This Week in Costa Rica

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This Week in Costa Rica is a weekly, online radio program and podcast by US expat, Dan Stevens

Costa Rica Presidential Candidates Have Second Debate

Costa Rica News - The most popular presidential candidates have already held a debate. These were Johnny Araya, José Miguel Corrales, Otto Guevara, Rodolfo Piza, Luis Guillermo Solís and José María Villalta. The Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) is about now holding a second debate, one that includes all of the candidates for the presidency. The election will take place on February 2nd.


You may have seen the first part, last night on Channel 13. The candidates were split into two groups, by the order they will appear on the ballots. The group that faced off last night was Héctor Monestel (Workers Party), José Miguel Corrales (New Homeland Party), Luis Guillermo Solís (Citizens Action Party), Carlos Avendaño (National Restoration Party), Otto Guevara (Libertarian Movement) and Walter Muñoz (National Integration Party)

Tonight we can hear the views of Óscar López (Accessibility without Exclusion Party), José María Villalta (Broad Front Party), José Manuel Echandi (National Progress Party), Johnny Araya (National Liberation Party), Justo Orozco (Costa Rican Renovation), Rodolfo Piza (Social Christian Unity Party) and Sergio Mena (New Generation Party).

Most people will be tuning in tonight, as the top two candidates will be involved. You can follow the debate at While the debate is not open to the public, we can submit questions we would like addressed a or The format for the debate is as follows.

First, candidates will be asked questions that were prepared by professionals and the TSE. Then, they will face the most precise and clear questions that were posted on social media. Lastly, they will ask one another questions, in an order determined by a draw.

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The Unwinnable War: Costa Rica’s Drug Trafficking Conundrum

This Week in Costa Rica regular panelist recently submitted a powerful piece to the PanAm Post investigating Costa Rica’s role in drug trafficking.  This is a somewhat avoided topic in this peaceful little nation, though the concerns are indeed growing.  Is Costa Rica about to be the next big focus of DEA targeting for its apparent lack of resources to combat the problem?

Source: PanAm Post - Defiant, Powerful Cartels Compel New Strategy from Next Administration

On October 10, 2010, a small Piper Navajo airplane crashed in a riverbank soon after taking-off from Tobian Bolaños airport, located just outside Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. While the death of one of the two passengers on board was notable, the big news was the cause of the crash: the plane’s wings were too heavy due to excess weight.


The crash was nothing more than a footnote elsewhere in the never-ending war on drugs. In Costa Rica, though, it made major headlines. The commandeering of the plane — and its contents of illegal substances — personified the much bigger transition in the nature of Costa Rica’s role in the American continent’s drug trafficking market:

Costa Rica is no longer simply a bridge to transport illegal drugs; it is now also an operating zone.

Costa Rica has traditionally been used as the meeting point between the two most prominent drug cartel homes on the continent, Colombia and Mexico. With thecollapse of many Colombian cartels, a paradigm shift resulted in the restructuring of the region’s drug trafficking organizations. Starting around the turn of the millennium, Mexican rings surged to be the dominant presence in Central America. With the surge, Costa Rica started becoming established as both a warehouse and trading center.

Police found 20 empty containers with acetic acid residue, a chemical used to process cocaine. Source:Tico Times.

Here from expats and experts living in Costa Rica!

Here from expats and experts living in Costa Rica!

More recently, there have been noticeable increases in suspected processing sites and discoveries of drugs by Costa Rican law enforcement. Between 2006 and 2009, Costa Rican police seized over 90 tons of cocaine, and more than 40 tons have been seized thus far in President Laura Chinchilla’s administration. So far in 2013, that number is 15 tons.

And it’s not just cocaine. In a bust last August, police found over US$200,000 worth ofecstasy. In addition, examples in the last month include the seizing of US$50,000 and heavy weaponry on a site near Irazú volcano and the discovery of a suspected cocaine-processing lab — equipped with four helicopter pads — in Costa Rica’s Limón province, along with a similar lab near San Carlos with a rocket launcher and more helipads.

The recent increase in drug confiscation and processing site discoveries is due in part to a refocused effort by the current administration to crack down on, and catch-up to, the advance of cartels operating inside their borders. The question that the country must now face is whether or not to continue down the path they’ve always been on in a war that many, including my PanAm colleague Carlos Sabino, characterize as unwinnable.

Claim your Passport to Freedom!

Claim your Passport to Freedom!

Costa Rica as a nation has for a long time taken a firm, though often inconsistent, line against drug trafficking. Through her tenure as president, Laura Chinchilla has also taken the politically popular stance of fighting against the cartels. That won’t stop now with her tenure almost at its end, and her seeking last-minute strategies to boost her regionally low approval ratings.

But like the nation’s hit-and-miss success rate, Chinchilla’s stance itself is not without controversy. Earlier this year she twice used the private jet of Gabriel Morales Fallon — who was under investigation by Costa Rican intelligence officials for possible ties to drug trafficking. The first instance, in March, was to attend the funeral of Hugo Chávez. The second was in May for a personal trip to Peru.

Further to the point of a hard stance, Costa Rica has harsher punishment (8-20 years) for drug trafficking than it does for murder (12-18 years). A national newspaper, La Nación, also reported in October of this year that 80 percent of arrests in Costa Rica are related to drug trafficking — and those arrests are on the rise.

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Andrew Woodbury

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director ofGlobal TESOL College Costa Rica, a show contributor on the Overseas Radio Network, and an independent writer based in Costa Rica. Follow him@A_W10 and on his Blog About Something.

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Jaco Beach in Costa Rica Nominated for International Award

The Costa Rica StarAt the recent World Travel Market fair in London, representatives from the national tourism boards of Central America and Mexico were anxiously waiting to hear the name of their respective countries called to receive the prestigious World Travel Award for best beach destination. Nominated for Costa Rica was Jaco Beach, a place that not long ago was pejoratively known as “Gringo Beach.”


Located in the province of Puntarenas, Jaco Beach has enjoyed being considered the darling beach of Costa Rica on and off from about the late 1970s to the 21st century. The dejection of derisively being called Gringo Beach began in the late 20th century due to the town’s reputation as a magnet for seedy nightlife activity, which was mostly given patronage by tourists from the United States. Things are changing, however, and Jaco Beach and the surrounding communities of Playa Herradura and Playa Hermosa are once again enjoying status as the crown jewels of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The negative attention is now shifting toPlaya Tamarindo in the province of Guanacaste, which has been unfairly labeled as “Tamagringo” by the growing hater class.

As one of the nearest coastal destinations to the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in Alajuela, Jaco Beach has been transformed from a sleepy fishing and surfing village into an international resort city by eager foreign developers who realized the sheer potential of the area. Development was envisioned prior to 1980, and foreign investors flush with cash from Dot-Com Bubble earnings were able to break ground and complete the first set of luxury resorts and high-rise condominium towers that today make up the Jaco Beach seaside skyline.

Listen to expats living in Jaco Beach, Costa Rica every week on our podcast and radio show!

Listen to expats living in Jaco Beach, Costa Rica every week on our podcast and radio show!

The U.S. Housing Bubble of the early 21st century brought even more cash and tourists to the area, but it was during this time that Jaco Beach also lost a bit of its shine and gained a reputation as a party town with an atmosphere that seems to have inspired the film Runner Runner. A new wave of developers such as Rory Hascall of Croc’s Casino Resort and Alfredo Atmetlla of Jaco Walk have realized that the sleazy era of Jaco Beach is at the hangover stage now. It is time to once again focus on families, ecotourism, deluxe vacations, surfing, etc.

Want to learn how to live and work anywhere?  Check out the Passport to Freedom Conference!

Want to learn how to live and work anywhere?  Check out the Passport to Freedom Conference!

Organizers at the World Travel Fair nominated Jaco Beach in Costa Rica alongside other prime destinations such as Cancun in Mexico, Bocas del Toro in Panama, and Placencia in Belize. In the end, Cancun won the coveted award, but the fact that Jaco Beach was nominated is a step in the right direction for this charming beach community in Costa Rica.

By Jaime Lopez on November 19, 2013 in Costa Rica NewsEntertainment News 

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Digital Currency Worrisome For Costa Rican Authorities

The Costa Rica Star has previously reported extensively on digital currency system Bitcoin.

The growing use of digital currency like Bitcoin is worrying Costa Rican authorities, warning that organized crime can make use of it to move millions of dollars without controls.


Digital currency, not to be confused with virtual currency, among its various names, is electronic money that acts as alternative currency. Currently, alternative digital currencies are not produced by government-endorsed central banks nor necessarily backed by a national currency.

One of the advantages of digital currency like Bitcoin — a cryptographic currency popular on the internet — is its anonymity. That means that, although it has plenty of legitimate uses, it is also favored by of those who wish to buy drugs online, for example or keep their transactions away from the watchful eyes of authorities.

It differs from virtual money used in virtual economies due to its use in transactions with real goods and services; not being limited to circulation within online games. Earlier digital currencies are often backed by a promise to pay a set amount of gold or silver bullion in exchange for each of its units. Others float against whatever individuals are willing to exchange for it.

Unlike other currencies, digital currency like Bitcoin is not based on sovereign fiat or piles of metal. Rather, it relies on a cryptographic process that requires ever-increasing amounts of computational power to produce new units of the currency.

A cryptocurrency is a type of digital currency that relies on cryptography, usually alongside a proof-of-work scheme, in order to create and manage the currency. Cryptocurrencies are peer-to-peer and decentralized, and are currently all based on the first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin.

The entire thing is based on public-key cryptography, in which a combination of a freely-available “public key” and a secret “private key” allow each owner to keep his funds secure while enabling payments that are irreversible.

Claim your passport to freedom!  Live anywhere.  Make money anywhere.  Break free!

Claim your passport to freedom!  Live anywhere.  Make money anywhere.  Break free!

The anonymity of transactions was at work in the case of Costa Rica’s Liberty Reserve, a company linked to the largest money laundering operation in the world.

For Costa Rica’s financial regulator, the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras (Sugef), the increasing use of digital currency, like Bitcoin, is concerning as there is no “uniformity” on the methods to control it.

Digital currency can easily be used in money laundering, terrorist financing and even scams, like “pyramids” or ponzi schemes and the like, warn police authorities and financial experts in Costa Rica. It could even have important implications in monetary variables for the economic stability of a country.

Francisco Segura, head of the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) – Costa Rica’s judicial police body – told La Nacion that “behind the digital currency there are criminal organizations that trade in the black market”.

Segura added that the OIJ know of these movements, but so far there the only recorded case is that of Liberty Reserve.

Want to hear from expats living in Costa Rica?  Check out the weekly podcast and radio show!

Want to hear from expats living in Costa Rica?  Check out the weekly podcast and radio show!

For Carlos Alvarado, head of the Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas (ICD) – Costa Rica’s Institute on drugs – the lack of regulation could lead people to losing everything overnight and with no support.

Worrisome to Costa Rica’s police authorities is not knowing who is making these types of transactions.

The growth of digital currency like Bitcoin is that more and more people these days experience their money transactions as numbers on a computer screen.

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Check out our show where we talked about Bitcoin in Costa Rica below: 


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This Week in Costa Rica is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, expressed or implied.  This Week in Costa Rica is produced by Podfly Productions, LLC and broadcast with permission by the Overseas Radio Network.