Monday, September 29, 2008

Supremem Court: kids no longer required to attend religion classes

San Jose, Costa Rica (The Tico Times) - The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court struck down a longstanding policy in public schools that required students to attend religious classes taught by Roman Catholic officials. The father of a female student at a high school in Cartago, east of San Jose, filed a request for an injunction against the practice in April, according to a court press release. School officials had threatened to expel his daughter if she refused to attend the classes. The ruling ordered the Education Ministry to make the necessary policy changes to end the practice.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Costa Rica restricts Chinese milk products due to health concerns

Chinese food safety personnel check on the fresh milk at a milk collection station in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan province, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2008. (AP Photo/Color China Photo)San Jose (DPA) - The San Jose government Saturday imposed restrictions on Chinese milk products in the midst of the scandal over China's tainted milk.

Costa Rica's Ministry of Health and Commerce said it would monitor imports at customs and remove any milk products which could be suspicious.

"We are going to retire all the products of this type that we find in commerce. Nobody can sell any milk products" coming from China, said Minister of Health Maria Luisa Avila.

At least four Chinese infants have died as a result of consuming melamine-contaminated milk powder, while some 13,000 infants were hospitalized and 40,000 others experienced health problems, according to China's health ministry and state media.

Import restrictions or outright bans have been put in place around the world, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand, India, South Korea, Nepal, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Taiwan.

In 2007, internationally distributed toxic pet food and melamine- contaminated meat or wheat protein was traced to Chinese producers, and a food scare in Japan in early 2008 involved frozen dumplings imported from China.

Melamine is a toxic chemical used as a binding agent and coating for particle, fiber and laminated board. It is also used to make fertilizer.

Costa Rica opened diplmatic relations with China little more than a year ago.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Arias condems military spending

Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias addresses the 63rd United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2008. Arias told the Assembly that many governments were hurting their citizens by indulging in excessive military spending and that universal literacy, the eradication of many preventable diseases and safe drinking water for everyone could all be achieved if the world spent as much on those causes as it already does on military forces. (Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Michael Douglas and Costa Rica call for total nuclear ban

Costa Rica's Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno shared the stage with Michael Douglas (left), to speak out in support of a total ban on nuclear weapons at a press conference at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, September 24, 2008. (Photo: EFE)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

French Alcatel executive sentenced to 30 months in jail for bribery scandal

Alcatel logoChristian Sapsizian, a French citizen and former executive of telecom Alcatel, was sentenced yesterday in the United States to 30 months in prison, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The U.S. District Court of Florida in Miami also ordered Sapsizian to forfeit $261,000, to serve three years of supervised release and to pay a $200 special assessment, according to a DOP press release.

The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), the state-owned telecom authority, awarded Alcatel an almost $150 million mobile phone contract in August 2001. Sapsizian then an assistant to Alcatel's Latin America vice president, appears to have had a behind-the-back hand in sealing the deal.

Sapsizian confessed to engaging in a $2.5 million bribery scheme started in 2000 to win ICE's phone contract. He pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and agreed to cooperate with law enforcement officials from the United States and abroad in the ongoing investigation.

He admitted to conspiring from February 2000 to September 2004 with Edgar Valverde Acosta, a Costa Rican citizen who was Alcatel's senior Costa Rica representative, and others to bribe officials here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Costa Rica president's popularity falls on scandals

(AP Photo/Miguel Gomez)San Jose, Costa Rica (Reuters) - The popularity of Costa Rica's president has plummeted amid a series of financial scandals and revelations that the government secretly sold bonds to China, a poll showed on Tuesday.

President Oscar Arias' approval rating slid to 29 percent from 50 percent in March, according a poll published in the leading daily La Nacion newspaper, while negative opinions of the president jumped.

Arias has faced criticism in recent months after revelations that his government secretly sold $300 million in bonds to the Chinese government.

La Nacion successfully sued the government to force Arias to give details about the sale and found they were part of an agreement to break long-held ties with Taiwan last year in favor of China.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province and the two governments offer aid and development projects to try to win small countries to their side of the diplomatic struggle.

Arias has defended the secrecy around the bond deal, saying the Chinese demanded confidentiality.

The latest scandal came after Costa Rica's housing minister Fernando Zumbado resigned last month after he was accused of spending low-income housing aid from Taiwan to pay consultants' salaries.

In July, La Nacion said the government mishandled a $2 million donation from a regional development bank by spending it on consultant fees and skirting proper government channels.

The poll, conducted by the firm Unimer Research International, surveyed 1,239 Costa Ricans between Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 with a margin for error of 2.8 percentage points.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dengue keeps spreading on Costa Rica's Pacific

Dengue MosquitoBy Nick Wilkinson
Tico Times Staff

An outbreak of dengue in the central Pacific Costa Rican town of Parrita continues to spread.

In the past two weeks, reported cases have jumped from 223 to 398, with 17 people requiring hospitalization. One case of hemorrhagic dengue has been reported thus far.

The Social Security System, Health Ministry and private enterprise have teamed up to educate residents, arm them with repellant and drain containers holding standing water, but so far they haven't managed to put the brakes on the illness' spread.

Dr. Edgar Carrillo of the Max TerĂ¡n Vals Hospital in nearby Quepos said clinical analysis of the individual cases is still being conducted to try to understand the outbreak better. He said it could be the spread of a new kind of dengueserotype 3 – one the country hasn't seen before.

According to the daily La Nacion, serotype 3 entered the country in December.

The most affected areas in Parrita are Barrio La Inmaculada, Bella Vista Boca Vieja, Barrio Los Angeles, la Pascua, El Cocal Paquita and Naranjito, according to a press release by the Social Security System.

While Parrita's dengue numbers are growing, the Health Ministry put out a press release stating that nationwide cases have declined precipitously over the last several years.

Dengue, whose symptoms are fever, vomiting and muscle pain, has no cure aside from bed rest. Hemorrhagic dengue, on the other hand, is a strain of the virus that causes bruising and bleeding from the nose, gums and other orifices that can be fatal.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Purchase of bonds by China launches controversy in Costa Rica

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)San Jose (DPA) - The purchase by China of 300 million dollars in Costa Rican bonds and the involvement in the transaction of a Costa Rican bank with ties to the Central American country's current ambassador to China spurred a great controversy. The opposition were demanding the resignation of Ambassador Antonio Burgues on Wednesday.

Following several months of silence on the matter, Finance Minister Guillermo Zuniga told the legislature Tuesday that a local bank is holding half the funds - $150 million - sent by China. The other half is not yet in Costa Rican hands.

The bank, BCT, said it receives between $6,000 and $9,000 a month for its work on the matter.

Burgues is listed as a high executive and a partner of BCT at the Costa Rican trade registry, but bank officials have said he resigned from the post in July 2007, shortly before he became ambassador to China.

The diplomat told Costa Rican daily La Nacion that he had nothing to do with the transaction.

On Friday, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said the loan is to be paid off in 12 years with an interest rate below 4 per cent.

Costa Rica established ties with Beijing on June 1, 2007, following 63 years of relations with Taiwan, which is recognized by only about two dozen nations, half of which are in Latin America or the Caribbean.

Following the formal establishment of ties, China offered to buy up to 300 million dollars in Costa Rican bonds, was preparing to build a modern $70 million national stadium and has offered important lines of cooperation with the Central American country.

Both countries are also evaluating a possible negotiation towards a free-trade agreement.

Arias visited China in October 2007. Costa Rica is the only Central American nation with ties to Beijing, while its neighbours continue to favour Taiwan, which Beijing considers to be part of the People's Republic of China.

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