La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Costa Rica

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Readers are welcome to express their opinions about the news -- and about how the new Facebook comments system is working.

Jimmy Orr, the Los Angeles Times managing editor in charge of, discussed our online comments and the Facebook system in greater depth in a March entry to the Readers' Representative Journal.

We hope to see your comments on Facebook.

-- The Foreign Staff of the Los Angeles Times

Brooklyn Museum seeks to return pre-Hispanic artifacts to Costa Rica

Bowl costa rica brooklyn museum

More than a century ago, an American railroad and fruit magnate named Minor C. Keith unearthed thousands of pre-Hispanic artifacts on a plantation in Costa Rica, then took them to the United States. They were gold and jade pieces, ceramic bowls and anthropomorphic figurines. In 1934, five years after Keith died, the Brooklyn Museum in New York acquired about 5,000 pieces from his collection. Those objects then languished in storage for more than seven decades.

Now, the Brooklyn Museum wants to send the Keith objects back to Costa Rica, but the Central American nation has to come up with the money to pay to move them.

The potential exchange is not characterized by the political and philosophical debates that have pitted Western museums and universities against governments in countries from which archaeologically valuable items have been taken. For example, Peru and Yale University fought for years over artifacts dug up at the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu until a deal on those items was reached in November.

In this case, Costa Rica had made no claims on the Keith objects but responded positively to outreach made by the Brooklyn Museum, stemming from the museum's efforts to minimize and streamline its holdings.

The Brooklyn Museum has told the National Museum of Costa Rica that it would like to return about 4,500 pre-Hispanic artifacts but would like to keep some pieces that are considered more valuable. In Costa Rica, officials said they were open to receiving any artifacts but have no budget to pay for the shipping costs, estimated at $59,000.

Continue reading »

Tensions high between Nicaragua, Costa Rica in border dispute

Costa rica nicaragua google maps image

An error on Google Maps that showed a strip of land belonging to Costa Rica in Nicaraguan territory has evolved into a tense international dispute between the Central American neighbors.

The government of Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla sued its neighbor at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, claiming that Nicargua is unlawfully sitting on land on the San Juan River that belongs to Costa Rica, near the river's mouth to the Carribbean (link in Spanish). Costa Rica is also claiming that Nicaragua is contaminating the river.

Nicaragua admitted that it used a Google Maps mistake, since corrected by the search engine giant, to send troops onto Calero Island, a territory it calls disputed. Nicaragua is dredging land there, and is refusing to pull back.

"Costa Rica is seeing its dignity smeared and there is a sense of great national urgency" to resolve the conflict, Chinchilla said, according to reports.

The San Juan River marks much of the eastern border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica and has been the source of tension between the neighbors for more than a century. The crisis, now a diplomatic one, is getting complicated.

The Organization of American States told both governments to meet and settle the dispute, and requested Nicaragua remove its troops from Costa Rican territory. But Nicaragua refused to obey. An advisor to President Daniel Ortega upped the ante when he claimed in a television interview that Costa Rica contaminates the San Juan River and not the other way around (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Image: A screen-grab from Google Maps showing the border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Credit: Google Maps

Dilma Rousseff: Brazil's new president is latest female leader in Latin America

Dilam rousseff debate reuters

Brazilians partied on the beaches of Rio and Brazilian stocks rose with anticipation Monday morning as results from Sunday's runoff election confirmed Dilma Rousseff as the South American nation's first female president.

Rousseff, who has never held elective office, won largely due to her ties to her mentor, outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a beloved figure credited with transforming Brazil into a world player. "It's historic," a government worker celebrating Rousseff's win in Brasilia told the Daily Mail. "Brazil elected a factory worker and now a woman. Dilma will be a mother for the Brazilian people."

In her victory speech, Rousseff promised to further attack poverty in Brazil. Making reference to her historic win, she said, "I hope the fathers and mothers of little girls will look at them and say yes, women can."

Here's more coverage in The Times.

Rousseff joins a small but celebrated group of female leaders in Brazil's long history. The last time a woman ruled over Brazil was in the early 19th century, when Princess Maria Leopoldina served briefly as empress consort of the Brazilian empire, and was instrumental in Brazil's declaration of independence from Portugal in 1822. In the final period of the Brazilian monarchy, Princess Isabel, serving as regent, abolished slavery by signing the Ley Aurea in 1888 (link in Spanish).

The abolition of slavery in Brazil triggered the fall of the monarchy.

Brazil became a constitutional republic in 1889. The country witnessed a repressive military dictatorship between 1965 and 1985. It was during this time that Rousseff, daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant and a teacher, became active in Brazil's guerrilla resistance movement.

In this manner she is similar another modern female leader in the Americas. The popular former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, was a member of the resistance during the Pinochet dictatorship and was jailed and tortured, as Rousseff was in Brazil.

Three other women currently serve as leaders in Latin America. Laura Chinchilla was inaugurated as the first female president of Costa Rica in May. Weeks later in Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar became the first female prime minister. Argentina is led by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, its first elected female president.

Brazil hosts the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, and is set to become a major oil exporter in the coming years.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Dilma Rousseff looks up to a television screen during a presidential debate on Oct. 25. Credit: Reuters

Guatemala tapping volcanoes as new energy sources [Updated]

Pacaya volcano

Dotted with volcanoes, Guatemala is seeking to harness their geothermal energy to create green power sources, part of a growing trend in Central America, Reuters reports.

By harnessing the heat of steam and water trapped deep under the active Pacaya volcano, Guatemala's two geothermal plants are already producing energy that serves as an alternative source to fossil-fuel power.

The plants, run by an Israeli company, are also hailed by environmentalists because they do not require widespread alteration of the landscape as hydroelectric dams do. Hydroelectric power sources also have a somewhat haunted history in Guatemala, with the Chixoy dam massacre of 1983, and are vulnerable to storms and hurricanes, which have increasingly beset the region.

Guatemala is offering tax breaks to companies willing to build more geothermal energy plants, and El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica are also investing in geothermal energy development, the news agency says.

Guatemala hopes to meet at least 60% of its energy needs (link in Spanish) through geothermal and hydroelectric sources by 2022, the country's National Electric Energy Commission says.

— Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

[For the record, 10 a.m. Sept. 23: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Guatemala hoped to meet as much as 60% of its energy needs with geothermal and hydroelectric sources. Officials hope to produce at least 60% of its needs through renewable energy by 2022.]

Photo: Pacaya volcano in Guatemala. Credit:

Deadly mudslides in Guatemala as rainy season's storms batter region [Updated]

Quiche children guatemala mudslide victims

Heavy rainfall unleashed mudslides in Guatemala that have claimed at least 45 lives, and officials say hope is fading to find any survivors trapped under mud in two separate slides on the same highway in western Guatemala (link with video by the BBC).

[Updated at 11:04 a.m.: A previous version of this post erroneously said the two mudslides in Guatemala occurred in the north.]

Widespread flooding was also reported in southeastern Mexico over the weekend, killing at least 11 (link in Spanish). Flooding in the region during the current rainy season has killed 55 people in Honduras, at least 40 in Nicaragua, nine in El Salvador and three in Costa Rica, the Agence France-Presse news agency said.

In Guatemala, a mudslide on the Inter-American Highway in the village of Nahuala, west of Guatemala City, engulfed a bus and other vehicles on Sunday, and later another slide claimed would-be rescuers. President Alvaro Colom declared a state of emergency and a national day of mourning. Including victims from Tropical Storm Agatha in May, this rainy season is the worst the country has seen in 60 years, killing at least 236 people, said Guatemala's La Prensa Libre (link in Spanish).

On Tuesday, the newspaper reported that one motorist who witnessed slides along the highway said 1,000 vehicles are still stuck in the mud (link in Spanish).

Elsewhere in the region, a surging Tropical Storm Hermine made landfall early Tuesday in northeastern Mexico, prompting officials to urge residents to move to shelters. Mexico's southeast -- including the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and Veracruz -- has been hard hit by a separate storm that displaced almost half a million people over the weekend.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Quiche indigenous children and women at a funeral for a Guatemala mudslide victim. Credit: Moises Castillo / Associated Press 

Costa Rica welcomes Laura Chinchilla, its first female president

Laura chinchilla ap On her first day on the job as Costa Rica's president, Laura Chinchilla signed three executive decrees, providing a glimpse into her policy priorities in her first 100 days in office. On Saturday, the first female head of state for the Central American nation signed decrees indefinitely banning open-pit gold-mining,  establishing an anti-drug commission, and  establishing a national elderly-care and infant development network, reports The Tico Times.

"We will work for a more innovative, more intelligent, more enterprising Costa Rica with a new economy encouraged by biotechnology, organic agriculture, the audiovisual industry and the aerospace and aviation industries, among others," Chinchilla said.

Photos of the Saturday inauguration at San Jose's La Sabana Metropolitan Park are here.

Chinchilla, 51, is a protege and former vice president of her predecessor, Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner. Her term is expected to extend the open-market, green-minded policies of the social-democrat style National Liberation Party, or PLN.

Chinchilla is a graduate of Georgetown University, a career politician once divorced and now married to a Spanish lawyer, mother to a teenage son, and a social conservative. She opposes gay marriage and abortion.

Costa Rica flourished under Arias, who enacted policies that largely shielded the nation from the global economic downturn. The previous president also oversaw the expansion of environmental conservation efforts and eco-tourism in Costa Rica. (Could such policies be the reason Costa Ricans are known according to one study as "the happiest people" on Earth?)

Chinchilla is expected to keep the country on this track, the Associated Press reports: "In 2007, [Arias] set a goal for his country to be the first carbon-neutral country in the world by 2021, a goal Chinchilla supports."

Chinchilla's open-pit mining ban, however, overturns an Arias decision, notes Inside Costa Rica.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Inauguration Day for Laura Chinchilla, first female president of Costa Rica. Credit: Associated Press / via BBC News

Latin America Digest: Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico

Today’s One-Line News Briefs:

-- San Jose, Costa Rica — Former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez went on trial Wednesday in a corruption case that forced him to resign as head of the Organization of American States six years ago.

-- Miami — Nearly 250 Colombians who say they and relatives were victims of violence by Colombian right-wing paramilitaries filed a lawsuit in Florida seeking more than $1 billion in damages from the Chiquita banana company, which has admitted making payments to paramilitaries.

-- Buenos Aires — Argentine human rights groups requested a local judicial investigation of killings, disappearances and alleged genocide committed during Spain’s Civil War and Gen. Francisco Franco’s long dictatorship.

-- Monterrey, Mexico — A cargo plane crashed into traffic while trying to land overnight in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, killing all five crew members on board, authorities said.

-- Times wire reports

Laura Chinchilla elected president of Costa Rica


The tiny club of female presidents in Latin America will grow by one with the election in Costa Rica of Laura Chinchilla. She won the presidency in a landslide victory Sunday and takes office May 8.

The socially conservative, pro-business former vice president hails from the party of incumbent President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in the 1980s to end Central America's wars.

Chinchilla's victory was widely seen as a vote for continuity in a politically stable country that enjoys one of the region's highest standards of living.

It's the first time Costa Rica has chosen a woman to lead the nation. Chile's Michelle Bachelet and Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner are the other female chief executives in Latin America. In the past, Panama and Nicaragua also had female presidents.

Read more about Chinchilla's election in the English-language newspaper Tico Times.

--Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Laura Chinchilla at the Festival Adelante Nacional. Credit:

Latin America Digest: Today's one-line news briefs

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — Police in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have killed more than 11,000 people in the last six years, many execution-style, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch.

San Jose, Costa Rica – The president-elect of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, said he wants political amnesty for all those involved in the June coup that ousted former President Manuel Zelaya.

Lima, Peru — Peru’s military is testing MBT-2000 tanks from China and is close to a deal to buy an undetermined number, Defense Minister Rafael Rey said.

Veracruz, Mexico — Mexican prosecutors said they had arrested 43-year-old suspect Michael Cornelius Burke Jr., who is wanted by the FBI in the 2004 rapes of two girls in Abington, Pa.

--Times staff and wire reports


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About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
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Richard Marosi
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