Saturday, 19 February 2011

Up to Town...

Photograph by Frank Kainrath
Here's the heart of the town...the old church of Santiago...St. James. But it has known better days.


Built on a site riddled with subterranean streams and shaken by the big earthquake here in the 1990s it has been abandoned for a modern church at the entrance to the town and the council has periodically come up with plans for the site, each one worse than the last, starting with a plan for total demolition to provide a car park (!) and ending with a plan to keep part of the nave, close off the street behind, purchase half the block behind that and put up a metal and glass 'cultural centre'.

This is a council which makes you appreciative of the workings of Divine Providence in not placing whelks in the seas bordering Costa Rica....otherwise the council would inevitably have demonstrated its inability to run a whelk stall...and understanding of the provisions of central government that all brewing be a state monopoly....thus preventing the council from proving that it could not run a piss up in a brewery.

Since neither Divine Providence nor central government foresaw rural development, the council is fully able to show its inability to either build or maintain roads by which such development might be reached so, as one can imagine, the project to spend vast amounts of money on an eyesore was regarded as the last straw by most of the citizens.

Still, undeterred by public opinion ....what would that matter, the council was in post for another year by which time the plans would have been fixed...the council ploughed ahead with the full support of the Catholic Church,  a perimeter fence was put up and all the beautiful trees surrounding the church cut down.

There was considerable opposition, but people aren't accustomed, here, to starting media campaigns...not much media to campaign in after all,  or to organise  and fund raise, but the council managed, in its cack handed way, to rally the opposition by keeping quiet about the demolition order it had obtained from the appropriate ministry while pretending to have open debate.

When news of that leaked out people who had been grumbling started to see what action they could take...and a couple of women came up with the master stroke.
At one of the regular Tuesday evening meetings when aggrieved citizens can bring their complaints before the deaf ears of the council the ladies asked what was the state of play about the new cultural centre project.

Oh, it was going ahead...there were plans to have a competition to choose the architect...everything was fine.

There's just one problem.

Oh?

When you obtained the demolition order, you had to state who owned the land?

Of course.

And did you check the National Land Registry?

No need...everyone knows...

That the land the church was built on was given to...not you, not the council, not the Church, either.....
It was given to the people of the area. It belongs to us. And unless we consent you can't go ahead.

But we represent you.....

See if a court agrees.

Aware that courts tend to view local government with scant respect, so far the council has taken no action....the church is still there....and the heat generated has dissipated.

No doubt the new council...same party, different faces...will find a way round this but one thing is sure, they will never be able to persuade the elderly gentlemen that a cultural centre of metal and glass will be a success...

You'll never get a bull in there....

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Picture time...walking into town...

Walking into town...three kilometres vertical...I first pass the neighbour's pasture with its steep drop to the river...so far a fairly flat road...


Then cross the river by a bridge whose supports have been made precarious by last winter's torrential rains...you can see two streams converging here...one, brown in colour, on the right; which comes from springs on the other side of town,picking up silt as it goes and the other, bright and sparkling, coming straight from the source on the mountain above.
After the bridge it's a steep climb on the slippery gravel and it's good to be able to catch my breath at Martha's house where you can chat over a home made iced drink, order milk from her cow or be captivated by the little dogs she breeds.
Up to the main road, puffing well.....I've climbed from eight hundred metres above sea level to one thousand one hundred.... and past the furniture factory where these traditional style chairs and benches are made...more comfortable than they look! I've flopped down on them more than once!
Finally in the home straight....where the toucan wishes you welcome to town!

I owe these photographs to our Belgian friend Anne-Mie Swinnen....who has kindly sent us some of the best she took while on her visit here.


Anne-Mie Swinnen

Friday, 11 February 2011

Shark Attacks Again

Fran├žais : Aileron de requin. English : Shark ...Image via Wikipedia
The law in Costa Rica states that shark may only be landed at public docks....to avoid the barbaric and lucrative practice of finning the shark alive at sea and leaving it to drown in agony.

The public docks at Puntarenas, on the Pacific coast, centre of this trade, are under the jurisdiction of the Costa Rican Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture (Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Aquacultura).

Legal action has been taken by the owners of three private docks, now no longer legally able to acccept shark landings, Mariscos Wang S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes el Pescador S.A., who claim that there is a lack of adequate refrigeration facilities at the public dock and that a ban on using private docks is causing their enterprises irreparable damage..

Environmentalists are of the view that if boats are allowed to use the private docks....and all the unlicensed nooks and crannies currently unsupervised....then they will be able to escape their legal obligations and the finning at sea will continue unabated.

The case was heard in the administrative courts (Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo) by Judge Rosa Maria Cortes Morales, who granted  a temporary injunction exempting fishing craft from the obligation to use the public docks and put the Fisheries Institute on notice of the case.

In my view it is quite improper to criticise the judge. She has an obligation to consider the case brought by the plaintiffs.

It would have been quite proper to criticise the Fisheries Institute if they had not registered an objection and filed for a full hearing.....the ban on shark finning would then be just a mockery.
They have so filed.

But while the case wends its way through the courts, unsupervised landings continue.

Given the demand for shark fins in the Asian market and given the close involvement of first Taiwan and now China with the Costa Rican government a cynic would say that the legislation has no chance whatsoever of being effectively put into action......if one case fails another will be started to keep the trade in being.

And while we are all raising our hands in horror at what goes on in developing countries, just take a look at the European Union, under whose regulations shark finning is banned......unless you have a permit.
And there are permits aplenty.

So while I hope you will contact Costa Rican embassies and firms doing business with Costa Rica...notably in the tourism sector...to express your wish that the country will take proper steps to control this disgusting trade I also hope that you will contact the Commission of the European Union who are taking comments on the question of finning permits until the end of this month.

If you live in Europe, shake up your Member of the European Parliament.....it's about time these sharks did something to help their brothers.
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