February 8th, 2010

A Political First for Costa Rica

Costa Rica elected its first woman president, Laura Chinchilla, on February 7, 2010, a triumph not only for Chinchilla’s Liberación party, but for Costa Rican women in general. Those who consider Costa Rica another male-centered Latin American country can now see the country in a whole new light. In fact, Chinchilla’s victory is part of an existing move away from traditional Latin American “machismo.” Laura Chinchilla now becomes the fifth Latin American woman to become president of her country, following woman presidents in Nicaragua, Panama, Chile and Argentina.

In her victory speech on election night, Laura Chinchilla promised to fight crime in the downtown San José area, to make Costa Rica the first carbon-neutral country in the world, and, in general, to help Costa Rica become the most developed nation in Latin America.

Read more about Laura Chinchilla’s victory speech.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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July 20th, 2009

Costa Rica v. Nicaragua: Border Dispute Resolved

For the past four years, Costa Rica and Nicaragua have been embroiled in a dispute over the San Juan River, which runs between the two countries. Fishermen, tour boat operators and pleasure boaters from both countries have, for many years, shared the river relatively peacefully, although undercurrents of conflict have existed for two centuries.

The Cañas-Jerez treaty of April 15, 1858 demarcated the border between the two countries. Under the treaty, the San Juan River belongs to Nicaragua, and the border runs along the Costa Rican side of the river. However, Nicaragua recently argued that its possession of the river allowed it to control river traffic as well. The Nicaraguan government refused to allow Costa Rican law enforcement officials to patrol the river. In addition, Nicaragua demanded that passengers on river boats have Nicaraguan tourist visas, arguing that these passengers needed to purchase tourist passes in order to travel along the river. Costa Rica argued that its commercial and police vessels had a right to freely navigate the San Juan River. Conflict escalated.

On September 29, 2005, Costa Rica took its case to the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague. At issue was the interpretation of the Cañas-Jerez treaty. Costa Rica claimed that the treaty did not allow Nicaragua to restrict navigation of Costa Rican police along the river and that such restriction violated the 1858 treaty.

On July 13, 2009, the court reached a decision in Costa Rica v. Nicaragua, granting most of the demands of the Costa Rican government. The court recognized the right of Costa Rican tour and passenger boats to freely navigate the river for commercial purposes. Passengers on these boats do not have to procure Nicaraguan tourist visas. In addition, Costa Ricans can use the river for daily transportation requirements—to ferry children to and from school, to deliver food and other necessities to people living in the region and for subsistence fishing.

Interestingly, Costa Rica lost on the one issue it originally brought before the court—whether Costa Rican police had the right to patrol the river. The court held that Costa Rican police had no right to this activity. In addition, Costa Rica can no longer use the river to transport weapons or supplies to police stations in the San Juan River region. The court also granted Nicaragua the right to inspect Costa Rican ships and their passengers at various predetermined checkpoints along the river.

On the whole, Costa Rica is satisfied with the decision, and Costa Ricans hope that tension in the San Juan River area will dissipate.

Read about Costa Rica v. Nicaragua in La Nación.

Read the International Court of Justice’s complete decision in Costa Rica v. Nicaragua.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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October 10th, 2008

Presidential Elections, 1970’s Style

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Costa Rican presidential elections were spirited, colorful affairs, far more entertaining than the more serious elections held in other countries. With the passage of time, however, Costa Rican elections have become more straightforward and similar to elections elsewhere.

Different Costa Rican political parties have always had their own signature colors, which every Costa Rican immediately recognizes. Years ago, political parties distributed cloth flags to all of their supporters. Costa Ricans proudly announced their party affiliation by hanging their flags everywhere. Around election time, people attached flags to their car antennas and windows, to the rooftops of their houses, and, using several broomsticks as makeshift flagpoles, to the tops of mango and lemon trees in their yards. At election time, the country was festooned with green-and-white and red-and-blue striped flags.

Costa Ricans also assigned each presidential candidate a signature horn honk, which simulated the candidate’s name. Monge’s honk was one long and one short beep in mimicry of him name, while Carazo’s was three beeps with an accent on the middle beep. Supporters of each candidate rode up and down the streets, honking for their candidates, flags whipping colorfully behind them. When supporters of the same candidate encountered one another on the street, they honked in cheerful greeting. Opponents tried to out-honk one another, and the streets were lively with these car-horn debates.

The elections themselves were particularly interesting. The presidential ballot consisted of one single sheet of rough paper. Printed horizontally across the paper were photographs of each candidate and an empty box under each photograph. Voters arrived at their polling places and dipped their thumbs into indelible purple ink. Then, to cast their votes, they pressed their inked thumbs under the photograph of the candidate of their choice. Each vote consisted of one thumbprint.

The ink served two purposes. Because it couldn’t be rinsed off for several days, it kept people from voting twice. It was also handy for voters who wanted others to know they had done their civic duty. People walked up and down the street, giving one another purple thumbs-ups and cheering. Others piled into the backs of pickup trucks, shouting, waving flags and showing everyone their purple thumbs.

The election process may now be more streamlined, and elections are no longer determined by thumb-printed pages pushed through the slots of ballot boxes. However, elections were certainly more fun in the past.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 16th, 2008

San José Posible

San José is poised for a major transformation. Like many cities in the United States, San José witnessed a significant economic and population shift in the eighties and early nineties, as city residents and businesses left San José for the new surrounding suburbs. The city economy suffered, and urban crime rates increased.

City leaders and urban architects worried about this recent downturn and created various incentives to encourage both businesspeople and homeowners to return to the city. They also recommended several city beautification projects and urban improvements. The municipality of San José formed the Committee for the Regeneration and Repopulation of San José. Following the precepts of the Committee, the Institute of Tropical Architecture came up with a plan, San José Posible, to address the architectural, ecological and aesthetic issues facing the “new” San José.

As part of the San José Posible plan, the Institute of Tropical Architecture proposed closing off several of San José’s congested streets to form outdoor pedestrian areas. The city followed the Institute’s suggestion and closed traffic in areas that would then become city pedestrian zones. The first such zone met with great success; its communal outdoor space is free of traffic noise and vehicular congestion and is a pleasant place for pedestrians to stroll.

The Institute also hopes to promote and encourage the construction of multi-use buildings that incorporate commercial space, parking, residential units and plenty of outdoor garden space. San José Posible hearkens back to a time in San José’s history when the city streets were tree-lined and quiet, and businesses and residences coexisted in urban tranquility.

The Sleep Inn San José Downtown has been a leader among the businesses hoping to restore and reinvigorate San José. When the Sleep Inn was first built, there had been no new hotel in the central downtown area for fourteen years. The mayor of San José praised the Sleep Inn for its strong show of faith in the economic future of the city. Recently, the Sleep Inn has undertaken several projects to contribute to the beautification and improvement of the downtown area.

Click here for more information about the Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical.

Click here to read more about San José Posible.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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