A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday Edition
July 24, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 145
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Poder Judicial strike causes delays at the morgue
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At least 21 autopsies were cancelled this weekend as part of the ongoing strike in the Poder Judicial, which caused a crisis among the authorities and families unable to claim the remains of their loved ones.

The bodies were locked up at the Centro de Ciencias Forenses in San Joaquín de Flores, Heredia.

The strike originally began this past Wednesday and seeks to stop the approval of a legislative bill that could increase the amount of working years and cut the pensions judicial workers would receive. Legislators defended the move as necessary to keep pension’s regime financially stability.

According to the Costa Rican Constitution, the delivery of basic public services cannot be halted due to a strike. In the case of the Morgue Judicial, its pathologists stopped all work as of Friday and during the weekend despite the regulations.

The measure left families in limbo on how and when the bodies of their relatives could be picked up for their proper religious rituals and burials. On Saturday night, the Sala Constitutional of the Supreme Court ordered Walter Espinoza, the head of the Judicial Investigating Organization, to do whatever it takes to get the morgue back on operations.

It also demanded a full report on how the situation came to happen in the first place. By Sunday at noon, Espinoza met with the morgue directors and pathologists privately at the Ciudad Judicial, located in San Joaquín de Flores, Heredia.

After the meeting, Espinoza said all the autopsies and similar services provided by the morgue resumed immediately and by today at noon, the delivery of bodies would go back to normal.

However, the Frente Gremial del Poder Judicial, one of several workers associations, denounced that after the meeting, several pathologists had a nervous breakdown and were sent to home on sick leave.

Frente Gremial del Poder Judicial Facebook photo
Morgue workers apparently distraught following Espinoza meet.

This left the morgue without several doctors to comply with the expected delivery of bodies today.

“They were intimidated and threatened with jail time if they didn’t go back to work,” the Frente said in a statement published on Facebook. “They were really shaken.”

The strike will continue this week indefinitely unless the Legislative Assembly accepts to take into consideration a draft created by the workers.

The worker’s draft seek to keep the retirement age at 62 following 35 years of work, while the Supertintendencia de Pensiones proposes 65 years of age and 35 years of work as well.

The pensions regime of the Poder Judicial has been making headlines in the last 12 months after a study from Universidad de Costa Rica said the financial stability of the system is jeopardized.

Part of the problem, the Universidad said at the time, is that some of higher courts magistrates retire under pensions close to $10,000 a month.

These protests arrived just a couple of weeks after several unions went on general strike to oppose an increase in the contributions paid by workers belonging to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the countries biggest pensions regime who is also at financial risk, according to Universidad de Costa Rica.

United Nations Food and Agriculture Program      
Increasingly severe and sustained droughts are beginning to effect the entire region.
Sustained drought remains worry in Guanacaste
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Guanacaste is frequently known for two things: its beautiful beaches that are popular expat and tourist destinations and its drought conditions. Lately in the news and among government channels, the province has seen a huge amount of attention on the projects happening to curb the province’s drought issue and further develop it.

According to recent data released by the administration of Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, more than 453 billion colones has been invested into 52 projects designed to help manage and improve the infrastructure for the province’s water supply. The province of Guanacaste is seasonally drier than the rest of Costa Rica and is particularly prone to the effects of the El Niño phenomenon that inflicts drought-like conditions on it and the wider region of Central America.

In fact, the effects of these dry conditions are so bad that the government has its own contingency program specifically for the province called the Programa Integral de Abastecimiento de Agua para Guanacaste.

The plan calls for mechanisms to be placed to provide for some measure of inter-governmental cooperation to ensure the optimal use of water resources. That and meeting the water demands of the affected communities is also what it is designed for.

It is no secret that lack of a functioning and consistent water supply are what hinders the province’s development in comparison to the rest of the country. Plans such as a grand irrigation strategy for the Río Tempisque and the Arenal region have been put into place with some immediate success but remain incomplete due to a lack of available funds.

The eventual plan for the Proyecto Abastecimiento de Agua para la Cuenca Media del Río Tempisque y Comunidades Costeras, or Paacume for short, is to generate enough water to benefit almost 204,000 people and to irrigate 20,000 hectares of land.

A bold and potentially beneficial project but one that needs a huge amount of funds that the local and national governments simply do not have. 

Currently, the government pledges 75 million colones while the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica pledges to finance Paacume with 425 million. Officials hope to begin constructing the project in 2019 and have it finished by 2022.

Meanwhile, the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados has invested more than 39 billion colones the past couple years toward several of its own infrastructure projects financed when AyA made an emergency decree for the province in relation to water.

Comisión Nacional de Emergencias photo      
Some of the bags of fertilizer being handed out to Guanacaste farmers.

“To solve the problems of shortages, water shortages or salinization, 28 wells have been drilled since 2016 and 12 more in 2017, for an investment of more than 800 million colones,” Casa Presidencial said in a statement.  “Other immediate measures include the new interconnections that have increased the water flow for the population, distribution with tank trucks to 20 communities and the installation of storage tanks, actions with a budget of 45 million colones.”

The country’s national emergency management system has also been mobilized in the province as well with an investment of 21.97 billion colones since 2014. 47 percent of those funds were directed towards the drought situation, according to data from the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias.

These are mainly used for what the committee calls the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector in the province. That simply means providing machinery and advice to various farmers and producers in agriculture for the region.

These investments have been welcomed by the drought-stricken region but do not constitute a long-term solution to the province as more effects from El Niño and the Central American Dry Corridor continue to shrivel up the northern Pacific sector of Costa Rica as well as much of the wider region to the north.

The devastating El Niño event that began in 2015 was one of the worst on record and its impact continues to be felt in the dry corridor, compounding the damage from two consecutive years of drought. These weather phenomena occur cyclically and are often associated with severe weather events.

As a result, some 3.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance with 1.6 million moderately or severely food insecure in the hard-hit countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Some 10.5 million people, about 60 percent of whom are in poverty, live in the dry corridor, a region characterized by extensive deforestation, soil degradation and water scarcity. The dry corridor runs from southern México south to Guanacaste in Costa Rica.

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