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(506) 2223-1327              Published Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 243            E-mail us
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Toy prices
Ministerio de Economía, Industira y Comercio/A.M. Costa Rica graphic
'Tis the season to be wary — of prices, that is!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tamales and toys got the eagle eye from government consumer inspectors at the end of last month. They found major differences in the prices.

For tamales, a traditional Christmas dish, similar ingredients had price differences up to 314 percent. Super Saretto in San Rafael de Escazú and Super Cristal in Curridabat tied for having the highest prices. Each location had the highest price for eight types of ingredient of all the stores surveyed by the economics ministry.

For example, the upscale Saretto was found to be charging 540 colons (95 U.S. cents) for a kilo of carrots while the lowest price found was 150 colons (26.5 U.S. cents) at Verdulería Hermanos Solano in the Mercado Borbón in San José. That is a difference of 260 percent, the survey said.

Saretto also was high for onions at 660 colons ($1.16) a kilo contrasted with 300 colons (53 cents) a kilo at Super Mora in Ciudad Colón.

PriceSmart in Heredia showed an astounding 161 percent difference over the lowest provider for the identical Masarica corn flour. PriceSmart was charging 2,847.50 colons ($5.02) for 905 grams of the flour while Maxi Bodega in Alajuela was charging 1,090 colons or $1.92.

The surveyors from the Ministerio de Economia, Industria y Comercio checked 39 retail establishments for the prices on 15 traditional products from Nov. 23 to 30.

Supermercado Tres Más in Cartago had seven products at the lowest prices. Galerón de las Ofertas and PriceSmart, both Heredia, were low for six products.

After Saretto and Super Cristal, Automercado Los Yoses, Jumbo Supermercado and Más x Menos, both Alajuela, and Muños & Nanne in San Pedro had the highest prices on seven similar products each.

The ministry computed that the prices of products to make 50 tamales had increased 5 percent over 2008 — from 19,846 to  21,057 colons. The current figure is $37.14 based on today's exchange rate. The increase in dollars is just $1.22, about 3.4 percent. The exchange rate a year ago was 552.51, according to the Banco Central de Costa Rica.
Carrots, potatoes and onions actually went down from last year, but a spike in olives skewed the data. Chicken and pork also averaged lower. They are the two main meats used in a Costa Rican tamal, which is a mixture of dough, meat, vegetables and spices wrapped in a banana leaf, roasted and then boiled to be served. A how to guide is HERE!

The survey of toys pointed out that many stores are not following the law with labels. During the same period as the tamal study inspectors checked 20 businesses for 18 similar and identical products.

The toys ranged from generic and name brand Barbie dolls to soccer balls, radio-controlled cars, bicycles, skates and a Monopoly set.

Labels on toys are controlled by law. They must indicate the recommended age of the users, the specific code of model of the product, the name of the maker or distributor and country of origin, among others. All should be written in Spanish.

The surveyors reported serious flaws in labels at Pequeño Mundo in Escazú with 37 violations, Libería Universal in San José with 18, Bazar Alicia in Heredia with 17 and Rodolfo Leitons in San José with 10. In all, there were 145 serious labeling flaws cited in all the stores.

Three stores complied with all the requirements, the ministry reported: Tienda Llobet in Alajuela, Comercial Pekiss in Heredia and Almacén Luma in San José.

Prices showed differences among similar items in the thousands of percent, the surveyors said. A generic Barbie doll at Megasúper in Cartago cost 1,200 colons ($2.12) while a doll judged to be similar cost 17,360 colons ($30.62) at Pasoca in Tres Ríos, the surveyors said. That is a difference of 1,447 percent, the ministry said.

But Pasoca was low with a friction-driven toy car at 1,700 colons ($3) while the Centro Comercial del Sur asked 23,275 colons ($41.05) for a similar toy, said the ministry. A pair of skates at Almacén Llobet in Alajuela cost just 3,450 colons ($6.09). But at CEMACO in Zapote the price was 41,965 colons ($74.01), according to the survey. That's a 1,216 percent difference.

Of course, some of the products cost more because they are a famous brand, and the survey did not place an emphasis on quality.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday Dec. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 243

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hossing protest
A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Avendaño Arce
Protesters congregate outside the ministry
Demonstrators came to town
to press demands for homes


By Manuel Avendaño Arce
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Unhappy Puntarenas residents agitating for housing tied up traffic in front of the Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo Tuesday and eventually got an official promise that they would get homes.

The 43 protestors are from Chomes, and left there at 5:30 a.m. to be in front of the ministry at 9 a.m. sharp. They asked Alfredo Bolaños, executive president of the social agency, and Libia González, the woman in charge of the housing project, to hurry up with delivering the structures to the people.

There are 58 homes that the Chomes residents say have been standing vacant for more than a year and a half.

Bolaños met with several protesters and about 10:30 a.m. the crowd got the word that the homes would be turned over to the designated 58 families in the next week.

The protest tied up traffic along Avenida 11 in San Jose's  Barrio Amón. Bolaños later said he was not sure he could meet the deadline, but the protesters promised to return with more signs if he did not.

Third-generation telephones
reported selling normally

 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said that its sale of third generation lines is proceeding normally. The report contradicts unofficial observations that the sale of the new, high-performance lines are slow.

The company started the sales Monday, and said Tuesday that 2,377 customers had made application for the service. This included 666 who wanted a new line and 1,711 customers who are seeking to migrate from the older TDMA technology to the state-of-the-art third generation. The new phones are supposed to receive Internet, television and play movies, depending on what type of handset the customer has.
TDMA customers who migrate to the new system can keep their old phone number, the company said.

The company, the former state monopoly, soon will be facing private competition, and some residents might be holding out to see what newcomers offer. In addition there is a suspicion of new services from the company because in the past there was been rough break-in periods.

Our reader's opinion
Nativity display in a tent
may really be appropriate


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The photograph of the nativity scene at the Teatro Nacional is charming.  Most biblical scholars agree that the time and place of Jesus’s birth are unknown: the stable in Bethlehem is a later story cleverly crafted to fulfill an earlier prophesy. 

A nomadic encampment is a good guess, as is a cave in the mountains.  Here is another, from N. J. Dawood’s translation of the Qu’ran (Penguin Classics).  In this story, Mary has wandered far from her people, to the east, and is met by God’s messenger who tells her she will conceive a son, which she does — to her great distress, because she is unmarried. 

“And when she felt the throes of childbirth, she lay down by the trunk of a palm-tree, crying, ‘Oh, would that I had died before this and passed into oblivion!’” But a voice tells her to drink from a brook that appears by her feet, and to shake dates from the palm tree into her lap to eat, and to rejoice. 

And when she takes the newborn back to her people, the baby Jesus explains to them that God has chosen him as a prophet. As such, he joins an illustrious line that includes Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Job, Jonah, Aaron, Solomon, David, and (much later of course) Muhammad himself.  The image of the date palm is also rather charming, don’t you think?
Ruth Dixon
Grecia

Have you seen these stories?





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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

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 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 Dec. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 243


A guest editorial
A reader's brief argues that luxury tax is unconstituional
By Bob Klenz*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I have lived for over 16 years full time in Costa Rica with 15 years of permanent residency.  I understand how things work here and also how things don’t work here.  Laws are written by politicians with good intent but with very little understanding of how difficult or impossible it is to comply with them.  Most laws passed in Costa Rica are eventually challenged in the supreme court and ruled unconstitutional.  I would hope that this will happen in the case of the Costa Rica luxury tax on homes.

The end result should be a better and fairer law and a means of helping the poor and the housing problems.

To start off with, I am not against the intent of this law, i.e. to help eliminate slums within Costa Rica. That being said, I am against a truly ridiculous method of trying to collect this tax using intimidation and threats against common, everyday citizens and residents.  I can’t believe that to date, nobody has challenged this questionable law and that there aren’t more people (especially Ticos) in an uproar, screaming bloody murder over this misuse of power.

We have large groups of friends in both Dominical and in San José. These friends are from all over the world and many are Ticos. At every gathering the only topic of conversation is this problem tax and the inability of all of us to figure out how to comply with it.  Many people are very upset with it and even though they may want to comply, do not know how or cannot do so legally. The high degree of frustration is evident with everyone we speak to about this tax. The Costa Rican government should only know the amount of pain they have caused so many people who want to do their part but can’t. 

Even a blind person can see the inequities that are so blaring in this law:

1. Pay on line via computer!  Although in this day and age, many people are computer literate, I find it highly questionable as to the legality of requiring people to own or use a computer to file a hard-to-understand tax form.  Is it part of the Costa Rica Constitution to own a computer?

2. As a foreign resident, WITH OR WITHOUT A RESIDENT CÉDULA, you cannot access the DIRECT TRIBU NET site.  The only access can be by a Costa Rican using their cédula and its expiration date.  Try it, and if you can get online, please correct me and explain how you did it. In my years of experience with laws in general, I find it quite difficult to believe that you can be found guilty of not filing when you cannot access the site to do so. The Ministry of Hacienda knows about this problem but refuses to rectify it.

3. The regulations require a person to submit to Tributacion, a Costa Rica bank account number from where the government can automatically withdraw this tax.  I don’t know how many of you out there trust the Costa Rica government, or any government, with the ability to freely withdraw funds from your bank account.  If you do, you may want to seek some psychiatric help! It should be up to the government to give you their account to deposit funds to, not the way it is unconstitutionally proposed.

4. Many people are talking about hiring an attorney, an appraiser or a title company to assist them in this process.  The law should not and does not require you to do this but suggests it, and most people feel compelled to do so because they just don’t understand what to do.  Most of the firms advertising their services do not understand the law and how to complete the forms.  They are just looking for business, a business that will help them out for the next 10
years or more. I have seen several letters from various firms that show, by their own description of services, that they will most likely do a very poor job for you and should not be hired. When a law is so complicated that it almost
forces people to spend between $400 and $1,000 just to complete an appraisal and a form, this leads me to think the law is unconstitutional once again.

5. The initial tax and filing of forms is due on Dec. 31 with a second tax due on Jan. 15.  For those of you who live in Costa Rica, you understand what happens on holiday periods such as Christmas and Easter.  In the case of Christmas this year, the government offices will shut down on Dec. 18 and reopen Jan. 4.  When the government shuts down, so do most attornies, accountants and appraisers.  So, in reality you don’t have until Dec. 31 to complete your filing, you have until Dec. 18, which by the way is a little over a week away. Also, once the government offices reopen on the fourth, they will need at least one week to get up to speed and back to work again, especially on a reduced workforce as usually is the case after long holiday periods.  Once again, GOOD LUCK!!!!!

6. Are you an appraiser?  Have you gone through your years of schooling to be one? Do you understand how to measure your structures, the walls of your house, your outbuildings, fences, driveways and swimming pools? Can you determine the value of your land, determine slopes and grades? If you are very good at all of this, you should have fewer problems than most people in completing this process.  I have been involved in the real estate business for well over 30 years, and I am having problems completing these forms. Once again, good luck to all of you who have the overwhelming experience you will need for this process.

7. Fines of five and 10 times the unpaid tax!  How stupid is this!  When penalties are usurious and unreasonable, they cannot be legal.  Do you really believe they have the power to fine you five times the unpaid tax if you underestimate your property value by 10 percent?  They can say this, but enforcing it will be almost impossible.  Again, are you an appraiser? Are you a computer expert? Can you comply with this law in the short time span given? The government itself doesn’t even know how to collect taxes efficiently, but they want to charge you a high penalty for you not being in compliance.  How about the foreigner property owners who live out of the country and can’t comply for many of the above reasons. Are you going to tell me that they must pay a penalty of 10 times the unpaid tax?  This is so ridiculous it is hard to believe.

8. What does the government think this type of law is going to do to foreign investment?  How many foreigners are going to invest knowing that they will have at least 10 years of double taxation?  How many hotel and cabina owners will not be able to pay these excessive taxes due to lack of business and tourism?  With this type of law, it will be difficult to sell any upper end condos, apartments or homes.  Is this really what the government is looking for?

In closing, I would suggest that the Costa Rica government revisit this law and make it something that can be used simply by all taxpayers and or homeowners.  Perhaps a simple flat tax on all corporations or some other method could be a friendlier way of implementing this. The end result and the amount of money obtained could be the same or possibly better. 

I know and truly believe the Costa Rican government will wake up to the fact that they passed a bad law and in the end will revise it to make it legal, constitutional and in the best interests of the people.

* Mr. Klenz lives in Dominical.


Searchers locate body of 3 year old taken from her own bed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The outcome was predictable. Agents found the body Tuesday of a 3-year-old girl taken from her bed early Monday.

The Fuerza Pública detained the principal suspect when he stopped at a store in Naranjo. It turns out that the suspect, who has the last name of Rojas, has a long criminal record, including a conviction for burning down his parents' home in Limón. He is the uncle of the dead girl.

The girl is Katherine Anielca Chavarría Sánchez, who lived in La Tabla de Río Cuarto de Grecia. Agents found her rumpled body not far from the Río Toro Amarillo. The speculation is that the murderer sought to throw the body into the river.

Agents had a pretty good idea of what happened because
the Judicial Investigating Organization released photos of the smiling victim and her uncle Monday and said he was a suspect. Blood was found on her sheet, and trained dogs followed a tiny trail of blood to the area where the body was found Tuesday. There still is no clear report on how the girl died or if she was molested. Rojas has a rape arrest record.

Shopkeepers in Naranjo recognized Rojas from news reports of the crime. Police quickly detained and handcuffed him. That was about 8 a.m.

The parents of the girl left their home briefly to help a relative reach home about 1 a.m. Monday following a party at the house. Rojas, who was said to be drunk, remained in the house but both he and the girl were gone when the father arrived back at the house a few minutes later.

It was unclear if the parents of the dead child knew about Rojas' past.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday Dec. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 243

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Sala IV backs down on ruling to evict 600 Ostional families

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has backed off its decision to kick out most of the residents of the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional.

Instead, the court put the matter into the hands of the environmental ministry and said that only persons who might interfere with the nesting turtles there should be removed. The original order covered some 600 homeowners.

The Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones sought to pass a law that would downgrade the refuge and allow humans to share the space with the turtles.

It was the minister, Jorge Rodríguez Quirós, who filed the
latest case in which he asked for at least a six-month delay for the evictions. The people were supposed to have been removed by Jan. 1, according to the original Sala IV order.

The court ordered the ministry and the Dirección Regional del Área de Conservación Tempisque to set up standards that could be enforced against individuals and corporations who might affect the activities of the turtles.

The nesting turtles are mainly Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea).

The court said that its decision should not be interpreted as legitimizing the possession of persons now in the refuge.

Rodríguez had been at the legislature lobbying strongly for a change in the status of the refuge to one of mixed use instead of primarily for the turtles.



Former Costa Rican politician advances at United Nations

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A former Costa Rican vice president, Rebeca Grynspan, has been picked to be second-in-command at the United Nations agency that provides countries with the knowledge, experience and resources that aid economic growth.

Ms. Grynspan has been named undersecretary-general and associate administrator of the U.N. Development Programme where she has served since March 2006. She had been regional director of the agency’s office for Latin America and the Caribbean. The appointment was by Ban Ki-moon, secretary general.

She succeeds Ad Melkert who has been appointed as the
special representative for Iraq and head of the U.N. mission there.

Before joining the Development Programme, Ms. Grynspan worked within the U.N. Secretariat as director of the subregional headquarters in Mexico of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean from 2001 to 2006.

She was vice president of Costa Rica from 1994 to 1998, after holding ministerial positions for eight years.

Ms. Grynspan, who was born in 1955, holds a masters degree in economics from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom and is married with two children.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday Dec. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 243

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Copenhagen negotiators told
to find workable solution


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Working sessions have begun and that means negotiators are faced with tackling the issues on the table.  The goal is to come up with substantive, but workable solutions to cut greenhouse gas emissions, promote new, eco-friendly technologies, but also promote economic growth and investment and help the less developed nations to adapt to these new conditions.

The U.N. top climate official, Yvo de Boer, reminded delegates at the international climate conference that they have their work cut out.

"Negotiators need to come up with, during the next week, with solid proposals that can constitute the foundation stones an agreed outcome," de Boer said.

The U.N. weather agency reporting that this decade is likely to be the warmest on record and 2009 the fifth warmest year since record keeping began in 1850.

The head of the World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud, said most areas of the world had above normal temperatures in 2009.

"In large parts of southern Asia, central Africa, these regions are likely to have the warmest year on record," Jarraud said.

Some scientists believe the warming trend is mainly caused by human activity, especially the use of fossil fuels and the cutting down of forests.  Skeptics say global warming is part of a natural cycle of climate change.

In Copenhagen, experts and officials alike are putting the emphasis on what people and governments can do to cut the emission of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide. Some 75 percent of greenhouse gas is water vapor.

Scientists say a 25 to 40 percent cut in carbon-dioxide emissions is needed to control global warming. The European Union, China, and India have already pledged reductions.  The United States is waiting for congressional approval for a proposal put forward by the Obama administration. Emissions of carbon dioxide appear to have increased about 50 percent since the Inductrial Revolution. The concentration is now slightly less than 400 parts per million.

The U.N.'s de Boer says there is still much discussion about the pledges.

"What I have heard representatives of both Europe and the United States say is that the target that China has tabled can be improved upon," de Boer said.  "What I have heard representatives of Europe and China say is that the target the United States has tabled can be improved upon.

De Boer added that African countries and other less developed nations say nobody's targets are good enough at the moment.

In Washington Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared greenhouse gasses a "threat to public health and the welfare of the American people."  That opens the way for the agency to potentially regulate emissions, if Congress does not.

In Copenhagen the EPA finding has been welcomed as a positive step. Damon Moglen is global warming campaign director for the environmental group, Greenpeace.  He said tougher action must follow.

"This is an important first step, but it is only a first step," Moglen said. "We need to see EPA regulation of greenhouse gases immediately and we need to see aggressive regulation of greenhouse gases."

Moglen says the EPA announcement risks being seen as a political gesture unless the United States puts, higher emissions cut proposals on the table here.  And, he says President Barack Obama needs to take a clear lead on climate change when he attends the summit next week.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday Dec. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 243


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Arias urges recognition
of new Honduran regime

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez called upon other countries Tuesday to recognize the new government of Honduras.

Arias met with Porfirio Lobo, the Honduran president-elect, and his election opponent Elvin Santos. The two men and other Honduran politicians are making the rounds of various Latin countries in an effort to gain support.

Also at the meeting at the Arias home was Ricardo Martinelli, the president of Panamá, who already supports the Honduran regime. Santos is of the same political party as ousted leader José Manuel Zelaya, who still is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Even his international supporters generally agree that Zelaya is out of the picture now as the world opinion changes on Honduras after the successful elections a week ago.

The United States has issued a conditional support of the new regime, which takes office in January. Other countries besides Panamá backing Lobo are Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Peru. Lobo and his party are traveling to Panamá and then will go to the Dominican Republic.

The endorsement and call by Arias are important because it was he who met with Zelaya at Juan Santamaría airport after the Honduran president was ejected in his pajamas, and it was Arias who drafted the so-called San José accords that called upon the interim government in Honduras to reinstate Zelaya. Eventually the congress there rejected that part of the plan, but Arias said Tuesday that various points of the accord were accepted.

Arias has said in the past that he supports the new regime mainly to spare the Honduran people more suffering.

The situation in Honduras is not a partisan dispute. The interim leader, Roberto Micheletti, and most of the congress are of the same political party as Zelaya, the Partido Liberal.

Arias said that in his discussions with Lobo he addressed the need for a political amnesty in Honduras and a truth commission to investigate what really took place.  He also supports a commission of verification to see that the accepted points of the San José accord are implemented.

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