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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 24, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 102
|Page One is HERE!
Page 2 is HERE! Page Three is HERE!
Page Four is HERE! Sports page is HERE!
Useful links HERE!
|What is the real reason behind the push to restrict guns?
|Costa Rica and the
United States have in common administrations that do not appreciate
Costa Rican lawmakers are moving on a new firearms law that increases the difficulty of a permanent resident or a citizen who seeks to protect home or possessions.
In the United States courageous senators who declined to be stampeded to approve meaningless restrictions on the transfer and type of firearms are objects of scorn, even from the White House. Especially from the White House.
The Costa Rica law would restrict ownership of handguns to one per person. It forbids anyone younger than 15 from firing a weapons. And it forbids using informal firing ranges. There are a lot of other restrictions that appear to be designed to increase black market sales. The law even would continue the silly practice of having gun permit applicants visit a psychiatrist or psychologist. And it continues the prohibition on rentistas and pensionados from owning weapons.
Costa Rican officials claim to be big believers in human rights. The U.S. Supreme Court found in 2008 that having a firearm for self defense was a natural right, one of those inalienable principles that restrict governments.
|In the United
States the vote Wednesday was on requiring registration of every gun
sale and restrictions on so-called assault weapons. Organizing for
Action, a Barack Obama group, claims that the proposal would protect
children, Of course, it would do no such thing.
These types of legislative attempts are feel-good efforts that may even be sinister. They do nothing to address the root causes of firearm deaths. In Costa Rica, the primary cause seems to be drug trafficking dispute. In the United States, political correctness and lack of money has prevented early intervention of troubled individuals.
A main purpose of firearms possession, other than self defense, is to be a check on government. Hunting is not a consideration. Folks with guns have a much lower threshold for excessive taxes and authoritarianism than those without guns.
The vote in the United States clearly reflected the public's concern of some type of government gun registration program.
One has to ask why are the Laura Chinchilla and the Barack Obama administrations pushing firearms restrictions that everyone knows will not have the desired effect. This is a very good question.
— April 19, 2013
An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Why is there so much whining about a small cut in the budget?
|We have little sympathy for U.S.
government officials who are grandstanding over the prospect of a 3
percent cut in their budgets.
John Kerry, the new secretary of State, said that a reduction in his agency's budget would endanger the nation's overseas mission. Those of us who are overseas know well that U.S. government money can be effective. But we also know that the United States cannot be all things to all people.
A summary of the State Department budget produced by former secretary Hillary Clinton shows the wide reach of U.S. financing. And that is just the State Department.
Here in Costa Rica we have seen the local U.S. Embassy hold periodic sales of what are considered surplus goods. The items range from computers to home appliances to vehicles. We are not convinced that the U.S. government is getting a fair price for these items, and we do not think anyone is checking.
The firm hired to sell the items, Rematico, does not seem to be very aggressive in marketing. And an embassy official once told us that diplomats there were not interested in the prices received, they just wanted to get rid of the stuff.
|Diplomats pay income taxes, too, so
his cavalier attitude is hard to understand.
We won't say much about the electric car purchased by the embassy. We would have preferred a machine that could at least reach Quepos.
The Costa Rica government is no better. Whenever a foreign ambassador leaves, there is a big party at the foreign ministry and the exiting diplomat gets a big, shiny decoration. We wonder why as we walk past the dead wine bottles awaiting trash pickup the following morning.
We also have to give credit to the current U.S. ambassador, Anne Slaughter Andrew, who decided last year to make the embassy's July 4 celebration a scholarship event instead of the typical booze party for well-placed local officials and foreign diplomats. That kind of thinking has to prevail if the U.S. is going to get a grip on its deficit and budget.
Perhaps Kerry could give her a call as he seeks to trim the budget. And if that doesn't work, he could always call Ron Paul.
— Feb. 27, 2013
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Judiciary acts to protect crooks and other bad guys
|The basic rule of
democracy is what is called here transparency.
The public has to know what is going on.
The Laura Chinchilla administration has been big on public relations in an effort to obscure the facts from the public. But that is nothing compared to the ill-advised law passed in 2011 with the goal of protecting personal privacy.
As readers learned Wednesday, the judiciary is now eliminating names from up to 40,000 court files in order to protect citizens. There is a litany of items that must be erased, ranging from names, cédula numbers to sexual orientation and telephone numbers.
The legislature is the home of unintended consequences, and we are sure that lawmakers did not intend to protect crooks, sex perverts, child molesters, deadbeats and bad tenants. The judiciary is following the law and actually started doing so some months ago.
Lot of occupations depend on the court records.
|which have been
accumulated by various credit reporting agencies. Landlords would like
to make sure that a potential tenant has not been evicted multiple
times. Employers would like to make sure that the new accountant did
not face conviction for embezzlement.
Of course, judicial workers will continue to have access to these files. And perhaps for a small fee, someone with a burning desire to find out about someone will be able to do so. The general public will be excluded, however.
The approach is similar to the misguided juvenile justice program here and in many other locations where the names of young toughs are kept from the eyes of the public so it is a surprise when the bad egg guns down someone later. These efforts at protection are not for the criminals or the participants in court cases. The protection is for the public officials so that the public cannot evaluate the job they are doing.
They say sometimes that Costa Rica is behind the times. In this case, that is true. Welcome to "1984."
— Jan. 24, 2013
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
The Costa Rican supreme court needs new blood
|This newspaper does not share the
deep concern shown by others because the legislature tried to sack a
Politics aside, the Corte Suprema de Justicia is the top judicial agency. The magistrates are responsible for the conduct of the prosecutors and the judges. By extension, they also are responsible for the conduct of notaries and other lawyers.
For years we have seen ridiculous delays in the judicial system. We have seen wholesale land frauds affecting both Costa Ricans and expats.
We have seen criminals go free by buying their way out of the crime.
| We have seen endless delays in
cases that are groundless. Andwe have seen allegations of corruption in
the judicial process.
We think magistrates have the job of seeing that the system works and that justice prevails. By that standard the current members of the high court are sorely lacking.
The 38 legislators who voted to deny re-election to a current magistrate may have done so for the darkest reasons. But they are on the right track. Something must be done to rupture the complacency that typifies the current judicial system.
We think the Corte Suprema de Justicia need new blood.
—Nov. 21, 2012
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
First World expats do not seem to be able to get a break
|Pardon us if we feel that the Costa
Rican government is leaning on the expats here.
First there was the immigration law, new in 2010. Lawmakers said that those on tourist visas could renew them by just paying $100. That was good news because snowbirds with $500,00 condos on the Pacific coast would not have to trundle off to Nicaragua or Panamá in the middle of a five-month winter visit. But once the law went into effect, an obscure clause eliminated such renewals by most First World expats. Snowbirds still have to interrupt their winter vacations to a tourist run.
Then there was the luxury home tax. Now that tax also covered Costa Ricans who owned homes estimated to be worth more than nearly $200,000. But First World expats are programmed to pay taxes. And most did.
Then there was the rule that all legal foreignrresidents had to join the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Now the Caja hospitals are great for gunshots and stab wounds. Doctors there get a lot of practice. But where did President Laura Chinchilla's husband go when he fell? How about Óscar Arias Sánchez? Those choose private hospitals as most expats would. That is more money down the drain.
Then there is the DIMEX card, the cédula for legal residents. Doing business without one is difficult. An expat complained Monday that Banco de Costa Rica gave him a hard time when he tried to cash a check using his passport as identification. Not everyone comes to Costa Rican and obtains residency. See snowbirds above. And how about international business executives?
Then there is the long-standing reluctance of lawmakers, the judicial and the central government to tackle the problem of property theft. Many Costa Ricans are victims of property crooks. But expats are an especially ripe target. For a dozen years there has been no official notice of the problem and a few detentions were token arrests.
Now comes the big news that only Costa Ricans or those with legal residency can obtain a driver's license. That little gem was inserted into the new traffic law. So those who come in good faith to seek residency have to still leave the country every 90 days if they seek to drive on their foreign license. The alternative is a skateboard, bike or taxi. while expats wait for the turtles at immigration to approve a residency application and issue a DIMEX card.
Called on this issue, some snob at the transport ministry said Monday that only Costa Ricans should have a driving license here. Does he not realize that respect for a foreign license is
enshrined in an international agreement?
Did we mention the additional taxes on tourists?
Of course, business people have it doubly hard. That satellite Internet firm got strung along for three years before the government was forced to provide permission to work here.
Now one or two such incidents can be chalked up to ineptitude or laziness. But a long string of sneaky attacks on expats might just reveal a mindset. We are reminded of the vice minister who tried to pass an immigration law that did not include provisions for rentistas, an important residency category for those foreigners with money but no firm pension.
What are these people thinking?
— Nov. 6, 2012
|A.M. Costa Rica casts its vote for Mitt Romney
|There is no surprise that A.M.
Costa Rica is endorsing Mitt Romney for president of the United States.
Four years ago the newspaper endorsed John McCain and said that Barack Obama would be a great used car salesman. We have seen no reason to change our mind. In fact, we have seen many events that validate our assessment of four years ago.
Clearly this endorsement will not move many minds, if any. Of all the recent U.S. presidential elections, this one finds the most divided and unmovable electorate. Although they will not all say so, most persons already have made up their minds.
Yet, we believe that a newspaper has the obligation to speak out on pressing public issues. This is the most pressing of all because the future of the United States hangs in the balance.
We can dismiss much of the accusations that fly on the Internet about the president. But there are some issues we cannot dismiss. Deep down we believe that Barack Obama holds contempt for the United States of America. We believe he sees the country as a larger version of the Chicago political playground where might makes right.
One area of high concern involved his acceptance of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace. The Norwegian prize committee said it was for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. Of course he did not deserve it, and even the parliamentary committee members admitted they gave the award in anticipation of what Obama would do, not what he had done.
A gentleman would have declined the Peace Prize and told the committee to evaluate his work later. A narcissist would accept the prize. A narcissist short on honor.
In contrast, Mitt Romney is a businessman who basically is being criticized for his success. A businessman is what the United States needs now as it totters toward insolvency. This is a man who saved the 2002 Winter Olympics. This is a man who was a successful governor of Massachusetts.
In any scorecard of accomplishments, Romney ranks far higher than Obama, who, despite two books, has done very little.
We also would remind readers that the presidency is only one important institution on the line. The United States needs members of Congress who read bills before voting and acts in the best interest of the public and not in the best interest of themselves.
Readers had several months to express preference in the U.S. elections. Only a few did. The issue is now closed, and we await the evening of Nov. 6.
— Oct. 22, 2012
We mourn the end of an era for Costa Rican journalism
|We take no joy in reporting the
demise of The Tico Times print edition. Print is great, but to create a
print product is expensive these days.
We also liked hot metal and flipping nickels with the large backshop crew between editions. Hot mental printing is an art. Most union printers lost their jobs when offset publication became the standard. One did not need a five-year apprenticeship to type out stories on a Compugraphic photocomposing machine.
That technique suffered a body blow with the arrival of Macintosh computers, the laser printer and page composition software. Then came the Internet.
A.M. Costa Rica is in 90 countries every morning with the touch of a button. And 12,000 readers view the newspaper with a multitude of electronic devices. That is not possible with print. But the advertising is less costly.
|The Tico Times has an online
edition, but it always was a stepchild. And A.M. Costa Rica has more
daily readers. Now perhaps The Tico Times newspaper management will
learn how to improve its online offerings.
We welcome competition which can only be a benefit for the English-speaking expats here as each online newspaper seeks to serve its readership better.
We also laud Dery Dyer, the owner of The Tico Times, for her many years of effort in guiding the newspaper.
We also have great respect for her mother, who founded the newspaper, and her father, who guided it to be the English voice of Central America during the troubles in Nicaragua.
The Tico Times always has stood for high-quality, honest journalism. So the end of the print edition is like a death in the family.
An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Misused preventative detention is a violation of human rights
|Whether Arcelio Hernández is
guilty of the criminal charge he is facing, he has a valid point
that preventative detention is a violation of human rights because of
the the way the Costa Rican judiciary practices the procedure.
Suspects can be locked up for long periods before trial. When expats run afoul of the law they are prime candidates for prison to await the judicial process that moves at the speed of a slow snail.
There are those who say “Good, jail the bums because the court will never convict them.” In other words, these folks would like an investigator and a judge of the first level to determine sentence before determining guilt.
There have been many cases of expats being jailed for long periods to await trail. Sometimes they are convicted. Sometimes they are not. But who compensates the innocent for many months spent in terrible conditions?
Of course, if one has money and connections, the cell door is opened quickly.
We are reminded of the murder suspect who spent a few days in jail before posting $30,000 in bail.
We are reminded of Luis Milanes who spent about a day in jail after he returned after years as a fugitive.
|We are reminded of Roger Crouse, the
Playas de Coco bar owner who killed an assailant in self defense and
then was jailed for many months in Puntarenas. While he was jailed,
neighbors dismantled his bar, vandalized the vehicles in a related limo
service and did other damage. He was acquitted.
Clearly, like the impedimento de salida that keeps suspects in Costa Rica, preventative detention sometimes is used to bring pressure on individuals so they will make a cash settlement.
And anyone is vulnerable.
Suspects should be jailed before conviction if they are flight risks or if they represent a danger to society. They should not be jailed because investigators and judges think they will not be convicted at trial. They should not be jailed to appease public sentiment.
Hernández noted that he was jailed for twice the time of the minimum sentence for the fraudulent administration charge he faces. There also is a policy in the courts that persons of little prior criminal convictions are put on probation if the sentence is three years of less.
What really is needed is speedy trial that takes place within a month or two of arrest. That, of course, would require something other than a dysfunctional judicial system.
—Sept. 11, 2012
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Photocopying copyrighted material is just plain stealing
|President Laura Chinchilla has
before her a bill that would authorize theft. She may sign it.
This is the exemption from an earlier law that protected the rights of authors and publishers. Before her is N° 17342 that was passed overwhelmingly by legislators.
The proposed law would permit the photocopying of materials for academic purposes without penalty. Operators of photocopying shops have ceased reproducing texts illegally because they fear stiff penalties in the relatively new law.
Basically the Asamblea Legislativa said that students and photocopying shops are allowed to steal because they are doing so for a good purpose. We think lawmakers also ought to make their personal vehicles available for students who need transportation to colleges. And maybe they should let students drop by a dinnertime if they are hungry.
Costa Rican laws and culture lack an absolute on property rights. We have seen this with squatters on real estate. Other countries punish those who move onto private land. But lawmakers here in the distant past thought it would be a good idea for landless persons to just take land from others so they could grow crops and feed their families. Now such invasions are a business with the invaders eventually selling their rights to middlemen who then make deals with hotels and others.
A certain element of Costa Rican society also thinks that stealing is fine if the victim is a rich person or a foreigner. Light-fingered maids and neighbors are facts of life.
Now lawmakers have institutionalized this attitude with a bill to encourage theft of published and copyrighted materials. They argue that the rich multinationals who make these books can afford the loss in sales, and, anyway, the books are too expensive.
A letter to President Chinchilla by Costa Rican book publishers Friday rejected that idea and said the firms already were losing sales in anticipation of the president signing the legislation. Óscar Arias Sánchez, when he was president, signed a decree that basically allowed bars and restaurants
to play copyrighted music without compensating the creators.
So Ms. Chinchilla would be following in the steps of her mentor to create socialized textbooks. But it will not be just texts.
The change in the law would open the photocopying floodgates.
The result of the proposed change in the law will be for foreign publishers to withhold needed books from Costa Rica. Perhaps some folks at the legislature or Casa Presidential could pen a few local texts on partial differential equations or anatomy or pharmaceuticals or strength of materials. But they won't because there is no money in it. The students will just steal the material by photocopying it.
— Sept. 3, 2012
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Wacky tax assessment system needs to be improved
|The tax scandals of the last two
weeks have shown major flaws in the Costa Rican legal framework.
The former finance minister got in trouble for not updating the value of some real estate holdings. Elsewhere in the country many property owners are ducking municipal taxes the same way.
What Costa Rica needs is a uniform method of property assessment and not rely on the self-reporting of owners.
That is true also for the so-called luxury tax where owners of expensive houses have to report the value themselves.
Unfortunately, the property assessment system here is flawed. A.M. Costa Rica has reported in the past that appraisers here use replacement cost new less depreciation. In other words, they figure how much would it cost to replicate this structure and then subtract an amount for the estimated age and depreciation.
This is the most unreliable of all the assessment methods, but it fits the Costa Rican psychic well because the appraiser can count tangible items and add them up.
In fact, the same home in Desamparados is not worth the same as its identical twin overlooking the Pacific in the hills of Dominical. The one at the beach is worth a whole lot more.
|The only method that produces
checkable accuracy is the market data comparison method. Appraisers see
what has sold in the past and use real sales data to estimate the value
of a property being assessed.
This brings up the problem with fraudulent sales reports. Costa Rican lawyers report something called fiscal value when a property is sold. That is a low-ball amount given to the municipality for the expressed purpose of evading taxes. The real sales price is usually much more. Lawyers base their fees on the real sales price and not the fiscal value.
Court transcripts have shown that even persons well placed in the government use this method. Unfortunately, this is fraud.
Monday night Ms. Chinchilla promised to come forth with ways for the government to better collect the taxes due it. The first stop should be to check the difference between sales prices and the reported fiscal price on property transfers and assess back taxes when there are discrepancies.
And the tax records should be an open book to the public. Neighbors know what the values are and they know who is cheating. Nosey neighbors can be a big help to the tax man as would shredding the licenses of some lawyers who routinely fabricate fake fiscal values.
—April 10, 2012
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
The proposed 14 percent value-added tax is simply confiscatory
|When President Laura Chinchilla says
her fiscal plan will tax those who have for the benefit of those who do
not, she appears to be a bit disingenuous.
The president's tax plan takes from the rich for the same reason Willy Sutton gave for robbing banks: “That's where the money is.”
The legislature Wednesday night passed on first reading a disastrous tax plan that creates a 14 percent value-added tax and extends the levy to many parts of the economy that have not been taxed in the past.
Somehow Ms. Chinchilla and her aides equate high taxes with development. Somehow, if the central government takes enough money and lavishes it on itself, the country will miraculously move from Third World to First World status, according to this theory.
The extensive tax plan is in the Sala IV constitutional court for a review. In our opinion, taking 14 percent of a transaction is confiscatory. To say the Sala IV lacks consistency would be an understatement. And in this case, we predict a big thumbs up from the magistrates. Remember, the nation's budget was so tight this year that they all did not get new government cars.
Anyone who can run an enterprise with a consistent 14 percent net profit is truly a business genius. There are very few firms that generate that kind of profit. But the government is
|prepared to take its 14 percent
under threat of force, as all governments do.
But not to worry. Ms. Chinchilla and her aides are confident that low-income earners and the poor will be protected from the impacts of the tax plan. Presumably they were at lunch when Economics 101 was offered. The corporations pass on the taxes to human beings. Everybody will pay the tax. Corporations collect the money.
There are so many negative aspects of this plan that to address each one would take thousands of words. Among these is the bait-and-switch tactic to exact taxes from companies that have come here to enjoy the free zones to make items for export.
Then what should Ms. Chinchilla do? For starters there are 800,000 ounces of gold at the Crucita mine site. Heaven help us if we cut down a few trees to extract it. And the northern zone might have rich petroleum deposits. At least that is what a Colorado firm wants to find out. With gasoline more than $5 a gallon, one would think that the country's CEO would leap at the chance for homegrown energy.
Instead, demagoguery disguised as environmental concern controls the field.
There is something wrong with a plan that taxes indiscriminately when there are so many other clear options.
—March 15, 2012
An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
U.S. Embassy staff seems to be unaccustomed to oversight
|Most workers at the U.S. Embassy in
Pavas don't like to be questioned about their actions.
They have made some blunders, but unlike most U.S. government employees, they do not have to account to anyone outside the closed embassy world.
The degree of openness generally depends on the standards of who is working there at the time. There is a lot of turnover, and much of the continuity is provided by full-time Costa Rican staffers.
Generally the U.S. employees there are not attuned to public relations. One of the basic rules of public relations is to always respond to criticism or to crisis situations. We have a situation now that President Barack Obama is pushing for more tourism.
During his weekly address Saturday, Obama said he wants to make it easier for visitors to come and spend money in America, according to the A.M. Costa Rica wire services.
Yet in Pavas a vice consul seems to have canceled a Costa Rican businessman's U.S. visa without adequate explanation. And the embassy does not want to explain to the individual or to the press. We would welcome an explanation as to why the vice consul took this action. We would have included that information in a Friday story, if the embassy could have responded quickly. Maybe she took the correct action. Or maybe she should be shipped out. We have no way of knowing when the embassy stonewalls.
Embassy workers have a habit of hiding behind the U.S. Privacy Act. But there is plenty of wiggle room in the privacy act for providing urgent information to the public. Instead, embassy workers will spend taxpayer money to create an
|embassy newsletter that, we suspect,
will always say nice things about the embassy.
Even though the U.S. government employees are overseas, we think they should be open to questions, such as why did they buy a $49,000 electric car from a Japanese firm and not a U.S. firm.
And why have they never approached the press seeking help and publicity for the missing U.S. citizens in Costa Rica? The French ambassador has done everything short of standing on a soapbox in Parque Central to generate attention about his missing citizens.
Where does the embassy stand on Costa Rican property fraud that frequently involves expats as victims?
What actions have the embassy staff taken to raise the issue of increasing criminality that affects expats. They are big in handing out money to fight international drug trafficking. How about making some comments on the revolving justice at Costa Rican courts?
One of the traditions of Anglo-American justice is the right to confront accusers. We do not think that the U.S. State Department has instituted an adequate appeals process for persons who are denied visas or, in the latest case, Óscar Mora who had his visa canceled. A young vice consul has just a few minutes to make a decision on a visa application. Have there never been mistakes made? How does a Costa Rican or U.S. citizen acting on behalf of a Costa Rican find out the reason for this rejection?
We would like to see the embassy staff address some of these points in their new, spiffy newsletter.
— Jan. 23, 2012
An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Urgent changes can help protect expats and their properties
|A news story Friday shined the
spotlight again on the complexities of property ownership here.
The uncertainties of keeping a property represent a drag on the expat real estate market. An investment in Costa Rica can lead to years of court battles.
We suggest the following legislative change: Costa Rica must respect the chain of title and eliminate the concept of the innocent third party.
Under current law, a land crook can submit the paperwork drawn up by a crooked notary, gain title and then sell the property to an unsuspecting third party. The law respects the rights of the third party and not that of the real owner.
The former owner just has the option of suing the crook.
This is wrong, and many times the so-called innocent third party is a member of a conspiracy.
The lawyer's union, the Colegio de Abogados, must do a better job of policing its members.
The whole concept of professionalization of an industry requires strong internal oversight. In Costa Rica there are lawyers still practicing who have been convicted or accused of a crime. The colegio should shred the cédula of a member if convicted of a felony or a delito. If the lawyer is accused of a crime, the colegio should investigate and suspend the membership if it appears by a preponderance of evidence that the lawyer is guilty when the crime involves legal skullduggery.
If the lawyer is acquitted, the license should be reinstated.
Lawmakers should eliminate laws that allow a criminal to buy
|his way out of a crime. There are
lawyers and scammers in preventative detention now who never will be
convicted because they will pay off their accusers for pennies on the
dollar. We see this in other crimes, too, and such a concept is a
license to steal.
Lawmakers and the Colegio de Abogados should combine to enact stronger penalties for fake cases. Many times, as part of a civil case strategy, a lawyer will file a criminal case that causes the civil case to come to a halt. Frequently the criminal case has no merit. But it may be several years before the criminal case is adjudicated and the civil case allowed to continue.
We have said in the past that judges should have the power to throw out a case very early in the criminal process when there really is no evidence of wrongdoing. And lawyers who file such cases should either be suspended or thrown out of the colegio.
Finally, judicial police must pay stronger attention to deaths when someone appears shortly thereafter claiming ownership of the deceased's property. Many crooks at this moment have inserted their name on property records in anticipation of the death of an elderly owner. The crooks suddenly appear with the forged paperwork sometimes even as the funeral is taking place.
Expats need to realize that for every foreigner who is the victim of property fraud, there are dozens of Costa Rican victims, and many do not have the knowledge or the funds to fight the scammers.
Garland Baker, A.M. Costa Rica's contributor, has urged property owners to create mortgage certificates as a surefire way to protect their holdings. We refer readers to that news story HERE!
— Jan. 16, 2012
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
They were not against taxes, just against paying it themselves
|Even those who believe in a
broad-based democracy would have been chilled by the attitude of
anti-tax marchers Tuesday.
The truth is that the marchers were not against taxes. They just were against taxes levied on them. They want those they consider rich and corporations to pay the taxes. Of course these are many of the same people who have received money and benefits from a string of governments that brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy so they could buy votes.
Clearly basic economics has not been taught adequately in the Costa Rican school system. The marchers Tuesday seemed to be blissfully unaware that corporations and high-income earners already pay more than their fair share and that they provide jobs, products and economic security.
The attitude is that those who have more should pay more. This is the concept in many developed nations where the rich are content to pay higher taxes so the governments can provide bread and circuses for the masses. Socialism magnifies this inequality.
Costa Rica's problems have their origins in many of the attitudes and actions that are similar to those in many other countries. The central government simply spent a lot more than it earned.
The special case of Costa Rica includes massive tax evasion. The mechanisms for tax collecting are not up to the job despite recent efforts to improve.
|Those who evade know that they never
will see the inside of a courtroom because this is a society that
cannot even prosecute the fraudsters and street crooks.
The courts are dysfunctional.
There also is the attitude here that the personal world ends at the household door. Costa Ricans do not rush to fix broken sidewalks or crumbling streets. That is the job of the government or at least someone else. And this is the same attitude that influenced those who took to the streets Tuesday.
Let someone else do it, and let someone else pay for it.
But at least the marchers can see through the dissembling of politicians who say the proposed taxes are a reform or just another percent on the sales tax.
The proposal is not reform. It is just more taxes which the government will lavish on the well-connected. And rather than just another percent on the already confiscatory 13 percent sales tax, the 14 percent value-added tax is far broader.
Central government leaders appear to have ducked basic economic classes, too. The proposal will not bring in the $500 million they suppose. Citizens and expats alike will take steps to minimize their tax exposure. Evasion will flourish.
And creativity will reign as it did when the United States had a 91 percent marginal tax rate.
— Dec. 15, 2011
|The U.S. always has been able to come
back from disaster
By Jay Brodell
editor of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Today is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Most who heard the startling news in the United States that Sunday afternoon are dead. Some died as a direct result of the sneak attack by the forces of Imperial Japan.
Pearl Harbor is one of those mental milestones by which people reckon their lives. Others include the start of the Korean war, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the killing of his brother, the explosion of the Challenger spacecraft and the more recent terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
History proved Franklin Roosevelt wrong. Dec. 7 did not live in infamy. Today the United States and Japan are close allies. Costa Rica's president, Laura Chinchilla Miranda, happens to be in Japan this week on a state visit. And many U.S. school children have no clue about what happened 70 years ago.
What we are not remembering today is the destruction of the world by nuclear weapons. Japan is the only country that suffered nuclear blows delivered in anger. Some say this was overkill. The thousands of U.S. servicemen and women who were poised for the invasion of Japan rejoiced.
The miracle is that through strength the United States avoided mutual nuclear destruction with the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of World War II, the stage seemed to be set for a nuclear war. The United States never wanted this. Fortunately the might of the United States and its European allies dissuaded Soviet leaders from making a big mistake.
The Japanese general staff thought that a strategic blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet would cause the western giant to retreat and lick it wounds. Big mistake.
Official U.S. Navy photoNavy officials survey the wreckage of the U.S.S. Arizona.
If there is a lesson here it is that even when it is down, the United States can rally and come back. This is relevant today with the damaged U.S. economy, the soaring federal deficit and policies that ship jobs overseas.
Some world leaders have turned their attention to China, and some even cede the 21st century to China. Big mistake.
Even as we remember the deaths and destruction at Pearl Harbor and the multitude of other bloody disasters, the United States is on the road back to its rightful place in the world. Given a level field, the United States can out produce any country in both food and goods.
Years of faulty leadership have let the borders collapse and have driven successful companies to seek havens in other lands. The time has come to reverse this. This is a change we can believe in.
— Dec. 7, 2011
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Maybe now the poor magistrates will have to hike to work?
|The discussion and final vote over
next year's national budget was very revealing.
Among the items cut was one for 356 million colons, about $712,000. The money was supposed to purchase new cars for magistrates in the Corte Suprema de Justicia.
We wonder why that was in the budget in the first place. Magistrates are supposed to sit around a table deciding legal cases. They ought to drive to and from work in their own vehicles.
Dare we say the same about legislative deputies? Some readers have raised this point. Why is the government paying for vehicles for legislative deputies? They also get an allocation for fuel. Can they not afford their own vehicles?
The problem is not automobiles. The problem is a government
|that has no respect for the
taxpayer. We have noted before that government offices are in luxury
structures. Some are only half filled.
A visitor can tell a lot about the local society just by looking at who has the best buildings. Here the banks and the government have fancy surroundings while much of the population live in less than adequate circumstances.
Now President Laura Chinchilla Miranda has made a point to say that her tax plan will take from those who have to give to those who have not. This is a modern version of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” as popularized by Karl Marx.
We wonder how many more public officials need new cars.
— Nov. 29, 2011
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
If Crucitas allegation is true, prosecution is the only course
|This newspaper has supported
consistently the Las Crucitas mine.
We did that not because we love open pit gold mines, but because Industrias Infinito S.A. already had a permit when this newspaper arrived on the scene.
Costa Rica has to live up to its promises, even though that seems not to be the tradition. We were shocked when President Able Pachco in his first press conference said that he was stopping work on all the open pit gold mines. No public official has the power to take something from someone else without the process of law. In this case, Pacheco sought to take a concession that already had been granted from two separate gold mines.
Open pit mining is preferable to having workers go down miles into hard rock and run the risk of injury or death. We also thought that Costa Rica could use the money generated by
|mining a million ounces of gold. And
we thought that residents of Cutris de San Carlos could use a major
industry, if only for about 20 years.
But there is no room in Costa Rica for corrupt company officials. If the allegations are true that Infinito officials welcomed a magistrate who was bringing a leaked copy of the draft of a high court decision, there is only one just action. And that is criminal prosecution.
We do not know now if the allegation is correct. But if it is, the investigation and prosecution should go up the corporate food chain to Infinito's parent company in Canada.
And it would seem to us that an illegal action of this magnitude would void any attempts by Infinito and its Canadian owner to seek a favorable international arbitration ruling if Costa Rica dumps the entire project.
— Nov. 16, 2011
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
How about some belt-tightening before demanding new taxes?
|The Laura Chinchilla Miranda
administration has done little to stop the increase in the national
deficit and the country's budget.
The Ministerio de Hacienda defends the lack of action by saying that the national budget is rigid. The administration has reduced the growth of the budget from 24 percent a year to 13 percent in 2011, the ministry reports. Next year, the proposed budget only increases less than 10 percent, it said.
The administration is putting all its hopes on passage of a new tax law that will suck more money from the productive sector to grow the budget.
Prior to any major tax proposal, Ms. Chinchilla should have taken some strong steps to increase current government income and reduce expenses. Of course, there has been an effort to increase collection and crack down on evasion. But that amounts to peanuts in the overall scheme.
With any tax increase, expats and those in the tourism business will see a negative effect. The country already sees a decrease in tourism, and not all of that is due to economic conditions elsewhere. Part of the problem is increases in taxes and increases in tourism industry pricing, in part because of government demands from employers.
Here are some suggestions for the president:
• Any pension higher than $2,500 a month should be cut to that amount. There are plenty of public employees who have received very generous retirements from the government. Some are perhaps too generous. Ms. Chinchilla says she seeks to take from those who have and give to those who do not. This is a start. Fully 40 percent of the national budget is salaries and pensions, said Hacienda.
• The practice of giving public employees an aguinaldo every Christmas should be stopped. Making employers pay bonuses without regard for production is silly. Distributing such bonuses for work not done in the public sector is, as Ebenezer Scrooge would say, “a poor excuse from picking a man's pocket every 25th of December.” Perhaps there should be a show of solidarity by public employees who would surrender this year's bonus in the interest of fiscal stability. Fat chance.
• The administration should start selling off some of the large buildings that are under utilized. Do officials even know what they own? The landscape shows that the Costa Rican economy is dominated by banks and public entities. Some of the finest buildings are public. Does the Contraloría de la República really need that gigantic tower in Sabana Sur? How much of
|the La Uruca building of the
Instituto Costarricense de Turismo really is in use?
• The administration should immediately seek a buyer for the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A., the fuel monopoly. Some big oil company or perhaps the Chinese probably would be interested in the facilities but probably not the luxury building in Barrio Tournon. That could be sold separately.
• Dare we suggest that the country should sell off the national stadium that the Chinese were nice enough to construct? If you can't keep a country out of the red, how can you be expected to make a profit from a stadium?
• Some Costa Rican laws that involve payments to the government specify where the cash should go. The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, for example, gets a piece of the traffic speeding fines. There is no rationale for this except that some
lawmaker sought to reward the children's agency. Hardly any of the speeding fines go to the central government. This law and others like it should be changed so that all money goes to the central treasury and is allocated by the central government based on needs and budget. The slush funds at the various agencies should be eliminated. A $15 entry tax on tourists may have generated $4.7 million this year based on the arrival of 312,659 tourists by air, but that cash goes to the tourism institute which does what with it?
• This newspaper already has suggested that the government inventory the land it holds and consider marketing excess.
• The government should consider a management plan for its vast holdings of public lands. Instead of treating trees as sacred, the valuable hardwood should be harvested to provide room for growth of younger trees. Concessions to do that would give a boost to the public income. Otherwise, trees just get old, die and fall down.
• This newspaper already has suggested that the Chinchilla administration get fully behind plans by a Canadian firm to mine gold in northern Costa Rica and plans by a Denver firm to explore for oil and gas. The severance tax and commissions on both commodities could be ample.
This newspaper's opinion is that the Chinchilla administration should take immediate steps to lower its expenses and seek funds from resources before it seeks a single colon more from the working public. And Ms. Chinchilla has been around in public life far too long to complain that the financial problems are something she inherited. The problems are what she helped create in her years of public offices.
— Nov. 7, 2011
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Getting soft on drug possession is a serious error by Chavarría
|The fiscal general has made public
what has been practiced for nearly a year by the nation's prosecutors.
Possession of small amounts of drugs will not result in criminal
The fiscal general, Jorge Chavarría, said this was a financial decision to keep an estimated 125,000 cases a year out of the court system. He said that in the past, a case was opened and then there was additional paperwork in getting a judge to close the case. Now prosecutors will just not open the case in the first place.
The revelation was hailed by those who seek legalization of what are now considered illegal substances. Others said that the fiscal general's position amounts to legalization of all sorts of drugs in Costa Rica.
The policy does not just include marijuana, but all types of drugs, as long as the quantity does not suggest the potential for resale.
Fiscal General Chavarría may be content to live in a drugocracy, but A.M. Costa Rica is not. It would be helpful if prosecutors and judges would do their job instead of looking for loopholes. The purpose of drug laws is to reduce consumption. The result of the fiscal general's policy is encouragement.
|If one is photographed speeding on
the highway, the potential fine, although being litigated now, is
gigantic, some $600. Costa Rican law also provides for stiff fines for
drug possession. That was rarely enforced. Now the law will not be
enforced at all.
Some expats who consider Costa Rica as their own personal adult disneyland may hail the position of the fiscal general. That is short-sighted. The proliferation of drugs means the continued proliferation of robberies, thefts, burglaries and all the other situations that affect foreigners.
One cannot believe that police officers will continue to risk their life to stem the drug trade if many of those they detain walk.
And one cannot have drugs unless there has been a sale at some point in the chain of possession. That is a delito or felony here.
In addition, the idea that a chief prosecutor can overturn the nation's laws on a whim is troubling. What next? A little bit of bribery will be OK? How about whacking the wife around a bit but not enough for a felony? Maybe a pass for stealing just older cars? Or maybe these are the fiscal general's rules now. Who knows?
— Oct. 24, 2011
|Costa Rica is not an innocent when it
comes to drug trafficking
|President Laura Chinchilla sees
Costa Rica as an innocent party between South American drug producers
and the United States, which she characterizes as the major consumer.
This was a diplomatic way to tell the U.N. General Assembly “It's not our fault.” That could be Costa Rica's national slogan, and what Ms. Chinchilla wants is money. Not that the United States is not already pouring money into this country to fight the drug trade. Witness the multi-million dollar police mansion planned for the Interamericana highway in south Costa Rica or the two aluminum patrol boats recently given the Guardacostas.
Perhaps the president has lost touch with what is going on in the country, but many Costa Ricans have actively and gladly joined in the drug trade. And they are not just serving the United States. The arrests Thursday involved a cocaine shipment to Spain. Drug mules frequently are picked up at Juan Santamaría airport headed to Europe with a hidden stash. Many more get through.
The last big haul in the Pacific involved a boat that was part of the Puntarenas fishing fleet. Some of the crew were Costa Rican.
|Time after time, drug investigators
make arrests involving the shipment by land of drugs to the north. But
they also make large hauls of crack cocaine. Children as young as 8
have been visible for years in south San José smoking crack
pipes. At certain corners in San José one can find a drug
The point is that Costa Rica is not just a victim but that many citizens here are active participants in the drug trade. And there are many drug users in Costa Rica, perhaps some not very distant from Ms. Chinchilla.
This newspaper has urged a serious and consistent program of preventative drug testing not just of the police, but also of other members of the public administration. In the past we have seen politicians and others go down as drug traffickers. So this is not just a problem of fishermen in Puntarenas.
Ms. Chinchilla has spent many years in public administration here. She has been a security minister, a minister of justice, a first vice president and now a president. One would hope that she devised some plan to stifle the drug traffic.
But we have yet to hear it other than asking for money.
— Sept. 26, 2011
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Tax-loving president and lawmakers off on the wrong track
|President Laura Chinchilla's push
for more taxes stems from her belief that government has to be the
nanny. In her independence day speech she said that Costa Rica's level
of taxes is below its level of development.
The idea that is current in liberal circles is that developed countries should have high taxes. Sweden, for example, takes 47.9 percent of its gross domestic product in taxes. Denmark takes 49 percent. Both numbers come from annual indexes compiled by the Heritage Foundation.
Costa Rica is listed as taking 15.6 percent of the domestic product. Ms. Chinchilla would like to take 20 percent.
Juan Carlos Mendoza Garcia, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, also is a member of Acción Ciudadana, He is fond of saying that a tax plan should take from those who have for those who do not.
Ms. Chinchilla's administration appears to have reached an accord with the opposition parties that control the legislature to push through revised tax legislation. Presumably Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the minister of the Presidencia, had a large role in this agreement. He's the guy who created the new tourist tax for the benefit of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. We can see the impact of that.
None of these individuals appreciates the fact that you get less of whatever it is that you tax.
Two of the most robust economies in the world defy Ms. Chinchilla's point of view. Hong Kong takes 13 percent of its
|gross domestic product. Singapore
takes 14.2 percent. Both figures are again from the Heritage index.
Meanwhile, Danish professionals are on record for not wanting to work
in their own country due to the high taxation.
Costa Rica's problem is not the level of taxation. It is the sprawling, inefficient bureaucracy that seems to be designed to provide jobs for the politically favored instead of doing anything for the country. Ms. Chinchilla has done little to reduce the expenses of the central government.
What is needed is a complete overhaul of how Costa Rica is run. There are far too many government employees communicating on Facebook and Twitter all day and not doing any thing. We would ask minsters to take a look at the computer server reports from machines under their jurisdictions. These tell the tale.
The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social is shaking up its employees after officials read in La Nación that the number of staffers calling in sick rose dramatically during major soccer games. Then there were the teachers who got two days off to attend a professional union convention, but few showed up.
We strongly object to Ms. Chinchilla's idea that the role of government is to use its redistributive function to insure the welfare and security of citizens in the future. The role of government is to get out of the way as much as possible to let the economy function. Mr. Mendoza wants to take from those who are working and earning money and give it to those who are not. Class warfare may be good for votes, but it is not good for the economy.
— Sept. 19, 2011
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
How about just making public records available to the public?
|There was a crowd at the Registro
Nacional in Zapote Monday. Documents that are supposed to be available
online are not because the Registro shut down its system.
The Registro did so because the Sala IV constitutional court forbade it from charging for documents while an appeal is pending. A lawyer objects to paying for the online documents.
There is a lot of sense behind this appeal, although the lawyer involved probably has mostly money on his mind.
Public documents should be available freely to the public. That is a basic foundation of a democracy. Costa Rica has an elaborate system of documentation, notaries and certifications, all designed to make lawyers money.
Someone who runs a company is powerless unless he or she holds a current personaría juridica. This document, which may be good for 15 days or 30 days, depending on the source, assures anyone in business that the individual named in the document has the right to act for the company.
Never mind that this information should be available on the Internet. Costa Rica custom usually requires a lawyer with notary credentials to draw up the document to guarantee it is correct. And where does the information originate? In a lawyer's section of the Registro Web site. It's copy-and-paste time that generates 10,000 colons or about $20 for the lawyer.
For awhile, a company manager simply had to purchase a copy online from the Registro for nearly 3,000 colons, about $6. This is the system that has been frozen. The Registro server allowed interested parties to double check the validity of the
|document by just entering a few
We wonder why the entire data base is just not made public so that inquiring minds can find out who has the power to act for a company simply by checking the Registro data base. No paper documents. No lawyers. No notaries.
We say the same about court cases. Most are private affairs from which the public is excluded. When someone is arrested, the bulk of the information is strained through judicial public relations professionals. Many arrests simply are not reported. Reporters do not have the right to look at case files in the courts. That right is reserved for lawyers.
Consequently, many people are labeled crooks in the press and are later released. There is one case of a man held out as a crook in a press conference by high judicial officials. He later was acquitted. There was no press conference then. He can only salvage his reputation by calling on newspapers to take the initiative and report his acquittal.
The Internet lives forever, and so do news stories. The system would be far more equitable here if reporters had more access to preliminary court hearings and case filings. But not just reporters. Any citizen should be able to leaf through court files and search court documents online.
Article 30 of the Costa Rican Constitution seems to establish this right. But in practice, that's just so much smoke.
Of course, prosecutors, crooks and others would prefer that all be handled in the dark.
— Sept. 6, 2011
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
President Chinchilla delivers a troubling speech in Nicoya
|President Laura Chinchilla really
led with her chin Monday when she told an audience in Nicoya that if
they wanted something done they should talk to legislators.
Ms. Chinchilla's point was that opposition party members control the Asamblea Legislativa and her plans for major tax increases, an annual tax on corporations and approval of multi-million-dollar international loans are moving too slowly through the process.
The president forgot to mention that her party controlled the legislature the previous year. The problem is not who is in control. The problem is the lack of viable proposals coming from Casa Presidencial. Her initial tax plan was so greedy that even members of her own party winced.
But that is only part of the problem as polls show support for the president is low. Ms. Chinchilla ran on a platform of firmness, and voters expected her to take strong action against crime and some other maladies. Instead, she turned the job of making a plan over to a United Nations agency.
The result was not unexpected. The agency, the Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, produced an abstract document that resembled a college term paper on crime. Even a leading television reporter characterized the document as "Blah, blah, blah."
Basically what Ms. Chinchilla said Monday was a variation on the common Costa Rican slogan: "It's not my fault."
|Ms. Chinchilla has held many high
offices before becoming president. She was a minister of security, a
minister of Justicia and a vice president. That's pretty good training
for a president, particularly in times when a crime wave is sweeping
The most decisive action she has taken against crime recently was to instruct government agencies to put a slogan on all their press releases: Constuimos un país seguro. "We are building a secure country."
Opposition lawmakers were uniform Tuesday is saying that the president was ducking her responsibility and trying to put the blame on them.
But perhaps the most unsettling comment the president made in her speech in Nicoya was when she told the crowd that they would pay none of the taxes she proposes. Only those with a lot of money would pay, she said. But the president's own tax plan levies taxes on individuals who earn more than 2,890,000 colons a year, although there are other deductions and loopholes. That is just $5,780. Even someone working at the mid range of the minimum salary would reach that level in a year. Any money after 241,000 colons a year is taxable. And in Nicoya there were plenty of well-heeled ranchers and farmers in the audience.
But even more troubling was the president's effort to generate class envy.
July 28, 2011
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Property transfer scam needs a little presidential attention
|President Laura Chinchilla told
Guanacaste residents Monday to take their demands to legislators
because opposition lawmakers now control the Asamblea Legislativa.
The president showed some frustration during her speech at the annual Anexión del Partido de Nicoya celebration, in part because she was met by about 400 protesters with various complaints. In addition to a stalled proposal for a national park, the president cited the tax reform plan that is being considered in the legislature. The plan would generate about $1 billion in new income for the government.
But there is one action the president could take right now to raise funds.
The president's plan would increase the property transfer tax from 1.5 percent to 3 percent, but the government has been ineffective in collecting the current levy.
There exists a tradition among lawyers and and property purchasers to establish a sales price for fiscal purposes. This
|amount is much lower than the actual
sales price. This really amount to false statements to tax authorities.
The transfer tax is paid on the lower amount even though the seller
gets the real purchase price.
This is tax evasion of the most bold sort because a little investigation can usually determine the real sales price. After all, a lot of the properties have been advertised and the amount clearly stated.
In some cases this fiscal price is a really total effort at evasion. The stated price may be just 10 percent of the actual sale. So on a $200,000 sales, the government collects $300 instead of $3,000. The lawyers, however, collect their fee on the actual sales price. Some of them produce two invoices for their clients, one with the fake price and the second with their full fee based on the actual price.
This clearly is fraud. And it would not take a lot of effort to review all the property transactions for the last five years.
July 27, 2011
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Preventative detention misused badly and inconsistently
|For a country that prides itself on
respect for human rights, the concept of innocent until proven guilty
is frequently overlooked.
Depending on the crime, a suspect may be tossed into the general prison population for months, even years, without the chance to present a defense. On the other hand, the flagrancia courts convict and sentence without the suspect having sufficient time to mount a defense.
The issue of excessive preventative detention, came to light when Kathya Jiménez Fernández, a criminal judge, ordered that two Mexican drug suspects be placed in home detention and liberated from prison. The decision created a firestorm among police officials and potential neighbors. The judge correctly reasoned that the men had spent seven months in prison without significant action by prosecutors.
Costa Rica does not have a speedy trial law, and some of these cases drag on for years only to have the jailed suspect found innocent. Sometimes police and prosecutors are happy that suspects are confined for lengthy periods pre-trial. They figure that the fickle Costa Rican courts might find the suspect innocent, but he or she will at least have served some time. Pre-trial detention should be reserved for cases where there is a possibility of danger to the public from the suspect.
A case in point is the hotel guard with the last name of Guevara, who is accused of murder for shooting a 16-year-old U.S. tourist by accident in La Fortuna last week. Prosecutors at first sought a year of preventative detention. A judge ordered six months. This case is not rocket science. The man is guilty of having an unlicensed gun and working without residency. But he is not guilty of murder, as prosecutors allege. A trial could easily be held in a month or two. Instead the man will languish in prison for months while prosecutors handle other cases. Out of sight is out of mind.
Another human rights violation is mixing the pre-trial prison population with the convicted felons. Pre-trial inmates deserve special treatment if one assumes they are innocent until proved guilty.
We are reminded of the case of Roger Crouse, the Playa del Coco bar owner who was charged with murder for shooting a man who attacked him with a knife. He was not a paragon of virtue, but the case appeared cut and dried. The local bad guy
|created a scene, and police had to
detain and confine him. A few hours later they inexplicably released
the man, who told them he was going to return to the bar and kill
Crouse. He tried. He found another knife. Crouse had a gun.
So investigators arrested Crouse, who spent a year in jail before there was a trial. His bar was sacked by locals. His limo business was vandalized into junk. He periodically would call reporters to talk about his latest robbery by fellow inmates.
We think that Crouse would have been convicted without the continual carping by A.M. Costa Rica reporters. Why? There would have been a significant civil settlement in favor of the family of the dead man. Prosecutors were trying to wear him down.
Another case in point is the man, Carlos Pascall, who was detained in Limón last week in a money laundering investigation. In a made-for-television raid, police broke down his front door and smashed through an interior door while Pascall, dressed only in underpants, calmly watched from a second-floor balcony. They threw him to the floor to cuff him. He was ordered jailed for investigation.
This is a case prosecutors have been following since 2004. Is there any reason to put Pascall in jail before a trial? He has millions in investments here as well as being the president of a first division soccer team.
Luis Milanes, who admits his investors lost some $200 million when he fled in 2002, returned to Costa Rican in 2009 and spent just one day in jail. He has been free to run his casino businesses for two years.
Why is there such a difference in the treatment of these men? We think Pascal should be freed before trial, and so should Milanes. But we think the trial should be completed in a couple of months, not a couple of years.
On the other hand, once someone is convicted, there should be strong consideration of prison even though appeals have been filed in the case. Monday the Judicial Investigating Organization released the photos of 12 men who have been convicted of such crimes as murder, aggravated robbery and rape. They were convicted and allowed to wander off while an appeal was heard. This is wacky.
June 7, 2011
|Here is a career-ending case for the sob sisters in the
|There is another custody battle
brewing, and Costa Rican judicial officials who like to meddle in such
U.S. cases could face the decision of their lives.
The judicial officials unerringly seem to favor the women in a custody battle and have disregarded international treaties that say the court of initial jurisdiction is the place where custody should be decided. Usually the court of initial jurisdiction is in the United States.
But Tico judges and judicial officials are quick to protect a fleeing mother from the U.S. justice system and award her refugee status here, usually without making any investigation.
But now comes a case with two mothers. And one is lesbian and the other is a former lesbian.
At the center of the case is a 9-year-old girl, who was born via artificial insemination.
|The biological mother is Lisa Miller
who fled the United States to avoid turning over custody to her former
lover, Vermont homosexual rights activist Janet Jenkins. Ms. Miller
fled to Central America two years ago, and has been reported to be in
Nicaragua. There is a possibility that she has entered Costa Rica.
A judge gave custody to Ms. Jenkins because Ms. Miller moved from Vermont and denied Ms. Jenkins visitations.
The case is further wrapped up in evangelical Christianity, gay rights and a host of sub-issues.
If some ladies in the judiciary want to be world arbitrators of parental rights, we would be happy to provide Ms. Miller telephone money, Such a case would remind the ladies of the judiciary why laws and treaties were designed to trump emotions.
— April 25, 2011
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
True freedom includes having the right to gamble online
|Government-sponsored gambling is
centuries old. Still, politicians cannot come to grips with the
industry. When New York authorized a state lottery in 1967, cautious
lawmakers required lottery players to purchase their tickets at a local
bank. Eventually that dumb rule vanished, and in many states lottery
tickets are available at many retail outlets.
Online gambling seems to be following that same erratic course. Revelations of a U.S. government crackdown on the online poker industry came Friday. Meanwhile, the U.S. District of Columbia, the seat of the federal government, has authorized online gambling for its residents this year. Specifics are in the works.
Three other states, Nevada, Iowa and New Jersey, also are flirting with online gambling. Yet in 2006 the U.S. federal government passed a law that has been used to punish Costa Rican gambling sites and those executives here who publicly supported unrestricted online gambling.
There are many good reasons not to allow gambling, just as there are good reasons to forbid cigarettes, alcohol and Big Macs. Frankly this newspaper would welcome a well-regulated online gambling industry based in the United States where participants probably would get a fair shake.
We have not received any complaints about Absolute Poker, the
| Pavas-based firm that figured
in the federal indictments announced Friday. But we have fielded
international complaints about other online gambling sites here who
seem to fail to pay big winners. Costa Rica, being what it is,
international gamblers have no recourse to collect their funds.
District of Columbia officials expect its local online activities to bring in more than $10 million a year. That is peanuts compared to the billions at play in the world.
And if United States officials were consistent, they would see large financial benefits for uniform, reasonable online legislation. The online gambling industry already is big business there. Those in the Land of the Free should recognize that true freedom includes the right to lose one's shirt in an online poker game.
Those detained Friday in the current U.S. investigation face the most serious charges because they sought to circumvent the prohibition on U.S. gamblers posting money to their poker accounts. They face money laundering, bank fraud and conspiracy allegations. These charges stem from the roadblocks U.S. federal officials erected in opposition to what is a legal business here and in the other jurisdictions where the other two poker sites are located.
April 18, 2011
An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
The time has come to crack down on juvenile criminals
|A wave of juvenile crime is seeping
the country, and the existing laws are insufficient to handle the
The entire Costa Rican penal code is base on redemption, but some criminals cannot be redeemed. That goes for young criminals.
Someone under the age of 18 who commits premeditated murder probably will not serve more than five or six years in prison. They should be put away for a long, long time.
The Costa Rican juvenile code should be changed to make 14 years the limit for a juvenile criminal. Those older than that go to adult court and face adult penalties. The adult penalties are weak enough.
We would prefer to see imprisonment without possibility of parole in some cases. But that is too much to expect with the current touchie feelie administration and legislature.
But subjecting persons 14 years to adult penalties would be a start.
We have had three youngsters detained in the last few days for the murder of a taxi driver. That was in Tejarcillos de Alajuelita Sunday night, and they were trying to rob the man, identified by the last names of Ramírez Gutiérrez.
Another youngster of 16 is accused of shooting down a mother
|earlier in the week as she walked
with her two daughters. Why? Because the woman filed a complaint
against the suspect's mother.
Then there are the pair of robbery suspects who are charged with putting a foot-long slash in the stomach of a schoolboy Wednesday.
We think society would be well served if none of these youngsters who are between 15 and 17 years of age do not see liberty for 30 years each.
We may never know what happens to these suspects. The juvenile court is closed, and the only reports are filtered through the Poder Judicial press office. Even after conviction, a young criminal may not serve the time a judge has specified. That's true of adult criminals, too.
Youngsters are being encouraged to really bad behavior by the television cop shows. But we also think that adult criminals are using youngsters for bloody jobs because they correctly feel the kids are immune to prosecution.
If they are killing people at 16, what will they be doing at 25?
We urge that they be so treated that they continue to contemplate their crime from behind bars at 25 and for many years later.
— March 17, 2011
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|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Apparently, international treaties are just suggestions, too
|How do Costa Rican officials justify
ignoring the Hague Convention on Child Abduction?
Time after time runaway moms from the United States come here with a child and try to get the courts here to block U.S. arrest warrants and judicial orders to return the child.
The latest case is that of Trina Atwell and her 2-plus-year-old daughter Emily. Ms. Atwell is wanted for child abduction, and a court in Green County, Missouri, has awarded the biological father full custody. She claims she fled violence and drug abuse. He denies that.
A.M. Costa Rica is in no position to determine who is telling the truth. But neither are Costa Rican officials. The international treaty says that jurisdiction rests with the Green County judge. There the evidence exists to adjudicate the case and confirm or award custody. A complicating factor is that Ms. Atwell was married to a Costa Rican when she had the child.
One would think that Ms. Atwell would want to go back there and reopen the case, at least to be with the other daughter she left behind.
|One would think that Costa Rican
judicial officials would want to take immediate and decisive action to
comply with the Hague Convention if only to avoid another long court
case in an overwhelmed judicial system.
Ms. Atwell is seeking refugee status for herself and her child.
Of course, this is a strategic play because no right-minded individual would compare the lumbering, flawed judicial system here to the one in the United States.
But we also wonder if she does not have legal custody how can she apply for refugee status on behalf of her daughter?
Of course, in Costa Rica mothers are sacred. Whenever there is an international custody dispute, women gather at the judicial complex to support uncritically the mother of the hour.
Some supporters of Roy Koyama, Emily's father, have suggested that the United States freeze international aid from Costa Rica. A.M. Costa Rica will not go that far, but the lack of response and action by the U.S. Embassy make one wonder.
— Feb. 14, 2011
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Two judicial flaws create grossly unfair situations
|Wednesday a news story about a
Florida court case illustrated some deficiencies in Costa Rican law.
We have no way of knowing who will prevail in the Florida case. A former businessman here alleged in his suit that Costa Rican lawyers conspired with some of his investors to bring false criminal charges against him and that these continuing efforts destroyed the company he ran here.
However, in bringing the case, the lawyer, Craig A. Brand, pointed out some serious problems with Costa Rican law.
Anyone is vulnerable to private court cases because any lawyer can file such a case, including criminal cases. Frequently lawyers will file a private criminal case even while they know the case is a tissue of lies. The purpose is strategic.
Brand said lawyers did so to him in an effort to extort money. Perhaps they did. But we know of other situations when such cases have been filed to stop civil cases when it appears one side would lose.
This is a typical and reprehensible technique used here. The real problem is that there is no mechanism in place for judges
| to throw out weak or fake
cases at an early stage. Such actions usually have to go to a full
trial, causing great expense to the victimized individuals and
frequently delaying justice.
The second aspect illustrated by the Brand case is that a judge can issue a prohibition against someone leaving the country and the subject of the order does not find out until he or she is at the airport. No one should be the subject of a secret judicial order. Each person should have the right to contest the order quickly before a judge. That means the the judiciary should notify the person who is the subject of the impedimento de salida order. Such orders should not languish in secret in the immigration computer system for months or years until someone has invested money in air tickets and travel.
Again, these orders can be used strategically to bring pressure on an individual whether for legal or private reasons. The orders frequently are placed against foreign expats because opposing lawyers can argue that the individual might flee.
Both of these issues are grossly unfair. The sad part is that everyone in the judiciary and in government knows it and they do nothing to remedy the unfairness.
— Feb. 10, 2011
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Time has come to end disgusting practice of shark finning
|Costa Rica needs to live up to its
environmentalist reputation by banning the practice of shark finning in
its waters and to forbid the shipment of shark fins.
So far the country has bobbed and weaved but failed to take decisive steps to crack down on this despicable practice.
A lower-court judge once again has stifled efforts to bring some kind of oversight to this practice. The judge, Rosa Cortes Morales, acted at the request of Mariscos Wang S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes el Pescador S.A. to annul an agreement that would make shark finners dump their cargo at a public dock in Puntarenas.
For obvious reasons, these ravagers of the seas prefer to hide their cargo by unloading at friendly private docks.
The court decision was reported by the Programa de Restauración de las Tortugas Marinas, an environmental group that has been fighting shark finning for years.
The agreement was between the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura and the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes. The effect of the agreement was to require shark fishermen to obey the law.
Judge Cortez took the unusual step of throwing out the agreement without hearing from the other side because the shark finners and their wholesalers claimed irreparable damage, according to the decision. They would be damaged by abiding by the law.
There is more to come in this legal process, but Round One goes to the shark finners.
They say that people cannot comprehend large numbers. To say that 200,000 persons died in the Haitian earthquake does not have the emotional impact of seeing the damaged body of a single Haitian baby.
That may be true with shark finning. In 2006 the first quantitative study of sharks harvested for their fins estimates that as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide. This number is three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, said the study.
Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas photo
Shark fins drying on a Puntarenas rooftop
That number is hard to fathom. But the adjacent photo shows a number of shark fins, and each represents an animal dumped back in the ocean to die. The photo came from the Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, which reported that the photo shows a Puntarenas rooftop being used to dry shark fins. The photographer had to flee.
From time to time government officials take note of shark finning. When the film "Sharkwater" played in San José, then-legislator Ofelia Taitelbaum, a former biology professor, said she would introduce a bill to ban the practice. Nothing ever came of it.
Ms. Taitelbaum is now the defensora de los habitantes and would seem to be in a position to follow through if she were not just posturing in 2007.
The general belief is that Costa Rican officials have not cracked down on shark finning because Asian governments that provide aid to the country have an interest in the practice continuing. Shark fins are used in Asia cooking, although nutritionally they are less adequate than many other meals. Perhaps the new stadium, a gift from China, should be called the Arena of Dead Sharks.
— Feb. 7, 2011
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
At some point there must be a reason to discard pacifism
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica
Costa Rica does not seem to be having much success finding international support to counter Nicaragua's invasion of a small patch of national soil.
A Costa Rican letter writer Monday said this:
"I am certain that if you asked civilized, average Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans if they believe that that patch of God-forsaken land is worth the life of one single person on either side, they would respond with a resounding NO! Costa Ricans don’t go to war at the drop of a hat, not because we are 'cowards with no backbone,' but because we are smart and educated."
Much has been made of this country's tradition of existing without an army. Also highly valued is the tradition of neutrality.
Both are pragmatic positions what have morphed into myth. José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army after he won the country's civil war. He had good, pragmatic reasons. The army in many countries is the likely source of rebellion. Later in life he said that his decision had a sound philosophical basis, too.
Costa Rican school children are encouraged to believe that Costa Rica is special because it does not have an army. The money they would have spent on military has been spent on education, social services and infrastructure, so the theory goes.
Clearly it has not been spent on roads and bridges.
|President Luis Alberto Monge
declared the country to be neutral when it appeared that Costa Rica
would be swept into the Nicaraguan civil war. There was a recent
ceremony praising that pragmatic decision.
Can Costa Rica be neutral in all things? We know it is neutral with regard to the Taliban suppression of women in Afghanistan. Other nations and the United Nations have taken up that fight.
But where does Costa Rica draw the line? Perhaps the letter writer is correct and that a small chunk of national territory is not worth fighting for. After all, the Isla Calero appears to be mostly a home for large mosquitoes.
But if Nicaraguan forces move down the Río Colorado deep into Costa Rica, is that worth fighting for? How about Guanacaste? If Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega wants that land back after 186 years, is that worth fighting for?
President Laura Chinchilla seems to think that there should be a line drawn. She has beefed up the northern border with heavily armed police.
Myths of neutrality and the effectiveness of international law often clash with realities. Clearly no one can be neutral in the face of Nazi aggression and concentration camps. Nor can one be neutral when one country calls for the elimination of another country.
At least the citizens cannot remain neutral and claim any pretensions to moral superiority.
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