30K minors currently employed in Costa Rica

The central government estimates that there are 30,000 youngsters between 5 and 17 years that are working after the Costa Rican national household survey for 2016 showed 12,000 minors were not officially working. The number represents only around a single percentage decrease.

According to the Módulo de Trabajo Infantil, the employment rate dropped with these new numbers from 4.3 percent to around 3.1 percent of the total workforce, according to the government’s data.

The government believes that this represents a success for the administration of Luis Guillermo Solís whose strategic plan to reduce and eventually eliminate child labor is making some progress. On the flip side, the Encuesta Nacional de Hogares which is the name of the government census showed enrollment in schools increased to around 86 percent as well. That is a 4.3 percent increase from five years ago, according to the data provided.

The Región Central of the country constitutes the location where more than half of all working minors in the country are. Around 60 percent of those minors work in agriculture and livestock.

Among other programs the government gives money to poor families whose children had been working if the youngsters go to school instead.

The central government and the International Labour Organization, a U.N. agency, frown on children working before they turn 18. However, some sources suggest that reasonable work provides financial and social benefits for children.

Many of the jobs here are not reasonable. Some parents put very young children out in the street to beg for money. In addition, more than 50 percent of rural children have a job before they become adults.

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Embassy must prepare a daunting report

Somewhere inside the sprawling U.S. embassy complex in Pavas, there are one or two persons struggling to provide the data for this year’s human trafficking report.

Usually the report is boiler plated with ample sections simply copied from the previous year’s report. The report comes out each June and is based on information for the year ending this month.

This year is different. Basing the analysis on the strictest definition of the term, some could believe that the government of Costa Rica and some Central American countries have been the biggest human traffickers. Costa Rica helped about 8,000 Cubans early last year and countless Haitians and Africans later to migrate toward the United States.

Technically, this was not a legal action because Costa Rica’s trafficking laws make no provision to legalize government actions. No one complained, but the embassy workers will have to figure out a way to justify these actions.

There also was widespread informal trafficking for a fee. Many migrants had to pay to enter the country, to travel through it and to leave it. There were no official government actions, but there were plenty of unofficial ones by officials.

The U.S. State Department that issues the report declines to recognize that adult prostitution is not criminalized here. That goes along with the department’s rule that forbids grants to organizations that encourage the legalization of prostitution.

Consequently, each year the report contains a glaring omission for Costa Rica as well as a handful of other countries. U.S. Embassy staffers decline to acknowledge the error that distorts understanding of the report. But they do obtain a lot of information from organizations that benefit from grants to rehabilitate failed prostitutes.

The report correctly notes that of nearly 1,000 prostitutes, agents of the embassy have failed to find one that has been trafficked, but the report blames the methodology and the interview process. The numbers of willing prostitutes would seem to make forced prostitution unnecessary here.

The Asociación La Sala eventually seeks to have prostitution recognized as a legitimate service enterprise where employees receive all the benefits given other members of the workforce. But this organization certainly will not receive U.S. funding.

What embassy staffers fail to report are the thousands of cases of incest, exploitation of the young or child marriages. Health officials report thousands of births to underage mothers each year.

Costa Rica just past what appears to be an unenforceable law that forbids marriage of those younger than 18. And there are criminal penalties based on the age differences of romantically involved couples.

The Spanish-language media seems to be reporting more on some of these situations, including the murder near Guápiles of a 16-year-old female companion by a man in his 40s over the weekend. The police report said that the girl had been living with the man for three years.

There also are several unresolved cases of long-term incest that rate news coverage in the newspapers and on television.

The trafficking report mostly is based on statements from government officials, news reports, and the input from those who benefit from the U.S. government’s grants. A clearer picture of the situation could be obtained by first-person research, but embassy staffers do not like to visit downtown San José.

Sex trafficking is the topic that draws the most interest in the State Department report. And in some countries there is forced prostitution or worse. But generally overlooked is the labor exploitation of domestic workers and others who are trafficking victims.

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Vehicle watchmen, although informal, will not be disappearing soon

By Rommel Téllez
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff


Wearing phosphorescent green or orange vests and sometimes wielding wooden sticks for self-protection, an army of cuidacarros have taken streets and sidewalks all over San José and claimed possession over it.

They are also called Guachimanes, a very informal translation of the English word watchmen, and have attributed themselves the duty of car surveillance in exchange for spare coins or sometimes a flat fare.

Basically, at one point or another, every single person in Costa Rica has dealt with them whether it was giving them money, ignoring them or in the worst case scenario, suffering damage to their vehicles for not paying their fees.

So, is there a way to reclaim the city and its parking places and give them back to the people? Unlikely.

According to Ministerio de Trabajo, guachimanes are informal workers and as such, they are out of its jurisdiction. If there is no employer, it seems to not be the ministry’s business.

“We have set a special committee to study these cases, but as of now, we are not legally obligated to intervene in the cuidadacarros business.” said Geovany Diaz, spokesperson for Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social.

The same question was asked to Francisco Cordero, regional sub-director of the Fuerza Pública who said it is not a felony to take care of cars and demand money in the public spaces.

“People pay because they want, but they are not forced to.”said Cordero. He believes that there should be more private parking as a way to deal with the issue.

He also considers that organizers of mass events should provide enough parking spaces to their audiences to avoid the arrival of guachimanes.

“Unless there is a threat, there is nothing Fuerza Pública can do about it.” he said. The sub-director did mention that some cuidacarros have a vigilante privado work permit that allows these workers to do their business legally.

However, Marcelo Solano, the director of the Policía Municipal de San José, said those permits only apply to people who watch out for cars inside a private property.

He explains that sometimes people get confused when they see guachimanes wearing a badge, but that doesn’t mean they can take ownership of public spaces.

“If you ask me if we can do something about it well, no, we can’t stop this. But what we do is to take preventive measures to avoid some cuidacarros from carrying batons, knives and any object which they claim is used to safe-keep the cars but in reality are used to intimidate clients that do not pay,” he adds.

According to Solano, during regular patrolling, the Policía Municipal officers check guachimanes to make sure they don’t have weapons, drugs or are under the influence of alcohol, which may constitute a felony.

He also encourages people to call 911 immediately if they get into an argument with cuidacarros, since some of them have problems of substance abuse and therefore, may become aggressive.

Solano provided some statistics and he says there are at least 120 people in San José doing this job. An average of 3 per block.

“It’s also our fault. We got so used to pay some stranger to take care of our car that it has become a cultural problem. Look, sometimes a very well-known fast food restaurant and other private companies allow cuidacarros to work in their own parking lots. I would assume that’s easier than having a formal security guard watching out for the vehicles.” Solano said.

When asked about if the guachimanes are here to stay, he said it is a social issue rather than a police one.

Oscar Wilson watches over vehicles and enjoys a chat.

Oscar Wilson watches over vehicles and enjoys a chat.

“These people are usually unemployed and uneducated, the market wouldn’t take them in. So the solution doesn’t come from the police, we can’t afford to have one officer per guachiman,” he said.

“Five or six years ago the municipality of Cartago tried to create a cooperative enterprise and provide cuidacarros with a more formal status. However the idea didn’t work because there were arguments among them. Again, what we should do is stop giving them money and provide them with jobs,” he added.

Solano’s perspective may be right, according to the story of Oscar Wilson, who’s been a cuidacarros for 24 years next to Casa Amarilla doing his work behind the looming Institución Nacional de Seguros building.

With nothing else than a minimum pension of  $260 a month, the Puntarenas-born man sits 12 hours Monday through Friday at his wooden table and spends his days watching out for cars and motorcycles.

He makes a living by charging car drivers 1,000 colons for the whole day and 500 colons to motorcycles and scooters. He knows most of his customers because all of them work at Instituto Nacional de Seguros.  He says they are also his friends and that’s why he offers his clients the possibility to pay on a weekly or daily basis.

“I would call the police or go to that cafeteria over there or I would ask for help from the security guards of Casa Amarilla. No, I would not engage in a fight if someone tries to break into a car. I’m 72-years old. They would kill me,” he said. Wilson also says that he is able to make up to 25,000 colons per day because that is a good area.

“Just one time two guys tried to steal my place and my job, but the guards at Casa Amarilla came to my help and made it clear that this is my zone. They also said that Casa Amarilla put me here, so the intruders left,” he said while greeting at least three people passing by.

“Well, this is my little job and if people don’t like it and don’t want to pay I don’t care. Some other one will come along and pay. That’s how I see it,” he explains as he keeps an eye on his turf where he already knows 21 cars and 19 motorcycles can fit in perfectly.

 

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Arrests at Panamá border checkpoint

Border police near Paso Canoas arrested three foreign nationals for attempting to smuggle money into the country by hiding it among the seats of the vehicle.

At the checkpoint for the Panamá-Costa Rica border, colloquially known as kilometer 35, the Policía de Fronteras seized about 6,580,000 colons, or around $12,000, close to dawn on Monday. The driver and passengers, two of whom are Colombian nationals, claimed that the money is going towards a business in Tárcoles, Puntarenas, according to police.

Nevertheless, the Policía de Control Fiscal confiscated both money and other items found for undeclared money, according to a preliminary report. The maximum amount of money that a person can bring in to Costa Rica without declaration is $10,000. Preliminary reports do not explain why the multiple sports drinks pictured as police evidence were also confiscated as well.

In a separate incident, a pickup truck was apparently specially designed to smuggle liquor. The truck, however, was confiscated Monday night by border police in Guaycará de Golfito, in the southern area of the country.

The car was redesigned in its engine and its chassis. It also had a secret compartment, according to a report.

The secret compartment was full of liquor, and the engine was also covered with cartons and bottles. The total amount of bottles was 251 and it is valued at $4,000, according to police.

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Agents arrest two traffic cops on breach

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization arrested two traffic police officers Monday on suspicions of breach of duty.

According to a preliminary report, the incident happened on Jan. 29, 2016, when both officers arrived to the scene of a traffic accident in Tibás. It occurred that one of the cars involved did not have an insurance policy and thus required the issuance of a ticket, according to investigators. The report alleges that the suspects allowed the owner to purchase a policy in order to cover the cost of the accident.

Judicial agents received a confidential tip of this incident and arrested the two officers involved near Plaza Vízquez in San José.

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National orchestra goes to Escazú Friday

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional will present a special concert Friday in Escazú.

Costa Rica does not have distinctive seasons of the year, just rain and no rain, but composers worldwide have used the season concept to frame their works.

The orchestra will present “The Four Seasons” by the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. The work is a set of four violin concertos.

Also on the program is “Las cuatro estaciones porteñas” by the Argentinian Ástor Piazzolla. The title translates to English as “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.”  Piazzolla is rivaled only by Carlos Gardel as a composer of tango, and he has a distinctive style. The four tango works also reflect the seasons.

The concert will be at the San Miguel Arcángel complex in Escazú Centro at  7 p.m. The invited director is the German Andreas Neufeld.

This is not part of the regular season for the orchestra. The musicians already are in practice for the second concert of the year April 7 and 9, said the Centro Nacional de la Música.

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Judiciary arrests six on corruption charge

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization arrested five men and one woman suspected of embezzling and trafficking money.

Preliminary reports by investigators said that the suspects apparently created an organization or group that was successful in planting people in strategic positions of a public institution. The institution is the Instituto Nacional de Fomento Cooperativo, and agents said that it was in charge of promoting and developing cooperatives at the national level.

One person arrested was the executive secretary of the Consejo Nacional de Cooperativas. Another was the board president for the institute and as leader of the nation’s coffee cooperative.

Investigators said they believe that money for grants was given away to contacts close to the suspected leader of this group. Around 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, over 160 agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization conducted raids at various houses in Sarapiquí, Grecia, Desamparados, Cartago, Tibás and Moravia. They also raided offices in Quepos , San José, Turrialba and Sarapiquí, according to the judiciary.

Among items seized by agents during the raids where electronic devices and documentation related to the investigation that could allow more determination as to the allegations of grants being used for corrupt purposes.

The central government had taken over control of the institute this month when complaints about corruption emerged.

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Despite website, questions remain on stone spheres

Costa Rica’s famous stone spheres now have their own website. The graphics are colorful, and the site is chock full of information about the Diquís region at the mouth of the Río Térraba in the country’s south Pacific coast.

But despite all the glitter, including a 360-degree air tour of the region, the major questions are not answered.

Eleanor Lothrop was the wife of one of the first archaeologists to study the spheres. Mrs. Lothrop said this in her 1955 book  “Pick from the Past: Mystery of the Prehistoric Stone Balls:”

“Why should hundreds of these perfectly formed spheres, whose diameters extend from a few inches to eight feet, be dispersed throughout the . . . jungles of Costa Rica?

The question remains unanswered, although many theories have been advanced.  Lothrop, himself, thought the stone balls had something to do with astronomy.

The Museo Nacional that put up the website begins the account of the area 3,500 years ago. Still, humans have been present in Costa Rica since at least 13,500 years ago. There was evidence of the ancient Clovis culture found in Costa Rica to support this idea.

Most expats know the story. Balls were only discovered toward the end of the 19th century, and their number and significance only became known when banana companies began clearing land there for plantations. Archaeologist Doris Stone published the first academic paper on the topic in 1943.

The museum has set up a satellite site in Palmar Sur and is safeguarding Batambal, El Silencio, Finca 6 and Grijalba-2 where the balls are found. There also are balls on Isla del Caño offshore.

The balls were designated as international human heritage by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

So far the best archaeologists have come up with is that the balls are emblems of power used to mark the homes of chiefs. There is a pretty good chance the full facts about the balls never will be known.

Probably 2,000 years from now when archaeologists excavate the site of today’s Corte Suprema de Justicia, they will conclude that the stone ball there was made by judicial magistrates. Like many other public and private buildings in Costa Rica, the balls are being used as decorations.

There probably is no reason to doubt that native populations did not do the same thing.

Archaeologists generally date the balls based on the type of broken ceramics found nearby.

So they have attributed the balls to what they call the Diquís Culture.

Some expats have published material that claim extraterrestrials made the balls, but evidence for that is lacking. Still, the balls are featured in a number of UFO-linked sites.

Part of the website features this 360-degree view of the region.

Part of the website features this 360-degree view of the region.

There are about 300 known balls. Although they are not as perfect as Mrs. Lothrop said, making them was a job that rivaled other ancient monuments.

The leading theory is that native craftsmen, or maybe craftswomen, sat around pecking at chunks of rock until they had the desired shape.

In fact, an animation linked to the new webpage shows several workmen doing that.

Some have advanced the theory that the craft workers used the nearby river in a way that jewelers tumble gemstones, but experts on hydro power have said many of the balls are too big to have been made that way.

Then there is the question of how the balls got to Isla de Cano. The logical response is by boat, but there was a time when humans occupied Costa Rica that the oceans were about 60 feet lower and crews could have carried the balls from what is now the mainland on foot.

Even though there is no definitive answer to the major questions about the balls, the museum has constructed a spectacular and bilingual site, which includes a link to a graphic showing the coastal changes over 48 million years on YouTube.

Viewing the site would be good background for expats who are planning to attend the three-day festival of the spheres in the Diquís region April 28 to 30.

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U.S. Embassy offers $1.5 million in grants

The U.S. Embassy announced that it is prepared to give $1.5 million to organizations that want to strengthen institutions to counter the effects of organized crime, up hold the rule of law, and protect human rights.

Application is not for amateurs. The grant requirements on the embassy webpage run to nearly 8,000 words.

This is another project using money from the Central America Regional Security Initiative, the program that has lavished millions in police and military equipment on Costa Rica as well as armored vehicles, patrol boats, coast guard stations and similar.

The embassy said the plan calls for issuing five grants not to exceed $1.5 million at the start of next U.S. fiscal year. That means the entire plan is subject to the budget cuts that the Donald Trump administration has presented to Congress for next year. However, the White House has appeared friendly to continuing the war on drugs.

The embassy announcement said that institution building is coupled with both prevention projects that dissuade at-risk youth from turning to crime and gangs and community policing projects that engage local communities on citizen security issues.

More specifically, the embassy announcement said: “Proposals should be oriented toward activities by civil society organizations working to improve, expand or complement the delivery of government services, particularly to vulnerable and/or marginalized communities and in areas outside of the Central Valley in an effort to help create strong, capable, and accountable governments.  Examples of potential activities include, but are not limited to, projects intended to improve the provision of government services, and projects that will improve the capacity of government transparency and e-government initiatives.”

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Platina almost done, public works says

The Alfredo González Flores bridge over the Río Virilla is finishing its crawl to completion as 80 percent of the work is done, according to the public works ministry.

The bridge, colloquially known as the platina, has opened up some lanes since last week for regular traffic. From midnight to noon, it is the two lanes going toward San José that are open for transit, while only one is open going toward Alajuela. From noon to midnight, it flips and two lanes going back to Alajuela are open while one lane is open toward those going into the capital.

All that is left, according to the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes, is laying down the concrete, change the rivets and do some paint on the steel. The lanes being worked on now will be the ones going toward Alajuela when the bridge is opened. The ministry said that the added reinforcement work on the bridge will increase the load capacity by 70 percent.

The ministry did not estimate when the platina would be reopened again. It was closed back in January for the major construction project in expanding the lanes available for traffic. The bridge represents one of the major arteries between San José and Juan Santamaría international airport in Alajuela.

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Defensorías Sociales establishes legal aid for low-income persons

Justice for the poor and justice in the street could be the motto of Defensorías Sociales, a social responsibility program created by Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Costa Rica.

Similar to U.S. legal aid societies, the organization was recently created in order to provide legal assistance for the most vulnerable citizens and residents in Costa Rica.

Last year, this program provided legal assistance to more than 10,443 people from low-income backgrounds with the help of 78 public defendors who donated their time and knowledge in the areas of family and labor law.

Out of those cases, 1,223 advanced investigations were opened and 844 hearings took place to settle most of the conflicts, according to Violenta Conejo, director of quality assurance and training at the Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas.

“This initiative seeks to bring together lawyers and people who normally could not afford to pay the standard legal fees. The attorneys provide their time and expertise and we provide free training and seminars as a way to compensate for their willingness to help,” she said.

To get help from the Defensorías Sociales, there are some requirements to meet.

For one, the beneficiaries should not have property under their name. They should not have an income over 350,000 colones which is roughly $700. They cannot be employers of any kind. Lastly, they also should address their cases to the local Defensoría closest to their place of residence.

“A great percentage of our cases have to do with women seeking protection from domestic abusers, followed by people who claimed they’ve been fired by employers while pregnant or being member of a union. We also see a significant amount of cases related to child support requests,” said Ms. Conejo.

Aside from the Defensorías Sociales, the Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas also takes its services to communities through the program Derecho en la Calle, which targets mostly students and local associations.

During these activities, the lawyers talk to students about bullying and what are their rights and their duties in such a situation.

“We look to provide information for women about how to deal with violence or help someone who is in that situation,” explained Ms. Conejo, “We also go to retirement homes and some town fairs in areas that we consider vulnerable.”

There are currently 13 Defensorías Sociales with the newest one opening in Puntarenas back in 2016.

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2017 Robotifest competition draws high-tech, high-aspiring students

About 800 college and high-school students will turn into robotics and compete to win the Robotifest UCR 2017 Festival.

This is touted as a high-tech contest that will take place from Aug. 21 to 27, at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

To be part of it, those interested should go through a very competitive selection process, followed by workshops and special training that will provide them with further knowledge and tools to seek the first places.

On a second stage, 40 teams of three students will choose one out of five categories in which they want to participate. One of these is called Reto y Manufactura Logística en la Cuarta Revolución Indusrial, where students come up with robotic solutions for factories and logistic related enterprises.

Another example is the category named Vida Cotidiana en la Cuarta Revolución Industrial. Here, the contestants will develop robots that may directly impact the quality of life of people.

“We want the projects to be oriented on how to solve the needs of interconnection and collaborative solutions of problems.” said Eldon Caldwell, coordinator of the contest and director of the Escuela de Ingeniería Industrial of the university.

“We are facing the fourth industrial revolution, one that is based on technological automation and interconnectivity. This is happening not only between people, but also between people and machines and machines and other machines,” he said.

Winners of this year contest will have the chance to travel and

Eldon Caldwell, contest coordinator, poses with robot.

Eldon Caldwell, contest coordinator, poses with robot.

be part of the rocket launch for International Students Satellites, which takes place in the U.S. state of Nevada. Among the jury, will be Eric Rohmer, a robotics professor and investigator at Universidad Estatal de Campinas in Brazil. Rohmer has been the winner of a world wide robotics championship in Japan.

The finals of the competition will include, theater, arts exhibitions and an international concert. The winners will also receive tech devices and a full robotics construction system.

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Give Medicare consumers choice abroad

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The Medicare article is on target considering the current healthcare wrangle in DC.  Apparently neither party was aware that by allowing Americans to use their Medicare coverage in a foreign country patients and federal budget alike could save money and go a long way in correcting America’s health woes.

It is no secret that many doctors, especially specialists, in the U.S. no longer accept Medicare patients due to the reimbursement rate.  So be it. Just give the consumer who has paid into the system the option to get care in a neighboring country if they so desire.

Many countries have hospitals that are Joint Commission International (JCI) certified and these would be the logical first facilities for Medicare to partner with.  Costa Rica has two, at least, and Thailand has over a dozen.  Countless Americans in the southwest have been going to México for dental needs, eye glasses, hearing aids, cosmetic surgery and other procedures and currently they pay with their own money most of the time.

The Youtube video where the “60 Minutes” news team interviews the man who received a quintuple bypass at Bumrungrad hospital in Thailand is illustrative of what the American public has been missing out on.  The Medicare reimbursement rate your local hospital might refuse could well be enough to get you better care in a foreign hospital.

In any event the public should have a choice since, after all, it is their tax money sitting inside the social security administration and Medicare.

Jim Harrison  
El Paso, Texas  
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Police get more than two tons of marijuana

Police officer looks at some of the marijuana captured.

Police officer looks at some of the marijuana captured.

Police seized around 2.7 tons of marijuana following a shootout that led to the arrest of four suspects Monday.

According to a report from the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública, officers found 602 kilograms, or around 1,327 pounds, of marijuana in a minibus hidden in gunny sacks and another 601 kilograms in a truck.

During the incident, police said that several persons approached the patrol cars and fired on them. The skirmish resulted in one of the men arrested being wounded in the right leg. No police officer was injured, according to officials. The incident happened at Siquirres in Limón province.

Four suspects were arrested and taken into custody, police said. Two of the arrested have prior records related to drug dealing, according to police. Officials said that the other two have a background in drug possession. One of the vehicles contained an apparently stolen pistol dating back to a theft from a private security company back in 2008.

If the suspects are found guilty of drug trafficking, they could face up to 20 years in prison for the charges.

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Bill to reduce bank secrecy proposed

A new bill to broaden the transparency of bank secrecy laws is on its way to be discussed in congress. The initiative seeks to allow fiscal authorities to request information about bank accounts without the approval of a judge, which is the way it is done now.

The bill is No. 19639, and is currently being discussed in the Comisión de Asuntos Hacendarios, the congress chamber in charge of preparing the final draft that will be discussed before the whole 57 lawmakers if the president calls for its discussion.

In the Costa Rican legislative system, the executive branch may dictate what bills may be called for discussion between Aug.1 to 31, and from Dec. 1 to Apr. 30. These periods are known as sesiones extraordinarias.

“It is absurd that other countries may request this information without going through a judiciary process while the national authorities are forced to do so,” said Edgardo Araya, lawmaker from the Frente Amplio party.

The congressman refers to the Law 9296, which was approved on July 2015 and allows international fiscal offices to request information directly to the Ministerio de Hacienda and the banks. According to Araya, this happened out of international pressure to improve the country’s transparency.

He also said that these kinds of reforms are mandatory for the country to become part of international organizations like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“When the Ministerio de Hacienda started its investigation on the release of the Panamá papers they hit a big wall of sociedades anónimas hidden inside sociedades anónimas.” said Araya.

A sociedad anónima is a limited liability legal structure under which many private companies operate.

Last week A.M. Costa Rica reported that a preliminary investigation on the Panamá Papers by Dirección General de Tributación spotted 79 business entities and 41 are individuals as suspects of tax evasions.

Out of those, 69 have been identified while 51 identities still need to be discovered, according to Fernando Rodríguez, who is the representative of a special committee investigating the case.

The ministry pointed out that the 69 identified entities had established more than 410 companies in Panamá. The insistence from the Administración Tributaria is that “behind the creation of these societies, there is a clear intention to evade tax responsibilities,” Rodríguez said.

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Legislature approves exchanges with Palestine

Lawmakers approved Monday an agreement for technical, cultural, scientific and economic exchanges with Palestine.

The agreement does not really specify if the exchanges will be with Gaza, now controlled by Hamas, or the West Bank, now controlled mostly by Fatah, or the Islamic definition of Palestine, which includes the State of Israel.

This is bill No. 19.482, which has been in the legislature since February 2015.

The agreement comes at a time when Gaza is in mourning for Mazen Fuqaha, a senior Hamas leader of its armed wing, who was gunned down at his home in Gaza City Friday.

Hamas officials are blaming Israel, but there has been no evidence of that country’s involvement.

The government of Palestine has support in Costa Rica. There is a pro-Palestine organization that has a Facebook page and the council of the Universidad de Costa Rica  has urged passage of the accord.

There have been protests in favor of Palestine outside the Israeli Embassy in San José.

The legislative action Monday was the second and final approval. Now the bill goes to President Luis Guillermo Solís.

The Palestine agreement is important also

August "Palestina no morirá" march on Israeli Embassy televised on Channel 7.

August “Palestina no morirá” march on Israeli Embassy televised on Channel 7.

because Costa Rica seeks funding from other Arab states. The original agreement was signed in September 2013 at United Nations headquarters.

Gaza has been invaded three times by Israel, which reports the use of many tunnels to allow terrorists to enter the Jewish state as well as barrages of rockets directed at it.

Hamas prevailed in a recent election at the expense of the Palestine Authority.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and other western countries. Hamas says it is committed to Israel’s destruction.

Costa Rica also has an organization that supports Israel, and some of the lawmakers who voted against the Palestine measure Monday belong to this group.

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U.S. vet and expat continues treatment from attack

Richard King, the disabled U.S. veteran who probably was the target of crooks in Liberia, is in California now learning to use a white cane and make the best of his remaining eyesight.

King, now 66, suffered eye, face and skull injuries when a man threw a rock into his windshield in November 2015 near the Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia.

King, who has a home in Ojochal, was in good spirits Monday night as he recounted the crime and told of his treatments at the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center in Menlo Park, California.

King, who was considered 100 percent disabled, lost most of the sight in his right eye in Vietnam in 1969. The attack with a rock severely damaged his left eye. He said he also suffered a hole in his head about a quarter inch in diameter. The head injury cost him his sense of taste and smell, he said.

What happens bears all the marks of either an attempted robbery or an extortion. King was picking up a friend at the Liberia airport and stopped at a grocery. When he was leaving, a man ran up and said King’s car had hit his. He demanded that King come with him.

King refused, and his friend, now a passenger, also doubted there had been a mishap.

After King drove away, the unidentified man chased him in his own vehicle and eventually got ahead. The man stopped and tried to heave a large rock at King.

He was not strong enough.

Several miles later on the man found a smaller rock, and it was this that smashed through the windshield, said King. He also suffered broken bones in a finger.

King, of course, made a report to the Judicial Investigating Organization, but he expressed disappointment Monday night at the agency’s lack of a followup. King said at one point he spent three hours in a judicial office at the request of investigators, but no one showed up to talk with him.

He said he figures the window smasher has not been found, although he suspects local police know who the man is. Part of the encounter was caught on surveillance cameras.

Coping with near blindness has not been easy. King reports he fell down twice and broke some ribs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rehabilitation center has put him in a program where he learns to use what sight he still has, he said.

Richard King remains committed to Costa Rica despite attack

Richard King remains committed to Costa Rica despite attack

Despite his problems, King is not fed up with Costa Rica where he has lived for 12 years. He said he will be returning in about six weeks. He has a Costa Rican wife. He will be the south Pacific coast resident walking with two canes. One will be white and the other will be for stability.

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Cooperation, trade are the priority themes for Latin American nations gathering today

Costa Rica is hosting a gathering of nearby Latin American nations in a conference that runs until Wednesday.

Representatives are expected from México, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panamá.

Casa Presidencial said that Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of México, has confirmed that he will attend.

The principal topics will be migration and the possible renegotiation of trade treaties on which these nations depend. Illegal immigration continues despite promises by Donald Trump to close the U.S. southern border. That was shown last week when immigration agents detained a man from Somalia. He was listed as having possible terrorism links.

Still, the man had no trouble entering Costa Rica, and initially he was transported by government officials to a migrant camp near the northern border where his identity was checked.  That is the same camp where thousands of Haitians were housed, but most of them seem to have found their way across the Nicaraguan border one way or another.

The meeting this week is part of the Mesoamerican Project, which defines itself as a plan by 10 countries to promote economic and social development. The session today will be in the Instituto Centroamericano de Administración de Empresas in La Garita.

This is one of several projects promoting integration of the Central American and nearby countries. Originally this association was called the Puebla-Panamá Plan when it was announced in 2001. Priorities are transportation, energy, trade and telecommunications.

Efforts toward integration usually run up against strong defenses of sovereignty from most countries. However, the Caribbean highway from Nicaragua along the Caribbean coast into northern Panamá is an example of such collaboration. México is paying for much of the work on the new bridge over the Río Sixaola between Costa Rica and Panamá.

The annual summits usually are referred to as the Dialogue of Tuxtla after the Mexican town where the initial concept of a Central American and Mexican free trade zone was floated in 1991.

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