Monday, March 31, 2008

Costa Rican minister resigns over FARC comments

 Former Security Minister Fernando Berrocal (Photo: La Nacion / FILE)SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - Costa Rica's security minister has resigned after alleging earlier this month that unidentified local politicians could have ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Fernando Berrocal stepped down Sunday, a day before he was scheduled to testify before Congress about statements he made after some $500,000 in cash was found in a retired professor's home.

Lawmakers had bristled at Berrocal's assertion that computer files seized during a recent Colombian military raid on a FARC camp led police to the money and suggested ties between the guerrillas and Costa Rican contacts, including politicians. They were expected to press Berrocal for names during Monday's session.

Berrocal said President Oscar Arias did not pressure him to quit.

"We decided that the best way to ensure the subject wasn't politicized, and the only way for me not to appear [before Congress], was for me not to be minister," Berrocal was quoted as saying by the website of La Nacion newspaper.

Colombia has sought U.S. and international help to analyze the information in three laptops seized in the March 1 raid, which have yet to be authenticated.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Allegro Papagayo Hotel allowed to re-open halfway

By Peter Krupa
Tico Times

The Allegro Papagayo Hotel has re-opened almost two months after it was closed by the Ministry of Health for dumping wastewater into a nearby estuary.

Health Minister María Luisa Avila said the hotel received permission on March 19 to allow up to 300 people on the property, a number that includes both guests and employees.

The hotel has 300 rooms.

Avila said the hotel's water treatment plant – which has an approved capacity for 300 – has been repaired and that the Ministry of Health will be sending inspectors during the week to make sure it is in working order.

Full occupancy of the hotel would require a second water treatment plant, Avila said. While the hotel has submitted preliminary plans for a second plant, construction on it has yet to begin.

Allegro Papagayo, part of the Spanish-owned Occidental Hotels & Resorts, was closed by the Health Ministry on Jan. 31 after inspectors found hidden pipes that were dumping wastewater into an estuary that is attached to Culebra Bay.

The hotel had also been shipping raw sewage from its overloaded wastewater plants and dumping it in septic fields outside of the small town of El Gallo de Liberia.

Complaints against the hotel had languished before the Environmental Tribunal for a year before the Health Ministry moved to shut it down.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dengue fever reduced in Costa Rica

(Photo: AFP/File/Orlando Sierra)Costa Rica showed a reduction on the index of dengue fever affected people Wednesday, according to the last record by the Costa Rica Public Health Ministry.

The document showed that until March 15, the number of cases was down 65 percent, which means that 2,426 less people were infected with the disease. On March 15, 2007, the total number of affected people was of 3,707.

The Public Health Ministry said hemorrhagic dengue fever, which may be mortal, has affected 13 people in Costa Rica this year. Individuals 25 to 29 years old were the most affected by the disease.

More than 50 percent of the affected people with hemorrhagic dengue fever are women.

The dengue fever, transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, affected 27,000 people in this country last year. The disease killed eight patients in 2007, four of them children.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Costa Rican president's popularity reaches new high

(Photo: REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas)By Gillian Gillers
Tico Times

President Oscar Arias is more popular now than at any other point during his term, according to the polling firm Unimer.

Some 50% of respondents said Arias is doing a “good” or “very good” job, while 14% called his performance “bad” or “very bad.”

The figures, first reported yesterday by the daily La Nación, are based on 1,200 interviews conducted throughout the country March 8-15.

Of the last five presidents, Arias has the highest midterm approval rating. The runner-up is Rafael Angel Calderón (1990-94), with 38% approval.

Arias, who took office in May 2006, saw his popularity reach a low point in September 2007, when he had 42% approval and 20% disapproval. He drew fire then for pushing the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), which was passed by referendum in October.

Approval ratings for Arias' cabinet have also increased from a low point in September. Some 36% of respondents said the cabinet was doing a “good” or “very good” job, while 22% percent said it was doing a “bad” or “very bad” job.

Still, most Costa Ricans said the government is not helping everyone equally. Some 67% said the government favors certain sectors, up from 59% in August.

People also have become more worried about safety and drugs. Some 20% of respondents said crime and violence were the country's biggest problems, up from 11% in August. Some 12% said Costa Rica's thorniest challenge was drug addiction, up from 6% in August.

Nearly a quarter of respondents were most worried about the high cost of living. Some 28% said they had trouble satisfying their basic needs. That figure has not changed since August.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Costa Rica phone numbers grow to eight digits

Photo by Getty Images(Tico Times) - While many Costa Rican residents were out of town for a Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week) vacation, their phones were busy growing another digit.

Now eight-digits long, landline numbers begin with an extra "2" and cell phone (which previously began with "3" or "8") start with an added "8."

After announcing the addition about a year ago, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) made the change on March 20.

This is the second time in 14 years that ICE, which has the country's telecom monopoly, added on a digit. The last time was in 1994, when phone numbers went from six to seven digits.

There are an estimated 3 million phone lines in Costa Rica , including cell phones.

However, three-digit numbers such as 911 and numbers starting with 800 or 900 remain as they were.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Costa Rica couple says they didn't know safe contained FARC money

This is the safe where the FARC stored almost half a million dollars. (Photo by Jorge Castillo / La Nacion)SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - A couple who agreed to store a safe in their home for a Colombian man in the late 1990s said Tuesday it belonged to senior Colombian rebel leader, and that they also briefly hosted late guerrilla commander Raul Reyes in their home.

Retired university professor Francisco Gutierrez and his wife Cruz Prado told a news conference that at the time, they did not know the identity of either of the men.

They said both Reyes and rebel leader Rodrigo Granda used false names and posed as negotiators for peace in the conflict between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The couple also insisted they had no idea the safe contained $480,000 until authorities seized the money from their home on Friday.

Gutierrez, a naturalized Costa Rican from Spain, and Prado, who is Costa Rican, spoke with reporters at their home a day after lawmakers demanded that the government provide more information on allegations that Colombian guerrillas have ties to local politicians and have stashed money in the Central American country.

The Colombian government discovered the existence of the $480,000 and its whereabouts from files contained in three computers the military seized during a raid on a FARC camp just inside Ecuadorean territory on March 1. FARC leader Reyes was killed during the raid.

Gutierrez and Prado said they were members of the political left — which during the late 1990s acted as an intermediary in peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC — when they met the rebels. Reyes identified himself as "Dario," and Granda called himself "Ricardo."

In either 1997 or 1998, the couple said they agreed to host Reyes in their home along with a woman who went by the name of Olga, whose real identity is not known.

"They stayed with us several days," Prado said. "Later, he (Reyes) asked us if a third person could leave something at our house and we said yes."

Granda showed up sometime later with an electronic safe that he asked the couple to store in their house.

Prado said they thought the safe contained documents until authorities seized it on Friday from their home, in the city of Heredia, north of the capital.

When the couple discovered the men's real identity in 2004, "we were very scared to see who we had been dealing with, but this (box) wasn't ours and we couldn't get rid of it, so we didn't tell anyone," she said.

Attorney General Francisco Dall'Anese on Monday said no charges were pending against Gutierrez and that police had searched his home at Colombia's request.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Costa Rican politicians alarmed by possible link to Colombian rebels

Fernando Berrocal (Photo by La Nacion newspaper)San Jose, Costa Rica (AP) - Allegations that Colombian guerrillas had ties to Costa Rican politicians and stashed hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Central American country have alarmed lawmakers who on Monday demanded more details.

A computer confiscated during a March 1 raid by Colombia's army on a jungle camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia contained files that suggested there were ties between the leftist guerrilla group and Costa Rican contacts, including politicians, Security Minister Fernando Berrocal said Saturday.

"On this computer there's more , I'm not going to tell you now but the country will soon find out," Berrocal said.

The computer also contained information that led to the seizure Friday of almost $500,000 that allegedly belonged to the FARC from a Costa Rican professor's home in the city of Heredia, north of the capital.

In a radio interview on Monday, former presidential candidate for the governing National Liberation Party, Rolando Araya, demanded more details.
"It would be good if he'd tell us and bring to the public light who these politicians are who are linked to the FARC," Araya said.

Rafael Madrigal, a legislator with the opposition Citizens Action Party, made a similar request in a letter to Berrocal.

The raided house belongs to a retired university professor, Francisco Gutierrez, who was out of the country at the time of the seizure. He returned to Costa Rica on Sunday, but said through his wife that he would only speak to reporters after talking to authorities.

Gutierrez, originally from Spain but now a naturalized Costa Rican, has an unusual middle name -Eleuterio- that matches the information Colombian National Police chief Oscar Naranjo said he had on the supposed FARC contact.

Naranjo said the contact was "a person linked to the Communist Party of Costa Rica, an older person, a person who really has a lot of years in the Central American left."

Attorney General Francisco Dall'Anese on Monday said no charges were pending against Gutierrez in Costa Rica, adding that police had searched his home at the request of the Colombians.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Apparent FARC cash uncovered in Costa Rica

Police officers entered the house in Heredia at around 12:25 p.m. (Photo: Alejamdro Sandino / La Nacion) By Gonzalo Guillen
El Nuevo Herald

BOGOTA - Tipped by the Colombian military, Costa Rican authorities found almost $500,000 believed to belong to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in an old safe in a house near the Costa Rican capital of San Jose.

A Colombian judiciary source told El Nuevo Herald that information found in a FARC computer seized by the military in a raid to a jungle camp led to the discovery of the money in a house occupied since 1985 by a retired teacher and his wife.

The source said the discovery indicates that Costa Rica is still a strategic country for the rebels, who in 2001 tried to open a regional office in San Jose after their Mexico City base was shut down by the government.

In a computer belonging to late FARC leader Raul Reyes, Colombian police investigators found the name of Costa Rican teacher Francisco Gutierrez Perez, the amount of money -$480,000- he was supposed to be holding for the FARC and the address of the house.

Costa Rican authorities raided the house on Friday and found the money, the Colombian government confirmed. Gutierrez Perez and his wife, Cruz Prado Rojas, were not home.

Immigration authorities later said the couple had left the country on Feb. 14 bound for Mexico and Guatemala.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nicaragua, Costa Rica vow to boost cooperation

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega (L) shakes hands with Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias during a meeting in Managua March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Oswaldo RivasManagua, Nicaragua (Xinhua) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his Costa Rican counterpart Oscar Arias signed Friday a joint declaration to reaffirm their willingness to boost cooperation.

The event took place at the closing ceremony of a Nicaraguan-Costa Rican joint commission meeting starting from Thursday.

Nicaragua and Costa Rica will further reinforce their cooperation in economy, trade, tourism and especially in environmental protection, according to the declaration.

The two countries plan to build a wildlife protection passage, linking their respective protection zones with the aim to safeguard their natural and cultural resources and fight the smuggling of endangered wildlife.

They will also cement tourism cooperation by simplifying the visa application process and installing new check points at the border.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fighting coronary problems in Tiquicia

People with heart problems play with a ball as part of cardiovascular therapy at Sabana Park in San Jose March 13, 2008. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Costa Rica with more than 60 percent of the country's population suffering from coronary problems, according to the National Statistics Institute. (Photo: Reuters / Juan Carlos Ulate)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Presidential meeting in San Jose

(L-R) Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Salvadoran President Antonio Saca, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colon and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega wave during an official photo seesion at the presidential house in San Jose March 12, 2008. The Presidents of Central America are meeting in San Jose to maintain the same position of a regional bloc for the next round of negotiations with the European Union. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Deepak Chopra: Costa Rica is a model for human development

By Rob Bartlett
Tico Times

The renowned Indian-American physician and writer Deepak Chopra is in Costa Rica to participate in the Human Forum at the Real Intercontinental hotel in Escazu.

This is the first time the conference has been held outside Puerto Rico since its founding in 2002.
"This country is making progress. It is a model," said Chopra at a press conference yesterday, explaining the decision to move the event to Costa Rica. He cited the country's environmental awareness and lack of an army as part of the reasoning.

He also said the decision was intended as an act of "homage" to President Oscar Arias, a founding member of the alliance. The Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Development is co-hosting the conference. The two men were scheduled to officially open the conference together at the National Museum in downtown San Jose yesterday evening.

At the press conference, Chopra laid out the vision of the Alliance for a New Humanity, the organization that is hosting the conference and of which he is president. He explained that the alliance encourages three activities that it hopes will lead to a "critical mass" of people who act as a catalyst for positive change in the world: "personal transformation," or becoming a truly responsible citizen; "social transformation," or taking positive action for the benefit of society; and the desire and will to share positive experiences of transformation.

The event is specifically looking to counter five "myths" said to dominate human relationships and interaction with nature: money brings happiness; technology yields well-being; weapons provide security; natural resources are unlimited; and somebody else will solve society's problems.

Answering criticism of the organization's lack of impact at a global level, Chopra acknowledged that "No, we have not seen any results in global politics." But, he added, "to see a transformation in global politics, we need to reach a critical mass," and he insisted that he was satisfied with the progress of the organization.

The event will take the form of thematic workshops and roundtable discussions on relevant topics. The aim is to encourage dialogue among all nationalities and across all disciplines and political affiliations.

Those attending will be able to network, exchange ideas and open new channels of communication to further the cause of sustainable global development and the commitment to non-violence.

Approximately 560 people are attending the conference, which will run until Friday. In addition to Chopra, many other leading international figures will be attending the conference, including Indian Ashok Khosla, president of the Club of Rome; Italian journalist and communications expert Roberto Savio; American concert pianist Lorin Hollander and Spanish judge and academic Baltasar Garzón.

For more information go to the Alliance's website:
Alternatively, contact the Arias foundation at 224-1919.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

New volcano discovered in San Carlos, Costa Rica

By Alejandra Vargas / La Nacion
Translated by Uri Ridelman

Amidst the virgin jungle of San Carlos, there's a volcano with a crater similar to the one the Irazu volcano has and eight times bigger than the crater of the active Turrialba volcano. This volcano had been hiding under the dense clouds of an inaccessible site.

This was confirmed yesterday to La Nacion newspaper by Wilfredo Rojas of the National Seismologic Network.

This colossus, known also as the Cerro El Porvenir (El Porvenir Hill), is an inactive volcano of conic shape. It's located in the limit between San Carlos and Alfaro Ruiz, in the heart of the Juan Castro Blanco National Park in San Carlos. The volcano's location is very remote, rarely visited and hardly known at all by the locals.

This volcano has an altitude of 2300 meters (7546 feet) and its crater has a 200-meter (656-feet) diameter and a depth of about 60 meters (197 feet). Inside the crater there is lagoon with an area of about 7000 square meters (22966 square feet).

How did they find it?

Historically there was no record that this volcanic crater existed in that place, nor reports from locals that suggested any type of activity.

That's why last Thursday scientists had to walk to the aforementioned place, for about eight hours, to corroborate its existence.

Everything started about a year and a half ago, when experts observed the infrared images taken by the WB-57 NASA airplane in 2005. This was part of a mission that photographed all of Costa Rica from the air in order to get to know better the geography of Costa Rica.

"Studying the two geological faults active in the zone we realized that there was some sort of crater right underneath the peak of El Porvenir," Rojas said. That's why we wanted to pay a visit on foot to corroborate our suspicions."

Since the scientists knew the coordinates (497.158° latitude and 250.592° longitude) of the crater thanks to the NASA images they used local guides along with GPS devices to search inside the national park and reach the volcano's crater.

"We did the tour on Thursday because during this time of year the crater's site has the best weather conditions and visibility," Rojas said. This is traditionally a very cloudy site."

The walk started in San Jose de la Montana (San Jose of the Mountain) and the prize after a dangerous descent off a 200-meter cliff was finding the crater and the lagoon.

"We can't tell right now whether or not there's a risk of volcanic activity," Rojas said. "However, scientifically speaking, as of now we only know that it hasn't had any activity in a long time."

Rojas said that the next step will be to determine the age and extension of the dry lava found on the site. This analysis will be made using carbon-14 dating tests to study the rests of organic matter on the rocks.

The inside of the crater will also be analyzed in order to study the viscous magma and the geochemistry of the crater's lake.

"It's really amazing to find a volcano's crater in the 21st century," Rojas said. "This is just getting started"

Between faults

This is the last volcano of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range and it's located between two very active geological faults, the Congo Fault (on the left) and the El Porvenir fault (on the right). A geological fault is a fracture or crack in the earth's crust.

Rojas pointed out that El Porvenir is classified as a stratovolcano, which means that it has several layers of hardened lava showing its activities and age.

"Even though vegetation around it suggests that the volcano has been inactive for hundreds of years, we are sure this is in fact a volcano because of the crater and because around it there is evidence of lava eruptions, rock explosions and gases of considerable magnitude," Rojas said.

Based on the rock type and sediments discovered these eruptions could date back to the Holocene Epoch, which happened 11 thousand years ago and coincides with the end of the glacial times.

The volcano is about two million years old -about the same age as the other volcanoes in this mountain range- and was formed due to the subduction of the Cocos plate beneath Costa Rican territory.

Note: this article is property of La Nacion. It was translated almost word-by-word, voluntarily and at no cost, by me. I am not an employee of La Nacion nor associated to them in any way. If you want to read more on this important discovery or look at the original article (in Spanish) along with the infrared NASA picture and other graphics you can click here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Alleged Costa Rican baby traffickers released

Jorge Rojas, chief of Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ)(Tico Times) - The 14 people held earlier this week for alleged involvement in an illegal adoption scheme have been released unde the conditions that they don't leave the country and they sign a at the judicial offices every two weeks.
Costa Rican police believe the detainees – including a family court judge, a lawyer and two social workers – had arranged to have mothers paid up to $10,000 to give up their babies.

“This trafficking is prohibited by law,” said Jorge Rojas, chief of Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ).

The 14 were released after a judge declined to accept a prosecutor's motion to keep them in preventive prison.

The judge and two social workers were suspended for six months, pending the results of a prosecutor's investigation.

Police said their investigation into the adoption scheme began early in June 2006 and at least three babies have been adopted through the scheme.

None of those suspected of buying babies is a foreigner, police said.

Courier offers to fly body of Costa Rican home

Adrienne E. Rosen, President of First International Courier SystemsToronto, Canada (The Mississauga News) - The body of an illegal construction worker who died of a heart attack on a job site in Mississauga last month will be flown to Costa Rica for burial thanks to the generosity of a Toronto courier company.

Alvaro Vargas Fonseca, 38, died Feb. 25 of a heart attack while working in the city, and since then, his family has been desperately trying to raise the $8,000 required to ship it home.

Yesterday, First International Courier Systems, which specializes in emergency shipment of life-saving materials, stepped in to say they will ensure the safe delivery of Fonesca's body to his homeland.

"The company's touched by this, and we'll just see what we can't do here," company President Adrienne Rosen told The Globe and Mail, which received several other offers of help after publishing the story.

Airfare typically costs between $2,000 and $4,000 for a body transfer, but few courier companies will ship human bodies.

A fund has been set up to accept contributions that will help defray funeral costs. Any money remaining will go to the dead man's family. He had three children.

Donations can be made by cheque to: The estate of the late Alvaro Vargas Fonseca, Portuguese Canadian Credit Union, 1168 Dundas St. W., Toronto, M6J 1X4. Call 416-533-9245.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Police arrests 14 in Costa Rican adoption scheme

Attorney Esteban Soler is arrested by an unidentified police officer at his home in San Jose, Costa Rica, February 4, 2008. Solera was arrested on suspicion of participating in an adoption scheme that paid poor mothers for giving up their babies.San Jose, Costa Rica (AP) - Costa Rican authorities detained 14 people, including a family court judge, a lawyer and two social workers, on suspicion of participating in a scheme in which poor mothers were paid to give up their babies. The police said the adoptive parents may have paid the group an average of $10,000 a child. There was no immediate evidence that any were sent abroad. (Photo: Eyleen Vargas / La Nacion)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Israeli ambassador tries to soothe relations with Costa Rica

(Photo by Jose Diaz / La Nacion)San Jose, Costa Rica (La Nacion) - The Israeli ambassador Ehud Eitam, tried to soothe the likely deterioration of the relations between his country and Costa Rica, resulting from the establishment of relations between the Central American nation and the Palestinian Authority.

The possibility of deterioration emerged when Arye Mekel, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry, announced the cancellation of a bilateral meeting to be held in Costa Rica and asked to meet with Costa Rica's representative in Tel Aviv in order to express the dissapointment that exists regarding Costa Rica’s regrettable decision.

Ambassador Eitam, however, said that Israel and Costa Rica have had very good relations since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and this friendship is present at every level of the Israeli and Costa Rican societies

Eitam expressed his wishes that the excellent and extraordinary friendship between the nations and peoples of Costa Rica and Israel will continue for many more years and he added that his country respects Costa Rica's decision of establishing relationships with moderate Arab countries.

In 2006 Costa Rica moved its embassy in Israel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Since then Costa Rica has steadily rebuilt its relations with moderate Arab nations and resumed diplomatic relations with countries such as Egypt and Jordan among others.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

New recycling center in Escazu

Ileana Guevara selects paper for recycling at a collection center in San Antonio de Escazu, 30 miles (43km) from San Jose February 29, 2008. A group of seven Costa Rican women formed a foundation to recycle plastic, paper and glass from the approximately 11,000 tons of waste produced daily, with the aim of reducing the pollution and its environmental impact in the country. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

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