were in the road at the point of the criminal encounter.

A search for the girl started about 5 p.m. when a relative found the backpack, but darkness caused a halt Thursday.

The girl was the daughter of the manager of a farm in the area.  She was buried Sunday in Caribe de Cariari.

Police said they became suspicious of the man they arrested because witnesses said they saw him near the school earlier Friday.

The girl became the 11th child or young person to be killed this year.

 
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Time to mark your calendar for Christmas events
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The reduction in rain over the past five days has Costa Ricans thinking Christmas season. The clearing skies may be a false alarm because the dry season usually does not hit the Central Valley until early December. But locals are hopeful.

Decorations are up, and announcements have been made for the key public events this Christmas season.

The Festival de la Luz, the annual parade of lights, will be Saturday, Dec. 13. The parade route will be the traditional one from Parque la Sabana along Paseo Colón and Avenida 2 to the Plaza de la Democracia. Because the day is a Saturday, turnout, always gigantic, should be a record.

Friday, Dec. 19, the Festejos Populares begins at the Zapote fair grounds, although it looks like the bulls will not make it this year. The bull ring is being torn down, and there is a pretty good chance that a new arena will not be ready in time.

Costa Rican bullfights involve 100 to 150 people standing around in an arena ducking and running to avoid a thoroughly confused bull. The events are televised extensively, including on Spanish-language stations in the United States.

Christmas is Thursday, Dec. 25, which means Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week will be basically a time for parties and other festivities. 

The day after Christmas, Friday, Dec. 26, is the day of the annual tope or horse parade that lasts all day along the traditional parade route. The route will be crammed with horses from all over the country. With a little planning tourists could rent horses and participate, too.

The next day, Saturday, Dec. 27, is carnival in downtown San José. Again main streets will be closed as bands and floats from all over the country compete for prizes.

Dec. 5 is the day that the government will pay public employees the Christmas bonus or alguinaldo. The bonus represents a month’s pay. 

The bonus is required by law, so Costa Ricans will
be hitting the stores hard when they get their checks or bank deposits.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública has not announced any changes yet. But police patrols in the center of the city will be beefed up because criminals will be more active because they known more money will be in circulation.

Tourists who are planning to visit Costa Rica for Christmas or New Years should nail down their reservations now because there are few spaces available without prior notice during that period. 

Visitors probably will not have much chance to contract public business. Either informally or formally public employees will have a three-week vacation starting Dec. 22.


 
25-year sentences
given in murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man and a woman who murdered a U.S. tourist in Alajuela Jan 16, 2002, got 25 years in jail each last week.

The pair, Cristian Alpízar Arceyut and Michelle Sofía Castañeda Garita, were two of the three persons who tricked their way into a home in Itiquís, Alajuela. The home is owned by Troy Lee Phillips.

The victim, Steven Ines Hartling, 54 at the time of the murder, had recently arrived as a tourist.

Investigators broke the case easily because a Colombian who was part of the robbery called police an gave an extensive confession two days alter.

Ms. Castañeda Garita was hired as a domestic employee the day before the murder occurred, according to the courts. She gave a false name. The woman arrived shortly after 1 a.m., pretending to be reporting for work.

She brought with her the two men who forced their way in after the door was opened for her. Hartling resisted the intruders, and one of them shot him in the chest. He died at the house, police said. Hartling had only been in the country a short time before being murdered. 

Arenal ghost story
wins Halloween prize

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Reader Barbara Gerber is the winner of the 2003 Halloween short story contest with her strange tale of life after death under the waters of Lake Arenal.

The story was published as "Don't move here if you don't like the humidity" in the Oct. 31 edition HERE!

Local judges were deadlocked and took a long time decided. 

Ms. Gerber also wrote "David, the Axe Man" and illustrated it with a menacing photo of a family member who was carrying an ax.  That was published HERE! http://www.amcostarica.com/102303.htm#8

Lucia Wrestle, last year’s winner, was praised for her support of the writing contest. She was the first to send in a story. He entry was published HERE as "There is more than the clip-clop of the horses." http://www.amcostarica.com/102703.htm#7

A.M. Costa Rica will continue the short story contest because spooky stories about Costa Rica add to the lore and tradition.

Lottery vendor
robbed in crowd

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits stuck up a woman lottery vendor at 6:30 p.m. Friday on the San José pedestrian boulevard while dozens of shoppers and persons on their way home passed by.

Those who saw the crime said that the bandits acting too quickly for anyone to stop the crime. Plus the bandits had guns. They fled in a nearby car with about 12 million colons, some $29,000.

The woman was identified by police by the last name of Aguirre. The crime happened at Calle 9 at a point where the boulevard ends.

Results unavailable
in Guatemalan voting

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Residents peacefully forming long lines in polling centers around the country to vote for the nation's next president Sunday. Voters are selected a new Congress and hundreds of local offices. 

This has been what some in Guatemala regard as the most violent campaign period in recent Guatemalan history, and it has made many Guatemalans apprehensive about how the long-awaited election day would unfold.

Results still were unavailable as this edition was published.

More than 4,000 election observers are in place across the country to ensure voting is free and fair. Ballots are encrypted to keep them from being swapped, and vehicles delivering voting materials to polling places were tracked by satellite to avoid unscheduled stops. 

Ruling party candidate and former dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt showed up to vote in the first half-hour the center was open.

After depositing his ballots, Rios Montt left the center amid the cheers of some of his supporters. He is accused of human rights violations during his brief rule in the 1980s. 

The general, as he is known here, was trailing a distant third in pre-election polls. One candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the votes to win, and the pre-election polls predicted there will be a runoff between former Guatemala City Mayor Oscar Berger and center-left candidate Alvaro Colom in December. 

The election is only the second since 1996 peace accords ended 36 years of civil war. President Alfonso Portillo, a member of Rios Montt's Guatemalan Republican Front party, won the last elections in 1999, but can not seek a second consecutive term. 

El Niño comeback
expected this year

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  reports an apparent warming trend in the equatorial regions of the Pacific Ocean, a bellwether for development of the El Niño weather system. 

"There is an above average likelihood sea-surface temperature conditions will be characterized as a weak or borderline El Niño by the end of November," said Vernon Kousky, an El Niño specialist, in a press release. 

El Niño is a weather system brought on by an abnormal warming of the tropical Pacific waters that can extend across the ocean from South America to New Guinea. The warmer waters interact with the atmosphere to create abnormal patterns in temperature and precipitation throughout the world. 

Wetness in eastern China, the south Indian Ocean and Australia, and dryness in Indonesia and on the Mexican coast are some of the signs El Niño scientists have tracked.

The last El Niño lasted from May 2002 to March 2003. The administration press release says it is rare to experience the weather system two years in a row, but not unprecedented.

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A.M. Costa Rica/Wendy Bishop Strebe
Fractured tree blocks the path after an avalanche in the woods.
Who says the tropical forest is a gentle place?
By Wendy Bishop Strebe
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Sunday morning my husband and I, three of our kids and my mother and father-in-law were finishing breakfast when we heard hollering in the valley below our house.  We live on a hill at the edge of the jungle, on the Caribbean Coast, in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.  We all paused in our conversations and walked to the railing of our porch.

A huge tree was falling right towards our house.  Make that many huge trees, taking into account the domino effect.  We were frozen in time.  I grabbed my 10-year-old son and held onto him for dear life.  Seconds passed as the trees came closer.  The noise was deafening.  As my 19-year-old daughter later said, "All hell broke loose up on the hill."

They kept coming and coming.  Thoughts flashed through my mind, but we did not have time to move.  "Should we run for it?"  All seven of us running down the steep stairs in time to get out of the way seemed impossible.  We did not move a muscle, except our heart beats accelerated.

Finally, a few seconds later, the great fall of trees ceased.  The devastation stopped about 20 feet 

from our house.  We were safe.  It did not take out our water system.  It did take out an entire fence line, but our house was spared, our lives were spared and so were those of our neighbors and their livestock.

My in-laws, who are visiting from New Mexico, got to witness an awesome event.  As soon as we could breathe normally, we all went to see where the trees originated and to check our fence lines.  Trees fall every day, but this particular fall went between four homes and left them all intact.  The trail of debris is 150 feet long and 25 feet wide.  Most of it lies on our property in a protected wildlife area.

We spoke with the neighbors where the first tree (about five feet in diameter) broke off at about 20 feet from the ground.  I asked a woman when they discovered that the tree was going to fall.  She said they realizedSaturday night that the tree would fall and stayed up all night watching it, afraid to sleep, as they have two houses within 50 feet of the tree.

I have been through tornadoes, a hurricane, 100-year floods, hail storms, ice storms and now this.  Another natural event that could have been a catastrophe, but will become part of the earth and will provide habitat for many animals.


 
Officials, including Marco Badilla at right, study proposed physical changes at the Peñas Blanca border crossing.

Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía 
y Seguridad Pública photo by Jesus Ureña
Expedited border crossings is topic of meeting
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans and Nicaraguan technicians and officials met last week to try to modernize the Peñas Blancas border operation. This is the place where the Interamerican Highway crosses into Costa Rica from Nicaragua and this is where  virtually all the legal commercial exchange takes place between the two nations.

The meeting was set up to advance the accords entered into by the presidents of both countries in 2002. The goal is a modern and speedy immigration and customs operation by 2004.

Representatives of relevant ministries and institutions sent technicians to the session, These included Agricultura y Ganadería, Comercio 

Exterior, Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago and the Fuerza Pública

The main topics on the minds of Costa Ricans at the session were how to combat transport or illegal aliens, prostitution, corruption and evasion of immigration and customs control, said a statement from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Marco Badilla, director general of Migración y Extranjaría was the senior Costa Rican official at the session.

Badilla noted that other Central American countries have modernized their border operations. He said he was in favor of improving the processing.


 
Photos by Katherine Willson 
The buses promise 'servicio ejecutivo' but don't believe it
Bogotá tourism is simply not for the nervous
EDITOR’S NOTE: Miss Willson, a new Latin American correspondent from the United States, has chosen war-torn Colombia and its capital of Bogota as her base.

By Katherine Willson 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BOGOTA, Colombia —  I decided to play tourist one Saturday afternoon just before national elections. I did so against the advice of my host, who told me most of the city sections are dangerous to travel alone. I hopped aboard one of Bogota's short, green buses, which are covered with soot and ready for the junk yard.

The bus drove north then switched back through the city center. We continued south, passing voting booths and armed guards. At 4 p.m. I turned to look out the rear window. Bogota's glass skyscrapers had turned to shadows behind the screen of smog and were the size of Legos. I figured the bus would turn soon to head back to the city. I planned on getting off where I had climbed on. But we continued south.

High-rise buildings and wide avenues were replaced by decaying brick apartments and alleys riddled with holes. I clung to the seat in front of me to keep from banging into the woman next to me. Outside, Bogota's blond business men in three-piece suits disappeared, replaced by black haired street vendors, who displayed rotting teeth along with roasted corn cobs and sliced papaya.

The bus turned onto a smaller street, once driving onto the curb to avoid a section of the road better fit for sailing that driving. The sky dimmed. I noticed I was he only one left on the bus. Then the driver turned into a dirt parking lot fenced with dilapidated brick and bags of garbage. It looked like a bus graveyard, complete with five weathered and toothless undertakers. Other than those men, I was alone.

"This is the terminal," the driver said when he noticed me. "You have to get off." I reached into my bag and fished out my only protection: A pocketknife I had gotten as a Valentine’s Day present a few years back and a can of Mace my Mom pushed on me. 

Slipping the knife into my pocket and the Mace into the sleeve of my fleece, I smiled. "Sir, I'm sorry, but I need to get to Bogota," I said in choppy Spanish. 

"We don't go there again," he said. "Go to the store over there. You can call a taxi." 

"Thank you," I said and slipped off the bus. "Great job Kate," I thought as I marched across the dirt, "Your third day in Bogotá and you're going to get beaten up and robbed. Super."

I walked from the "bus terminal" into an alley and up the alley to the corner store. The time was 5:15 


Enrique Ramírez has a big smile as he changes a bus tire at Bogota’s version of a terminal. He’s a busy man. 
 
Some traveler tips

The Menu: Things I have eaten: Fried cow intestine, cow stomach soup, broiled cow udder, blood sausage and tap water (oops!).

The camera: when traveling with a camera, use doubled-up plastic shopping bags instead of a camera case. Few people will steal your groceries.

and the street was nearly deserted. Soon it would be dark, and, boy, if I thought I was in trouble before, I would be a lot worse off if I didn't get out before night fell. 

The wooden floor of the store sounded hollow against my boots when I entered, and in the shadows I saw mountains of papaya, potatoes and corn cobs. And elderly man and a teenager leaned against the counter. 

"I'm sorry, but I'm lost. I need to call a taxi," I said to the man. He mumbled something and pointed to the wall. A telephone! The younger man helped me call a taxi driver, who promised to arrive in 10 minutes. I settled down. 

Opening my bag, I pulled out a pack of American Marlboros, offering one to the man, who accepted with a grin. (A friend of the family had suggested I offer a cigarette in a tight situation) The teen was the older man's son. They lived together with the rest of the family on the same block. The older man gave me a glass of water and told me about the fruit lining the walls.

A taxi arrived then and I pushed the pack of smokes into the man's hands. "Thank you so much for your help," I said before climbing into the taxi. 

The sun was gone, but I was on my way home.

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