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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 236           E-mail us
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Ms. Chinchilla moving ahead to tax corporations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government is pushing ahead with its plan to slap a $300 tax on every corporation, purportedly to pay for increased security.

Marco Vargas, the minister of the Presidencia, said Monday that the new tax would be one of the measures that the executive branch nominates for action in the legislature during so-called extraordinary sessions.

According to the Costa Rican Constitution: The Legislative Assembly shall meet each year on the first day of May, even if it has not been convoked, and its regular-session term shall last six months, divided into two periods: from the first day of May to the thirty-first day of July and from the first day of September to the 30th day of November.

So today is the last day of regular sessions. But lawmakers are not going home. The executive branch has the power to convene the legislature at other times for these extraordinary sessions. And that is the time the executive branch controls the agenda.

President Laura Chinchilla has been promoting the extra corporate tax since she took office. It is not clear exactly what proposal will go to the legislature. Some measures already have been introduced. According to the general plan, each legal corporation will have to pay $300 over and above the normal income tax payments. The measure has been linked with a special tax on casinos, but that was not mentioned Monday.

Lawmakers would on these proposals until the next regular session begins May 1. And the executive branch can add or subtract proposals at any time.

Ms. Chinchilla has not said what she would do with the tax money when it is collected. Citizen security was a big part of her presidential campaign, but since she took office there has been no dramatic changes. She asked the U.N. Development Programme to survey citizens, but there has been no report on what surveyors determined. Other
surveys show citizens nearly as concerned about security as they are about the economy.

Some mid-level police officers have said they were told to reduce the amount of information on crimes given to the public, and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública seems to only report crimes when a suspect is caught.

Vargas said that there would be other measures on the legislative agenda.

They include a general law on electricity, which encourages private power generation. This bill has run into trouble.

There also is a bill to finance programs for tourism in protected forest areas. This is part of the continuing effort by the central government to promote tourism in places other than tropical beaches. The initiative would seek to involve municipalities and rural communities.

Another bill that lawmakers will see is the free trade agreement with China as well as a law that is supposed to protect citizens from excessive requirements and administrative filings. The new aspect in that latter bill is a proposal for prison for public employees who unjustly block a governmental procedure.

There also are several bills relating to bonds to finance homes.

Finally the executive branch is proposing a general law of the police which seeks to define the roles of the various police agencies that now work in the country.

Lawmakers also will be able to continue to work on the existing traffic law, most of which went into effect March 1. The fines are generally agreed to be out of line with reality, but lawmakers have been unable to pass any changes.

There also is the in-vitro fertilization law that is facing an uphill battle in the legislature. This will be part of the submission by the executive branch.

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Dog finds man
Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide photo
Tico dog is rewarded after finding simulated victim

Volunteer who helped build
Cruz Roja dog units honored

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

José Mauricio Torres of San José is being honored because he and fellow Cruz Roja members started the first canine search and rescue teams in the region. 

He is one of six persons worldwide receiving the 2010 Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad. This is the 20th year of the awards that go to a U.S. government employee or family member. The awards are managed by the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide, which describes itself as a non-profit organization that has been representing foreign service spouses, employees and retirees since 1960.

A summary said that Torres spent two years learning with members of Virginian Task Force 1, one of only two Federal Emergency Management Agency teams that deploys internationally. He did this while his spouse, a foreign service officer, was stationed in the Washington D.C. area.

When he and his wife moved to San José, he worked with firemen and Cruz Roja here to set up a search and rescue program using dogs, said American Foreign Service Worldwide.

Torres worked for years with the Cruz Roja equivalent in El Salvador, so as a native Spanish speaker he helped the Cruz Roja rewrite its dog training manual, said the organization.

"Through his volunteer actions, Mauricio is building Central America's capacity to respond to natural disasters," said the organization.  "His personal goal is to leave behind a viable and self-sustaining canine search and rescue program that can respond in a swift and professional manner in order to save lives throughout the region."

The awards, which include $2,500, will be presented Thursday in Washington by James B. Steinberg, deputy secretary of State.

Train causes man to fall
off bridge in Heredia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rescue workers and police were seeking a man Monday night after a witness reported that he was knocked off an Heredia bridge by a train.

The incident happened at a site known as the Puente Negro in Santa Rosa de Santo Domingo de Heredia.

The bridge is about 30 meters above the Río Virilla. Originally officials thought they also were looking for a child, too. But the man's son was found safe although anguishing over his father. He was with an adult friend of the family.

All three appear to have been crossing the trestled steel bridge. The men are coffee pickers. Rescuers came after someone on the train reported the mishap. Like the other two, the victim tried to hang on to one of the outer struts of the bridge, but he may have been off balance because of the backpack he wore.

Searchers were to resume work at the river this morning.

2011 budget wins approval
with 16-17 percent increase

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers have given second and final approval to a 5.5 trillion-colon budget for 2011.

The budget is between 16 and 17 percent higher than this year's.

A legislative summary said that 55.4 percent of the budget would be paid by current income and that 44.6 percent would be covered by internal debt.

The budget calls for 800 new police officers and 200 administrative positions. There also is an allocation for a new women's prison. The current Buen Pastor in Desamparados is being undermined by an adjacent river.

Some 362 positions also will be created in the Poder Judicial, the courts system.

There also is significant spending for social programs,

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!

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Wikileaks illuminates U.S. assessment of Honduran coup
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. ambassador in Honduras said U.S. officials there had no doubt that the military, supreme court and the national congress conspired to effect an illegal and unconstitutional coup against then-president José Manuel Zelaya. However, the ambassador said that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may have committed illegalities and may have even violated the constitution. 

The report sent to Washington less than a month after Zelaya was ousted and flown to Costa Rica is one of the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the tell-all Web site. The report from U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens is classified as confidential.

The Web site is in the process of releasing 251,287 leaked U. S. embassy cables from 274 U.S. diplomatic missions. The dates range from Dec. 28, 1966, to Feb. 28.  Some 15,652 of the documents are classified as secret.

Not a lot of the Latin American material has been released yet. There are 623 unclassified cables and 133 confidential cables awaiting release that were sent from the U.S. Embassy in San José.

The only cable released involving the U.S. Embassy in Panamá is a Dec. 13, 1989, one that says that Panamanians hoped for a successful coup against Manuel Noriega. A week after the secret cable was sent, U.S. troops invaded Panama in Operation Just Cause to oust Noriega. The cable says that the U.S. Embassy in San José got a copy.

Said the cable, in part:

"Recent press reports of an alleged U.S. covert action plan against Noriega have once again raised hopes of some Panamanians that this may be the beginning of his end.  Noriega himself is apparently attaching some  credibility to the press reports. He has reacted nervously by stepping up harassment of the opposition and increasing the size, training, activity, and armament of his 'dignity battalions.'"

The writer was John A. Bushnell, the career diplomat who was chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy. Bushnell had served in Costa Rica in the late 1960s and was once considered as a possible ambassador here.

Then-president George H. W. Bush presumably had access to this cable when he spoke to the nation to defend the Panamanian invasion as it was taking place.

An article by WikiLeaks, based on another cable, said that Brazilian security forces cooperate closely with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies on counterterrorism in the country, in spite of denials from the Brazilian government. According to a secret cable sent to Washington in January 2008 by U.S. Ambassador Clifford Sobel, the federal police and the Brazilian intelligence agency monitor suspected terrorists and have arrested some of them on other charges, the Web site said.

WikiLeaks said it is releasing the cables over a period of weeks so that important revelations are not hidden by a large flow of information.

The United States wants to prosecute the operators of the Web site, and Hillary Clinton, the secretary of State, characterized the cables as stolen in a talk to reporters Monday.

For those in Costa Rica probably the most interesting of the few Latin American cables available is the one from
Wikileak figures
          Hugo Llorens                  José Manuel Zelaya

Tegucigalpa because the Honduran military flew the ousted president here June 28, 2009, and then-president Óscar Arias Sánchez attempted to negotiate a settlement.

The cable from U.S. Ambassador Llorens suggests that there is enough blame to go around. Said the ambassador:

Regardless of the merits of Zelaya's alleged constitutional violations, it is clear from even a cursory reading that his removal by military means was illegal, and even the most zealous of coup defenders have been unable to make convincing arguments to bridge the intellectual gulf between 'Zelaya broke the law' to 'therefore, he was packed off to Costa Rica by the military without a trial.'"   Another section says:

"Although coup supporters allege the court issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya for disobeying its order to desist from the opinion poll, the warrant, made public days later, was for him to be arrested and brought before the competent authority, not removed from the county;
"Accounts of Zelaya's abduction by the military indicate he was never legally 'served' with a warrant; the soldiers
forced their way in by shooting out the locks and essentially kidnapped the president."

Opponents said Zelaya violated the constitution for going ahead with a referendum on calling a constitutional assembly even though the courts told him not to do so. The suspicion was that Zelaya wanted to change the constitution so he could be re-elected. But Llorens calls this speculation because Zelaya never really said that this was his goal.

The ambassador summarized the ouster and the role of congressional president Roberto Micheletti this way:

"The Honduran establishment confronted a dilemma: near unanimity among the institutions of the state and the political class that Zelaya had abused his powers in violation of the  constitution, but with some ambiguity what to do about it.  Faced with that lack of clarity, the military and/or whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew — the way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus  resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring  country.  No matter what the merits of the case against  Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as 'interim president' was totally illegitimate."

Honduras was suspended by the Organization of American States as a result of Zelaya's ouster, but the election Nov. 29  that year of Porfirio Lobo Sosa restored legitimacy to the national government. Zelaya, a friend of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, periodically threatens to return to Honduras.

Donor helps badly injured Texas tourist to return home
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Texas man injured when a tree limb fell on his head in Costa Rica is back home, according to a Facebook page set up to help him.

The man is Chad Swenson, a self-employed real estate agent and resident of the Houston area.

According to another Web page set up to help defray medical costs, the man was injured Oct. 25 while rafting,  According to the Web page:

"He was carried out of the jungle by hand and duck taped to an upside down raft. He did not arrive at the trauma center until 15 hours after the accident. He suffered major head
trauma involving severe brain swelling, subdural hematomas, broken orbital bones, broken upper sinuses, and suffers from respiratory distress syndrome."

The man's wife, Eden, was told that an air evacuation to the United States would cost from $30,000 to $40,000. Insurance would not cover the flight.

Channel 11 news in Houston reported that an anonymous donor came forward and paid for the flight.

The Facebook page said that physicians cleared the man to leave Friday but the family had to wait for Monday.

Friends and family in Houston conducted prayer vigils while Swenson was in a San José hospital.

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This is the machinery shed of the hydro plant with the pipeline carrying water for the turbine in the background.
old electrical plant
Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad photo

Electric company officials honor plant that keeps running

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The generating station is a senior citizen by any standards. The Planta Alberto Echandi on the Río Barranca dates from 1909. It is in Baja Cambronero off the Interamericana Norte highway to Esparza and only 23 kilometers from the San Ramón de Alajuela intersection.

Despite its age, the plant has been providing uninterrupted service for 20 years, so electrical company officials held a ceremony there Friday.
The plant survived Hurricane Fifi in 1974 although it suffered heavy damage. It was reconstructed and resumed operations in 1990.

The plant is named after Alberto Echandi Montero, one of the founders of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and father of Mario Echandi Jiménez, president from 1958 to 1962.

The plant provides power to about 10,000 persons in the area.

Proposal to protect women advances in legislature

Lawmakers have approved on the initial reading a law that penalizes as felonies or delitos mistreatment and emotional violence against women. The actions are now contravenciones or misdemeanors.

The purpose of the proposed law is to provide more protection to women.

This is a controversial measure that has been rejected once 
by the Sala IV constitutional court because it only protects women and not men from the same offense.

The category of emotional distress could be yelling at a spouse or a companion.

A report from the legislature said that 43 or 45 legislators present voted for the law, which must be approved one more time before it goes to the president for her signature.

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Climate conference opens
with deforestation a topic

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Expectations for concrete results at a climate change conference getting under way in Mexico are low, following the failure of world leaders to endorse a legally binding treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions at last year's meeting. Participants hope to advance a few key steps toward achieving an agreement that will reduce worldwide emissions.

The climate change conference is taking place in hotel conference rooms that overlook some of the world's most beautiful white sand beaches. However, most of the tourists here are little concerned with the United Nations event – they came here for the sun and the sand.

But official delegates and representatives of non-governmental organizations are spending most of their time indoors, focusing on what they fervently believe is an effort to save the planet from the dire consequences of global warming.

One area where an advance is quite possible is a program to counter deforestation called REDD, an acronym for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.

Forests are important because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help cool the planet.

Various groups working to facilitate an agreement on this issue have been meeting here to develop a plan for the payment of up to $38 billion by developed nations to support forest preservation in poor nations.

Such a scheme would require an international mechanism to guarantee transparency and effectiveness.

An agreement could come at this conference, according to Carole Saint-Laurent of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

"There is already quite a lot of agreement around these key elements. It is just a matter of putting them in a decision, and moving forward with that," Ms. Saint-Laurent added.

She says the transfer of so much money to poor nations can only work if a reliable agreement is in place.

"At the heart of it is money, and the potential for this money to do really good things, but also the potential for it to do really bad things, if not done right, we really need this decision in place to start guiding how activities are rolling out in different countries," she added.

Syed Mahmood Nasir, a delegate from Pakistan, says disaster in his homeland has convinced people of the urgent need to confront global warming.

"After the recent floods it has become the main concern, because the floods were so devastating, and, now, people are seeing that these were due to climate change," said Nasir.

He says his country favors implementation of the REDD program because it provides a market mechanism to counter the profits available to those who cut down forests for lumber.

"Ideally, when REDD will work, it will be a market-based system where someone is paying for a ton of carbon sequestered in a country like Pakistan with community involvement and with informed prior consent of the communities," he added.

Not all activity at this conference involves intense meetings.

The Mexican hosts are providing conference participants with nightly entertainment as well as social events, with a focus on environmental education.

There are also activities for children here at a Climate Change Village, where educational displays and activities help kids get on top of the issues.

Environmental experts say children should be included here, since they are the ones who will face the consequences in the future, if the world fails to take effective action now.
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International observers
say Haitian election valid

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

International observers say Haiti's elections can be considered valid despite irregularities that generated protests and allegations of fraud.

The joint observer mission from the Organization of American States and the regional Caribbean grouping issued the assessment Monday, one day after Haitians cast ballots in the presidential and legislative elections.  The head of the mission, Colin Granderson, said he does not believe that these irregularities, serious as some were, necessarily invalidated the process.

Haiti's provisional electoral council has declared the elections a success, despite widespread complaints of chaos and mismanagement at polling stations.

Twelve of the nearly 20 presidential candidates had called for the vote to be annulled, alleging fraud. They accused outgoing President Rene Preval of conspiring to hand the presidency to his party's candidate, Jude Celestin.  But two of the candidates, Mirlande Manigat and musician Michel Martelly, later backed away from those calls.

Monday, a spokesperson for U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement saying the U.N. chief is concerned following the incidents that marked the first round of the elections.  The spokesperson said Ban looks forward to a solution to the political crisis in the country and has called on the Haitian people and all political actors to remain calm.

Within hours of the election's start Sunday, chaos and confusion erupted in the streets and at the polling stations around the tiny Caribbean nation, ravaged this year by a massive earthquake and cholera outbreak.  Officials say two deaths have been reported in election violence.

Allegations of irregularities nearly brought the election to a halt.  They ranged from outright fraud to polling place disorganization that disenfranchised many Haitians.

Many voters had no idea where to vote, while others arrived at polling stations to find that their names were not on the rolls.

Thousands of people took to the streets around the country in protest against Sunday's elections. 

Despite the protests and calls for the vote's cancellation, the electoral council said there were irregularities at only 56 of 1,500 voting centers. 

Haitians also voted for a 99-member lower house and 11 members of the 30-seat Senate. 

A runoff election would be held on Jan. 16, if needed.

The Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti killed some 250,000 people and left about 1 million others homeless. 

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