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|San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, Vol. 16, No. 236|
|Page One is HERE!
Page 2 is HERE! Page Three is HERE!
Page Four is HERE! Sports page is HERE!
Useful links HERE!
A.M. Costa Rica editorial
The crime is posting the truth to the Internet
|When lawmakers in the
last legislative session proposed to criminalize describing Costa Rica
as a sex tourism destination, we laughed.
Certainly common sense would prevail, we thought. You cannot criminalize posting truthful information to the Internet, right? Wrong.
The bill passed the legislature and then-president Laura Chinchilla signed the measure into law. The sex tourism crime was hidden within a series of other measures.
Certainly this will be one of those Costa Rica laws that no one enforces, right? Wrong.
Judicial police picked up a 65-year-old fan of adult prostitutes at Juan Santamaría Friday.
He will be prosecuted under a law that cannot withstand close inspection.
|The man's crime, it
appears, is writing about his extensive sexual
exploits here and in other countries. Certainly he is not someone the
average person would invite to lunch, but freedom of expression is
designed to protect unpleasant statements.
The general theme of the man's writing is that Costa Rica and some other Latin countries are sexual tourism destinations. And that is the truth.
The government cannot make this fact go away by making it a forbidden topic. The country has chosen not to prosecute prostitution, and that is a fact, too. Even the U.S. State Department says that Costa Rica is a sex tourism destination.
So the arrest raises troubling questions about the competency of prosecutors and lawmakers, and expats can wonder what topic will be the next that will be made off-limits.
— Sept. 8, 2015
Costa Rica editorial
$35 million convention center will be another government boondoggle
government continues its efforts to build a convention center, an
investment of some $35 million.
Spearheaded by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, the center is supposed to generate more tourism for Costa Rica. We think it will be another white elephant.
The reason why private sources have not built such an ambitious project is because it would not be profitable. Certainly some hotels and restaurants in the vicinity of the Heredia location west of the capital will benefit.
But even for a 5 percent return, the government would need to generate $33,600 a week in income from the convention center. Considering the fact that the tourism institute and the central government could not market themselves out of a paper bag, the chances of this happening is not even slim.
Such convention centers have shown themselves to be white elephants in many U.S. communities. Certainly some with adjacent attractions, such as in Las Vegas, have shown themselves to be marginally beneficial.
government does not understand is that management and promotion are key
to such ventures.
Yes, having a sprawling facility to house the conventions of national political parties would be great. But not profitable.
Much of this money will come from the tourism institute, the cash cow for several government projects.
A convention center is a business, not a real estate investment. The new stadium, donated by China, presents a similar situation. There are salaries and continual upkeep. And there is marketing.
The tourism institute has shown itself to be most inept at marketing. But everyone in the industry knows this and conducts individual marketing program.
Can anyone really see a weekly procession of conventions, perhaps two or three a week, out in Heredia.
If not, the convention center will be another financial disaster for a country that can ill afford another one.
— Aug. 3, 2015
|An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Climate change arguments seem to be one-sided
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica
The much-promoted scientific consensus on human-induced global warming is troubling.
At one point the scientific consensus was that the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around it. Only in the 1960s did scientists begin to accept the theory of plate tectonics, something that is well-established today.
Science is supposed to be where opposing ideas collide and duke it out with evidence. Much of the global warming research relies on computer models and extrapolation.
Extrapolation tells us that when a child grows six inches between ages 3 and 6 that he or she will be 30 feet tall by age 45.
Then there is the problem of academic publishing. Professors get good marks at their universities when a scientific paper is published. Published papers and books result in promotion and tenure. Academics are more likely to go along to get along instead of challenging consensus.
In 1999 German scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research concluded that the Sahara's abrupt desertification started by changes in the earth's orbit. Could they get their views published today?
Even in unrelated academic papers we see brief asides to global warming, as in:
"And with global warming more lemmings are expected to take the suicide jump."
Then there is misleading terminology. So called ocean acidification is one. The image is of little fish being stripped of their flesh by acid. In fact, the oceans are nowhere near acidic on a pH scale. Research shows that there has been some slight movement toward neutral. But neutrification of the ocean does not have the same effect.
No one should doubt that the world has gotten warmer. The latest Ice Age is gone along with the megafauna. There is no doubt that the oceans are rising and have done so
years. And there should not be a dispute about making the air cleaner.
The United Nations is a political organization, not a scientific one. There is reasonable fear that the whole global warming scenario is about control.
Proponents of global warming see a placid past. They warn that a warmer earth will create more hurricanes, deserts and other life-threatening conditions. In fact, the world has been anything but placid. North Africa used to be the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. Giant cypress used to cover the U.S. Midwest. Volcano eruptions darken the skies for decades, causing civilizations to collapse. Long droughts do the same thing. And then a rock from space really messes up the landscape.
Change is inevitable and frequently unwelcome.
The ocean has risen hundreds of feet in the last 11,000 years. The plain of Nicoya is now the Gulf of Nicoya. Florida's west coast used to be hundreds of miles distant. The turtles have endured, despite these changes. So warnings that global warming will inundate the breeding grounds may be true but give little credit to the turtles and nature's way of making more beaches.
There is a major U.N. climate conference in December intended to reach an international deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Will anyone present a view that global warming will have some benefits?
The Costa Rican economics ministry Monday announced an Alianza para la Carbono Neutralidad. The idea is to encourage more and more companies to adjust their operations to generate less carbon dioxide. All this is being done against a backdrop of active volcanoes that are spewing tons of all sorts of gases into the the atmosphere.
Does anyone want to bet that the alliance will quickly become mandatory?
Should not the government direct its attention to inevitable change and take appropriate action?
— Feb. 25, 2015
|An A.M. Costa Rica
Constitutional court seems to stray into legislating in key opinions
are surprised that the constitutional court could find the corporate
tax law unconstitutional yet still encourage collection through the end
of this year.
This is just another example of the magistrates in the Corte Suprema de Justicia legislating. The court also found that a constitutional prohibition against appointing clergy as government ministers does not include individuals who are not Catholic.
Expats need to remember that magistrates are political appointees. When the court was deciding the fate of Melvin Jiménez, the minister of the Presidencia, the central government was considering the national budget, which includes money for the judiciary.
Judicial activism goes back much further than that. Óscar Arias Sánchez received the right for a second term, thanks to a favorable judicial opinion. The 2003 ruling by the Sala IV was the second attempt to overturn the 1969 constitutional prohibition. Basically the court found the constitution to be unconstitutional in much the same way it did to allow Jiménez, a Lutheran bishop, to keep his government job.
But the court went further in the Arias case. Out of thin air it ruled that presidents must wait four years before seeking re-election.
continues with the decision that the annual tax on mercantile companies
is not constitutional. The legislature, the court found, failed to
publish significant changes to the measure before it was passed.
That is an allegation that can be checked easily, a slam-dunk in other words. There was no reason for the Sala IV magistrates to wait nearly a year before announcing the decision. Suspicious minds might think that the magistrates did so in order to give the government a slug of money even if the law was unconstitutional.
The decision said operators of corporations must pay the tax, nearly $400 for active corporations, for 2015. And there was no suggestion that the government should give back the money collected with an unconstitutional tax.
Some lawyers were quick to challenge that position in another appeal.
The finance ministry noted that 95 percent of the money collected from the tax goes to the security ministry to improve law enforcement, as if that justified an unconstitutional tax.
Expats might find refreshing a constitutional court that decides legal issues based on jurisprudence instead of the political winds.
— Feb. 2, 2015
|An A.M. Costa
A national budget that cannot be cut requires much more tax
|The decision by
the full legislature Thursday night to reject 3.8 percent in cuts to
the 2015 national budget is a sure sign that the Solís
administration will push for higher taxes instead of a combination of
more taxes and reductions in expenses.
With the current legislative makeup, a good bet is that any new taxes will target corporations and higher income individuals.
The government of Luis Guillermo Solís has been promoting a value-added tax. Officials were thrilled when a World Bank adviser suggested a 15 percent tax instead of the existing 13 percent sales tax.
Legislative members of Frente Amplio said they voted against budget reductions to protect social spending in the budget. They are unlikely to support a plan like a value-added tax that takes money from all levels of society. Such a tax is called regressive, and that is a good reason for the more leftist members of the legislature to oppose it.
A long time technique of this and other governments is to mouth platitudes about helping the poor while erecting complicated and extensive bureaucracies purportedly to help the underclass. And also brothers-in-law.
|There also are the
bait-and-switch tactics of governments. Solís may say he seeks a
15 percent value-added tax just to generate opposition. If he then
switches themes and moves to sock it to the wealthy and the
corporations, he will have instant support from those who opposed the
A week from today begins the so-called extraordinary session of the legislature. These are the periods in the year when the executive branch controls the agenda. This is when the central government will be sending up proposed legislation to lawmakers.
Later in the week, Casa Presidencial will outline what bills these will be. Plans for new taxes are expected.
Solís, himself, opposed cuts to the proposed budget. So there is a pretty good chance that major reductions in government spending will not be forthcoming.
Presumably no one in government has heard of the law of diminishing returns.
—Nov. 24, 2014
An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
A real investigation requires outside experts
|The idea sounds
great: To create a commission to investigate the penetration of
organized crime and drug traffickers into the judiciary.
That is until the members of the commission are listed. They are the magistrates, chief prosecutor and the head of the Judicial Investigating Organization. At the very least, these people do not have the time to conduct a deep investigation. At worst, one could say these are the usual suspects who got their jobs by politicking in a warped and perhaps corrupt institution.
After all, the chief prosecutor is supposed to prosecute crimes like this anyway.
The supreme court magistrates and others in the judiciary are stung because a sitting judge in Limón is accused of influencing the outcome of drug cases.
So the judiciary wants to put more judges in Limón and even provide more training. Judges need training to realize they should not be crooked?
And why the emphasis on organized crime and drug cases. Are not there enough suspicious activities within the courts that wholesale investigations are warranted? What about those many cases of property
prosecutors never get around to trying? How about the use of the courts
to extort money from otherwise upstanding individuals. How about the
judges who hand down light sentences because they fear members of the
community. How about the judges who hand down sentences that have
little relation to reality?
There is a lot wrong with the system, and a commission with a 30-day deadline will not solve even the little problems.
The magistrates need to go outside the existing system and bring in real investigators and real judicial experts. And they need to seek input from the public. And they should not concentrate on Limón. Every one of the judicial districts generates suspicious actions.
A.M. Costa Rica hears frequently from expats who think that they have been cheated or mistreated in the courts. And these are a very small subset of the people who live in this country.
And the investigating should extend to the disciplinary process at the Colegio de Abogodos, the lawyer protective association. It appears that the only reason the colegio pulls the license of a lawyer is if he or she does not pay required dues. The organization has been granted a public responsibility. It should be much more aggressive.
— May 21, 2014
|A clever politician like Araya will not be cowed by opinion
|Well, news people
will not have Johnny Araya to kick around any more. Or will they?
Araya was far more gracious in terminating his campaign Wednesday than was Richard Nixon in 1962 when he lost the California governorship. Nixon's bitter comment about not getting kicked around any more proves that strange things happen in politics.
Araya's surprise announcement Wednesday that basically said he will not compete for the presidency April 6 also was a surprise. That does not mean he can be counted out.
Behind that smiling face is the brain of a politician. He has survived all sorts of crises. The odds are that he will be back.
A few expat political pundits, fueled with Imperial, might say Araya was chicken and did not want to be humiliated in the runoff election. Some Costa Ricans were heard saying this Wednesday afternoon. Araya's skin is tougher than that.
|The decision not
to campaign appears more of a strategic withdrawal. Araya said he did
not want to continue with expensive political advertising and was
making the decision for the benefit of the Costa Rican people. By not
bankrupting the Partido Liberación Nacional, the political
organization can continue to be a major player.
There are little more than four weeks left before the runoff. Regardless of the public opinion deficit that Araya saw in polling data, there was still a chance to be victorious, even with the Marquess of Queensberry campaign rules that the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones imposes.
That suggests there still is a fact unknown that figures prominently in Araya's decision.
Of course, if all goes as expected and Luis Guillermo Solís becomes president, he may wish he quit when he sees the financial mess and the many other problems facing the nation.
— March 6, 2014
|An A.M. Costa
Stadium melee is logical result of fuzzy thinking
officials are treating the riot by soccer fans Sunday as a sports
President Laura Chinchilla met Wednesday with presidents of the various professional soccer clubs, representatives of the Federación Costarricense de Fútbol, the national sports institute and security officials.
The rioting during a professional soccer game Sunday at the Estadio Nacional is a reflection of a criminal justice problem. These individuals are members of groups identified as sports fans or barras. In fact, they are criminal gangs that are responsible for many of the crimes in the metro area.
These gangs grew and developed because of the country's dysfunctional court system and its permissive attitude towards youngsters. Ms. Chinchilla should have been meeting with magistrates and lawmakers to tighten up the juvenile code.
Of course, many of the members of these barras are not juveniles now, although they benefited in their youth from a court system that seldom punishes crimes by those under 18. At least we don't think so. It's hard to tell because all that is done in secret.
Costa Rica is harvesting what it has sown. These barras include persons in their middle ages. And most members of the group are over 18.
So far the only action against those involved in the Sunday melee is
detention against two young toughs who were caught in the act of
committing a robbery inside the stadium. Although as many as 53 persons
were detained, little real punishment is expected.
At the risk of provoking outrage one might suggest that what is needed here is a series of sound thrashings. Costa Rica, of course, considers corporal punishment to be child abuse. Officials are not too fond either of sending 12-year-olds out into the fields for harvest. Local representatives of the United Nations and a litany of non-profit child defense groups also would be outraged by these character building procedures.
Costa Rica is operating with outdated social science principles when officials insist on keeping secret the names of youthful offenders. Do they expect something magic to happen when anti-social youth reaches 18?
Day after day judicial investigators or Fuerza Pública officers detain persons under 18 for major crimes. Then nothing more is heard of the case. Many are repeat, repeat, repeat offenders.
The country needs effective and tough criminal enforcement even for the juveniles. That way they will not grow up to be the individuals who are keeping the crime rate so high.
Ms. Chinchilla has issued a decree with penalties for misbehavior at sporting events. What about on the streets?
— Feb. 20, 2014
|Human rights appear to be restricted to national borders now
|Costa Rica took a
step into murky ethical grounds when President Laura Chinchilla
accepted the temporary presidency of the Community of Latin American
and Caribbean States last week.
The group of 33 nations met in Havana, and Ms. Chinchilla probably is thrilled that she could bring home this prize to her country.
There is just one problem. The heads of state agreed to these statements as well as others:
• The commitment of the states of the region with their strict obligation not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other state and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples.
• The commitment of the Latin American and Caribbean States to fully respect for the inalienable right of every state to choose its political, economic, social, and cultural system, as an essential condition to ensure peaceful coexistence among nations.
Castro, the conference host, was thrilled at the resolutions. So should
any other tin pot politician. By contrast the Organization of American
States, the competing hemispheric organization, supports democracy and
once expelled Cuba for its brutal policies.
The twin resolutions say pretty much the same thing: One country should not interfere in the policies or conditions in another.
But isn't Costa Rica the country that went to war in 1956 to throw filibuster William Walker out of Nicaragua? The country also was with the allies during World War II.
But now, enslavement, second-class citizens and perhaps even concentration camps will be OK if another country choses to set up such a system.
This is the same organization that a day earlier sided with Argentina and called on Britain to negotiate over the Falkland Islands. Perhaps they forgot that Margaret Thatcher already sent negotiators to the islands in 1982.
— Feb. 3, 2014
|An A.M. Costa
Foes and backers of global warming should not use single event as evidence
|Those who dispute
human-caused global warming are using the brutal cold spell in the
United States and Canada as evidence to support their argument. But so
are those who support the idea that human activity is driving the
Last March the Weather Underground reported that some scientists, eyeing the fourth year in a row of exceptionally harsh late-winter weather in parts of Europe and North America, suggest warming is precisely the problem.
A Web site called politicususa.com reported Sunday that despite a bitter cold weekend in the U.S., climate models indicate global warming is intensifying.
The Union of Concerned Scientists said Friday on its Web site that hotter air around the globe causes more moisture to be held in the air than in prior seasons, so when storms occur, this added moisture can fuel heavier precipitation in the form of more intense rain or snow.
Another site, Grist, instructs true believers how to respond to people who cite cold weather as evidence against global warming. "Researchers expected a colder winter — thanks to global warming," it said.
Clearly snippets of evidence can be used to support any argument. Here are some facts:
1. The world is getting warmer. The Northern U.S. and Canada are not groaning under gigantic glaciers. They have receded but probably will return. They have in the past.
2. The sea level is rising. The plain of Nicoya where megafauna once romped is now under water and called the gulf of Nicoya. The oceans have risen some 200 feet since the end of the Ice Age.
3. Clean air is good. Efforts to eliminate vehicle exhaust and industrial pollution will lengthen many lives.
4. Politicians will continue to exploit for their own benefit any physical or social change. And they may do it with out full knowledge of what they are doing.
A graph like this one that uses small increments in measurement tends to exaggerate the changes.
5. Scientists and academics will continue to be rated, evaluated, promoted and praised for sticking to the orthodox line in whatever research papers they publish.
6. Extrapolation is bad science. Measure the growth spurt of a child and then extrapolate. You will estimate your youngster's height will be 30 feet by the time he or she reaches 35.
7. Garbage in means garbage out even with the most sophisticated computer models, either about the weather or who will win the Superbowl.
8. Average is a statistical term, but real world data have a tendency to dance around the average.
9. The measurement of world temperatures is statistical sampling, so the results must have a range of probability around them. The world has warmed 1.53 degrees F (0.85 degrees C) from 1880 to 2012, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
10. The benefits of a warmer world have hardly been addressed.
|When there are problems at the embassy, it is the system and
not the people
|There are several
problems with the way the State Department interacts with U.S. citizens
and others overseas.
A story on Page One Nov. 14 outlines such a case. The problems are really systemic rather than individual.
We cannot think of a person we know who has worked at an embassy in a customer service capacity who was not open and friendly. It is the system that is at fault for many of the bad feelings among expats and Costa Ricans.
A Costa Rican who is denied a visa quickly learns that there is no formal appeal process. There ought to be one.
Additionally, the State Department applies the U.S. Privacy Act overbroadly so that nearly all of the embassy's actions are hidden. This cuts both ways. Bad decisions can be hidden from the public. But also the embassy can be hampered in replying to false or misleading accusations.
Most of the time State Department officials work in a country where there is no resident English-language press. Embassy workers here are not that lucky. A.M. Costa Rica tries to keep track of embassy activities. That is not an easy job because the embassy is a closed community and reporters are infrequently welcomed.
Usually news stories are about silly or bad events. There was the case when embassy staffers turned down a Costa Rican business woman who sought a visa to attend the funeral of her U.S. citizen son who was killed in action in Iraq. She eventually went.
Then there is the $50,000 electric car that cannot travel across country.
|There also have
been news stories about how embassy staffers refuse to confront the
truth of legal adult prostitution in Costa Rica when they prepare the
annual trafficking in persons report. One would think that they might
just mention it to provide some background for those reading about the
We also question some of the feel-good grants to organizations that are supposedly rehabilitating former prostitutes. Some in Washington have a guilt complex.
Then there are the politically appointed ambassadors of either party who are spending taxpayers' money here fattening their resumes.
Despite these, one must have respect for many of the embassy staffers who have served in war-torn areas. But we demand that they follow their own rules. If they cite the Privacy Act, they must know that death extinguishes privacy concerns. But embassy spokesperson still do not comment on the circumstances surrounding a dead American. Sometimes the information is critical and unlikely to be provided by the local police. Has the embassy ever gone public with an appeal about a missing American? The Australians and the French have.
Many Americas have had trouble finding out about relatives missing or dead in Costa Rica. The State Department which makes the rules insists that information must only be shared with legitimate next-of kin who may not be a mother or a sister. Embassy staffers should have a little freedom to act in what they think is best considering the situation.
And the embassy workers should be able to answer questions candidly abut their job and their interaction with the public so that taxpayers can evaluate their work.
— Nov. 14, 2013
|What the country needs is a balanced
|A drunken sailor
in port on leave has a more stable financial situation than Costa Rica.
The central government is spending about twice as much as it brings in. Now the finance ministry is setting up roundtables so that the public can have a chance to comment.
Few of the public will attend, and the sessions will be dominated by special interests. After all, how many citizens can talk intelligently on national fiscal policy and national debt?
There is no secret to solving the governments problem. Officials must spend less, reduce the state workforce and encourage private enterprise. Unfortunately, just like in Washington, these are not words politicians want to hear. They want to continue handing out somebody else's money to get votes.
What Costa Rica and the United States need are balanced budget amendments. The amendment should say that spending cannot exceed income. Some U.S. states have this, and the state lawmakers know that if they fail they could face criminal charges.
That is not what the various special interest want. There are so many boards, panels and such that probably even Edgar Ayales, the minister, knows where the money is going.
We have said in the past that every colon spent should be listed in a Web site with the name of the recipient and the reason for the expense. That is called transparency, which is esteemed more in principal than practice. The technology to do this is here now with the Internet.
In the short-run Costa Rica (and the United States) have some hard decisions. They must divest unneeded government property. What ever happened to the inventory of state-owned property that was ordered here three years ago?
Consider how many mostly empty pretty buildings the Costa Rica government owns. And they keep buying and fixing up more.
Many politicians pay lip service to the phrase that those who have more should pay more. That is a justification for
progressive taxation. Why is this true? We suspect that these politicians have been hanging around Europe too long where the socialist states are in full bloom.
How about some of these measures:
• Require every patient who visits the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social for medical care, hospital or clinic, to pay 1,000 colons, about $2.
• Revisit the nation's environmental policy and consider again the benefits of gold, oil and natural gas production.
• Get that dry canal running from Limón to Caldera on the national rail line. Unload ships in Limón and put the cargo on another boat in Caldera. This is cheaper than going through the Panamá Canal.
• Eliminate aguinaldos, the Christmas bonus, from part-time board positions and other administrative posts that are not real jobs.
• Do a complete inventory of state-owned vehicles to see which are necessary. Too many officials are being driven to lunch in state vehicles.
• Mandate that any new spending bills here or in Washington to include a statement as to from where the money is coming.
• Give corrupt politicians real prison sentences instead of a couple of years suspended.
• Reduce the number of ministries as well as the number of employees. Does Costa Rica really need a sports ministry?
• Consider some sting operations as a reader suggested Thursday to catch evaders.
• Eliminate the dedicated taxes that tie the hands of central government budget writers
We wonder how many of these obvious actions will show up in the final proposed tax laws the finance ministry comes up with.
— Oct. 18, 2013
|Who has the biggest motive for the Syrian gas attack?|
|The question no
one seems anxious to answer is what was the strategy that would have
caused troops loyal to the Syrian government to fire missiles with
deadly gas on civilians.
President Barack Obama goes on television tonight to try to rally the United States to support some sort of strike against the Syrian regime.
The attack Aug. 21 supposedly was on a Damascus suburb that wire services say were populated with opposition supporters. About 1,400 persons died.
Said Obama in his weekly address Saturday:
"We are the United States of America. We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we have seen out of Syria."
But what was the goal in gassing at least 400 children? The answer to that is troubling to the utmost.
There was no strategic advantage to the Syrian regime from the attack. The murders were designed for headlines. The principal suspects are 1.) the opposition, 2.) certain people in Washington or perhaps Langley. Whoever did the crime is trying to take advantage of Obama's low popularity and his desire to act presidential.
But the real danger is that if the U.S. launches some form of attack, there could be a false flag operation within the United States that could be blamed on the Iranians or Muslim terrorists. The advantage to that would be further tightening of the central governments control in light of the embarrassment over the NSA eavesdropping.
Certainly the Syrian opposition would love to see the United
States enter the civil war on its side. Considering the caliber of
|the people in the
opposition, a gas attack to make a political point is not out of the
The Israelis, who have been considered suspects, really have no advantage in supporting either side. Israeli officials hope for a prolonged and bloody civil war wiping out any number of potential enemies.
But what about the motives of some in the United States. A.M. Costa Rica is not a fan of Barack Obama. But this newspaper could never believe that he or his close aides were behind the attack for public relations reasons. Some have suggested that Obama wants to launch an attack against Syria so he would look presidential. And he may do that. Even if Obama had such a depraved mind that he would engineer a sarin gas attack, the presidency is far too visible to keep such an act hidden for long.
That is why the suspicions fall on the dark figures lurking in the basements of certain government buildings. These are places where pragmatism rules, and morality and ethics are words in a dictionary.
Suppose Obama launches an attack. Suddenly sarin gas canisters are opened in New York City with fatal results. The U.S. response to this presumed attack would be to tighten further the unconstitutional actions of the new authoritarians in Washington. More restrictions on travel. Perhaps martial law. Perhaps justification for NSA eavesdropping and the need for more.
The best part of this conspiracy is that most officials would not have to be in on the dirty secret. They would respond knee-jerk and uncritically to the presumed threat.
—Sept. 9, 2013
opinion seems to have done a quick handstand
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica
Some 24 years ago in the twilight of the Cold War, there
Individuals differ, but the average of their opinions, we thought, could be calculated and compared to the opinions of residents of other countries.
There is a lot of evidence to support that. The British
|A little while
later the Iron Curtain collapsed opening up previously inaccessible
countries to academic study.
The jubilation of the destruction of the wall between East and West seemed to be a ratification of the idea that all peoples would seek freedom and free expression if given the chance. That was the dream.
The index project never got completed because of time and other endeavors, and, in retrospect, clearly we were naive.
Today such a project would have to consider fear of personal safety and other factors that cause citizens to accept the actions of their governments.
There once was a time when many newspeople thought that the public was prone to defend free expression and their reporting.
If a heavy-handed authoritarian figure rose up to squelch the press, the people would rise up and duplicate the final scenes in
The mood of the U.S. public seems to have changed drastically since 1974 or 1989, and what was considered attributes of the public mind are clearly false now.
Imagine a new index questionnaire that asked respondents:
1. How likely are you to allow federal officers to inspect your shoes as you walk barefoot through the airport?
2. How strongly would you oppose letting security guards xray you down to your undies before you board a plane.
3. Would you call yourself concerned or unconcerned if thousands of your fellow citizens were prohibited from flying in airplanes for reasons that were not disclosed to them?
4. How strongly would you support rounding up Muslims and putting them in camps to keep our country safe?
Obviously we must begin working on a totally new index.
— Aug. 23, 2013
|There should be no citizenship path for
U.S. illegal immigrants
|Illegal immigrants in the United
States should not be granted a path to citizenship.
The immigration bill now in the U.S. Senate is a bad idea. It rewards illegal acts.
In addition, the security of the country's border should not be linked to legalizing illegal immigrants. The border should be secure. Period.
Democrats and Republicans who support the measure are simply playing politics to win themselves some votes. It is not true that just because someone had family roots in Latin America they favor this current amnesty proposal. Many Central and South Americans took the long, hard route to gain U.S. residency. To reward law breakers is an insult to them.
The United States should first secure the border. The first step should be in not returning those caught trying to enter the United States illegally. They should be charged and convicted. Then they should be imprisoned. Now when illegal immigrant are returned to México they simply try again.
|After securing the border, the
United States should find out exactly who is in the country illegally.
They should offer an illegal immigration identification card.
Those who apply for the card and are found to be free of serious
criminal convictions should be allowed to stay temporarily. Those who
do not apply should be caught and deported.
There also should be an effective seasonable labor program created to provide farm workers. But the time in the country should be short, and families should stay in México.
Once those who do not apply for the ID card are rounded up, sorted out and deported, the country will have a better idea of the illegal immigrant situation. However, at no time in the future should these law breakers be able to win citizenship. Residency perhaps.
The current program that is in the U.S. Senate is not workable. Illegals in the United States are unlikely to learn English and take all the steps required in the amnesty program. Then what?
— June 27, 2013
|Self defense is a fundamental human right
even for expats
|Self-defense is clearly a
fundamental right. That has been the rule in Anglo Saxon jurisprudence
since at least the 17th century,
The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld this principle in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and again in McDonald v. Chicago two years later.
Yet the Laura Chinchilla administration is systematically stripping expats of this fundamental right. A proposed law would mimic a presidential decree that forbids all but permanent residents from owning a firearm.
We think that persons in many other residency categories should be able to exercise this right. Pensionados, by definition, are older residents. Firearms training makes them equal to some strung-out junkie who invades their homes. Rentistas are called that because they have a significant monthly flow of money. This makes them prime targets for crooks. Let's not forget inversionistas. By definition, persons in this immigration category have money.
How about those folks here on a missionary visa who frequently find themselves in the more crime-ridden parts of the country?
President Chinchilla can afford to be above this debate because she is surrounded by men with guns. The proposed firearms bill in the legislature would allocate three handguns each to every minister and vice minster. Mere mortals who are citizens or permanent residents would be restricted to one.
Why not let ministers apply for a gun permit just like any other citizen if they think they need one. Or is it because President Chinchilla does not understand governments are supposed to
|fear the citizenry and not the other
There is a long history in the world of disarming vulnerable citizens. Protestants disarmed Catholics in 17th century England.
Those who helped write the U.S. Constitution feared that the federal government would disarm the people in order to disable a citizens’ militia, enabling a politicized standing army or a select militia to rule, the U.S. Supreme Court noted in McDonald.
After the U.S. Civil War, the Southern States engaged in systematic efforts to disarm and injure African Americans, as the U.S. Supreme court noted in Heller.
The Chinchilla administration or the subsequent administration needs to recognize the human right that is inherent in self defense and restore that right to pensionados and rentistas. And the right should be extended to other vulnerable classes.
The penalty for using a firearm in the commission of a crime should be toughened. How often are crooks let off with a rap of the knuckles after shooting a robbery victim. Each day there are gun crimes reported but infrequently are there any penalties announced.
Everyone in Costa Rica would be happy to give up firearms if they were assured that there would be no crime and that the police and legal system would be adequate protection. That is not reality, and the president knows it.
If she wants to save lives, Ms. Chinchilla would be better off making motorcycles illegal instead of restricting guns.
— June 23, 2013
|Overreaching is a sure way to destroy the
security of U.S.
|The news that the U. S. security
agencies are neck deep in data about the communications of citizens
should come as no surprise to those living overseas. For years, the
U.S. has acknowledged that foreign telephone calls, emails and other
forms of communication were routinely intercepted.
The shocking part of the revelations last week is that this is happening to U.S. citizens in the United States. Also shocking is that President Barack Obama says that the loss of some constitutional privacy is worth the information collected by the surveillance.
Talk about a slippery slope.
Of course, average Americans probably would agree as long as their world is not disturbed. For the National Security Agency
|and the other organizations that are
spending billions to collect this data, the program augments their
power and their number of employees.
Sitting in front of a computer screen checking out thousands of telephone calls is a lot easier than actually doing police work.
Meanwhile the borders of the United States still are porous, and the Obama administration is spending millions to bring potential terrorists and their families to the country.
We can think of no better way to destroy the effectiveness of legitimate national security than to encourage overreaching programs that eventually will bring a public backlash.
— June 10, 2013
|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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