IN THE NEWS
4U.S. Rolls Out New ‘Benjamins’
U.S. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin has never looked as futuristic, after new bills featuring his immortalized picture rolled out this week. Franklin is still longhaired and clad in sharp, 17th-century garb, but he now sits in the company of a 3-D security ribbon and color-changing inkwell. The Treasury said it hopes the new gismos will stem counterfeiting. The Costa Rican economy runs on both the Costa Rican colón and U.S. dollars. By Thursday, the Central Bank website listed the sinking exchange rate at a ¢506.78 buy value and a ¢516.81 sell to the dollar. Next week Costa Rica will unveil its own long-awaited fresh bills, including new ¢20,000 and ¢50,000 notes.
4Chinchilla Charm Offensive
President-elect Laura Chinchilla has been on a regional charm offensive this month, meeting leaders in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama, perhaps to shore up diplomatic relations in advance of her May 8 inauguration. Sound bites from the road have included calls for closer cooperation in combating drug trafficking – which reportedly headed south to Central America after Mexico toughened up its narco-fight. The talk on narcotics will likely heat up next week, when Chinchilla meets Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe.
4Ex-Enviro Chief Takes Heat
Public prosecutors are investigating former Environment Minister Roberto Dobles for alleged corruption – an accusation that forced him out of office in March 2009. The probe comes at a time when Costa Rica appears to be cracking down on corrupt officials, even ex-presidents. In 2006, Dobles allegedly awarded mining concession to a corporation owned by his family members. Upon stepping down, the environment minister said his actions “were in total compliance with the law and existing procedures.”
4Traffic Law’s Long and
A week ago, just minutes after The Tico Times went to press, the traffic law reforms made another abrupt U-turn. Legislators were looking poised to approve a host of reforms but, alas, the text never made it to a second debate. Instead, the legislators – all of whom exit office in May with the change of government – kissed the bill goodbye with a motion that sent it to the Supreme Court for review. That could take a month. “Our intention was to resolve this issue before we left,” Jorge Méndez, chief legislator with the National Liberation Party, told the daily Al Día after the motion. All regrets aside, this latest road bump is a good example of the prevailing situation of endlessly making and remaking laws that was described in The Tico Times’ news analysis piece last week, “Welcome to Land of the Laws.” For now, the unreformed, toughest-ever Costa Rican traffic law remains in effect.
4Q1 in Numbers
After the close of the year’s first quarter, several important numbers surfaced this week. Exports increased 16.8 percent in the first quarter, thanks to computer hardware giant Intel’s whopping 18.4 percent export growth and to agricultural exports, which increased by 13.5 percent. Another big economic engine, tourism surged as well. The number of visitors to Costa Rica rose 11.5 percent compared to the first three months of 2009, according to the Costa Rican Tourism Board. But not all was a gain last quarter. The country’s fiscal deficit swelled 146.3 percent, reaching $493.2 million or 1.6 percent of the gross domestic product, according to Finance Ministry figures cited in local media.