Friday, October 31, 2008

High court strikes down 3-year wait for divorce

(Tico Times) - A Costa Rican court has struck down the contentious three-year minimum rule for married couples before they can file for divorce.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the clause is unconstitutional "for violating the principle of a person's autonomy," according to a court press release.

Sala IV erased the part of Article 48 of the Family Code that says "you must not request (divorce) except after three years of marriage," the press release said.

Ruling on the case brought by Mariano Castillo, the court also struck down Article 60, which bound couples for two years before they could legally seek separation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Arias travels to El Salvador for Ibero-American Summit

Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias (L) and El Salvador's President Elias Antonio Saca wave to reporters upon their arrival for the first session of the annual Ibero-American Summit in San Salvador October 30, 2008. (Photo: REUTERS/Luis Galdamez)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chile's Bachelet visits Costa Rica

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet, left, speaks during a press conference at the presidential house in San Jose, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008. Bachelet is on a two-day official visit to Costa Rica to sign a bi-lateral agreement. At right, Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Protest against the Crucitas mine

An environmental activist holds up a chain saw at a protest against an open-pit gold mining project at the Ministry of Energy and Environment in San Jose, Monday, Oct. 27, 2008. Costa Rica's highest court ordered Industrias Infinito, a local subsidiary of a Canadian company Infinito Gold Ltd., to stop the construction of an open-pit gold mine near the border with Nicaragua, upholding an injunction filed by environmentalists who say the project violates Costa Rica's constitutional rules on the environment. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Panama and Costa Rica sign free trade agreement

Panama's President Martin Torrijos, left, and Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias sign a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries in San Jose, Friday, Oct. 24, 2008. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Colombian police director visits Costa Rica

General Oscar Naranjo, director of the Colombian National Police, front right, waves during a visit in San Jose, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008. Naranjo visited Costa Rica to discuss ways to combat drug trafficking in Central America.
(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Scrapping for money

A worker selects scrap metal for recycling at a collection center in Alajuelita, near San Jose, October 21, 2008. Ten recycling centers export over 200,000 tons of scrap metal annually, principally to China and Israel, about 72 percent of scrap Costa Rica produces each year. (Photo: REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Costa Rica halts Canadian firm's gold mine work

San Jose, Costa Rica, (Reuters) - The Costa Rican Supreme court ordered a small Canadian mining company to halt construction at an open-pit gold mine on Tuesday, ruling with environmental groups who say the project is destroying virgin forest.

Infinito Gold Ltd. said the court ordered the company to stop clearing land at the Crucitas gold mine near the forested border with Nicaragua while it considered complaints brought by environmentalists.

The Canadian miner began last week cutting down trees to build a pit and tailings dam but has now stopped work until the court makes another ruling. The court has not set a date for a final decision in the case.

The miner will have to cut down 208 hectares (514 acres) to move ahead with the project, most forest that has never been touched, Edgardo Araya, the lawyer who filed the complaint on behalf of two local environmental organizations, said.

About half of the lush Central American country is covered with rainforest, much protected as national parks. Scarlet macaws, endangered parrots, and sloths thrive in Costa Rica's jungles, a big draw for eco-tourists whose business is the country's number one source of foreign exchange revenue.

Laws prevent changing the use of forest land for commercial purposes but President Oscar Arias declared the Crucitas project of national interest, giving Infinito the go-ahead to begin clear cutting.

Crucitas has an indicated resource of 1.2 million ounces of gold the company says on its Web site, adding that it will replant trees around the mining area.

(Reporting by John McPhaul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Costa Rica president investigated for abuse of authority

San Jose (AFP) – The Costa Rica attorney general's office said Tuesday it has opened an investigation into President Oscar Arias and Environment Minister Roberto Dobles for abuse of authority over a gold mining exploitation they claim to be of "national interest."

"Yesterday (Monday), the national attorney general's office ordered an investigation into the President of the Republic Oscar Arias Sanchez and the Minister of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications, Roberto Dobles Mora, for possibly committing the crime of abuse of authority," a statement said.

The investigation centered on a decree signed by both ministers last Friday which said that the Crucitas gold mine project in the north of the country, by the Industrias Infinito company, was "of public and national interest," the statement said.

Environmental groups have slammed the decree which authorizes the company -a subsidiary of the Canadian company Vanessa Ventures Incorporation- to cut 262 hectares (647 acres) of forests, including protected species, in the region bordering Nicaragua.

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the immediate suspension of the government decree, following a citizen's appeal to protect the forests.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Costa Rican court OKs new national stadium

By Gillian Gillers
Tico Times Staff

A high court gave China a green light Friday to construct a new national stadium in La Sabana Park on San Jose's western edge.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) rejected arguments by former Culture Minister Guido Saenz that the stadium, with a capacity for 35,000 people, would cause insufferable traffic jams and turn the park into a noisy, dirty and crime-ridden place.

The $73 million stadium is a gift from the Chinese government, meant to be a symbol of friendship between the two nations, who established diplomatic relations in June 2007.

“It's marvelous,” President Oscar Arias said in a statement. “We can finally construct the stadium that all Costa Ricans, and especially our youth, deserve.”

The Sala IV stopped work on the stadium Oct. 6 while judges evaluated Saenz's claims. The final ruling took just 11 days, far shorter than the average deliberation period of two months.

A Chinese company is expected to begin construction on the stadium in November or December and finish by May 2010, when Arias' term ends.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Red alert for Guanacaste due to heavy rains

(Inside Costa Rica ) - The heavy rain that began falling on Sunday and is still pouring today on most areas of the Central Valley, Central Pacific coast and Guanacaste, has forced the national emergency commission (CNE) to increase the red alert around the country.

Earlier in the week areas in the Southern Zone of Corredores, Golfito, Coto Brus and Central Pacific, Aguirre (Quepos), Parrita and Garabito (Jaco) were all affected by the run off rain water from the mountains, overflowing river banks.

In the Central Valley, Cartago, east of San Jose and Desamaparados on the south have all had problems with mudslides and flooding. The Interamerican Sur between Cartago and Perez Zeledon again was forced closed when a 50 meter stretch of highway was washed away.

The worst of the rain and flooding though is in Guanacaste, mainly the areas surrounding Filadelfia (the area east of Playas del Coco) when flooding has prompted the relocation of hundres to shelters and the water levels of the rivers, especially the Tempisque river continues to rise. Also of concern to area residents is the rise of the Las Palmas river.

So far 125 communities and 18.000 people been affected and three people reported dead from the affects of the heavy rains.

The national weather service is predicting at least 24 more hours of intense rains.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Costa Rican chosen to head U.N. refugee body

Laura Thompson, Costa Rica's permanent representative before the United Nations in Geneva, has been elected president of the Executive Committee of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR).A Costa Rican diplomat has been elected president of the Executive Committee of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR).

Laura Thompson, Costa Rica's permanent representative before the United Nations in Geneva, will be UNCHR's second-highest official, after High Commissioner Navi Pillay, a South African judge.

Thompson is the first woman in 45 years to be elected to the post and will serve until October 2009, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

Costa Rica has 13,000 refugees, more than any other Latin American country except Ecuador, and Immigration receives 130 applications for refugee status every month, according to the news wire service EFE.

Established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1950, the UNHCR coordinates international action to protect refugees worldwide. In 2007, Costa Rica joined the Executive Committee, which has 76 member states and meets annually in Geneva to review and approve UNHCR programs and budget.

Costa Rica will also assume the presidency of the U.N. Security Council during the month of November.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

U.S ex-marine awaiting trial for murder of Costa Rican doctor

By Uri Ridelman

Frederick Marlon Kelch, a former U.S. marine who fatally shot Harlen Fonseca Reyes, using an M-16 is now serving house arrest as he awaits for his trial to begin.

The homicide took place in Moravia, northeast of San Jose on May 21, 2008. Police sources said that the American, 50, climbed the roof of his house to shoot, at least six times, against Fonseca, a 28-year-old doctor, who was in the kitchen of his apartment with other members of his family.

When authorities arrived to the crime scene they had to negotiate with Kelch for eight hours to convince him to turn himself in. The ex-marine had barricated himself in a house that he shared with his wife and two boys, ages 5 and 14.

According to some neighbors, this wasn't the first time Kelch did this. In previous occasions he fired from the roof of his home and hit several houses in the neighborhood as he insulted bystanders.

Apparently fhe former Marine suffers from delusional episodes caused by mental disorders that could be a consequence of his years of military service.

A police spokesman said that Kelch's records include charges of drug posession, posession of illegal weapons, assault and armed robberies in New York. He has been in Costa Rica for eight years, but his visa had long expired, Immigration officials said.

After his arrest Kelch was evaluated by psychiatric and psycological experts and they confirmed that he suffers from mental disorders, although they didn't exactly reveal publicly which ones.

He was then sent to the Psychiatric National Hospital in Pavas for three months to undergo psychiatric and psycological treatment. There he was guarded by police officers and kept away from the non-violent patients.

Costa Rican authorities have contacted the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to find out if he was wanted in another country but apparently that isn't the case.

According to Costa Rica's legislation it's possible that the American may be found untriable and unaccountable and thus, sent back to the psychaitric institution where he could continue to be guarded by policemen and kept apart from the rest of the inmates for an indefinite time.

This due to the fact that Costa Rica lacks an institution dedicated exclusively to properly treat, guard and deal with violent and dangerous mentally-ill offenders.

Information from La Nacion, Al Dia and Diario Extra newspapers was used in this article.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chinese president to visit Costa Rica in November

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AFP)- Chinese Premier Hu Jintao will visit Costa Rica in November, the foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday, without specifying a date.

Local media said the Chinese leader would arrive Nov. 17 for the highest-level visit by a Chinese official to the Central American country.

The government said it would be "a good occasion to ratify close links of friendship, cooperation and mutual respect reinforced since June 1, 2007, when the two countries established diplomatic relations," according to the statement.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias visited Beijing shortly after the deal, in October 2007.

Costa Rica broke off more than 60 years of relations with Taiwan in its move toward China.

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.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Costa Rica court puts new National Stadium on hold

This chunk of Costa Rica's former National Stadium in western San José's La Sabana Park is all that remains after the arena was demolished in May to make way for a new stadium to be built by China. Amid protest that the stadium would ruin one of the city's few green parks, a court has temporarily halted construction set for next month. (Photo: Ronald Reyes|Tico Times)By Gillian Gillers
Tico Times Staff

The Supreme Court has temporarily frozen construction on a $73 million soccer stadium in response to charges that the stadium will threaten the environment and quality of life in La Sabana Park, on San Jose's western edge.

Guido Saenz, who designed La Sabana as minister of culture, youth and sports in the late 1970s, requested the injunction because, he said, the stadium would convert the park, the “lung of the city,” into a noisy, dirty and crime-ridden place.

It could take months for the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) to decide whether to allow the project to go forward.

“I'm fed up. I'm bored of the obstacles that spring up around everything,” President Oscar Arias said in a statement.

The freeze is the latest wrinkle in relations between Costa Rica and China, which is paying for the stadium and was expected to send workers and machinery here to begin construction next month.

Last month, the Sala IV ordered the government to make public details on China's intended purchase of $300 million in Costa Rican bonds, despite China's request that the information be kept secret.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Car crashes have claimed 263 lives so far

(Tico Times) - The number of people killed in motor-vehicle accidents from January to September reached 263 lives, eight more than the same period in 2007, according to the latest count by transport authorities.

The total is equal to about one person a day who dies on Costa Rica's roads. A considerable number are hit while running across highways.

While speeding is the most frequent cause of fatal crashes, killing 70 people so far this year, 47 crash victims were pedestrians, followed by 40 deaths caused by drunken driving, said a report released Monday by the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT).

MOPT describes the fallen foot-travelers as “reckless pedestrians” who refuse to cross where they're supposed to.

“What are passersby thinking when they decide to cross a highway without using the pedestrian bridge they have only a few meters away?” the ministry said in a press release.

Last month, seven pedestrians were killed after being hit by a car because of their own “recklessness,” according to MOPT.

The ministry only cites “reckless driving” as the cause in just one road death.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Poverty to increase this year

(Photo: REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate)(La Nacion) - President Oscar Arias warned that poverty is increasing in Costa Rica this year. The main reason for the negative trend, he explained, is the increase in the prices of food, which will also affect different Latin American nations. Dr. Arias said he was very pleased in 2007, when the level of poverty was lowered by 3%, but that this year he feels sorry because the opposite is most likely to happen. From 2006 to 2007, the growth of the economy, the lower inflation, and state aid lowered overall poverty from 20.2 percent to 16.7 percent, which was the lowest level in the last 30 years. The cabinet’s social coordinator and Minister of Health Dr. Maria Luisa Avila said that proper actions are underway to lessen the impact of poverty.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Jaco Beach not suitable for swimming

Maria Luisa Avila (Photo by La Nacion / FILE)(Inside Costa Rica) - Recent studies of water samples taken by the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA) - the water and sewer utility - reveal that the waters of Jaco Beach are not suitable for swimming. The water samples taken show a density of fecal coliform of 675/1000 ml.

The health minister, Maria Luisa Avila Agüero, said yesterday that her health officials will be intensifying efforts in Jaco as well as other beaches with high levels of contamination, in order to further prevent and mitigate pollution from sewage.

Avila added that local health officials have taken on the task of strengthening their efforts, making more inspections of area businesses, and in conjunction with the AyA will be taking samples of wastewater from sewage treatment plants.

The Health Ministry is also giving priority to the problem and responding quickly to complaints of wastewater problems and will be issuing health orders against individual property owners, be it residential or commercial, as well a inspecting vehicles that carry septic tank waste and sewage.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Juanes in Costa Rica

Colombian singer Juanes performs during a concert in Alajuela, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Costa Rica gets extension on CAFTA

Carlos GutierrezBy Gillian Gillers
Tico Times Staff

Costa Rica has three more months to pass legislation required to enter the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

The United States, the Dominican Republic and Central American signatory-states have agreed to extend Costa Rica's Oct. 1 deadline for entering the pact.

The Presidential House announced the news yesterday afternoon, after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega joined his trading partners in signing the extension.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, now in Costa Rica with representatives from 10 U.S. businesses, met with President Oscar Arias yesterday.

“I come to reiterate the Bush administration's complete support for Costa Rica's entry into CAFTA,” he said at a press conference. “It's hard to imagine CAFTA without Costa Rica.”

Lawmakers are now working to pass the last of 13 bills required for Costa Rica to enter the treaty. But even this legislation may not meet standards set by the United States Trade Representative (USTR), Gutierrez suggested.

“I'm going to return to Washington with this priority: I want to sit down to talk with the USTR,” he said. “I want to understand if there is a problem or if there is simply a misunderstanding.”

Costa Rica signed CAFTA in May 2004 and ratified the pact in a national referendum last October. But, faced with opposition in the Legislative Assembly, President Arias has twice had to ask trading partners for more time to pass implementing legislation.

Asked how the financial crisis in the U.S. would affect Costa Rica, Gutierrez said, “What could happen …in the short or medium term is a shortage of capital, in which case … investors will have to be much more selective in deciding where to invest.”

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