Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Biden rejects plea to slow C. American deportations

(REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate)San Jose, Costa Rica (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden on Monday told Central American leaders pushing the United States to slow its record pace of deportations to be patient, because it will not change in the short term amid the U.S. economic downturn.

Biden's one-day visit was the first to Central America by a top-level U.S. official since President Obama took office in January, and he promised to work together with leaders to strengthen ties with a region that has felt ignored by Washington.

Central American leaders, who met with Biden at the Presidential Palace in Costa Rica, pushed for a slowing of deportations. A record 80,000 Central Americans were deported from the United States in 2008.

After the meeting, Biden told reporters that leaders must have patience while Washington devises a plan that will address the issue amid the U.S. economic downturn.

"There will not be an immediate response to deportations," said Biden, who arrived here late Sunday and left Monday afternoon after spending three days in Chile.

The deportations and U.S. economic downturn have hit the region hard. During the last quarter of 2008, money sent home by Central American migrants living in the U.S. fell four percent, compared with the same period in the previous year, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Biden, Central American leaders hold talks in Costa Rica

Costa Rica's Foreign Minister Bruno Stago , left, greets U.S. Vice President Joe Biden upon Biden's arrival to Juan Santamaria International Airport near San Jose, Sunday, March 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)San Jose, Costa Rica (CNN) - Vice President Joseph Biden is meeting Monday with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and other Central American leaders to discuss U.S. aid to the area, the war on drugs and the global economic downturn.

Biden arrived Sunday from Chile. He met with seven Latin American and European heads of state at that two-day gathering.

Biden will meet privately with Arias before they are joined by current or incoming heads of state from Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Panama, officials said. Honduras and Nicaragua will send deputy foreign ministers.

The meeting comes ahead of this week's Group of 20 summit in England that President Obama will attend.

Biden made a short statement upon arrival in San Jose, where he was met by a Costa Rican delegation that included Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno.

"This visit is an opportunity to meet leaders from the region and strengthen the existing ties between the United States and Central America," Biden said. "This administration is looking for a productive and respectful relationship, and we know that type of relationship initiates listening to each other. That is why we are here. I expect to listen to and learn from President Arias and the other leaders with whom I will meet tomorrow."

Stagno expressed optimism about the new Obama administration.

"We think it's opportune for the United States to have a positive agenda with Latin America," Stagno said in a televised interview with CNN affiliate Teletica. "We need to turn the page on an agenda that was mostly negative."

Tomas Duenas, the Costa Rican ambassador to the United States, said the agenda for Monday's talks will include financial matters, economic development, human rights, security, immigration and other common areas with the United States and the region.

Biden is scheduled to return Monday evening to Washington.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

U.S. vice president arrives in Costa Rica

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco) (Xinhua) - U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden arrived in Costa Rica Sunday to attend a summit with leaders from Central American countries.

Biden traveled to Costa Rica from Santiago, Chile, where he met with South American leaders including Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

Biden was accompanied by his wife Jill and White House officials in charge of U.S. relations with Latin America.

The U.S. leader was welcomed at the Juan Santamaria international airport by Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno and Costa Rican Ambassador to the United States Tomas Duenas.

Biden's trip to Costa Rica is the first visit to Central America by a top U.S. official since President Barack Obama took office in January.

On Monday, Biden will meet with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, and later they will be joined by leaders from Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rican and Panama at the summit to discuss new U.S. aid to the region, measures for sustainable development and details of the "Merida Plan" to combat drug trafficking.

The possible agenda of the 5th Summit of the Americas, scheduled for April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago, may also be discussed.

Presidents Alvaro Colom from Guatemala, Antonio Saca from El Salvador, Martin Torrijos from Panama and Salvadorian President-elect Mauricio Funes will attend the summit.

Nicaragua's vice foreign minister, Honduras' vice president and Belize's prime minister will also attend the meeting.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mexico - Costa Rica presidents get together for WC Qualifier

Mexican President Felipe Calderon (R) smiles with Costa Rica President Oscar Arias during the CONCACAF soccer qualifier between Mexico and Costa Rica for World Cup 2010 at Azteca stadium in Mexico City, March 28, 2009. Mexico won 2-0. (REUTERS/Felipe Leon)

UN expert urges Costa Rica to improve water safety

(Xinhua) - A United Nations expert on Friday urged the Costa Rica government to take measures to improve water safety, saying the country is facing a great risk by the current management of waste water.

About 96.5 percent of waste water discharged into rivers and sea goes without any treatment, UN independent advisor and expert on water and human rights Catarina De Albuquerque said.

The expert, who just ended a visit to the country last week, said there are great differences between areas of the country.

For example, in the urban areas about 90 percent of citizens have access to drinking water, while in rural areas far from the capital the rate is only 60 percent.

These inequalities affect in particular indigenous peoples, Afro-Costa Rican, migrants and poor people, De Alburquerque said, noting it is urgent for the government to review and adjust the country's Law of Water.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Oscar Arias in Mexico for three-day visit

Mexican President Felipe Calderon (R) speaks as Costa Rica President Oscar Arias Sanchez listens during a news conference after an official welcoming ceremony at the Palace Presidential in Mexico City March 26, 2009. Arias is on a three-day official visit to Mexico. (Reuters/Henry Romero)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

President Arias heading to Mexico

(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)By Patrick Fitzgerald
Tico Times Staff

President Oscar Arias begins a three-day state visit to Mexico Thursday, hoping to set the stage for a future bilateral agreement on free trade, political dialogue and cooperation.

Oh, and then there's something about a soccer game.

The visit, lasting through Saturday, is the third of Arias' current term as president. The two countries have many areas of common interest, including a 1995 free trade agreement and temporary, elected membership on the United Nations Security Council.

Arias will raise the issues of drug trafficking and organized crime, which have increasingly become a cause for concern in Mexico, Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno told the press earlier this week.

Perhaps of most interest to Ticos, however, is Saturday evening's World Cup Qualifying match between Costa Rica and Mexico, which Arias will attend with Mexican President Jose Calderon. Arias, along with his brother, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias, will eat breakfast with the team earlier Saturday morning.

Before the game, however, Arias will attend to official business, including a bilateral meeting with Calderon at his official residence, a discussion with Mexican legislators and a breakfast with commercial leaders.

Also accompanying Arias on the trip will be Stagno, Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz and Gioconda Ubeda, Costa Rica's ambassador to Mexico.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Costa Rica President says no to oil exploration

by Patrick Fitzgerald
The Tico Times Staff

President Oscar Arias this week has affirmed his commitment against oil exploration in Costa Rica.

Speaking in front of the Legislative Assembly Monday afternoon to promote a bill regarding rural aqueducts, the president took the opportunity to quell speculation that Costa Rica would open its land and sea up for oil exploration.

"We have to make a colossal effort to replace thermal energy with renewable sources," Arias told lawmakers. "That is why we have stimulated investment in solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy, and that is also why we will continue with our commitment to not permit oil exploration in our territory."

The statement comes after years of speculation regarding Arias' intentions toward oil exploration in the country.

In 2007, Costa Rica signed an agreement with the Chinese National Oil & Gas Exploration and Development Corporation (CNODC) to expand the state-owned refinery in Moin, north of the Caribbean port city of Limon, an agreement that left the door open for CNODC to explore for oil off Costa Rica's Caribbean coast.

The year before, Arias announced that the Brazilian oil company Petrobras might study the possibility of petroleum exploration off the country's coasts.

Neither proposal moved very far, and Arias said yesterday that he never made any final agreement to explore with either group, according to the daily La Republica.

Oil exploration has been on hold in Costa Rica since 2002, when then-President Abel Pacheco issued an executive decree banning oil exploration and certain kinds of mining. Upon taking office in 2006, however, Arias acknowledged to The Tico Times that he intended to ignore the decree, reopening the possibility of oil exploration in Costa Rican waters.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Court orders the creation of a specialized hospital for the criminally insane

(Photo: La Nacion/Jorge Castillo)(Inside Costa Rica) - The Constitutional Court has ordered Costa Rica's social security to build a specialized psychiatric hospital for those found to be criminally insane or are awaiting a criminal trial.

Currently, those found mentally incapable of standing trial or being held in detention waiting trial are grouped with the rest of the patients in the Hospital Nacional Psiquiatrico (HNP)- mental hospital - run by the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (CCSS).

The court decision followed a filing by the mother of one of the patients at the HNP fearing her son' security from dangerous criminals being housed with the other mental patients at the hospital.

The court orders Eduardo Doryan, the head of the CCSS, to construct and develop a plan for a specialized institution to house the criminally dangerous. The CCSS is also being ordered to co-ordinate with the Ministerio de Seguridad Publica for the custody of mental patients waiting trial.

The Minister of Justice, Viviana Martin, welcomed the news of the court order, saying that her ministry has been working to that end for some time.

The court order also places the burden on the Justice Ministry to create a specialized prison police unit to manage the criminally insane and the custody of those patients who have court ordered security measures placed on them. Justicia will have one year to develop the specialized police unit.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cuba agrees to restore ties with Costa Rica

 Costa Rican President Oscar Arias (AP Photo/FILE)By VOA News

Cuba has agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Costa Rica, just one day after Costa Rican President Oscar Arias announced his country would re-establish the ties.

In a statement Thursday, Cuba's foreign ministry said the Cuban government's decision is "consistent" with its "mission of integration and unity" with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Relations between Cuba and Costa Rica were cut off in 1961, shortly after the Cuban Revolution, which brought Fidel Castro to power and turned the island into a communist state.

Announcing the renewal of ties almost 50 years later, President Arias said times have changed and that Costa Rica must change.

El Salvador's President-elect Mauricio Funes announced he will also re-open ties with Cuba after he takes office June 1.

The announcements come about a week before U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visits Costa Rica to consult with Central American leaders ahead of the Summit of the Americas next month.

U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend the gathering, which will be held in Trinidad and Tobago.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Costa Rica re-establishes ties with Cuba

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias (AP Photo / FILE)(CNN) - The president of Costa Rica announced Wednesday that he is re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba more than 47 years after one of his predecessors severed them.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, is working to begin anew building friendship.

"The time has arrived for direct and open dialogue, for official and normal relations that should permit us to tackle our agreements and our disagreements, talking with ourselves openly and with sincerity," President Oscar Arias said in a written statement.

"Today, it makes no sense to play the official coldness when we have opened channels of cooperation in diverse areas, when we have consular relations and commercial relations with Havana of some importance, and even direct flights between our capitals."

Arias, the winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize, added: "If we have been able to turn the page with regimes as profoundly different to our reality as occurred with the USSR or, more recently, with the Republic of China, how would we not do it with a country that is geographically and culturally much nearer to Costa Rica?"

He said that, in coming weeks, the governments of both countries will exchange ambassadors.

Until then, "as the oldest democracy in Latin America, as the little republic of peace, we extend our hand to the Cuban people and we send by sea and by air an olive branch to begin anew the good work of building friendship."

The rupture occurred in 1961, a few months after then-President Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state. On September 10 of that year, then-President Mario Echandi signaled the end of diplomatic relations by signing Executive Decree Number 2, said Arias.

The United States, which made the same move on January 3, 1961, has not restored diplomatic relations with the communist country.

"Today, since the world is diametrically different from what it was in those days, we must be capable of adjusting to the new realities," Arias said.

"It is a step I adopt convinced that times change, and Costa Rica has to change with them," he said.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

China's to invest in science center in Costa Rica

(AFP/File/Dibyangshu Sakar)San Jose (AFP) – China will invest $65 million toward a science and technology park in Costa Rica, in a deal with private companies and four state universities, a news report has said.

The park would be the latest multi-million dollar cooperation project since Costa Rica became the first country in the region to establish diplomatic ties with China on June 1, 2007.

"We've reached a deal ... the idea is a development zone with research and production to attract investments," said Chinese Ambassador Wang Xiaoyuan, according to La Nacion daily.

Costa Rica plans to begin work on the park this year but is still seeking a suitable site, minister for competivity Jorge Woodbridge said in the same newspaper.

The park will have four areas of investigation: biotechnology, mechanical equipment design, information technology and nanotechnology, with joint financing from the government, private companies and the universities, Woodbridge said.

Last week President Oscar Arias laid the first stone of a new 74-million-dollar national stadium to be built by China in San Jose.

Part of China's incentives for Costa Rica's recognition also came from its enormous foreign exchange reserves with an offer to buy $300 million in bonds. It is also currently negotiating a free trade deal with San Jose.

Both Taiwan -a democratic self-ruled island that Beijing considers part of its territory awaiting reunification- and China have been accused of using so-called "dollar diplomacy" to get nations to ally with them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Report: Mel Gibson seen kissing another woman in Costa Rica

(Photo: GINSBURG-SPALY / SPLASH NEWS)Washington, (UPI) - Married film star and director Mel Gibson was allegedly spotted kissing a woman who isn't his wife near his family's vacation home in Costa Rica, a source said.

"It was near sunset. The two of them were playing in the surf, ducking into the waves. They put their arms around each other and kissed pretty passionately for about 4 or 5 seconds," a source told Huffingtonpost.com about Gibson's alleged embrace with a "stunning" brunette.

Gibson has been married to his wife Robyn since 1980 and they are the parents of seven children.

The actor has starred in the "Lethal Weapon" movies, as well as "Braveheart" and "The Patriot." He also directed "Braveheart," "The Passion of the Christ" and "Apocalypto."

He has been keeping a low-profile since his 2006 arrest for drunken driving, an incident that became even more newsworthy when he was quoted making anti-Semitic remarks to a Jewish police officer. Gibson has since publicly apologized for his behavior.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Casinos can now operate 24 hours in Costa Rica

Photo: Saray Ramírez Vindas)(Inside Costa Rica) - The Arias government has issued an executive order that allows casinos to operate on a 24 hour basis, at least until May 1, to avoid the possible layoff of some 2.000 or more casino employees.

The current order overrides another one issued last June that would have limited casino operating to only 8 hours daily, between 6pm and 2am, which should have been in effect last December 27.

The shortened hours never went into effect after representatives of the Casino Association objected to the short hours, asking that casinos be allowed to operate at least 16 hours daily or some 2.000 employees would have to be cut.

The government agreed to the extended hours, for now.

Minister of Tourism, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, who has carried the baton on the issue of decrees related to casinos, said the final hours of operation will be determined by a study of the ministry of labour.

Benavides denied that the work day will be 24 hours, but rather range between 8 and 16 hours.

There are 408 registered casinos in Costa Rica, most working 16 hours, while several like the Horseshoe in San Jose operates on a 24 hour basis.

Benavides pointed out that, other than the hours of operation, the regulations emitted in the June 2008 executive order are still in place, like the regulation that casinos operating in a hotel must belong to the same corporation that owns the hotel property and that gaming addiction is a public health problem.

Hotels that operate casinos that do not comply with the June 2008 order can lose their "tourism" declaration, said Benavides.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Costa Rica begins construction of National Stadium

(Photo: Mario Rojas La Nacion)(Xinhua) - Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and Chinese ambassador to Costa Rica Wang Xiaoyuan set on Thursday the first stone of the new National Stadium of Costa Rica, which is a donation by China.

Costa Rican sports authorities, Costa Rican cabinet Ministers, Peruvian outstanding sportsmen and special guests attended the ceremony.

The new stadium will be located in the same place of the old one, which was 80 years old and it was demolished last year; it will have a capacity of 35,000.

China invested in the new stadium $83 million, and according to the responsible ones of the project it is estimated it will be ready in 23 months.

"Thanks to the enormous generosity of the Chinese people, this dream will be possible in some months. Today we set the first stone of a stadium equal to the passion of our people; a stadium that will be the heart of a country, in the middle of the city," Arias said.

The new building will have the offices of the 32 federations of the different sports played in the county, an athletics trail and a sports museum.

This new stadium is part of the cooperation agreements that China and Costa Rica signed after the reset of their diplomatic ties in 2007.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio beaches waving the Blue Flags again

By Patrick Fitzgerald
Tico Times Staff

The four beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park have regained their Ecological Blue Flag status, the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET) has announced.

The Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) last month revoked the Blue Flags, which recognize cleanliness and eco-friendliness in the country's beaches, citing the risk of sewage contamination. But the move was predominately a precautionary measure, as AyA officials said at the time that beaches in the park “remained in good condition.”

Health Minister Maria Luisa Avila gave MINAET an extension through the end of June to implement the plan, after threatening to close down the park because of the poor sanitary conditions.

The Blue Flags were returned to the park's beaches after MINAET proposed a plan to rectify the sanitary conditions at the park itself, according to MINAET Vice Minister Jorge Rodriguez. The ministry will install portable bathrooms for tourists while construction begins on new, permanent bathrooms and a sewage treatment facility for the park.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Texas A&M opens center in Costa Rica

Texas A&M has continued its efforts to expand internationally with the completion of the Soltis Research and Education Center in Costa Rica. The facility is designed to provide students with an international experience while protecting the unique ecological environment of the region. It was conceived by Charles W. Soltis, Class of '55, who approached the University with the idea in 2005.

The Soltis family donated 40 acres of rainforest land to build the center, along with 250 acres adjoining the building near the town of San Isidro, Costa Rica. The center will provide students with opportunities for study abroad, internships and community service activities in various fields of study including environmental conservation, education, architecture, engineering and natural sciences.

"Texas A&M University was very hands-on with the Center from the beginning," said Maria Claudia Alves, director for the Office of Latin American Programs. "We coordinated the different aspects of the project, starting from how the building will look to the research collaborations with various Costa Rican universities."

The Soltis Research and Education Center facilities were designed to be modern while staying true to the Center's eco-friendly mission.

"The Center includes state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories, and provides bungalows to accommodate up to 60 people," Alves said. "The vision for the Soltis Center was to be ecologically stable while providing up to date education and equipment."

An eco-friendly cafeteria, for example, uses modern techniques to air-condition the room without using machinery that could cause damage to the surrounding natural environment.

The Center will provide programs benefitting the residents of the San Isidro area, including teaching English to local residents and water management.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Picture of the day

Firefighter Shirley Lewis, 26, prepares for an exercise at a San Jose fire station March 6, 2009. Lewis, one of eight women who work in the country as firefighters, has worked at the San Jose fire station for two years. International Women's Day will be celebrated on March 8. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Friday, March 06, 2009

Costa Rica minister quits after graft reports

San Jose, Costa Rica, (Reuters) - Costa Rica's Minister of Environment, Energy and Telecoms, Roberto Dobles, resigned on Friday following local media reports he granted mining concessions to companies owned by relatives.

President Oscar Arias said in a statement that Dobles had done nothing illegal but felt that remaining in the government could obstruct key environmental, energy and telecommunication projects if a legal case were to be mounted against him.

"(The media) said he authorized concessions to family members," Arias's spokesman Esteban Arrieta told Reuters. "He denied it but resigned anyway."

Dobles was leading an ambitious environmental agenda that included a project to make Costa Rica carbon-neutral by 2021.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Pictures of Iron Maiden's second concert in Costa Rica

British heavy metal band Iron Maiden performed for the second time in Costa Rica (the firt concert was in February 2008). This time the show, which was part of the "Somewhere back in time" tour, took place at the Morera Soto stadium in Alajuela, last night. Here are some pictures that were released by the newswire services:

(Photo: AP/Kent Gilbert)

(Photo: Reuters/Monica Quesada)

(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

(Photo: Reuters/Monica Quesada)

(Photo: Reuters/Monica Quesada)

(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

(Photo: Reuters/Monica Quesada)

(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

(Photo: Reuters/Monica Quesada)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Court hearing begins on Costa Rica-Nicaragua dispute

The Hague, Netherlands (AP) - Hearings have begun at the International Court of Justice in a dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over control of the San Juan River.

Wrangling over access to the river, which runs between the two countries, has strained relations between the Central American neighbors for years.

Costa Rica filed the case in 2005, arguing that Nicaragua has illegally hindered its access to the river since 1998.

Nicaragua insists it has sovereignty over the river.

Monday's hearing at the world court start a week of arguments between the two countries in the wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice.

The International Court of Justice is the U.N.'s highest legal body, established in 1946 to resolve conflicts between states. Its rulings are binding.

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