Monday, January 20, 2014

Central America News Roundup Sept 22, 2011: Costa Rica, Panama

article from September 22, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

Costa Rica

The misnamed “Switzerland of Central America” (there is no such thing) is contemplating building an international jetport on the Osa Peninsula in the southwest part of the country. This is an ecologically sensitive area and one of the last regions to fall victim to tourism development. After having seen what the CIA-sponsored airport (I am not making this up) did to the overdevelopment of the Nicoya Peninsula and the mainland of the northwestern part of Costa Rica, one must question the sanity of those greedy government officials who operate out of the pockets of foreign land developers. Corruption is and has been one of this country’s overwhelming problems.

Meanwhile over on the Caribbean side of the nation, a shocking development for developers and agribusinesses: Judges in Goicecoechea ruled last week that the government will seize several hundred thousand hectares of land and return it to the Bribri people, who are part of the indigenous Keköldi nation of people of the Talamanca. What really makes this bite sting is that a lot of this land is near the very popular Puerto Viejo tourist area. The ruling is to compel the Agricultural Development Institute to expropriate the land and relocate any and all non-indigenous residents. This epic decision is based largely on the Indigenous Law of 1977, along with the presidential decree that established the Keköldi Reserve that same year. This established law states very clearly, “Land and property may only be traded between the indigenous residents of the reserve.” Judge Cynthia Abarca, president of the court, stated in an interview with La Nacion of San José that “the obligation to recover said land is sanctioned by international agreements, protecting the indigenous people’s rights. The lands have very special meaning for them, being places they consider sacred.” The government plans to appeal the decision.

A fiery Tica beauty, Johanna Solano from Heredia, made the country proud once again for its famously lovely ladies by placing in the top 10 at the Miss Universe pageant in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the current Miss Costa Rica, and will remain so until March 2012. Felicidades Johanna!

Costa Rica is also celebrating its independence from Spain 190 years ago. All the Central American nations except Belize tore themselves loose from the crumbling and broke Spanish Empire, and of course, that freedom did not come easily. The region has since been plagued with various dictators, despots and megalomaniacs, as well as an endless procession of civil wars. Costa Rica’s last civil war was fought for 44 days from March 12 until April 24, 1948. It is estimated that over 2,000 people lost their lives in that uprising caused by the country’s legislature voting to void the election results from February of that year. A rebel army, under the command of José (Pepe) Figueres, rose up and defeated the government of President Teodoro Picado in the bloodiest chapter of this tiny nation’s 20th-century history. After winning the revolt, Figueres ruled the country for a year and a half, wisely abolishing the army to keep history from repeating itself.

Meanwhile, on the narco front, Costa Rica managed to maintain its spot on the US State Department’s cherished blacklist of countries contributing to the illicit drug trade. Belize and El Salvador were just added this year.


Panama will have to exercise a little more patience until they get their hands on former strongman Manuel Noriega, the object of the United States’ affection in the 1970s and 80s. Noriega, a rogue CIA asset, was captured in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City in 1989 by George Bush’s invading army. Once again, like in Granada, the US went into a non-aggressor country and, according to UN estimates, slaughtered 2,500 civilians as well a number of members of the military, raking up an oft-mentioned figure of 4,000 dead, while the US forces numbered 23 dead and 325 wounded. Some surgical strike that was!

Manuel Noriega was to be returned to Panama from France, where he is currently incarcerated for money laundering. But French judges have held up the extradition because they needed more time to study the issue. Noriega has now been imprisoned for over 20 years, and I feel it is unlikely he will ever be released, as it could prove to be very embarrassing for the CIA-head-turned-US-president, George H. Bush, who is ultimately responsible for the crimes committed by Noriega. It sure would make for some very interesting reading if Noriega were ever able to publish his memoirs.

Ebrahim Asvat, a lawyer and activist for the voiceless masses of poor people in the country, is trying to get himself killed by attempting to have the law of Anati (National Land Authority) overturned. Laws and regulations have been no match for corruption in Panama ever since private land developers found out what a lovely country Panama is and how easy it is to get prime land for development by lining the pockets of everyone from the president down. Knowing how Panamanian “justice” works, I have no hope at all that he will prevail.

While on the subject of presidential corruption, it should be mentioned that President Ricardo Martinelli has declared that the Italian citizen wanted by the prosecutor of Naples for the extortion of a million dollars from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is welcome to stay in Panama. Berlusconi did not mind paying the money to protect himself from exposure in his underage prostitution “Bunga Bunga” scandal. Martinelli considers Valter Lavitola to be a very useful asset for Panama since, by giving him shelter, Berlusconi has become a major Panamanian benefactor, donating six patrol boats to the nation that are valued at close to US$300 million. Martinelli and Berlusconi also signed a no-bid sweetheart deal valued at $335 million for helicopters, radars and other assorted items.

Good news for film buffs: Panama will finally have its own world-class film festival in 2012, when it will host the International Film Festival April 11-17. The festival will be in the capable and experienced hands of the cofounder of the highly successful Toronto Film Festival, as well as those of Panama’s own Pituka Ortega Heilbron, a well know producer/director whose work includes a documentary about the life of famous pugilist Roberto Duran. Quiet on the set! And … ACTION!

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza
Where that Fine Malbec wine is ever-present! Salud!

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.

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