The Arenal Area Magazine


U.N. chief urges nations to better native communities

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today urged the world to step up efforts to improve living conditions of the planet’s native communities and to protect them, saying they continued to suffer discrimination and poverty despite a United Nations declaration that aims to promote their rights.

“Indigenous peoples still experience racism, poor health and disproportionate poverty,” Ban said in a message to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. “In many societies, their languages, religions and cultural traditions are stigmatized and shunned,” the secretary general added.

He pointed out that the first-ever U.N. report on the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in January this year came up with alarming statistics. In some countries, native peoples are 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis than the general population. In others, a native child can expect to die 20 years before his or her non-native compatriots.

Ban said that the landmark U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, laid out a framework for governments to use in strengthening relationships with native peoples and protecting their human rights.

“Since then, we have seen more governments working to redress social and economic injustices, through legislation and other means, and indigenous peoples’ issues have become more prominent on the international agenda than ever before,” Ban added.

In her statement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stressed that the gap between the principles of the declaration and the reality remains wide, with native peoples continuing to suffer discrimination, marginalization in health and education, extreme poverty, disregard for their environmental concerns, displacement from their traditional lands and exclusion from participation in decision-making processes.

“It is particularly disconcerting that those who work to correct these wrongs are, all too often, persecuted for their human rights advocacy,” she said.

Ms. Pillay, however, pointed out that: “We have cause to celebrate the progress made in turning human rights into a reality for indigenous peoples, but this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is also an occasion to recall that there is no room for complacency.”
The focus of this year’s International Day is native filmmakers, who have given the world insights into their communities, cultures and history, the U.N. said. The filmmakers have chronicled the belief systems and philosophies of indigenous communities, as well as their daily lives, the U.N. added.

The UN independent expert on the rights and fundamental freedoms of native peoples, James Anaya, said the communities continued to endure oppression.

“Indigenous peoples continue to see their traditional lands invaded by powerful actors seeking wealth at their expense, thereby depriving them of life-sustaining resources,” said Anaya, the special rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of native peoples.

He called for the implementation of the declaration by governments, the U.N. system and other concerned authorities. States, he added, should engage in comprehensive reviews of their existing legislation and administrative programs to identify where they may be incompatible with the declaration.

The secretary general noted that the world’s native peoples were responsible for the preservation of vast amounts of humanity’s cultural history, and spoke a majority of the world’s languages. They had also inherited and passed on a wealth of knowledge, artistic forms and religious and cultural traditions, he said.

“As we celebrate these contributions, I call on governments and civil society to fulfil their commitment to advancing the status of indigenous peoples everywhere,” the secretary general said.

Ms. Pillay said she was encouraged by the fact that in a number of countries, new tools have been created to give voice to native peoples in decision-making and to stamp out human rights violations. “We are also encouraged by the fact that support for the declaration keeps expanding, including in the countries that originally voted against this remarkable document,” she added.

“We need to bring the rights and dignity of those who are suffering most to the centre of our efforts. This requires changes in practices, but we also need improved laws and institutions, without which advances are not sustainable.

“On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to translate the words of the declaration into effective action. Keeping this promise is our obligation,” Ms. Pillay said.


Tourism officials all atwitter about social networking sites

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In an effort to promote the country and counter some of the negative comments posted by unhappy tourists, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is turning to social media.

The government agency has established a page on Facebook, a Twitter account and a YouTube account. The Facebook page is in English now to target the North American market. The Facebook page contains a link to the tourism institute’s flashy, redone Web site.

Tourism officials are impressed that Facebook reaches 500 million users.

“This is the first step of the presence of Costa Rican destinations in the social networks,” said Carlos Ricardo Benavides, tourism minister, in a release. He said that the pages were in English to reach the United States and Canada. A Spanish version will come later, he said. The tourism release said that Internet users spend 23 percent of their time on social networks, according to recent statistics.

The tourism institute did not say how much the social network initiative would cost. Someone has to keep track of the pages. Nor did it say what kind of advertising would be used to draw people to the site.

The Facebook site said that 463 persons already had expressed a favorable opinion. The page seems to have been up since July 22.

The tourism institute and Benavides promoted a new arrival tax on tourists that was supposed to be used to promote the country. The tax was to replace the tourism sales tax that had been levied in the past.

The tourism institute has been challenged by advertising. In a prior administration officials dropped $70,000 for a single one-page Sunday ad in The New York Times. Benavides dropped $4.5 million promoting the country at the 2006 World Cup matches in Germany.
The institute’s flashy Web page is ranked 175,167th in the world. The Web site contains a long list of discounts being offered by tourism locations. But the list is only mentioned by a small button on the main page.

Alexa, the Amazon subsidiary that records Internet traffic, said that the institute Web site is visited more frequently by users who are in the age range 55-64, received some college education and browse this site from work.

Average social network profiles are significantly younger, so this is a market Costa Rica can reach.

President Laura Chinchilla also has opted to join the social networks. Casa Presidencial also has Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube accounts.

Costa Rican tourism has been hurt by the easy access individuals now have to Internet commentary. Said A.M. Costa Rica June 7:

“While in the past much of the information has been disseminated by those with a profit motive, the Internet social networks allow individuals to share first-hand information and experiences. A person is now able to consult instantly with dozens of other persons to determine if retirement in Costa Rica would fit their lifestyle or if a particular doctor, dentist or real estate broker has a good reputation.”

The article by Garland Baker also said:

“The country is quickly reaching the point where one well-connected expat with a negative attitude can deter hundreds of people from vacationing in Costa Rica. No amount of expensive promotion on the part of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo can counteract the damage that hundreds of expats talking about things like pollution or crime can do.”

The article urged tourism officials to enter social network marketing to counter these negative images.

Government begins campaign to enforce minimum wages

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Presidencial photo Ms. Chinchilla displays a T-shirt bearing the number workers could call to complain about salaries that are less than the minimum.

The labor ministry is beginning a publicity campaign to inform workers that they should be paid the minimum wage. President Laura Chinchilla attended the kickoff Monday.

Sandra Piszk is the minister of Trabajo y Seguridad Social. Her office estimates that some 300,000 workers are not getting the minimum wage here.

Costa Rica has a complex minimum wage structure with each occupational category having its own minimum wage from a couple a hundred dollars a month to a thousand, depending on the job. There also are hourly minimums for individuals who do not work on a monthly contract. And coffee pickers have a minimum salary based on the number of baskets of berries they collect.

Ms. Piszk said that inspectors would make workplace visits. These would be generated by calls to the ministry or to a special number, 800-trabajo, that has been set up for the campaign. There will be publicity to alert workers to the campaign.

The employers face the possibility of penalties if they do not bring their workers up to the minimum.

Ms. Chinchilla said that the campaign was part of her administration’s effort to improve conditions for the most vulnerable population. She said that this campaign for minimum wage is the beginning of an integrated campaign to address education, economic and social aspects of what she said was a complex problem.

Many workers do not inform on their employer for fear of losing their job. Labor officials said they were resigned to some job loss as a result of the campaign.

The campaign is being backed by the Fundación para la Paz y la Democracia

Credomatic Music Festival

August 7-22, 2010. The Credomatic Music festival is considered as one of the most important of music festivals in Costa Rica- a country renowned for its support of many types of music making.

The Credomatic Music Festival started in 1991 during the commemoration worldwide of the year of Mozart. In that year, a few Costa Rican musicians returning from study in Europe put a simple but novel proposal to the Costa Rican Minister of Tourism: organize an international music festival, inspired by the Europeans. However, instead of medieval castles or Roman ruins as backdrop, the activity would take place in Costa Rica’s natural environment. The result has been that over the years, the Festival has brought internationally-recognized artistes from Asia, Europe, South America and North America to perform both in the capital San José as well as in towns in the interior of the country. The Festival normally takes place at a number of venues, including hotels, churches and theatres. In the twenty years of its existence, its purpose has been to offer Costa Ricans a wide variety of music, especially various styles of chamber music, from the traditional to classical and even contemporary music, always maintaining high standards of quality.

Participants this year include the world famous Vienna Boys’ Choir (Austria); Musica Ficta (Colombia); the Albéniz Quartet (Spain); Teresa de La Torre, soprano and Montserrat Ardévol, guitar (Spain); Kirill Gliadkovsky, piano (Russia); and the NSSO (National Symphony Steel Orchestra) from Trinidad & Tobago. In a release to the Costa Rican press, Mr. Jordi Antich, the coordinator of the Festival, has stated that “the NSSO will provide the surprise [of the Festival] with the inclusion of the steel pan, a traditional instrument made from oil drums, playing Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Mozart [and] Rossini”. Antich also said that “the steel orchestra is interesting because it challenges the concept of classical music. It dares to go beyond”.

Wonders of Costa Rica

Then there are the Seven Wonders of Costa Rica, selected by Costa Ricans themselves: mighty Arenal Volcano, close to the town La Fortuna, with plenty of activities, hot springs, zip lines, fishing at the lake, red lava views, horse-riding, hiking, you will find breathtaking views, amazing places,excellent restaurants, and great bars, also the Catarata La Fortuna a must place to visit, an amazing waterfall, and spectacular Poas Volcano. Little visited Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve with its great plant and animal diversity—including the only butterfly in the world that makes a noise! Halfway to the Galapagos is magnificent Cocos Island, called the “most beautiful island in the world” by Jacques Cousteau, a famous pirate hiding place with huge fortunes buried but never found, and the best large animal diving on the planet. Cerro Chirripo is the tallest mountain in Central America and as you climb from its tropical base to its summit, you may think you are in the Andes with its cold glacial lakes. Or, take a pleasant hike to Rio Celeste (Celestial River) where the river magically changes from crystal clear to sky-blue in front of your eyes. Finally, there is remote Tortuguero National Park, with mile after mile of seemingly deserted beaches—until the wondrous sea turtle invade by the tens of thousands to nest.

No visit to the country by a Costa Rica car rental company would be complete without spending some time at the stunning beaches. Indeed, many tourists spend most of their vacation along the beaches. Among the most beautiful in the world, you will find many different types of beaches in Costa Rica: black sand beaches, white sand beaches, coral sand beaches, even boulder strewn rugged beaches. Most of the most popular resorts and fancy hotels are located on the Pacific coast but you will find that the Caribbean coast also has no shortage of beautiful places to go too. The Pacific coast is more-and-more Americanized while the Caribbean has a unique, distinctive, Caribbean aura.

No vacation is complete without visiting several of its simply amazing beaches. You are going to find nearly 800 miles of beaches: white sand beaches, brown sand beaches, black sand beaches, even coral beaches. Dozens have famed ‘Blue Flag’ certificates meaning they are the best of the best. The north Pacific coast is increasingly developed with great resorts, hotels, golf courses. Meanwhile, the Caribbean coast remains far more undeveloped while maintaining its particular Caribbean flavor. There are very popular beaches (particularly over Easter and Christmas) and virtually deserted beaches. To go from one to another is often just a few minutes’ drive by Adobe Rent a Car

The capital is definitely worth a visit too. At night, San Jose and most of the beach communities provide lots of adult entertainment. Restaurants, theaters, cinemas, bars, nightclubs (many, very adult in tone and tenor), gambling, and beautiful women—what happens here, stays here.

China is Not Taking Over the World… The China Dream


The rise of China is, as we all know by now, the definitive economic and political story of our time. Every week a new book title announces an “irresistible” tilt east, the emergence of “Chimerica” and a not-too-distant future when China “rules” the planet. The mainstream media, and especially the business press, are gripped by the narrative of China taking over the world—every other headline in the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal has a China focus.
But the coverage of China’s global inroads has been profoundly short on context, particularly when it comes to how China is—and is not—surpassing the U.S. as a global power. There are plenty of stories of a Chinese-sponsored infrastructure project or a Chinese company cutting a deal to feed its “insatiable thirst” for raw materials, while Western involvement of similar or greater magnitude is lucky to make a headline at all. Meanwhile, a close look at the key economic metrics and the subtler shades of power, such as cultural influence and humanitarian aid, reveals that while China is indeed one of the great powers in the world now (late last month it officially overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy), its influence is mixed, and often undercut by America’s.
While China’s trade with regions like Africa and Latin America is growing exponentially, it is still outpaced by America’s, which tends to be more diverse. In Asia, China is now the dominant trading partner, yet the flows are mainly in low-end goods, while America dominates higher up the food chain. U.S. aid and foreign direct investment in these regions still eclipses that of the Chinese, and its soft power still reigns, as does its military might, despite recent Chinese buildups in this area. “Economic heft alone has never been enough for a country to be dominant outside its borders,” says Charles Onyango-Obbo, a journalist who writes for the weekly newspaper The East African. He recently penned a column titled “Chinese Takeover? I’m Not Losing Any Sleep.” “It’s really been American education, technology, culture [Hollywood and music], business, and sport that has enabled it to be so overarching,” says Onyango-Obbo. “China is going to be a very important power in the world, but it will not be dominant.”
Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Africa, where China has been depicted as the shrewd winner of a neocolonial scramble for resources, offering developmental assistance—mainly in the form of low-priced manufactured goods, infrastructure investment, and soft loans—all proffered with no pesky Western-style demands to respect human rights. In exchange, China gets access to raw materials to fuel its economic boom. No doubt China’s presence on the continent has expanded considerably in recent years. But the U.S. remains sub-Saharan Africa’s largest trading partner, accounting for 15 percent of Africa’s total trade versus 10 percent for the Chinese (it’s also worth noting that Africa has been a low trading priority for the U.S., accounting for a mere 2 percent of its global trade).
Indeed, the bulk of China-Africa trade is made up of Chinese oil imports from five countries, and even with respect to oil—said to be at the heart of China’s drive on the continent—America holds a sizable lead. China imports 17 percent of all African oil compared with 29 percent for the U.S. (and 35 percent for Europe). Western companies are the leading foreign partners in oil projects in Nigeria, which is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producer, and in the continent’s largest emerging oil producers such as Ghana and Uganda.

This trend may well continue, in part because of allegations of corruption and shoddy execution in a number of Chinese energy and infrastructure projects throughout Africa. An $8 billion Chinese-sponsored road and mine project in Congo, deemed the “Marshall Plan of Africa” when it was unveiled a couple of years ago, has been tainted by allegations of corruption and poor implementation, as has a massive Chinese-funded fiber-optic project in Uganda. A recent study from the African Labor Research Network, called “Chinese Investments in Africa: A Labour Perspective,” looked at labor conditions at Chinese companies in 10 African countries and found them “among the worst employers everywhere,” according to the report’s author, Herbert Jauch.

Disenchantment with the Middle Kingdom is particularly strong in Angola and Nigeria, which a few years ago were both tilting China’s way, lured by the promise of soft, unconditional development loans and noninterference in domestic politics. Two-way trade between China and Nigeria doubled to $7 billion between 2006 and 2008 (though still dwarfed by $42 billion with the U.S. in 2008). Yet Nigeria’s late president Umaru Yar’Adua ended up canceling a number of the projects due to scandals and delays. Washington has been quietly capitalizing; according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, exports to Nigeria have risen 48 percent and imports (consisting predominantly of oil) by 16 percent this year alone.

The situation is the same in Angola, where Angolan Rafael Marques de Morais, founder of Maka, which monitors corruption in the country, says, “Corruption and a lack of accountability on China-Angola deals have undermined a more sustainable and long-term relationship between the two countries.” He points to the General Hospital built by Chinese contractors in Luanda, the capital’s first new hospital since independence, which “four years after its inauguration is basically collapsing.” In July patients and staff were evacuated due to safety concerns. Once again, Washington moved to exploit disenchantment with Beijing, meeting with Angolan officials in June to discuss ways to deepen and diversify trade, and pushing a newly signed IMF agreement of understanding that may lead to fresh loans from Western banks.

This underscores America’s deeper and more diversified engagement not only with Africa, but many other parts of the world, via international institutions as well as humanitarian aid and military assistance. Despite high-profile ties with Zimbabwe and Sudan, China has little military presence in Africa and almost none in Latin America, and is still overshadowed by the U.S. even within its own backyard. Last month in Hanoi, for instance, the U.S. was a welcome presence at the ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia’s largest security meeting, amid growing concerns about China’s military buildup and its claims to the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands, which are also claimed in part by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Obama plans to invite ASEAN leaders to a second U.S. ASEAN meeting in the fall, and ASEAN foreign ministers have invited the U.S. to a regional dialogue, known as the East Asia Summit, which diplomats reportedly said would help counter Chinese influence in the region. Washington recently boosted humanitarian and military aid to Laos and Cambodia and removed them from a trade blacklist, which should attract more U.S. investment. And in July Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem said America and Vietnam are “leaving the past behind” as they strengthen commercial and military ties. Their two-way trade leapt from $2.91 billion in 2002 to $15.4 billion last year. The U.S. has made similar progress with Indonesia, signing an agreement in April that will allow greater American capital flows into Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

Of course, Asia is still the one region in the world where China now dominates regional trade—overall trade between China and the rest of the continent hit $231 billion versus the U.S.’s $178 billion in 2008. But most of the flows are in intermediary goods of low value (China buys cheap components and raw materials from poorer nations and uses them to make products for export, just as it supplies the same to richer nations like South Korea). This trade does not foster the skills transfer that Southeast Asian countries so desperately need in their bid to move up the technology ladder. Countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia still rely on entrepreneurial, technological, and educational engagement with the U.S. for that. And America still accounts for a far greater chunk of regional foreign direct investment—8.5 percent versus China’s 3.8 percent, or $3.4 billion to $1.5 billion, in 2009. Experts such as Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, believe that the moves toward closer U.S. political, economic, and security cooperation in Southeast Asia will continue. “There’s no intention of wasting the opportunity,” she says.

In other places where China is increasingly prominent economically, such as Latin America, the U.S. still has important cards to play as well. Last year China replaced the U.S. as Brazil’s leading trading partner, and it’s now the second-largest trading partner in Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, and Argentina. But while Asia’s overall trade with the region (driven largely by China) rose 96 percent over the past decade, the U.S. saw an even greater rise—118 percent—in total trade. And according to Shanghai’s SinoLatin Capital, China’s accumulated investment in Latin America by the close of 2008 was a mere $12 billion—or less than the state of Michigan invests in the region, according to China Economic Review.

As in many regions, there are cultural and geographical barriers to closer China–Latin America relations. “The U.S. and Latin America are doomed to live closely together, and China can never compete with that,” says Kevin Casas-Zamora, a Latin America expert with the Brookings Institution. America’s soft-power appeal in the region dwarfs China’s, resonating through popular culture, language, and ideals. Most Latin American countries are functioning or aspiring democracies, and despite China’s attempts to attract interest in Chinese language and culture via Confucius Institutes (300 are being rolled out around the world, including 21 in Latin America), there remain few Chinese speakers in Latin America and Spanish speakers in China. Soft power is also very much at play in Africa, particularly given President Obama’s connection to the region (everything from restaurants to car washes are named after him). Signs of American culture, from film to music to fashion, permeate the region. African students still dream of going to the U.S. to study, and English is very much the language to learn.

A Brief History of Costa Rica

Human habitation can be traced back more than 10,000 years but it appears Costa Rica was sparsely populated and a relative backwater in the pre-Columbian era. There is little sign of major communities and none of the impressive stone architecture that characterized the more advanced civilizations of Mesoamerica to the north and the Andes to the south. When Columbus arrived near Lim¢n on September 18, 1502 on his third and last voyage to the Americas, there were probably no more than 20,000 indigenous inhabitants They lived in several autonomous tribes, all with distinct cultures and customs. Costa Rica’s only major archaeological site is at Guayabo, 30 miles east of San Jos‚, where an ancient city, dating back to 1000 B.C. and though to have contained 10,000 people at its peak, is currently being excavated. Many interesting gold, jade and pottery artefacts have been found throughout the region and are on display in several museums in San Jose.

The Indians gave Columbus gold and he returned to Europe with reports of a plentiful supply of the yellow metal. But the adventurers who arrived to cash in found only hostile Indians, swamps and disease for their trouble. Several early attempts to colonize the Atlantic coast failed for the same reasons and for almost half a century Costa Rica was passed over while colonization gathered pace in countries to the north and south. In 1562, the Spanish main’s administrative center in Guatemala sent Juan Vasquez de Coronado to Costa Rica as governor and Cartago was established as the capital the following year. With no Indian slaves to work the land, the colonists were forced to work the land themselves, scratching out a meagre subsistence by tilling small plots. The impoverished colony grew slowly and was virtually ignored by the Spanish rulers in Guatemala. By the late 18th century, the settlements that would buela had been founded and exports of wheat and tobacco were making economic conditions somewhat better.

Central America gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. The news reached Costa Rica a month after the event. The question of whether Costa Rica should join newly independent Mexico or join a new confederation of Central American states resulted in a bitter quarrel between the leaders of San Jose and their counterparts in Cartago and Heredia. A brief civil war in 1823 was won by San Jose and Costa Rica joined the confederation.

Juan Mora Fernandez

Juan Mora Fernandez was elected the country’s first head of state in 1824. His progressive administration expanded public education and encouraged the cultivation of coffee with land grants for growers. This quickly led to the establishment of a new Costa Rican elite, the coffee barons, who quickly put their power to use by overthrowing the first Costa Rican president, Jose‚ Maria Castro. His successor, Juan Rafael Mora

Juan Rafael Mora

, is remembered as the man who mobilized a force of Costa Rican volunteers and defeated William Walker, ending the persistent North American adventurer’s ambitions to turn Central America into a slave state and annex it to the United States.

After more than a decade of political turmoil,

General Tomas Guardia

General Tomas Guardia seized power in 1870. Though he ruled as a military dictator, his 12 years in power were marked by progressive policies like free and compulsory primary education, restraining the excesses of the military and taxing coffee earnings to finance public works. It was Guardia who contracted Minor Keith to build the Atlantic railroad from San Jose to the Caribbean. The post-Guardia years witnessed the fitful transition to full democracy.

The next important era began with the election of Dr. Rafael Angel Calder¢n Guardia in 1940. His enlightened policies included land reform, a guaranteed minimum wage and progressive taxation. But when Calder¢n’s United Social Christian Party refused to step down after losing the 1948 election, civil war erupted. The anti-Calder¢n forces were led by Jose Mar¡a (Don Pepe) Figueres Ferrer

Jose Figueres Ferrer

who had been exiled to Mexico in 1942. Supported by the governments of Guatemala and Cuba, he won the war which lasted 40 days and cost 2,000 lives.

Figueres became head of the Founding Junta of the Second Republic of Costa Rica. He consolidated the reforms introduced by Calder¢n and introduced many of his own: He banned the Communist Party, gave women the vote and granted full citizenship to blacks, abolished the armed forces, established a term limit for presidents and nationalized the banks and insurance companies. He also founded the Partido de Liberacion Nacional. (The PLN won last year’s presidential election behind Don Pepe’s son, now President Jose Mar¡a Figueres Olsen.

Don Pepe died in 1990 a national hero, his deeds having set the scene for the social and economic progress that would earn Costa Rica the reputation as a peaceful and stable island of democracy in one of the world’s most politically unstable, and often war-torn regions. When civil war broke out in neighboring Nicaragua, Costa Rica was drawn reluctantly into the conflict, its northern zone being used as a base first for Sandinista and later for “contra” forces. In 1986, a young lawyer called Oscar Arias Sanchez was elected president on the platform of peace. Arias’ tireless efforts to promote peace in the region were rewarded when the five Central American presidents signed his peace plan in Guatamala City in 1987, an achievement that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.