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(506) 2223-1327        Published Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 159       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Government borrows for $1 billion national face-lift
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican roads, trains, ports and airports will be getting a billion dollar face-lift, government officials said Monday.

President Oscar Arias Sánchez and government ministers said that a regional development bank granted Costa Rica a loan of $850 million to help improve the country's infrastructure. The government will add $200 million to that for a total of $1,050,000.

The bank, the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo or the Inter-American Development Bank in English, is a principal financier of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. Only Brazil and Argentina have ever received such large loans in the bank's entire 50-year history, said Fernando Quevedo, a bank representative at the conference.

President Arias said he was proud of the sum of money Costa Rica had been granted. “Considering how small Costa Rica is, this sincerely speaks well of our country,” said Arias. The president, who has received much criticism in recent months, spoke of the end of his term and the upcoming elections. “It's not this government that will benefit, but this project will be fundamental for future governments,” said Arias. Arias added with a smile that the future president whether male or female would benefit from the loan and strengthened infrastructure.

The minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, Karla González, and the minister of Hacienda, Guillermo Zúñiga, also spoke at the conference. Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, minister to the presidency and brother of the president, attended the conference but did not speak.
Arias mentioned the following projects as top priorities:

• The highway in the south of the country that was started 39 years ago during a Figueres Ferrer administration.

• the new San José - Caldera highway that is now under construction.

• the highway from San José to San Ramón.

• the highway from la Uruca to Heredia. Arias said the government wanted to make that a four-lane highway. It is a perpetual bottleneck.

• the highway from Ciudad Quesada to Naranjo

The minister of transportation said the highway in the south should be completed by 2009.  The minister, Ms. Gonzalez said that often times Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes receives criticism for not planning ahead. “Without
money it was not possible to plan more than four or five years ahead.”

Ms. Gonzales said the ministry would like to use $30 million for urban transport which would include:

• Strengthening and modernizing infrastructure for public transport in the metropolitan area.

• reconstruction of sidewalks.

• strengthening and enlargement of bridges.

• improvement in main intersections.

Also proposed is $100 million for improving the nation's rail system. This likely would include electrifying the system and extending it throughout the Central Valley at least.

$50 million is planned to go to support the transport ministry decree signed by Arias in 2006 for the incorporation of road security. That would include guard rails, bike paths and pedestrian bridges. The transportation ministry plans to begin building bike paths around the country in December, said Ms. González.

Other projects mentioned by Ms. González included:
• Renovation of 60 bridges on the north Interamericana highway. One collapsed last week.

• A third lane on the San Ramón-Barranca road.

• Reconstruction of Paso Real San Vito-Ciudad Neilly.

• Reconstruction of road from Bribri to Limón.

• Reconstruction of the 500 kilometer road network.

The loan is also meant to help airports. Ms. González said that would mainly go to the new international airport in the southern region near Palmar since the airport in Libería already is receiving funds from other sources.

Ports will also be improved, although there were not many specifics given. Several projects are stalled in Caldera, and the government has plans to make dramatic improvements in Limón.

The interest rate on the loan is 5.64 percent and would be adjusted with the local currency rate, explained the minister of Hacienda. The repayment will be 20-year term.

The money will be given out over at least five years, according to Casa Presidencial.  

The loan still needs the approval of the Asamblea Legislativa, said Arias. The president said he hopes the assembly approves the loan as soon as possible.

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Sosto protester
A.M. Costa Rica/Melissa Hinkley
Juan Huezo asks for an investigation because he thinks a magistrate working for the Presidencia is a betrayal of democracy, according to his sign.

Magistrates won't reopen
Sosto case despite request

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Corte Suprema de la Justicia declined Monday to reopen the case of Federico Sosto, an alternative magistrate who provided legal advice to the Presidencia. Meanwhile, Sosto was explaining himself to a legislative committee.

The supreme court decision came on a request by the Asociación Costarricense de la Judicatura, an organization of the nation's judges, to reopen the case.  The vote was 17-4.

Meanwhile, a protester paced in front of the court asking for a judicial investigation.

In his legislative appearance, Sosto denied that he has been contracted by the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica, and that his actions were ethical and proper. He also said he gave his advice for free.

He said that he was called to Casa Presidencial to give legal advice. He was appearing before the Comisión de Control del Ingreso y el Gasto Público.

Ironically he said he was asked to render an opinion over the power of the Contraloría de la República, the nation's financial watchdog, and funds handled by the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. That is exactly the question legislators are wrestling with: Could the payments made by the development bank be outside the national budget?

The discussion, of course, follows party lines with the Partido Liberación Nacional defending President Óscar Arias Sánchez and Sosto.  Jorge Méndez Zamora, the Liberación member who heads the committee, called Sosto a scapegoat.

Traffic limited to daylight
on Interamerican sur

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transit officials are only permitting passage on route 2, the Interamericana highway, during the day at a point where a landslide blocked the road early Saturday.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes managed to get the road open again Monday, but there is only one lane.

The site to the slide is about 8 kms. or about five miles north of San Isidro.

Traffic is only being permitted between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m., transit officials said.

Another suspect boat found
hidden in Nicoya inlet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Somewhere in Costa Rica there is a large quantity of cocaine on the move.

Judicial Investigating Organization agents in Nicoya were directed to a fastboat that had been hidden in the vegetation at Playa Camaronal on the Río Hora. The boat was empty but it held a number of empty 50-gallon plastic containers that smelled of gasoline, they said.

The speculation is that this is yet another drug boat that has been beached and its cargo transferred to a truck. Among other items were soda bottles and other small articles that were maunfactured in another country, agents said.

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Teatro Nacional featured in DVD designed to promote Costa Rican culture
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A DVD encompassing the past, present and future of the Teatro Nacional will be presented to the public today. 

The DVD will not only explain the history of the theater, but it will also promote Costa Rican artists, making them visible to other countries, according to Jody Steiger, theater director.  “Nowadays, the national theater is a lot more than a building.  Its work of cultural promotion extends beyond the scenic arts," she said.  For example, in its three galleries, it offers expositions of painting and also operates the adjacent Teatro Vargas Calvo.

After seven years of planning, The Teatro Nacional was officially inaugurated on Oct. 21, 1897.  It was promoted by the wealthy coffee barons of the era and quickly became the center of the nation's cultural life.
The DVD is divided into three sections, the largest lasting 35 minutes and covers the history of the theater, according to Andrea Reyes, audiovisual director. It also features scenes from productions by La Compañía Lírica Nacional and concerts by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional along with other music and dance groups.
teatro nacional
The unique theater draws 70,000 visitors year.

The theater has a visual tour on its Web site, but the DVD appears to be more extensive.

The product is $30 and will be sold at some Coffee Brit stores as well as at several Shell gas stations in Guanacaste and Puntarenas.  It will also make its way around Costa Rica through various art exhibitions.

Viewers have to hunt for television Olympics coverage here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Realtime 2008 Olympics games are among the missing for many Costa Rica television viewers.

Customers of the Amnet cable system are just out of luck. However, the company is running a banner under its Channel 18 directory that says the company does not have the rights to show the games.

According to the firm's marketing department, the cable management blocks the U.S. NBC network when the  Olympics are broadcast.

The networks that have the rights to air the games are Teletica, Channel 7, and the Repretel system. Teletica is
transmitting from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on an alternate channel, 33. At 11:30 p.m. Teletica is airing a daily summary of the games on Channel 7, according to Helen Mesén, secretary in the sports department there.

Channel 33 is carried by Cable Tica, which is owned by the same company. But this channel is not carried by Amnet.

Repretel reports it is broadcasting Olympic news live from midnight to 5 a.m. every day. What is carried depends on what is available from the satellite.

At 11 p.m. the television system also is producing a daily summary on Channel 11, a spokesman said. Repretel's Channels 11 and 6 as well as Channel 7 are carried on Amnet.

Legislators are seeking a larger Costa Rica with sea bed bid
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature wants the executive branch to begin the process of enlarging the country's undersea holdings.

All 57 legislative deputies signed a letter that was delivered Monday asking the foreign ministry to begin the steps to add an estimated 680,000 square kilometers more by extending the nation's holdings to the limits of the continental shelf.

Like many countries, Costa Rica maintains a 22-km. ocean border. That's 12 nautical miles. Under the 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty the country's economic interest zone extends
for 200 nautical miles or some 370 kms.

Under terms of the treaty, countries have the right to increase their power over the sea floor further than the 200 nautical miles.

The enhancement would give the country more control over the entire continental shelf. That is where the estimate of 680,000 square kilometers comes from. Costa Rica would be able to extend its area of interest up to 350 nautical miles from shore with certain geographical considerations related to the continental shelf. There appears to be a deadline of May 13, 2009, for Costa Rica to see these rights before the United Nations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 159

Densities established by beach decrees worry consultants
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although locals often complain that the Pacific coast is becoming the new Miami, some believe small beach towns may grow into something more like Beijing, China, said an environmental consultant.

A technical group that analyzed the released decree for the Chorotega region said the governmental restrictions are doing exactly the opposite of what they claim. And the government is aggressively planning more decrees for coastal regions all over the country, said Denise Echeverría, an environmental consultant who has analyzed the Chorotega plan.

The regional decree for Chorotega region, which was drafted in April, specifies the new development regulations in that area in northwest Costa Rica. It states that regulations will be put in place to help the environment and keep Costa Rica's reputation green for tourists.

Not true, Ms. Echeverría, “It would be better environmentally if their was no decree at all,” she said.

The next decree in planning is for the Provencia de Puntarenas. It is only a draft as of now. But Ms. Echeverría, who has contacts in the Asamblea Legislativa, said it is expected to be released soon.

The two decrees are similar in their regulations. Both decrees are directed at areas that do not have plan reguladores or zoning plans. Both decrees are supposed to be in place for four years.

The decree directed at Puntarenas divides the area into four regions whereas the Chorotega decree uses the same restrictions for the entire region.

The decree for the Chorotega region allows developers to build structures of four, six and nine floors with a density which translates to 90,000 persons per square kilometer, Ms. Echeverría said.

The population density of Beijing is about 34,000 people per square kilometer. The numbers you can attain with this decree are absurd, said Ms. Echeverría.

Ms. Echeverría who is part of the independent group that analyzed that Chorotega decree said the country’s environmental capacity is threatened just by the possibility of such development, and public services won’t be able to supply projects with such numbers.
The group who did the analysis is composed of about half a dozen professionals, lawyers, geologists and  environmentalists, said Ms. Echeverría. She said the group did not consider themselves activists, but they do not agree with the decree and want to get the word out to people what exactly the decree will mean for the future of Costa Rica.

Some data used in the group's study came from the 2007 Estado de la Nación, an organization which analyzes the nation's sustainable development. According to that report, half of Guanacaste's garbage was not collected last year. Ms. Echeverría asked if the country cannot dispose of its waste now, how should it be expected to do so after a burst of high density development.

Estado de la Nación also said that construction in Guanacaste and Puntarenas shot through the roof between 2005 and 2006. Construction projects in Guanacaste increased by 69.5 percent and in Puntarenas 44.3 percent.

The main problems with the governmental decree according to Ms. Echeverría's group's evaluation are:

First, the decree does not consider environmental evaluations within the parameters.

Second, the question of land use and load capacity is never brought up in the decree.

A company should research the land before it constructs anything and build according to that specific plot of land, said the group's analysis. For example, if there is forest in a plot of land constructors should build respecting environmental parameters, and studies must measure the accumulative impact of the buildings along the coasts and must restrict permits in order to avoid environmental damage, said Ms. Echeverría.

The group report also said that the decree gives false expectations to investors who may construct projects and later realize that they were violating environmental laws which are not mentioned in the decree, said Ms. Echeverría.

The Puntarenas decree draft and the Chortotega decree state that the decree will be in place for four years. If the decrees are just a short ploy for more development and will be changed later, many lawsuits could result, said Ms. Echeverría.

The decrees do not apply to areas with plan reguladores or zoning plans. But many areas do not have those, said Ms. Echeverría, and they are difficult and time consuming to make, she added.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


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Fatty fish oils again linked
to saving sight in old age

By the London School of

Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Eating oily fish once a week may reduce age-related macular degeneration which is the major cause of blindness and poor vision in adults in western countries and the third cause of global blindness, according to a study published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

There are two types of macular degeneration, wet and dry. Of the two, wet is the main cause of vision loss. A team of researchers across seven European countries and co-ordinated by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine sought to investigate the association between fish intake and omega 3 fatty acids with wet age-related macular degeneration, comparing people with wet age-related macular degeneration with controls. Participants were interviewed about their dietary habits including how much fish they ate and what type. Information on the main omega 3 fatty acids was obtained by linking dietary data with food composition tables.

The findings show that people who habitually consume oily fish at least once a week compared with less than once a week are 50 percent less likely to have wet age-related macular degeneration. There was no benefit from consumption of non oily white fish.

Astrid Fletcher, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who led the study, said that this is the first study in Europeans to show a beneficial association on wet age-related macular degeneration from the consumption of oily fish and is consistent with results from studies in the United States and Australia. Two 3-ounce servings a week of oily fish, such as salmon, tuna or mackerel, provides about 500 mgs. of the appropriate fatty acids, he said.

The research team is not, however, recommending omega 3 supplements as the study did not investigate whether supplements would have the same benefit as dietary sources.

Cache of turtle meat
lands trio in legal woes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Costa Ricans and one Nicaraguan were arrested after the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas found them carrying 63 pounds (29 kgs.) of turtle meat.  The three suspects could face up to three years in prison, according to The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The two Costan Ricans, identified by the last names of Chávez Mora and Sibaja Rizo, and the Nicaraguan, identified by the last names of Chinchilla Solorzano, had the meat in the bottom of a canoe.  They were detained by the coast guard in Parismina, Canton of Siquirres, Limon.  Numerous turtle eggs were taken from the men and delivered to a coast guard biologist .

Turtles are protected under the law in order to conserve and recover the population.   

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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