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(506) 2223-1327               Published Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 223        E-mail us
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An expat's guide to beating the luxury home tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The specter of the luxury housing tax is haunting expat and snowbird property owners, but like everything else in Costa Rica, there are some easy solutions.

Sure, the law says that the value of land must be included in calculations to determine the value of a dwelling. And many homeowners have sprawling lawns and swimming pools.

They need to raise sheep or goats. Agricultural land
sheep on the lawn
is not included, so putting goats or sheep on the front lawn does two things:  1.) The land immediately is converted into a tract that should not be included in the calculation of value and 2.) the gardener can take a
vacation because the animals will take care of the grass. Watch your step walking to the road.
 
A bunch of chickens installed in the three-car garage immediately takes that structure off the luxury tax rolls.

But then there is the problem of the house itself. Assuming that the required calculations value the home over the $172,000 threshold, there are some steps a property owner can take to drive down the assessed value.

One of the easiest is to transfer the ownership to a church or non-profit group dedicated to social work.

When the inspectors from Tributación see the sign  "First Church of the Illuminati" stuck to the fencepost with a dagger they will just drive
right by. And what could be a better social goal than the organization Agency for Housing the
Excessively Wealthy, Churches, Illuminati or 
otherwise, and non-profits are exempted from the tax by law.

Some Costa Ricans have been engaged in municipal tax reduction for years. A neighbor has constructed a modern home inside the sagging wooden framework
Illuminati
of an old farmhouse. His municipal tax is minimal, and luxury tax inspectors will not give the property a second look.

Then there is the little escape clause that actually is in the law. Costa Ricans live on details, and the law specified that the luxury tax applies to properties
big party
that are used as dwellings Jan. 1 of any given year.

Hey, that's an invitation to a prolonged New Year's party elsewhere. This year New Year's Eve is on a Thursday. A non-stop beach party could move the hangovers to Sunday at the 
earliest. And no one would be sleeping in the family mansion. Hence, no tax!

If the tax inspectors frown on that idea, as they might, a clever homeowner might move in some
fish
sewing machines and local housewives to create a clothes factory where the living room used to be. Commercial space is not subject to the tax.

And don't forget to put some tilapia in the 
swimming  pool. Instant fish farm!


Land donated as site for new hospital in Turrialba
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza has approved donating five hectares for the site of the new hospital of Turrialba.

The land is a bit more than 12 acres.

The Centro, known by its initials as CATIE, said the decision was made by the ministers of agriculture from the 34 countries that make up its board.

Officials from the Hospital William Allen Taylor
in Turrialba sought the donation as did other Costa Rican officials.

The donation carries the condition that the land can only be used for a hospital and that construction will have to start within five years. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social is expected to invest $50 million in a new hospital, CATIE said.

CATIE offers graduate training in the applied sciences and is a major research institution. The land on which the facility stands originally was donated to it by the Costa Rican government.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 223

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Escazú bridge among those
closed for safety reasons

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The municipality has closed a bridge in Escazú to motor vehicle and heavy rains have damaged bridges in La Fortuna de San Carlos, Nandayure and Hojancha.

The Escazú bridge is in San Rafael, said the Municipalidad de Escazú. It is a bridge over the Río Convento located on a secondary street called Calle Real opposite the Il Pomodoro restaurant, said the municipality in a late afternoon bulletin. Municipal officials said they would have to study the structure to see if it could be repaired or if it would need to be replaced. It is an old structure, they said.

In Hojancha, it is a bailey bridge on Ruta 902 that is damaged. This is the road that connected Hojancha with Caramona. The site is on the Nicoya peninsula. The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said water had undermined the supports of the bridge. They said they expected to be able to make repairs.

In Nandayure two bridges collapsed leaving communities cut off, officials said. One is a bridge over the  Río Nandayure. Both spans collapsed Monday night.

In La Fortuna a bridge over the Río Burro was undermined and heavily damaged.

Two killed by machete

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man in San Carlos took a machete to his wife and mother-in-law, killed them both and then tried to commit suicide, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The agency said that the crime happened about 3:50 p.m. Tuesday in La Vieja de Florencia de San Carlos some 200 meters north of the local school.

The wife was reported to have been pregnant, said the agency. The suspect was hospitalized in Ciudad Quesada.

Dollar weakens againt colon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. expats are waking up today with the value of the dollar against the colon at its lowest point since January.

The Banco Central said that the average rate to buy colons is 554.38 colons for one dollar. The average price to buy one dollar is 564.39 colons. The value of the dollar to buy colons was at a low of 497.25 at Global Exchange at the airport and a high 563 at Coopeorotina, the Central bank said. The price to buy dollars was highest at 573.65 at the airport and lowest at 560 at Coopealianza R.L

Aug. 20 a dollar could buy 584.27 colons and 591.74 colons were needed to buy each dollar.

Our reader's opinion
Limón dock workers fail
to earn support from public


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mr. Craig W. Weir, who seems to be a good and sincere man, writes his letter to you supporting the position of the dock workers’ union in Limón, but is obviously immersed in a cloud of ignorance. One cannot say that unions are bad per se, quite the opposite, for they can be an effective counterweight for abusive management in working conditions and salaries in the private sector. But in the public sector, they have often shown themselves to be self-serving leeches, particularly the heads of the unions, sucking on the blood of the welfare of the public good, and there is no better example than this union.

Through the port of Limón comes and goes the vast majority of Costa Rica’s exports and imports, and because the port operations are controlled by this union, the port of Limón has the highest rate of inefficiency and cost of any port in the Caribbean region.

No other previous administration has been willing to tackle the problem of this gross inefficiency and union power because they were collaborators in allowing it to happen, but the Arias administration has said enough is enough. The country is being hurt badly, and wants to modernize the port by giving out the operations in concession to a private concern in an open and competitive bid process, plus making huge investments in improving the port facilities, and deepening that channel to take those large container ships that are being used in today’s shipping.

The government is willing to pay rather handsomely the union workers to not obstruct this needed change, and to go along with the concession plan, but the union leaders say, NO; they have their rights and privileges and they can’t be taken away. In fact, the leaders won’t even let their members vote on the government’s compensation offer, in spite of the Labor Ministry ordering the union to have such a vote.

The leaders argue that the union is outside the labor laws because it has the benefit of a “convención colectiva,” which is an agreement between board of directors of the port authority and the union. All government unions have a “convención collectiva” and all are filled with special privileges that private unions are unable to get because private companies cannot afford to be so generous.

So before Mr. Weir waves the flag in favor of all unions, he should check out which unions deserve to have their flag waved. Some clearly don’t. The dock workers union in Limón is one of them.
Walter Fila
Ciudad Colon 

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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.

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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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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 223


Carriers of culinary culture to be honored for their work
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 53 persons designated as carriers of culture will be honored Friday by the culture ministry for their work this year.

They are experts in regional food dishes, which they have been demonstrating to persons, including young people, in their communities.

The event beings at 9 a.m. in the Centro Nacional de la Cultura in downtown San José with exhibits by the 18 communities involved. The ministry also is promising a
demonstration of Caribbean cooking and one titled "Todo sobre la tortilla."
At 10:30 a.m. the carriers of culinary culture will be honored with certificates along with a musical presentation by the Taller de Calypso de Cahuita.

Participating will be María Elena Carballo, the minister of Cultura, Juventud y Deportes;  Leonardo Garnier, minister of Educación Pública; and Adriana Collado, director of Cultura.

There will be additional demonstrations related to traditional foods in the afternoon. Cooks from Puriscal will present a potato dish, picadillo chicasquil con papa. Chicasquil (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) is a leaf sometimes called tree spinach that is chopped up and used in cooking mostly in rural areas.



Guanacaste arts festival opens in Hojancha this weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The party is in Hojancha this weekend, starting Thursday evening. This is the II Festival Regional de Cultura Guanacastearte 2009 where the emphasis will be on the arts.

The festival runs through Sunday. It is organized by the  Oficina Regional de Cultura de Guanacaste.

The parade through the Nicoya peninsula community begins at 3 p.m. Thursday followed by opening ceremonies in the Gimnasio Escuela Victoriano Mena.

Other events are planned for two other locations during the weekend, the Parque Central and the Centro Pastoral.

The event is designed to display artists from all of Guanacaste. The first such festival, five years in the making, took place last year in Liberia.

Next year Abangares is the site.
The program includes dance events with participation by the Compañía de Cámara Danza of the Universidad Nacional, the Compañía Nacional de Danza and the Grupo de Teatro Contraluz, which will present a children's tale.

Also invited are the Dúo Cámara Izurita-Raselli of Argentina, the Proyecto 4x5 Danza Contemporánea from Honduras and Danza Contemporánea de Cámara from Nicaragua.

The festival also includes free training for developing artists in music, theater, visual arts and dance. There also will be a series of photographs of the flora and fauna of the Area de Conservación Tempisque and works by the Colectiva de Artistas Plásticos de Guanacaste.

Small culturally related businesses will be presenting their accomplishments in a mini-fair in the Parque de Hojancha all four days of the festival. The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería and the Centro Agrícola Cantonal are coordinating this event.


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Tiny Arctic ocean plants trap carbon surprising scientists

By the British Antarctic Survey Press

Large blooms of tiny marine plants called phytoplankton are flourishing in areas of open water left exposed by the recent and rapid melting of ice shelves and glaciers around the Antarctic Peninsula. This remarkable colonization is having a beneficial impact on climate change. As the blooms die back phytoplankton sinks to the sea-bed where it can store carbon for thousands or millions of years.

Reporting this week in the journal Global Change Biology, scientists from British Antarctic Survey estimate that this new natural sink is taking an estimated 3.5 million tons of carbon from the ocean and atmosphere each year.

Lead author, Lloyd Peck, a professor with the survey, said:

"Although this is a small amount of carbon compared to global emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it is nevertheless an important discovery. It shows nature's ability to thrive in the face of adversity. We need to factor
this natural carbon-absorption into our calculations and models to predict future climate change. So far we don't
know if we will see more events like this around the rest of Antarctica's coast but it's something we'll be keeping a close eye on."

Peck and his colleagues compared records of coastal glacial retreat with records of the amount of chlorophyll in the ocean. Chlorophyll is the green plant pigment essential for photosynthesis. They found that over the past 50 years, melting ice has opened up at least 24,000 square kilometers of new open water (an area similar to the size of Wales) and this has been colonised by carbon-absorbing phytoplankton. According to the authors, this new bloom is the second largest factor acting against climate change so far discovered on Earth. The largest is new forest growth on land in the Arctic.

"Elsewhere in the world human activity is undermining the ability of oceans and marine ecosystems to capture and store carbon," said Peck. "At present, there is little change in ice shelves and coastal glaciers away from the Antarctic Peninsula, but if more Antarctic ice is lost as a result of climate change then these new blooms have the potential to be a significant biological sink for carbon."



Pair caught after stickup in restaurant near U.S. Embassy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers captured two men Monday night shortly after bandits held up a guard and staff at Spoon restaurant opposite the U.S. Embassy in Pavas.

The arrests took place about two blocks away and the men will be treated as being caught in the act. Police found a
briefcase that contained two .38-caliber revolvers and a .22-caliber pistol, they said. During the robbery bandits took a weapon from the guard.

The men were identified with the last names of Aragón Solís and Ortega Sancho.

The men carried a police radio, officers said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 223

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Ida continues to degrade
as it continues inland


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tropical Storm Ida has been downgraded to a tropical depression as it moves through the southern United States, after churning through the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico for more than a week. This is the storm that originated along the Costa Rican Caribbean coast.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, says all storm warnings were discontinued shortly after Ida came ashore Tuesday in the southern U.S. state of Alabama.

The forecasters say Ida has lost all its tropical characteristics and its maximum sustained winds have diminished to 20 mph. The winds are expected to weaken as remnants of the storm move slowly to the east.

Ida is still expected to produce heavy rains, with forecasters predicting it could drop as much as 20 centimeters (about 8 inches) of rain in some areas.  It is expected to be absorbed by another weather front on Wednesday.
 
At its earlier hurricane strength, Ida triggered floods and mudslides in El Salvador that killed at least 130 people and forced thousands from their homes.  

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes has declared a national emergency.  The town of Verapaz was one of the hardest hit areas, with devastating flooding and mudslides.  Ida hit Nicaragua's Caribbean coast Thursday as a low-level hurricane.

In the United States, the governors of the states of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi had declared states of emergency, and several offshore oil wells shut down production in advance of the storm.  

U.S. expresses concern
over beatings of Cubans


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. government says it "strongly deplores" the attacks on three Cuban bloggers last week in Havana. Cuba.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly issued a statement Monday condemning the assault against bloggers Yoani Sanchez, Orlando Luis Pardo and Claudia Cadelo. Cuban government agents allegedly detained and beat the three activists as they made their way to a peaceful demonstration.

The Cuban government has not commented on the incident.

Sanchez has won international awards for her blog "Generation Y." She says she was snatched off the street, beaten and shoved into a car. She says she was released a short time later.

The U.S. State Department says it has expressed its concern about the alleged beatings to the Cuban government, and it will continue to check on the well-being and medical care of the victims.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 223


Latin American news
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Valenzuela takes over post
of hemispheric affairs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Arturo Valenzuela, an academic and former Clinton administration adviser, has been sworn in as assistant secretary of State or Western Hemisphere affairs. He takes over from Thomas Shannon who will be the U.S. ambassador in Brazil.

The State Department said Valenzuela was sworn in at a private afternoon ceremony Tuesday. His confirmation was held up by a U.S. senator who disagreed with the Obama administration policy on Honduras and its ousted president José Manuel Zelaya.

Valenzuela testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July.

Valenzuela was previously professor of government and director of the Center for Latin American Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

He is a specialist on the origins and consolidation of democracy, the institutional dimensions of democratic governance, Latin American politics, and U.S.-Latin American relations, said the State Department.

During the Clinton administration, Valenzuela served at the White House as special assistant to the president and senior director for inter-American affairs at the National Security Council and as deputy assistant secretary for inter-American affairs at the U.S. Department of State, where his primary responsibility was United States foreign policy towards Mexico, a State Department summary said..

"Democratic institutions remain weak in many countries of the hemisphere not only because democratic continuity has been in place for a relatively short period of time, but also because the challenges of fledgling democracies are daunting," said Valenzuela during a July 8 appearance before the Foreign Relations Committee. "Democratic governments must cope with economic and social inequalities, in the face of a public that demands a state that is effective, accountable, and responsive to its needs."

Valenzuela was born in Chile of U.S. missionary parents.





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