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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 247           E-mail us
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Tourism occupancy and confidence appear so-so
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's tourism chamber expects that the number of visitors to Costa Rica will be up 10.56 percent in December over the same month in 2009.

Still, the industry is facing a lackluster high season if initial statistics are correct. The Cámara Nacional de Turismo said that hotel operators estimate about 70 percent occupancy rate during the high season. A second estimate, based on reservations, is 74 percent occupancy for the last two weeks of the year.

In addition, a survey showed that the confidence level of those in the tourism industry dipped slightly during the second third of the year compared to the first four months.

The occupancy estimates vary based on location. The chamber said that Monteverde lodging operators estimated that they would fill about 84 percent of their rooms during the high season. That was the highest rate reported. In the northern Caribbean the estimate of 53.3 percent was the lowest.

The industry has been struggling due to the world economic crisis, although some 206,248 tourists are expected to visit the country this month, said the chamber. That is the 10.56 percent increase over last year.

Dec. 15 generally is considered the beginning of the high season, and special promotions up to 40 percent off, orchestrated by the chamber and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, end Dec. 20.

The chamber did its occupancy survey from Dec. 1 to 6 and received responses from 91 hotels, it said. December typically shows a 26 percent increase in tourists over the previous month, which is the tail end of the rainy season.

The cold wave that has hit Canada and the United States might work in favor of Costa Rican tourism operators. Although some parts of Costa Rica saw temperatures Tuesday of just a few degrees above freezing, coastal communities continued to be comfortable in the mid-70s or around 24 degrees C.

The occupancy rate estimate also suggest to would-be tourists that there will be rooms available.

The data for actual reservations was less rosy than the overall prediction for the high season. The survey showed the Central Valley lodging operators had just 39.4 percent of their rooms confirmed for the last two weeks of the year. That was the lowest percentage reported by regions. The north Pacific of Guanacaste reported 69.3 percent in reservations.
Tourism occupancy
and confidence estimates

Location
High season
estimate %
Dec. 15-30
reservations %
Monteverde
84
65
Central Pacific
83.5
66.4
Northern plains
81.8
65.2
North Pacific
81.5
60.3
Puntarenas/Golfito
75
52.1
South Pacific
73.1
45.4
Southern Caribbean
70.8
45
South Guanacaste
69.6
51.8
Central Valley
59.2
39.4
Northern Caribbean
53.3
45
 
__________
 ___________
Average
74
55
Source: Cámara Nacional de Turismo


The low reservation rate in the Central Valley is a continuation of the change in tourism routes since the upgrade of Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia. Just 10 years ago nearly every tourist flying into Costa Rica passed through San José on the way to a destination and returned to spend a night on the way home. Now direct flights can bring tourists to within a half hour of the Pacific beaches.

The chamber measures confidence on a 200-point scale. The average of tourism operators in the survey that the chamber made of 124 firms came in at 95 points, just 3.7 percent lower than the first four months of the year. The second survey included tour operators, car rental agencies, restaurants as well as lodging operators, it said.

The confidence index has a number of components, including market condition, prospects for future economic activity and evaluation of the past four months. The results also were broken down by region. The chamber estimates that an index number between 65 and 133 represents medium confidence with anything higher than 133 as high confidence.

Despite the slight difference between surveys for the first four months of 2010 and the second four months, the chamber reported that the latest index number was 25 percent higher than the same period in 2009.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 247

Costa Rica Expertise
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Real estate agents and services

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How much is that baby
in the bank line?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Want to rent a baby to make your banking experiences quicker?

That's what reader Mary Jay of Alajuela says is happening at
her bank.

Mrs. Jay said she was at the bank when she noticed something odd. She said:

Usually banks (et al) have speed lines designated for seniors, pregnant ladies and for mothers with young children. 
baby

Today, whilst waiting in a very long line, since I’m not one
 to qualify for the speed line, I took note of a woman with a 5-month-old baby doing her banking business and exiting. 

A senior man was served, followed by another woman with the same baby as before — all marching to the speed line.  In my nearly 45 minutes of waiting, this same baby appeared with three different women.  

I couldn’t resist confirming my observation third time around and the woman confirmed that the mother is outside handing off her child to women who want to expedite their service at the bank. 

Wonder if she’s charging a rental fee?



Development bank will loan
money for Alajuela hotel

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter-American Development Bank has approved a plan to loan $42 million to Caribe Hospitality S.A. for it to build eight Marriott hotels in the Americas. One hotel is the 127-room  Marriott Courtyard in Alajuela, near the Juan Santamaría airport, the bank said.

Other hotels will be in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panamá, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Mexico.

To receive funding under the Financing Facility the hotels must be capable of obtaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, which has become the dominant standard for green building design and requires buildings to meet specific parameters in areas such as energy conservation, efficiency in water use, CO2 emissions, improved indoor environmental quality and resource management.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, most of the certified buildings completed until now have been offices or commercial spaces located primarily in Mexico and Brazil.

Caribe Hospitality S.A., a holding company headquartered in Costa Rica created to develop Marriott-operated hotels in the Central American and Caribbean regions, will develop the projects and Marriott International, Inc., will be responsible for running them.


Development plan reduced
to 256-pages of specifics

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government came out with a 256-page national development plan to cover the years of the Chinchilla administration.

The plan says it is a fundamental instrument to make decisions, assign resources and manage government, according to the preface.

In a speech presenting the plan, President Laura Chinchilla said that the country must respect its natural resources. She also said that citizen security would be enhanced by more police.

The plan basically repeats what Ms. Chinchilla said in her election campaign. There is an emphasis on the poor.

The plan is the work of the Ministerio de Planificatión Nacional y Politica Económia.


Cluster bombs outlawed
in approved treaty text

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature Tuesday approved for the second and final time a measure to outlaw cluster bombs in Costa Rica. The measure is largely symbolic because Costa Rica seeks to adopt an international treaty against such weaponry.

The Sala IV determined that the treaty does not violate the Costa Rica Constitution.

Cluster bombs are projectiles that fragment into hundreds of deadly missiles. The lawmakers also heard that these weapons sometimes do not explode and are distributed through the countryside as colorful object children might pick up.

Since Costa Rica does not have an army, it is unlikely to have purchased cluster bombs anyway.


Band concerts to precede
big gordo lottery drawing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

National bands will be in concert Saturday and Sunday afternoon at the Plaza de la Democracia in San José. The Sunday concert is a warmup for the drawing of the big Christmas lottery, the Gordo.

The Dirección General de Bandas and Junta de Protección Social, which runs the lottery, are both celebrating their 165th anniversary.

The national concert bands will be accompanied by other groups, such as Coro Surá, Humberto Vargas and Swing en 4.


Weather institute validates
Tuesday's chilly morning


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The meteorological institute said Tuesday that the overnight low of 12.8 degrees C was the lowest in San José in 15 years.

That was not exactly life threatening for expats. The temperature converts to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. But the chill was accompanied by wind gusts up to 70 kph or about 43.5 mph.

Elsewhere in the country temperatures were lower at higher elevations. in the vicinity of the Irazú volcano, the mercury dipped to 2.8 C. or  about 37 degrees F.

The winds appeared to have died down in the metro area by early today.

Readers in Florida reported 26-degree F overnight lows.

The instituto Meteorológico nacional blamed the chill on strong northerly winds. However, these winds did not drive away the rain. There was light rain in many parts of the country Tuesday.


Bill creates secret list
of  protected persons


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature has passed for the first time a domestic violence bill that creates a secret list of persons who have been placed under an order of protection.

Typically these would be individuals who report that they are victims of aggression. The names would stay on the confidencial list for five years in order to help judges and Poder Judicial employees deal with domestic violence cases, according to a summary of what was passed Tuesday.

The law also forbids the filing of photographs of violators who are minors.

 
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, Dec. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 247
Latigo K-9

If you forgot, you can still file a temporary tax form
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

So you woke up today with a headache from too much Tuesday night football, and as you looked groggily into the mirror you realized that Costa Rican income tax is due today.

And there were all your papers on your desk, in the box in the closet, in the kitchen under the corn flakes, in the dresser drawer. On the floor under the beer dispenser.

All is not lost. In Costa Rica a taxpayer can file a form with zeros and spend a month or two figuring out the tax. Professional help is suggested. If not an accountant, a shrink will do.

The D-101 form needed to file is available at the following financial institutions:

Banco Popular y de Desarrollo Comunal, Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago, Banco de Costa Rica, Banco BAC San José, Banco HSBC, Banco Citibank, Banco Lafise, Banco BCT, Banco Cuscatlán, Banco Cathay, Banca  Promérica, Banco Scotiabank, Coopealianza R.L., Financiera Acobo, Grupo Mutual Alajuela-La Vivienda, Financiera Comeca and Coocique R.L.

Note that Banco National does not bother to carry them, nor will that state bank accept your filled-out form. The Dirección General de Tributación sells the form for 120 colons. The amount is deductible next year. There is a model form available online as an example, but the tax collector will not accept it

Most expats do not file personal income but rather corporation income taxes. The form can be filled out standing in the bank line if the plan is to fill the relevant spaces with zeros. A late filing incurs a $50 fine plus interest, but that is a cheap price for peace of mind. The penalty for not filing is steeper.

For most, the tax year ended Sept. 30. So the time to file without penalty is two months and 15 days. In other words, today. However, some firms may be on a different fiscal year.

Many Costa Ricans do not earn enough to pay an income tax, so most of those in the bank line trying to file the form today will be messengers from companies. Try to find a bank line where you are not behind a motorcycle messenger with 50 forms. Some banks have special lines for those who have no taxes to pay. A form filled with zeros rates such a line.

Don't forget to keep a copy of your quickie form because you will need the number when you fill out the real tax return.

An alternate plan would be to fill out a form via the 
tax man comenth

elaboración digital de declaraciones de impuestos, an online service that is free, but it appears that the form,
once printed out has to be carried to the bank, too. Tributación online services only work with certain PCs and certain operating systems.

Others who do not have to file a tax return are young tourists working illegally at sportsbooks, old tourists working illegally in the real estate business, ladies on the night shift in Jacó and anyone else who is not on the Caja, on a payroll or on the grid.

However slow, Tributación will catch up with those who have received a substantial sum as a contract employee or through a company, even if the payment is not consistent with immigration laws. Most firms filled out a form due Nov. 30 that lists contract payments for services that totaled more than 50,000 colons in the tax year.

So the tax collector may already know how much you earned. The entire Costa Rican system is based on reporting the other guy and collecting invoices or factures as proof of payment. And the facturas have to be of the type blessed by Tributación.

Hurry! You still have time. Most banks close at 3 p.m.


No homecoming takes place for abducted Missouri child
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The day was a disappointing one for Roy Koyama. The Missouri man has been waging a battle to recover his young daughter who came to Costa Rica with her mother. And he thought he had firm plans.

Koyama reports that he is the first person to receive a judicial decree here based on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

He said last night from his Springfield, Missouri home that he even had plane tickets purchased for the daughter,  Emily Alina Koyama, and an escort appointed by the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the Costa Rican child welfare agency.

He was convinced that his former girlfriend, Trina Atwell Chavarria, had exhausted her judicial remedies.

"We're making history and changing the world view on this crime," he said Monday.

The only item missing Tuesday was the child. Koyama was under the impression that the local courts and the child welfare agency had the situation well in hand.
The girlfriend is another of those non-custodial parents who fled a U.S. jurisdiction with her child. She said she took the baby, Emily Alina Koyama, then 7 months, because her boyfriend was abusive.

She said on a Web site: "We came to Costa Rica for safety. I had tried before to get away from Roy, but he always found me, and always talked me back. But when the abuse became more then emotional, verbal and patrimonial, when it started becoming physical and sexual abuse I knew I had to run."

A Green County, Missouri, court judge granted Koyama sole custody, but the mother claims she never was served and was unaware of the suit. On a Facebook page she accuses Koyama of drug use, all kinds of abuse, including sexual, and violence. She had a sister in Costa Rica, which is why she came here.

She fled Missouri Feb 9, 2009. Koyama has been persistent in trying to find her and the daughter and in pressing his judicial case.

Both Koyama and Ms. Chavarría have been soliciting funds online. Koyama just finished raising the money needed for the American Airlines tickets.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 247


Some big firms sit out cell telephone frequency auction

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Only two companies presented proposals Tuesday when telecom officials opened a period to receive bids for cell telephone services.

The two were the Mexican firm Claro and the Spanish firm Telefónica. Expected international participants like Millicom, Digicel and Cable & Wireless.

Firms that participated were expected to put up $70 million and expect to invest perhaps as much as a billion dollars in building a cell telephone system.

There were no reports of why some of the big names did not participate, but the problems other foreign investors have had in the country may have been a reason.

Millicom International Cellular S.A. already has had its problems with unexpected barriers to doing business here.

The firm established the first Costa Rican cell telephone service in the mid 1980s. Soon thereafter, the Sala IV constitutional court and then the government decided it was a mistake to give the firm a license and kicked it out of the country while conveniently taking over the system in place.

The firms also may have been watching the travails of Industrias Infinito S.A. as it tries to develop an open pit gold mine in northern Costa Rica. The firm and predecessors have been trying to do that since 1996. Last month a lower court overturned the Sala IV constitutional  court and decided that the company had been awarded a concession illegally. The case still is in litigation.

In addition, the country finished second to last among Central American states in an assessment of the ease of
doing business here. The rating was by the World Bank Group - International Finance Corp., which awarded Costa Rica 125th place among nations of the world.

The former government telecom monopoly, Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, has jealously guarded its mobil service, and the company has been active in the courts to delay or derail the awarding of frequency franchises to private firms. In fact, the company withdrew one court action in order to permit the frequency auction to take place Tuesday.

Most observers figured there was just a matter of time before the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad was back in court and even perhaps in the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo that struck down the gold mine Nov. 25.

The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones was offering three sets of frequencies that would be suitable for cell telephone service. Under the rules established for the bidding process one firm can only obtain one set of frequencies. The Superintendencia estimated that the country could support four firms, including the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The Instituto de Electricidad will continue to run the fixed telephone service, and there have been continual issues of connectivity with the firm. Cell telephones, of course, have to be able to reach fixed telephones.

The next step for the Superintendencia is to determine if the two firms meet requirements of experience and financial depth. The firms appear to have easily met the requirements.

Just because the firms submitted a bid does not mean they will agree to install a system. The firms could back out before a concession actually is awarded.



Cigarette smoking is coming under pressure on two fronts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Smokers are being targeted with two programs.

In the legislature the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales approved a request Tuesday to ask the executive branch to include an existing anti-smoking law on its agenda. During this period of the legislature, the executive branch determined what laws can be considered.

Victor Hernández Cerdas of the Partido Acción Ciudadana said that he knew the proposal was controversial but that the Caja Costarricense the Seguro Social spends vast sums treating patients who have chronic illnesses due to the use of cigarettes.

The central offices of the Caja itself has been honored with maintaining a workplace that is smoke-free.  The Instituto
 de Alcoholismo y Farmacodependencia is awarding the certification.

Also being certified is the Centro de Desarrollo Social,  located in Barrio Vasconia. Hospital San Juan de Dios also has been certified.

Being certified means that the institutions will help employes who smoke kick the habit and also maintain smoke-free workplaces.

The Caja reported that it spends 58 billion colons a year (more than $100 million) treating patients with diseases attributed to tobacco. Some 50 percent of the deaths registered in Costa Rica are produced by diseases attributed to tobacco, it said.

These include tumors and cardiovascular illnesses.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 247

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Chávez seeks decree power
from outgoing legislature


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's national assembly has voted to approve a request by President Hugo Chávez to allow him to enact laws by decree for one year.

Lawmakers voted in President Chavez's favor Tuesday following the first discussion on the request.  Reports say a final vote on the controversial proposal is expected later this week.

Vice President Elias Jaua made the request earlier in the day on behalf of the president.  The request was presented to the outgoing national assembly, which is dominated by President Chavez's allies.  Approval of the measure would give the president the ability to use such powers for the fourth time since he took office 11 years ago. 

Chávez has said he wants to increase the sales tax to raise funds for reconstruction.  The president wants to use the authorization to ensure approval of laws aimed at helping the country recover from severe weather that has left thousands homeless and in government shelters.

Also Tuesday, dozens of Chávez opponents massed outside the legislature to protest the measure.  One opposition politician was quoted as saying the president is consolidating himself as a dictator.

Back in September, the opposition gained ground in parliamentary elections, winning more than 60 seats. 

Venezuela's new legislature will face a series of problems such as rising inflation and unemployment, as well as an increase in violent crime due in part to the illegal drug trade.

U.N. official sites progress
in climate change session

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The outcome of last week’s United Nations climate change conference in Cancún, Mexico, has put the negotiation process back on track, a U.N. official said Tuesday, outlining some of the key agreements reached at the meeting.

Progress was made on all fronts that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had identified before the conference, Robert Orr, the assistant secretary general for strategic planning, told reporters at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

“The fact that there was a hunger for a deal and a recognition of the stakes showed that governments have come to grips with the fact that their negotiation suffered a blow in the previous year and it was their responsibility to get it back on track,” said Orr.

Agreement was reached on anchoring climate change mitigation commitments of all countries into the formal process of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“We now will have a system for receiving those commitments for monitoring, reporting and verifying those commitments,” Orr said. “There will be a process that will be quite transparent,” he said.

A deal was also struck on deforestation and land use, a development that is expected to unlock capital for forest conservation efforts because close to one-fifth of the accumulation of harmful greenhouse gases has been blamed on deforestation. “This agreement framework will have concrete impact on the ground,” Orr said.

On climate change financing, progress was made on the fast-track financing which will require developed countries to raise $30 billion over a three-year period to help poor countries cope with the consequences of climate change.

“The agreement in Cancún is important in that it establishes a mechanism to register and track these commitments,” Orr said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 247

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Wikileaks founder from jail
defended release of cables


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted bail by a British court but will remain behind bars Tuesday as Sweden's lawyer appeals the judge's decision.

Judge Howard Riddle earlier had set bail for a total of $380,000 (240,000 British pounds) to allow Assange to walk out of prison.

The Swedish appeal to the bail means Assange will have to wait at least another 48 hours before he can be freed, pending the outcome of the appeal.

As part of his bail conditions, Assange will wear an electronic tag, will be subject to a curfew, will live at the estate of a supporter who provided an address to the court, and will report to the police daily.

Assange has been held since last week in a British jail on a warrant from Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on allegations of rape. He denies the allegations.

The controversial Assange had said earlier from his prison cell that he stands by his decision to publish thousands of classified U.S. government documents on his website.

Australian television says Assange told his mother, Christine Assange, during a visit at the jail that his "convictions are unfaltering" and that he "remains true" to the ideals he has expressed on freedom of information.

The Australian was represented in court by the high-profile human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.

Christine Assange, who traveled from Australia to be with her son, read a statement from him that she copied down while talking to Assange at the Wandsworth jail in London.

Assange said in the statement that his current circumstances have done nothing to shake his conviction that he was correct in releasing the hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables and other classified documents that were leaked to his website.

Assange also criticized the financial firms PayPal, MasterCard and Visa that had withdrawn their services from his Web site, accusing them of being "instruments of U.S. foreign policy." He called on his global supporters to protect his work.

The publication of the secret cables have roiled U.S. diplomatic circles.  Previous WikiLeaks releases on the Iraq and Afghanistan war were severely criticized by the Pentagon as putting peoples' lives at risk. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the leaks.

The Australian surrendered to British authorities last week after Sweden issued an international arrest warrant.








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