LN WEEKLY REVIEW

Costa Rica, Viernes 24 de octubre de 2008

/WEEKLY REVIEW

Weekly review

Killing floods

At least six people were killed by floods brought about by a recent rainy spell. Thousands of people lost their homes and belongings, while roads, bridges and water systems sustained heavy damage. The National Emergency Commission rushed to relief the victims, some of whom had been badly hit by previous storms too. Adding to the woes of the victims, snakes sought warm places and found them in houses, where at least three men were bit by the highly poisonous fer-de-lance.

Record rainfall

This year’s rainfall, so far, has reached a level not recorded in San Jose since 1944, according to the National Meteorology Institute. The amount is expected to rise further, since the rainy season lasts through early December.

Freedom of the press

Costa Rica is the Latin American leader in the world freedom of the press ranking yearly made by Reporters Without Borders. The international organization defines as “spectacular” the drop that freedom of the press has suffered in Bolivia and reasserts its appreciation that Cuba remains “the largest prison for journalists in Latin America.” Costa Rica places 22 among the 173 nations ranked, ahead of countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, France, Spain, and Italy.

Hovel eradication

The Government is far from attaining the goal of providing decent houses to 20,000 families who live in hovels and shanty towns. With less than two years to go, the Ministry of Housing has been able to make the promise true for 6,000 families, from May 8, 1006, through October 15, 2008.

Special loans

The Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank are seeking special loans from several international organizations. The funds would be used to challenge an eventual financial emergency here resulting from the world economic crisis. The Minister of Finance Guillermo Zuniga explained that¸ if necessary, those funds would be used to inject money into the financial system. The Minister added that the institutions contacted include the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Latin American Reserve Fund (LARF), among others. Official sources talk about $500 million from the IDB and $375 million from the LARF, but Minister Zuniga said he would rather wait until the negotiations are completed and then talk about amounts.

Debt outlook

The expanding deficit of Costa Rica’s current account and the deterioration of international finance markets led Standard & Poor’s to lower the perspective of the rating of the government’s debt from “positive” to “stable”. The rating is a current opinion on the general finance capacity of a debtor and the perspective assesses the potential trend of that rating. On July 14, the provider of ratings had raised the perspective from “stable” to “positive”. The firm also foresees that growth might slow down to 3 percent in 2008 and that inflation might reach 14 percent this year, before starting to drop down in 2009. Similar figures were projected by the Central Bank of Costa Rica.

Exports decelerate

The gap between exports and imports of goods continued widening in September, according to the Central Bank. The overall goods sold abroad in the 12 months that ended in September grew by 7.5 percent as compared to the period through September 2007, reinforcing a deceleration trend. Meanwhile, the overall imports in the same period increased by 25 percent, with a tendency to accelerate.

Low occupancy

The hotels in Costa Rica are facing low occupancy, mainly because of the crisis of the economy of the United States. The drop in the arrival of visitors this year goes from 5 percent to 50 percent depending on the region and as compared to 2007, according to a survey by the Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels.

Arias investigated

The Public Prosecutor’s Office will investigate President Oscar Arias for his endorsement of the Las Crucitas gold strip mining project. Also investigated is the Minister of the Environment Roberto Robles, who on October 13th signed with President Arias the decree that declares the project “of public interest” and “of national convenience.” The two officials are charged of perversion of the course of justice. The regional prosecutor for the San Carlos area, in northern Costa Rica, Alba Campos, confirmed an investigation for the mass cutting down of trees at Las Crucitas. President Arias claims that his endorsement of the project was based on information that it complied with all legal requirements.

Limited infrastructure

A lack in infrastructure prevents the five regions outside the Greater Metropolitan Area from taking proper advantage from their exporting potential. According to the Chamber of Exporters (CADEXCO in Spanish), the lack of proper roads, telecommunications, high-power lines for industry, more efficient ports, and railroads has stemmed development in rural Costa Rica. The Minister of Foreign Trade Marco Ruiz pointed out the need to improve infrastructure as the means to actually help the small and medium-size exporters who operate in rural areas.

€18-million swindle

The Judiciary Police arrested Pedro Urrutia, 71 and a citizen of Spain, who was wanted in his homeland for cash laundering and continuous swindle amounting to no less than €18 million. The Costa Rican police acted upon request from Spain and complying with the United Nations Convention Against International Organized Crime.

Youngsters and phones

Costa Rican young people are increasingly dependent on cellular phones. A University of Costa Rica survey found that the growing addiction to this means of communication is bolstered by the fact that youngsters do not only communicate among them spontaneously and freely, but also because this way they are able to avoid their conversations from being overheard, particularly by adults.

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