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(506) 2223-1327         Published Monday, Dec. 13, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 245           E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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List of security proposals has some big omissions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature is studying the agenda of bills sent over by Casa Presidencial. The proposals are heavy with new taxes, but none seems to address the problems most expats consider the most important.

President Laura Chinchilla's security program is to tax corporations, casinos and games of chance. Many expats have said they would prefer changes in the penal code that mandate a 20-year sentence for armed robbery and a similar sentence for possession of a firearm during a crime.

Ms. Chinchilla's new taxes would be used to hire more policemen.

There are some other areas that frequently cause major problems for expats here. None is being addressed this legislative season.

One problem is the way individuals involved in court actions are prevented from leaving the country. A judge can issue an order the individual will not find out about until he or she arrives at the airport. A recent case reported by the Spanish-language press was of a man prevented from leaving the country to Panamá based on an ancient filing that was long out of date. The man had no idea the order existed or he would have made an effort to have it voided.

A basic concept of western justice is that the accused must be able to confront the charges placed against him. Frequently those ordered against leaving the country are legitimate, as in child support cases. But sometimes they are part of a scheme by lawyers to put pressure on individuals they are victimizing. In many cases the subject of the order finds out about it only at the airport or land border crossing.

Most travelers make a large investment in air tickets and other expenses relating to an out-of-country trip.

Of course experienced criminals slip out of the country all the time through the nation's porous borders.

Other expats have trouble with baseless law suits and criminal fillings.

Here as in most countries anyone can file a lawsuit against anyone else, if they can find a lawyer to handle it. But in most countries the lawyer shares responsibility with the client if the case is clearly fake. And usually a judge can throw out a frivolous suit at the early stages.

In Costa Rica individuals can file private criminal cases as well as civil ones. Frequently the private cases are for various allegations of crimes against honor. A.M. Costa Rica and its employees were named in one such case brought by Mark Boswell, his wife and corporation. 

Boswell, who has operated under the name of Rex Freeman was operating a foreign exchange company and a real estate firm. His offices in Escazú were raided Oct. 30, 2007. A.M. Costa Rica reported the events Nov. 9 of that year based on interviews with judicial agents in the Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

At the time Boswell was living and operating in Panamá, and he appointed an Escazú lawyer here
Chinchilla's list

to request unsuccessfully that A.M. Costa Rica editors eliminate the new story about the raid from its Web site. Then the lawyer filed a private defamation criminal action alleging that the raid did not take place and that the newspaper reporters never spoke to judicial agents.

The case dragged on through the courts even though the newspaper's lawyer quickly presented a copy of an arrest warrant issued for Boswell as well as a copy of an alert warning investors about his company, Trade Exchange S.A., issued by the Superintendencia General de Valores. The newspaper and its lawyer assembled documents supporting every statement in the news story. Eventually the case was dismissed on a technicality before a full trial.

Still, the newspaper faced significant legal costs based on allegations from a man in Panamá sought by investigators here channeled through a local lawyer. Boswell also sued unsuccessfully the editor of The Panamá News for a story on his activities there.

There was at least a factual basis to the Boswell suit. There had been a news story. But in several cases expats have complained that opposing lawyers have filed criminal cases just to delay a civil case. One expat, involved in a squatting case, said that the opposing lawyer accused the expat's lawyer of forging documents. Typically civil cases are halted when a related criminal case is heard. There appears to be no factual basis to this criminal case, and it is considered just a strategic move.

Another expat complained that lawyers filed fake cases against him simply as a way to extort money. There does not seem to be any penalty for doing so, although reason would suggest prison and loss of a lawyer license as a penalty.

The squatting case points up another deficiency in Costa Rica law, that is the protection of the innocent third party. A person who purchases stolen property unaware of the theft usually gets to keep the merchandise or the property. Naturally many such third-party sales are really contrived to steal the property in the first place. Frequently street people are used as the initial purchaser.

If the concept of the innocent third party allows groups of crooks to steal land with fake documents, the whole concept of squatting is protected by law. After occupying land for a few months, squatters acquire rights and generally receive strong protection in the courts, particularly if the real owner of the land is a foreigner.

None of these security issues appear to be contained in the measures submitted to lawmakers.

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Left-leaning labor union
wants to see U.S. cables

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Left-wing labor leaders say they are anxiously awaiting release of U.S. diplomatic cables that were sent to and from San José at the time the free trade treaty with the United States was being considered.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados posted that on its Web site as a policy statement. The union represents many public employees.

"Perhaps we can see the orders that the then-president of Costa Rica received," said the union, speaking of Óscar Arias Sánchez. The statement, written by José Calvo, also said that union leaders hope to see from where the money came to support the treaty proponents.

The statement shows that passage of the free trade treaty in a public vote Oct. 7, 2007, still grates on opponents.

The union leaders may be disappointed. Wikileaks reported it has about 760 cables that originated from the U.S. Embassy in San José.  Only a few are marked secret. The organization has released just 1,344 of the estimated 251,000 cables it holds. None of the released cables originated in Costa Rica.

Says the organization: "The cables show the extent of U.S. spying on its allies and the U.N.; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in 'client states'; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for U.S. corporations; and the measures U.S. diplomats take to advance those who have access to them."

Meanwhile, Julian Assange, leader of the Wikileaks operation, remains jailed in England on sex crime allegations involving acts that took place in Sweden.

Some U.S. politicians have called for his indictment on treason charges and even his summary execution.

Tourist greeted by police
when he visits Panamá

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who spent time in Costa Rica as a tourist is wanted in a domestic violence case in south Florida.

Immigration police in Panamá detained the man, identified as  Nicholas Lucanegro, 57, over the weekend. The U.S. government participated in the case.

Lucanegro was believed to have been going to Panama to renew his 90-day tourist visa. Tourists are not subject to the criminal background check the way applicants for residency are. He is sought by the Charlotte County, Florida, Sheriff's office for skipping out on his bail. The allegation stems from a May 1, 2008, arrest after police say he fired a pistol during an argument with a woman.

Two sailors rescued
from their raft in Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A cargo ship managed to pick up two unidentified British Columbians who were adrift in the Pacific on a raft.

The pair were traveling on a sailboat, said the The Victoria Times Colonist newspaper.

The U.S. Coast Guard was credited with directing the ship, the "Sunbelt Spirit," to the men.

The location was reported to be 120 kilometers off Costa Rica in the Pacific. That's about 75 miles.

The newspaper said that Costa Rican rescue workers failed to find the men and gave up the search. A U.S. military aircraft located a beacon from the raft Saturday, said the newspaper. The freighter was expected to arrive in Panamá today.

Liberación candidate
wins mayoralty in Pococí

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A delayed election took place Sunday in Pococí. The vote was postponed last Sunday because part of the northern canton was under water.

The results were no surprise. The candidate of Partido Liberación Nacional defeated opponents. He is Jorge Emilio Espinoza Vargas. He got more than 50 percent of the votes cast. Only about 15 percent of the eligible residents voted. There are 75,000 potential voters in the canton, said the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones.

Our reader's opinion
How come no action
is taken on noise

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Will someone please explain why heavy haulage vehicles here in Costa Rica seem to remove the baffles in their silencers and create as much noise as possible. Some motorcyclists do this also.   
I live within a kilometer of the autopista, and sometimes the sound is quite deafening when an airplane is also landing at Juan Santamaria.

The Ministry of Health here has determined that this practice is a real health hazard. In Europe there are now severe controls on this anti-social and harmful behavior.  It also detracts from Costa Rica's stance as an environmentally aware nation. Why ??

James B Bottomley
Turrúcares de Alajuela

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, Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 245
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Michigan man is Santa for many rural Costa Ricans
Gringa Santa
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Gringa Santa sports a bushy beard
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gringo Santa does not restrict his outreach work to Christmas, but because he has a bushy white beard, he fits well with the season.

The Ovid, Michigan, man said he has been a frequent visitor to Costa Rica over the last 16 years. He has continued his trips despite a litany of medical problems, which included a recent stroke, loss of his right leg and two replacements of the left knee. He also contracted what probably was dengue on one of his Caribbean visits.

At first glance he looks like Santa after a particularly hard Christmas Eve. He has been so single-minded in visiting the countryside and handing out small gifts to all he meets that he won the respect and hearts of many, including San José hotel workers who help him.

The man is Ron Chamberlain, 70, and he generally stays at the Hotel Don Carlos when he is in town. Trips include visits to Cauhita, where he has friends he considers his family.  New Year's will find him in Boruca for the El Juego de los Diablitos annual festival.

Wherever he goes, Gringo Santa spontaneously hands out small gifts. At Christmas the gifts can be U.S. $2 bills. He said he brought $4,000 worth of these banknotes on this trip. Another time he purchased a jewelry closeout on eBay. That got him into brief trouble with airport customs here when he showed up with a suitcase full of trinkets.

Chamberlain said that he was inspired by his late wife, Marion, and his red shirt bears the legend Marion's Gringo Santa. The former deep sea diver would leave his home and an acre in Michigan if he could find a buyer and make his home here full time. In the meantime, he uses a settlement he received from an accident to pay for his personal people-to-people program.

Producers happy that contaminated rice was spotted
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rice producers here are expressing their pleasure that the health ministry ordered 10,000 tons of imported rice destroyed.

The Ministerio de Salud said that a dangerous fungus infected some of the rice. The loss to two local companies, Pelón and DEMASA, is estimated at $35 million.

A test of part of the rice showed levels of aflatoxins higher than permitted. The toxins can cause cancer. They can occur naturally in rice and other grains particularly when there is excess humidity.
The health ministry said that the rice must be burned.

The rice came from the United States, according to the Asamblea Nacional de Productores de Arroz, which also said the rice was imported under the free trtade treaty with that country.

Rice producers are sensitive about imported rice because they usually receive prices higher than the world price for their products.

The rice producers called the decision to burn the rice a triumph for their organization, which had brought official attention to the rice.

Many smaller firms can duck proposed corporation tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some corporations operated by expats will be able to dodge the proposed $200-a-year tax on their enterprise because the firm qualifies as a small or medium business.

The Ministerio de Economia, Industría y Comercio said that there are about 31,000 businesses that would be exempt from the special tax. Only about 2,500 are registered with the ministry. Registration is one of the ways a business operator can exempt the firm from paying the tax, according to the proposed law.

The law has not been passed yet, but it is a priority of the Laura Chinchilla administration.
The size of firms that qualify are set out in a law. But the ministry also has a calculator online that asks the annual income of the company and the number of employees.
Then the calculator determines the category in which a company should be listed. There also is a way for a business operator to register the firm online, thus avoiding the tax.

In order to be exempted, the firm also must have paid all its obligations to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, paid its income tax and have no outstanding debts with employees, the ministry notes.

The tax is designed to hire more police officers

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 245

Holiday toy and food prices found to be very flexible

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another survey by the economics ministry shows vast differences in the price of toys and also differences in the price of food products that go into the traditional Christmas tamal.

The toy survey took place at the beginning of November at 33 stores all over the country.

The ministry inspectors found toys that were similar differing in price up to 10 times. Identical toys also had variable prices. Some 583 toys were involved in the survey.

Inspectors found that in one store Mattel's traditional Barbie sold for 3,995 colons or about $8. At another store the price was 6,350 colons or about 59 percent higher, the ministry said.

The ministry also said that price tags on 425 food products were defective. In some cases there was no information in Spanish. Others did not list the name and phone number of the distributor and others failed to show the country of origin, said the ministry.  Only five stores had price tags that complied with the law, the ministry said.

The percentage of labels and price tags that were defective were some 81 percent of those studied, said the ministry.

The price difference in identical products ranged up to 9,115 colons or about $18.25.
The tamal survey involved 78 stores and took place between Nov. 17 and 23. Inspectors found a 263 percent increase in sweet peppers and 195 percent difference in top-grade potatoes.

Even banana leaves, the traditional wrapping of the Christmas tamales, showed differences of 125 per cent, according to the survey.

The ministry said that the locations with the best prices were the municipal markets in Grecia, Alajuela and Mercado Central in San José.

Some food products have prices fixed by the government.

Inspectors found five establishments, ranging from supermarkets to corner pulperias selling products higher than the established price. They also found stores where the shelf price was less than the price charged at checkout.

Stores found in violation of the law will have to answer to the Comisión Nacional de Consumidor, said the ministry.

The ministry has the full report of prices and products on its Web site.

The ministry conducts price surveys before various holidays. For example, prices of home appliances are checked before mother's day. Some stores use loss leaders, products prices attractively to lure shoppers. These promotional prices sometimes can distort the ministry's survey.

Police continue crackdown on sales of illegal fireworks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although there are plenty of illegal fireworks being shot off for the Christmas season, Fuerza Pública officers are making continual arrests.

One man came into police hands Sunday when he tried to bring fireworks into the country from Nicaragua, where the rules are looser. He had the fireworks hidden in a bucket.

Police said that the penalty for having illegal fireworks can be from three to seven years in prison if they are sold to minors. There also are penalties for those who import and market illegal fireworks.

Police have a goal this year of preventing any minor from being burned by fireworks. The basic rule in Costa Rica is
that if fireworks explode, they are illegal.

Friday police stopped a truck coming from Nicaragua that had 300,000 fireworks. That was in Peñas Blancas crossing at the border. Police said that a customs official told them that the truck was empty, but they searched it anyway.

Both the truck driver and the customs official have dates with prosecutors.

In the southern zone police located a man with 3,717 individual fireworks within his vehicle. That was near Golfito Saturday.

In Miramar, police said they and health officials inspected a legal fireworks sales stand only to find that a 17 year old was in charge. That is a violation, too, they said. Officials said they closed the operation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 245

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.S. Cancún climate session
agrees on aid to poor nations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

After two weeks of deliberations and negotiations, representatives of more than 190 nations have concluded the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico with agreements to establish a fund to help poor countries deal with climate change and a body to help nations adapt. But the biggest achievement may have been keeping the process alive.

After a marathon session that went into the early morning hours Saturday, the climate change conference came to a close with a range of broad agreements.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón, speaking as leader of the host nation, hailed the achievement. "With this accord you have altered the inertia and have changed the feeling of collective powerlessness for hope in multilateralism," he said.

One of the key agreements here in Cancun was the creation of a global fund through which industrialized nations will provide support to both climate change mitigation and adaptation in poor nations.

Expectations were low for this conference, following what was widely seen as the failure of last year's conference in Copenhagen. Many participants and observers from non-governmental organizations were questioning the multilateral process itself. But environmental groups expressed satisfaction with what was accomplished here in Cancun, saying the talks had moved the process forward on several fronts raising expectations for next year's conference in Durban, South Africa.

Tara Rao, senior policy adviser on global climate for the World Wildlife Fund, said this conference was productive. "I think this is a good start. This is something that provides the foundation to move forward. I think we have elements here that provide a good move towards putting together a legally binding agreement for South Africa," she said.

Ms. Rao says what is most important in the results of the Cancun meeting is that nations moved forward on all of the main issues rather than concentrating on only a few. She says this will help next year's conference participants work on a full package rather than just parts.

But not everyone was that optimistic. Some observers from non-governmental organizations say that, while Cancun did move the process forward, it would be unrealistic to expect a full, comprehensive agreement by next year.

One sticking point that remained at the close of this conference concerned the so-called REDD program. REDD is an acronym for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Coming into the conference this was seen as the program with the most potential for broad agreement, but negotiations fell into a morass of details over financing and implementation of the plan to fund forest preservation in poor countries. Conferees ended up approving a watered-down agreement with Bolivia holding out in protest.

Scientists seek to make
universal flu vaccine

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization says about 500,000 people die every year from seasonal flu. To combat that, doctors recommend getting a flu vaccine at the beginning of each flu season, and researchers are now working on a universal vaccine that could protect people from all strains of the flu.  What's more, they say the vaccine could work for several years.

Researchers working on the universal flu vaccine say that yearly flu shots will become a thing of the past if a new vaccine proves successful.

Flu viruses can mutate faster than vaccines can be made using current technology.  But researchers say if this universal vaccine is successful in human trials, it will provide protection from all strains of the influenza virus.
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Latin exports rebounding
with some help from China

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Latin American exports to the world grew by a projected 29 percent in 2010, to approximately $853 billion, reversing a 23 percent fall in 2009, according to preliminary estimates by the Inter-American Development Bank’s Integration and Trade Sector.

Exports within the region grew 27 percent, while flows outside expanded nearly 30 percent. Regional trade as a share of Latin America’s total trade with the world stands at an estimated 17.5 percent, slightly lower than last year’s 17.8 percent.

Trade with China in particular has provided a counterbalance to weak demand in the developed countries. In the case of Brazil and Chile, exports to China did not suffer to the same extent as they did to the rest of the world during the crisis period, and in fact exhibited positive growth for some months. Furthermore, Latin America’s overall exports to China grew nearly 50 percent this year over 2009 levels.

Other findings by the development bank include:

Exports by Mercosur and the Andean community each grew by 28 percent. Paraguay led the Mercosur regional grouping with 39.7 percent growth in total exports, while Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina saw their exports grow by 29.7, 24.6, and 24.0 percent, respectively.

In the Andean Community, exports by Peru grew 35.2 percent, Ecuador 28.8 percent, Bolivia 27.5 percent, and Colombia 21.2 percent.

Chile once again experienced substantial export growth driven by more favorable copper prices and dividends from the government’s growing number of trade agreements, among other factors. Chile’s exports rose 38.5 percent. Chilean exports to China, its top destination of exports, grew by nearly one-half.

Mexico’s exports are projected to grow by a third this year, more than offsetting last year’s 21 percent decline. Overall results for both 2009 and 2010 closely tracked trade patterns with the U.S., Mexico’s largest trading partner. Sales to Mexico’s Central American Common Market neighbors to the South are on track to grow 29.2 percent. Central American exports, which fell by less than the other Latin American subregions last year, similarly rose by a more muted 14.1 percent in 2010. Nicaragua (30.0 percent) posted the strongest results, while Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica grew at respective rates of 16.0, 15.9, 13.8, and 9.1 percent. It should be noted, however, that these estimates may not capture all of the effects of the recent Central American Free Trade Agreement, as all data are not yet available for all countries.

The overall recovery in exports is fragile and depends on a number of external factors. Slower than expected growth in the U.S., or a deepening of the debt crisis in the Euro zone, could cause demand for Latin America’s exports to fall once more. Also, some of the growth is due to the strengthening of commodity prices in 2010. Diversification towards the Chinese market helped mitigate the damage from the recent crisis, but a double-dip global recession or prolonged slowdown would likely reduce China’s demand for the region’s primary products.

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