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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 232           E-mail us
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Just wait until Santa tries to bring his pack here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lot of so-called Black Friday ideas on the Web promise to deliver Stateside products, mostly electronics, cheaply and painlessly to Costa Rican residents.

But the customs procedures continue to amaze.

For example, a recent mailing of a doll and a game from the United States to a sick Costa Rican child cost 19,220 colons to liberate from the aduana or customs agency. That's about $38.

The package came through a mail delivery service. The sender paid just $10 to have the package delivered to Miami, Florida.

In Costa Rica, customs workers were waiting with their adding machine. The doll drew an amazing 30 percent tax, presumably 13 percent sales tax and the rest customs duty. The total was a big 3,860 colons or about $7.65.

For some reason customs workers only charged an estimated 13 percent sales tax on the electronic game. Perhaps because many electronic products are duty free. But the tax still was 3,360 colons more. Ring up $6.66.

The doll obvious had luxury accommodations at Hotel Aduana because agents charged 3,000 colons more for storage or nearly $6.

Of course customs workers have to get paid, so they added 9,000 colons or about $17.85 for assessing the charges against a sick child.

So the total came to about $38.

Monday the Contraloría de la República praised the Ministero de Hacienda for more efficient collection of sales tax, including customs duty. It is easy to see that charges can sometimes reach the value of products being shipped into
pricey doll

the county, free trade treaties notwithstanding.

The $26 that air travelers pay as an exit tax is designed partly to pay the estimated tax on items those returning may bring in within their suitcases.

Anything obvious is sure to attract customs agent attentions at the arrival lounge. But more than one expat leaves the country with empty suitcases  packed within each other.

The Contraloría never really explained how it evaluated the aduana tax collections. After all, items smuggled in are not reported to anyone.

One Central Valley high roller successfully beat the customs agency for years. He created a company in Florida with a name that resembled closely a well-known U.S. firm. He imported thousands of dollars of items by creating false invoices in the name of the fake company and cheated customs collectors with the low-ball prices.

Perhaps that is why the government employees are so aggressive these days with dolls for sick children.

Many expats continually remind family members elsewhere to avoid sending anything to Costa Rica because of the hassle and expense of clearing customs.



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 232

Costa Rica Expertise
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Magistrates give go-ahead
to cybercrime updates


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Corte Suprema de Justicia has given a green light to changes in the penal code that will provide stiff sentences for cybercriminals, including those who take photos and steal identities from the social networks.

The proposed changes are being called the most advanced in Latin America.

The legislature asked the court to review the changes.

The changes also would penalize with prison certain violations of electronic correspondence and theft of personal data.

A person who buys or sells unauthorized images could be sentenced to from three to six years, and if the image is that of a minor, from four to eight years.

The legislation also contains penalties for those who do not use their real name on social networks, but it is presumed that this would only be prosecuted when the hidden identity is used in a crime. Many individuals adopt user names online. The penalty is from three to six years or from four to six years if the crime victim is a minor or disabled, according to a summary provided by the Poder Judicial.

The legislation also includes penalties for installing trojans or other malware on computers or illegally replacing Web pages.

Of course, one problem is that a lot of cybercrime is done from other countries, and officials here will find it difficult or impossible to prosecute.

Venezuelan trawler said
to be trespassing at sea


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While Costa Rica avoids confrontation along its northeastern border with Nicaragua, a Venezuelan trawler was reported to have invaded the country's exclusive zone in the Pacific.

Commercial fishermen and sports fishermen said that the trawler was using explosive devices, presumably to direct schools of fish into its net. This took place about 30 miles off the Pacific coast, well within Costa Rican-controlled waters.

Venezuelan trawlers are no stranger to that area. One threatened a sports fishing boat Aug. 1 in an effort to drive it away.

The Venezuelan trawlers usually have home ports in Ecuador and do not have to transit the Panama Canal with their catches.

Costa Rica has an active Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas that is supposed to enforce the law on the ocean. But the previous aggressive actions by the "La Rosa Mistica" did not generate an official response from Costa Rica even though sports fishing interests contacted President Laura Chinchilla.

That attack involved the sports fishing boat Silver-Rod-O off Playa Garza in the Pacific. The Billfish Foundation also complained to the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura, the country's fishing agency.

Venezuela, of course, is an ally of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and is reported to have provided the money for the dredging and channel construction activity that has risen to the level of an international incident.  Some Venezuelan officials have denied the country is fronting the money for the project, although other sources say that Iran also is involved.

Tropical storm price tag
is put at $330 million

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price tag for the early November downpours from Tropical Storm Tomas is estimated to be $330 million just for repairs of government facilities, roads and homes for 672 families who lost theirs.

The finances were discussed Tuesday at the weekly meeting of the Consejo de Gobierno where officials noted that 3,392 homes had received some damage from the storms and the result of heavy rains. Many homes suffered damage from landslides.

Vice President Luis Liberman said that losses to agriculture would be about $30 million.  Officials are considering some subsidies to farmers. About 5,500 farmers are eligible for these grants.

Some $242 million is needed to repair infrastructure, the officials were told. Some money is being sought from development banks. Of this amount, about $109 million will go to reconstruct 177 kilometers of roads that were wiped out by the storms. There were 788 kilometers of highways that can be repaired, but that will take about $124 million, officials heard.

10-day holiday for Christmas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Central government employees will have a 10-day vacation for Christmas. The bulk of the employees will leave work Thursday afternoon, Dec. 23, and not return until Monday, Jan. 3.  Other agencies are expected to follow the executive branch lead.

Small numbers of workers will maintain required services. The exact dates of the vacation were announced Tuesday.

 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 232

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Caiman
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
A small stream appears to be the route a meter-long caiman took to end up in the patio of a home in El Tanque de la Fortuna. Tourism police responded,
captured the critter, taped its mouth and turned it over to rangers at the Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal. The reptile did not put up any fight and awaited police.


ICE creates new barrier to halt auction for cell phone service
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The former telephone monopoly, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, has thrown up another roadblock in an effort to halt opening the market to private competition.

The company listed a litany of reasons Tuesday why private companies should not connect with its lines. It said that public resources should not be used for the benefit of private companies.

The position is likely to cause more prolonged legal delays in opening the cell phone market. The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones is poised to announce an auction for bandwidth for private firms.

The public resources the company known as ICE means are the telephone networks. The company also said that for 47 years the networks have been paid by the users.
Although the new services being proposed are mobil telephones, they would have interconnectivity with the fixed line services so cell users can call phone customers regardless of the type of receiver they have.

The Superintendencia approved a rate for interconnection Nov. 12 that ICE said is below its costs. The company said it was defending the national interests in letter and spirit.

An organization that represents employers quickly took issue with the telecom company and said that the firm continues to obstruct the opening of new telephone services. It said the company was acting contrary to the will of the public that was expressed in the Oct. 7, 2007, referendum that addressed, in part, the opening of the telephone system as part of the impact of the Central American Free Trade Treaty. The employer organization is the Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado.


Judgment for humiliation against husband upheld on appeal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala II high court has upheld a 3 million-colon judgement against a dental surgeon based on allegations that he humiliated his wife and caused her public shame and embarrassment.

The case is complex because the dentist is facing a criminal charge in which the wife seeks to obtain money based on the sale of joint property. The dentist's lawyer argued that he was being charged in two courts over the same set of facts.

The couple were not named in the Poder Judicial summary that was released Tuesday. The case was heard first in the Juzgado de Familia del Primer Circuito Judicial in Pérez Zeledón. The lower court judge, identified as Manuel Rodríguez Arroyo, levied the judgment in 2009 for what was determined to be bad treatment by the husband during the marriage. The allegations included death threats.
The woman said she was forced to move from her home and into a small apartment with her children.

The initial decision was appealed until it reached the Sala II, which upheld the original decision. The court also said that the criminal case and the family court case were two different judicial processes. In the criminal case, the woman is seeking half the proceeds of land sales that the man made.

The judgment is about $6,000.

A proposed law described as providing protection for women criminalizes the allegations that the dentist faced. Under the proposed legislation a man can be jailed for humiliating in public a woman who is his wife or companion. The proposal has had problems because it does not assess the same penalties against a women who does the same, and the Sala IV constitutional court struck down one version based on discrimination.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 232


Mine protesters plan to rally as court gives Crucitas verdict

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The much-awaited court decision on the Las Crucitas open pit gold mine is scheduled for today, but regardless of the way the decision goes, more litigation is likely.

The case is in the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo, and the issue is whether the permits for the project were issued correctly by the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental. The three-judge panel has spent more than a month hearing testimony from opponents and also government officials. There were 29 witnesses.

The decision is expected at 4 p.m., and environmental activists have called on their supporters to rally at the court location in Calle Blancos at 3 p.m. to demonstrate against the mine.

Industrias Infinito S.A. has been working more than 10 years to develop the project. The Sala IV constitutional court decided in April that the challenges raised against the grant of permits that allowed development of the company's project were without merit, with one exception that was considered to have been cured by the date of the vote.

April 17, the day after the vote, groups opposed to the Crucitas project obtained an injunction from the Tribunal Contenscioso Administrativo that prohibits further
 development of the Crucitas Project. The main litigant is the Asociación Preservacionista de Flora y Fauna. Defendants are the state, as well as the company.

Hearing the case were judges Eduardo González Segura, David Fallas Redondo and Grace Loaiza Sánchez. They are not expected to release the full decision, just the vote. The full decision will be available sometime in December.

In addition to the exploitation permit on the 1,200 hectares associated with the Crucitas project, the company holds 15 times this amount of ground, or 18,000 hectares in exploration concessions adjacent to the Crucitas concession.

Gold has skyrocketed since the project began.

Environmental activists are outraged that the company will have to cut down protected trees to development the mine. They have been pressuring President Laura Chinchilla Miranda to rescind a decree issued by Óscar Arias Sánchez that expedited the development work.

She said she opposes open pit mines, but Casa Presidencial said that if the government pulls the permits the company would wage a successful fight with international arbitration.

Opponents have waged an aggressive public relations campaign including hunger strikes and a march to the mine from Casa Presdencial.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 232

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Haiti cholera epidemic
reported spreading fast


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The number of reported cases of cholera in Haiti is now approaching 50,000, but health experts have cautioned that the figure could be higher because data on the epidemic has not been received from some rural communities, a United Nations relief official said Tuesday.

The official, Nigel Fisher, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Haiti, said that epidemiologists in the Pan-American Health Organization, the regional arm of the World Health Organization, estimate that the number of cases could be as high as 70,000.

The death toll, as of Monday, stood at 1,200, but the experts have said that the disease might have claimed as many as 2,000 people, with some fatalities in remote areas going unreported.

Speaking via a video link from the capital, Port-au-Prince, Fisher told a news conference in New York that Pan-American Health epidemiologists have also revised their projections of the spread of the disease and now anticipate that cases could rise to 200,000 over the next three months. The experts had earlier estimated that the number of cases could rise to that figure in six months.

“This epidemic is moving faster,” Fisher said.

Meanwhile, general elections will proceed Sunday as planned, despite the cholera outbreak and the recent street protests in the country, said Edmond Mulet, the head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

“In spite of all that, the electoral process continues unabated – the government and the vast majority of the candidates are determined that these elections be held as planned and as the constitution states on 28 November,” Mulet said.

Fisher said that although the government of Haiti and its humanitarian partners are carrying out significant anti-cholera activities with awareness campaigns, the setting up of treatment centers and making clean water and sanitation facilities available, the effort needed to be strengthened.

“Although there has been a significant mobilization of resources, both national and international, we need to significantly ratchet up the response,” said Fisher. He called for more doctors and nurses, especially from neighboring countries, to be deployed to Haiti to help combat cholera, which he said is projected to remain a problem in the Caribbean country for at least one year.

On the elections, Mulet said that an estimated 4.5 million voters will cast their ballots Sunday to elect the president and senators and members of parliaments in constituencies where elections are due.

There are 19 presidential candidates and 96 senatorial contestants running for 11 seats, while 816 candidates are competing for 99 seats in parliament. Some 66 political parties are taking part in the elections.

Some 14 million ballots have already been printed and distributed, and the training of poll officials is due to conclude in the next two days, Mulet said. All voting materials have been transported to U.N. regional offices, he added.

The U.N. police unit has assisted the Haitian National Police assess security risks in all voting areas, he said, and both forces have developed a comprehensive security plan.

Voters will cast their ballots in more than 11,000 polling stations located in some 1,500 voting centers.

Preliminary results will be announced  Dec. 7, with the next two days set aside for candidates to launch complaints, which will be investigated and candidates given time to appeal between Dec. 11 and 19. The declaration of the final results will be made Dec. 20,  Mulet said.




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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 232


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Officials warn motorists
to keep license active

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic officials are promoting the fact that individuals can renew their driver's license up to three months before they expire.

In the past, this was not a critical issue because expired licenses could be renewed easily, and fines for violations were minimal. With the new traffic law, driving with an expired license draws a fine of 114,426 colons or about $227. There also is an assessment of five points against the license.

Although physicians say they do not use the information, those seeking a new license are required to get a blood test to determine the blood type. Emergency room physicians say they need to get a hospital blood test when a motorist becomes a patient. New applicants and renewing drivers have to get a medical exam, which usually consists of answering a few questions from a physician.

The Departamento de Acreditación de Conductores is expanding its hours to 6 p.m. though Dec. 17 because there usually is a rush at Christmas for license renewals, officials said. They reasoned that with Christmas bonuses drivers are likely to think of paying the 10,000 colons that is needed to renew.

Officials also point out that driving with no license or with a suspended license is expensive if the motorist is caught. The fine is 381,420 colons or about $757. Plus the violation for not having a license costs the motorist 50 points which results on loss of driving privileges for a year.  Driving on a suspended license results in 25 points, half of what is necessary to lose the right to drive.

Trump hotel in Panamá
to open next spring

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Trump Hotel Collection said Tuesday that Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower Panama will debut in spring 2011, marking the firm's first foray into Latin America.

Trump Ocean Club is perched above Panama Bay and enjoys sweeping views of the Pearl Islands and ocean beyond.

The building – the vision of architect Arias Serna Saravia and developer Newland International Properties Corp. — stands 70 stories tall. The hotel is said to be the largest in Central America.

Fugitive sought passport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man living here for 10 years to avoid a New Jersey drug charge made the mistake of attempting to renew his U.S. passport. The man, identified as John Bunsco, was returned under police escort this weekend as a result of his error. He faces a charge of possessing a controled substance, according to sources in New Jersey.












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