Costa Rica News Roundup posted by on July 8, 2014
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14 photos of Cahuita’s 2nd International Calypso Festival

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Government negotiates peace agreement between farmers, indigenous group in Salitre conflict zone

BUENOS AIRES, Puntarenas – Just before 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning, government officials successfully negotiated a peace agreement between indigenous Bribrí residents and local farmers in Costa Rica’s southeastern indigenous reserve of Salitre, where violence broke out Saturday due to a land dispute.

Officials from the government’s Ministry of Peace have been in the area since June 28, when a group of indigenous Bribrí set up encampments on farms that had been occupied by non-indigenous people, a legal land reclamation according to Costa Rica’s indigenous law. Officials from the Presidency Ministry and the Ombudsman’s Office have since joined in the negotiations.

“The issue is that what the law and the indigenous people see as a reclamation of land is seen as an invasion by the non-indigenous people who had been occupying that territory,” said Presidency Vice Minister Ana Gabriel Zúñiga, one of the agreement’s mediators. 

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Costa Rica’s ombudswoman resigns amid tax fraud probe

Ombudswoman Ofelia Taitelbaum on Monday morning submitted a letter of resignation to the Legislative Assembly just days after lawmakers and Judicial Investigation Police announced they would open an investigation into allegations that she had committed tax fraud.

Taitelbaum sent the letter to Assembly President Henry Mora, stating that she was stepping down “in the interests of transparency” and so that the investigation against her could be “conducted without tarnishing the work of the Ombudsman’s Office.”

Taitelbaum is under investigation for allegations of tax fraud after several members of the news media last week reported on the apparent use of forged documents and signatures to issue payments for professional consulting services to a person who denied receiving them.

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Who will guard the guardians?

Since Plato penned “The Republic,” students of government have been asking of those who govern: “Who guards the guardians?”

In Costa Rica, the answer to that question is the Defensoría de los Habitantes, or Ombudsman’s Office. Since 1982, this office has been charged with protecting citizens’ rights, and it has the power to investigate public abuse of power and to initiate judicial proceedings against those who commit the abuses. But what happens when the person charged with protecting the citizens is herself suspected of committing abuses?

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Magnitude-6.9-quake strikes southern Mexico, northern Guatemala, kills at least 2

PALENQUE, Mexico – A strong, magnitude-6.9 earthquake rocked parts of southern Mexico and Guatemala on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring more than 40 others.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake — initially measured at a magnitude of 7.1 — struck the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Chiapas state at about 1124 GMT at a depth of 60 kilometers (37 miles).

The epicenter was located just two kilometers from the Mexican town of Puerto Madero, and 200 kilometers from Guatemala City.

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Costa Rica escapes serious damage from big quake posted by on September 6, 2012

By CESAR BARRANTES, Associated Press – 13 hours ago 

CANGREJAL, Costa Rica (AP) — The bulletins were terrifying: a powerful earthquake had struck off the coast of this Central American country, spawning a tsunami warning and bringing fears of widespread catastrophe.

But Costa Rica suffered remarkably little damage from Wednesday’s magnitude-7.6 quake — a few blocked highways, some collapsed houses and one death, of a heart attack caused by fright. Officials credited the relatively deep location of the quake and building codes that Costa Rican officials call as strict as those in California and Japan.

The quake was 25 miles (41 kilometers) below the surface. Tremors that occur deep underground tend to be less damaging, but their shaking can be felt over a wider area.

“If it was a shallower event, it would be a significantly higher hazard,” said seismologist Daniel McNamara of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 38 miles (60 kilometers) from the town of Liberia and 87 miles (140 kilometers) west of the capital, San Jose.

The area is a seismically active zone where the Cocos tectonic plate dives beneath the Caribbean plate. “All along the Pacific coast of Central America, you can expect fairly big earthquakes,” McNamara said.

The quake was followed by three strong aftershocks of magnitudes above 4.

The relatively little damage was due in large part to strict building codes in Costa Rica, a country that has long enjoyed more stability, better governance and stronger economic development than many of its Central American neighbors, said Olman Vargas, president of the national College of Architecture and Engineering.

“We have a culture of concrete and steel,” he told The Associated Press. “Years ago we abandoned building in mud and adobe, something that’s caused a lot of problems and that they’re continuing in other countries.”

Costa Rica’s anti-earthquake structural codes have been updated in line with the latest international standards three times since they were enacted in 1974, most recently last year.

“I can assure you we comply with all global standards — the same as in California and Japan, places well-known for their high tectonic activity,” Vargas said.

Officials said the quake collapsed some houses and at least one bridge and caused landslides that blocked highways. But Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla said there were no reports of major damage.

Residents described being shocked by the force of the quake, which was felt as far away as Panama and Nicaragua and was the biggest since a 7.6-magnitude quake in 1991 that killed 47 people.

Michelle Landwer, owner of the Belvedere Hotel in Samara, north of the epicenter, said she was having breakfast with about 10 people when the quake hit.

“The whole building was moving; I couldn’t even walk,” Landwer said. “Everything was falling, like glasses and everything.” Still, she added, “Here in my building there was no real damage.”

The Guanacaste region around the epicenter is a popular tourist destination known for its pristine beaches and nature and marine reserves. Costa Rica is also a popular destination for American retirees, tens of thousands of whom have settled here.

Officials initially warned of a possible tsunami. Samara local police supervisor Jose Angel Gomez said about 5,000 people had been evacuated from coastal towns in and near the quake’s epicenter, but they were allowed to return by midday.

In San Jose, frightened residents ran into the streets, and cellphone and Internet service failed across the city. Some neighborhoods lost electricity. Services were almost entirely restored by Wednesday night.

At the hospitals of Nicoya and Liberia, in Guanacaste, hundreds of people packed emergency rooms seeking treatment for shock and minor injuries.

One death was confirmed, a man who died of a heart attack caused by fright, said Carlos Miranda, a Red Cross worker in the city of Liberia.

Douglas Salgado, a geographer with Costa Rica’s National Commission of Risk Prevention and Emergency Attention, said a landslide hit the main highway that connects the capital to the Pacific coast city of Puntarenas, and hotels and other structures had cracked walls and items knocked from shelves.

In the town of Hojancha, a few miles (kilometers) from the epicenter, city official Kenia Campos said the quake knocked down some houses and landslides blocked several roads.

“People were really scared … We have had moderate quakes but an earthquake (this strong) hadn’t happened in … years,” she said.

In the last four decades, the region has been rocked by 30 earthquakes of magnitude-6 and larger. Two exceeded magnitude-7 — in 1978 and 1990 — but did not cause any deaths.

The last deadly quake to strike Costa Rica was in 2009, when 40 people died in a magnitude-6.1 temblor.

Associated Press writer Danica Coto reported this story in Congrejal and Cesar Barrantes reported in San Jose. AP writers Jack Chang, E. Eduardo Castillo, Olga R. Rodriguez, Santiago Torrado and Anita Snow in Mexico City and AP Science Writer Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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