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(506) 223-1327        Published Monday, June 26, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 125        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Environmental warrior hailed into court here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The conservation warrior Paul Watson is supposed to appear for trial in a San José court today to face charges stemming from a seagoing dispute with a Costa Rican fishing crew. He is charged with endangering the craft to the point of almost sinking her.

Watson is the leader of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is well known for its fight against the whaling industry and those who would hunt harp seals in northern Canada. In fact, Watson just resigned from the Sierra Club because it is sponsoring an essay contest on hunting.

The courts identify Watson as Canadian, but his organization is based in Friday Harbor, Wash. He is a co-founder of Greenpeace.

The incident that led to trial happened April 21 and 22 in Guatemalan and Costa Rican waters. Watson was aboard his Ocean Warrior and eight Costa Ricans were aboard the Varadero 1. On its Web page, Watson's organization described the Costa Ricans as poachers, and the group was working at the time in the vicinity of the Isla de Coco to halt illegal long-line fishing and shark finning.

The organization has blamed fishy politics for the charges. Said a news release at the time:

"Sea Shepherd’s mission to Costa Rica has been thwarted by fishy politics since the beginning of the campaign. Our conservation activities upset the illegal practices of the fishing industry: we intervened with the Varadero I poaching off the coast of Guatemala, our crew uncovered an illegal shark finning operation in Puntarenas, and we have interceded with poachers around Cocos Island while assisting the Cocos Island Park rangers."

A summary of the case by the Poder Judicial makes no mention of poaching. It says that Watson encountered the Costa Rican vessel drifting with motor problems in Guatemalan waters April 21.

But it was the next day when the two boats came close together near the Isla de Coco. The judicial report of the trial said that 

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society photo
Paul Watson gives a lecture in file photo

Watson attacked and threatened the Costa Rican boat and sent streams of water into the boat nearly causing it to sink. The two boats collided and grave damage was caused to the Costa Rican crew, the court document said.

Watson left Puntarenas on another Sea Shepherd boat to avoid jail, the organization said. He posted a bond.  The trial is supposed to take three days with eight witnesses. The penalty upon conviction is from two to six years in jail.

The boat collision took place in the last days of the Miguel Ángel Rodríguez administration. Shark finning did not become a major political issue until after Abel Pacheco was in office. Fishermen catch sharks and just keep the fins for the Asian market, dumping the shark carcass overboard. This is contrary to Costa Rican law.

The Sea Shepherd organization correctly noted in 2002 that Taiwan is expanding its fishing operations in Costa Rica and the trade in shark fins is growing.

Watson published a book in 1994, Ocean Warrior  "My Battle to End the Illegal Slaughter on the High Seas." He has been ordered out of Ecuador and sneaked out of South Africa in his campaign against whaling and other issues. He generally is unpopular with officialdom.

RACSA zeros in on e-mail spammer in Zapote
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. got a go-ahead from the Sala IV constitutional court to crack down on those sending massive amounts of unsolicited e-mails.

The court action was only a ratification of the existing policies of the government company, known as RACSA. The Internet provider has cut off senders of so-called spam but the court action said it could do so without violating the constitutional provision for free communications.

One possible target might be Casa Presidencial in Zapote. RACSA has begun slapping the label [Probably Spam] on e-mails from the Presidencia that are sent to more than a handful of people.

Or maybe RACSA is just making a political statement.

A.M. Costa Rica graphic
President Óscar Arias' weekly agenda is designated 'spam.'

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 26, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 125

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Aserrí, tamal capital,
has fair this weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The town of Aserrí is gearing up for the Expo-Feria del Tamal 2006 from Thursday until Sunday.

The tamal is the banana-wrapped pastry that is traditional with the Christmas season here. But one of the purposes of the fair is to remind residents that the tamal is good any time.

Aserrí, in he mountains south of San José, is known for its 20 or more businesses where tamales are made. Residents have more than 50 years of meeting the culinary expectations of the Central Valley.

Carlos Solís, president of the Asociación Cultural Aqueserrí, said the fair is important to promote the town as a tourist destination as well as a place where tamales are made.

Saturday at 1 p.m. the tamal workers will show their skill in a tamal-wrapping contest. They have five minutes to wrap and tie up as many tamales as possible. Last year's winner wrapped 25 tamales in that time, organizers said.

Fireworks are planned for Saturday night, and an oxcart parade takes place Sunday at 10 a.m.

The tamal, masa, meat and vegetables wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf, was a staple in pre-conquest times in Costa Rica, said organizers citing academic reports.

Lawmakers study leave
for fathers of newborns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers are considering a form of paternity leave.

Guyon Massey of Restauración Nacional has proposed giving fathers the day off on the day a child is born and two more days to spend with the mother and the new baby.

The father also would get an hour off for the subsequent 40 days to help with family life. The proposal is in discussions in the Comisión de Asuntos Sociales.

Mothers already get a month off work before a birth and three months thereafter.

Police make drug sweep
in Alajuela neighborhood

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 50 Fuerza Pública officers and other agents of the security ministry descended on the section known as El Infiernillo in Barrio Santa Rita in Alajuela Saturday evening.

Some 32 persons were detained in the sweep, conducted under the supervision of Randall Picado, the new regional director there.

The principal goal was to stop the flow of drugs, he said. Also participating were agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Policía de Tránsito.

Officers entered the area from four directions and cut off exits while they checked identities and their lists of wanted individuals.

Dutch master Rembrandt
will turn 400 July 15

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Guess who will be 400 this year. Why Rembrandt, the 17th century master, and the Embassy of the Netherlands here will be joining with the home country to celebrate.

In Europe there will be more than 20 expositions, and treasured Rembrandt works form all over the world are being loaned for the greatest collection of the painter's works in history. The cities of Leiden and Amsterdam, where he lived, will have much of the attention.

Here in Costa Rica there will be expositions of self-portraits (but not of Rembrandt.) In addition there will be roundtables and a visit by a person who has restored Rembrandt's works, said the embassy.  There also will be special radio and television programs marking the event, which is July 15.

Anti-drug line now 176

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents now have a quicker way to turn in drug dealers. Fernando Berrocal, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, said that the new number, 176 will eventually replace 800-DROGANO (800-376-4266). The free anti-drug hotline is staffed 24 hours a day.

Turtles rescued in Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men were in an open boat along with 14 turtles in Limón when police detained them. The turtles were returned to the Caribbean. The endangered animals were likely to be slaughtered for meat, officials said.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 26, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 125

There are some advantages to being el Viejo
Le pido a Dios que me repare una buena vieja y una buena mula, pero que la vieja no sea tan mula ni que la mula sea tan vieja

This rather long dicho is one you will hear in many countries in Latin America. It is machista and a little sexist on the face of it, but nevertheless it is an amusing common saying and for that reason alone it is worth our attention in this column.

An English translation goes something like this: “I ask God to give me a good old woman and a good mule, but that the woman should not be stubborn like the mule nor the mule old like the woman.”

Of course this little word play can be turned on it’s head so that a wife might say: Le pido a Dios que me repare un buen viejo y un buen burro, pero que el viejo no sea tan terco, como el burro, ni que el burro sea tan viejo. Transaltion: I ask God to give me a good old man and a good jackass, but that the man should not be ornery as the jackass nor the jackass old as the man.”

Of course, a husband may refer to his wife as mi vieja, or “my old lady,” and a wife may call her husband mi viejo, “my old man.” These may actually be construed as terms of endearment, and there’s no harm done. As with many dichos, the way we say it and whom we say it to can make the difference between playful affection and insult.

When I think about this dicho, I am reminded of how hard our parents worked to give us the best possible of everything. I dare say they worked like mulas and burros. And I also remember my grandmother’s 50th birthday. At the time I thought of her as totally ancient! Now, at the age of 50-something myself, I realize how callow and naïve I was. Most of us spend at least the first 50 years of our lives just learning how to live.

Last week I attended a combination birthday/ Fathers’ Day party for our next-door neighbor. One of the women at the party mentioned the little northern Indiana town of Elwood, where her parents came from.

way we say it

By Daniel Soto


By coincidence the family of another friend at this same party also came from this tiny community in the middle of what used to be tomato-farming country.

These two friends spent much time reminiscing about languid days and star-canopied summer nights spent in the youthful pursuit of nothing in particular, sitting on the front porch listening to the stories their grandparents told. They painted an idyllic picture of small-town life that has now all but vanished from the American landscape.

Their conversation made me realize that when we talk about the “old” days most of us only seem to remember the best experiences; kind and gentle old grandma, how delicious her homemade ice cream tasted, how many more stars there were in the night sky, and how good it all was. Those memories are wonderful and also important because they help shape our present and make it as good for our kids as the past was to us.

I think about kids in Costa Rica, my nieces and nephews, and how much I want them to remember my brother Mario and me affectionately. They probably call me el viejo, but that’s OK. I think it’s kind of nice to be “the old man.” Being an old mule or and old donkey can have an advantage or two. They will either remember us, or we’ll kick their butts!

Our readers respond on real estate prices and crime
Gulf coast an example
cited by this broker

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In Reply to: Letter in June 23, 2006. issue titled 'Broker in Jacó says he's really not leaving.'

Having read with interest the article by Jeff Fisher about land prices, condo prices and future valuation of property in Jacó and surrounding areas, I would have to disagree with his conclusions.

My knowledge, work history is that I have built, bought and sold property in Nicaragua and Costa Rica for the past 33 years. I usually live six months in Costa Rica and 6 months in Orange Beach, Ala., U.S.A. I am a licensed real estate broker in both Alabama and Florida — something which has little or no value in Costa Rica — and operate a real estate firm in Alabama and Costa Rica.

With that said, I would like to point out several comparisons given in the analysis of Costa Rica beach prices by Mr. Jeff Fisher ("My analysis of Costa Rican real estate BEACH prices is determined by what has happened to other international beach hotspots, enduring various boom-bust cycles").

If an investor is contemplating purchasing beach area property which is developed or as raw land in Costa Rica, they should look no further than the
Gulf of Mexico coastline to see what has happened in the last 10 months to over-inflated property prices. The Florida and Alabama Gulf Coast had a run
away 70 percent increase in property value in 24 months preceding the current Flat Line (news media call it a Bubble) in sales and price reduction which we now face. One must understand that this 70 percent increase happened in a regulated market which uses licensed real estate brokers, mortgage brokers and appraisers. It happened when mortgage money cost 1 percent of total borrowed, with interest rates at 5 3/8 to 6 percent on 30-year, second-home mortgages.

Today June 25, 2006, 30-year mortgage rate are 5.5 percent with 20 percent down payment, and if you buy on the Gulf Coast from Alabama through most of the coast line of Texas (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) you will qualify for a new program from the Internal Revenue Service called the GO ZONE. The GO ZONE will allow an investor to write off 50 percent of the investment in the first year of ownership plus the normal first year writeoffs. This could amount to 55 percent writeoff the first year of ownership. What more could an investor from the U.S. ask for.

For that matter what investors from Canada or Europe want? They can own property here as easy as Costa Rica.

As Costa Rica has continued to be developed and prices continue to escalate at a rate faster than anywhere else in this so-called international market,
it will become exceedingly more difficult for a savvy investor to purchase property in Costa Rica.

Let me mention a number of items which are working against further investor growth in Coast Rica. Worldwide inflation, Costa Rica's uncontrolled devaluation of the colon, big talk by elected officials about roads and infrastructures, Jaco's intermittent electrical outages, growing crime and prostitution with the blessings of the local police and political offices.

Airline ticket prices have risen almost 40 percent from the U.S. in the last four months. This can only reduce tourism and investor travel. A consensus is that no price reduction in airline fares will be seen again. U.S. investors will find it easier to invest stateside due to interest rates and travel expenses and expected slow recession which has started here in the U.S.

Conclusion: Do not use the Internet to compare prices of property in other vacation destinations. its not advantageous for the investor to follow the hype of pretty Web sites and photos which are there to sell you a dream.

Jeff Cain 
Real estate broker
Alabama & Florida

We don't report crime,
this reader claims

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read with great amazement that “The A.M.” has now decided that the tourist industry is now in the decline.  But after reading your paper for over three years now, you make no mention of the fact that the thugs have taken over the streets at night in downtown San José, or that the cabbies never miss an opportunity to rip off the unsuspecting Gringo for all they can. 

Wait there is more, there is the fact that neither the politicians nor police want to do any thing about the crime wave that has taken over the whole country in the last three years. 
And what about the missing student(s), the kidnapped businessman(s) murdered for their pin number, robbers forcing cars off the road right outside the airport, or let’s not forget about the gang rape on the beach.  Furthermore, then there are all the muggings that neither get investigated by the police nor reported in the local newspapers. I guess it is easier to deny then do something about all of these problems.
Finally, the police fail miserably to file any real charges against the culprits in these crimes.   With all that said, you have to wonder why nobody wants to come and spend their hard earned money there!!!!
I can only suggest that you try cleaning the Damn place up and hope that all those tourist dollars return.

Peter Williams
Port St. Lucie, Florida

Mr. Bibb is invited
to go back home

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read the comment by Mr. Walter Bibb of San Pedro regarding his desire to return to the U.S. if he could afford it, so he could escape Costa Rica's pastime of "thievery!"  (Stupid me.....I always thought it was fútbol.)
Congratulations, Mr. Bibb. You obviously are a very intelligent man. I'll bet you have your masters degree in GENERALIZATIONS! Have you ever actually been the victim of any kind of crime, or do you just enjoy seeing your name in "on-screen?"

It would be just great, if you could find a way back to the U.S. You'll never see what this country has to offer you, because you'll be much too busy searching for negatives.
My wife and I also retired here a little over two years ago, purchased a home in a barrio, are surrounded by wonderful friends, and have managed to secure our permanent residence.  We have no plans to return to the U.S, and although we remain U.S. citizens and love the U.S., we also love Costa Rica, the people and all the good things it offers.  We are proud to call it home! 

As for you, Mr. Bibb, you would be welcome to board the next flight back to the States. The sooner the better!
 John D. Rubida

Tico in D.C. calls
crime data misleading

Dear AM Costa Rica:
This is in regard to the letter from Mr. Cron regarding crime statistics in Costa Rica. It's no secret that Costa Rica has an increasing crime problem as well as most countries in Latin America which is considered by the U.N. as the most violent region in the world (excluding war torn countries).

But Mr. Cron's "source" for violence data (which is from the period 1998-2000) does not even mention other countries in the region such as Honduras, Haiti or El Salvador that have the highest murder rates in the Americas. 

I don't think this comparison makes things better in Costa Rica, but I find the letter quite misleading but also full with bad intent. As a Costa Rican residing in Washington D.C., I can tell you that this city has the same number of murders per year and has only half a million residents, despite this fact I do respect the country I live in, contrary to Mr. Cron.

Esteban Brenes
Washington, D.C.
We are sensationalizing
on real estate, he says

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I respect Mr. Baker, and his articles have served many. Overall his intentions are benevolent. However, unlike the majority of his outstanding work, this article (June 19) fails to cite sources, leading readers to question scholarship.

The U.S. real estate market is cooling, but it is not crashing. If you do not over extend yourself, real estate speculating is not risky, especially over the long run. Wealth is a matter of accumulation. Get-rich-quick on anything schemes usually fail. Whether it is martial arts, real estate, metals, philanthropy or stocks, anyone who overextends has put themselves in a risky position.

The recent real estate article says savvy investors are selling instead of buying. That may be true depending on when you bought, but I doubt you could call anyone a savvy investor who uses second and third mortgages they cannot afford to buy more property. This is not a savvy investors, but a greedy investors. Also it says that speculators did not see a reversal coming. This implies a reversal of the boom, which would be a bust.

The hip jargon used by pop economist and investors is "bubble."  Bubble is used to pinpoint the beginning of a drastic decline in a market and came into fashion after high tech stocks plummeted and the bubble burst. It is this assumption that I take exception to, as real estate is an emotion-driven market to a lesser extent than other investments. None the less, it requires accurate reporting that includes more than shock value word-of-mouth gossip tabloid style articles. I do not see a "burst" on the C. R. horizon but there is always the possibility.

The largest real estate decline in modern U.S. was in the early 90s. Many upper-middle-class to upper-class homes lost from 10 to 40 percent in value over three years (entry level homes did not decline). Then the market flattened for a couple years and began to raise, some places faster than others. The decline in prices was powered by property dumping, which is too many selling too quick.

The lack of mortgage lending industry here has led to most Costa Rica property being owned free and clear. This relieves the pressure to sell, as buyer are not faced with trying to get out from underneath debt. Therefore the property dumping seen in the early 90s U.S. market should not occur here.

Guns, economy and leftists leanings of Nicaragua and Panama's heat provide little competition to Costa Rica. And the article does not show a worldview regarding "exorbitant" prices. Come to warm weather beach areas in California if you want to see exorbitant prices.

Regarding investors buying land and turning it over quickly "artificially causing a feeding frenzy," the primary ingredient of success is outrageous value. And compared to other warm weather coastal property, Costa Rica did and still does provide outrageous value, although it is difficult to see for those who do not travel outside its boundaries.

Real estate markets are in balance when they cannot be defined as either a buyers or a sellers market and because of the tremendous market volume many have forgotten (or some have not been in the market long enough to know) that in a balanced market properties take 3 to 6 month to sell.

As far as tourism goes, I agree. I was in Costa Rica during the "high season" and it was empty. Considering the low prices for food and labor, electricity and water, the anything-goes pricing by tourism business seems like a get rich scheme versus accumulated fortune and will kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

The dry season is not my favorite time to come to Costa Rica, as it is hotter. I think others are starting to feel this way and the defined "tourist season" may be ending. Try to buy a ticket to Costa Rica right now. The demand in the "wet season" is phenomenal. This indicates that Costa Rica has become a mainstream destination for summer travelers.

So "will Costa Rica find a soft landing or crash and burn with a thunderous decline in real estate values?" The negative connotations seem to indicate that a thunderous decline in real estate values is a glorious thing. And it may be for large investors waiting to "scoop up" properties. But for the average Joe, it is a blow to his financial future.

Do be careful about real estate purchase and remember that one of the reasons prices have been so high here is the reluctance of buyers to bargain. Costa Rica's relatively small size makes it an exclusive destination for warm weather coastal property, (which helps protect coastal property values) but this nation bargains as part of its culture. If buyers would bargain, they would get better results.

I have been in real estate since 1978 and have been associated with the Costa Rica real estate market for over 15 years, I am writing a book regarding living and owning in Costa Rica and deliver Costa Rica investment seminars in California. My invested interest may bias my opinion, but shock value, word-of-mouth doom and gloom does not serve this paper or those in or out of the real estate business.

"Real estate" primarily implies homes that we all need to live, only recently has it become a mainstream investment vehicle. So unlike metals or stock that have less intrinsic value, real estate is a "commodity" that we all need to some extent, therefore caution regarding assumptions about market trends should be exercised. Let's hope the article's finishing statement regarding markets returning to normalcy prevails.

Phil Baker
San Diego California

He suggests wearing
a big smile all day

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

O.K. — Stop it, you spoiled, griping Americans.  You choose to live in a foreign destination.  No one forced you to live in Costa Rica.  Costa Rica is a much better place than many other places you could have picked to live.

The complaints I continue reading in A.M. Costa Rica are no different than I read in other international news distributions.  American citizens, (which includes me), get this — you choose to live here.  Yes, there are problems here, and there are problems where you came from.  You are not going to get the same decadent lifestyle that you had in the U.S.  If you want the same, go back.

As for the crime, face it, if you put yourself in the position of being taken advantage of, you will.  The same thing in any city in any part of the world.  If you wave the flag of opportunity for crime, you will get it.  Use the same common sense and precautions you would if you were living in the U.S.  There is no difference in crime, just the location.

Think of where you are living.  You can go to Miami or San Diego to get about the same climate and a lot more crime.  You complainers are probably the same ones who wrote and complained to the local papers of the cities where you lived in the U.S. 

Accept where you live, enjoy the beauty of this area and stop being such an unhappy person.  Most of the Tico people are good, hard working, very friendly humans, and try to help more than hinder.  If you give a smile, you will usually receive a bigger one in return.  Try it for one day.

John E. Garretson
Bakersfield, CA  93309

Of course
we have room
for your

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 26, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 125

That's a lot
of wheelchairs

Volunteers in the Puntarenas areas assembled and handed out 1,100 wheelchairs to people in need.

A spokesman for the Do It Foundation said the number was a record-breaker.  Just putting air into tires alone took the equivalent of 36 worker hours, said a release.

The event was June 17, and the line started forming at 5:30 a.m. Other such events are planned for Aug. 12 in Cañas and Aug. 19 in San José.

Do It foundation photo

Mexican presidential election is just too close to call, polls show
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The final opinion polls to be released before Mexico's July 2 presidential elections show leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with a slim lead over his closest rival.

However, the figures overlap the margin of error and the race is too close to call.

The polls by Reforma and El Universal newspapers both put Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party ahead of Felipe Calderón by a margin of 36 to 34 percent. Calderon represents the ruling National Action Party.
Roberto Madrazo of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party was in third place.

Most polls this week indicated he had 25 to 30 percent of voter support.

The Reforma survey of 2,100 registered voters took place June 17 through the 19 and had a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points. El Universal surveyed 2,000 people between June 16 and the 19. Its poll had a margin of error of about 3 percent.

The candidate who wins the election will succeed President Vicente Fox, who by law cannot seek a second term.

Chávez resumes his long-distance name calling of Perú future president
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has re-ignited a war of words with Peruvian president-elect Alan Garcia by calling him a lap dog of the United States and said bilateral relations with Perú cannot be fixed.

Chávez made the remarks Friday during a two-day visit to Panama. The Venezuelan leader described Garcia as an instrument of "the empire," a term Chávez frequently uses when referring to the United States.

Chávez and Garcia exchanged numerous insults during Peru's presidential campaign after Chávez endorsed nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala. As a result of the spat, Peru and Venezuela withdrew their ambassadors.

After the election, Garcia said Peruvians had defeated the ambitions of Chávez. Garcia accused the Venezuelan leader of trying to spread what he called a "militaristic and retrograde" style of government throughout Latin America, and said Peruvians wanted no part of it.

Chávez recently said he will not restore diplomatic ties with Peru unless Garcia apologizes for the comments made during his campaign. He also has
accused Garcia of seeking to drive a wedge between Venezuela and other South American neighbors.

Meanwhile in another issue, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodríguez says his country will be successful in its bid to obtain one of the rotating seats on the U.N. Security Council, despite what he says is U.S. pressure on Latin American countries to oppose the candidacy.

Rodriguez made the prediction Thursday in an interview with the Caracas-based Telesur network. His comment came two days after the United States said it favors Guatemala over Venezuela in the race for the council seat.

As a non-permanent member of the Security Council Venezuela would not have veto power. However, U.S. officials believe Venezuela could disrupt efforts to take action against Iran if Tehran rejects the international offer of incentives to halt sensitive nuclear activities.

Under U.N. rules, Latin American countries are to pick a country from the region to fill a rotating council seat that opens next year.

The government of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has said Santiago has yet to make a decision.

Jo Stuart
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