Thursday, July 31, 2008

Presidents of Costa Rica, Brazil strengthen ties

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (L) kisses a student while Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias looks on before their meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, July 30, 2008. (Photo: REUTERS/Jamil Bittar)(Tico Times) - Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva yesterday signed 10 cooperation agreements between both countries including one on bio-fuels, according to a statement by the Costa Rican Presidential House. Arias met with Lula for fifty minutes at the presidential palace in the capital city of Brasilia. Arias described the meeting as “friendly” and personally invited Lula to visit Costa Rica.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Costa Rica jails three Iraqis in fake passport case

(Photo: Francisco Barrantes / La Nacion)San Jose, Costa Rica (IHT) - Authorities say three Iraqi men have been jailed in Costa Rica on suspicion of using false passports.

The Attorney General's office said Tuesday the men flew from Costa Rica to Guatemala using fake travel documents from Greece, Great Britain and the former Yugoslavia. All were refused entry and were returned to Costa Rica, where authorities detained them Monday.

Costa Rican law allows them to be held for three months while they are being investigated on the false documents charge, a crime punishable up to six years in prison.
A statement from the prosecutor's office did not name the men.

Basilica of Los Angeles waiting for two million "romeros"

View of the Basilica de Los Angeles, in Cartago, where it will be host to some two million "romeros" by Saturday. The pilgrimage (romeria) this year will be full of rain and cold weather, according to the National Meteorological Institute (IMN) - the national weather service.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Arias off to Brazil, will miss August 2 ceremonies

(Inside Costa Rica) - Costa Rican president Oscar Arias announced yesterday that he will not be attending the ceremonies of August 2 at the Basilica de la Virgen de Los Angeles, in Cartago.

The president leaves for Brazil today for a meeting with Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on Thursday.

This will be the first time since the Figueres Olsen administration that the country's president will not take part in the annual religious ceremonies in Cartago.

Taking Arias' place will be the vice-president Laura Chinchilla, who will be acting as interim president while Arias is in Brazil.

Accompanying the president is Foreign Affairs minister Bruno Stagno and the Trade minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz, in addition to Jose Leon Desanti, president of the state refinery (Recope).

Not accompanying his brother on this trip is Rodrigo Arias, chief of staff.

WTO trade talks collapse, banana wars continue

A worker sorts bananas for export on Bananera El Esfuerzo farm in 28 Millas de Siquirres, Costa Rica July 17, 2008. (REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate)Geneva (Reuters) - A deal to settle a historic row over trade in bananas between Latin American exporters and the European Union is off after the failure of broader world trade talks on Tuesday, European trade officials said.

The world's top banana exporter, Ecuador, reacted angrily and demanded that the EU stick to the agreement to slash its import tariffs on bananas.

A nine-day bid to find a breakthrough in the so-called Doha round of world trade talks collapsed on Tuesday, and it was not clear when the negotiations could be revived, if at all.

European officials said the failure also killed off a deal reached on Sunday to change the EU's banana imports regime, which gives preferential treatment to African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and has hurt Latin American producers like Ecuador and Costa Rica.

"This was always linked to Doha," said Peter Power, a spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. "This was not a stand-alone agreement and was going to be part of Doha package, so there is no banana deal as of now."

But Ecuador's deputy trade minister, Eduardo Egas, insisted that the EU's promise to lower duties on bananas from Latin American countries was not tied to success at the broader trade talks, and he warned that Ecuador would pursue legal action.

"We will analyze additional actions, but our first reaction is to demand that they stick to what was agreed on," Egas told Reuters.

Europe is Ecuador's biggest market for banana exports.

It was not immediately clear what the next steps for the WTO's global trade round would be. It risks possibly years of delay as the United States changes administration and the European Commission comes to the end of its term in 2009.

The now defunct banana deal reached on Sunday was aimed at clearing the way for a breakthrough in the Doha talks. Under its terms, the EU would have cut its tariff of 176 euros (138 pounds) per tonne of bananas to 114 euros by 2016.

It angered rival exporters from former European colonies in the ACP group of countries whose bananas enter the EU with no duties as part of their long-standing trade perks with the bloc.

Banana exports are of vital importance to the developing economies of many ACP and Latin American countries, with the latter claiming about 80 percent of the EU market.

Latin American producers and the United States, acting on behalf of U.S. fruit distributors, have won nearly a dozen legal challenges to the EU's banana import regime.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Trade deal ends 16-year banana wars

A worker tests the ripening process on bananas at the Penhamo farm, 60 km north of San Jose, a banana-dedicated plantation area in Costa Rica. (AFP File / Mayela Lopez)By Jonathan Lynn

Geneva (Reuters) - Latin American fruit exporters and the European Union settled their long-standing dispute over EU imports of bananas on Sunday, ministers and diplomats said.

But former European colonies in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries still need to be brought on board before the row, a major obstacle to an overall agreement on a new trade pact, is completely defused.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told reporters that a historic deal had been reached on bananas after a meeting of ministers from 35 key players during talks at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the Doha round to free up world trade.

But a spokesman for the European Commission, which is at the centre of the banana dispute, said the negotiations were not concluded: "There is very substantial progress on bananas."

Bananas are an export product of vital importance to the economies of many ACP and Latin American countries, including the world's top banana exporter Ecuador.

Latin American and EU negotiators worked through the night on Saturday to reach a deal in the early hours of Sunday settling their dispute that dates back to the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Banana Wars

"The 16-year-old bananas wars are finished. We can finally leave behind the most difficult dispute in the history of the GATT and the WTO," Costa Rica's WTO ambassador Ronald Saborio Soto said. "For the moment one of the most divisive disputes in the Doha round has been settled," he told Reuters.

Costa Rica coordinates the Tropical Products group of Latin American countries at the WTO and is the second-biggest supplier of bananas to the EU market.

But Cameroon, which speaks on behalf of ACP banana exporters, said the deal was unacceptable as it stood.

"We still go on in discussions and negotiations ... Today is today, we have to see what will happen tomorrow," Cameroon's trade minister Luc Magloire Atangana Mbarga told reporters.

He said Cameroon wanted financial support to compensate for the export revenues lost to Latin American competitors and a two- or three-year grace period before EU tariffs are lowered.

Latin American producers and the United States on behalf of U.S. fruit distributors have mounted nearly a dozen successful challenges to the EU's banana import regime, which gives preferential treatment to ACP countries.

In response to these challenges the EU cut its tariff on bananas to 176 euros ($276) a tonne, while preserving duty-free access within a large quota for the ACP countries.

The Latin Americans argued this was still unfair.

Sunday's deal, building on an earlier compromise brokered by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, cuts the tariff further to 114 euros by 2016, with an initial cut next year to 148 euros.

The ACP countries said they wanted an initial cut to only 150 euros in 2009 and 2010 before falling slowly to the final rate of 109 euros by 2017.

That would give them more time to restructure their less competitive industry, which risks devastation in some cases as more efficient Latin American growers take market share.

EU member states France and Spain also have farmers in the Caribbean territories and the Canary Islands who grow bananas.

Failure to fully resolve the banana dispute would see the fruit become an insuperable barrier to broader discussions between the Latin American and ACP countries over tropical products in the WTO's agriculture negotiations.

Under Doha's agriculture proposals, tropical produce from Latin America would have faster, steeper tariff cuts than usual.

But ACP exports stand to see duties come down more slowly so they can retain some preferential access to rich markets.

The two sides have been working to tidy up overlaps of products on the tropical and preferential access lists but agreement would be impossible with a deal on bananas.

(Additional reporting by Robin Pomeroy and William Schomberg)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Protesters march against same-sex couples rights

Dressed in white t-shirts, some 20.000 people jammed Paseo Colon, in San Jose, yesterday to express their views in opposition of a legislative proposal to allow same-sex couples the rights of spouses.

The march began at 8 a.m. in front of the Hospital San Juan de Dios and ended shortly before noon at the La Sabana park.

The event, organized by the Evangelical Costa Rican Alliance Federation, gathered people from all over the country.

"We are making a call to legislators against the proposal that is currently before the Legislative Assembly, that would consent the union of homosexuals", said Reynaldo Salazar.

The Legislative Assembly's commission on human rights is studying a proposal that would legalize same-sex unions. The proposal was made in 2006 from various gay community groups.

The proposal if approved would give gay couples the right to dispute communal property and the right to receive alimony.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Wanted US woman freed in Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica (AP) - A Texas woman wanted by the FBI for international parental kidnapping has been awarded refugee status in Costa Rica and cannot be extradited to the United States.

Costa Rican court on Friday ordered the release of former Fort Worth, Texas nurse Chere Lyn Tomayko, who had been in a Costa Rican prison since September awaiting extradition to the U.S.

Under Costa Rican law, those awarded refugee status cannot be extradited. Refugee status is granted by Costa Rica's migration or security ministries, while asylum in awarded by the foreign ministry.

In December 1996, a U.S. judge gave joint custody of a daughter, Alexandria Camille Cyprian, to Tomayko and her ex-boyfriend Robert Cyprian, with the condition that Alexandria live in Tarrant County, Texas.

Tomayko moved to Costa Rica the following year with Alexandria, then 7, and another daughter.

Tomayko, who is now married to a Costa Rican doctor and has two Costa Rica-born children, told authorities she moved to the Central American country because she had been physically abused by Cyprian.

Attempts to reach Cyprian by phone on Friday were unsuccessful.

Costa Rican Security Minister Janina del Vecchio said Tomayko's domestic violence complaints were taken into consideration when del Vecchio awarded her refugee status earlier this week.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said he viewed the case as a human rights issue and called Tomayko's release "wonderful news."

The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica called Tomayko's release "disappointing."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nicoya's annexation to Costa Rica celebrated

A Nicoyan girl in traditional dress waves to onlookers during a colorful street parade in the city of Nicoya that celebrated Guanacaste's Annexation Day. July 25 marked the 184th anniversary of the vote in Nicoya that made Guanacaste part of Costa Rica. (Photo: Devon Magee / Tico Times)

To read more about this celebration click here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oscar Arias signs the end of Costa Rica's insurance monopoly

(Photo by Inside Costa Rica)With the stroke of his pen, Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, right, ended the 84-year insurance monopoly in Costa Rica as the head of the National Insurance Institute (INS), Guillermo Constenla, center, looks on. Once the law is published in La Gaceta, the government's official newspaper, the insurance market will be open to competition.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Oscar Arias denies knowledge of diverted Taiwan funds

(Photo by AFP)San Jose, Costa Rica (AFP) — Costa Rican President Oscar Arias denied any knowledge of a 1.5 million dollar donation from Taiwan for his country's poor, but which allegedly was diverted for pet projects elsewhere in the government.

News reports said donations made by Taiwan in 2006 were destined for the construction of housing for the poor, but never got to the intended recipients.

"I had no knowledge of this help from the government of Taiwan which I learned about from the press just recently," he said in remarks published Saturday in the La Nacion newspaper.

La Nacion earlier this month alleged that the office of Arias' brother and chief of staff, Rodrigo Arias, paid scores of government consultants with two million dollars that had been donated by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE).

The funds were sent by Taiwan to BCIE at the request of Costa Rican Housing Minister Fernando Zumbado, according to press reports, which have said the sum of the wire transfer was $2.5 million.

Zumbado admits to having received only $1.5 million. The minister has been suspended from his post pending a congressional investigation.

Costa Rica in June 2007 broke its ties with Taiwan, and instead established relations with the Chinese government in Beijing.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

EU tariffs a barrier to creating jobs

A worker pulls bunches of bananas during harvesting through Bananera El Esfuerzo farm in 28 Millas de Siquirres, Costa Rica July 17, 2008. One of the few farms in Costa Rica that exports exclusively to Europe, owner Eduardo Gomez says European Union import tariffs on Latin American bananas mean lower wages for his workers and a barrier to creating jobs and expanding trade. World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy said last week the EU should make annual cuts to its tariff of 176 euros ($280) per tonne of bananas, to reach 116 euros ($184) by 2015. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Friday, July 18, 2008

Measures to prohibit old cars' imports ready in two months

(Inside Costa Rica) - The government announced that the decree that sets the guidelines for the importation of used vehicles starting in 2009 will be ready in two months.

The governments plan is to slowly prohibit the importation of old automobiles with strict measure that will be applied to the importation of motor cars older than five years.

Officials of the Environment and Finance ministries are in charge of establishing the measure, whose intent is to slowly eliminate all the old cars off the road.

The measures form part of the governments plan for fuel consumption and to eliminate pollution.

"It is important to have a new vehicular fleet in the country, as much as automobiles, trucks and buses", said Environment minister, Roberto Dobles.

Dobles assured that the new measures will be ready in two months and will go into effect in 2009 so as to give time to vehicle importers to adjust.

Costa Rican authorities believe that the tough vehicular inspection regulations will force owners of older vehicles into getting newer vehicles.

For now the age limit of imports has yet to be defined, although seven years is a number that seems to be to everyone's satisfaction.

Jose Carballo, of the Costarican Automotive Chamber, is proposing that the age limit of the vehicle be ten years and not seven. He assures that the new measures will affect not only importers of passenger vehicles, but importers of heavy trucks and buses and will mean the end for many importers of used vehicles.

Carballo added that many used car importers will disappear as Costa Ricans will not be able to afford the used automobiles imported.

Last year some 120 importers in the country were responsible for the import of 48.000 used vehicles.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Costa Rica ready to join PetroCaribe oil plan

(Photo by Reuters)By Raul Gallegos

CARACAS (Dow Jones) - Costa Rica has formally asked to join the PetroCaribe oil sales agreement, Venezuela's government said Thursday.

By year end, Costa Rica will become the 19th country - including Venezuela - to join the PetroCaribe group from among Central American and Caribbean nations, Venezuela's information ministry said in a statement.

The announcement comes just days after Costa Rican officials attended the V PetroCaribe Summit in Maracaibo as observers. PetroCaribe offers member countries the opportunity to finance as much as 60% of their energy bill for as long as 25 years, paying a 1% fixed interest rate.

Chavez describes the program as solidarity with his neighbors but detractors inside and outside Venezuela label the plan petrol-diplomacy for Chavez's like-minded allies.

Through PetroCaribe, Venezuela appears to be extending its influence over a region with historically close ties to the U.S. and where U.S. oil companies still have a dominating presence.

Costa Rica would join its neighbors Honduras and Belize, which already receive crude products from Venezuela under the agreement. Guatemala joined over the weekend and is expected to receive crude derivatives soon.

Costa Rica consumes roughly 55,000 barrels of crude a day, according to Venezuelan figures, and 40% of that comes from Venezuela's oil industry.

The Central American country's membership would become official during PetroCaribe's December meeting. Costa Rica will discuss a temporary accord, however, so it can begin to receive crude products under special conditions as soon as possible, the statement said.

The PetroCaribe plan, originally launched by President Hugo Chavez, also contemplates $14.7 billion in investment to upgrade or build new PdVSA refineries in those nations, as well as a $112 million fund to finance infrastructure projects in the region.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Starbucks will continue to buy Costa Rican coffee

Despite the fact that coffee shop giant Starbucks has announced it will close 600 underperforming stores, it will continue buying gourmet Costa Rican coffees. According to Carlos Vargas, deputy manager of Coopetarrazu, and Roberto Mata, manager of Coopedota, two cooperatives from which Starbucks currently buys mountain-grown beans, the US chain of coffee stores has not given any indication in reducing purchases. “Our product is key to their blends. I found out in Switzerland, at Starbucks’ purchase center, that our sales are not going to suffer,” Mata said. Coopedota annually sells 15,000 quintals and Coopetarrazu 40,000 of the 100-lb bags of coffee to Starbucks.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Driving restrictions move to 13-hour periods

(Photo: Pablo Montiel / La Prensa Libre)By Fabian Borges
Tico Times Staff

Starting today, San Jose driving restrictions will be in effect for 13-hour periods, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., a switch from the proposed 24-hour ban that was supposed to take effect Thursday.

The Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) cited security and technical considerations with bus routes for the change, according to a ministry press release.

MOPT also eased restrictions for heavy trucks, whose city driving ban now runs from 6to 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Cars with license plates ending in 7 and 8 will be prohibited from traveling in downtown San Jose and within the circunvalacion during the 13-hour period on Thursdays.

Cars with license plates ending in 1 and 2 will be prohibited on Mondays. License plates ending in 3 and 4 will be banned on Tuesdays, cars with licenses ending in 5 and 6 on Wednesdays and 9 and 0 on Fridays.

The measures, which are aimed at reducing the country's oil consumption, have helped ease traffic congestion in San Jose in recent weeks. The restrictions originally applied to rush hours from 6-8:30 a.m. and from 4:30-7 p.m. but then officials decided to extend the ban.

The restrictions do not apply to motorcycles, public transportation vehicles, school buses, and vehicles of disabled people. Heavy vehicles are not allowed to travel on the freeways that lead to Alajuela, Cartago and Escazu during rush hours.

Motorists found in violation of these measures face a fine of ¢5,000 (roughly $9.70). By MOPT's account, transit police have issued an average of 700-750 tickets per day since the decree was first enacted June 26.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

All-day vehicular restrictions to begin on Thursday

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, the vehicular restrictions in San Jose will be on a 24-hour basis. All vehicles, except for heavy commerical vehicles, with the corresponding plate will not be allowed to circulate within the expanded restricted area for the entire day.

The 24-hour restriction begin on Thursday and will affect vehicles with license plates ending in 7 and 8.

The restrictions will be enforced on weekdays (except holidays) and will be in effect for all plates ending in 1 and 2 on Mondays, 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, 5 and 6 on Wednesdays, 7 and 8 on Thursdays and 9 and 0 on Fridays.

The restrictions were announced last week and signed yesterday at Casa Presidencial (Presidential Office). They will be published in the official government publication, La Gaceta, on time for Thursday.

According to Viviana Martin, Public Works and Transport (MOPT) Vice Minister, due to the fact that San Jose's road infrastructure can't cope anymore with the increased number of vehicles currently in circulation the government is looking for ways to reduce fuel consumption, traffic jams, air pollution and the oil bill the country pays for international purchases.

"Since we began the vehicular restrictions at the end of June, the savings have been 5 percent, but that is not enough", said Martin.

Exempt from the restrictions are motocycles and scooters, public transport vehicles like buses and taxis, school buses and vehicles used by the handicapped.

Heavy commercial vehicles -trucks that have a red license plate that begin with "C"- continue with the previous restrictions of being able to circulate San Jose as well as the autopistas in Cartago, Escazu and Alajuela, during morning and afternon rush hours.

The expanded restricted area and hours went into effect on June 26. The fine for violation continues to be ¢5.000 ($9.66).

Friday, July 04, 2008

San Jose driving restrictions to go all day

By Leslie Friday
Tico Times Staff

Driving restrictions will switch to 24-hour periods, possibly within the coming week, according to one government official.

Public Works and Transport (MOPT) Vice Minister Viviana Martin said Wednesday that the new all-day restrictions will go into effect as soon as the decree is published in La Gaceta, the official government newspaper.

Freight vehicles will be exempted from the new decree, Martin said.

Previously, drivers were prohibited from entering downtown San Jose and the Circunvalacion, a route tracing the perimeter of the capital, according to day of the week, hour and last number of their license plate.

The initial schedule was from 6-8:30 a.m. and from 4:30-7 p.m. Vehicles with plates ending with a 1 or 2 are restricted on Monday, those with a 3 or 4 on Tuesday, 5 and 6 on Wednesday, 7 or 8 on Thursday and 9 or 0 on Fridays.

By the ministry's count, transit police have issued an average of 700 to 750 tickets per day since the decree was first enacted on June 26. Each ticket is for ¢5,000 (roughly $9.70).

Presidency Ministry Rodrigo Arias said President Oscar Arias' administration will also send guidelines to all public offices urging employees to carpool when they go on official trips. Public vehicles, except for police cars and ambulances, will be included in the driving restrictions.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Costa Rica to end insurance monopoly

Costa Rican Congress approves ending its 84-year-old insurance monopoly

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - Costa Rica is saying goodbye to its 84-year-old insurance monopoly as it opens the industry to national and international competition.

Lawmakers late Tuesday approved legislation to end the government-run National Insurance Institute (INS). President Oscar Arias is expected to sign it into law.

Last month, Costa Rica broke up its state-run telecommunications monopoly.

Washington demanded Costa Rica break up its monopolies before Oct. 1 for the implementation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The rest of Central America and the Dominican Republic joined CAFTA in 2006.

Related posts