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Public Banking in Costa Rica: A Remarkable Little-known Model

In Costa Rica, publicly-owned banks have been available for so long and work so well that people take for granted that any country that knows how to run an economy has a public banking option. Costa Ricans are amazed to hear there is only one public depository bank in the United States (the Bank of North Dakota), and few people have private access to it.

So says political activist Scott Bidstrup, who writes:

For the last decade, I have resided in Costa Rica, where we have had a “Public Option” for the last 64 years.

There are 29 licensed banks, mutual associations and credit unions in Costa Rica, of which four were established as national, publicly-owned banks in 1949. They have remained open and in public hands ever since—in spite of enormous pressure by the I.M.F. [International Monetary Fund] and the U.S. to privatize them along with other public assets. The Costa Ricans have resisted that pressure—because the value of a public banking option has become abundantly clear to everyone in this country.

During the last three decades, countless private banks, mutual associations (a kind of Savings and Loan) and credit unions have come and gone, and depositors in them have inevitably lost most of the value of their accounts.

But the four state banks, which compete fiercely with each other, just go on and on. Because they are stable and none have failed in 31 years, most Costa Ricans have moved the bulk of their money into them.  Those four banks now account for fully 80% of all retail deposits in Costa Rica, and the 25 private institutions share among themselves the rest.

According to a 2003 report by the World Bank, the public sector banks dominating Costa Rica’s onshore banking system include three state-owned commercial banks (Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, and Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago) and a special-charter bank called Banco Popular,  which in principle is owned by all Costa Rican workers. These banks accounted for 75 percent of total banking deposits in 2003.

In Competition Policies in Emerging Economies: Lessons and Challenges from Central America and Mexico (2008), Claudia Schatan writes that Costa Rica nationalized all of its banks and imposed a monopoly on deposits in 1949. Effectively, only state-owned banks existed in the country after that.  The monopoly was loosened in the 1980s and was eliminated in 1995. But the extensive network of branches developed by the public banks and the existence of an unlimited state guarantee on their deposits has made Costa Rica the only country in the region in which public banking clearly predominates.

Scott Bidstrup comments:

By 1980, the Costa Rican economy had grown to the point where it was by far the richest nation in Latin America in per-capita terms. It was so much richer than its neighbors that Latin American economic statistics were routinely quoted with and without Costa Rica included. Growth rates were in the double digits for a generation and a half.  And the prosperity was broadly shared. Costa Rica’s middle class – nonexistent before 1949 – became the dominant part of the economy during this period.  Poverty was all but abolished, favelas [shanty towns] disappeared, and the economy was booming.

This was not because Costa Rica had natural resources or other natural advantages over its neighbors. To the contrary, says Bidstrup:

At the conclusion of the civil war of 1948 (which was brought on by the desperate social conditions of the masses), Costa Rica was desperately poor, the poorest nation in the hemisphere, as it had been since the Spanish Conquest.

The winner of the 1948 civil war, José “Pepe” Figueres, now a national hero, realized that it would happen again if nothing was done to relieve the crushing poverty and deprivation of the rural population.  He formulated a plan in which the public sector would be financed by profits from state-owned enterprises, and the private sector would be financed by state banking.

A large number of state-owned capitalist enterprises were founded. Their profits were returned to the national treasury, and they financed dozens of major infrastructure projects.  At one point, more than 240 state-owned corporations were providing so much money that Costa Rica was building infrastructure like mad and financing it largely with cash. Yet it still had the lowest taxes in the region, and it could still afford to spend 30% of its national income on health and education.

A provision of the Figueres constitution guaranteed a job to anyone who wanted one. At one point, 42% of the working population of Costa Rica was working for the government directly or in one of the state-owned corporations.  Most of the rest of the economy not involved in the coffee trade was working for small mom-and-pop companies that were suppliers to the larger state-owned firms—and it was state banking, offering credit on favorable terms, that made the founding and growth of those small firms possible.  Had they been forced to rely on private-sector banking, few of them would have been able to obtain the financing needed to become established and prosperous.  State banking was key to the private sector growth. Lending policy was government policy and was designed to facilitate national development, not bankers’ wallets.  Virtually everything the country needed was locally produced.  Toilets, window glass, cement, rebar, roofing materials, window and door joinery, wire and cable, all were made by state-owned capitalist enterprises, most of them quite profitable. Costa Rica was the dominant player regionally in most consumer products and was on the move internationally.

Needless to say, this good example did not sit well with foreign business interests. It earned Figueres two coup attempts and one attempted assassination.  He responded by abolishing the military (except for the Coast Guard), leaving even more revenues for social services and infrastructure.

When attempted coups and assassination failed, says Bidstrup, Costa Rica was brought down with a form of economic warfare called the “currency crisis” of 1982. Over just a few months, the cost of financing its external debt went from 3% to extremely high variable rates (27% at one point).  As a result, along with every other Latin American country, Costa Rica was facing default. Bidstrup writes:

That’s when the IMF and World Bank came to town.

Privatize everything in sight, we were told.  We had little choice, so we did.  End your employment guarantee, we were told.  So we did.  Open your markets to foreign competition, we were told.  So we did.  Most of the former state-owned firms were sold off, mostly to foreign corporations.  Many ended up shut down in a short time by foreigners who didn’t know how to run them, and unemployment appeared (and with it, poverty and crime) for the first time in a decade.  Many of the local firms went broke or sold out quickly in the face of ruinous foreign competition.  Very little of Costa Rica’s manufacturing economy is still locally owned. And so now, instead of earning forex [foreign exchange] through exporting locally produced goods and retaining profits locally, these firms are now forex liabilities, expatriating their profits and earning relatively little through exports.  Costa Ricans now darkly joke that their economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the United States.

The dire effects of the IMF’s austerity measures were confirmed in a 1993 book excerpt by Karen Hansen-Kuhn  titled “Structural Adjustment in Costa Rica: Sapping the Economy.” She noted that Costa Rica stood out in Central America because of its near half-century history of stable democracy and well-functioning government, featuring the region’s largest middle class and the absence of both an army and a guerrilla movement. Eliminating the military allowed the government to support a Scandinavian-type social-welfare system that still provides free health care and education, and has helped produce the lowest infant mortality rate and highest average life expectancy in all of Central America.

In the 1970s, however, the country fell into debt when coffee and other commodity prices suddenly fell, and oil prices shot up. To get the dollars to buy oil, Costa Rica had to resort to foreign borrowing; and in 1980, the U.S. Federal Reserve under Paul Volcker raised interest rates to unprecedented levels.

In The Gods of Money (2009), William Engdahl fills in the back story. In 1971, Richard Nixon took the U.S. dollar off the gold standard, causing it to drop precipitously in international markets. In 1972, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Nixon had a clandestine meeting with the Shah of Iran. In 1973, a group of powerful financiers and politicians met secretly in Sweden and discussed effectively “backing” the dollar with oil. An arrangement was then finalized in which the oil-producing countries of OPEC would sell their oil only in U.S. dollars.  The quid pro quo was military protection and a strategic boost in oil prices.  The dollars would wind up in Wall Street and London banks, where they would fund the burgeoning U.S. debt. In 1974, an oil embargo conveniently caused the price of oil to quadruple.  Countries without sufficient dollar reserves had to borrow from Wall Street and London banks to buy the oil they needed.  Increased costs then drove up prices worldwide.

By late 1981, says Hansen-Kuhn, Costa Rica had one of the world’s highest levels of debt per capita, with debt-service payments amounting to 60 percent of export earnings. When the government had to choose between defending its stellar social-service system or bowing to its creditors, it chose the social services. It suspended debt payments to nearly all its creditors, predominately commercial banks. But that left it without foreign exchange. That was when it resorted to borrowing from the World Bank and IMF, which imposed “austerity measures” as a required condition. The result was to increase poverty levels dramatically.

Bidstrup writes of subsequent developments:

Indebted to the IMF, the Costa Rican government had to sell off its state-owned enterprises, depriving it of most of its revenue, and the country has since been forced to eat its seed corn. No major infrastructure projects have been conceived and built to completion out of tax revenues, and maintenance of existing infrastructure built during that era must wait in line for funding, with predictable results.

About every year, there has been a closure of one of the private banks or major savings coöps.  In every case, there has been a corruption or embezzlement scandal, proving the old saying that the best way to rob a bank is to own one.  This is why about 80% of retail deposits in Costa Rica are now held by the four state banks.  They’re trusted.

Costa Rica still has a robust economy, and is much less affected by the vicissitudes of rising and falling international economic tides than enterprises in neighboring countries, because local businesses can get money when they need it.  During the credit freezeup of 2009, things went on in Costa Rica pretty much as normal. Yes, there was a contraction in the economy, mostly as a result of a huge drop in foreign tourism, but it would have been far worse if local business had not been able to obtain financing when it was needed.  It was available because most lending activity is set by government policy, not by a local banker’s fear index.

Stability of the local economy is one of the reasons that Costa Rica has never had much difficulty in attracting direct foreign investment, and is still the leader in the region in that regard.  And it is clear to me that state banking is one of the principal reasons why.

The value and importance of a public banking sector to the overall stability and health of an economy has been well proven by the Costa Rican experience.  Meanwhile, our neighbors, with their fully privatized banking systems have, de facto, encouraged people to keep their money in Mattress First National, and as a result, the financial sectors in neighboring countries have not prospered.  Here, they have—because most money is kept in banks that carry the full faith and credit of the Republic of Costa Rica, so the money is in the banks and available for lending.  While our neighbors’ financial systems lurch from crisis to crisis, and suffer frequent resulting bank failures, the Costa Rican public system just keeps chugging along.  And so does the Costa Rican economy.

He concludes:

My dream scenario for any third world country wishing to develop, is to do exactly what Costa Rica did so successfully for so many years. Invest in the Holy Trinity of national development—health, education and infrastructure.  Pay for it with the earnings of state capitalist enterprises that are profitable because they are protected from ruinous foreign competition; and help out local private enterprise get started and grow, and become major exporters, with stable state-owned banks that prioritize national development over making bankers rich.  It worked well for Costa Rica for a generation and a half.  It can work for any other country as well.  Including the United States.

The new Happy Planet Index, which rates countries based on how many long and happy lives they produce per unit of environmental output, has ranked Costa Rica #1 globally.  The Costa Rican model is particularly instructive at a time when US citizens are groaning under the twin burdens of taxes and increased health insurance costs. Like the Costa Ricans, we could reduce taxes while increasing social services and rebuilding infrastructure, if we were to allow the government to make some money itself; and a giant first step would be for it to establish some publicly-owned banks.

_______________________________

Ellen Brown is an attorney, president of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books, including the best-selling Web of Debt. In The Public Bank Solution, her latest book, she explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.

Wildlife Refuge Playa Hermosa

Today was a special day, very early united by a single cause ¨ Plant trees in the shelter of Playa Hermosa in an effort to reforest and re-attract animals that once lived in this area ¨ with our friends Arthur and Daniel de Costas Verdes a non-profit organization that organizes this wonderful event with the school children of Quebrada Amarilla and Costa Rica Holiday Rentals. In order to create an ecological awareness in children of the area through this excellent teamwork exercise.

The rise of green coffee

Posted: Thursday, August 01, 2013  – By Ed Bernhardt
HOME GARDEN: How to grow your very own pesticide free, super-healthy coffee.
coffee

Ed Bernhardt

Growing your own coffee is easy and allows you to drink without fear that pesticides have been sprayed to ward off la roya (the rust fungus) that plagues many coffee plantations across the country.

Ed Bernhardt

Ed Bernhardt

Some interesting news has been brewing on the java scene regarding the use of green coffee. Dr. Oz presented green coffee extract on TV for weight reduction and since then, it’s gone ballistic.

According to the studies done recently, green coffee contains a powerful antioxidant called chlorogenic acid, which can help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  The antioxidant capacity of chlorogenic acid is said to be more potent than of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). It also signals the body to burn up stored fat.

Roasted coffee beans loose the greater part of this compound, but green beans contain around 85 mg/gram of coffee. These chlorogenic acids could be a valuable, inexpensive source of antioxidants.

Pricy green coffee bean extracts are now being marketed as a supplement, which prompted me  to ask, why don’t we just make a drink like green tea? So, I blended 1 tablespoon of green coffee with a cup of water, strained the mix and came up with my own version of a green coffee drink. The taste is fine, and it seems like it could be mixed with vegetable or fruit juices to make a truly healthy beverage. Next, we’ll give it a test as an aid for weight loss.

Green coffee beans may be another reason to grow coffee plants around the home for your own cup of java, but the big reason may be this. The government has tried to boost Costa Rica’s faltering coffee production due to the leaf disease known as la roya and an insect called la broca, a weevil that bores into the coffee bean. The government’s plan includes loans to coffee growers to buy more pesticides! That means commercial coffee will now come with an extra dose of toxic residue.

Home-grown Costa Rica coffee is less likely to be bothered by pests and disease than coffee grown in large monoculture farms. With good applications of organic fertilizers, coffee plants thrive. As for the weevil, you can make a simple attractant trap from recycled plastic bottles. Coffee’s attractive, shiny, evergreen leaves, fragrant, star-like white flowers and bright red berries make coffee a useful ornamental shrub. Each year a mature coffee plant can produce about 1 pound of processed coffee. Most coffee cooperatives around the country offer young plants for sale or you can try starting them from seeds.

You may also spray the plants with seaweed extract (alga marina) and grapefruit seed oil extract (KILOL) to keep them free of leaf diseases, like la roja.

The first harvest for young coffee plants comes in the third year, and they may continue in production for more than 20 years. To process the coffee beans, which are actually seeds, you must remove the cherry-like fruit pulp from the seeds with a hand corn grinder (maquina de moler), which has been opened all the way to permit the seeds to pass through without damaging them. The pulp can then be separated from the seeds by washing them in a 5-gallon bucket or tub. The pulp will float and can be scooped off the surface of the water.

Next, you’ll need to dry the beans in the sun on screens or trays until they are crisp. The coffee beans can be stored at this stage or passed once again through the corn grinder, but this time with a slightly tighter setting, so the outer husk of the seed will be removed.  This paper-like skin is called pergamino in Spanish or parchment.  

Now you can toast the coffee beans, preferably in a large cast iron skillet. Here you can custom roast the coffee; light brown for a mild flavor or almost black for a strong blend.  The toasted beans are then ground in a small coffee grinder, a blender or the corn grinder with a tight setting.

Although coffee can be considered a cardio-stimulant and a good laxative, excessive use of coffee can cause secondary effects, such as nervousness, irritability, insomnia, muscle tension, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, stomach distress, gastritis, ulcers and poor assimilation of nutrients in the intestines. So, for your own well-being, try cutting down on your Costa Rica coffee intake. And for a healthier planet, try growing some eco-friendly coffee right at home.

For more details on tropical eco-gardens, medicinal herbs and natural living in the tropics, be sure to see our newsletter at: http://thenewdawncenter.info/blog.html  or contact us at: thenewdawncenter@yahoo.com.

Costa Rica Retirement Adds New Key Associate For Jaco Beach Area

Christian Salazar Jaco-Hermosa Associate

CHRISTIAN SALAZAR
Jaco-Hermosa Associate

When we consider bringing on an associate to cover certain areas of the Costa Rican real estate market for us, we look for someone who lives in and has intimate local knowledge of that area. One who has their pulse on the real estate market, who’s well connected with a good, long-standing reputation, and one who is bilingual, easy to like and presents himself well with an obvious enthusiasm for the Costa Rican beach lifestyle… “Pura Vida” as it were. We are pleased to announce the addition such an associate, Christian Salazar, as our new associate for Jaco Beach and Playa Hermosa Real Estate.

Christian’s unique set of skills are drawn from his life experience as a born and bread Tico that lives and works in Jaco Beach. Christian established himself as a hospitality industry entrepreneur years ago when he started a very successful vacation booking service where he offers San Jose international airport pick up and drop off to and from Jaco, VIP tours of the Jaco Beach area, short-term home and condo vacation rentals, activity and tour bookings, and can even provide travel parties with a private 12 passenger van and chauffeur for their entire stay. His service has perfected making vacationing in Jaco Beach easy, affordable and convenient for even the most seasoned traveler. Christian has become so intimate with the Jaco Beach Real Estate market through this business experience over the years, and has amended real estate agent and property management service to his impressive list of services offered.

JACO & HERMOSA LIFESTYLE & REAL ESTATE TOUR

This vast experience also makes Christian Salazar the ultimate host for our Lifestyle & Real Estate Tour in the Jaco & Hermosa beach area. This is a private, 2 day tour, designed to acquaint those interested in purchasing property in Costa Rica with the lifestyle they can expect in the area that best meet their needs. If that area happens to be the Jaco – Hermosa Beach area, Christian Salazar would be your most capable host. During the tour you’ll learn things like cost of living, where to shop, where to get a great meal, where to bank, where to get your car fixed, where your pharmacy would be, where the action is and where the tranquility is. Mixed in also will be viewings of properties for sale that meet your lifestyle needs and budget. This tour is cheaper than virtually any tour we’ve seen offered in Costa Rica, and the best part is that if you do purchase real estate from us within 1 year of your tour, your tour fee is fully refunded at closing. You’ll find Christian to be quite engaging. His knowledge for the area is unsurpassed, and that his enthusiasm and love for the area, and his country, is very infectious. Click the link to find out more about our Lifestyle & Real Estate Tours.

ABOUT THE JACO & HERMOSA BEACH AREA

Jaco Beach is the largest and one of the most popular beach towns in Costa Rica due to many factors. First, Jaco is large enough to provide all of the services and amenities one would need to live comfortably without leaving the area for such things. And unlike other beach towns in Costa Rica, Jaco offers unique proximity to the capital, San Jose, where you have the world-class medical care, culture, shopping dining and all the professional services. It is only a 1 hour drive to Escazu and another 10 minutes to San Jose proper. Going south on the coastal highway you’ll come to the famous Manuel Antonio National Park less than 1 hour away with many beautiful beaches like Hermosa and Quepos along the way. But the general Jaco area is unsurpassed in offering a plethora Central Pacific Actives like water sports, beach, and inland jungle and mountain activity.

JACO VACATION & RENTAL INCOME PROPERTIES

The flurry of activity of Jaco lends itself to a unique and often used opportunity to purchase a fabulous vacation beach property that can generate income in the weeks and months you’re not using it. Virtually every Jaco Beach Condo is suitable for this opportunity, many of them with on-site property managers that handle everything from bookings, to maintenance to paying the bills on your behalf.

JACO RETIREMENT PROPERTIES

And for those ready or planning to retire the enjoy the beach lifestyle, Jaco has many options for beautiful homes on or just off the beach that are ideal for expat retirees. Click this line of a sampling of potential Jaco Retirement Properties.

Costa Rican hotels expect 62 percent ocupancy for mid-year vacations

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 – By L. Arias
Beach destinations are favored among local tourists.
Beach destinations

Ronald Reyes

Beach hotels expect 67 percent of their rooms to be occupied from next week.

A survey conducted by the Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels (CCH) of its members showed that 62 percent of hotel rooms will be occupied during the mid-year vacations starting next week.

CCH projections released Tuesday would represent a decrease of 4 percent compared to the same period last year, when local hotels reached an occupancy rate of 66 percent.

Beaches are still the favorite destination for Costa Rican tourists during this period, as hotels in coastal areas expect 67 percent of their rooms to be occupied, while mountain hotels foresee a less optimistic 43 percent occupancy.

The CCH said the preliminary figures were obtained in a survey among only a sampling of its 232 members.

Costa Rica gov’t helps boost shellfish production

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 – By Alberto Font
Program was announced during World Oceans Day last Saturday.
Red Tide

Clayton R. Norman

Alexandra Peralta holds Japanese oysters grown on her farm in the Gulf of Nicoya. Peralta started the first oyster farm in Costa Rica four years ago. Every two weeks she sends samples of the water in which her oysters are grown to be tested at the National University for toxins that can be released by harmful algal blooms.

The Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS) and the Waters and Oceans Vice Ministry in July will establish a ₡100 million ($200,000) fund to encourage shellfish production and protection in the Gulf of Nicoya.

IMAS Executive President Fernando Marín made the announcement last Saturday during World Oceans Day celebrations in the central Pacific city of Puntarenas.

The initiative, led by the Environment Ministry, will support hundreds of small shellfish fishermen affected by a ban put in place by the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry and Costa Rican Fisheries Institute in November.

The measure urged all residents to avoid eating shellfish caught in Costa Rican waters, including oysters and mussels, after the ministry discovered the presence of red tide (harmful algal blooms) in the Pacific waters of the Gulf of Nicoya.

The phenomenon may cause poisoning in humans and, in some cases, death from cardiorespiratory arrest.

The fund will help fishermen organize cooperatives and associations to begin training in shellfish cultivation, or oyster farming.

It also will help them clean shellfish reproduction areas and reforest Costa Rican mangroves.

“If there is pollution and mangrove deforestation there will be less shellfish,” Marín said. “That’s why we have to start protecting the areas where shellfish reproduce and train people so they can start shellfish cultivation projects.”

Waters and Oceans Vice Minister José Lino Chaves added: “This project is in step with coastal sustainable development that we are promoting, and we’re glad to announce it during World Oceans Day celebrations.”

Costa Rica’s coffee harvest could drop by 20 percent due to fungus

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 – By L. Arias
Rust fungus continues taking its toll on Central American coffee farmers. In Costa Rica, 35 percent of producers still do not have agrochemicals to fight the problem.
Coffee picking

Mónica Quesada

Agriculture Ministry calculations indicate the 2013-2014 harvest will produce some 1,8 million sacks,

Experts are warning that an ongoing plague of rust fungus could cause Costa Rica’s coffee production to drop by 20 percent in 2014.

The fungus has already caused coffee harvests to decrease by seven percent in 2012, the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG) said.

Ministry officials expect some 1.8 million sacks – of 46 kilograms each – will be produced during the 2013-2014 harvest, a decrease from 2.2 million sacks in the 2012-2013 period.

To help mitigate damage, some 33,000 coffee growers have received an agrochemical package provided by MAG and the Costa Rican Coffee Institue (ICAFE) to fight the rust, a fungus that attacks the leaves of a coffee bush until it completely dries the plant.

But some 35 percent of coffee growers still have not received the agrochemicals. According to MAG officials, the gap in distribution of fungus-fighting chemicals is due to a lack of access to information and a delay in the arrival of one of the chemicals that is part of the package.

ICAFE officials said the product will arrive in the country this week. They expect the number of coffee growers that will be covered to total 75 percent of all producers, and the aid program will continue through this month.

According to MAG data, some 52,000 coffee producers in Costa Rica were affected by rust fungus, of which 92 percent is small producers. It has caused Costa Rican coffee exports to decrease by 13 percent in the last harvest season.

Who says they can’t rappel down a waterfall?

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013 – By Christine Krishnan
A reality show called “In Your Shoes” captures the experiences of adventurous Irish teens with disabilities in Costa Rica.
Desafio

Ruairi Meyler gets a lift in the jungle. Courtesy of Desafio Adventure Company

There were eight Irish teens total. Four were able-bodied. Four had disabilities. All had a taste for adventure, and they had been teamed up with each other for a trip to Costa Rica, where they learned to learn to surf, raft, canyoneer and rappel down a 200-foot waterfall.

They also agreed to be filmed for a reality show titled, “In Your Shoes,” for which Irish Public Television contracted the well-known Irish film director Alan Brenna and sponsored the team of eight to explore Costa Rica. How did it go?

“This was the adventure of a lifetime,” said Ruairi Meyler, an ambitious 16-year-old confined to a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. “I never thought I’d ever go to such an amazing country and get to do so many things.”

For part of the trip, the teens were accompanied by Ocean Healing Group, a company based out of Santa Teresa and California that helped disabled people learn to surf. “I’ve worked with many young people with disabilities, but this group was extraordinary and very inspiring,” said Frank Bauer, one of the founders of Ocean Healing.

The teens’ disabilities ranged from blindness to amputated limbs to cerebral palsy and brain damage. And the able-bodied buddies who accompanied those with disabilities came from all different backgrounds. One was a farmer, one and athlete and one a musician, and each brought a fresh perspective on helping people with disabilities. “This trip was definitely an eye-opener for all of us,” said Ayobami Akinse, a Nigerian immigrant and a sports star in Ireland.

Later in the trip, the teens participated in rafting and canyoneering with my husband’s business, Desafío Adventure Company, in La Fortuna, San Carlos. “This was a great learning experience for our guides and staff,” said Suresh Krishnan, owner of Desafío Adventure Company. “In my 20 years of experience, these past few days we spent with these young people have been some of the most inspiring for all of us.”

Desafio

The teens also donated a laptop and two cameras to a new school in Cerro Alegre outside of La Fortuna. Courtesy of Christine Krishnan

When asked what their favorite experience during their stay in Costa Rica was, some of the kids replied “volunteering at the school with Desafío!” The teens also raised funds and donated a laptop and two cameras to a new school in the rural community of Cerro Alegre outside of La Fortuna.

“I can’t believe these young people did this for us,” said Grettel Mendéz, director of the Cerro Alegre school. “This computer was incredibly necessary and came at the perfect time.” Mendéz needed the computer to fulfill the requirements of the Education Ministry to open the school in a community that has many children of poor, Nicaraguan immigrants. “This was a blessing,” she said.

The teens also painted the school and took played soccer with a former member of the La Liga soccer team, Michael Robinson.

A trip to Costa Rica wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to La Casona Río Fortuna for a deliciously traditional Costa Rican meal, along with folk dancing. La Casona Río Fortuna was the country home of former Costa Rican President Rafael Iglesias around the turn of the century. “All the teens joined in and played soccer and sang and danced,” Robinson said. “It was the perfect ending to an amazing trip to Costa Rica with such incredible kids.”

Costa Rica’s best coffee is from Naranjo

Posted: Monday, May 13, 2013 – By L. Arias
22 coffee producers scored the needed qualification to participate in a global electronic auction next month.
Coffee cupping

Hannah J. Ryan

Winner farms will send samples to coffee roasters around the world to be bid upon in the International Cup of Excellence.

Twenty international judges evaluated more than 30 Tico coffee samples and determined that Costa Rica’s best coffee is produced in Naranjo, Alajuela, at 1,650 meters above sea level, and in San Marcos de Tarrazú, south of the capital.

Two coffee processing centers, or beneficios, located in these cantons took the top spots in the “2013 Costa Rica Cup of Excellence” Friday evening.

Of the 30 samples tested, 22 surpassed the minimum qualification of 85, needed to participate in a worldwide online auction that will take place on June 19.

Oldermar Arrieta and his wife, Marlene Brenes, are the owners of “Beneficio Vista al Valle” in Naranjo, where they sell their coffee. Now they expect to sell it across the country.

They were extremely happy for the win, especially since the company is 100-percent family-run. The couple operates the farm and beneficio with only the help of three children.

Last year’s Cup of Excellence was won by Beneficio Brumas del Zurquí, from Heredia. Representatives of Costa Rica in the global auction were able to obtain up to $45 a pound for their coffee.

Judges said they were impressed with the quality on display at this year’s competition, especially since a decrease in international coffee prices and losses caused by coffee rust fungus have affected many coffee farms in Costa Rica. It is estimated that more than 90 of the farms affected are run by small farmers.

Costa Rica is favorite regional destination for European tourists

Posted: Tuesday, May 07, 2013 – By L. Arias
European visitors to Central America increased by 16 percent last year.
Caribbean beach

Meg Yamamoto

Caribbean beaches are very popular destinations among European tourists.

Costa Rica received 248,996 European tourists in 2012, and it’s their favorite tourist destination in the region, followed by Guatemala with 172,160 visitors from that continent.

The figures were published in a report released this week by the Central American Tourism Promotion Agency, adding that the region as a whole increased tourist arrivals by 16 percent in 2012.

According to the report, 717,883 European tourists arrived in the region in 2011, while in 2012 the number rose to 832,576.

Germany and the United Kingdom are the countries that most contributed to these figures, as visitors from those countries accounted for 9.7 and 7 percent of visitors in the seven countries of the region.

Spanish tourists are third, as they increased their visits to Central America by four percent.

Costa Rica launches new tourism publicity campaign in U.S. and Canada

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 – By L. Arias
A push to draw more tourists to the land of “pura vida” includes breathtaking video spots to be shown in North American movie theaters, a new iPad app and plans to use social media networks Pinterest and Instagram.
Talking sloth

A talking sloth is the mascot for Costa Rica’s “Gift of Happiness” ad campaign. Courtesy of 22squared

The Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) soon will be launching a new advertising campaign in 1,345 movie theaters across the United States and Canada to promote the country’s most important tourist attractions.

The ICT signed a contract with international advertising agency 22 Squared, the ICT said Wednesday at a presentation with local tourism operators.

In a press release, ICT said the plan gives continuity to the “Gift of Happiness” campaign that is currently being aired in these two countries. That ad campaign was developed by the same agency.

Screenings will continue through early 2014 in theaters in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Palm Beach, Dallas, Houston, and Montreal.

The plan also includes the creation of an iPad app called “Go Costa Rica,” and the posting of information on social platforms Pinterest and Instagram.

The messages aim to increase visits during the green season, which in Costa Rica runs May-October, and to promote tourist destinations in the capital, San José.

U.S. supports clean energy initiatives in Costa Rica

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2013 – By Alberto Font
Part of the U.S. strategy in Costa Rica is to help fund and promote development programs aimed at protecting the environment and reducing fossil fuel consumption.
U.S. Ambassador Anne S. Andrew

Alberto Font

U.S. Ambassador Anne S. Andrew (third from right) joins representatives from each of the winning projects of the Clean Energy Regional Contest. Winners were announced at the University of Costa Rica Planetarium in San Pedro, east of San José, on Thursday.

U.S. Ambassador Anne S. Andrew and University of Costa Rica Vice Rector Carlos Araya on Thursday presented awards for Costa Rican initiatives to develop renewable energy and other environmental themes.

Some 20 projects entered the Clean Energy Regional Contest, announced last year by the U.S. State Department and financed by the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA). The effort aims to encourage clean energy technology and policy.

Five winners were announced at the University of Costa Rica’s Planetarium in San Pedro, east of San José: the University of Costa Rica, with a project that will introduce the use of alternative energy including solar, wind and biomass in the coffee industry in Central America; the Academia de Profesionales Solares de las Americas, which will train professionals on how to use solar energy in their businesses; Purdue University, with a plan to promote the use of solar energy in the Caribbean; SNV, a nongovernmental organization that will introduce the use of biogas in livestock and coffee sectors; and Yo Emprendedor, an association that motivates entrepreneurship, with a project that will help a new generation of business owners develop green companies.

Winning projects will receive up to $210,000 in grants.

“Our countries [the U.S. and Costa Rica] are taking steps to reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons and to promote clean-energy technologies and policies, as well as energy efficiency in all sectors,” Andrew said.

The U.S. State Department also donated $1 million from ECPA to Michigan State University – which is working with the University of Costa Rica – to develop solar bio-energy from waste products.

Obama schedule for Costa Rica visit is set

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2013 – By L. Arias
Public workers from seven cantons will have a day off on Friday, May 3.
Casa Amarilla

Alberto Font

President Laura Chinchilla and members of her Cabinet will hold a bilateral meeting with the U.S. delegation at the Foreign Ministry, known as the Casa Amarilla, in downtown San José.

In addition to his participation in the summit of presidents of the Central American Integration System (SICA) on May 3, U.S. President Barack Obama will join Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla in an event on Saturday with businessmen from the region, organized by the INCAE Business School and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Communications Minister Francisco Chacón said that Obama and the Central American presidents will arrive in the country on the afternoon of May 3. The Air Force One will land at 2:05 pm.

Chinchilla and members of her Cabinet will then hold a bilateral meeting with the U.S. delegation at the Foreign Ministry, known as the Casa Amarilla, in downtown San José at 3 pm. They will then hold a press conference.

The SICA summit will take place in the late afternoon at the Culture Ministry (CENAC). The presidents will then meet for a working dinner.

Friday will be a day off for public employees in seven cantons in three provinces, as Transit Police will block off many routes that the presidents will use to attend the various events.

In Alajuela, public workers will have a day off in the Central canton, and in Heredia in the canton of Belén. In the capital, the day off applies for bureaucrats at public offices in the Central, Escazú (west), Montes de Oca (east), Goicoechea (north) and Curridabat (east) cantons.

Chacón said it is still unknown whether a delegation of businessmen or commerce authorities of his Cabinet will accompany Obama.

Costa Rican jaguarundi get dental checkups

Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 – By Alberto Font
Two eyra cats – local residents at San José’s Simón Bolívar Zoo – have their teeth examined this week in a new procedure.
jaguarundi

Alberto Font

Two jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi) get a dental checkup on Wednesday at San José’s Simón Bolivar Zoo.

If you thought trips to the dentist were only for people and house pets, guess again. This week at San José’s Simón Bolívar Zoo, researchers from Costa Rica’s Universidad Latina inspected the teeth of two jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi ), part of a joint annual veterinarian and dental program. (Click here to see more photos.)

Marco Masís and students extracted a broken tooth from one of the jaguarundi, and filled a cavity in the other.

“These treatments help improve the animals’ quality of life, and in many cases, help extend their lives,” Masís said. “We’re helping them avoid pain in the future.”

The jaruarundi is a small wild cat that lives from southern Texas all the way to South America. In Costa Rica, dental treatments for wild animals are fairly new, and Masís is a pioneer in the field, said student Rebeca Phillips.

Also this week, veterinarian Randal Arguedas looked over the animals at Simón Bolívar, located in the northeastern neighborhood of Barrio Amón.

Costa Rica’s dolphin superpod orgy featured in Vanity Fair

Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013
Vanity Fair’s roving correspondent Tom Freston joined Tico Times colunmnist Shawn Larkin for a sexy superpod adventure off Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula.
superpod, Vanity Fair, Shawn Larkin

A spinner dolphin leaps from the water, where thousands more are swimming in a superpod off the coast of the Osa peninsula. By Ashley Harrell

It appears the secret is out.

Costa Rica’s incredible spinner dolphin “superpods,” along with Tico Times “The Big Blue” columnist Shawn Larkin, have been featured in a recent Vanity Fair story written by entertainment executive Tom Freston. Freston accompanied Larkin into the open ocean and encountered thousands of spinner dolphins leaping out of the water and having sex with each other. After all, a superpod is basically Burning Man for dolphins, Freston writes.

Shawn Larkin

Shawn Larkin

“It turns out that dolphins are one of the most promiscuous animals on the planet,” he wrote. “They don’t mate just for reproduction. They enjoy sex. It’s a social binder for them, like a handshake. On a good day a dolphin can have sex 50 times. Dolphins do it with everyone . . . old, young, big, small, even family members. Homosexual behavior is common, as is masturbation; dolphins have even been known to make advances at human beings. The dark side of the dolphin—the turd in the superpod—is that sometimes dolphin sex can be violent and nonconsensual. Rape and gang rape happens. We did not see any of that, though. This seemed to be a law-abiding lot.”

Tico Times also recently sent correspondents down to check out the superpods. Somehow, we ended up crewing a sailboat for three days while a video journalist for a popular broadcasting corporation obtained footage for an upcoming superpod documentary. Stay tuned!

Blue Flag program outlines broad environmental goals for next five years

Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 – By Alberto Font
The program designed to help communities protect natural resources aims to expand by 66 percent by 2017. Cleaning up the polluted Virilla and Tarcoles rivers will be a priority.
Blue Flag

The Blue Flag program has grown significantly since it began 18 years ago. Today, 2,216 local committees belong to the program. Courtesy of Pablo Franceschi

Since 1995, the Blue Flag program has helped Costa Rica clean up polluted rivers, beaches and oceans and mitigate the effects of climate change. It has convinced business owners and communities of consumers to use less electricity, fossil fuels, water and paper. And it is constantly expanding with new environmentally responsible initiatives.

This week, members of the National Blue Flag Commission, which oversees the coveted Blue Flag award program, announced goals for broadening the program in the next five years.

By 2017, the commission hopes to increase the number of local committees participating in the program by 66 percent, from 2,216 to 3,681. They hope to boost the number of beaches flying the Blue Flag from 114 to 124. And they plan on registering 290 homeowners in a new category – sustainable housing – which represents a 700 percent increase in the next five years. The commission already has awarded 40 Blue Flags for sustainable housing since the category was created.

“The Blue Flag program has shown in its 18 years that it is an excellent tool for development, and improving public health and well-being in harmony with nature,” Blue Flag National Commission coordinator Darner Mora said on Tuesday, at a conference at San José’s Hotel Crown Plaza.

A sustainable project

The Blue Flag program awards beaches, communities and schools that uphold certain environmental standards. According to the commission, the program helped reduce electricity consumption in 2012 by the equivalent of 33,996 tons of carbon dioxide. Also, fossil-fuel use decreased by 942 tons, water consumption by 112,920 cubic meters, and paper use by 5.7 tons, the commission said.

As the tourism industry grew in Costa Rica in the 1990s, beaches became popular destinations for tourists, real estate speculators and hotels hoping to cash in. The result was increased pollution and degradation at some of the country’s most precious coastal areas.

The Blue Flag program was created as a response to the destruction by convincing communities, organizations and businesses to protect natural resources. That helps draw more sustainable business.

“The program’s philosophy is to award those who do things well, and to make them an example for others to follow,” commission member Alberto Quintana said.

It started with beach-protection efforts, but today, the Blue Flag program has several award categories that include communities, schools, protected nature areas, watersheds, climate-change mitigation, sustainable homes and special events.

A commission administers the program and is composed of various government agencies, including the Costa Rican Tourism Board, Environment Ministry, Health Ministry, Costa Rican Electricity Institute, Education Ministry, and several others.

Some 1,500 schools in Costa Rica proudly display the Blue Flag. The commission hopes to boost that number by 1,000 in the next five years.

The commission also hopes to train more municipal officials in environmental conservation, so that they can guide their communities through the process.

“Local governments should participate in the Blue Flag program to improve public health in their communities,” Mora said.

On Tuesday, Mora also announced two projects to help finance the program in coming years: public and private sponsorship programs to help with logistical support and to buy needed items, and a funding partnership with Banco Nacional.

Another major goal of the commission in the next five years is to clean up the heavily polluted Virilla-Tárcoles river basin. The Tárcoles River, which originates in the Central Valley and empties into the Pacific Ocean, is the most polluted river in Central America. It flows through five of Costa Rica’s seven provinces – San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago and Puntarenas.

“The [Virilla-Tárcoles] watershed is the most polluted in Central America. Although there is liquid waste, it’s mostly polluted with solid waste. The only way to clean it up is through education and getting people involved in the project,” Mora said.

To win a Blue Flag, communities must form a committee, register with the commission and present an annual plan with specific steps to protect natural resources.

At the end of each year, candidates must demonstrate progress to commission members, who issue the awards.

Companies also use the program to meet social responsibility goals through waste-treatment and water and energy conservation, Quintana said.

For more on the Blue Flag program, see: www.banderaazulecologica.org.

Costa Ricans prepare for Juan Santamaría Day, a national holiday, on Thursday

Posted: Monday, April 08, 2013 – By Lindsay Fendt
Ticos will take the day off on Thursday in celebration of the country’s most famous national hero.
Juan Santamaría Day

Young Ticos celebrate a previous Juan Santamaría Day at a parade in Alajuela. Photo by Chelcey Adami

Juan Santamaría Day, held every year in April, commemorates the Costa Rican victory in the Battle of Rivas in 1856 against the U.S. citizen William Walker and his mercenary army.

After overthrowing the government of Nicaragua, Walker began setting his sights on other Central American countries in hopes of developing a slave-trade empire. The Costa Rican government called on its citizens to head to Nicaragua to fight the growing threat.

Juan Santamaría, a poor drummer boy – now a legend – set fire to a hostel where a number of Walker’s soldiers were staying. The fire led to a heavy loss in troops for Walker’s army, but also killed Santamaría in the process. This act of heroism, which confirmed Costa Rica’s sovereignty, will be remembered with parades, civic programs and fireworks throughout the country on Thursday. Most businesses and government offices will be closed for the holiday, and parades may block some of the main streets in towns and cities throughout the country.

The country’s primary international airport in Alajuela, northwest of San José, is named after the hero.

The official celebration will start in Juan Santamaría Park in Alajuela at 9 a.m. and feature music, a parade and a speech by President Laura Chinchilla. Source The Tico Times

Costa Rica tourist destinations featured in China

Posted: Monday, April 08, 2013 – By L. Arias
Local companies look to draw from a market of more than one million tourists a year.
Tourism fair

Costa Rica stand will exhibit photographs of the country’s natural attractions, like those used at a similar fair in Mexico earlier this year. Courtesy of Tourism Ministry

Costa Rica will participate for the first time in a tourism fair in China on Tuesday with a stand at the “China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market Beijing 2013,” the Tourism Ministry reported.

The fair runs through Thursday and aims to raise awareness of the country’s destinations among Chinese travelers and tour operators, government officials, airlines, hotels, and cruise and adventure travel companies, among others, the ministry said in a press release.

Costa Rica’s stand will include information on 10 hotels and tour operators.

Ministry officials said they hope to meet with major travel agents in the Chinese market, and they also intend to “measure market trends and provide detailed information on the country’s destinations to all participants.”

The stand mostly will exhibit photographs of the country’s natural attractions, but also will include a sample of local culture.

Chinese tourists represent an untapped opportunity for the Costa Rican tourism sector, as data from the World Tourism Organization show that 1.1 million Chinese visited the United States in 2011, another 243,000 visited Canada and just 10,605 traveled that year to Central America – Costa Rica and Honduras being the most popular destinations.

Source The Tico Times

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