Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chinchilla starts final stretch of campaign

Laura Chinchilla, presidential candidate for the National Liberation Party, smiles at supporters during a rally marking the start of her election campaign in San Jose January 31, 2010. The banner reads "Costa Rica safe and prosper." Costa Rica will hold a presidential election on February 7. (Photo:Reuters)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Costa Rica's Caldera highway opens

The Costa Rican government inaugurated the 77 kilometer highway from San Jose to the central Pacific town of Caldera on Wednesday afternoon, 34 years after planning for the project began. The new thoroughfare cuts the time of the old San Jos̩-Caldera trip in half Рfrom approximately 90 minutes to roughly 45 minutes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Costa Rica’s Chinchilla could win in first round

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - Laura Chinchilla could secure a victory in the first round of Costa Rica’s upcoming presidential election. According to a poll by CID-Gallup. 44 percent of respondents would vote for Chinchilla of the governing National Liberation Party (PLN) in next month’s ballot, down one point since December.

Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement (ML) is second with 27 per cent, followed by former economy minister Otton Solis of the Citizens Action Party (PAC) with 12 percent, and Luis Fishman of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) with 10 percent.

Under current regulations, a presidential run-off would be required if none of the presidential candidates garner more than 40 per cent of the vote on election day.

On Jan. 22, Guevara criticized the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States, saying that he would push for a "true free trade agreement," and adding, "CAFTA was not a true opening of the market. There are still some things hidden in the closet that would bring in much more investment. The ideas of our campaign are more modern."

Costa Ricans will vote in a general election on February 7.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Emir of Qatar signs economical agreements with Costa Rica

Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias (R) shakes hands with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, during a meeting at the Four Seasons hotel in the Gulf of Papagayo, in Guanacaste January 25, 2010. Costa Rica was the fourth and final stop Monday on the Emir's tour through Latin America. The visit – the first by an Arab head of state to this Central American country – is expected to bring Qatari investment in fields such as technology, science and the economy in Costa Rica.

Starbucks buying less Costa Rica coffee -growers

*Costa Rican growers report lower sales to Starbucks
*Producers suspect U.S. coffee giant trimming inventories

San Jose, Costa Rica (Reuters) - U.S. coffee giant Starbucks has reduced its purchases of Costa Rican coffee this year, the head of the Central American nation's coffee association said on Monday.

The company, which is known for paying top-dollar for high-quality coffee, may be buying less to reduce its inventories, Ronald Peters, the executive director of Icafe, said in an interview with Reuters.

"(Starbucks) has bought less coffee in Costa Rica this year," said Peters.

"Perhaps because they have delayed purchases, Costa Rican producers have also committed to supplying other buyers."

Peters was unable to say by how much Starbucks buying had declined.

Half of Costa Rican coffee exports go to the United States, a share that Peters said has been maintained despite slowed sales to Starbucks.

Starbucks' U.S. operations have struggled due to the recession but the firm posted its first quarterly rise in same-store sales in two years last week.

Guatemalan growers reported in December that Starbucks had been slow to buy coffee and speculated at the time the delay was an attempt to secure lower prices.

Prices for Central American coffee have surged amid shortfalls in harvests from major producer Colombia. Colombia expects its crop will recover this season as a crop rejuvenation program starts to pay dividends.

Starbucks confirmed in a statement that it had made purchases for the 2009/10 growing season from Guatemala and Costa Rica along with other Latin American nations but declined to provide a forecast of its purchasing activity for competitive reasons.

The company said it buys about 75 percent of its coffee in Latin America and is normally one of the leading buyers of Costa Rican coffee.

Peters said Costa Rican producers have found buyers willing to pay a "satisfactory" price of $1.40 per lb in New York despite the slowdown in purchases by Starbucks. (Writing by Robert Campbell; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chinchilla campaigns in Alajuela

Laura Chinchilla, presidential candidate for the ruling National Liberation Party, gives a thumbs up to her supporters during a campaign rally in Alajuela, Costa Rica, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010. Costa Rica will hold presidential elections on February 7th. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Alcatel-Lucent to pay $10 million in Costa Rica case

Settles accusations of kickbacks to govt. officials

San Jose, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Telecom equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent said on Thursday it would pay $10 million to settle a corruption case in Costa Rica.

Alcatel-Lucent was accused of paying kickbacks to former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez and other government officials in return for a 2001 contract worth $149 million to supply cellular telephone equipment.

Rodriguez, who was in office from 1998 to 2002, is set to go on trial this year for corruption. He denies any wrongdoing.

The case marks the first time in Costa Rica's history that a foreign corporation has agreed to pay the government damages for corruption, Solicitor General Ana Lorena Brenes said.

"Alcatel recognizes that it did not have sufficient control of its officials and (it will) pay the state," said Brenes, who led the case against the company, in an interview with Reuters.

Alcatel-Lucent spokesman Marco Malfavon confirmed the agreement.

Brenes said Alcatel admitted its executives paid bribes to officials of the Central American nation's state-run telecommunications company in exchange for a contract to install 400,000 cell phone lines.

Some $7 million was paid out in the scheme, including $800,000 that went directly to President Rodriguez, the government says.

A former Alcatel employee pleaded guilty in U.S. court in October 2008 to making more than $2.5 million in corrupt payments to various Costa Rican officials.

The Franco-American company has been struggling to turn around its business during the global economic downturn that has hit the telecom equipment sector hard. Alcatel has yet to generate regular free cash flow since it was formed in a merger in 2006. (Reporting by Leslie Josephs; Editing Bernard Orr and Tim Dobbyn)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tico rescue team in Haiti

A rescue team from Costa Rica leaves a site after signs of life were no longer found among the debris in Port-au-Prince, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. A powerful earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Outsider closes gap in Costa Rica presidential race

* Chinchilla support down 23 points since September
* Guevara favors switching to U.S. dollar

By Leslie Josephs

San Jose, Costa Rica (Reuters) - An outsider candidate from a right-wing party is gaining ground against Laura Chinchilla, favored to be elected next month as Costa Rica's first woman president, according to a recent poll.

Newcomer Otto Guevara from the fringe Libertarian Movement, has pulled into second place behind Chinchilla ahead of the Feb. 7 election, according to a nationwide survey by polling firm Unimer published in La Nacion newspaper during the weekend.

Chinchilla, a moderate from the National Liberation Party who is backed by sitting President Oscar Arias, had 40 percent of decided voters in her camp, down from 63 percent in a September poll, while Guevara's support jumped to 30 percent from 13 percent in the earlier survey.

"Costa Rican voters are looking for an alternative to the major parties," Cathalina Garcia from Unimer told Reuters. "At this time, (Guevara) is the alternative."

Guevara's party was founded in 1994 and wants to scrap Costa Rica's currency, the colon, for the U.S. dollar, as El Salvador and Panama have done, even though the relatively stable country does not have high inflation.

Both Chinchilla and Guevara support more free trade and are tough on crime in the nation of 4 million people, which is seen as safer than its Central American neighbors and as a haven for tourists and U.S. retirees.

Chinchilla, 59, served as Arias' vice president and justice minister and is expected to continue his policies of opening up the small country to international trade and private-sector competition.

Costa Rica hopes to complete trade pacts with China and Singapore before Arias leaves office as it eyes Asian markets as a destination for its high-quality coffee beans and other agricultural products.

Candidates need 40 percent or more of the vote to avoid a second-round runoff in early April, now a strong possibility according to the poll, which surveyed 1,210 people and had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Costa Rica to open up mobile phone sector

By Leslie Josephs

San Jose, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rica on Monday kicked off the process of opening its cell phone market to private companies, ending the state telecommunications company's more than four-decade monopoly.

The telecommunications regulator, known as Sutel, said it will open up bids in April and hopes to complete the award of the new concessions in the second half of the year.

"We believe that in September, we'll be giving the operators the new concessions," said Sutel's president, George Miley.

Companies interested in bidding include America Movil, Latin America's leading cellphone operator, Spain's Telefonica SA, and privately-held regional mobile operator Digicel, Sutel said in a statement.

Company officials were not immediately available to confirm their interest in bidding although all three are active in other Latin American markets.

The state-owned Costa Rican Electricity Institute, or ICE, has dominated the telecommunications sector for more than 45 years and controls fixed line, cell phone and Internet service in the Central America nation of 4 million people.

There are currently 1.8 million cell phone lines in Costa Rica, where third generation, or 3G services, were introduced last month.

Costa Rica, which has traditionally had strong state control over utilities and other important parts of the economy, was obliged to end the telecommunications monopoly under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect last year.

"They're coming here to compete with us," ICE spokesman Elbert Duran told Reuters, adding that the company welcomes the competition.

The ICE currently operates 88 percent of Costa Rica's cell phone frequencies, with the remainder reserved for non-comercial uses.

After the concessions process ICE will have approximately one-third of the available frequencies.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Insulza in Costa Rica to talk about Honduras and Haiti

Jose Miguel Insulza, right, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) speaks with a reporter as Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias looks on, in San Jose, Friday, Jan. 15, 2010. Insulza and Arias discussed the political situation in Honduras and the emergency in Haiti. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Costa Rica coffee crops spared from volcano blast

San Jose, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rica's high-quality coffee crops were spared from damage this week when a long-dormant volcano erupted for the first time in more than 140 years, spewing ash and forcing some evacuations.

A handful of coffee plantations, including one of the country's leading growers Cafe Aquiares, are near the slopes of the Turrialba volcano in central Costa Rica. But most lie at least 20 kms away from the affected area, the national coffee institute said.

"The coffee growing area is a distance from the volcano," Juan Jose Obando, co-ordinator of the regional Turrialba office of the Coffee Institute known as Icafe, told Reuters. "At this time we can say there are no problems," Obando said.

Farmers are still watching closely for the 3,340-meter volcano's next move. The last time it erupted was in 1866.

The volcano awoke in May 2007 with increased seismic and gaseous activity, according to Maria Martinez, volcano expert at the Costa Rican Volcanology and Seismology Observatory.

The blast on Tuesday afternoon forced emergency authorities to evacuate nearby residents from their homes.

During the mid-1990s as many as 1,700 growers produced coffee in Turrialba region, but the number has fallen considerably, Icafe said.

Many farmers abandoned their coffee crops at the beginning of this decade when world coffee prices collapsed because of oversupply.

Costa Rica, known for its top-quality beans, sees exports reaching 1.46 million 60-kg bags in 2009/10 harvest, up 10.6 per cent from the previous cycle.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Costa Rica increases volcano alert

Two abandoned houses are pictured in front of the Turrialba Volcano in Santa Cruz de Turrialba January 6, 2010. Costa Rica's Turrialba volcano, last active in the 19th century, erupted on Tuesday, spewing ash and steam and prompting authorities to evacuate a small number of people from its slopes. The 11,000-foot (3,340-meter) volcano is situated east of the capital San Jose. REUTERS/Juan Carlos UlateSan Jose (AFP) – Costa Rica on Wednesday raised an alert level to cover a wider area around the Turrialba volcano, a day after it erupted.

"The alert level is rising from green to yellow," Vanessa Rosales, the head of the National Emergency Commission, told a news conference in the capital San Jose, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the volcano.

Winds were sweeping some ash toward the capital, Rosales said, adding that "intense but low" seismic activity continued in the crater area.

Evacuations would extend from a three-kilometer radius to five or six kilometers, with some 50 people already evacuated, she added.

The 3,328-meter (10,918-foot) volcano erupted Tuesday, spewing ash and rocks and forcing 21 people in its vicinity to evacuate their homes.

The last major eruption of the Turrialba volcano was in 1856. It has had at least five major explosive eruptions in the last 3,500 years.

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