Tuesday, October 30, 2007

China and Costa Rica seek free trade agreement

Costa Rica's president Oscar Arias, left, meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, at the Zhongnanhai in Beijing, on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007. (AP Photo/Takanori Sekine, Pool) (China Daily) - China and Costa Rica said they will conduct a feasibility study on a free trade agreement - four months after the two established formal diplomatic ties.

The move was announced by top officials from the two countries on Monday during Costa Rican President Oscar Arias' ongoing visit to China.

"Costa Rica could be an ideal place for outward Chinese investment, as well as a good base for Chinese businesses to penetrate the vast markets in Latin America, the Caribbean, North America and Europe," Vice-Minister of Commerce Ma Xiuhong told a forum on China-Costa Rica economic and trade cooperation yesterday.

She said Costa Rica has a solid political environment, robust economic growth and an educated workforce.

"For Chinese businesses, Costa Rica is a very attractive market, not only because of the education level of its workers, but also for the potential to export to the United States tax-free," Arias said.

Arias' trip to China follows his country's vote to join the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the US. The country is also in free trade talks with the European Union.

China is Costa Rica's second biggest trading partner after the US. Two-way trade between China and Costa Rica hit $2.16 billion last year. China accounted for $409 million in exports and $1.75 billion in imports. China mainly exports electronic products, integrated circuit parts, computers and communication products while it imports electronic and hi-tech products and machinery from Costa Rica.

Trade ties were strengthened after the two nations set up formal diplomatic relations.

Ma expects bilateral trade to hit $3 billion this year, with China importing $2.5 billion worth of goods from the Central American country.

"The establishment of formal diplomatic ties has spurred more Chinese firms to tap the Costa Rican market," she said.

China will also establish a joint commission with Costa Rica for economic cooperation, investment protection and inspection and quarantine on China's imports of bananas from the nation.

Meanwhile, the Costa Rican Export Products Exhibition was held in Beijing yesterday, with 28 Costa Rican exporters showcasing products and services in sectors including tourism, residential and hotel projects, agriculture, flowers, coffee, food and hi-tech products.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Endangered Costa Rican frog focus of study

MANCHESTER, England, Oct. 29 (UPI) - British biologists are studying a Costa Rican leaf frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer, to save it from extinction and learn how to care for it in zoos and aquariums.

Scientists from The University of Manchester and the Chester Zoo - Britain's largest zoo - said the brightly colored frog, a native of the Costa Rican rainforest, is being threatened by a combination of environmental change and disease.

"This research aims to contribute to our understanding of the basic factors that influence the development and survival of these frogs," said Richard Preziosi, the project's lead investigator.

"For instance, with the exception of certain mammals, we know surprisingly little about what animals should be eating. And yet the diet of splendid leaf frogs affects their coloration which, in turn, determines their mating behavior.

"The global decline in amphibian populations means research such as this, carried out ex situ, is therefore critical for both conservation projects in the wild and for maintaining and successfully breeding the frogs in zoos and aquariums," he added.

The research is being complemented by field studies in Costa Rica that include examining the effect that ultraviolet rays have on the fitness and viability of captive-bred frogs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bilateral trade between China, Costa Rica to hit $3 billion this year

Costa Rica's president Oscar Arias inspects the guard of honor outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007. Oscar Arias was in the Chinese capital on Wednesday for talks with the country's leaders on his first visit since switching diplomatic ties from Taiwan. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) China's Vice Commerce Minister Ma Xiuhong said on Thursday that trade between China and Costa Rica would hit a record $3 billion this year on the back of strong demand from the China, up from 2.16 billion U.S. dollars reported last year.

China is expected to import $2.5 billion of goods from Costa Rica by the end of this year, Ma estimated at the China-Costa Rica economic and trade forum in Beijing.

China is the second largest trade partner of Costa Rica, while the latter was the eighth largest to China in Latin America.

Bilateral trade between the two countries was recorded at $1.04 billion in the first five months, up 69.5 percent over the same period last year, with Chinese exports to Costa Rica at $164 million and imports from Costa Rica at $877 million.

China's imports from Costa Rica range from electronic products and integrated circuits to micro-electronic components, diodes and other mechanical and electrical products.

Costa Rica mainly imports from China shipping containers, computers, telecommunications products and also electronic products and integrated circuits.

Ma said at the forum that the two countries enjoyed good groundwork for economic cooperation, and the forging of the bilateral diplomatic relations in June would further promote trade between the two sides.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, currently visiting China, extended hopes for businesses in both countries to enhance exchanges and cooperation while addressing the forum.

A Costa Rica-China Expo was held in Beijing from Oct. 24 to 26,and 28 trading companies from Costa Rica attended the expo.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

China, Costa Rica agree to step up ties "to a higher level"

Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias, left, is shown the way by his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao during the welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007. Oscar Arias was in the Chinese capital on Wednesday for talks with the country's leaders on his first visit since switching diplomatic ties from Taiwan. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)(Xinhua) - China and Costa Rica have agreed to step up bilateral relations "to a higher level", vowing to further cooperation in such fields as trade, investment, technology and tourism.

The consensus was reached in visiting Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez 's meetings here Thursday afternoon with Chinese top legislator Wu Bangguo and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

The two sides also exchanged views on bilateral relations, parliamentary cooperation and other regional and international issues of common concern.

In his meeting with Arias, Wu, Chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), noted that the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations in June "follows the international trend, reflects the will of the Costa Rican people and serves the fundamental interests of the two nations and two peoples".

Wu said that China and Costa Rica have much in common in national construction and hold the same views on many international issues, stressing that China values its ties with Costa Rica and would make joint efforts with the Costa Rican side to push forward bilateral relations.

The top legislator also noted that normalization of the bilateral diplomatic relations offers opportunities for the NPC and Costa Rican Legislative Assembly to establish cooperation.

"The NPC is willing to join hands with the Costa Rican parliament to boost high-level exchanges and cooperation among various special committees, in an effort to increase bilateral comprehensive understanding and expand mutual trust", Wu said.

Arias said China plays an increasingly important role in the world. The development of bilateral relations since June has already brought benefits to the two sides.

"The successful visit proved to me once again that we have made the right decision (to establish diplomatic relations with China)",Arias told Wu.

"Costa Rica hopes and believes China will realize national reunification," Arias said.

In his meeting with Wen, Arias spoke highly of China's contribution to the alleviation of world poverty by its own economic development and rapid growth of its people's living standards.

"China's experience is worth learning", the Costa Rican president said.

He said that Costa Rica has established a sound legal system to boost foreign investment and the country also enjoys geographic advantages and high-quality labor force.

"Costa Rica welcomes Chinese enterprises to establish businesses there," Arias said.

Wen said that the establishment of bilateral relations has laid a solid foundation for the two countries to further relations.

"I hope the two sides can seize the opportunity to implement existing agreements and step up cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual benefits", Wen said.

"China is full of confidence in the development of bilateral relations in the future", the Chinese Premier added.

Arias arrived in Beijing on Monday morning, kicking off a one-week state visit to China at the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Besides the Chinese capital Beijing, Arias is also scheduled to visit the northwestern city of Xi'an and China's commercial hub Shanghai.

This is the first time for Arias to visit China since he took office in 2006.

China and Costa Rica posted 1.56 billion U.S. dollars of bilateral trade in the first seven months of this year, up 61.3 percent year-on-year. The Chinese side predicted that trade for the whole of 2007 will reach 3 billion U.S. dollars, up from 2.16 billion U.S. dollars reported last year.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Costa Rica Confirms trade pact approval

A worker places packages of ballots at the Supreme Court of Elections building that was being used to count Sunday's votes on a referendum to decide whether to approve the country's participation in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the U.S, in San Jose, October 9, 2007. The Bush administration on Monday welcomed Costa Rica's narrow approval of a free trade agreement with the United States, after a national debate that split the tiny Central American democracy. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate (COSTA RICA)Legislators must still enact laws needed to implement the accord

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - Costa Rica's top electoral court confirmed the results of an Oct. 7 referendum on a free trade agreement with the United States, saying a recount showed the "yes" votes only slightly lower than preliminary results had indicated.

The recount showed that 51.2 percent of the 1.57 million voters approved of the pact, while 42.2 percent voted "no." Preliminary returns had suggested an approval rate of 51.5 percent.

The other ballots were either unmarked or annulled. The court said 59.2 percent of eligible voters participated, well above the minimum 40 percent turnout required to make the vote valid.

The controversial free trade pact includes Costa Rica's Central American neighbors - all of whom have already approved the agreement - the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

There had been a yearlong battle over the agreement in Costa Rica, the last of the six Latin American nations to approve the accord, which has already taken effect in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias called the trade deal crucial to industry in the Central American nation of 4.5 million people.

Legislators must still enact laws needed to implement the accord, the most controversial of which are bills to open state telecommunications and insurance monopolies to competition.

Critics also object to requirements that Costa Rica open its agricultural and service sectors to competitors, fearing a flood of cheap U.S. farm imports.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Costa Rican president visits China

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias(C) and Chinese President Hu Jintao(L) review an honour guard at a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Arias on Wednesday signed several accords with his Chinese counterpart, months after the Central American nation established diplomatic relations with the Asian giant.(AFP/Fredric J Brown) BEIJING (AFP) - Costa Rican president Oscar Arias on Wednesday signed several accords with his Chinese counterpart, months after the Central American nation established diplomatic relations with the Asian giant.

Arias and Chinese president Hu Jintao signed 11 contracts relating to trade, the economy, banking, technology and culture.

Arias, who is making a week-long landmark trip to China, broke off ties with Taiwan in June after 60 years of diplomatic relations.

"I am very honoured that we're the first Central American country to establish a formal relationship with the great country of the People's Republic of China," said Arias, the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Taiwan has seen its number of allies dwindle over the years as competition for supporters with rival China heats up. The two have been accused of using so-called "dollar diplomacy" to get nations to ally with them.

China is Costa Rica's number-two export market after the United States. In 2006, the Central American nation sold more than 1.08 billion dollars in goods and services to Beijing.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Foreign direct investment in Costa Rica continues to grow

(Tico Times) - Foreign direct investment in Costa Rica shot up 71% in 2006, according to a study released yesterday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Known as the World Investment Report 2007, the study found that foreigners directly invested $1.469 billion in Costa Rica last year.

That puts Costa Rica in fourth place in the region as far as per-capita foreign direct investment, behind Panama, Chile and Uruguay.

The United States remains Costa Rica's main investor, with 47% of foreign direct investment coming from there. Another 23% came from Canada and 5% from Colombia.

The report says the increase in investment in Costa Rica is “partly due to a large sale in the financial sector and partly to rising foreign direct investment in tourism.”

Foreign direct investment in Costa Rica has grown by leaps and bounds since 2004, when it reached $617.3 million and was growing by single digits.

Graphic's translation: Flows of Foreign Direct Investment. US Dollars (in millions)

Note: It's because of news like these that I had a hard time understanding why an important amount of Costa Ricans found it so hard to accept that the Central American Free Trade Agreement had to be approved.

Costa Rica has continued to grow thanks,among other things, to the foreign investment. Had CAFTA not been approved this would have been in danger. Now, the key is to find a way to distribute to the lower classes the wealth that this investment will bring.

Costa Rica's middle class is dissapearing (even the USA has this problem) and that is a threat to our social security. This issue must be dealt with quickly by this and the upcoming governments before we reach the level of other Latinamerican countries where the middle class is practically non-existant.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

U.S. forgives Costa Rican debt to help environment

(AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)(New York Times) - The United States has agreed to forgive $26 million of Costa Rica’s debt as part of a debt-for-nature swap that will protect some of the country’s most threatened tropical forests, officials said.

In a deal to be announced on Wednesday, the government of Costa Rica has committed to invest a similar amount in conserving high-risk natural areas that are the home to such threatened species as jaguars, squirrel monkeys and scarlet macaws.

The United States government will contribute about $12.6 million in financing as part of the deal. Two environmental groups, Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy, will contribute $1.26 million each. Those funds and the interest they generate will be enough to eliminate $26 million in Costa Rica’s debt over the next 16 years, officials said.

That is the largest amount of debt forgiven and the 13th such deal under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, which was first enacted in 1998.

“Debt-for-nature agreements are a successful model for government and citizen cooperation and should encourage more public-private partnerships to further the cause of global conservation and environmental protection,” Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said in a statement.

The funds will help protect important Costa Rican natural areas including the Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, La Amistad, Maquenque, Rincon de la Vieja and the Nicoya Peninsula, officials said.

“There’s a double benefit for these countries,” Claudia A. McMurray, assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science, said in a telephone interview. “They get some or all of their debt wiped out, and they get help in preserving an important natural resource.”

On top of that, Ms. McMurray said, there are the benefits to climate, as forests play an important role in absorbing greenhouse gasses.

To qualify for the program Costa Rica had to meet a series of political and economic requirements, including cooperation with Washington on drug enforcement and counterterrorism.

Costa Rica is one of the success stories in Central America when it comes to environmental management, although challenges remain. Deforestation stripped the country of almost 80 percent of its forest cover. But replanting efforts have helped reversed the trend, environmental groups say.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Guanacaste floods leave more than 1,000 people in shelters

Children played yesterday at a community center in San Antonio de Santa Ana, west of San José, where about 140 people are staying at a temporary shelter set up by the National Emergency Commission after a flood washed out their homes. (Monica Quesada/Tico Times)(Tico Times) - The relentless rains plaguing Costa Rica this month have moved to the northwestern Guanacaste province, where about 800 people remained in shelters Tuesday after being preventively evacuated from their homes.

The National Emergency Commission (CNE) Monday placed Guanacaste under a red alert when the Nosara and Tempisque rivers overflowed, flooding communities including Filadelfia, Carrillo, Nandayure, Hojancha, Santa Cruz, Liberia, Nosara and Nicoya.

The CNE opened 14 shelters in Guanacaste, and shelters also remain open in Santa Ana, west of San Jose; Atenas, northwest of San Jose; and the central Pacific towns of Parrita and Tarcoles. A total of 1,367 people have been evacuated from their homes by the CNE and are staying in these shelters.

A red alert remains in effect for Guanacaste as well as Parrita, while the rest of the country is under a yellow alert except the Caribbean, where the alert remains at the green, preventive level.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

National emergency as rain affects all parts of the country

(Inside Costa Rica) - From Santa Ana to Atenas, to Acosta, Tempisque, Guanacaste and Parrita, Quepos, mother nature has hit every part of the country hard during the past week, killing more than a dozen persons, destroying homes leaving hundreds homeless and affecting thousands.

Rain has been falling on the country since the beginning of last week with the presence of a stationary low pressure system followed by a tropical wave, dumping water from the north to the south of the country along the Pacific coast and the Central Valley.

Parrita, Garabito, Atenas, Acosta, Puntarenas, Desamparados, Alajuelita, Filadelfia and another 19 communities in Guanacaste have all felt the effects of the rainy season.

According to information from the National Emergency Commission (CNE) more than 15.000 have been affected by floods, mudslides and raging rivers generated from the heavy rain.

The CNE has had its resources stretched to the limit as it mobilizes to get help to those affected, maintaining a yellow and red alert for most of the country, save the Caribbean coast.

The Caribbean coast normally feels the effects of mother nature in December and January while the rest of the country is its dry (summer) season.

According to the National Meteorological Institute (IMN) the tropical wave that caused the flooding in Guanacaste should pass by the end of the day today, however, will be replaced by another low pressure system which is expected to dump even more water in the South and North Pacific.

The CNE is asking those who live in high risk areas not to drop their guard and keep alert to changes and be ready to act in the case of any anomalies. The commission is asking for residents in those high risk areas to know their area well, identify the weaknesses and have an evacuation plan ready.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Images of the Atenas disaster

Here are a few images of the mud avalanche that took place in Atenas on October 11. The final toll was 14 dead, and seven homes destroyed. These images were taken on October 11 and 12 during the search and rescue operations. All photos by Kent Gilberth/AP. To see more images of this disaster click here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Atenas body count totals 14

(Inside Costa Rica) - In total 14 bodies were recovered by search and rescue workers in the mud avalanche in El Bajo del Cacao, en San Isidro de Atenas.

The operations director for the Costa Rican Red Cross, Guillermo Arroyo, explained that the grueling task was completed in the face of the constant rain and mud slides that made their work near to impossible.

Arroyo said he feels for the families of the victims who were buried alive by mud in the early Thursday morning avalanche that destroyed 7 homes in its path.

The mudslide engulfed a complex housing the families of poor farm workers. It was the worst weather disaster in the Central American country for years.

Arroyo added that the search and rescue efforts ended with reports that all the missing persons had been found, though the Red Cross will continue to offer help to those families in need.

The emergency commission committee listed the names and ages of the dead: Debora Ovares, 10; Maria Agüero Corella, 36; Arquimedes Aviles Morales, 40; Luis Andrey Aviles Beita, 21; Maria Cecilia Barrios Viquez, 39; Epifanio Solorzano Villalobos, 55; Adelina Luz Sibaja Perez, 78; Sara Ovares Agüero, 22; Jefrey Agüero Artavia, 22; Darwin Palacios, 35; Francisco Zelaya Rivera, 32; Harlem Osorio Quintero, 20; and Agustín Reyes Calero, 25.

Parrita on the western Pacific coast was also flooded when rain-swollen rivers burst their banks.

Other news: Deadly landslide devastates Atenas

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Costa Rica expropriates land to protect turtles

(Photo by REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate)By John McPhaul

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has ordered the expropriation of lucrative beach-front land to protect the endangered leatherback sea turtle, the government said on Thursday.

Arias began expropriation procedures for some 30 hectares (74 acres) of land in northwestern Costa Rica, the most important leatherback sea turtle nesting site on the Pacific Rim, Energy and Environment Minister Roberto Dobles said.

"We are only complying with the law that established Las Baulas (national marine park) in 1995," Dobles told Reuters.

Some of the expropriated land owners, mostly Europeans and U.S. citizens, had resisted the expropriation even though the land was made a national park by law in 1995.

Environmentalists hailed the move to protect the turtles, which have been declining in alarming numbers in recent years.

"It will help us to restore the population of leatherback turtles in the Pacific," said Todd Steiner of the San Francisco-based Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Environmentalists say 95 percent of leatherbacks in the Pacific Ocean have vanished in the last 20 years due to human activity like fishing, poaching of their eggs and building near their nests.

Thousands of leatherbacks built nests at the Las Baulas beaches 10 years ago but the number has dropped to below 100 in the last five years.

Leatherbacks, which can reach a shell length of 5.6 feet (1.7 meters) and a weight of 1,543 pounds (700 kg), often die after being entangled in fishing lines and nets.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

PAC pledges not to block CAFTA's implementation in Congress

By Esteban Oviedo and Irene Vizcaino

San Jose (La Nacion) - The Citizens Action Party (PAC), the main opposition group in Congress, pledged today in a meeting with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias not to block the parallel laws that need to be approved prior to the implementation of CAFTA.

The 13 parallel laws, also knows as the "Implementation Agenda," are necessary for CAFTA to take effect in the country and must be approved by March 1, 2008, otherwise the country would be left out of the agreement, even though a majority of Costa Ricans (51.6 percent) gave their approval to CAFTA on the first-ever referendum held in Costa Rica.

President Arias and his brother Rodrigo Arias (Presidency Minister), met today in the Presidential House in Zapote with Elizabeth Fonseca and Rafael Madrigal (PAC representatives in Congress).

After the meeting, which took place between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Rodrigo Arias announced PAC's intention of allowing the passage of the parallel laws, which include the opening of the telecommunications industry (right now a government monopoly).

During the meeting, Fonseca said: "They (some groups that support CAFTA and some of the press) have tried to make us look like a group of obstructionists, but I want to make it clear, that's not our nature."

"The people have already made their choice, whether right or wrong, but we still believe that CAFTA is harmful to our country," Fonseca said. "Therefore, our proposal is to take a look at the Implementation Agenda and we will try to improve it, but not to block it, thats is something else, we will try to have it ready on time."

The Government has pledged to send PAC a chronogram of the pending legislative work, while the PAC will send the Government a proposal of modifications to the Implementation Agenda so that the projects to be approved can have just the "minimum requirements that CAFTA demands."

Rodrigo Arias said that "it's all positive," as he announced that the Government and the PAC also managed to reach agreements on several other projects of common interest such as the modifications to the laws of transit and immigration.

The two groups also agreed to work together to request a loan to the Interamerican Development Bank with the goal of improving the country's competitiveness, and the creation of a tax to luxury homes.

Translated by Uri Ridelman

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

OAS chief praises Costa Rican referendum

(Xinhua News) - Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), praised Costa Ricans on Monday for their civic spirit demonstrated in their calm and mass participation in Sunday's referendum on a free trade agreement.

According to results published by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), 51.7 percent of votes were in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which would create a free trade area covering the United States and Central America.

Some 60 percent of Costa Rica's 2.6 million eligible voters participated in the referendum. The turnout of at least 40 percent of eligible voters was needed to make the poll valid.

Insulza visited the TSE's headquarters and lauded Costa Ricans for their responsibility shown in their first ever referendum.

An OAS observer mission oversaw the referendum on Sunday.

The OAS had already said in a previous statement that the mission would remain in Costa Rica for a few more days compiling all the evidence needed for a report on the referendum, to be presented to the body's permanent council.

The statement also called on all Costa Ricans to respect the result.

The Costa Rican government signed the treaty in 2004, but the nation's legislature voted for a referendum because of political controversy over the issue.

"Yes" victory in Costa Rica viewed as defeat for Chavez

The yes vote given last Sunday by Costa Rica in a referendum on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Central America, the Dominican Republic and the United States was a "defeat" for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said The Washington Post on Tuesday.

"The victory probably would have been wider if not for the release, late in the campaign, of a regrettable internal memo showing that the yes campaign, led by President Oscar Arias, was thinking of trying to expand its margin by stoking voter fears of such free-trade opponents as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez," the daily newspaper wrote in an editorial quoted by AFP.

"The fact remains, though, that the referendum was a defeat for Mr. Chavez and his populist 'Bolivarian Alternative' to trade with the United States," said The Post. Over the last months, the daily has backed all the trade agreements that are to be ratified by the US Congress, such as the agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama.

Note: Hugo Chavez's influence in the referendum has been proven again and again even though some people of the NO to CAFTA have tried to deny it or even minimize it. It's a fact that some of the leaders of the NO have even visited Venezuela and attended political acts there.

One of them was congressman Jose Merino del Rio who has even admitted openly that he supports the "Bolivarian Government of Venezuela," after the newspaper Al Dia published on May 1 that he attended a gathering of leftitst movements in Venezuela that were promoting Hugo Chavez's ALBA. If you want to take a look at Merino in Venezuela and hear him giving his support to Hugo Chavez's government click here to open a Youtube video IN SPANISH.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Costa Rica said YES!

Yes: 51.6% No: 48.4%

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - Costa Ricans on Sunday appeared to narrowly vote in favor of joining the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., and President Oscar Arias declared victory for the pact. But with results so far contradicting most earlier polls, the opposition balked at conceding before a manual recount.

With 89 percent of the precincts reporting, nearly 52 percent of votes backed the agreement, which sharply divided the country between those arguing it would bring continued economic development and critics who feared it could hurt farmers and small businesses.

"Costa Rica's people have said 'yes' to the treaty, and this is a sacred vote," Arias said.

But Eugenio Trejos, the leader of the pact's opposition, said he would not recognize the results and vowed to wait for a manual recount scheduled to begin Tuesday.

"The people have spoken, and the achievements we have obtained won't be lost," he said. "That's why we will wait for the ballot-by-ballot recount."

Arias urged the nation to move forward

"The treaty isn't what divides us," he said. "It's poverty that affects 900,000 Costa Ricans, a lack of work and violence. These are the things that separate us, and they will continue to be my priority."

The presumed victory was a surprise, given that most polls leading up to the vote had predicted an easy defeat.

Costa Rica is the only one of the six Latin American signatories to the trade deal, known as CAFTA, that has yet to ratify it. The pact is in effect in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The results were closely watched by the White House, which fought a bruising political battle to get the deal ratified by the Congress, where it passed by a two-vote margin.

Ahead of the vote, U.S. officials and Arias appealed for voters to back the deal. The White House on Saturday said if Costa Ricans vote against joining the agreement, the Bush administration will not renegotiate the deal and it urged people to recognize the treaty's benefits.

The pact would "expand Costa Rica's access to the U.S. market, safeguard that access under international law, attract U.S. and other investment and link Costa Rica to some of the most dynamic economies of our hemisphere," White House press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.

U.S. officials also suggested they may not extend trade preferences now afforded to Costa Rican products and set to expire next September.

Arias said a 'no' vote would affect industries in this Central American nation of 4.5 million people, and called it an "important tool for generating wealth in the country."

Arias, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end Central America's civil wars in the 1980s, also said rejecting the pact would threaten trade benefits that help Costa Rica's textile and tuna industries.

But critics of the pact object to its requirements that Costa Rica open its telecommunications, services and agricultural sectors to greater competition. They also fear it will mean a flood of cheap U.S. farm imports.

When Arias arrived at a polling station to vote, opponents of the pact almost prevented him from entering and yelled "Arias traitor!" Others shouted in support of the pact.

Groups of demonstrators for and against the agreement marched Sunday in the capital, San Jose.

Pablo Chacon, a 63-year-old former truck driver, said he planned to vote 'yes' because that would mean more opportunities for his children.

"I have children who are studying and one even works for Intel, and if they took it away, what would my children do?" he said.

But many Costa Ricans were skeptical of the pact, or downright hostile.

Lawyer Flor Vega said she feared the trade agreement would end up giving foreign interests the development rights to Costa Rica's natural resources.

"I'm going with 'no' because the treaty has a very broad definition of land," she said. "They can use the ground and underground, and this is a good reason to say 'no."'

As polls closed Sunday evening, electoral authorities estimated that participation surpassed 40 percent of registered voters, the minimum for results to be binding.

Despite its conflicts over trade, Costa Rica fares better than other Central American countries: It has a thriving eco-tourism industry, maintains relatively high-paying jobs and is a magnet for Salvadoran and Nicaraguan migrants.

Costa Rica exported $3.37 billion in goods to the United States last year and imported goods worth $4.57 billion, according to Costa Rica's trade ministry.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Costa Rica votes on trade deal with US


SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — Costa Ricans vote Sunday on whether to ratify a free-trade trade deal with the United States that has sharply divided the nation between those who say it would generate prosperity and critics who fear it would hurt farmers and local businesses.

Costa Rica is the only one of the six signatories to the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA, that has yet to ratify it. The deal is in effect in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

With polls showing that Costa Ricans are poised to reject the pact, Costa Rica's president and U.S. officials have appealed for voters to back the deal.

On Saturday, the White House said if Costa Ricans vote against joining the agreement, the Bush administration will not renegotiate it.

The pact would "expand Costa Rica's access to the U.S. market, safeguard that access under international law, attract U.S. and other investment and link Costa Rica to some of the most dynamic economies of our hemisphere," White House press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.

U.S. officials also suggested they may not extend trade preferences now afforded to Costa Rican products and set to expire next September.

Despite its conflicts over trade, Costa Rica fares better than other Central American countries: It has a thriving eco-tourism industry, maintains relatively high-paying jobs and is a magnet for Salvadoran and Nicaraguan migrants.

"The country, businesses and all of us need to continue forward, and I think the treaty will benefit us because we can compete," said 40-year-old Mauricio Rojas, who works at a textile factory in San Rafael de Poas that makes clothing for Tommy Hilfiger, Perry Ellis and Claiborne.

President Oscar Arias, a strong supporter of the pact, said a 'no' vote would affect Costa Rican industries and called it an "important tool for generating wealth in the country."

Arias, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end Central America's civil wars in the 1980s, also said rejecting the pact would threaten trade benefits that help Costa Rica's textile and tuna industries.

Critics of the pact object to requirements that Costa Rica open its telecommunications, services and agricultural sectors to greater competition. They also fear it will mean a flood of cheap U.S. farm imports.

"It won't work for Costa Rica because to date things have been fine, we don't need change. The deal would only help the government, because the agricultural sector would be 100 percent affected because we can't compete," said strawberry farmer Luis Alfaro.

A poll published Thursday by the firm Unimer found that 55 percent of those questioned said they opposed the agreement, while 43 percent supported it, the newspaper La Nacion reported. The poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, and questioned 1,202 people between Sept. 27 and Oct. 2. Earlier polls have also predicted defeat.

Costa Ricans opposed to the deal held a large march in the capital last weekend.

A minimum of 40 percent of Costa Rica's 2.6 million voters must participate for Sunday's vote to be valid.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Will Costa Rica join Latin America's leftward tide?

Costa Ricans vote Sunday whether to approve a free-trade pact with the US.

By Sara Miller Llana – Staff writer and Blake Schmidt – contributor
The Christian Science Monitor

Sergio Salazar has spent three years touring seaside hamlets and mountain towns alike in a rickety yellow school bus, warning against trade liberalization at each stop.

No, he's not in Ecuador, or Venezuela, or any other Latin American country that has voted a leftist leader into power in recent years.

He's in Costa Rica, historically Central America's most stable, business-friendly democracy. And his rallying call is coming to a head this weekend as the nation votes in a referendum on the Central America Free Trade Act (DR-CAFTA) encompassing the US, Central America, and the Dominican Republic.

Costa Rica is the only nation in the region not to have ratified DR-CAFTA. Even in Nicaragua, whose president Daniel Ortega was once a virulent US foe, the pact has been ratified. And the outcome is far from certain: Opinion polls show a tight race, with the 'no' side now edging past the 'si' side.

Supporters, including Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, say that the agreement is essential for jobs and investment and that it will keep the technology sector booming. Opponents say the deal will flood the market with cheap imports, will be a boost to multinationals at the expense of small-business owners, and threaten national sovereignty.

The debate has led to finger-pointing and has undertones of the "left" and "right" pendulum of Latin American politics. Will Costa Ricans endorse their historically close ties to the US, or will the country move toward the anti-US camp headed by Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez?

"I believe the opposition is against the agreement because [the pact] is with the US," says Luis Haug, manager of the polling firm CID-Gallup in Costa Rica. "It's more about ideology than free trade."

This weekend's referendum is, in many ways, a referendum on the presidential election last February, in which President Arias beat opponent Otton Solis by just 2 percent.

Arias's slogan was "Costa Rica, Sí!," a reference to his support for the pact, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. Once again, he's asking Costa Ricans to vote "Sí" in favor of it.

"If we want to generate the 70,000 jobs we need every year for the next generation, we should vote 'Sí,' " Arias said recently, adding that if the trade pact is rejected, "Costa Rica will stop exporting goods and services and would instead export people."

Over the past two decades, Costa Rica's agricultural economy of coffee and bananas has diversified, and the country has become a technology hub, drawing such companies as Intel and Hewlett-Packard. Today computer microchips are Costa Rica's top export, according to the Foreign Trade Ministry. And last year, the country was able to attract $1.5 billion in foreign investment, up from $100 million two decades ago, according to the ministry.

Costa Rica's business sector is among the biggest advocates of a trade pact. CAFTA supporters say they fear that if the pact is turned down, investors will flee, and plans to negotiate similar agreements with the European Union and other strategic markets will be crippled.

"If this loses, it will be a regression of astronomical proportions," says Luis Lauredo, the former US ambassador to the Organization of American States.

But supporters face a tough opposition that spans university elites, unions, and dairy and rice farmers. More than 100,000 marched in the capital, San Jose, this past weekend, waving signs reading, "We won't sell our country."

As part of the agreement, the US is demanding that Costa Rica open up state telecom and insurance monopolies.

"It will benefit the multinational companies, but not small businesses like mine," says Antonio Ramirez, who runs a travel agency. If Costa Rica's telecom industry is opened, he says, increased communications costs will eat into his company's modest profits.

"The 'no' [camp] is asking, 'Why do we need this if we have already done so well compared to the rest of Central America?" says the pollster, Mr. Haug.

But many supporters here say a window of opportunity is quickly closing.

Winning support for DR-CAFTA in the US House of Representatives in 2005 was a struggle. Now the antifree-trade sentiment in the Democratic-controlled Congress is stronger. "If this is rejected," says Mr. Lauredo, "there will be no new trade agreement on the horizon."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

U.S. warns Costa Rica against rejecting CAFTA

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON - Costa Rica could lose valuable access to the U.S. market if the country rejects a free-trade agreement with the United States when voters go to the polls on Sunday, a top U.S. official said.

The United States respects Costa Rica's sovereign right to decide whether to join the pact, "but, I hope whatever decision is made is based on the facts," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a statement on Thursday.

"It is difficult to imagine any U.S. administration renegotiating the current agreement or negotiating a new trade agreement with Costa Rica if this agreement is rejected. The opportunity for Costa Rica to enjoy the benefits of regional free trade is now," Schwab said.

The warning came as Costa Rica prepared to vote Sunday on whether to join the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which the U.S. Congress narrowly approved in 2005. Some Costa Rican opponents of the pact have argued it could be renegotiated and improved if voters reject it.

About 100,000 Costa Ricans turned out last Sunday to protest the pact, a huge number in a country of 4 million.

The deal locks in Costa Rica's current duty-free access to the U.S. market under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), and phases out many trade barriers facing U.S. manufacturers, farmers and service industry companies in Costa Rica.

The referendum has split the nation, with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and some businesses saying CAFTA will bring investment and jobs. Opponents says it will mean a flood of cheap farm imports and limit the country's sovereignty by taking investment disputes to international arbitration.

"The opposition has always said that nothing will happen to this country without the trade pact. This statement (by the United States) comes at the right time so that Costa Ricans know all the cards are on the table," said government official and brother of the president, Rodrigo Arias.


Other CAFTA countries -- El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic -- have already ratified the agreement. Only Costa Rica has let its voters decide.

Schwab also took issue with a recent letter from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that said Costa Rica would not lose current U.S. trade benefits if the pact is rejected.

"Participation in the CBI is not conditioned on a country's decision to approve or reject a free trade agreement with the United States, and we do not support such a linkage," the Democratic leaders said in a letter to Costa Rica's ambassador to the United States.

Although many trade benefits under CBI are permanent, certain others benefiting Costa Rica's textile and tuna industries expire next year.

"The fact is, the United States has never faced a situation where one of our trading partners rejects a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States, but continues to seek unilateral trade preferences," Schwab said.

(Additional reporting by John McPhaul in Costa Rica)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Only in Tiquicia

A drunk man sleeps on a sidewalk in front of a building advertising Alcoholics Anonymous' "Learning to Live" meetings in San Jose, Costa Rica, October 2, 2007. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Note: I know this is a sad image but it perfectly depicts the ironic turns of events that sometimes we encounter in life. According to statistics, despite the effort of Costa Rican authorities an estimated 7 percent of Costa Ricans are alcohol-dependent*.

* = Statistics provided by the Pharmacodependency and Alcoholism Institute

Monday, October 01, 2007

IRS warns of internet scam in Costa Rica

(Tico Times) - The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning U.S. taxpayers of an Internet scam that has been popping up in Costa Rica.

The “phishing” scam involves a fraudulent e-mail that pretends to be an IRS request for personal information in order for the user to access a tax refund.

The scam asks for Social Security numbers and credit card information, and could also infect a victim's computer system, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

“The IRS warns that care should always be taken when disclosing personal information,” the statement said.

The IRS has busted several such schemes in recent years, like the case in which an e-mail told taxpayers they were being audited and that they could resolve matters by divulging sensitive financial information on an official-looking Web site.

In Costa Rica, the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) has received an influx of Internet banking fraud complaints in the last year, and is now investigating some 150 cases.

If U.S. taxpayers have any doubts about the authenticity of an e-mail, they can call 1-800-829-1040.

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