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These stories were published Wednesday, May 18, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 97
Jo Stuart
About us
A small plane has just landed at Palmar Sur. The airport has a 60-foot wide, 4,593-foot long runway and few services for aircraft. By contrast, the runway at Alajuela’s Juan Santamaría International Airport is 9,882 feet long and 151 feet wide. A new international airport nearby is likely to have a runway approaching 10,000 feet in length.

A.M. Costa Rica/Susan Reines
New airport is likely to be near Palmar Sur
By Susan Reines
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The new international airport intended to boost tourism in Costa Rica's lagging southwest corner will likely be in the community of Sierpe at the entrance to Peninsula de Osa, the coordinador general de aeropuertos said this week. Residents of Zona Sur expressed a grab-bag of reactions, from hope to disappointment to doubt.

The coordinador general, Luis Gustavo González Trigo, said the Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil will decide within a month whether the location will be Sierpe, Coto, Palmar Sur, Buenos Aires or Finca 18 for the airport and the anticipated tourism dollars associated with it. 

Ailing hopeful Golfito, the ex-United Fruit headquarters, has been eliminated from the running because mountains behind the city would prohibit large planes from safely landing there, González said. Puerto Jiménez also is out because it is off the beaten track.

The government expects the airport, whatever its exact location, to invigorate the entire region. 

"We want to promote three things," González said, "economic development, commerical development and tourism development. But mostly tourism." 

Reactions to the impending development are mixed in the Zona Sur. 

Many of the hotel owners, restaurant owners and tour operators who make their livings through hospitality said they were crossing their fingers for speedy construction.

"If we have a new airport, I think things will be a bit better," said Aradelia Hernández, president of the business-owners organization in Golfito. "But now, it's a little difficult." 

Hugo, a waiter in Golfito who declined to give his last name, said there was "muy poquito" tourism in the city now — virtually none, he said, outside of the sport fishermen who dock in the marina. 

Despite the potential for more tourist dollars, some Golfito business owners expressed reservations about the airport's implications.

Tim Leachman, co-owner of the Land Sea Services real estate firm in Golfito, said he looked forward to having easier access to the region, but he added that large numbers of tourists and the development that comes with them "tend to ruin places like this for people who came here for the reason I did —  for the nature."

Leachman also said he believed an airport would not be enough incentive for tourists to come to areas like Golfito, where crime, especially theft, is a major concern.

"It doesn't matter how pretty the jungle is, " Leachman said. "Tourists aren't going to come here unless the police start doing something to protect them. Seven out of 10 tourists now go back and say 'Don't go to Costa Rica.'" 

The airport will be the national government's second attempt to oil the former banana capital's rusty economy, which has been struggling since United Fruit pulled out of Costa Rica in 1985. 

In 1990, the government implemented a low-tax zone to encourage Costa Ricans to go to Golfito to shop. Leachman, Hernández and other business owners reported that the zone did little for the local economy, however.

"It brings 20 to 30 excursion buses here on the weekends," Leachman said. "But they all come with their bag lunches and dinners and sleep 12 to a hotel room, so the restaurants and hotels don't profit."

González said he believed the government's new plan to invigorate Golfito with an airport would be far more successful. 

"Once the airport is here, more people will come," he said, citing the example of Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia, which he said kicked off the tourist boom in the Nicoya Peninsula. "Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" 

Currently, international travelers must fly to San José and then either take small domestic flights or travel seven to 10 hours on partially paved roads to reach the southwest. 

The nine domestic airports in the region receive a dribble of air traffic each day. 

In Palmar Sur, for example, where a small hut and a stretch of blacktop a little larger than a basketball court serve as an airport service center, three small planes usually arrive daily. An occasional fumigation plane and about 40 private charter planes also arrive each month. Sierpe is just south of Palmar Sur and not far from the interamerican highway.

The civil aviation agency has not yet decided how much air traffic will move in and out of the new airport.

A final decision about its location will likely depend on geography. González had detailed maps of the region's mountain ranges, fault lines and tsunami danger zones, and said the airport would be constructed in the most open, stable location possible. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 18, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 97

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A.M. Cota Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Deputy Federico Vargas could not use the podium Tuesday at Casa Presidencial when he expressed thanks to President Abel Pacheco and Vice president Lineth Saborío for approving a bill benefiting the handicapped. There are no provisions for wheelchairs at the presidential auditorium.

President agrees to waive
taxes for handicap cars

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco has signed a bill that waives taxes and import duties for vehicles used exclusively by persons with handicaps.

Handicap is defined broadly to include physical, mental or sensory impairments that are severe and permanent.

Under the law, a handicapped person can purchase a vehicle tax free for $35,000 or less every seven years.

The measure was pressed by Federico Vargas, a deputy of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, himself confined to a wheelchair. 

Vehicles purchased in this way will bear a special handicapped license plate. Only a handicapped person and up to two persons designated for the purpose can use the vehicle. Use by other persons would void the tax-free nature of the deal, according to the law.

There do not seem to be any estimates of how many persons might take advantage of the new law or what the effect wold be on the financially strapped central government.

U.S. grant will pay costs
of migratory bird study

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Interior Department will give $3.9 million in grants to conserve birds throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. Some of the money will be spent to monitor overwintering species in Costa Rica.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced this Tuesday during cermonies marking the 12th International Migratory Bird Day. She also signed a declaration of intent with Canada and Mexico to strengthen cooperation on bird conservation. 

Building partnerships to conserve habitat is one of the primary focuses of the initiative, Norton said.

"The nations of the Americas and the Caribbean are linked by the birds that travel between thousands of miles as they migrate in the spring and fall," Norton said. "Working together, we can ensure these birds have the habitat they need both for their nesting and wintering seasons."

More than 340 species of birds breed in the United States and Canada, and winter in Latin America. Examples of these birds include species of plovers, terns, hawks, cranes, warblers and sparrows. 

The declaration will formalize the process for undertaking the initiative, which is designed to address the sharp decline of many migratory bird species in recent decades. 

The $3.9 million in grants is to conserve migratory birds in 18 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and 25 Latin American and Caribbean countries. The partners that receive these grants will contribute nearly $18 million in matching funds.

The grants are made under the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 2000. The act establishes a matching grants program to pay for projects that promote the conservation of neotropical migratory birds in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Among the groups receiving a grant is a partnership led by The Institute for Bird Populations, which will receive $139,624 and put up $1,406,519 in matching contributions to monitor over-wintering survival rates. The areas of study include Costa Rica, California, El Salvador, French Antilles, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panamá.

Museums plan exhibits
and free day for visitors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is International Museum Day, and the Museos del Banco Central have special traveling expositions and have invited residents with identification to visit the museum for free.

The museum complex includes the Museo del Oro gold collection, the best outside of Bogota, Colombia.

The museum is carrying exhibits to Indian communities throughout the country, especially schools and high schools.  The idea is to provide access to the sometimes-isolated Indian communities, particularly on the topic of their cultural traditions.

The museum also will be offering information on Indian cultures at schools around San José. The information is accompanied by manuals and teacher’s guides.

In the vestibule of the museums, workers have set up for visitors today an exhibit giving more detailed information on both projects. The museums are under the Plaza de la Cultura in the heart of San José.

Cuts in motor fuel prices
are done in record time

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency did not waste any time in cutting fuel prices. 

The Authoridad Reguladora de los Servicio Públicos said it received a request just Monday from the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A., often called RECOPE.

The cut approved Tuesday is 9.4 percent which translates to a 5.9 percent reduction in super grade gasoline from 424 colons a liter to 399 and a similar cut for regular from 405 to 381 colons per liter.

Diesel got a 6.23 reduction from 305 colons per liter to 286. The colon is about 471.6 to the dollar.

The prices go into effect the day after the price cut is published in the official La Gaceta newspaper.

The executive branch urged swift action on the measure Sunday because high fuel prices, caused by the world price of petroleum, are controversial.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Above-average Caribbean hurricane season predicted 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Although Costa Rica does not face direct danger from hurricanes, the rain, winds and other long-reaching effects of the storms can cause serious damage. 

A U.S. climate agency is forecasting another above-normal hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin region, which includes the countries on the coasts of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

In a statement, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms will hit the region in 2005, with seven to nine of the storms becoming hurricanes and three to five of them potentially major hurricanes. The agency is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Hurricane season in the region runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.  The agency defines a normal season as having 10 tropical storms (maximum sustained winds between 39 miles per hour and 73 mph) of which an average of six become hurricanes (maximum sustained winds of at least 74 mph) and two become major hurricanes (maximum sustained winds exceeding 110 mph).

The forecast reflects an expected continuation of above-average activity that began in 1995. Since then, all but two Atlantic hurricane seasons have been above normal in the number and severity of storms.

The agency said the 2004 hurricane season proved very destructive, with four major hurricanes striking the Atlantic Basin region.

David Johnson, director of NOAA's National Weather Service, said the effects from hurricanes, tropical storms and their remnants do not stop at the coastline. Preparation plans for the storms, he said, should consider that these storms can generate severe weather, such as tornadoes and flooding, while moving inland.

In contrast to the Atlantic region, a below-normal hurricane season is expected in the Eastern and Central Pacific regions. The agency  predicts 11 to 15 tropical storms for that region, with two to four storms becoming major hurricanes. The Eastern Pacific region takes in the area off Mexico and Central America, while the Central Pacific extends beyond Hawaii.

For the East Pacific region, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines a normal season as featuring 15 to 16 tropical storms, of which nine become hurricanes and four or five become major hurricanes. 

The U.S. Agency for International Development, in a related announcement said it responded to the effects of four hurricanes in six Caribbean countries in 2004 and provided life-saving humanitarian relief to disaster-affected communities.

Gold mining company mostly a winner in Sala IV
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Glencairn Gold Corp. has won most of a battle in the 
Sala IV constitutional court. The court has confirmed that the company has complied in full with the permitting required to build and operate its Bellavista Mine near Miramar.

Glencairn's subsidiary, Metales Procesados MRW S.A., was made a party to a legal proceeding brought before the constitutional court against three branches of the Government by a group of individuals in late 2004. The group alleged deficiencies in the process followed by the government in granting permits for the Bellavista mine. 

However, governmental officials in Costa Rica have stated publicly on several occasions prior to this decision that construction of the mine was carried out in compliance with Costa Rican law, and the recent ruling upheld this position. The court did request various branches of government to conduct ongoing studies and to continue to monitor the situation. 

"I am very pleased by the court's decision and believe it validates our efforts to construct the Bellavista Mine to 

the highest standards and with the greatest concern for the environment and for the community's well being," said Kerry Knoll, Glencairn president. "I believe the court went to great lengths to ensure that all voices were heard and that all issues were fully aired before making its decision." 

Construction of the mine is essentially complete, and the company expects to produce its first gold from Bellavista in June with commercial production to begin in the third quarter of the year. Bellavista is designed to produce an average of 60,000 ounces of gold per year over eight years based on current mineral reserves. 

Combined with production from the Company's Limon Mine in Nicaragua, Bellavista will bring the company's total annual gold production to well over 100,000 ounces.

Some residents in the vicinity north of Puntarenas and environmentalists are upset by the company’s plan to leach gold from crushed rock by using cyanide. 

Although the company says this work will be done in a pit with an impenatrable membrane underneath, opponents fear an accident.

U.S. detains Cuban exile wanted in airline bombing
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Cuban-exile sought by Cuba and Venezuela for his alleged involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban Airways passenger jet has been taken into custody by U.S. authorities. The case has created an international uproar. 

U.S. Immigration authorities seized Luis Posada Carriles after the 77-year-old Cuban exile gave an impromptu news conference in Miami, ending weeks of speculation about his whereabouts. 

A statement from the Department of Homeland Security says authorities will determine his immigration status within 48 hours. The statement gave no indication about whether Mr. Posada will be extradited to Venezuela, where authorities say he is the mastermind behind the bombing of a Cuban Airways jet in 1976 that killed 73 people. Homeland Security Department officials say generally the U.S. government does not return people to Cuba or any country acting on Cuba's behalf.

Speaking through a translator at his news conference, Posada denied any involvement in the attack. "The act of the downing of that airplane is an act that I did not have any participation," he said.

Posada has also denied involvement in the bombings of several hotels in Havana in 1997 that resulted in the death of an Italian tourist. 

Posada escaped from a minimum security prison in Venezuela in 1985 where he had been held on charges of involvement in the airliner bombing. Speaking at a recent news conference, Eduardo Soto, Posada's lawyer

said his client would face certain death if sent to Caracas. 

"It is my utmost and absolute belief that should Mr. Posada Carriles be extradited from the United States that he would be found dead," he said. Soto has filed an application for political asylum for his client, which could complicate any extradition request. 

There were scattered demonstrations in support of Posada in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood when news of his detention was announced. 

Damien Fernández, the director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University in Miami, says because of his long history of violence, Posada is unlikely to generate the sort of support for his cause that was given to Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban boy who was returned to his father in Cuba, by U.S. Immigration authorities in 2000. 

"I think the U.S. government has more political space on this issue than in other past issues in the Cuban-American community. Few Cuban-American leaders have sided with Mr. Posada Carilles," he said. "The general public seems to be undecided and unsure as to the moral character of this man. We do not know enough about him, and therefore there seems to be an attitude of wait and see."

A senior Cuban official, Ricardo Alarcon, the speaker of the Cuban Parliament, said he welcomed Posada's detention, but he said Cuba would keep up its campaign against Posada until he was extradited to Venezuela. Cuban President Fidel Castro led a massive demonstration past the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on Tuesday criticizing Posada's U.S. presence.

Migratory fish treaty sent to U.S. Senate for ratification
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration submitted the Antigua Convention to the U.S. Senate for consideration this week, urging lawmakers to ratify the pact to improve conservation of highly migratory fish stocks such as tuna. 

If ratified, upon entering into force, the convention would replace the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Convention and establish legal obligations and 

cooperative mechanisms needed for the conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks such as tuna and swordfish in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

"Early entry into force and implementation of the Antigua Convention will offer the opportunity to strengthen conservation and management of these resources in important ways, including through enhanced efforts to ensure compliance and enforcement of agreed conservation and management measures," President George Bush said in a letter to the Senate. 

Jo Stuart
About us
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