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(506) 223-1327          Published Friday, Nov. 3, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 219        E-mail us    
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Ortega could win Sunday with just 35% of the vote
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua —  Sunday the Nicaraguan electorate is headed to the polls to vote for a new president and to choose 90 new deputies for the national assembly. The election is predicted to be the closest contest in the history of Nicaragua because right wing forces are divided and perennial Sandinista candidate Daniel Ortega Saavedra has waged a surprisingly strong campaign.

The outcome has broad implications for Costa Rica.

The election may be one of the closest scrutinized in modern history. More than 17,000 observers will be at the polls watching the voting process.

Every opinion poll shows Ortega as the clear leader heading into Sunday's voting and he is running a slick, well financed campaign promising peace, reconciliation and housing for the millions of the Nicaraguan poor. Despite the promises of Ortega, the spectre of the contra war of the 80s looms large for many voters, along with persistent allegations of influence by Hugo Chávez in the Sandinista campaign, allegedly financed by Venezuelan petrodollars.

Although the majority of Nicaraguans are anti-Ortega, a bizarre electoral reform agreed to by former president and convicted money launderer Arnoldo Aleman and Ortega allows a presidential candidate to win with only 35 percent of the popular vote if no other candidate is within 5 percentage points. The anomaly is in play this year as the right and center are divided into three parties with no chance of unification.

The problems of the right are compounded by mutual accusations of public corruption by Partido Liberal Constitucionalista candidate and former vice president Jose Rizo Castellón and Alianza Liberal Nicaragüense candidate Eduardo Montealegre Rivas. Montealegre served as personal secretary to Aleman, and he is currently under investigation by the Liberal Constitucionalista-Sandinista combo in the current national assembly.

The right wing division has played directly into the strategy of Ortega and the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, which has run a campaign with strictly managed personal appearances and virtually no contact with the press.

Ortega also refused to debate in a nationally televised event sponsord by CNN.

The only obvious misstep of the Ortega campaign was his policy proposal to impose state control of money transfers to Nicaraguans at home. The subject of money transfers is the electrified third rail of Nicaraguan electoral politics as the estimated $800 million received from abroad is the life blood of the Nicaraguan economy.

Ortega has since retreated from his initial position, but the issue is critical to most Nicaraguan voters and may prove decisive in a close race.
One challenge for Ortega is Edmundo Jarquín, the candidate of the Movimiento Renovación Sandinista. He is likely to draw away some votes.

The potential of a Sandinista victory has been challenging to Nicaragua's already fragile economy. The Central Bank of Nicaragua reported a drop of $44 million in deposits in the banking system during the last quarter, and sales are visibly down in local markets and shopping centers. Real estate sales are also flat. Foreign purchasers and local developers are taking a wait-and-see approach to new projects.

The Nicaraguan Superintendent of Banks in a public statement said that local banks have liquidated some foreign positions and are limiting credits until after the election cycle to meet with any unusual cash demands.

When Ortega last was president, the Sandinistas confiscated vast real estate holdings

The banking system does appear to be stable. New York-based Citigroup announced the acquisition of Banco Uno, the country's third largest bank and largest credit card issuer. Also General Electric Credit which had previously acquired a 49 percent interest in Banco America Central announced the opening of a series of small consumer loan centers in Managua called GE Money.

Several conservative U.S. commentators, including syndicated columnist Robert Novak and former Lt. Col. Oliver North have been harshly critical of the U.S. State Department approach to Nicaraguan election politics and lack of vision of the Nicaraguan political reality. In essence, both note that the open favoritism of one candidate to the exclusion of the Liberal Constitucionalista candidate, Rizo, has allowed Nicaragua to become vulnerable to a left wing Ortega presidency.

Both Novak and North took Paul Trivelli, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, to task for his open support of Eduardo Montealegre of Alianza Liberal and alleged attempts to influence local business campaign financing in favor of his candidacy.

Independent press sources confirm that Trivelli has stated that a vote for the Liberal Constitucionalista candidate is little different than a vote for Ortega despite U.S. backing of the Liberal Constitucionalista party for the past 10 years. The division in the race and claimed U.S. intervention in Nicaraguan internal politics raises the probability of an Ortega win even though he was handily defeated in three consecutive elections.

In the event of an Ortega win, U.S. interests are almost surely to take a nosedive as Ortega has been one of the most strident supporters of Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chávez and Evo Morales of Bolivia.  

One challenge for Ortega is Edmundo Jarquín, the candidate of the Movimiento Renovación Sandinista. He is likely to draw some votes away from Ortega.

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Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 219

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A wreath decorates a final resting place at the Cementerio de Santo Domingo de Heredia Thursday, the Día de los Difuntos in Costa Rica.

Day of the dead is pretty quiet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Maybe it was the weather and maybe because the day was a Thursday, but turnout seemed to be low at local cemeteries.

Nov. 2 is the traditional Día de los Difuntos, the day of the dead when Costa Ricans remember their departed relatives.
The day is not as elaborate as the graveside parties typical of México every Nov. 1, but there usually is a strong trade in cut flowers. 

Not so this year. Wednesday was rainy and Thursday was rainy in the afternoon. Flower vendors were scarce. Cemeteries did not have the numbers of family members as in previous years.

Sex harassment panel
unable to make decision

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An unusual three-person panel said it has insufficient evidence to say that a Costa Rican legislator sexually harassed a subordinate.

The panel delivered its finding to the leadership of the Asamblea Legislativa Thursday. The lawmaker, Federico Tinoco of Partido Liberación Nacional, is a close ally of President Óscar Arias Sánchez and a strong force for the executive branch agenda in the congress.

Francisco Antonio Pacheco, assembly president, named the three-person panel to investigate after allegations of harassment became public. Among them was a claim that the lawmaker grabbed and kissed his female legislative aide while the two were on a fact-finding visit to the Caribbean coast. Another individual said she witnessed the act.

It was not clear what standard the panel used to reach its decision: guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or preponderance of evidence. They were two women, a physician and an administrator, plus a man who is a former magistrate. Nor was it known what kind of staff support they had or how many witnesses they interviewed.

The panel suggested that Tinoco surrender his legislative immunity and let the woman take him to court.

The unidentified woman said on television that she had been changed from a victim to a woman who provoked the incident. She denied that, noting she was married with four children. She now has a job in another office of the legislature.
Our readers' opinions

Quadracycles not toys
and are abused here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica,

On Nov. 1, you wrote “Driving a quadracycle or motorcycle without a helmet would be 100,000 colons ($192.30) and 15 points. This is good, however, for safety concerns, additional restrictions should be considered for quadracycles.

Quadracycles are driven at high speeds everywhere but on main highways — the drivers know to stay clear of them. Quadracyles are driven by 10 to 12 year olds, male and female and by families of three — that is all that will fit.

As everyone knows, a driver’s license is not required to drive a quadracycle nor are they required to be inspected. I know this will be a hardship on those in the business of selling and renting quadracycles, but a quadracycle is not a toy, it is an accident waiting to happen.

Al Almeida
Nuevo Arenal

Loud mufflers in the night
irking Manuel Antonio

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your reply to the largely unenforceable traffic law proposal was 100 percent right on.
What should have been included in the package of proposed new statutes is a law that would fine people for putting so called “high performance” mufflers on their cars, thereby increasing the noise level of their cars by 500 percent.

These mufflers serve no useful purpose whatsoever. Their sole purpose is to call attention to the driver and to give them the illusion that their silly little Hyundais are powerful racing machines. Sigmund Freud would have a field day with these nitwits. (Small equipment on the driver, big equipment on the car?)
Here in Manuel Antonio the calm and quiet is regularly shattered by loud pirate taxis at all hours of the night. A single vehicle can disturb HUNDREDS of families each time it goes through the area. Many locals believe that these late night denizens are in fact drug runners. What’s notable is that there are never any PASSENGERS in these vehicles, only the driver who screams up the La Colina hill, howls into a barrio and then immediately leaves, again without a passenger.

Apparently the Tránsito police here in Quepos have an instrument that measures the noise emitted by a vehicle’s muffler, but they’ve told those who complained about the problem that they DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE IT!

The government should act to put an end to this nonsense now, before the companies that manufacture these ridiculous pieces of equipment for under equipped drivers get a foothold in the country and the attendant political clout in the legislature. The Arias administration should act decisively before the noise pollution emitted by these vehicles ruins the peace and quiet of rural Costa Rica.
Dean Barbour
Manuel Antonio
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 219

Weather in Costa Rica has been a big surprise for October
To paraphrase that 20th century philosopher Steve Martin, it is amazing how important the weather becomes as you get older. Lately the weather has been remarkable. At least everyone I talk to remarks about how beautiful it has been. The rains of the green season seem to be tapering off. Temperatures are warm to spring like. There is always a lovely breeze in the Central Valley to keep things fresh. This is rather surprising for October.

But all is not wonderful for me in perfect weather land. They are building what I am told will be a three-story office building on the corner across the street. When I first moved to this apartment, they were building a structure nearby and coincidentally the electricity went off every day for about two hours. Once again the electricity has been going off for about two hours almost every day. I glare at the workers across the street, especially when I am in the middle of making my chocolate sauce.

And although I would not go back to “the good old days,” I am beginning to think that every new convenience and invention (especially if it is electric), just means that something more can go wrong. Every time the electricity goes out I must reset three clocks, fiddle with my TV, reprogram my answering machine (after listening to messages that are sometimes a year old) and try not to jump when the water spurts out of a faucet.

Every time the electricity is out, I think about the people who have to put up without this convenience for days and even weeks or months, and I realize what a wimp I am.

This past weekend I enjoyed another lunch and afternoon with friends in Atenas. Atenas boasts the best climate in the world. I cannot challenge that on the basis of Sunday. It was a perfect afternoon, and we were high enough in the hills to enjoy an incredible vista of a countryside of higher green hills (when does a hill become a mountain?) We ate outside and the lattice covered car park resplendent with flowers and vines made me feel as if I were in Italy. That is one of the beauties of Costa Rica: different locales and
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

vistas can transport you to another beautiful place in the world. (With very little effort or cost.)

Meanwhile, as a U.S. expat, I am caught up in the upcoming election in the United States. Friends here tell me this election has caught the attention of much of the rest of the world, too. It is nip and tuck, as they say, and there are so many “too close to call” races in different states that I fear there will be claims of foul regarding the questionable voting machines and that we won’t know the outcomes for weeks — if not months.

And there have been enough "October surprises" (ie. unexpected events that could change the outcome of the elections), to satisfy or dismay both parties. It is amazing how much words can hurt and damage and how many apologies are being demanded. I wish we had thought of that when people in our administration were coming out with those verbal slings and arrows and careless words against other countries. We should not think that just because we cannot understand them that they can’t understand us.

At any rate, I have some advice for politicians who like to make jokes. And I hope John Kerry takes heed. If you like to make jokes to make your point, make yourself the brunt of them. Then if you botch it, the chances are good that everybody will forgive you without an apology, and the media can go on to something else.

Meanwhile in Costa Rica another lovely day has dawned. I hope the weather is as good in the States so that people can get to the polls.

Golfito marina-condo project ready to start, developer says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The developers of Bahia Escondida said Thursday that construction officially is underway on its master planned residential, resort and marina destination situated on Costa Rica’s Golfo Dolce Bay in Golfito.

The first phase of the $350 million project will include 75 condominium units, the most complete state-of-the-art marina on the country’s Pacific coast and a charming bayside village complete with boutique shops, restaurants, yacht club, spa, pools and more, said the announcement.

Construction crews are clearing the site and soon will deliver backfill materials in preparation of a planned December groundbreaking. The initial phase of the marina, which will include 86 slips, is scheduled for completion in December 2007.  The condominium units and village are slated for a late 2008 completion.

“It’s incredible to begin watching our dream transform from concept to reality,” said developer Jim Lynskey, a Miami native who partnered with Las Vegas-based Great American Capital to create Bahia Escondida. “This is one of the most magnificent locations in the world, and we’re excited to launch construction of our one-of-a-kind development.”

Priced from $300,000 to $800,000, Bahia Escondida offers one-, two- and three-bedroom waterfront residences surrounded by picturesque views of Costa Rica’s native rainforest and towering mountains.

The low-rise buildings will be integrated within the unique plantation Victorian-style village creating the quintessential
destination for those seeking luxurious amenities in a laid back lifestyle, said the announcement.  Marina slips ranging
in size from 50 to 150 feet, are priced from the mid $100,000s and will include golf cart concierge service and a high-speed fuel dock.

The area’s natural harbor is located within the closest sheltered bay to the Panama Canal and has long attracted mega yacht cruisers, avid sports fishermen and luxury eco-travelers.  Expert surfers also flock to Golfito, where nearby Pavones is on of the top surfin spots in the world.

Now, Bahia Escondia is also luring vacation homebuyers and real estate investors to this tiny town on Costa Rica’s inviting south Pacific coast.

Digital Capital International Sales Group is the project’s exclusive sales representative.

Golfito enjoyed a magnificent heyday as a banana port during much of the 20th Century.  When the banana company left in 1984, the area was thrown into economic chaos, eased in part by government action in allowing a series of duty-free stores.

The city remains a paradise for fishermen and eco-travelers, and Lynskey said he expects Bahia Escondida will create hundreds of jobs and lead to a significant boom in the area’s tourism industry.

When complete, Bahia Escondida will feature 217 marina slips and approximately 400 hotel and condominium units.  Phase II is scheduled for introduction in the 3rd quarter of 2007.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 219

New global study predicts mayor decline in edible ocean fish
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new study shows that the oceans' fish are being depleted so fast that eating seafood might be just a memory in 40 years.  The researchers say more is at stake than our diet, for they find the dwindling of fish stocks hurts the world economically and the ocean environmentally.  Researchers say it is not too late to reverse the trend.

A team of North American and European marine biologists and economists reports that our taste for fish has caused some ocean species to disappear since the 1800s, a trend that has accelerated in recent years.

The lead researcher, Canadian Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says that roughly one-third of seafood species have collapsed so far. That means their catch has declined 90 percent below the historic maximum. Of these sea species, 7 percent are now extinct.

"If this trend continues, if we don't change the way we are managing ocean ecosystems, this trend projects that 100 percent of species will collapse by the year 2048 or around that," he said.

Worm's team arrived at this conclusion after reviewing many studies that monitored the impact of species loss on smaller, local scales and by checking historical archives to track changes in species diversity over the past 1,000 years in 12 coastal regions around the world. They also compiled seafood catch data from 64 large ocean fisheries and analyzed fisheries databases compiled by the United Nations and the University of British Columbia.

The international managing editor of the journal Science that published the study, Andrew Sugden in London, says the findings reveal planet-wide trends that mirror what scientists have found at smaller scales.
"I think the strength of this work lies in the breadth in the array of information that the authors have used for their analysis," he noted.  "This analysis is global in scope."

From all the data, Worm's group found that not only are fisheries affected by the species decline, but so is the oceans' overall health.

"There was a decrease in water quality," added Worm.  "For example, harmful algae blooms shot up by 450 percent, oxygen depleted areas increased by more than 300 percent, and so on.  So there were negative consequences in the coastal environment that were felt by the humans who were living nearby."

The researchers say many of the economic activities along coasts rely on diverse systems and the healthy waters they supply. When they examined marine areas that had been restored, protected locations such as reserves and those closed to fishing, they found that fish catches increased substantially and the waters were much less susceptible to human and environmental disturbances.

"There are signs people are trying to turn this around and that it's not too late to turn this around," he explained.  "We can do this, we know how to do this, and it can be done, but it must be done soon."

A conservationist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California who was not involved in the study, George Leonard, says safeguarding the seafood supply will require finding new ways to restore healthy fisheries.

"If we are going to continue to eat seafood, we're going to have to work darn hard to be sure that there are enough fish in the sea to consume," he said.  "That is, fisheries management is going to have to work hard to ensure sustainable fisheries."

Venezuela's oil minister says his country will urge cut in petroleum production
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan oil minister, Rafael Ramírez, says his government will propose that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries further cut oil production when cartel members meet in December.

He said Venezuela would like the nations to reduce oil
production by 300,000 barrels a day by the end of the year. The organization has already agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels a day in an attempt to stem the fall of oil prices.

Crude oil prices reached record highs in July at more than $78 a barrel.Recently, that figure has fallen to around $58 a barrel.

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