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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 8
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A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Ocelot is one of the cat family members

Investigation has zoo 
operators as well
 as animals in limbo

Jaguar spends his days on this perch
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The environmental ministry has suspended the renewal of the contract for the foundation that runs Zoologico Simon Bolivar and the Centro de Conservacion in Santa Ana. 

The ministry did this in order to investigate a litany of complaints filed by outside groups. The net result is that the foundation running the zoo and the conservation center have paid more than $500,000 of its own money to keep the operation going. And the animals are in limbo.

The foundation is La Fundación Pro Zoologico. It was contracted in 1994 by the government to run the Zoologico Simon Bolivar in north central San José.  The 10-year contract began May 7 of that year.

Representatives of the foundation outlined their situation in a meeting with a reporter Monday.

Marcela Solis, the foundation spokesperson, said that any renewal of the contract has been put on hold because of investigations into the treatment of the animals.  Ms. Solis said that the foundation currently is not being paid by the ministry and that the group maintains the Zoo from its own funds. Ms. Solis said that the ministry owes the foundation $533,000 in unpaid wages for employees. 

Outside animal rights groups have complained for years about the condition of the zoo, the size of the cages containing the animals and other factors, including odor. The zoo and Parque Bolivar where it stands are state-owned.

The Ministry de Ambiente y Energía carried out an external audit to explore the complaints. It is contracting Deloitte & Touche, the consultancy firm, to visit the zoo and check the financial records of La Fundación Pro Zoologico. Members of the ministry also assessed the condition of the animals. 

The zoo contains two African lions confiscated from a passing circus, native animals, monkeys, crocodiles and many birds and snakes.

The foundation has said that the time and money that the ministry invested into evaluating the conditions of the zoo was not enough to do a through job. 

However, the audit did reveal concerns about the mixing of species such as crocodiles and turtles.  The concern is that crocodiles eventually will munch on a turtle or two.

The foundation answered this concern indirectly by saying there have been no cases of cannibalism at the zoo, skirting the issue of crocodile snacks.

The  Ministry also said that the crocodiles did not have suitable living conditions. Too much shade and low water temperatures mean that the crocodiles spend too long out of the water. Inadequate living conditions also meant that some animals were undergoing stress. 

On Oct. 8. Oscar Carlos Monge from Deloitte & Touche sent a letter to the ministry. He said that the financial evaluation of the foundation was difficult because the organization did not supply full documentation. 

In response to this Yolanda Matamoros, the president of the foundation, said that the financial resources have been used well and that there are no problems with the living conditions of the animals. Mrs. Matamoros said that the ministry has made it clear that there are other parties interested in taking over the  zoo and the conservation center. 

Ms. Matamoros said that the Conservation Center in Santa Ana is there to educate children in such subjects as the animals of Costa Rica. The Santa Ana location will not evolve into a larger, more sprawling zoo, although many persons thought that was the plan.

Interview shows that foundation is nervous about its critics
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fundación Pro Zoologico clearly is an organization under siege from critics.

At a meeting between foundation representatives and a reporter, the explanations came from Marcela Solis, the public relations officer. Yolanda Matamoros, the foundation president, although present, said she did not want to be interviewed or directly quoted in this article. 

The foundation manages public zoos for the benefit of the citizenry under the general supervision of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. In addition to the zoo at Parque Bolivar in north San José, the foundation manages the Centro de Conservación in Santa Ana. That place frequently has been described as a zoo. 

However, when a reporter visited Friday and paid a 1,000-colon ($2.20) admission, the numbers and types of animals were less than expected.

In public view were two squirrel monkeys, a sheep and some wild boar. An employee said "I would not pay to come here. There really isn't that much for people to see." 

The reporter had visited the Santa Ana location several days before. When she identified herself as a reporter, she was refused admission to the public facility.

The foundation describes the Santa Ana facility as a conservation center to avoid characterization as a zoo. Santa Ana is about 12 kms. (7.5 miles) west of the current location of the zoo.

 
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Damage toll from storm
at least $20 million

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco estimated at about $20 million the loss attributed to the heavy rains that swept the Caribbean slope and the northern zone over the weekend. He may be low.

Banana companies said they think the loss in this area alone is about $10 million.

Pacheco will get a first-hand look at the damage today when he tours Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí and Cariari de Guápiles. In Puerto Viejo, the president will inspect a damaged clinic. In Cariari the location is a bridge that was damaged in the record storm. He also will visit a damaged school and another bridge.

Meanwhile, rescue workers and police are trying to bring food and fresh water to those trapped by the flooding.

Sarapiquí had the largest number of persons evacuated from their homes, some 2,186. But because of geography, the situation in Talamanca may be more tenuous. Officially 1,262 persons were evacuated. But that does not count the toll in isolated Indian villages in the hills.

The Sección de Vigilancia Aérea of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública has started an air bridge connecting Bribri, Sixaola and the Talamanca region to bring tons of provisions into the mountain communities.

A decrease in the stormy weather allowed the start of operations Tuesday morning. The weather was so bad Monday that the security ministry helicopter had to be trucked to the Caribbean slope.

A handful of helicopters, including one on loan from the Standard Fruit Co., are working 24-hours straight to help the stranded residents. Nearly all of Sixaola had to be evacuated Sunday and Monday. Water from the flowing Sixaola river rose to the rooftops there.

The area experienced more than 14 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, a record.

As expected, Pacheco signed an emergency decree Tuesday permitting the expenditure of money earmarked for such recovery efforts. Officials say 7,155 persons were displaced by the storm.

The preliminary toll of damage includes 13 bridges, 32 homes in Talamanca, 27 health centers, a dike, seven water pipelines and 11 stretches of highway.

The banana toll is a continuing loss.

Jorge Sauma, the president of the Corporación Bananera Nacional said that 30 farms in the Valle de Estrella, Matina, Sixola and in the center of Limón have been flooded. Sauma said that there are others areas which inspectors have been unable to reach and therefore have not evaluated. 

Sauma said that the current estimation of lost crops is $10 million. The independent banana farmers harvest some 1,800 boxes of fruit a day during this time of year. "They may never make it to the market and this will delay our production," he said.

Abel Chavez, president of the Camera de Productores de Piña, said that there have been several farms that have been unable to supply pineapple and that approximately 1,000 boxes have already been thrown away. 

"Some farms in the Puerto Viejo area in Sarapiquí have been unable to deliver their produce in the containers because transportation and road access is almost impossible. 

Rodolfo Coto Pacheco, minister of Agricultura and Ganadería, said that he will be sending a technical group to the area to evaluate the damages caused by the floods. He said that he was unable to estimate how much this will affect Costa Rica’s economy.

Antipoverty plan was
in works before storm

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Caribbean slope area hit by the weekend storm will be getting a financial lift. A $60 million development plan was in the works even before the storm hit. 

President Abel Pacheco said Tuesday that he already has sent to the Asamblea Legislativa documents to seek approval to accept a loan from the Interamerican Development Bank. The loan will cover the bulk of the costs.

The project was outlined Tuesday by Jorge Polinaris, minister of Planificación Nacional y Política Económica. The government will spent about $12 million along the drainage of the Río Sixaola. The rest will go elsewhere in the Province of Limón.

The primary goal of the project is to encourage employment, either agricultural or otherwise. But reduction of risks from natural disasters like the one that hit this weekend also is a priority.

A third priority is the development of the basic infrastructure of the regions and the promotion of community organizations.

Polinaris said the government was seeking a sustainable program with the overall goal of reducing poverty.

Ambassador to Chile named

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Edgar García Miranda, a 30-year career diplomat, has been named Costa Rica’s ambassador to Chile. During his career he has served as ambassador to Honduras.

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U.S. officials in Managua may offer Alemán a new deal
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — News reports from a variety of sources confirmed Tuesday that a high-level delegation from the U.S. State Department is seeking judicial permission from the Managua Tribunal de Appelaciones (Court of Appeals) to visit the Hacienda El Chile and meet with the convicted money launderer and ex-president of Nicaragua, Arnoldo Alemán. 

Among the names on the list of proposed visitors are those of Barbara Moore, U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, Carlos Garcia, political affairs officer at the embassy in Managua, Dan Fisk an important adviser to the Bush administration and specialist in Latin American affairs, as well as Oliver Garza, former ambassador to Nicaragua. 

Reportedly, the visit to the home of Alemán is to seek a reunification of the right-wing elements of Nicaraguan politics and terminate the planned vote on constitutional reform that would strip President Enrique Bolaños of many of his powers. Bolaños is at his weakest point in his presidency and is under attack from all of the other elements of the Nicaraguan government including the national assembly and supreme court. 

Alemán has refused to this point to negotiate or even discuss the proposals with anyone below ambassadorial rank and referred all prior overtures for meetings by the embassy staff in Managua to either his wife or daughter.

Among the proposals purportedly on the table is a deal for a complete amnesty for his 20-year money laundering sentence in Nicaragua and no further action against Alemán and his family in the U.S. court system. 

The deal also includes a cessation of pressure against any of his deputies in the Assembly. Many of the deputies have close family ties to the Miami community and the restriction of U.S. visitor visas is a serious sanction. 

Such a deal would require a rupture of the written accord signed by Alemán and Daniel Ortega Saturday outlining the alliance of the Partido Liberal Constitutionalista, headed by Alemán, and Ortega’s Frente Sandinista del Liberación Nacional to reform the Nicaraguan constitution. 

The two parties represent some 90 percent of the deputies in the national assmbly, an overwhelming majority.

To this point all sources indicate that Alemán is holding firm to his position, however, Nicaraguan foreign aid could be in jeopardy if he does not negotiate. 

Sources in the Nicaraguan presidency issued a statement on Sunday that the Bank for International Development had frozen $15 million of Nicaraguan funding due to the constitutional crisis. This statement has not been officially confirmed by a representative of the bank. 


 
Costa Rica is ground zero for in-vitro fertilization fight
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Over the next year, Costa Rica is likely to become a hotbed for pro-life and pro-choice advocates from around the world. A case filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human rights has challenged Costa Rica’s 4-year-old law banning the use of in-vitro fertilization. A decision regarding the law and Costa Rica’s response are likely to shape policies regarding the procedure throughout North and South America. 

In 2000, Costa Rica’s Sala IV constitutional court outlawed in-vitro fertilization. The court held that human life begins at conception and from that point is entitled to protection of the law. The magistrates in the court held that the risk to human life was too great because some embryos perish during the procedure.

Several couples from Costa Rica, backed by the Instituto Costarricense de Infertilidad and the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, have challenged the ruling. They claim that court has no right to enact laws regarding such intimate family matters.

In-vitro fertilization is a process that helps many women, who would otherwise not be able to conceive, to have children. Doctors remove eggs from a woman’s 

ovary and then combine them with sperm taken from her partner under laboratory settings. By fertilizing the egg with sperm, doctors are able to create an embryo, which is then transferred into the woman’s womb. The problem with the procedure is that several embryos are formed during fertilization. These extra embryos are then destroyed after the procedure. 

Pro-life advocates have rallied around Costa Rica’s ruling in the hope that it might set a precedent that the rest of the world would follow. The country, however, has been under fire from international pro-choice organizations since the law’s approval. They claim that the law violates several international human rights policies and that it must be overturned. 

The commission will meet in March and will either throw out the case or hand it over to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Pedro where a final ruling may be made. Advocates on both sides will be watching the commission carefully over the next two months for any sign of a decision.

Costa Rica made national pro-life headlines last year by backing the United States in an attempt to create an international ban on human cloning. Over 70 percent of the Costa Rican population is Catholic, a section that traditionally has been pro-life. 


 
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Pollution in Caribbean reported to be on the rise
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON D.C. — Pollution from cruise ships, tankers and other vessels is among the rising threats to the environmental condition of Caribbean nations, warns the U.N. Environment Program.

Other concerns include dwindling quantities of fresh water for drinking and agriculture, the program said in a statement.  The agency said some countries in the eastern Caribbean, such as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and St. Kitts and Nevis, are already officially listed as "water-scarce."

The program said another problem for the Caribbean is the rising tide of household and industrial wastes contaminating the land, underground freshwater supplies, and coastal waters.  For example, only 13 percent of the population of St. Lucia is connected to the sewage system, the program said in findings from a series of reports on the status of small island developing states around the world.

The reports were released for an international meeting on developing states taking place in Mauritius this week.  The reports, an international effort involving scientists and collaborating centers across the world, cover the Caribbean, and the Pacific, Indian Ocean and Atlantic island states.

The United States and the international community have been acting to stem the rising pollution problem in the Caribbean.  The U.S. State Department and other U.S. federal agencies have been heavily involved with the White Water to Blue Water Partnership, first announced in September 2002, which supports partnerships that 

promote sustainable environmental management within the Caribbean region. 

The State Department has committed $1.5 million to this partnership, funding efforts in wastewater and sanitation, integrated coastal management, sustainable tourism and environmentally sound marine transportation in the Caribbean.

The program says the partnership is crucial to the health of the Caribbean because the region, with about 50,000 ships and 14.5 million tourists visiting the area annually, has some of the most intensive maritime traffic in the world.

An estimated 70 percent of the Caribbean's population lives in cities, towns and villages located in vulnerable low-lying coastal areas threatened by rising sea levels and increasing frequency and intensity of storms and hurricanes.  In 2004, several of the Caribbean island nations experienced severe devastation, the loss of thousands of lives and millions of dollars in damages because of intense hurricanes.

The program said most island states remain hampered by their remoteness and small gross national products, with little chance to tackle issues such as domestic and industrial waste and the difficulties of accessing the technologies they need.

The global community, said the program, must use the Mauritius meeting to renew its commitment to these "unique cultures and societies by increasing the resources available, by transferring appropriate technologies, and building the capacities of governments, industries, and civil society. . . ."


 
More access and oversight sought for international banking institutions
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

International financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, should be subject to the same level of scrutiny as national governments, says ARTICLE 19, a press freedom group.  As such, the organization is helping to draft a set of standards by which information advocates can monitor these institutions for openness. 

ARTICLE 19, a member of the Global Transparency Initiative, a coalition of groups committed to the idea of greater transparency in financial institutions. The group is circulating a draft outline of a so-called transparency charter for international financial institutions. The charter aims to provide a statement of common goals and milestones for the coalition. 

It also provides an analysis of the legal and other bases for the right of access to information with specific reference to international financial institutions.  The main part of the charter sets out the standards to which a transparency policy should conform. 

These standards will be drawn from the principle of maximum disclosure, which holds that all information held by such financial institutions should be disclosed, subject only to narrow exceptions set out in the given policy. The same principle also requires the establishment of a simple, rapid and low-cost process for accessing information. 

ARTICLE 19 has invited members of the coalition and other organisations to provide input into the draft outline and Charter, which is available HERE 


 
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