Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dengue fever cases double in Costa Rica in first half of 2007

The number of dengue fever cases in Costa Rica has doubled to 6,870 in the first half of 2007, compared to the same period of last year, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, 69 people, including two fatalities, contracted the deadly variant of hemorrhagic dengue in the first six months of this year, only three cases short of the figure recorded in the whole of last year, according to the ministry.

Dengue fever, a viral infection spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, is a serious health problem in many Central American and Caribbean countries. Its symptoms include high fever, nausea, rash, backache and headache.

Most mainstream dengue cases are not fatal, but the hemorrhagic variant, which causes severe internal bleeding as blood vessels collapse, kills one in 20 of the infected.

Health Minister Maria Luisa Avila said the increase of dengue cases was mainly due to the advent of monsoon and the ubiquitous bodies of water.

The official urged people to fight dengue by stamping out mosquitoes, which reproduce in bodies of water from puddles to lakes and reservoirs.

Some 50 million people are infected with dengue each year, most of them in tropical regions.

Source: Xinhua

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Global warming threatening Costa Rica's biodiversity

(Tico Times) - Scientists are concerned about the effects of global warming on the country's biodiversity. Many of the species found at higher altitudes in Costa Rica, including the gaudy emerald toucanet, left, and the ever-popular resplendant quetzal, may be forced higher into cooler mountain altitudes as the weather heats up, and scientists worry those at the top will have nowhere to go. Rising temperatures also seem to be complicating matters for endangered sea turtles that nest on both coasts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Parking lots owners responsible for vehicles left in their care

Decision applies to both paid and free establishments

(Inside Costa Rica) - Following the decision by the First Circuit Court last week, owners of more than 180 parking lots, must provide additional security for the parked cars as they are now responsible for any loss or theft of the vehicle left in their care.

Last week the court decision only mentioned parking lots operated by shopping centres and supermarkets, however, the decision applies to all parking lots,

There is a possibility for appeal to the Constitutional Court which may reverse the decision, however, as it now stands, private and public parking lot owners and operators are fully responsible for any damage or loss to vehicles on their property.

Most of the public parking lots, supermarkets and shopping centres all have signs warning customers that they are not responsible for damages in the event of a loss. The court decision nullifies any such warning, placing the responsibility on parking lot owners to carefully watch over the vehicles left in their care.

The court decision resulted in a complaint filed by a man identified only as Streber following the loss of his vehicle in the Hipermás San Sebastián store lot and management refusing to deal with him.

Representatives of WalMart Costa Rica, who now owns Hipermás, as well as the Mas x Menos, Palí and Maxibodegas chain of supermarkets, refused comment on the decision.

The Asociación de Parqueos (Parking Lots Owners Association) assures that thanks to the court decision there will be more security in parking lots, free and paid.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

San Jose not an expensive city

Photo by the Costa Rica Tourism InstituteA survey of 143 cities around the world, by London-based Mercer Human Resource Consulting, places San Jose, Costa Rica among the least expensive cities for foreign residents.

The capital city of Costa Rica is 138th, and the fifth in Latin America, preceded by Buenos Aires 139th, Montevideo 140th, Quito 141st, and Asuncion 143rd.

Mexico City, Panama City, Santiago, and Caracas have higher costs of living, according to the survey, which uses the New York as the average, and found that the most expensive cities in the world are Moscow, London, Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Costa Rica considers law for same-sex civil unions

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rican opposition lawmakers proposed legalizing same-sex civil unions in a bill introduced on Tuesday, but said it may be difficult to pass the plan in the strongly Roman Catholic country.

Under the proposal, same-sex couples would be granted marital-type rights like bereavement leave, inheritance and power over medical decisions. It stops short of recognizing same-sex marriage or allowing adoption by same-sex couples.

"This is a bill that guarantees the respect and tolerance for couples that are of the same sex," said bill co-sponsor, Andrea Morales of the main opposition Citizens Action Party.

But the bill's author, Ana Helena Chacon, of the Social Christian Unity Party, admitted the predominantly Catholic Central American country with a record of intolerance against gays may not be ready for such a bill.

"We will find out when this bill comes up for discussion," she said.

Gay rights groups said the proposal was overdue.

"We gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders already enjoy all the duties but not all of the rights of citizenship," activist Abelardo Araya told reporters. "The country has a system of homophobia that is almost institutionalized."

No members of the governing National Liberation Party, which holds a plurality of seats and controls the agenda in the Legislative Assembly, spoke in favor of the bill at its unveiling.

Colombia and the local government in Mexico City, the Mexican capital, approved same-sex unions earlier this year.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

China envoy posted in Costa Rica after 60 years

Costa Rica's Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno (R) talks with China's Business Attache Wang Xiaoyuan in San Jose, Costa Rica, June 18, 2007. Wang presented his accreditation with the first diplomat posted to Costa Rica since 1949. REUTERS/Juan Carlos UlateSAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - China's first diplomatic envoy to Costa Rica in six decades took up his post on Monday, sealing the Central American nation's switch in allegiance this month to Beijing from Taipei.

China sent Wang Xiaoyuan as its Costa Rica business attache and is likely to eventually install him as ambassador after the two nations restored relations on June 1 as long-time Taiwan ally Costa Rica bowed to China's greater economic might.

After presenting his paperwork to Costa Rican officials on Monday and meeting Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, Wang told reporters China would be patient over restoring ties with other nations that currently side with Taiwan.

"China is a fact that nobody can close their eyes to. Some have their reasons for not recognizing China and we can wait for them," he said in fluent Spanish.

Wang, 52 and a diplomat since the 1970s, is China's first diplomatic envoy to Costa Rica since before Mao Zedong's communist forces defeated Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 and forced him to flee to Taiwan.

China and Taiwan have faced off ever since, with Beijing's leaders maintaining that self-ruled, democratic Taiwan is a rebellious province within its territory rather than a separate country. Taiwan calls itself the Republic of China.

Costa Rica's change of sides leaves Taiwan with just 24 allies, most of them small, poor nations in Central America, the South Pacific and Africa. In comparison, more than 170 countries have diplomatic ties with China.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has said the move, ending decades of Taiwanese patronage for politicians' pet projects in Costa Rica, would increase business opportunities for the Central American country in booming China.

Other Central American nations have said they will not follow Costa Rica's move for now, but Guatemala's foreign minister warned of a "new dynamic" in the region which could force countries to examine their positions.

Wang has been a diplomat in Spain, Mexico, Cuba and Brazil and Chinese ambassador to Equatorial Guinea and Uruguay.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Costa Rica imposes visa on Jamaicans

Effective June 15, Jamaicans wishing to travel to Costa Rica will need to obtain visas.

However, Jamaicans who have valid visas to enter the United States or countries within Europe are excluded, the Costa Rican Embassy in Jamaica said.

The embassy further advised that all persons wishing to enter the Central American nation must have a valid certificate of vaccination against yellow fever.

In applyingfor a visa, the following documents must be submitted: a police record; proof of vaccination against yellow fever (vaccine must be received 10 days prior to travel); valid passport (passport must have at least eight months' validity); job letter, if going to take up employment and bank statements.

Applicants in Jamaica should call the Costa Rican Embassy to make an appointment for an interview and bring supporting documents along with them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Scientists in Costa Rica set plasma engine record

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Scientists in Costa Rica have run a plasma rocket engine continuously for a record of more than four hours, the latest achievement in a mission to cut costs and travel time for spacecraft.

The Ad Astra Rocket Company, led by Costa Rican-born former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, said on Wednesday it hopes to use its rocket engines to stabilize space stations in a few years, and then to power a trip to Mars within two decades.

"The first objective is to move small spacecraft in low orbit by 2010," Ad Astra executive director Ronald Chang-Diaz, the astronaut's brother, told Reuters.

In December, the Costa Rican scientists ran the engine for two minutes but had to turn it off because it was overheating. They have spent much of the past six months designing cooling systems.

Scientists believe propulsion engines that run on plasma, a material composed of atoms stripped of electrons and found in high-pressure and -temperature environments like stars and lightning bolts, will be faster and cheaper than rockets currently used in space travel.

Considered the fourth state of matter because it is neither a solid, liquid or gas, plasma can reach millions of degrees, making it a potentially light but powerful fuel.

It is hoped that the engine, which uses Variable Specific-Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket technology conceived in the 1970s, could eventually cut travel time to Mars by about a third, to around three months.

Scientists at Ad Astra's Houston laboratory are conducting tests aimed at boosting the engine's overall power, while in Costa Rica they focus on endurance, Ronald Chang-Diaz said.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Former Alcatel executive pleads guilty in bribery case

(Cellular News) - A former executive with French telecoms equipment supplier Alcatel, now Alcatel-Lucent, has pleaded guilty to charges related to a bribery scandal with Costa Rica's state power and telecom group ICE, the US Department of Justice said in a statement.

Christian Sapsizian, 60, confessed that along with Costa Rica's former senior country officer for Alcatel, Edgar Valverde, they paid more than $2.5 million in bribes to a senior ICE official to receive a $149 million mobile infrastructure supply contract, awarded in 2001. Sapsizian was arrested in Miami.

In February charges were levied against Hernan Bravo, a former ICE board member, who allegedly received $800,000 to facilitate the contract's approval.

The payments were funneled through a consulting firm associated with Alcatel, the statement read.

Alcatel merged in November with Lucent Technologies to form Alcatel-Lucent.

Sapsizian faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and $330,000 in forfeiture. He will be sentenced in December of this year.

The investigation, which will continue with the cooperation of Sapsizian, involved both US and Costa Rican authorities.

ICE said in February that it would no longer work with Alcatel-Lucent.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wal-Mart to open two new supermarkets in Costa Rica

San Jose (EFE) - U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it planned to open two new supermarkets in Costa Rica at a cost of more than $30 million.

The new retail outlets will be located in Escazu, west of San Jose, and in the Cartago province, some 23 kilometers (14 miles) east of the capital.

The superstores, which will be operated under the Hipermas name, will create some 1,000 direct and indirect jobs, the company said.

In addition to groceries, the supercenters will offer technology and entertainment products, take-out food, baby items and auto services, such as tires and oil changes.

The Escazu store will have 29,513 sq. meters (317,258 sq. feet) of space, while the Cartago outlet will have 25,619 sq. meters (275,399 sq. feet) of space, Wal-Mart's corporate affairs chief in Costa Rica, Yolanda Fernandez, said.

The two new outlets will raise to 146 the number of stores operated by the retailing giant in Costa Rica under the names of Pali, Maxibodegas, Mas x Menos and Hipermas.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Taiwan criticizes Costa Rica for severing ties

Taiwanese Foreign Minister James Huang speaks to media after Costa Rica announced it was severing ties with the island and creating diplomatic ties with mainland China, Thursday, June 7, 2007, in Taipei, Taiwan. Huang offered to resign to take responsibility for the loss. (AP Photo)(China Post) - The Embassy of Taiwan in Costa Rica hotly criticized the decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, and announced the immediate end of all cooperation programs with the Central American country.

In a press release, the Taiwanese diplomats did not hide their rage. Taiwan's embassy in Costa Rica on Wednesday lodged a strong protest over the government's "extremely unfriendly" move of switching recognition to Beijing.

"The Costa Rican government should bear the responsibility and all consequences for betraying the 63-year-long friendship with Taiwan," the embassy said in a written statement.

Taiwan will close down its embassy in Costa Rica, terminate all aid projects for the Central American nation and recall its technical corps there, continued the statement.

In the meantime, President Oscar Arias said steps are being taken to fund several major projects which Taiwan was to develop, including the construction of a new road to San Carlos and the revamping of Calderon Guardia Hospital, which was burned down four years ago.

Taiwan's Foreign Minister James C.F. Huang (pictured) called the move by President Oscar Arias" contrary to the national spirit of Costa Rica."

Huang said during a news conference that Costa Rica signed a joint communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations with China on June 1 but it failed to inform Taiwan until 4:00 a.m. yesterday, Taipei time.

Huang described Arias's decision as ironic since it goes against the ideals of the Nobel Peace Prize, which Arias won in 1987 for his efforts to end civil wars then raging in several Central American countries.

"President Oscar Arias chooses to discard the universal values of peace, freedom and human rights commonly treasured by Taiwan and Costa Rica and to turn to ally with the autocratic Communist China," he said.

Arias has also disregarded the "shared values and long friendship" between the two countries, Huang noted.

He further accused Arias of being engaged in "several secretive talks on building formal ties with the PRC," since his assumption of the presidency in May 2006.

The minister also claimed that even before flying secretly to Beijing in late May, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno lied to the media saying that his country's relations with Taiwan remained unchanged.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Costa Rica criticizes Taiwan as stingy

San Jose, Costa Rica (AP) - Costa Rica's president Oscar Arias criticized Taiwan on Thursday for being stingy with aid to its handful of allies, while other Latin American nations struggled with whether to remain loyal to the democratic island or strengthen ties with Taiwan's diplomatic rival, China.

Taiwan is lobbying to hang on to its 24 remaining diplomatic partners after Costa Rica announced Wednesday it was switching relations to China. Taiwan's allies, many of them poor countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, help bolster its claims of international legitimacy.

Self-governing Taiwan and Communist China split amid civil war in 1949 and China insists that the island remains a part of its territory.

In the battle for friends around the world, the two sides routinely offer generous grants and other inducements.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister James Huang accused China of offering Costa Rica "an astronomical figure'' to ditch Taipei. He did not specify what it was.

Arias acknowledged that the decision to go with Beijing was related to Costa Rica's desire to bolster its economy, and he criticized Taiwan for giving "insufficient'' aid to its allies.

"I was always critical of the Taiwanese, and I can say now that I always told them ... if you want to have friends in the world, you should be more generous,'' he said.

"Considering the few friends they have, they don't treat them very well,'' Arias said of Taiwan, adding: "Without a doubt, we will get more help from China.''

Alarmed Taiwanese diplomats met last month in Belize with Central American officials, hoping to shore up support after Costa Rica voted against discussion of Taiwanese membership in the World Health Organization.

Taiwan had achieved a victory on May 1 when the tiny Caribbean nation of St. Lucia announced it was shifting its relations to Taiwan.

As China's market grows, many Latin American nations worry that allying with Taiwan will cut them out of important trade with China.

"No one can dispute that having better commercial relations and investment with China is positive,'' Arias said. "I'm sure they will give us external aid. That's something we have discussed, and it will probably be more than Taiwan gave us, but what we really want is more trade with China.''

Taiwan has tried to battle that by signing free trade agreements with Panama, Guatemala and Nicaragua. It recently added pacts with El Salvador and the Honduras and is negotiating with the Dominican Republic.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the ties with Costa Rica have "paved the way for friendly and beneficial cooperation'' and she called on other countries to follow suit.

Huang, meanwhile, said he had ordered Taiwanese embassies in Latin America "to take extreme precautions against any further pressure by the Chinese communists.''

Many other leaders across the globe are walking a fine line between recognizing Taiwan and opening the door to China.

Analyst Andrew Yang of the Taipei-based Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies said the Costa Rican decision would likely create a chain reaction. "Probably Nicaragua and Panama are next and then maybe Paraguay,'' he said.

China, Costa Rica set up diplomatic ties

Costa Rica breaks official relations with Taiwan

Beijing, China (Xinhua) - China and Costa Rica announced on Thursday that they had agreed to establish diplomatic ties after the Latin American country agreed to break official relations with Taiwan.

A joint communique, signed on June 1 by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Costa Rican counterpart Bruno Stagno Ugarte, says the two governments, "in accordance with the interests and aspirations of the peoples of the two countries, agree to establish diplomatic ties at ambassadorial level beginning June 1, 2007."

"The Costa Rican government recognizes that there is only one China and the government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing the whole China. Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory," it says.

"For Costa Rica this is an act of foreign policy realism that promotes links to Asia," said Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. "It is my responsibility to recognize a global player as important as the People's Republic of China."

Arias, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end civil wars then in Central American countries, said his decision was based on the deep trade relationship between the two nations.

The Costa Rican government considers it essential to form a link with China, the world's largest emerging economy, Arias said.

Twenty-four states recognize Taiwan, mostly small nations in the Americas, Africa and the South Pacific, including the Solomon Islands, Nicaragua, Panama and Burkina Faso.

The Costa Rican move could influence other nations in central America and the rest of Latin America that maintain relations with Taiwan, said Xu Shicheng, a Latin America expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"The establishment of formal diplomatic ties between China and Costa Rica will probably bring about a domino effect," said Xu.

Latin American countries will gradually realize China's fast growth and recognize that friendly relations with China are the predominant policy in the international community, Xu said.

"More Latin American countries such as Nicaragua and Panama will reconsider their relationships with China," Xu said.

Official figures show soaring trade between the China and Costa Rica. Bilateral trade reached $2.156 billion in 2006, an increase of 87.3 percent over that in 2005. Costa Rica's exports to China were valued $558 million in 2006, a year-on-year rise of 132 percent.

According to the communique, the Chinese and Costa Rican governments agree to "develop friendly cooperation".

The two countries have agreed to exchange ambassadors and assist in the establishment and operation of each other's embassies on an equal footing, it says.

Costa Rica is the 169th country to establish diplomatic relations with China.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

CAFTA's referendum postponed to October 7

(La Nacion) - The Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) has decided to postpone the national referendum, that will decide the future of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), from September 23, 2007 to October 7, 2007.

DR-CAFTA’s current member countries include the U.S., Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Costa Rica is the only participating country that signed the agreement but has yet to ratify it. Costa Ricans will have the opportunity to vote "yes" or "no" on whether they think Costa Rica should ratify the accord.

If passed, the agreement would create a free trade zone like that of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that encompasses the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Tariffs on some 80% of U.S. exports to DR-CAFTA countries would be eliminated (most of the participating countries' exports already enter the U.S. tariff-free).

Monday, June 04, 2007

Mel Gibson buys ranch in Guanacaste

Actor and director Mel Gibson has purchased a $25.8 million ranch that sprawls across 163 hectares (402 acres) on Costa Rica's Pacific coast, the Spanish news agency EFE said.

The property was acquired by a corporation controlled by the director of "The Passion of the Christ", and the purchase closed on April 30. According to estimates of financial weekly Costa Rican magazine "El financiero" Gibson paid almost $26 million on April 30 for the property.

The ranch faces Barrigona Beach in Guanacaste, a province on Costa Rica's northern Pacific coast, some 300 km west of the capital, San Jose.

In the area where the property is located, urban and touristic development is minimal and most of the inhabitants live off ranching and farming in a wooded, mountainous landscape bordered by beautiful beaches.

Locals seemed enthusiastic about their new neighbour, but some say the purchase of the ranch will cost them jobs, since apparently Gibson has no plans for any type of economic activity on his property and will only use it as a vacation home.

The previous owner had houses on the land for rental by tourists and engaged in other tourism-related activities that kept 13 workers employed, a number that will drop to six as Gibson takes over.

In recent years the actor has been a frequent visitor to Costa Rica, which led to speculation in the press that he was looking for possible locations for his movies or was seeking investment opportunities.

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