Parque Caribe condos bring luxury living to Limón

October 19, 2015

LIMÓN — Luxury living is coming to Limón in a big way, with a major condominium project that is not only the largest on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast — but the only.

Condominios del Parque Caribe, or Caribbean Park Condominiums, a $30 million project, has completed 48 of 240 condos being built on an 8-hectare property that will be at least half green space. Of the first 48 condos, 34 have already been sold and will be ready for move-in this month.

General manager Eduard Morgan.

Rainy season, which in Costa Rica runs from May to November, is set to start on Friday, according to forecasts by the National Meteorological Institute (IMN). However, brief showers could fall over some areas of the Central Valley and the Pacific province of Puntarenas on Thursday evening, meteorologists said.

Meteorologist Daniel Poleo said the first rains of the season would occur in the western part of the Central Valley. Showers are then expected to move to the northern part of the country.

In recent days several communities in the provinces of San José, Cartago and Heredia have experienced water shortages, and the rain is a welcome sign for many residents.

A lack of rainfall caused the Public Services Company of Heredia (ESPH) to implement water rationing of up to 8 hours per day. The measure will continue until water reserves reach optimum levels, as was announced this week. The rationing affects some 25,000 people in that province.

According to the ESPH, water shortages during the dry season are the worst in the last 12 years.

In the capital, residents of the cantons of Alajuelita (south), Santa Ana and Escazú (southwest), and El Guarco in Cartago also were forced to ration water for several weeks. 

This year's rainy season is expected to be stronger than last year's, when an El Niño phenomenon caused lower rainfall levels than normal. Meteorologist Werner Stoltz said experts expect 10-15 percent more rainfall this season, mostly in the Pacific region. On the Caribbean coast, however, rainfall could be slightly less than normal.

Poleo said it would take at least a month after the start of the rainy season for water reservoirs to reach optimum levels.

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

The condos range in price from $129,700 for one bedroom to $238,000 for three — steep prices in a town not known for luxury homes.

Parque Caribe gave journalists a tour of the recently completed first two buildings on Friday, with an elegantly furnished two-bedroom model and an unfurnished one-bedroom.

Living room of model condo.

BRASILIA, Brazil — Brazil, the second-biggest producer of hydroelectricity, is seeking to increase the use of fossil fuels after the worst drought in 50 years depleted reservoirs, underscoring a limit to renewable energy.

The country's energy ministry revised rules for power auctions last week in an effort to accelerate development of natural gas and coal-fired thermal power plants. The policies may boost the sale of contracts for energy made from fossil fuels by 50 percent this year to 1,500 megawatts mostly at the expense of wind energy, according to Erik Rego, director of research company Excelencia Energetica Consultoria Empresarial.

Brazil gets 81 percent of its power from hydro plants mostly owned by the state and has the world's cheapest wind energy. Efforts by President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessors to promote renewables have been so successful that regulators are now concerned the power grid has become too dependent on the weather, said Romeu Donizete Rufino, director of power regulator Aneel.

"Brazil is proud of having a renewable-energy focus," Deputy Energy Minister Marcio Zimmermann said in an interview in Brasilia. "We always want to do hydro plants, but it isn't always possible, so we have to use thermal plants to assure power supply."

The increased focus on energy security comes amid the nation's preparations to host some of the world's most prestigious sporting spectacles, Rego said. Brazil is the site of the 2014 World Cup and the Olympic Games in 2016.

Under the new rules, wind farms won't bid for the same contracts as gas and coal. The policies may reduce the amount of wind capacity sold this year by two thirds from 2011, to less than 1,000 megawatts, Rego said.

The new auction format will threaten turbine suppliers including General Electric, Vestas Wind Systems and Gamesa Corp. Tecnologica that have invested in Brazilian factories,Rego said.

A GE press official in São Paulo who asked not to be named citing company policy, said wind energy is still competitive in Brazil. Gamesa, based in Zamudio, Spain, is fully committed to Brazil, according to a press official who asked not to be identified because of company policy. Aarhus, Denmark-based Vestas declined to comment.

The new policies will also let developers propose Brazil's first new coal plants in auctions since they were barred from the government-organized events in 2009 over concerns of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Fernando Zancan, president of the Brazilian Coal Association, estimates that the government may auction as much as 3,000 megawatts of contracts to fossil fuel projects, benefiting local companies including MPX Energia that have permits to build projects.

Given Brazil's recent gas discoveries, Zimmermann said it makes sense to build plants right next to the reserves that would connect to the power grid, without the need to build pipelines.

"We could have a big thermal revolution," he said.

The threat of a lack of power became more clear during last year's drought. The receding water level in reservoirs sparked concern that hydro plants wouldn't be able meet the demand for power, prompting regulators to recall the 2001 and 2002 blackout crisis that helped drive the Brazilian Social Democracy Party from office, said Adriano Pires, head of the Brazilian Center for Infrastructure.

Those concerns are exacerbated by a new generation of environmentally friendly hydropower plants with smaller dams.

"Smaller reservoirs mean you can't store as much energy so you need other back-up plants to generate power when demand is high," Pires said. "Wind farms can't fulfill this role."

Some wind developers concede the point. "Brazil needs a stable grid and thermal power will need to play an important role," said Luiz Gustavo Sant'Anna, director of Porto Alegre, Brazil-based Renobrax Energias Renovaveis Ltda., a wind-farm developer.

Turbines in Brazil are powered by the same strong, steady breezes that brought Portuguese and Spanish sailors to the continent in the 1500s and drive down the cost of electricity today. Developers including Renova Energia estimate that turbines there spin at full speed about half the time, compared with an average of 25 percent for wind farms in Europe,

Wind power has made it difficult for developers to sell energy from new gas and coal plants that need to compete on price. Under Brazil's auction format, developers that offer the lowest rate win. Wind farms, competing against other types of power plants, won 55 percent of the contracts to sell power in 2011 and 2012.

The country isn't turning away from renewable power because the low cost of wind helps Rousseff fulfill a pledge to reduce power prices by as much as 32 percent, said Elbia Melo, president of Brazil's wind-power trade group Associacao Brasileira de Energia Eolica.

"Wind farms complement hydro in Brazil because dry periods are normally windy and the contrary is true," so energy is produced the all year round, Melo said.

Zimmermann, the Brazilian deputy energy minister, said Brazil isn't abandoning wind energy projects. He said the new auction rules separating different energy sources make sense given that wind farms can be built faster than thermal plants.

The shift to favor fossil fuels highlights the country's position in international climate-change negotiations. Brazil, along with China, India and South Africa, four of the biggest developing nations, argue that it's up to developed nations to cut carbon emissions first. China is the largest producer of hydro power.

At the last round of United Nations climate negotiations in Doha last year, Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said industrial nations are "shifting the burden" of fighting climate change to poorer countries by demanding they curb emissions.

Gas advocates welcome the new policies.

"More space is being created for thermal power in Brazil," said Winston Fritsch, president of Petra Energia, which is developing Brazil's biggest gas-fired power plant in Parnaiba with MPX Energia and OGX Maranhao. "Gas is the big solution for the country and this is what the government is signaling."

Coal producers also are eager to get back into Brazil's power auctions.

"There's no reason why coal shouldn't participate," said Zancan of the Brazilian Coal Association.

Emissions from new coal-power plants "won't threaten Brazil's climate change obligations," he said, and they offer reliability that wind and hydro can't. "If there's a drought and no wind you've got a problem."

Stephan Nielsen reported from São Paulo. 

© 2013, Bloomberg News

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

“We do not have a condominium project of this scale in our province, or any kind, for that matter,” said Eduard Morgan, 44, a Limón native who is the general manager and a founding partner of the Parque Caribe project. “It’s the first ever.”

Morgan said investors originally wanted to consider a site on the Pacific, and a project that would appeal to tourists as a second home or a vacation rental.

Bedroom in model condo.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haiti's former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Thursday his party could win a majority in upcoming elections, a declaration that came just a day after his testimony into an unresolved murder.

Aristide, speaking in Creole on local radio, said his leftist Fanmi Lavalas party is getting stronger and that "if there are free, fair and democratic elections," it "can win the majority of posts that are in play."

Partial Senate and local elections are scheduled for the end of 2013 but no official dates have yet been announced.

Aristide made a rare public appearance Wednesday, drawing tens of thousands of supporters out into the streets of the capital.

The 59-year-old former Roman Catholic priest known as a champion of Haiti's poor and reviled by the Caribbean nation's elite was in court to testify before a judge over the assassination of prominent journalist Jean Dominique, in 2000.

Aristide was not in power then, but rather a leader of the opposition. He was questioned as part of a broad, long-running probe into the killing.

Aristide supporters have accused the current government of President Michel Martelly, of persecuting their favorite.

Aristide was president from 1991 to 1996 and 2001 to 2004, though his first mandate was cut short from September 1991 to October 1994 by a coup d'etat that saw him take refuge in the United States.

He eventually left Haiti in 2004 aboard a U.S. Air Force plane into exile in South Africa, fleeing political turmoil.

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

“But I, being a limonense [native of Limón], wanted to bring something to my hometown that the other six provinces already have,” Morgan said. “There’s a group of limonenses that want to see Limón grow. We don’t want to wait for the government, we don’t want to wait for the next guy, we want to make it happen.…

“What convinced my partners to do it here is that the demand was high and there was no supply, so the business decision is behind the vision of making Limón grow.”

Artist's rendering.

OTTAWA, Canada – A heat wave is threatening to take the bloom off one of the world's largest garden festivals, as more than one million colorful tulips in Canada's capital began wilting Tuesday.

More than 100 heat records were broken across the country, according the weather office, while Ottawa posted a near-record 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 Fahrenheit) just as the Canadian Tulip Festival was getting underway.

"You're at the mercy of the weather. Some years there was frost on the ground, and others the tulips bloomed too soon," festival head Allan Wigney told AFP.

"Most of the tulips in the beds look pretty good now, but if it stays 27 degrees for another week, it's not going to be good for any plants."

The festival started in 1953 as a nod to the Dutch royal family, which had sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in gratitude for Canadians having sheltered Princess Juliana and her daughters during the Second World War Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Over the past six decades, it grew into a major tourist event, adding music concerts, celebrity talks and more, drawing up to 500,000 tourists a year.

Last decade, however, heavy rains and cold drove away many visitors and the festival to the brink of bankruptcy.

One year, a cold snap left ghostly gardens with only green stems throughout the city – all the tulip petals had fallen off days after blooming. Festival organizers adapted by moving several events indoors.

So far this year, tens of thousands have attended the event.

Garden tourism is very popular, Wigney noted.

"It's a big international business. A lot of people go see the flora" at similar events all over the world, he said.

But tulips only bloom for a short while and timing it right is very difficult for the 18-day festival that ends May 20.

"The tulips are looking pretty good right now but there's no guarantee with weather and vegetation," Wigney said.

"I hope people don't blame us for the weather. Of course, the tulips are a big part of the festival, but there's a lot to do" there beyond perusing the flowers, he added.

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

The four-story buildings have underground parking with storage, a “QuickPass” card that opens gates, a garbage chute at the end of every hall and (an unusual touch) ceiling fans on every balcony.

The overall impression is of a new condo complex that would attract little notice in many countries, much less a media tour. But this is nothing ordinary in Limón.

Artist's rendering of Condominios del Parque Caribe.

President Laura Chinchilla on Tuesday signed an executive order for all public offices providing public services to reduce their operating costs within 30 days.

The order applies to institutions such as the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, the National Power and Light Company, the National Oil Refinery, "and any other office whose rates are regulated by the Public Services Regulatory Authority [ARESEP], Vice President Luis Liberman said.

The measure aims to provide ARESEP “with valid arguments for telling these institutions that they cannot spend indiscriminately and then charge those costs to consumers in the form of higher rates," Liberman said.

Chinchilla added that "the main objective is to curb the excessive abuse of some public institutions when they file a request for higher rates. This measure will be under strict supervision by the Finance Ministry."

She also suggested these public offices exercise strong control over operating costs – primarily salaries – and implement financing plans to take advantage of low rates being offered by the international market.

In the last year of her administration, the president expects that these measures can help reduce growth in public spending, currently at 16 percent.

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

“This is a big deal here,” said Morgan.

The grand plan, designed by U.S. and Costa Rican architects, is to build a gated community with a gym, swimming pools, Jacuzzis, clubhouse, multipurpose sports field, playgrounds, barbecue grills and 24/7 security. A little over half of the project will be devoted to green space on what used to be a simple finca.

Sales director Wendy Alpizar on a balcony.

Police in Costa Rica on Wednesday arrested a judge for allegedly plotting the murder of a fellow judge with whom he had a work-related conflict, and who was unharmed in a shooting attack.

Francisco Segura, chief of the Judicial Investigation Police, told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday that the alleged mastermind behind the attempted hit was detained for targeting judge Jorge Paisano Saborío, chief at the Judicial courts in Pococí, in the Caribbean province of Limón.

Paisano managed to escape unharmed on Dec. 14 when gunmen opened fire on him as he was driving to his office.

Prosecutor Juan Pablo González said Paisano had asked for the suspect to be fired for failure to perform his job properly and for constantly arriving late to work.

Three other men, aged 19, 20 and 24, were detained as alleged hit men. Important evidence including several documents and some 20 weapons were seized in the investigation, authorities said.

Two other persons also were taken into custody as alleged witnesses for the prosecution.

González said they will charge defendants with attempted homicide, which in Costa Rica carries a sentence of up to 35 years in prison.

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

One of the feasibility studies conducted for the project found that there were 650 families in Limón that would be interested in buying here and could afford it.

“So although the demand for this project exceeds 600 families, we only have 240 units in total. Not even half the market,” said Morgan.

Kitchen of model condominium.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The World Bank is making a major push to develop large-scale hydropower projects around the globe, something it had all but abandoned a decade ago but now sees as crucial to resolving the tension between economic development and the drive to tame carbon use.

Major hydropower projects in the Congo, Zambia, Nepal and elsewhere — all of a scale dubbed "transformational" to the regions involved — are part of the bank's fundraising drive among wealthy nations. Bank lending for hydropower has scaled up steadily in recent years, and officials expect the trend to continue amid a worldwide boom in water-fueled electricity.

Such projects were shunned in the 1990s, in part because they can be so disruptive to communities and ecosystems. But the bank is opening the taps for dams, transmission lines and related infrastructure as President Jim Yong Kim tries to resolve a dilemma he has placed at the core of bank strategy: how to eliminate poverty while adding as little as possible to carbon emissions.

"Large hydro is a very big part of the solution for Africa and South Asia and Southeast Asia. ... I fundamentally believe we have to be involved," said Rachel Kyte, the bank's vice president for sustainable development and an influential voice among Kim's top staff members. The earlier move out of hydro "was the wrong message. ... That was then. This is now. We are back."

It's a controversial stand. The bank backed out of large-scale hydropower because of the steep trade-offs involved. Big dams produce lots of cheap, clean electricity, but they often uproot villages in dam-flooded areas and destroy the livelihoods of the people the institution is supposed to help. A 2009 World Bank review of hydropower noted the "overwhelming environmental and social risks" that had to be addressed, but also concluded that Africa and Asia's vast and largely undeveloped hydropower potential was key to providing dependable electricity to the hundreds of millions of people who remain without it.

"What's the one issue that's holding back development in the poorest countries? It's energy. There's just no question," Kim said in an interview.

Advocacy groups remain skeptical, arguing that large projects, such as the Congo's long-debated network of dams around Inga Falls, may be of more benefit to mining companies or industries in neighboring countries than poor communities struggling to recover from the country's civil war.

"It is the old idea of a silver bullet that can modernize whole economies," said Peter Bosshard, policy director of International Rivers, a group that has organized opposition to the bank's evolving hydro policy and argued for smaller projects designed around communities rather than mega-dams meant to export power throughout a region.

"Turning back to hydro is being anything but a progressive climate bank," said Justin Guay, a Sierra Club spokesman on climate and energy issues. "There needs to be a clear shift from large, centralized projects."

The major nations that support the World Bank, however, have been pushing it to identify such projects — complex undertakings that might happen only if an international organization is involved in sorting out the financing, overseeing the performance and navigating the politics.

The move toward big hydro comes amid Kim's stark warning that global warming will leave the next generation with an "unrecognizable planet." That dire prediction, however, has left him struggling for how best to respond and frustrated by some of the bank's inherent limitations.

In his speeches, Kim talks passionately about the bank's ability to "catalyze" and "leverage" the world to action by mobilizing money and ideas, and he says he is hunting for ideas "equal to the challenge" of curbing carbon use. He has criticized the "small bore" thinking he says has hobbled progress on the issue.

However, the bank remains in the business of financing traditional fossil-fuel plants, including those that use the dirtiest form of coal, as well as cleaner but carbon-based natural gas infrastructures.

Among the projects likely to cross Kim's desk in coming months, for example, is a 600-megawatt power plant in Kosovo that would be fired by lignite coal, the bottom of the barrel when it comes to carbon emissions.

Congo River

Hydropower projects like the Congo River's Inga dam, west of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, have caused excessive accumulation of silt in the past, leading to daily power cuts and a low supply of electricity, and plunging entire districts into darkness. The World Bank is eyeing the river for more large-scale hydroelectric dams. Adia Tshipuki/AFP 


The plant has strong backing from the United States, the World Bank's major shareholder. It also meshes with one of the bank's other long-standing imperatives: Give countries what they ask for. The institution has 188 members to keep happy and can only go so far in trying to impose its judgment over that of local officials. Kim, in his younger days, demonstrated against World Bank-enforced "orthodoxy" in economic policy and now may be hard-pressed to enforce an energy orthodoxy of his own.

Kosovo has ample domestic supplies of lignite, freeing the country from imported fuel. Kim said there's little question Kosovo needs more electricity, and the new plant will allow an older, more polluting facility to be shut down.

"I would just love to never sign a coal project," Kim said. "We understand it is much, much dirtier, but ... we have 188 members. ... We have to be fair in balancing the needs of poor countries ... with this other bigger goal of tackling climate change."

The bank is working on other ideas. Kim said he is considering how the bank might get involved in creating a more effective world market for carbon, allowing countries that invest in renewable energy or "climate-friendly" agriculture to be paid for their carbon savings by industries that need to use fossil fuels. Existing carbon markets have been plagued with volatile pricing — Europe's cost of carbon has basically collapsed — or rules that prevent carbon trading with developing countries.

"We've got to figure out a way to establish a stable price of carbon. Everybody knows that," Kim said.

He has also staked hope for climate progress on developments in agriculture.

Hydropower projects, however, seem notably inside what Kim says is the bank's sweet spot — complex, high-impact, green and requiring the sort of joint public and private financing Kim says the bank can attract.

The massive hydropower potential of the Congo River, estimated at about 40,000 megawatts, is such a target. Its development is on a list of top world infrastructure priorities prepared by the World Bank and other development agencies for the Group of 20 major economic powers.

Two smaller dams have been plagued by poor performance and are being rehabilitated with World Bank assistance. A third being planned would represent a quantum jump — a 4,800-megawatt, $12 billion giant that would move an entire region off carbon-based electricity.

The African Development Bank has begun negotiations over the financing, and the World Bank is ready to step in with tens of millions of dollars in technical-planning help.

"In an ideal world, we start building in 2016. By 2020, we switch on the lights," said Hela Cheikhrouhou, energy and environment director for the African Development Bank.

It is the sort of project that the World Bank had stayed away from for many years — not least because of instability in the country. But as the country tries to move beyond its civil war, and the region intensifies its quest for the power to fuel economic growth, the bank seems ready to move. Kim will visit the Congo this month for a discussion about development in fragile and war-torn states.

Kyte said the Inga project will be high on the agenda.

"People have been looking at the Inga dam for as long as I have been in the development business. The question is: Did the stars align?" she said. "Did you have a government in place? Did people want to do it? Are there investors interested? Do you have the ability to do the technical work? The stars are aligned now. Let's go."

© 2013, The Washington Post

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

“We’re not selling it as an ocean-view project for tourists,” he said, noting that of the 34 buyers so far, only one is a foreigner. “It’s for people who reside in Limón … for executives, professionals or families that are looking for a modern, secure alternative with the amenities that all the other provinces have.”

One-bedroom condos range in price from $129,700 to $139,700; two-bedrooms, $174,700 to $184,700 and three-bedrooms start at $238,000, said sales director Wendy Alpizar.

Bathroom of model condo.
On Tuesday morning, a month-long Costa Rican travel nightmare ended with the death of 31-year-old U.S. backpacker Steve Flesch. After being robbed and shot in the head by alleged gang members in a dangerous neighborhood in the southern San José suburb of Desamparados, Flesch spent six days unidentified in the hospital, and a month in a coma, fighting for his life. Shaken by the story, members of the travel and expat communities have begun discussing what went wrong for Flesch, and how his situation might have been different. The Tico Times examines some of the central questions surrounding the events that led to Flesch’s death: What is the Torremolinos neighborhood of Desamparados, where Flesh was assaulted and shot? How would a tourist wind up there? Torremolinos is a crime-ridden area in the southern suburbs of San José. How Flesch ended up there is a total mystery. “This is an isolated case,” said Jorge Chávez, the lead investigator on Flesch’s case for the Judicial Investigation Police. Contrary to a rumor published by a local English-language blog, Chávez says he’s never heard of any tourist being lured there by the promise of drugs or sex. “We never find tourists there,” he said. “They would have no reason to go.” Flesch’s mom believes her son may have simply gotten lost, or taken the wrong bus to get to the dentist. When Steve Flesch arrived at San Juan de Dios Hospital in San José, unconscious and robbed of his passport, what did the hospital do to try to identify him? According to San Juan de Dios spokeswoman Andrea de la Cruz, when an unidentified critically injured person arrives at the hospital, the first step is to attempt to save the person’s life. Once the patient is in a stable condition, hospital staff will make calls in an attempt to determine the individual’s identity. If the nationality of the patient is unclear, the hospital contacts the embassies with the highest number of tourists who come to Costa Rica. De la Cruz said this is what was done for Flesch, but she could not say when the hospital first called the embassy. Why wasn’t he identified? U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Evelyn Ardón said that San Juan de Dios Hospital never placed a call to the embassy. “The hospital did not identify Mr. Flesch as a U.S. citizen and, therefore, did not inform the embassy of his presence,” she said. Ardón added that consular officers contacted the hospital to inquire about Flesch, but they were not informed that an unidentified 6-foot-3 foreigner – likely a North American – had been there, unconscious, for days. So who dropped the ball? And whom should you call if a U.S. citizen you know disappears in Costa Rica? It’s unclear who is to blame for the delay in identifying Flesch, and there were a few factors in play. “We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas,” Ardón said. “When a U.S. citizen is reported missing abroad, our consular officers work with local police and authorities, including medical authorities, to locate the person.” Although his family was searching for Flesch starting on April 4, the embassy said it did not hear about it until April 7. “Our consular officers immediately began the process of searching for Mr. Flesch after he was reported missing,” Ardón said. Although consular officers made inquiries at local hospitals, the embassy “regrettably” did not locate Mr. Flesch, she said. Instead, it was Flesch’s friends who discovered him at San Juan de Dios. When Flesch’s parents decided they wanted to airlift him back to the U.S., they were hit up for tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. How can travelers be sure they are covered for this? They can’t. While many international insurance plans cover emergency medical transportation between facilities, that doesn’t necessarily include international medical flights. For a patient to be airlifted back to the U.S., underwriters must deem it necessary. “That’s not likely here, because Costa Rica has good medical facilities,” said Zane Beaty of HCC Medical Services, an international health insurance provider. Flesch’s parents also wanted to transfer him to a private hospital, but the cost would have been high, as he had no health insurance. Will travel health insurance pay for a transport from a public to a private facility? Four international health insurance providers contacted by The Tico Times reported that their coverage extends to all public and private hospitals in Costa Rica, as well as transportation between the hospitals (if deemed necessary). The companies also pay outstanding medical bills to expedite the release or transfer of a patient. If Flesch had been insured, though, there are no guarantees that his insurance company would have deemed it medically necessary for him to be transferred to a private hospital. What about risky adventures? Are they covered by travel insurance? Maybe. Some companies do not cover certain areas of the world or certain activities. Others will cover this kind of travel, but at extra cost. “Bottom line: if you put yourself at risk or you place yourself in the crossfire, then you are unlikely to be covered,” according to travel insurance provider World Nomads. What happens to Flesch’s body? Flesch’s body was in the morgue for the time it took to perform an autopsy, part of evidence-gathering in the ongoing criminal cases against three minors and two adults who have been charged with his homicide, according to police. The body was released as of Tuesday, although authorities could not say where it had gone. Don and Sharon Flesch are making arrangements to bring their son’s body back to the U.S. --- In an international emergency, getting prompt, accurate information is crucial. But language barriers and confusion often occur. Following are important contacts to keep on hand when traveling to Costa Rica: United States Embassy in Costa Rica Website: Telephone: 2519-2000; From the U.S.: 011-506-2519-2000 Location:  In front of Centro Comercial del Oeste Pavas, San José Address: Calle 98 Vía 104, Pavas, San José, Costa Rica   Public Hospitals in San José Hospital San Juan de Dios Telephone: 2547-8000 Location: Paseo Colon, Calle 14, next to the Children’s Hospital Hospital Calderón Guardia Telephone: 2212-1000 Location: Calle 15 and 17, Avenida 9-11 Hospital México Telephone: 2242-6700 Location: Barrio La Uruca in front of the Autopista to the Airport Hospital Nacional De Ninos (Children’s Hospital) Telephone: 2523-3600 Location: Paseo Colon, Calle 14, next to Hospital San Juan de Dios   Private Hospitals in San Jose CIMA Hospital  Telephone: 2208-1000 Location: Southwestern suburb of Escazú, near Mall Multiplaza off Highway 27 ("la pista nueva") Clínica Bíblica Hospital Telephone: 2522-1000 Location: Calle Central, Avenida 14 Clínica La Católica Telephone: 2242-6700 Location: Pillar Jiménez, Guadalupe (a suburb northeast of San José) Hospital Metropolitano Telephone: 2521-6565 Location: 300 meters south of Hospital San Juan de Dios, Calle 14, Avenida 8 Travel health insurance or international health insurance can be obtained through some existing health insurance providers, private companies specializing in this type of additional insurance, or through some credit card companies.  Medical evacuation insurance and coverage for extreme sports or situations may not be part of a standard plan, so it’s important to read all the documentation, ask questions, and ensure you feel comfortable with your coverage and its limits. Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

Explaining the name of the project, Morgan said, “The concept of the park is that the first time we came to see this property, we walked the whole thing, and when you come in and you see 150-year-old trees and you see the trails and the creeks, and at the bottom of the property there’s a natural peninsula where we’re thinking of putting a gazebo, and at the end of that peninsula there’s a little waterfall, the sound of which is very relaxing…. So we said, this feels like a park, very natural. So that’s why we called it Condominios del Parque Caribe.”

Morgan said this area is the most desirable part of Limón, with an ocean view, sea breezes and lots of vegetation, and it’s five minutes from downtown.

Eduard Morgan shows off garbage chute.

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – A genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, begun 50 days ago and suspended by a judge's order over a technicality, resumed on Wednesday, with judges rejecting repeated motions by the defense team to delay the trial.

A prosecutor asked judges to deliver a 75-year prison sentence to Ríos Montt, a former dictator who supervised a "scorched-earth" policy of war in the early 1980s during Guatemala's brutal civil war. The prosecutor also asked that Ríos Montt be placed under preventive detention and removed from house arrest. 

The trial is a first for Guatemala – and the world – in that a country is holding criminal genocide proceedings in its own courts. Judge Jazmín Barrios said a verdict would be coming soon, although she did not indicate a specific date. 

Francisco García was restored as lead defending attorney on Wednesday after having been expelled from the courtroom on March 19 for what a judge characterized as obstructionism and ethics violations. 

García asked for the trial to be suspended again, but was rejected by the court. He followed with an outburst directed at judges, telling them, "You are not above the law. I will not rest until I see you behind bars."

Justice Barrios responded by saying, "We will not accept any type of threat." She ordered the trial to move to closing testimony and arguments.

Ríos Montt's former head of military intelligence, Gen. José Rodríguez, is also on trial for genocide.

Prosecutor Orlando López, who throughout the trial had called more than 100 family members of massacre victims and presented forensic anthropology evidence, asked for the 75-year prison sentence for both men for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Ríos Montt and Rodríguez are on trial for the massacre by the Army of 1,771 Ixil Mayans in the Department of Quiché during the Ríos Montt dictatorship, which lasted from 1982-1983. 

"[Ríos Montt] had absolute power over the military," López said, adding that military plans approved by Ríos Montt ordered soldiers to classify indigenous Ixils as "internal enemies" for their alleged collaboration with guerrilla fighters during the 36-year civil war, which lasted from 1960-1996. That, said López, consisted of genocide, as it specifically targeted the destruction of an ethnic group. 

Ríos Montt has been under house arrest since January 2012, and Rodríguez has been in a military hospital. The prosecutor asked that both be taken into custody, as they are a "flight risk." 

"What 75 years will do is rejuvenate me," Ríos Montt said sarcastically to journalists as he exited the courtroom. 

The trial will continue on Thursday with closing statements from representatives of the victims and the defense. Judges will then set a date for a issuing final verdicts. 

So far, Ríos Montt has not taken the stand in his own defense. 

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

“We saw five properties before choosing this one,” Morgan said. “We lucked out.”

Morgan noted that Limón is poised to benefit from up to $3 billion in investment, starting with the $1.2 billion deepwater port being built in Moín to accommodate the world’s largest ships, which will be passing through the expanded Panama Canal.

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Along the winding road from Cali, Colombia's third largest city, to the port of Buenaventura on the Pacific coast, a new section of road is suspended over a steep mountain flank. Nearby, work crews blast tunnels through the mountains, where soon a two-lane highway will run. Last year in May, Colombia inaugurated a free trade agreement with the United States: These new arteries will bring the country's abundant mineral resources — including gold, timber, and oil — to foreign markets.

There is another valuable Colombian commodity that stands to gain from increased trade: cocaine. While large quantities of the drug leave the country in go-fast boats and submarines, a significant amount is secreted in shipping containers. Increased flows of legal goods makes it harder for customs agents to inspect all the containers coming into the United States — a weakness traffickers exploit to move more contraband through official channels.

"Whoever controls access to this port, in criminal terms, is able to hide drug consignments in the tens of thousands of containers that leave those facilities every week and go all over the world," says Jeremy McDermott, the co-director of Insight Crime, an independent research institution that monitors organized crime in the Americas. "This is a jewel in the crown in criminal terms."

Despite being Colombia's biggest port, Buenaventura is a poor city with little to show for the riches that move through it. On the walls of the grimy bus station, handmade signs — displaying the faces of young, disappeared men — peel in the tropical heat. They bear witness to the conflict that has engulfed the city and displaced thousands of residents: The Urabeños, arguably Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking organization, are seeking to wrest control of the port from their main rivals, the Rastrojos.

In the spare headquarters of the Port Workers' Union, near the towering yellow container cranes that line the port, Jhon Jairo Castro Balanta describes how drug trafficking organizations have carved up his city. Balanta, the union president, notes that the port itself is no longer safe: Killers used to dispose of dead bodies, but they are increasingly leaving them in the street as a message to their enemies. "There are imaginary borders, and if anyone crosses that border who isn't from that area, they will kill you. It's that simple," he says.


It wasn't supposed to be this way. Colombia has long been the United States' leading ally in the war on drugs: Since 1996, Bogotá has received over $7 billion dollars in U.S. aid to cut off the flow of cocaine at the source. As drug-related violence engulfs parts of Mexico and Central America, Washington has touted Colombia as a rare drug war success story. "Colombia has served as a model of success for the entire hemisphere," says Rafael Lemaitre, communication director for the U.S. drug czar's office.

But up close, Colombia's drug war successes appear far more meager — and the country's top politicians are beginning to realize it. At the end of 2011, President Juan Manuel Santos became one of the first sitting heads of state to come out against the war on drugs. "A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking," Santos told the Observer newspaper. "If that means legalizing, and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it. I'm not against it."

Santos' words have yet to translate into policy changes at home. But they have both reflected and fueled a growing challenge among Latin American leaders to the cornerstone of U.S. security policy in the Western Hemisphere. By saying what a half-dozen recent Mexican, Colombian, Brazilian and Chilean presidents waited for retirement to say, Santos broke a taboo — and other politicians soon followed him out of the closet.

In February 2012, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina echoed Santos' statements, then sent his vice president on a tour of Central American capitals to gather support for a thorough debate of drug policy. In the fall of last year, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who famously triggered a bloody drug war by cracking down on the cartels, joined Santos and Molina in questioning the last 30 years of international drug policy.

In a joint statement by Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico delivered at the U.N. General Assembly, the three presidents highlighted the failure of counter-narcotic efforts to stem the flow of profits to criminal organizations. Noting that drug trafficking organizations had used this wealth to undermine the rule of law in their countries, they called for an urgent review of policies and an analysis of "all available options, including regulatory or market measures, in order to establish a new paradigm that prevents the flow of resources to organized crime organizations."

It's worth noting that none of these three heads of state is part of the leftward trend in Latin American politics. Rather, they are U.S. allies whose politics range from centrist to conservative.

The U.S. government doesn't talk about the dark side of Colombia's war on drugs. If you listen to Washington, Plan Colombia — the United States' multi-year, multi-billion-dollar counter-narcotics aid package — is a success. But the reality is more complicated. Assessing Plan Colombia depends on what you measure.

"If you evaluate Plan Colombia as a security strategy, I think [it] was very successful," says Professor Daniel Mejía, who heads the Research Center on Drugs and Security at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. The homicide rate has been cut in half and kidnapping is down. The Colombian army has turned the tide against the 50-year guerrilla insurgency. The largest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has been weakened and last year resumed peace talks, though armed conflict has not ceased.

"As an anti-drug policy," Mejía says, "I don't think Plan Colombia has had a huge deal of an effect."

Colombia cocaine seizure

A Colombian police officer stands guard next to packages of cocaine during a press conference at a police station in Apartado, Antioquia Department, on April 20. Some three tons of cocaine were seized from the criminal gang Los Urabeños. Eitan Abramovich/AFP


Simply put, Colombia's cocaine is still reaching U.S. shores. While cocaine use is down in the United States, it remains the world's biggest consumer — and according to U.S. government statistics, Colombia continues to supply 95 percent of the U.S. market. Nor have Washington's eradication and interdiction policies driven the price of cocaine beyond the reach of U.S. consumers: While the street price of cocaine has increased since 2007, it remains a fraction of what it was when the United States began ramping up efforts to reduce supply in the 1980s.

It's true that the area devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia has shrunk by 60 percent since U.S. President Bill Clinton signed Plan Colombia into law in 2000, but some of that reduction has been offset by increases in the size of Peru's and Bolivia's coca crop. It's a process known as the balloon effect. It's simply economics: Robust demand and the chance for high profits ensures that the cultivation of illicit crops continues elsewhere.

While U.S. officials say the yield of Colombian coca bushes is decreasing, the most recent U.N. figures tell a different story, showing that reductions have leveled off at around 60,000 hectares of coca being grown. Production has also been pushed into parts of the country where the state is weakest, particularly the southwest.

The department of Cauca is one of those weak areas. It has become an important base for the FARC, which also profits from the drug trade. In 2011, coca cultivation increased 23 percent across Cauca and its neighboring departments. Together these areas are home to more than half the country's coca fields.

On the main highway into Cauca, amid sugarcane fields that stretch for miles, a large billboard festooned with images of soldiers trumpets the triumphs of the Colombian armed forces over the insurgency. But the area remains heavily militarized — there were over 150 armed actions in the first half of 2012 alone. Boyish conscripts in combat gear control security checkpoints along the highway, where they board buses to check each passenger's identification card.

The U.S.-backed program that followed Plan Colombia is called the National Territorial Consolidation Plan. As its name suggests, its goal is to help the Colombian state establish basic services, infrastructure, and economic development, as it pushes back guerrilla and paramilitary forces. Bogotá hopes to create alternatives to coca production, and U.S. counter-narcotic aid has shifted to reflect this focus. More money now goes to support state building and alternative livelihoods, and a smaller share goes for military activities.

German Chamorro, who oversees the implementation of the National Territorial Consolidation Plan, says community input is a key part of the process. Eradication efforts are centered "on restoring the rights of those growing [coca] through alternative projects," says Chamorro. Following eradication, the idea is that coca growers would be offered technical assistance and support to switch to legal crops.

But for many Colombians who depend on coca cultivation to eke out a living, that help has yet to arrive. The Committee for the Integration of the Colombian Massif (CIMA) represents small-scale farming communities in Cauca. The organization's agro-environmental coordinator, Alexander Fernández, says agricultural support has favored the cultivation of capital-intensive bio-fuels and export crops. Large-scale landowners have been the chief beneficiaries of these projects, leaving small-scale farmers behind. "What's needed," he says, "is agrarian reform."

Small-scale farmers struggling to earn a livelihood in the heart of Colombia's coca growing regions say they find themselves caught between the Colombian military on one side, and paramilitaries and guerrillas on the other.

In the neighboring department of Valle del Cauca, 35 families of the Nonam indigenous people raise animals, grow corn and yucca, and fish along the Calima River. But the river is also used by paramilitaries to bring chemicals to process the coca leaf in jungle laboratories, and ship out processed cocaine.

In 2010, drug traffickers killed several people in a neighboring settlement. Then they entered onto the Nonam's land and imposed new rules. "They prohibited fishing, prohibited work hours," says the community's leader, William Garcia Chocho. Fearing for their safety and their economic security, the community was forced to abandon their land and livestock — joining some of the nearly 4 million internally displaced people in Colombia. They returned a year later to rebuild their lives.

Chocho says his community doesn't grow coca, but adjacent communities do. But that hasn't stopped their fields from being fumigated with the herbicide glyphosate, which government planes spray onto coca fields. In March 2012, without prior warning, the Colombian government conducted aerial spraying and chemicals drifted onto their land. The fumigation "impacts the trees, the animals, the fish, the rivers, and the creeks," says Chocho.

The U.S. government says glyphosate is safe, but others disagree. A French research team found the chemical to be harmful to human placental cells. Meanwhile, a University of Pittsburgh study reported that glyphosate "can cause extremely high rates of mortality to amphibians and that could lead to population declines."

Colombia is the only country that allows aerial fumigation of drug crops. Manuel Rodríguez, Colombia's first environment minister, authorized aerial spraying in the early 1990s under strict guidelines. But Rodríguez believes the next administration abandoned these regulations: The Environment Ministry "was weakened by the government of [President Álvaro] Uribe, and it has not really recovered," he says.


When Santos first floated the possibility of legalizing drugs, he was mindful of the vested interests he was taking on. "What I won't do is become the vanguard of that movement because then I will be crucified," he cautioned.

The contrast between Washington's reaction to Santos' statements and those of an earlier Colombian drug war critic are indicative of waning support for the status quo.

Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellín cartel, stood at the top of Colombia's cocaine business in the late 1980s. With the United States pressing for his extradition, Escobar launched a campaign of terror to prevent it. He launched regular bombings in the capital and his henchmen murdered senior politicians who supported extradition — including the man once tipped to be the next president, Luis Carlos Galán.


A man looks at one of three billboards placed in Medellín, northwest Colombia, on April 15, showing the portraits of slain Colombian drug cartel chief Pablo Escobar and leftist FARC guerrilla leader Iván Márquez reading: "Guess who has killed more policemen. We want peace with no impunity." Colombia's National Electoral Council ordered that the billboards, which were put up by former Vice President Francisco Santos, be taken down immediately. Santos, a cousin of President Juan Manuel Santos and a close ally of former President Álvaro Uribe, has said he hopes to run for the presidency in 2014. Fredy Amariles/AFP


In 1992, Colombia appointed Gustavo de Greiff as its first attorney general. He was given a security detail of 17 armed guards and tasked with taking down Escobar. De Greiff did just that: Escobar was killed in 1993, and then de Greiff set about dismantling the Medellín and Cali cartels. But new paramilitary groups continued to fill the void — and a drumbeat of corruption scandals revealed the drug trafficking organizations' success at buying everyone from small town mayors to members of Congress.

Some 20 years on, sitting in his home office lined with legal tomes, de Greiff wonders what was accomplished. "We killed Escobar. We dismantled many, many small cartels and nothing happened," he says. "Cocaine continues to flow to the United States, and the narco-traffickers getting rich. ... So I started to say, 'let's try to study another strategy because prohibition is doing nothing.'"

De Greiff called for legal, regulated markets for drugs as a way to take profits away from violent syndicates terrorizing Colombia. That provoked the ire of both the United States and then-Colombian President César Gaviria.

De Greiff says Gaviria was almost in tears over his attorney general's outspoken criticism of prohibition. "He told me please don't talk about legalization, the United States government doesn't like that, they will create problems for us."

In November 1993, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno met with her Colombian counterpart in Washington. It was a stormy meeting. De Greiff says Reno accused him of sending the message to narco-traffickers that the Colombian government was blessing their actions. Halfway through his four-year term, the Colombian government forced him out. Later, while De Greiff was Colombian ambassador to Mexico, the United States withdrew his visa, accusing him of ties to the Cali cartel.

Times have changed. De Greiff notes with a wry smile that Gaviria is now an outspoken critic of the drug war. Meanwhile, not only did Santos and Molina call for a reexamination of global drug policy at the April 2012 Summit of the Americas, U.S. President Barack Obama responded by saying he was open to a debate on drug policy. Meanwhile, the U.S. drug czar's office contends that it is committed to a "21st Century approach" that rejects the old drug war model but also the creation of legal, regulated markets for prohibited drugs.

So far, Santos' statements have not been accompanied by policy changes at home. But his outspokenness has emboldened some unlikely people.


In an upscale northern neighborhood of Bogotá with numerous car dealerships, fancy gyms, and expensive cafés, stands the Rodrigo Lara Bonilla building. It is named after Colombia's former justice minister, who was killed by the Medellín cartel as part of its campaign of terror. The building is home to around 100 staff of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), its largest office outside Afghanistan.

Inside the UNODC's offices, project coordinator Leonardo Correa oversees the United Nation's illicit crop monitoring program. Correa explains how the United Nations is working with the Colombian government to eradicate coca production: He draws diagrams, points to maps, and speaks of hectares under cultivation and the life cycle of a coca bush. He points out how coca cultivation is down and the government is working with coca leaf growers to find alternative livelihoods.

But if all this progress is being made, why have the presidents of Mexico and Colombia called for a re-examination of drug policies, while Uruguay is moving towards legal regulated drug markets?

"Because it is necessary," says Correa. He may be a drug warrior, but Correa is still a Colombian. "Here in Colombia, we suffered a lot of the problems associated with the production and drug traffic. So really it's a painful situation for Colombians that after 30 years fighting with and dealing with this problem, we are still in the same situation."

You hear the same thing from Colombian officials in charge of drug eradication. Ricardo Guerrero, an adviser on international affairs and cooperation for the National Territorial Consolidation Plan, notes with frustration that every time Colombia takes out the head of a drug trafficking organization, someone else takes his place.

"We are against narco-trafficking, we are against consuming," says Guerrero. "That's not the issue, the issue is how do you get over the problem. ... We have been doing some things that maybe doesn't bring the results we want to get, and there is a need to reevaluate."

Colombia has paid a high price for the U.S. appetite for cocaine and its global, militarized response to this demand. The standard units used to measure the drug war — hectares fumigated, tons of cocaine seized — don't capture the full picture.

Drug traffickers have amassed large tracts of land and diversified into other sectors, from illegal mining to selling oil on the black market. "The problem in Colombia today is not drugs, it's entrenched organized crime. The issue is not to legalize drugs but to legalize Colombia," says Francisco Thoumi, a leading Colombian economist and member of the International Narcotics Control Board.

Claudia López has done more than any other journalist to uncover the penetration of the state by paramilitary drug trafficking organizations. Her reporting has led to the criminal investigation of a third of Colombia's Congress, as well as scores of mayors and governors, concerning their ties to paramilitaries. But for López, this corruption is an inevitable result of policies that create criminal markets. "The relationship is causal — it's not Colombian," says Lopez.

"A mafia that needs to launder money and has been globally declared illegal. ... If they don't have political power to prevent being punished and prosecuted, they have huge risks," says López. "[T]he most effective way to reduce that risk is to achieve political power."

One way or another, the state has to begin regulating the drug market, says López, or criminals will continue to do so, holding sway over the country's most vulnerable communities.

Meanwhile, the corrosive effect of these criminal interests is spreading across the region.

Colombia coca

A cyclist passes by a group of Colombian peasants protected by police special forces and uprooting coca plants in 2006 at La Macarena Park, Vistahermosa Municipality, Meta Department, Colombia, during an operation to manually destroy 4,500 hectares of coca plantations. Mauricio Dueñas/AFP


The high levels of drug-related violence once seen in Colombia have, in recent years, migrated to Mexico, and are now moving down into Central America. Homicide rates have increased in five out of the region's eight countries — Honduras and El Salvador now have the world's highest and second highest murder rates. It's no secret where the blame lies: According to the UNODC, "drug trafficking [is] the root cause of the surge in homicides."

If the root cause of this problem isn't solved, the war on drugs is only going to get bloodier, say experts.

"We worry about Bolivia, we worry about Venezuela, we worry about Paraguay. In Central America and Mexico, the squeeze is now being pushed downwards," says McDermott of Insight Crime. "We are seeing Honduras in an extremely vulnerable state. And we worry about Belize. We worry about things being pushed back into the Caribbean."

Engle is a freelance journalist who writes about drug policy. His work has been featured by the BBC, NPR, The Nation, and the Columbia Journalism Review.

© 2013, Foreign Policy.

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

“So you got $3 billion that is going to be invested in a very small region, a town that practically hasn’t really grown much for the past 30 years, so there’s going to be something that’s just going to explode here,” Morgan said.

“We don’t have malls, we don’t have fine restaurants, we don’t have this, until now. So … there’s going to be a demand for all these things, because the people who are doing these projects, these are all megaprojects with people that are used to having fine things and being comfortable.”

Artist's rendering.

GUATEMALA CITY – Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt testified for the first time at his genocide trial Thursday, denying charges he ordered the massacre of indigenous people during his 1982-1983 regime.

"I declare myself innocent," the 86-year-old former general told the court after asking to take the stand in the final arguments of his landmark trial.

"I never had the intention, the aim to destroy any national ethnic group," he said. "I am not genocidal."

Rio Montt denied the prosecution's charge that he authorized military plans to exterminate the Ixil Maya population.

"I never authorized, I never signed, I never ordered attacks against a race, an ethnic group or a religion. I never did!" Ríos Montt thundered.

The former dictator, taking sips of water during his 50-minute testimony, accused left-wing rebels of committing human rights violations against civilians.

Prosecutors have requested a 75-year prison term against Ríos Montt and his former military intelligence chief, José Rodríguez, over the massacre if 1,771 Ixil Mayas during the country's civil war.

The massacre was one of the darkest chapters in the 36-year conflict, which pitted leftist guerrillas against government forces until 1996, leaving some 200,000 dead or "disappeared," according to the United Nations.

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

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