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(506) 2223-1327        Published  Monday, Nov. 24, 2008,  in Vol. 8, No. 233       E-mail us
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Slides block main Limón highway, other roads
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(posted at 2:45 p.m. Monday)

The main road from San José to Limon has been blocked by multiple slides. In all, the transport ministry said Monday that 28 routes have been affected by the low pressure area that brought nearly five days of rain to the country.

The bad news from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional is that the unsettled atmosphere may turn into a tropical cyclone.

The highway, Ruta 32, also known as the  Braulio Carrillo highway, has been blocked by four major slides, said the transport ministry. At one point passage is jeopardized by a large tree that is ready 
to fall. And at the entrance to the Cantón de Matina on the Caribbean coast there is no passage because the Río Chirripó has flooded the roadway.

Ruta 36 south of Limón also is blocked because a bridge at Playa Negra collapsed. And the Río Sixaola is flooding the highway furhter south making passage difficult.

Also blocked is the road from Bribri to Sixaola in Talamanca near the Panamá border.  Some 21 of the damaged roadways are in that canton. Also blocked is Ruta 126 between Heredia and Sarapiquí.

Earlier story HERE!



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The Caja throws a few curves for expat employers
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

How to handle employees and their paperwork represents a continuing problem for expats.

An article on domestic employees produced a great deal of interest.  Many persons wrote and said they were not legally registering their employees and did not have workers compensation for them either. Some expats asked if they needed to cover themselves as well.  Everyone that wrote still is confused.

One person stated the system of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social — referred to in Costa Rica as the Caja — was unfair.   She stated a Caja employee told her she had to pay a minimum of 26,000 colons (about $47) on a mythical base salary of 101,000 colons (about $184) even if her domestic employee worked just one hour a week.

Another wrote and asked about gardeners and maintenance workers.  They tend to do work for many people.  Who should legally register them?

After the article "Those hidden pitfalls in hiring domestic employees" appeared, a Caja inspector showed up unexpectedly to examine this writer's payroll records.  This had never happened.  When asked why she made a surprise visit, she said the Caja now has a new police force to check on compliance with their rules.  The same day in Cartago, an associate was investigated, too. This is surprising but surely a coincidence nonetheless.

During the examination, the inspector confirmed the information about the minimum.  She said the administration of the social security system calculated a minimum carrying cost of adding an employee to its rolls, and the amount was 26,000 colons.  This means any worker regardless of how many hours he or she works must be registered with at least a base salary of 101,000 colons, even if that is far more than they actually are paid.

This fact seems unfair for workers as well as employers.  People hiring temporary employees of any type do not have the inclination to legally register them if they have to pay the Caja a disproportionate share of money compared to full-time workers.  Further along in the meeting, the inspector said she, too, felt the system was unfair but that it was out of her control. 

Another surprise was she said everyone needed to be covered by the Caja. This meant even the owners of the company. It did not matter if the owner had private insurance. 

Many expats own a company in Costa Rica, and some cover their employees and others do not.  However, very few of the expats cover themselves.  Researching the statement she made that everyone must be covered by the Caja found that it is true.  It is the law.  Since 2005, the Ley de Protección al Trabajador, the worker protection law, states that any person with an economic activity must be signed up with the Caja.  Non-payment accrues interest and penalties and is collected with a court action.

The owner of a company has two options: 1.) Add themselves to their company's payroll, or 2.) purchase trabajador independiente.  "independent worker" insurance.  The later option is cheaper, and if the expat is over the age of 50, he or she can exclude the insurance for disability, old age and death.

This expat said, "If that is the law, what do I need to do to sign up?"  The inspector said, "If you let me sign you up, the process is easy, if you do not and I have to fill out this form, the Caja will do an extensive investigation and make your life difficult, so you better let me do it."  The decision was an easy one.

While she was filling out the forms, the question of the gardeners and maintenance workers came up.  She said, according to the law, everyone needs to be registered as an employee with the
confused expat

Caja unless they have signed themselves up as an independent worker and file tax returns as such too.

Here are some conclusions and recommendations:

• Costa Rican labor law states all workers must be signed up with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and be protected by workers compensation insurance.  This means employees and owners alike.

• Workers should be put on a normal payroll and the appropriate amount paid into the social security system.   If the employees are temporary, they too should be signed up because the law states so even though the system seems to be unfair.  The fines and headaches for not doing so outweigh the amount to be paid.

• A workers' compensation policy should be purchased from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros de Costa Rica, the national insurance company, to cover work accidents.  This coverage can be included in a homeowner's policy if only a few workers are involved.

• Owners should purchase a separate Caja policy for themselves which covers independent workers or professional people.  It is better to do so voluntarily.  However, it is advisable to wait for an inspector to show up and let them do the process because they will expedite it.  Going to a Caja office and offering to file for the insurance could turn into a nightmare.

• Gardeners, maintenance, construction and other workers should be asked if they are registered with the Caja as a trabajador independiente and if they have individual coverage for workers compensation.   If they are, doing business with them is probably safe as long as they do business with others as well.  However, if they are not legal and do not have insurance, one either needs to add them to a payroll or not work with them and look for someone else.

The principal is simple:  The law requires all workers, whether they are hourly, salaried or independent, to be covered by the social security system in Costa Rica.  The law also requires that all workers be covered by some sort of workers compensation insurance for work related accidents.

The dilemma for expats and other employers is why should they cover part-time domestic employees, gardeners, maintenance workers and the like if doing so just means disproportionate assessments by the same rules made to protect workers.  The answer is also simple: It is the law.

Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.


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Puma pulled from gulf
will be relocated this week


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Coast guardsmen and animal rescue workers saved a puma near Isla Venado in the Gulf of Nicoya Thursday.

Reports from the Guardacosta and from the national animal rescue unit, the Unidad Especial de Protección y Rescate Animal, said that the animal appeared rather suddenly off the coast of Isla Venado. Soon, it became apparent to witnesses than the animal was close to drowning. The puma was captured and then transferred to a safer location, said the Fuerza Pública.

The animal is now under the care of a national conservation organization, which  plans to release the puma into the wild during the upcoming week.

A lost puma also appeared in Escazú in April 2006, but was killed during a botched rescue attempt. The president of the national animal rescue unit, Edgar Castrillo, said that the success of this recent operation was a testimony to the technical skills of animal handlers.


Union in fact sufficient
for residency, court says


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has ruled that a foreigner does not have to be legally married to a Costa Rican to avoid deportation. Simply living together will do the trick.

The court threw out a section of immigration law that said a union in fact has no legal effect and cannot be used to evade deportation or to seek permanent residency. The law was challenged by the Fundación Centro de Derechos Sociales del Inmigrante.

The ruling is retroactive.

The Costa Rican Constitution says that the family is to be protected, and the Sala IV said that the word family must be interpreted broadly, not just as a product of matrimony.

The court also said that the immigration law discriminated against foreigners because a union in fact is recognized in many ways in Costa Rican law.


Arias headed for Asia
to promote his consensus

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez  is leaving for Qatar and Singapore Wednesday. Casa Presdencial confirmed on his weekly agenda that he is leaving.

Qatar is an Arab emirate on the Persian Gulf.  Arias is expected to promote his "Consensus of Costa Rica" there at a world summit of cooperation for development.

The consensus is a proposal by Arias that the richer countries forgive debt of developing nations that have limited their expenditures on the military. Costa Rica, which does not have an army, would be high on this list.

In Singapore Arias will be visiting with government officials.


Comprehensive water study
ordered at Playas del Coco


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has ordered a detailed study of the aquifers under the communities of Playas del Coco, Ocotal, Panamá and Hermosa. In the same ruling the court ordered that no more permits for water wells be issued until the study is completed.

The court was responding to an appeal by residents of the area who said that they feared water shortages and contamination due to development of tourist projects.

The court rules that the study be done by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecommunication, the  Servicio Nacional de Aguas Subterráneas Riego y Avenamiento,  the  Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the  Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental, and the Municipalidad de Carrillo.

The court said that the study should determine a rational and sustainable use for the underground water, which is vulnerable.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 24, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 233


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Cruz Roja workers seek volunteers among flooded homes on the Caribbean coast.
Cruz Roja seekingf victims
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Caribbean endures another pounding by Mother Nature
By Elyssa Pachico
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Caribbean coast is taking it on the chin again with rains and flooding spawned by a cold front. Some 32 communities have been affected, and up to 2,100 persons are in shelters, according to the Cruz Roja,

The national emergency commission said that rain had not let up Sunday in the coastal mountains, and rivers in Limón province continued to swell. The agency cited problems with the Barbilla and Chirripó rivers in Matina, the Pacuare and Reventazón in Siquirres, the Parismina in Guacimo, the Sarapiquí and the Sixaola.

Isolated communities in the Talamanca are likely to be hard hit, but so far they are cut off from communications. On the coast, the community of Sixaola was awash from the river of the same name.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca suffered damage to a bridge leading to town, and pedestrians were forced to cross part of the way on two wood planks.

The problems were not just confined to the Provincia de Limón. Five homes were damaged heavily in San Jerónimo de Moravia in the metropolitan area by a slide. There were slides around Parque Nacional Brauilo Carrillo on route 32, in the Cordillera central, the central mountains. However, passage remained open with some restrictions.

Near Guápiles an ambulance with five persons aboard overturned due to the weather and three persons including a child were injured seriously.

Driving all over the Caribbean coast and the northern zone was challenging because in addition to the rain and flooded highways, thick fog developed in places.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias estimated that 1,244 persons were victims of the storm in Talamanca alone. The highway to the border with Panamá was cut in several places, officials reported. In Panamá itself, heavy damage was reported in Bocas de Toro.

In Matina, the commission said that at least 400 homes were flooded out.

The Cruz Roja had three boats circulating in flooded areas picking stranded individuals form the roofs of homes.

Along the coast the sea was raging with waves as much as two meters (more than six feet) above normal.

 In the Central Valley high winds knocked down trees and power lines.
The emergency commission continued high alerts for the Caribbean and the northern zone.

Limón experienced 125 mm (about 5 inches) of rain Saturday with 85 mm (3.3 inches) more Sunday, according to the automatic weather station at the Limón airport maintained by the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.
Reports from Puerto Viejo say that four straight days of rain have overwhelmed the road to Cahuita with landslides, fallen power lines and trees. Additionally, the concrete bridge at the main entrance to Puerto Viejo was jerked askew by flooding. That is where people have been forced to walk over a makeshift bridge consisting of two planks.

The emergency commission has been monitoring several at-risk areas in Limón, re-evaluating possible risk of floods every three hours, it said.

Two temporary refuges haves been created in Matina for people forced to evacuate their homes, one for 42 people in Hone Creek and another for 96 people from 4 Millas. Another temporary refuge was created in the Escuela Caterina in Sixaola to prepare locals for the possibility of rising waters.

Officials hoped that by relocating the population early on, residents will avoid worst case scenarios, such as seeking shelter from rising floodwaters on rooftops, or being forced to call for emergency rescue at night.

Some 230 people sought refuge in Hone Creek, with two families consisting of 12 people seeking refuge at the local school, Escuela de Catalina.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional has said that the rains are likely to continue the rest of this week, even though the cold front that has ravaged eastern Costa Rica is slowly dissipating. Most of the rainy weather has been caused by a low-pressure front stretching from Panama to the Caribbean coast.

This weekend alone, winds in San José became as strong as 90 kph (56 mph). Today, winds in San José, the Caribbean region and Guanacaste are expected to be as strong as 30 to 70 kph (18-44 mph).

In the Caribbean, winds will continue to be as strong as 30 to 35 kph (18 to 22 mph) with waves as high as two to three meters (from 6.5 to 10 feet). The Pacific will see winds between 50 and 55 kph (31 to 34 mph), with waves as high as 2.3 meters (7.5 feet). Neither ocean is suitable for sailing this week, said the Comisión de Emergencias.

The real extent of the damage will not be known for several weeks. In addition to flooded homes, damaged roads and bridges and washouts, agriculture and tourism have taken big hits.


Arias is expected to approve aid for public banks today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez is expected to approve a supplementary budget allocation today giving both Banco Nacional and Banco de Costa Rica $50 million each as a short-term fix for their credit problems.

Both banks have tightened credit requirements to some extent out of necessity. State banks also are supposed to receive a similar infusion of cash from China, thanks to a deal negotiated last week.

Meanwhile in the private sector, Citigroup, the owner of
two Costa Rican banks, is continuing to face cash-flow problems of its own. The international banking group purchased Grupo Cuscatlan and Banco Uno and just started operating under the Citi name two months ago. The Grupo Cuscatlan deal was for $1.5 billion in cash and stock. It is that stock that has taken a plunge and lost more than 50 percent of its value over the last few days.

Citi also maintains a small financial service center in Santa Ana.

The U.S. government has been considering purchasing some of Citi's least liquid assets as a bailout measure.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 24, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 233


Rosibel Araya (mother), Kevin Araya (cousin), Enrique Araya (uncle), Magdiel Araya (grandather), and Maria Elena (grandmother) are members of the family of Christian Rojas Araya, 16, who was beaten to death during a 2006 robbery in his home.
family mourns their loss
A.M. Costa Rica/Elyssa Pachico

Families march to push for tougher criminal penalties
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Families affected by urban violence held mass marches across Costa Rica Sunday as part of a push for stricter crime laws, which many families say let felons off easy.

“The victims receive less rights than the victimizers,” said Hannía López Cadilla, a special education teacher in Desamparados. Her son died in a shootout earlier this year. “You can even see it on the TV – my son's body is broadcast over and over again tossed across the ground, but his assassin is broadcast with his face covered up.”

A collection of 50 families, who together form the basis of a political organization and support group for those affected by homicide, the Associación de Familiares de Victimas de Homicidio: Justicia y Paz, hope that the public demonstrations will pressure the Asamblea Legislativa into confronting crime more aggressively.

They managed to rally more than 500 persons to march in San José Sunday.

The group is pushing fiercely for stricter sentences against minors, arguing that youngsters should be tried as adults in homicide cases. Many families complain that minors receive relatively light sentences and receive more favorable treatment from the courts than homicide victims, said Ms. Cadilla.

Such was the case with a couple from Tibás, Luis Obanda, who works in business administration, and Clara Alpizar, a housewife. They lost their son-in-law, Fabio Rodriguez Sequeira, during a car robbery Feb. 9.

“Since the only witness was a minor, the judge ruled that he wasn't allowed to testify since that would have gone against minor protection laws,” said Obanda.

The Araya Guzmán family from Alajuelita said that the two suspected killers of Christian Rojas Araya, 16, were also granted impunity because they were minors who attended Araya's school, the Instituto Boston.

Araya was killed in his home Aug. 25, 2006, after two minors beat him to death and stole cash, a cell phone and some video games.

“His parents came home at eight o'clock and found their son dead,” said Magdiel Araya, grandfather to the victim. “And two years later, those responsible are still running around loose because the judge said that they didn't have enough evidence to try two minors.”

Elizabeth Fonseca Corrales, a lawyer with the Partido Acción Ciudadana who also attended Sunday's march, said that many suspects accused of homicide never go to trial because of shoddy police work.

“What often ends up happening is judges rule that they're forced to let a delinquent go free because part of the police work was done badly,” she said. “Either there's
bajonazo victim mourned
A.M. Costa Rica/Elyssa Pachico
Family displays photo of a man killed Feb. 9 when a bandit shot him and took his car, a so called bajonazo.

incomplete information, or the police officer took down the wrong names or addresses.”

There are currently two laws that would reform the criminal justice system before the legislative assembly. Sunday's demonstration was intended to pressure representatives into voting before the assembly takes a recess Dec. 1, said Ms. Fonseca.

The first law, intended to combat organized crime, would authorize limited use of telephone wiretapping in order to prosecute suspected criminals. It would also authorize police forces to investigate citizens who report a drastic increase of wealth, possibly due to illicit activities, said Ms. Fonseca.

The second law before the assembly would create stricter sentences, especially for minors or for felons caught while committing a crime, by increasing the equivalent of a one-year jail sentence to 365 days. According to Ms. Fonseca, under the current system felons sentenced to one year in prison are sentenced for 216 days, a number which is often reduced due to conditional bail.

Those who attended the march said that such legal measures would symbolize more government support for families who are trying to navigating a tricky legal system, while also dealing with the trauma of losing a loved one. The department intended to assist grieving families with the legal process, the Oficina Atención a la Víctima at the Poder Judicial, is currently only staffed by three persons, said Ms. Cadillo.

“Families aren't told where to go, how to get a lawyer, even where to go to identify the body, while the victimizers are automatically given a judge and a lawyer,” said Ms. Cadilla. “The victimizers are given more orientation than the actual victims. It has to change.”

The San José march terminated at the Corte Suprema de Justicia building where the participants heard speakers.


Rally in Alajuela also opposes increase in street violence
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As part of a national push for stricter crime laws, hundreds of people from 10 cantons met Sunday in Parque Juan Santamaría in Alajuela to protest against a perceived increase in street violence in Costa Rica.

Janina del Vecchio, the secuirty minsiter, attended the event, as did Juan José Andrade, the director of the Fuerza Pública in Alajuela. Many citizens gave personal
testimonies regarding urban violence, culminating with a presentation by school children from San Ramón, who wore police uniforms in honor of local law enforcement.

Another national protest is planned for Tuesday, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. One demonstration, which will take place outside the Sala Constitutional at 12:30 p.m., will protest against the recent ruling by the Sala IV that a domestic violence law is unconstitutional.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 24, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 233



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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.

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.

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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.

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Pacific Rim leaders vow
to avoid protectionism


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Leaders from across the Pacific Rim — which accounts for roughly half of the world economy — are declaring war on protectionism.

They say for the next year — no matter how bad things get — they will refrain from raising any new barriers to trade and investment.

In a joint declaration, the 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum also pledged to push for revival of world trade negotiations that collapsed in July.

Throughout this summit, held in Lima, Perú, leader after leader has warned of the perils of protectionism.

In a speech to a meeting of corporate executives — held concurrently with the summit of presidents and prime ministers — U.S. President George Bush warned of a pending disaster if the nations of the world respond to the global financial crisis by turning inward.  He invoked the turmoil of the economic depression that began in 1929. "One of the enduring lessons of the Great Depression is that global protectionism is a path to global economic ruin," he said.

In taking these steps, forum leaders endorsed the principles outlined last weekend at a meeting in Washington of the world's 20 largest industrial and emerging economies.

Chávez allies win big
in Venezuelan elections


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Venezuelans gave the party of Hugo Chávez 17 governorships, but the opposition candidates won three gubernatorial elections and also took the mayoral election in the metropolitan district of Caracas.

The results are based on about 95 percent of the vote, said the Consejo Nacional Electoral. The winner in Caracas was Antonio Ledezma, who gave a speech of conciliation.

Opposition politicians had hoped to win at least seven governor posts. Chavez said he needed his allies to win in key states in order to continue to build a socialist nation.

He had threatened to cut off funds, or even deploy tanks, in areas the opposition wins. Chavez's brother, Andán Chávez Frías, appears to have won the governor's job in the state of Barinas.

The elections come a year after Mr. Chavez suffered a defeat of a referendum that would have allowed him to seek re-election indefinitely. Mr. Chavez has been in office since 1999.

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