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(506) 2223-1327         Published Friday, Oct. 1, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 194             E-mail us
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Residents and emergency workers view the distant Cerro Chitaría that collapsed Thursday and the mud-soaked community that took the brunt of the mud, trees and rocks below.
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President will tour shelters and damage sites today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The latest bashing by Mother Nature left the country in a mess. Roads are blocked, some residents are homeless. Many more are in shelters. And transportation between the Central Valley and the rest of the country is hampered. A weather alert continues, and there is no sign rains will cease.

President Laura Chinchilla will take a flying tour of the country today, leaving at 7 a.m. Her first stop will be in San Ramón de Alajuela where  many roads are damaged or blocked. She plans to visit a shelter there, said Casa Presidencial.

The rest of the stops include Kilometer 87 of the Interamericana Norte where the presidential helicopter will land. The road is heavily damaged. Then the president is off to Parrita on the central Pacific coast where she will visit another shelter, this one in Pueblo Nuevo.

The next visit is to the damaged Autopista del Sol or the San José-Caldera toll road between Atenas and Escobal.

After returning to Aeropuerto Internacional Tobías Bolaños in Pavas around noon, the president will visit Barrio Montoya in Salitral above Santa Ana Centro where a side of Cerro Chitaría collapsed about 5 a.m. Thursday and later caused a wall of water, mud, rock and tree trunks to crash through residential areas along the Quebrada Canoas.

The president looked tired Thursday afternoon when she discussed the weather tragedy with officials and reporters. She said she will personally supervise the installation of a bailey bridge at a gap in the Caldera highway. She said damage to infrastructure, mainly roads, would run to about $15 million. Other officials spoke of getting money from international development banks.

Gloria Abraham Peralta, the agriculture minister, said that dairy farmers were having trouble getting their milk off the farms in the San Carlos area. Ms. Chinchilla has declared a national road emergency, and officials said they thought the emergency would last two weeks.

An emergency declaration allows the government to make freer use of public funds and use money that has been allocated elsewhere.

Ms. Abraham said that perhaps as much as 250,000 hectares of agricultural land had been heavily damaged. That's about 620,000 acres. She also said that the rice harvest had been affected.

The Cruz Roja said that 60 persons were evacuated in Barrio Montoya where mature tree trunks were being swept down the stream. Of these, some 17
persons stayed in public shelters. The rest stayed
with family. The Quebrada Canoas and the Río Uruca into which it flows seemed to be able to accommodate the large quantity of material that was being swept downstream. Heavy equipment was on the site removing some of the tree trunks.

The Cruz Roja also reported landslides in Río Cuarto de Grecia with 90 homes and 150 persons affected. There also was a slide in El Rosario de Desamparados which caused a highway to be flooded.  These were the major ones, but all over the country there were lesser slides that blocked roads or threatened dwellings.

The national emergency commission said at midday Thursday that 425 persons were in nine public shelters around the country. It said an alert was declared because the ground is saturated and additional rain would have damaging effects.

There were 22 persons in a shelter at Jericó and 42 in the shelter in Pueblo Nuevo where Ms. Chinchilla will visit this morning. There also were shelters in San Juan de San Ramón with 55 persons and 20 persons sheltered in Bajo Cacao de Atenas. The emergency commission said that some 50 persons were evacuated to the homes of family members in Zarcero and that in Sarchí emergency workers evacuated 100 persons.

There even was a shelter operating in Nueva Esperanza in Pavas, San José.

The highway network is in shambles. The emergency commission said that at least 22 national routes had some type of problem. Most of these were within the Central Valley in Alfaro Ruiz, Naranjo, Poás, Barva, Santa Bárbara de Heredia, Esparza, Puntarenas Centro, Acosta, Puriscal and Turrubares de San José.

The commission said that passage was cut off from the Central Valley to the Pacific coast. Both the new Caldera highway and the Interamericana Norte are so damaged that vehicles cannot pass. Heavy truck traffic is backed up with millions of dollars in losses to exporters.

Rains let up some Thursday night, and emergency officials might not yet know the full extent of the damage. They will be making assessments today.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the nation is beginning the most rainy month of the year and said there was a probability of electrical storms this afternoon.

Many events have been canceled because of the weather, including a visit by A.M. Costa Rica columnist Jo Stuart who was to talk to expats today in San Ramón.

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Long-term plan outlined
for Tico agricultural policy

By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The new agriculture plan for the Laura Chinchilla administration places considerable stock in institution-building and plans to take a longer range perspective, beyond her four-year term to 2021.  She said “we had abandoned the long-term vision” and called on private agro industry to work on making Costa Rica more competitive and productive.

Ms. Chinchilla also mentioned “food security.” Attempts to promote local agriculture and reduce imports during the Oscar Arias Sánchez administration drew the ire of international trade bodies.

According to Gloria Abraham Peralta, agriculture minister, presently agriculture makes up about 14 percent of gross national product. It maintained a positive international balance of payments through the recent economic crisis in rich countries. The rural population makes up 41 percent of the national total, and has been steady in recent years with a reduction in migration to the Central Valley metropolitan area. Rural poverty remains at 14 percent, with 5 percent in extreme poverty, the traditional $1 per day measure, she said. Officials met on agricultural policy Thursday.

Increasing agricultural competitiveness is a priority, but with practical steps. Ms. Abraham said the administration will pull the researchers out of the laboratory and send them out to the field to talk to people who need answers to their problems.

“Agro-biodiversity” is another new field, and Ms. Abraham noted the efforts of Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad in that direction.

Another initiative borrows from programs in Tegucigalpa and Guatemala which have recorded information for farmers to confirm what middlemen are saying about prices, styled as 800-TOMATE. As cell phones penetrated into India and Bangladesh, access to such information was hailed as one of the great impacts of technology.

In general Ms. Abraham described the situation as one of stale institutions and how the government hopes to use public spending as a detonator for expectations.

Correa rescued by troops
after police confrontation

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuadorean troops stormed a hospital in the capital, Quito, late Thursday and rescued President Rafael Correa, who had been holed up surrounded by renegade police protesting government austerity measures.  The soldiers escorted Correa out of the hospital following a shootout with the rebellious police.

The gun battle between loyalist troops and rebel police lasted about 35 minutes.  At least one security force member was reported wounded in the rescue operation. 

Later, the embattled president addressed a large crowd of supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace.  He thanked them for their support and said he believed the uprising was an attempted coup d'etat.

Correa had been hospitalized earlier in the day after being shoved and attacked with tear gas as he tried to talk with protesting police outside their barracks in Quito.  

The protesters are upset over budget cuts that would eliminate some bonuses and promotions. Correa is defending the budget cuts as necessary and says the entire government is affected.

Thursday, highways were blocked by police burning tires, and the international airports in Quito and Guayaquil were temporarily shut down by strikers. Ecuadorean schools were dismissed at noon Thursday and classes canceled for Friday.

Correa took power in 2007. He is an ally of Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chávez and has been critical of U.S. policy in Latin America.

Ecuador has had a history of political instability.

In Costa Rica, President Laura Chinchilla spoke personally with Correa and promised her full support. Support came from a number of countries on all sides of the political spectrum.

However, there was confusion as to what really happened. Correa was affected by tear gas and was rushed into the police hospital by aides. They gave him a gas mask. Later there were reports that rebelling police were trying to break into the hospital section where the president was. He appeared to be surrounded by loyal guards.

Some 800 troops showed up to rescue him, Ecuadorian sources said.

It was Correa who raised the issue of a coup, although the actions against the president did not seem to rise to that level. Officials in the Western Hemisphere are nervous about coups after many described the ouster of José Manuel Zalaya in Honduras with that word.

Pancake benefit in Liberia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Coco Animal Rescue and Education will benefit from an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast Saturday at the Hidden Garden Art Gallery 5 kilometers west of the Liberia airport. Serving starts at 9 a.m. and continues until noon. Tickets are available at the door. or by calling 2670--0269, 2670-1646 or the gallery at 2670-0056.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

From the Spanish press
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 194

Ostional residents are depicted incorrectly as turtle egg thieves in an uncritical posting on the Internet and in mass e-mail.

turtle harvest
Unattributed Internet mailing

Ostional e-mail turtle hoax moves at the speed of a rabbit
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A doctoral student in Hawaii has published a definitive rebuttal to that perpetual e-mail entitled "World Shame Costa Rica." The e-mail shows photos of Ostional residents collecting turtle eggs on a local beach, and most expats in Costa Rica get a forwarded e-mail once in awhile.

The implication of the e-mail is that lax Costa Rican officials let residents pillage turtle nests. That impression is advanced because the individuals pictured seem happy and smile as they carry off sacks of turtle eggs.

"Please distribute widely. The turtle eggs are stolen to be sold," says the e-mail which is not attributed to anyone.

A.M. Costa Rica gets one or two of these messages a week along with scornful statements that the newspaper is deliberately keeping this environmental tragedy secret.

One Canadian who forwarded the e-mail denied he had any responsibility to check out the facts before forwarding such inflammatory messages to a large number of people. He said he received the photos from a Costa Rican woman.

The doctoral student, Christie Wilcox, approached the issue in academic fashion and cited references to three studies, including one by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and another contained in a book published by the University of Chicago Press.

Each discussed the management of the olive ridley sea turtles that nest at Ostional on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya peninsula. The turtles are thriving.

There is no doubt that the theft of turtle eggs is a problem and a crime in Costa Rica. There are occasional arrests on the Caribbean coast involving eggs of threatened species.
But Ms. Wilcox correctly summarizes the situation this way on her Internet site:

"Around three million eggs are harvested every year. While that sounds like a lot, that's only what the people can collect in the short timeframe when harvesting is legal: the first 36 hours of the nesting season. Nine times that many eggs are
left to hatch on their own. Furthermore, since they have a stake in the eggs, the local community tends to protect these beaches from other predators, and with the flood of turtle eggs entering the market legally, their price is kept low enough to discourage poachers."

She also points out that the nests of early arriving turtles are destroyed by the many turtles that come later. Ms. Wilcox says on her Internet site that she is a graduate student in cell and molecular biology studying fish population genetics and venom biochemistry. She also is a science writer.

The Ostional turtle egg harvest is discussed widely in Internet postings. A search of "World Shame Costa Rica" generates as the first item a site called that also says the e-mail with photos is grossly exaggerated.

However, there are other sites that publish the photos and commentaries uncritically. This includes a site registered in India called

Another site, the Costa Rica Conservation Network's Blog, published the photos and asked the illogical question: Did you know it’s legal to poach sea turtle nests? Presumably the word poach here means to steal illegally rather than a cooking direction.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo weighed in on another site to say: ". . . the images actually represent a model of sustainable development in the Ostional community, approved in 1990 by executive order . . . ."

To move or not to move, that is the question
 I have been nicely settled for two years in a comfortable apartment near Sabana Park but now I find myself looking at apartments in the city.  This should not really surprise me; I was looking through my journal of February 1993 when I had been in Costa Rica just seven months and I say:
I am about to enter my fourth phase of life in Costa Rica.  First I was living with a Tico family, which, by definition, was temporary; then I moved into a one bedroom apartment in Sabanilla six kilometers from downtown. Sabanilla was too chilly. My current home is a room in Santa Ana 12 kilometres from San Jose.  Santa Ana is too warm and too far from the city. The night I saw a giant black spider scurry across my room under my bed to escape into the space between the wall and the floor was the tipping point.

Today, after considerable time and energy apartment hunting, this Goldilocks has decided to sign a year’s lease on a three bedroom furnished apartment in Barrio Dent. It is just around the corner from the Costarricensee Norteamericano Centro Cultural and within a 20-minute walk to the center of the city.

The rent is $650, which will challenge my budget, but Ann, who also lives in the house in Santa Ana will contribute $200 for a room. She is an ideal roommate:  good company, a great cook and she works all day.

Much of my time has been spent wrangling with my new landlord.  He wants two months’ deposit to which I object, and I want the wall-to-wall carpeting to be cleaned or, preferably, removed, which he says is too expensive.  Our conversations follow the same pattern from mutual wariness and hostility to camaraderie when we change the topic to travel and work and the weight of material things (he lives in a house with five bathrooms, five TV’s and owns two vacation homes).  I add my contribution about travel (I don’t know much about the headaches of owning what he has) and say we all need to experience other realities and that travel is better than drugs or alcohol as a method.  He heartily agrees.

Although he speaks fluent English, our conversations are mainly in Spanish ‘so that I can learn.’

I learned some generalized insights about Costa Ricans. “Although they are friendly, they are introverts and finally, foreigners are foreigners.”  When I asked him why homes didn’t have windows that opened to the gorgeous views, he agreed that views are everywhere so for Ticos it is more important to be safe and shaded from the sun at 
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

home.  He was surprised that in the U.S. windows
were not heavily curtained for privacy. (My only view will be the window above my stove, or if I go up to the roof.)

Later that year:
I moved in on Feb. 5 having the landlord’s agreement to put the second month’s rent in a CD and we would share the interest.  I did not convince him to clean the rugs.
In July I went to Puerto Viejo with some friends.  Lily, a friend, and I shared a room in a pension.  They wanted $20 for a room that barely holds a double bed and shares a bath with four other rooms!  After the first night there was an earthquake.  No one else felt it, but I was uneasy about the apartment so I returned to San José.  Ann woke me at 5 a.m. to tell me that the kitchen was flooded. We swept the water into the one drain, which was in the kitchen, and told the apartment handyman, who fixed it.

The next morning Ann woke me at 5 again, and I stepped out of bed into five inches of water.  The wall-to-wall carpeting squished under my feet as I waded to the kitchen to discover that the water pipe the concierge had repaired had broken and water was shooting out as if it were a fire hydrant.  Every room was flooded. Ann had to quit sweeping to go to work.  At 1:30 I left, with an aching back, to have lunch with the promise from the landlord that a man would come with a machine to suck up the water.

All of this was due to a medium earthquake that didn’t do much damage elsewhere in San Jose.

 I learned later that the reason the apartment building had so few tenants was that it had been earthquake damaged before and was supposed to be repaired before it was liveable. 

So far my present apartment has survived two earthquakes with no structural damage, only a broken wall mirror, and in spite of the rain, all of my windows open to great views. 

I have no complaints; I just have wanderlust. So I think I will stay put.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 194

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Analysis says plants, too, face a high extinction rate

By the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew

A global analysis of extinction risk for the world's plants, conducted by the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew together with the Natural History Museum, London and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has revealed that the world’s plants are as threatened as mammals, with one in five of the world’s plant species threatened with extinction.

The study is a major baseline for plant conservation and is the first time that the true extent of the threat to the world’s estimated 380,000 plant species is known; announced as governments are to meet in Nagoya, Japan, in mid-October 2010 to set new targets at the United Nations Biodiversity Summit.

"For the first time we have a clear global picture of extinction risk to the world’s known plants. This report shows the most urgent threats and the most threatened regions. This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human-induced habitat loss, said Stephen Hopper, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Scientists carried out the sampled red list index assessments, a representative sample of the world’s plants, in response to the United Nations' International Year of Biodiversity and the 2010 Biodiversity Target.

The work relied heavily on the vast repository of botanical information held in Kew’s herbarium, library, art and archives, which includes some eight million preserved plant and fungal specimens, on specimens held in the Natural History Museum’s own extensive herbarium of six million specimens, on digital data from other sources and on collaboration with Kew’s network of partners worldwide.

“This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human-induced habitat loss," said Hopper, adding:

“For the first time we have a clear global picture of extinction risk to the world’s known plants. This report shows the most urgent threats and the most threatened regions. In order to answer crucial questions like how fast are we losing species and why, and what we can do about it, we need to establish a baseline so that we have something against which to measure change. The sampled red list index for plants does exactly that by assessing a large sample of plant species that are collectively representative of all the world’s plants.”

“The 2020 biodiversity target that will be discussed in Nagoya is ambitious, but in a time of increasing loss of biodiversity it is entirely appropriate to scale up our efforts. Plants are the foundation of biodiversity and their significance in uncertain climatic, economic and political times has been overlooked for far too long," he said, adding:

“We cannot sit back and watch plant species disappear. Plants are the basis of all life on earth, providing clean air, water, food and fuel. All animal and bird life depends on them and so do we. Having the tools and knowledge to turn around loss of biodiversity is now
Blushing bride
Royal Botanical Garden photo
Blushing bride (Tillandsia ionantha) is found from Mexico to Central America. This plant species is rated as near threatened.

more important than ever and the sampled red list index for plants gives conservationists and scientists one such tool.”

The study revealed:

• About one third of the species are insufficiently known to carry out an assessment. This demonstrates the scale of the task facing botanists – many plants are so poorly known that scientists still don't know if they are endangered or not.

• Of almost 4,000 species that have been carefully assessed, over one fifth (22 percent) are classed as threatened.

• Plants are more threatened than birds, as threatened as mammals and less threatened than amphibians or corals.

• Gymnosperms (the plant group including pines) are the most endangered group.

• The most threatened habitat is tropical rain forest. The current rate of loss of tropical forest accounts for 20 percent of global carbon emissions.

• Most threatened species are found in the tropics.

• The most threatening process is man-induced habitat loss, mostly the conversion of natural habitats for agriculture or livestock use.

In the future, the project will involve reassessments at regular intervals which will chart the changing fortunes of the world’s plants, much like a stock exchange index shows the ups and downs in the value of shares, the researchers said.

The study used 7,000 plant species drawn from the five major groups of plants: bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), pteridophytes (these are land plants, such as ferns, that produce neither flowers nor seeds and reproduce via spores), gymnosperms (such as conifers and cycads), monocotyledons (one of the major groups of flowering plants including orchids and the economically important grass and palm families) and legumes (the pea and bean family), as representative of the other flowering plants. Both common and rare species were assessed in order to give an accurate picture of how plants are faring.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 194

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Climate impact on crops
being studied in Colombia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An international agricultural research institution in Cali, Colombia, is conducting a study into the effects of climate change on the world's top crops.  The study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture is scheduled for release later this year.

For generations, rich Colombian mountains have produced a variety of food crops, beans, cassava and notably coffee. But local coffee farmers say the weather is changing, and so are crop yields.  Carmen Eneida Trujillo is worried. "Look, there are not too many coffee flowers around here. This is a sign that the weather is already damaging the crop," she said.

The woman said that until a few years ago, the plantation would be loaded with white flowers in September, announcing a good harvest.  Her husband, Elias Claros, says they are already considering other crops. "I believe we won't be able to plant coffee here for much longer," he said.

More than a million people in Colombia grow and produce coffee, a crop sensitive to climate change.  And what they are experiencing now is what scientists at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, have forecast for some time — climate change is changing agriculture. Many traditional crops will have to move to other regions. 

"Essentially, the geography of agriculture is likely to change significantly, so where you grow maize today may not be the same areas in the future. In temperate regions, crops are moving north. Here in Colombia is more across the elevation, so it moves upwards, in the mountains to greater altitude," said Andy Jarvis, who is in charge of the climate change and policy program at the international center.

The center is conducting a study about the impact of climate change on 50 of the world's major crops, including rice, maize and wheat.  Jarvis says every region of the world is experiencing different climate change, from extreme heat or drought to cold and flooding. 

"In the past, the bamboo would have troubles at 2,000 meters  [at 6,550 feet], but now is growing and adapting well to higher altitude," said Carlos Arturo Trujillo, who has been a farmer all his life.

Some scientists are increasingly concerned about food security, especially for the poor.

"We are finding large scale producers are just as susceptible to unexpected, uncertain highly variable weather patterns as the small holders.  Small holders are much more vulnerable because they have less access to knowledge and information in the right time and the right place," said Erick Fernandes, an advisor on climate change and natural resource management at the World Bank in Washington.

However, he says large farmers have more access to information and insurance that help them mitigate the impact. "Work done recently by Stanford University researchers have projected that for southern Africa where maize supplies a huge amount of the calories for the poor, by 2030, relative to 1990 production, there may be as much as 30 percent negative impact on maize productivity," he said. 

Researchers expect crops in Africa, Asia and Latin America to suffer greatly over the next few decades and they also expect extreme temperatures to contribute to land degradation and an increase in agricultural pests.  Meanwhile experts predict that in order to feed the world's growing population, agriculture will need to nearly double its production by the year 2050.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 194

Latin American news
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Cuba's offshore oil plan
raises concern in U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

A Spanish energy company is planning to help Cuba drill for oil off the island's northern coast, about 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) south of the U.S. state of Florida.

Repsol spokesman Kristian Rix says the company has drilling rights to a 4,500-square-kilometer area in the Straits of Florida but would not give a timeline on when oil exploration would begin.

Cuba currently imports most of its oil and gas from Venezuela, but oil experts say there could be significant offshore reserves.  A study earlier this year by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that Cuba might be able to access 4.6 billion barrels of oil.

The plans by Cuba and Repsol to drill for oil are raising concerns in the United States because of the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, where an explosion aboard a BP oil rig in April led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, is urging the White House to pressure the Cuban government to abandon its offshore drilling plans.

Scientists warn any oil from a spill off Cuba's north coast could reach the southeastern United States within days.  And experts worry difficult relations between the U.S. and Cuba's Communist government could hurt efforts to respond to a potential disaster.

The U.S. State Department says U.S. companies can be licensed to provide oil spill prevention and clean-up support to Cuba.

There are also concerns that the U.S. trade embargo is complicating Cuba's efforts to safely drill for oil.

The embargo calls for sanctions against companies that supply more than 10 percent of the parts for any vessel operating in Cuban waters.

To get around the embargo, Spanish energy firm Repsol has been working with an Italian company to build an oil exploration rig in China.  The rig is expected to arrive in Cuba early next year.

Despite the concerns, a Cuban official visiting the U.S. says he is confident Cuba can drill for oil safely.

Luis Alberto Barreras Canizo of Cuba's ministry of science, technology and the environment said that Cuba's environmental framework is very progressive.  Barreras was in Sarasota, Florida, this week for a meeting with American and Mexican officials on marine research and conservation.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports some U.S. officials see Cuba's oil ambitions as a chance to loosen the trade embargo and allow U.S. energy companies to pursue more opportunities in Cuba.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told The Times he believes the Obama administration will move forward with potential changes following mid-term elections in November.

Separately, a Cuban delegation visiting Azerbaijan this week raised the possibility of cooperation between the two countries in the oil and energy sectors.

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