Severe rainfall forces dozens of tourists into evacuation shelter in Kauai

first_img LIHUE, Hawaii — Dozens of people are stranded at a Red Cross shelter on Kauai after a storm dropped over 2 feet of rain, causing massive flooding and grounding rescue helicopters.Hawaii Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation for the island where heavy rainfall damaged or flooded dozens of homes in Hanalei, Wainiha, Haena and Anahola.About 40 people – mostly tourists – were stranded Sunday at Hanalei Elementary School, where the American Red Cross had opened an evacuation shelter. They briefly ran out of food and water.Coralie Chun Matayoshi, chief executive officer of the Red Cross in Hawaii, said the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation offered to deliver food to the evacuees by personal watercraft, but a nearby business was also dealing with flooding and unable to provide the supplies to be delivered. The Hawaii Guard offered to deliver food by air, but the weather kept the helicopters grounded.Officials will continue rescue efforts when the weather improves.More news:  Venice to ban cruise ships from city centre starting next monthThe Kauai Fire Department was co-ordinating with the Coast Guard and the Honolulu Fire Department to provide air and search and rescue operations on the North Shore.The National Weather Service recorded almost 27 inches (68 centimetres) of rainfall in a 24-hour period in Hanalei.Kauai County spokeswoman Sarah Blane said county officials had to call in off-duty firefighters, police officers and lifeguards Saturday night to rescue about a half-dozen people who were trapped by rising floodwaters in Hanalei.The American Red Cross opened evacuation shelters at Kapaa Middle School, the Church of the Pacific in Princeville and at the elementary school.There were no immediate reports of injuries. Tags: Hawaii, Travel Alert Monday, April 16, 2018 Share Severe rainfall forces dozens of tourists into evacuation shelter in Kauai << Previous PostNext Post >> Source: The Associated Presslast_img read more

Wheres the space Time is running out for late December bookings

first_img Travelweek Group Posted by Tags: Holiday, Vacation Where’s the space? Time is running out for late December bookings This story originally ran in the Dec 6, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.TORONTO — A quick check with several of the major ITC tour operators confirms that space is getting tight for the ever-popular Christmas break, but there are still good pockets of availability in several top sun destinations.Agents making all of these bookings might be ready for a break themselves, especially if they’re in Atlantic Canada, where a recent winter storm left 300,000 without electricity. Add to that the extended cold snap in the western Prairies and an early taste of winter weather in Ontario and Quebec complete with grey skies, wind chill and snow, and most Canadians are already weary of winter, and it hasn’t even officially started it.The long-range outlook for the 2018-2019 winter season across Canada divides the country into thirds: above-average temperatures for Alberta and B.C., normal temps for Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, and – sorry – below-average temps for southwestern Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.Meanwhile the short-range outlook, for last-minute late December winter Sun bookings at least, is hot and getting hotter. “The availability for popular dates and hotels is starting to be limited,” says Air Canada Vacations spokesperson Barbara Mengue Mbo. “In destinations like Saint Lucia, Antigua, Grenada, Jamaica, Cancun, Punta Cana, Puerto Vallarta, inventories are getting tight. We recommend not to wait and book now before it is gone.”There are still good rates and availability for Cuba destinations in late December, she adds, for any clients looking for deep pockets of inventory where they can expect a good choice of room categories.Clients planning the ‘perfect’ holiday season getaway often have high expectations but as agents know, the later they book, the narrower the options get. Transat spokesperson Debbie Cabana says for last-minute getaways, clients “need to be flexible on mostly everything: arrival and departure dates, hotel and destination.”She adds: “What we always recommend for the peak periods of the year, like the Christmas break, is that clients who have a very specific idea of where they want to go should book quickly, because it’s a very popular period for South getaways, specifically around the New Year. And because of the great demand, hotel prices are usually at their highest during that time, so the whole idea of last-minute getaways can sometimes be tricky.”Transat’s daily flights to Punta Cana make for a lot of choice and flexibility in one of the D.R.’s most popular destinations. Cabana also notes that Cuba “is making a strong comeback after a more difficult season last year due to hurricanes”, and is always a great choice. “Finally, travellers shouldn’t forget about South and Central America, which are a favourite among our clients visiting friends and families. These destinations, which are getting more and more popular, are often great options to escape, because they’re a little further down South. This almost guarantees very warm weather during the Christmas break.”Bookings have been getting closer and closer in over the years, not just for the holidays but year-round, even with all the EBBs out there to incentive earlier bookings. The growing popularity of Black Friday promotions in Canada gave bookings for this winter and further out a much-needed kick start. Air Canada Vacations saw its highest-ever one-day sales volume on Nov. 23 – Black Friday – with a 300%+ increase over a typical day. Black Friday 2018 represented the highest single-day sales in the company’s 38-year history. Bookings came in for everything from beach destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico, to city breaks in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.Meanwhile Sunwing is expanding its flight network to keep up with demand from southwestern Ontario, with the launch of new service from Detroit, Michigan for the first time ever.Starting Jan. 20, 2019 and running until April 22, 2019 inclusive from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, the new flights will operate on Sundays to Punta Cana, and twice-weekly on Mondays and Fridays to Montego Bay. Travellers can book select vacation packages to both Sun destinations.“We are excited to be offering Canadians more convenient ways to travel south this winter with the addition of the new departure airport in Detroit, Michigan. This route is a great addition to the current weekly flight service out of London and Windsor and offers travellers in Southwestern Ontario a wider selection of vacation options,” says Andrew Dawson, President of Tour Operations for Sunwing Travel Group. For agents looking for space for clients for late December getaways, Sunwing is recommending both Punta Cana and Cancun. Suggested resorts include Royalton Riviera Cancun Resort and Spa, Royalton Blue Waters in Jamaica, Royalton White Sands Montego Bay, Royalton Negril Resort and Spa and Grand Memories Splash in the D.R. center_img Wednesday, December 12, 2018 Share << Previous PostNext Post >>last_img read more

Passengers will be refunded on 10 cancelled cruises says Voyages to Antiquity

first_img<< Previous PostNext Post >> Passengers will be refunded on 10 cancelled cruises, says Voyages to Antiquity Posted by Share TORONTO — Voyages to Antiquity has announced the cancellation of 10 cruises aboard the Aegean Odyssey this season to make time for repairs to the ship’s starboard engine.All guests affected by these cancellations are being contacted and will be provided with a full refund.Affected cruises are:May 2, 2019 – The Black Sea & Greek IslandsMay 13, 2019 – Classical Greece & Southern ItalyMay 23, 2019 – Renaissance Italy & Historic IslandsJune 4, 2019 – European ConnoisseurJune 18, 2019 – Land of the Midnight SunJuly 3, 2019 – Baltic Capitals & St PetersburgJuly 16, 2019 – The Norwegian FjordsJuly 30, 2019 – Iceland, Faroes & ShetlandsAugust 14, 2019 – The Three RiversAugust 26, 2019 – Mediterranean Odyssey(Grand Voyages containing any segment cruises listed are also affected)The company’s current Athens to Athens roundtrip Greek Island cruise, which departed Athens on April 26, has continued as planned.More news:  Universal enhances popular Harry Potter vacation package with new perksIn an official statement, the company said: “We are working closely with our trade partners and doing everything possible to minimize disruption. Voyages to Antiquity would like to apologize for the inconvenience these cancellations will cause to our guests. The mechanical issue experienced was unavoidable and unforeseeable.”The company went on to say that following its period in dry dock, Aegean Odyssey will be back in service in time to fulfill the remainder of its scheduled cruise timetable, starting with the Rome-Venice and associated future Grand Voyage itineraries departing Sept. 7, 2019.Voyages to Antiquity is sold in Canada through Exclusive Tours, part of Merit Travel Group.center_img Travelweek Group Wednesday, May 8, 2019 Tags: Aegean Odyssey, Cancellations, Voyages to Antiquitylast_img read more

What are the most popular summer destinations Contiki has the full list

first_imgWhat are the most popular summer destinations? Contiki has the full list Wednesday, May 22, 2019 Posted by Tags: Contiki, Summer Travelweek Group center_img TORONTO — Contiki has revealed the top seven places young Canadians will be heading off to this coming summer, from the Greek Islands and the very ends of Africa, to the Emerald Isle and sun-soaked Thailand.GREEK ISLANDSThese sun-kissed islands topped the list, with many millennials planning an island-hopping adventure to explore the region’s mythical tales, stunning streets, pristine waters and sun-bleached ruins. From getting lost in the narrow streets of Mykonos to eating gyros while watching the world-famous sunset in Oia, clients are guaranteed an unforgettable summer getaway.AFRICAThere are plenty of unforgettable moments to be had while visiting Africa. Young clients can spot lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and Cape buffalo (aka. The ‘Big 5’) at Kruger National Park in South Africa, or embark on a hot air balloon safari over the Masai Mara region of Kenya. Also not to be missed is meeting East African gorillas in Uganda, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and ‘glamping’ under the sparkling skies of the Serengeti in Tanzania.More news:  CIE Tours launches first-ever River Cruise CollectionIRELANDIreland has a plethora of great scenery, lively street festivals, whiskey and incredible food for young Canadians to enjoy during their summer. The Emerald Isle is filled with myths, legends and land of rolling greens, not to mention Game of Thrones-esque castles.ITALYFilled with irresistible food, amazing architecture, incredible art and stunning scenery, Italy never fails to impress visitors. Young Canadians can spend their summers in the art-filled cities of Rome, Venice and Florence, the wine region of Tuscany as well as Cinque Terre, Milan and Lake Como, each offering an abundance of local experiences.THAILANDThailand has become a favourite among young Canadians with many options for exploration. Whether it’s sipping sunset cocktails on beautiful Railay Beach, hunting for souvenirs at the Chiang Mai night bazaar, hitting Bangkok bars, browsing the Floating Market or becoming spiritual at Wat Arun, the adventures are endless when voyaging in this country. Contiki’s Island Hopping tours allow beachgoers the chance to sun-and-see it all.More news:  Direct Travel names Smith as Senior VP, Leisure Marketing, North AmericaSPAINSpain is home to inspiring architecture, mouth-watering food, and breathtaking beaches and countryside sights. Must-see stops include Barcelona and Seville, as well as the sun-soaked La Concha beach in San Sebastiàn.PERUPeru has an abundance of landmarks, ranging from the heights of the Andes to the depths of Canyon de Colca. Any Peru Panorama trek will be amazingly varied, whether clients ‘travel back in time’ at the Chachapoyan site of Kuelap, hit up a few Cusco restaurants or take on the Inca trail at Machu Picchu head on.For more information on Contiki’s adventures go to Share << Previous PostNext Post >>last_img read more

Analysis ObamaCastro handshake offers hope for USCuba ties

first_imgThe handshake between US President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela could provide an opening for an easing of ties between the Cold War foes, analysts say.Some however cautioned that the significance of the brief encounter in South Africa should not be exaggerated, noting that courteous gestures do not necessarily translate into policy changes after 50 years of enmity.“It’s extraordinarily symbolic, and this opportunity must not be missed. Now the next step is to start talking,” Cuban political scientist Esteban Morales told AFP.“What happened is a sign that the two countries are ready to negotiate.”Peter Schechter, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center in Washington, agreed but said the process could be a slow one.He said the gesture was “perhaps a telling sign” that Obama “may be willing to continue to implement small, incremental steps to engage with Cuba even if it comes with spending some political capital.”But he also emphasized that Obama had struck a “good balance” between openness and skepticism, by taking a swipe in his eulogy for Mandela at states like Cuba for claiming kinship with Mandela but eschewing his message of tolerance.“The handshake came with finger-wagging,” Schechter noted.The encounter at the stadium in Soweto between Obama and Castro involved the exchange of a few words, according to images broadcast on South African television.Deputy US national security advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters on Air Force One that the handshake was not “planned” and that Washington still had “grave concerns” about the human rights situation in Cuba and the continued detention of American Alan Gross.“The president’s focus was on honoring the legacy of Nelson Mandela,” Rhodes said.In Cuba, the official Granma newspaper carried the photo of Obama and Castro in its online edition, without comment.The government website also ran a photograph of the moment with the caption: “Obama greets Raul: May this image be the beginning of the end of the US aggressions against Cuba.”The United States and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since 1961, two years after Fidel Castro came to power in the Cuban revolution.Washington has imposed a strict embargo on the Communist-run island for a half-century, and Havana is on the US State Department’s list of sponsors of state terrorism along with Sudan, Iran and Syria.While Washington is incensed at the ongoing jailing of Gross, a State Department contractor who was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the state, Cuba has railed constantly over the conviction of the so-called “Cuban Five” on espionage charges in 2001.Nevertheless, Obama has sought to lower tensions since taking office in 2009, easing restrictions on visas, remittances and travel.Last month, speaking at a fundraiser at the home of a Cuban-American activist in Miami, Obama said: “We have to continue to update our policies” toward Havana.“Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born. So the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense,” he said.Arturo Perez-Levy, a professor at the University of Denver, said the importance of “a simple handshake must not be exaggerated,” recalling that former US leader Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro exchanged greetings in New York on the sidelines of a summit of world leaders in 2000.Frank Mora, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University, agreed.“We should not read too much into this handshake. I don’t think that it is a signal of rapprochement or a change in US politics nor a change in Cuba policy,” Mora told AFP.Analyst Jorge Gomez Barata said the Obama-Castro handshake was simply a result of “Mandela diplomacy” – and a testament to the example set by the anti-apartheid icon and South Africa’s first black president.“Mandela did not know that such a meeting was going to occur… But he most certainly cleared a path that allowed for the avoidance of confrontation and created the basis for such an important meeting.” Facebook Comments Related posts:Freedom eludes Cubans Cuba’s Raúl Castro takes a big chance on currency reform Fonseca, Martínez embody new breed of Cuban music Venezuela’s Maduro said to cancel U.S. trip over Cuban planelast_img read more

Recent rumblings from volcanoes in Central America not likely to affect Costa

first_imgRelated posts:Tourists pay up to $6,800 each to visit Costa Rica’s Isla del Coco National Park Turrialba Volcano erupts again, raining ash over San José Airbnb v. Uber: Sharing economy gets a mixed reception in Costa Rica VIDEO: Costa Rica’s Turrialba Volcano launches ash 800 meters into the sky Recent volcanic activity in El Salvador and Guatemala has Central American geologists keeping an eye on the region’s volcanoes, including Costa Rica’s Rincón de la Vieja.While Rincón de la Vieja and other Tico volcanoes have seen increased activity in recent years, geologists don’t foresee any immediate eruptions related to these giants.Smoke and ash spewing from the Chaparrastique Volcano after an “explosive eruption,” according to Celina Kattán, director of the Environmental Observatory, delayed air traffic over El Salvador on Dec. 29, 2013.Salvadoran authorities ordered the evacuation of some 500 residents.Guatemalan authorities reported that the Fuego Volcano erupted on Jan. 7, launching a column of smoke and ash into the air.Days later, on Jan. 11, Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano erupted, triggering the evacuation of nearby communities. Air traffic control there recommended precautions for aircraft flying nearby.Professor and investigator Eliecer Duarte of the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica noted that Costa Rica, along with its Central American neighbors, lies between the Cocos and Caribbean tectonic plates. But there’s no set “formula” for predicting volcanic activity, even if it takes place between the same plates.“We’re talking about a pretty broad area,” he said, noting the distance between Guatemala and Costa Rica – about 1,200 kilometers capital to capital.Duarte did say, however, that seismic activity elsewhere along plate lines could produce “instability.”Gino González, geologist with the National Seismological Network at the University of Costa Rica (UCR-RVS) agreed.González said that earthquakes along fault lines can trigger increased seismic and volcanic activity across the region, but there’s not necessarily any direct connection between volcanic activity in Guatemala and here.The UCR geologist said that volcanoes in Costa Rica are less likely to ooze lava, the way Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano does. Rather, Tico volcanoes build up pressure and suddenly erupt, making them “a little more dangerous.”One volcano that volcanologists have had an eye on in recent years is Rincón de la Vieja, a 2-kilometer tall volcano in Costa Rica’s northwestern Guanacaste province.After a decade of calm, the volcano has been increasingly active starting in 2011, according to a Jan. 14 report from UCR-RVS. After the 2012 Sámara earthquake that rocked Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, seismic activity continued to rise in the crater.UCR-RVS volcanologists plan to make more frequent trips to the crater during 2014 to monitor its activity, including hot mudflows, and increased underground magma flows that could warm the volcano’s turquoise-colored acidic lake, according to the report.The last time Costa Rica saw a major eruption was Rincón de la Vieja in 1996, González said.Volcano tourism is one of Costa Rica’s major attractions.Arenal Volcano, a  cone volcano near La Fortuna, Alajuela, was once one of the region’s most active volcanoes, but has been slumbering since 2010. The volcano might not be as dramatic as it once was, but its picturesque peak continues to draw visitors.At least the sleepy giant doesn’t delay anyone’s flight home.AFP contributed to this report Facebook Commentslast_img read more

Poás Volcano spews gas and water during 3 phreatic eruptions

first_imgRelated posts:Increased phreatic activity reported at Costa Rica’s Rincón de la Vieja Volcano TIMELINE: A recent volcanic history of Costa Rica Turrialba Volcano erupts again, raining ash over San José UPDATE: Costa Rica’s Turrialba Volcano erupts incandescent material Costa Rica’s Poás Volcano let loose on Wednesday, spewing gas and water more than 300 feet into the air, theVolcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica (OVSICORI) reported. Seismologists registered three consecutive phreatic eruptions starting at 2:45 p.m. They lasted 3 minutes.According to an OVSICORI press release, phreatic eruptions, while common, cannot be predicted with precision, and they can pose a danger to volcanologists who work close to the crater lake. Debris is rarely a concern, but living things close to the crater lake can be suffocated by the  gas-saturated cloud emitted from the volcano after an eruption.Volcanologists say they have occurred sporadically since 2006 and could continue for several more years.Poás is located a short drive from the Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela. (Via Facebook) Facebook Commentslast_img read more

Delays and blunders A timeline of the Jairo Mora murder trial in

first_img#JairoMora graffiti outside of the Limón court where seven men were absolved for the environmentalist’s murder— Lindsay Fendt (@LEFendt) January 26, 2015 A timeline of failure:Oct. 27, 2014, DELAY: The criminal court in the coastal city of Limón – not far from where Jairo Mora was murdered in May 2013 – convenes for trial, but defendant Ernesto Centeno does not appear, citing an illness. However, no one in the court seems to know what illness he has, or how severe it is. After two days, the court establishes that Centeno has chicken pox and delays the trial’s opening by one week.Nov. 3, 2014: The trial begins with prosecutors’ opening arguments.Nov. 7, 2014, EXCLUDED EVIDENCE: The court hears testimony from a protected witness as well as recorded testimony from the four foreign volunteers – three from the U.S., one from Spain – who were kidnapped along with Mora on the night of his murder. Judges block one of the victims, a Spanish veterinarian, from testifying in court because they already had a recorded statement from the witness taken shortly after the murder. However, there is confusion over exactly why this action was taken, and defense attorneys would later use it to claim the witnesses were unable to identify the suspects in court.Nov. 24, 2014: Defendants allegedly attack a courthouse guard in what is portrayed as a possible escape attempt.Nov. 25, 2014, DELAY: A scheduling conflict with defense attorneys causes a week-long delay of testimony by Mora’s mother, Fernanda Sandoval. Sandoval and Mora’s father, Rafael Mora, eventually became so disheartened by continuous delays that they petitioned the court to speed up the process. The couple, who are of limited financial means, had been required to be present in court almost every day since the trial’s start, entailing a three-hour trip each way from their small plot of land in Gandoca to the courthouse in Limón. By the end of the trial, the two were visibly exhausted, both emotionally and physically. Now, they will face a lengthy appeals process. A court worker unloads evidence before judges during a trial for seven men accused of murdering 26-year-old sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora in 2013. Lindsay Fendt/The Tico TimesDec. 3, 2014, MISPLACED EVIDENCE: A master disc containing recordings of telephone conversations between the defendants allegedly discussing Mora’s murder – which we reported on in our September 2013 investigation – are “misplaced” and can’t be presented at trial. The disc was never found, but backups of the recordings were burned to a new disk. Locating the files delayed the trial by two days.Dec. 5, 2014, MISSED DEADLINE: The trial was originally scheduled to end by Dec. 5, but judges are forced to extend proceedings because of the delays. They set a new deadline for Jan. 16.Dec. 8, 2014, DELAY: Landslides along the Route 32 restrict travel to Limón from San José, further delaying the trial.Dec. 16-17, 2014, DELAY: Rodrigo Araya, the attorney representing Jairo Mora’s family who argued the family’s civil case, misses court due to an illness and a pre-scheduled vacation.Jan. 8, 2015, DELAY: Trial resumes following holiday recess. Mora’s family petitions the court to speed up the trial, but their complaint is denied, and Araya is dismissed from the proceedings due to several absences. The court postpones arguments for one day.Jan. 9, 2015,  LOST EVIDENCE: Prosecutors present physical evidence to the court, but a bag supposedly containing three bottles of cologne comes out of the evidence room with only one bottle. The cologne was used during the investigation to identify one of the suspects, Donald Salmón. Without the rest of the cologne confiscated and logged during the investigation, judges rule the evidence as inadmissible.Jan. 13, 2015, EXCLUDED EVIDENCE: The court tosses a disc containing audio of telephone conversations because prosecutors failed to officially enter it as evidence at the beginning of the trial. Judges also rule inadmissible another disc and transcripts of the conversations because a preliminary court judge failed to filter out impertinent conversations, which violates the right to privacy of the defendants and others with whom they had conversations.Jan. 16, 2015, MISSED DEADLINE: Judges extend the trial indefinitely until a verdict is reached. A crime scene photo obtained by The Tico Times in September 2013 shows marks in the sand where conservationist Jairo Mora was dragged behind a car, suffocating him. The Tico TimesJan. 19, 2015, EXCLUDED EVIDENCE: Judges throw out the Judicial Investigation Police’s (OIJ) telecommunications investigation. The telephone evidence used cellphone towers to geolocate the suspects at the crime scene at the time of Mora’s murder and was seen as the crux of the investigation. Judges said that aspect of the investigation was never submitted for judicial review, and the OIJ failed to prove the suspects were physically in possession of the phones at the time of the crime. “How many of us have cellphones that we loan out to one, two, three people?” one of the judges asked.Jan. 22, 2015: The defense team delivers closing arguments and points out that prosecutors failed to identify the defendants as the perpetrators of the crime. The defense also calls the testimony of several of the prosecutors’ witnesses “unreliable,” and again argues that they were unable to recognize the suspects before the court. As an example, one OIJ agent testified that Mora had been dragged up to a kilometer behind the perpetrators’ car on the beach, but crime scene photos showed he was dragged only 20 meters.Jan. 26, 2015: Judges deliver a not-guilty verdict for all seven defendants (although four were convicted in a separate crime on the same beach), stating that too much reasonable doubt existed to convict. In her closing explanation, a visibly angry Judge Yolanda Alvarado admonished prosecutors and the OIJ, citing fundamental and troubling problems with the investigation and the prosecution’s presentation as the key reasons they could not reach a guilty verdict. Related posts:NOT GUILTY: 7 men acquitted of murder of Costa Rica sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora Faced with delays and the mishandling of evidence, prosecutors deliver closing arguments in Jairo Mora murder trial Prosecutors ask for maximum sentences for defendants in Jairo Mora murder trial United Nations, environmental groups condemn verdict in Jairo Mora murder case Monday morning, a court in the Caribbean coastal city of Limónacquitted seven men accused of the murder of 26-year-old Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora. The trial’s three-judge panel said there was too much reasonable doubt in the case to convict, and in their post-trial explanation, judges blasted the Prosecutor’s Office and Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) for shamefully botching the investigation and trial proceedings.From its outset, the Jairo Mora murder trial – perhaps one of the most globally monitored Costa Rican trials in recent history – was fraught with egregious delays and mistakes. Here is a timeline of the errors and mishaps that – in the judges’ own words – left no other choice but a not-guilty verdict for all seven defendants.Keep in mind the case is far from over, and a lengthy appeals process is expected. The defendants could be retried, although given warnings by the judges in this case, that could be a long shot. Costa Rican lawmakers and environmentalists say they plan to take action to hold both directors of the Prosecutor’s Office and the OIJ accountable for the mess-up, which already has stained Costa Rica’s carefully crafted eco-friendly reputation. The case also has done nothing but harm to the public perception of the country’s judicial system, which already had been criticized as weak and incompetent.For an in-depth look at the investigation, see our story, “Why Jairo died,” published in September 2013. There you can read for yourself whether or not the cops caught the right men. Facebook Commentslast_img read more

After ban Mexicos circus animals await new homes

first_imgRelated posts:Drivers: Slow down and help reduce wildlife deaths on highways, says university study New traffic signs aim to reduce wildlife deaths on Costa Rica’s roads Animal abuse reports on the rise President Solís signs new Animal Welfare Law CHIMALHUACÁN, México — “Utter devastation remains,” Armando Cedeño said, on his circus’ stage without lights or fanfare, while the stars of the show, seven Bengal tigers, await in their cages the uncertain destiny set for them by a new law prohibiting their presence in circus shows in Mexico.As of Wednesday, circuses can only keep animals if they have the proper permits and keep them in good living conditions, but they cannot feature in shows. Otherwise, authorities will seize them.“I never thought it would end like this,” said Junior, the tiger tamer of the Cedeño circus, as workers put away tents in Chimalhuacán, outside Mexico City.One of the tigers, “Whiskers,” stares blankly at the six kilograms of chicken in his two-by-two meter cage, while “Samurai” licks his paws.Junior, who goes by his circus name, fears that leaving the circus will be a “shock” for the tigers, which are “used to people, music and applause.” As for Junior himself, he has “no idea” what he will do for work from now on.Some 200 circuses have wild animals, the environment ministry said. While nearly 1,100 animals were declared in 2014, only 511 have been counted this year.Armando Cedeño, the owner of the circus in Chimalhuacán and president of the industry’s national union, estimates that there are likely about 4,000 animals.Some 70 circuses have already gone bankrupt while 2,000 workers have lost their jobs, he said, staring at his tigers, the main attraction for his shows.Stroking the head of one tiger, Cedeño said the government has not fulfilled its promise to find new safe havens for the animals in zoos, foundations or the homes of collectors in Mexico and abroad.But deputy environment minister Rafael Pacchiano countered that circus owners have not requested any help from the authorities to relocate the animals.Circuses that still use animals for their shows will be fined more than $250,000, said Guillermo Haro, the federal environmental protection prosecutor.Mutilated bearThe law is the brainchild of the Green Party, which promoted the legislation with a media blitz that denounced alleged cases of animal abuse.In a prominent case last year, a circus in the eastern state of Yucatán was fined more than $50,000 after it removed the lower jaw of its black bear, Invictus.The Green Party argues that the law “sets a precedent for the respect and protection of animals.”But Leonora Esquivel, co-founder of the international animal welfare group AnimaNaturalis, said the law is limited because it does not apply to cock fights, bullfights and shows with marine animals.While wild animals will no longer feature in circuses, Esquivel said Mexico needs to implement a new model for zoos to turn them into “fauna recovery centers.”A critic of the law, Rubén Escamilla, a lawmaker from the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, said the legislation offers no financial compensation to circus owners.“There’s a clear violation of private property,” Escamilla said.Cedeño said circus owners will launch legal bids to counter what they consider a “discriminatory” law that is based on “false propaganda.”Final showThe Cedeño Brothers held their final show with animals on Monday.“Don’t take the animals away!” the crowd shouted, after the tigers formed a pyramid and jumped through a fiery ring.“It’s pure grief,” Cedeño said, wearing boots covered in dirt at the muddy circus grounds.“Don’t stop coming to the circus even though we no longer have tigers. Don’t let us die,” he said before shutting himself inside his caravan. Facebook Commentslast_img read more

TexasCosta Rica couple helps Cartago children learn English

first_imgRelated posts:US Embassy in San José celebrates Fourth of July, tips hat to Solís White House names Democratic donor as nominee for ambassador to Costa Rica US-Costa Rican man preyed on elderly in million-dollar sweepstakes fraud Nicaragua pleads with US to call off Texas execution English is a universal language in our transnational world; proficiency in English can be the key to a better future, a better job or a scholarship to study abroad.Although English is a required subject in Costa Rican schools, few students graduate with the proficiency and confidence needed to speak it well. Tommy Quinn and Xinia Quirós, Costa Ricans living in Texas, know this well, so they started the Spanglish Foundation to help children in grade school get a jump start on mastering English.Both Quinn and Quirós know what it’s like to learn a new language. Quinn is from Texas but moved to Costa Rica with his Tica mother when he was nine. While he spoke Spanish before the move, he struggled with the switch to full-time Spanish. Quirós made the reverse journey: she was born in Costa Rica, but a family business took her to Texas, where she had to deal with English every day.“She is still learning,” says husband Quinn. Although they speak Spanish at home, because it’s more comfortable, they need English in their business, and try to spend time each day speaking only English.The Spanglish Foundation is their way of paving the road to a better future for kids from their home area.Because of their own backgrounds in Cartago, they’ve started with four schools in that area, with 150 fifth and sixth graders divided into groups of 15.“We chose that age level so that they can finish up the year-and-a-half program before graduating” from primary school, explained Didier Zúñiga who coordinates the program here.  Spanglish is taught in Cervantes, Layola, Quircot and Coris, rural areas near Cartago where students often lack opportunities or help with studies. Students are chosen based on their good grades and attendance records and their desire to learn.The program uses the “Side by Side” series from the United States, a course designed for learning English as a second language. Teachers are English graduates from the University of Costa Rica or the National University, and have experience in English through visits or studies in the United States.Lessons are conducted in English from the minute the class begins. In Cervantes, Karin Pereira uses audiovisuals, computer games and Show and Tell to get students’ English flowing, and all conversation is English. The children, who had been studying with her for ten months during our visit, understood her instructions and answered questions in English. If a student needs help, she gives it – in English.“I want them to enjoy class. The parents want them to learn English. This is an opportunity for them,” she explained, adding that because Cartago attracts its share of tourists, students have access to foreign-language signs, materials and visitors.  At the end of the course, in December, she will test them on reading, writing, listening and speaking.In Layola the class is preparing for an English holiday party. After six months of classes they are able to give presentations with simple sentences and follow their teacher’s instructions.The final measure of their English skills will be the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), a universally acknowledged assessment for those who plan to use their English to work, study or live in English-speaking countries.“We want to expand the program,” says Didier. “We have requests from other schools, but we need resources to cover the costs. Teachers donate much of their time and equipment, and the program is free for the children. We need company and individual donations to provide more materials and pay teachers better, and include more students.”A donation of $25 will sponsor a child for one month, paying for books, notebooks and pencils and teachers. A donation of $1,000 will help a group of fifteen students for six months.Information on donating in Costa Rica or in the United States is available at previous “Giving Back” stories here.“Giving Back” is an occasional series that seeks to draw attention to the work of nonprofits, community organizations and other donation-based initiatives around the country. Nominations for the series can be sent to us at  Facebook Commentslast_img read more

Radio Hit announces new plans for 2016

first_imgThe radio station will also present a variety of podcasts, from literary to culinary to shows featuring musician Santos and the Costa Rica Space Program.“We will be having the first Radio Hit music Festival in March with an international artist, as well as giras outside of San José and in high schools to bring music to other parts of the country where we’ve never been before,” Fúster stated.The station’s Fiesta de la Alegría and fifth anniversary bash, which took place Dec. 3 at the Hoxton Pub in Los Yoses, San José, showcased Costa Rican bands Bird & Fish, Síndrome de Estocolmo, Magpie Jay, and Funka. Organizers gathered donations of clothing during the event for people in need in San José this Christmas, and local clothing store Chub&Riv sold T-shirts.For more, tune in to Radio Hit, 104.7 FM, or follow the station’s Facebook page. Síndrome de Estocolmo was another performer at the celebration. Alberto Font/The Tico Times Facebook Comments Radio Hit (104.7 FM) celebrated its successful 2015 with a year-end bash – and announced plans for what could be an even bigger 2016.The radio station is relaunching its image and taking its programming in a number of new directions.“In January we will be releasing our new web platform,” Radio Hit broadcaster Michelle Fúster told The Tico Times in a phone interview. “The new platform will include various things such as weekly Spotify playlists created by us, guests and other thematic playlists. In February we’ll feature new programs including Costa Rican music and Spanish music.” Radio Hit celebrated its fifth anniversary on Dec. 3. Alberto Font/The Tico Times Related posts:Costa Rican band 424 caps off year with new single, video and concert PHOTOS: Sights and sounds of Costa Rica’s first Nrmal Festival PHOTOS: Zópilot! blows everyone away with farewell show at San José’s Cine Magaly US panel forces online radio services like Pandora to pay more to stream songslast_img read more

Venezuela legislature suspends session voided by court

first_imgRelated posts:Maduro under pressure as Venezuela opposition claims big win Venezuela court blocks a defiant opposition Costa Rican lawmakers urge political asylum for Venezuela opposition Oil-rich Venezuela votes amid tense economic crisis CARACAS — Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature suspended its session Tuesday after the Supreme Court declared it null and void on grounds that the new speaker defied the judiciary by swearing in three banned lawmakers.Speaker Henry Ramos Allup, a fiery opponent of President Nicolás Maduro, declared the National Assembly lacked a quorum and suspended its session until Wednesday morning.Legislative sources said the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) was consulting its lawyers to decide how to respond to the ruling by the Supreme Court, which MUD accuses of pro-Maduro bias.The opposition had initially vowed to press ahead with its session in defiance of the court’s decision.The court ruled Monday that all actions taken by the current National Assembly are invalid because it includes the three lawmakers from Amazonas state, where an investigation is under way into alleged vote-buying in last month’s legislative elections.The opposition won the polls in a landslide, triggering a crisis for Maduro and the “revolution” launched by his late mentor Hugo Chávez in 1999.But the suspension of the three lawmakers’ inauguration threatens to strip MUD of the powerful two-thirds majority it had vowed to use to force Maduro from power within six months.Venezuela, the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, has sunk ever deeper into economic crisis as crude prices have plunged in recent months.A deep recession and what analysts say is the world’s highest inflation rate have fueled discontent with Maduro, whose term runs until 2019. Facebook Commentslast_img read more

Lawmakers threaten to filibuster animal welfare bill with more than 200 motions

first_imgRelated posts:New cases of animal abuse spark criticism of President Solís, lawmakers President Solís signs new Animal Welfare Law Costa Rica animal welfare bill gains momentum as horrifying abuse cases circulate on social media Animal Welfare Bill could be discussed in Legislative Assembly this week At the start of his term in 2014, President Luis Guillermo Solís promised that getting legislation passed to improve animal welfare in Costa Rica would be a priority for his administration. But a bill to do just that has stalled for over a year in the Legislative Assembly, where it hasn’t even been brought up for a vote in the Environmental Commission.That bill now faces further challenges, as last week several legislators, including the National Liberation Party’s Juan Marín and Aracelly Segura and the Broad Front Party’s Suray Carrillo, demanded that several articles be removed because they would hurt farmers or end entertainment events such as Tico bullfighting, rodeos and horse parades, according to the lawmakers.Marín said that if their demands are not met, the group of lawmakers would file “more than 200 motions” to obstruct the bill’s approval. He said the use of animals in commercial activities or public events already is covered by laws from other public agencies such as the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry and the National Animal Health Service.“We tried to amend the bill during its drafting, but we haven’t had any support,” Marín said. “So, we’re going to block it by using any available procedure authorized by legislative regulations, including filing all those motions.”Commission member Marcela Guerrero from the ruling Citizen Action Party stood firm on the regulation of farm animals, saying at last week’s commission meeting that it proposed “to punish abuse against all kinds of animals, not only pets.”Guerrero said she is willing to negotiate, but the terms proposed by the PLN and the FA are “complicated.”Several articles over the past year have been modified following discussion and criticism by industry groups such as the Agriculture and Agribusiness Chamber, and pork and cattle producers.A work in progressThe original drafting of the bill proposed penalties of up to six years in prison for those found guilty of abusing or killing an animal. The current draft now sets separate penalties for abuse and death.In abuse cases, the proposed maximum sentence of two years was replaced by a small fine, the equivalent of about $700.The new article also describes abuse as any action affecting an animal’s health, including the loss or disabling of a body organ. It would sanction those who promote animal fights, perform sexual acts on animals or practices vivisection on them with purposes not related to scientific research.For those who intentionally cause the death of an animal, the draft bill currently stipulates a maximum sentence of three years in prison.The proposal excludes from sanctions those who use animals in productive activities such as fishing, aquaculture, livestock and veterinary practices. It also allows under a number of regulations Tico bullfighting, horse parades and other traditional events in which animals participate.Lawmakers added an article on “alternative punishment” stating that judges would have the flexibility to replace sanctions with community service for first-time offenders.Guerrero said lawmakers’ opposition to the current draft is unjustified because it includes provisions that exclude sanctions on the use of animals in farming and other economic activities. She also said that a lack of consensus in the commission could result in a decision to send the bill for discussion and approval directly to the full Assembly.The Broad Front Party’s Ligia Fallas also opposes the bill in its current form, but for different reasons: She thinks the sanctions are not severe enough.Fallas criticized Marín and other lawmakers for attempting to remove articles to punish animal torture and set prison sentences.“The current draft says, for example, that you can denounce and prosecute a person who abuses or tortures an animal only if there is a visible mark. So what happens when torture or abuse does not leave marks?” she said.Fallas also lamented that bullfights and other similar events “where torture systematically occurs” are now excluded from sanctions.The lawmaker filed a motion to include torture as a crime that would be punished with prison sentences ranging from 6 months to two years. The proposal aims to sanction “anyone who causes suffering, pain or prolonged agony to an animal.”The legislator on Feb. 22 will file, in a public event, a bill aimed at recognizing “animals’ sentience,” or “their capacity to feel.”Citizen actionDuring his presidential campaign, President Solís promised to prioritize the approval of Bill #18,298, but he failed to include it in the Legislative Assembly’s agenda during his first year in office.In November 2014, he pledged to include the animal welfare bill in the Assembly’s agenda for 2015, a promise to animal rights advocates who staged marches and public demonstrations. Solís complied later in December, but he then tabled the bill in February in exchange for a bill to build a new highway between San José and the Alajuela canton of San Ramón.The current lack of progress in the legislative commission is again prompting reaction from citizen advocacy groups who plan demonstrations in coming days to pressure lawmakers.The first group to protest will be “Somos Hermanos Animalistas” (“We are Pro-Animals”), who will hold a demonstration in front of the Legislative Assembly in downtown San José, on Wednesday at 3 p.m.Cases of animal abuse in Costa Rica are on the rise. The National Animal Health Service in early December reported that abuse complaints already had surpassed by 15 percent the number registered in 2014. Facebook Commentslast_img read more

Costa Rica nearing record rainfall for May

first_imgForecastThe IMN report states that the tropical wave on Monday “brought strong nuclei of clouds mainly along the coastal areas of the Caribbean region and in the northern region,” and will increase morning showers in those areas. The mountainous areas of both regions, as well as the Pacific region and Central Valley, will also see heavy showers in the afternoons and evenings.Naranjo said rainy conditions will gradually begin to subside in coming days, with scattered showers rather than baldazos.“In approximately one week, showers will return to the normal patterns for the rainy season, with hot and cloudy mornings and short but intense showers in the afternoons,” he said.The IMN expects an influence over the country of an El Niño weather phenomenon during the second half of the year.“This will prompt a decrease in precipitation levels, primarily in the Central and Northern Pacific regions,” Naranjo said. Facebook Comments Los Yoses #traficocr #lluvia Foto: @IvoRodZam— David Roverssi (@droverssi11) May 29, 2017 May will end with a rainfall surplus that beat all forecasts. Precipitation levels so far this month are close to breaking 15 years of rainfall records, the National Meteorological Institute (IMN) reported Monday.IMN meteorologist Juan Diego Naranjo said in a report on Monday morning that May 2017 has been the wettest since May 2002.  It already passed rainfall levels from May 2008, the year Costa Rica faced increased downpours due to the influence here of Tropical Storm Alma.Cartago and Guanacaste are the provinces with the highest precipitation levels this month. Both already surpassed records from 2002, the IMN reported, and San José is ready to break those records as well. The IMN on Monday reported a total of 450 millimeters for the month in the capital; total rainfall there in May 2008 was 496 millimeters.Thunderstorms during the current rainy season also are approaching a record for lightning, with a total — as of Friday — of just over 338,000 occurrences, according to the IMN.The National Emergency Commission (CNE) reported that, as of Monday, there are 70 people who have been evacuated to shelters in Tilarán in Guanacaste, and in Coronado, north of San José. The CNE issued a Yellow — Preventive — Alert for Tilarán last week following landslides in various areas caused by an increase in rains from tropical waves number five and six of the year.The seventh tropical wave is to blame for the heavy showers over most of Costa Rica at the time of publication of this article. The wave will continue influencing rainfall patterns for a few more days, the IMN said. Heavy showers on Monday afternoon flooded various streets and caused problems for motorists and pedestrians in San José and Heredia.center_img Related posts:El Niño heat expected to last through May Tropical wave increases rains over Costa Rica Landslides block roads, cause losses at farms in Tilarán Low rainfall in Central Valley, northern regions; La Niña still a no-showlast_img read more

Venezuela on edge as Maduro unveils raft of economic reforms

first_imgRelated posts:Venezuela opposition drops deputies to break deadlock Venezuela pro-government political figure shot dead Venezuelan protests seek Maduro’s ouster Venezuelans fume after Nicolas Maduro filmed dining with celebrity chef ‘Salt Bae’ in Turkey CARACAS, Venezuela—Uncertainty reigned in Venezuela on Saturday after President Nicolas Maduro unveiled a major economic reform plan aimed at halting the spiraling hyperinflation that has thrown the oil-rich, cash-poor South American country into chaos.Ahead of a major currency overhaul on Monday, when Caracas will start issuing new banknotes on Monday after slashing five zeroes off the crippled bolivar, Maduro detailed other measures he hopes will pull Venezuela out of crisis.Those measures—revealed in a speech to the nation late Friday—include a massive minimum wage hike, the fifth so far this year.But analysts say the radical overhaul could only serve to make matters worse.“There will be a lot of confusion in the next few days, for consumers and the private sector,” said the director of the Ecoanalitica consultancy, Asdrubal Oliveros.“It’s a chaotic scenario.”The embattled Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, said the country needed to show “fiscal discipline” and stop the excessive money printing that has been regular in recent years.The new currency, the sovereign bolivar—to distinguish from the current, and ironically named, strong bolivar—will be anchored to the country’s widely discredited cryptocurrency, the petro. Handout picture released by the Venezuelan Presidency showing President Nicolas Maduro presenting fresh currency in the framework of new economic measures, in August 2018. AFP Photo / Venezuelan PresidencyEach petro will be worth about $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuela’s oil. In the new currency, that will be 3,600 sovereign bolivars—signaling a massive devaluation.In turn, the minimum wage will be fixed at half a petro (1,800 sovereign bolivars), starting Monday. That is about $28—more than 34 times the previous level of less than a dollar at the prevailing black market rate.Maduro also said the country would have one fluctuating official exchange rate, also anchored to the petro, without saying what the starting level would be.As it stands, the monthly minimum wage—devastated by inflation and the aggressive devaluation of the bolivar—is still not enough to buy a kilo of meat.‘Plots’The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will hit a staggering one million percent this year in Venezuela—now in a fourth year of recession, hamstrung by shortages of basic goods, and crippled by paralyzed public services.Maduro blames the country’s financial woes on opposition “plots” and American sanctions—but admits that the government will “learn as we go along” when it comes to the currency redenomination.Electronic transactions are set to be suspended from Sunday to facilitate the introduction of the new notes.Oil production accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s revenue — but that has slumped to a 30-year low of 1.4 million barrels a day, compared to its record high of 3.2 million 10 years ago. A customer shows Bolivar bills while at a gas station in Caracas where people queuing for petrol on August 17, 2018. AFP Photo / Federico ParraThe fiscal deficit is almost 20 percent of GDP while Venezuela struggles with an external debt of $150 billion.Venezuela launched the petro in a bid for liquidity to try to circumvent US sanctions that have all but stamped out international financing.But there’s a good reason the redenomination hasn’t generated renewed hope or investor confidence: Venezuela has done this before.Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez stripped three zeroes off the bolivar in 2008, but that failed to prevent hyperinflation.Oliveros warned that the new bank notes will crumble “within a few months” if hyperinflation is not brought under control.According to economist Jean Paul Leidenz, Venezuela is trying to emulate Brazil, which replaced its old cruzeiro currency with the real in the 1990s after the former was destroyed by hyperinflation.But he said that will not work because of the government’s lack of fiscal discipline and financing.Cryptocurrency confusion Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro(C) speaks in front of a computer used to mine crypto currency Ethereum at the International Science and Technology Fair (FITEC) in Caracas on December 3, 2017. AFP Photo / Venezuelan PresidencyCryptocurrency rating site has branded the petro a “scam,” while the US has banned its nationals from trading in it.“Anchoring the bolivar to the petro is anchoring it to nothing,” said economist Luis Vicente Leon, director at polling organization Datanalisis.Right from the outset, it has not been clear how the petro would operate, nor what being backed by oil actually means.Maduro’s government is desperately grasping at straws to try to fix the country’s economic meltdown.Earlier this week, he announced a curb on heavily subsidized fuel in a bid to prevent oil being smuggled to other countries.Subsidies would only be available to citizens registering their vehicles for a “fatherland card” — which the opposition has decried as a mechanism to exert social control over opponents.Fuel subsidies have cost Venezuela $10 billion since 2012, according to oil analyst Luis Oliveros, but without them, most people would not be able to buy fuel. 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How to become a positive leader before 2019 – at Costa Ricas

first_imgRelated posts:Positive Leadership workshop at UPEACE in February NASA dream comes true for Costa Rican teens Nicoya Peninsula from the inside: Five hidden beaches Fishing for the next generation in Quepos When was the last time you invested in your own professional and personal development? With increasing demands on our time and energy, it’s often difficult to find a good time to put work on hold for a few days. However, just as we take time out of the day to sleep since we know we need rest to be effective, it’s equally important to make time every year for self-renewal.The University for Peace’s Centre for Executive Education might be able to help you take that needed pause to self-reflect, learn, network, and renew your energy before 2019 begins. Held at the University for Peace’s idyllic campus a few kilometers from Ciudad Colon, the Centre is offering a three-day Positive Leadership workshop from December 6-8 (Thursday through Saturday). Courtesy of the University for PeaceThe workshop will bring together a diverse group of participants, including local nationals as well as expats living in Costa Rica. It’s an intense experience, covering a range of topics from unpacking “happiness,” drawing from recent research in the field of positive psychology, to reflecting on how happiness relates to leadership, purpose, and awareness of our own strengths. The course looks at both self-leadership as well as leadership in the organizations we are part of.The participants also reflect on “failures” and emerge with a new perspective on these setbacks that everyone experiences.“We all experience self-doubt that holds us back from achieving our potential. Environments that allow us to feel comfortable being vulnerable, share one’s ‘failures’ and then reflect on what one learnt are invaluable!”, reflects Mohit Mukherjee, a Harvard Education Graduate who founded the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education 12 years ago. Courtesy of the University for PeaceIn the words of Diego Lineiro, a recent participant from a multinational company in Costa Rica, “The workshop is not an investment, it’s a gift for your mind and your soul. This is not just another workshop, it’s the beginning of a journey. We were not a group, but a team in all aspects.”So, as the year winds down, the big question is: “Are you ready to invest in yourself before the end of 2018?” If your answer is ‘yes’, the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education looks forward to having you join a group of motivated, fellow Positive Leaders from December 6 -8th .Note: If timing does not work, the Centre will be holding the next Positive Leadership workshop at the end of February 2019.To sign up, please e-mail the Centre’s Program Specialist, Esmeralda Bolaños at For more info, visit the workshop website at story was sponsored by the University for Peace. To sponsor a story about your upcoming event, contact Courtesy of the University for Peace Facebook Commentslast_img read more

Punk band arrest at heart of Russia church feud

first_img Comments   Share   Meghan McCain to release audiobook on conservatism, family Think Tank analyzes the second round of Democratic debates Men’s health affects baby’s health too New high school in Mesa lets students pick career paths Roman Dobrokhotov was on his way to Christ the Savior Cathedral, Russia’s biggest church, to protest against the arrest of members of female punk rock band Pussy Riot. They were jailed in early March for belting out an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in front of the church’s gilded altar wearing garishly colored balaclavas.The church’s leader, Patriarch Kirill, cried blasphemy. Critics claimed church-state collusion was keeping the women locked up.Many say Putin, who returned to the presidency last week, has used the church as a potent tool in his command structure, allowing it to amass vast riches in return for unquestioning support of his policies and spiritual blessing for his leadership.For more than a millennium, the church helped cement Russia’s identity and culture in times of foreign invasions and political upheaval _ and that legacy remains strong in the hearts of millions of Russians.Under the atheist Soviet regime, the church suffered persecution, with tens of thousands of its faithful purged, jailed or executed. The 1991 fall of communism opened the way for a renaissance that many celebrated as bringing Russia back to its spiritual roots. Many non-religious Russians found the prank tactless, but were shocked by the arrest and possible punishment.“They should have gotten those girls out of the church _ and left it at that,” said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Russia’s most prominent human rights activist who considers herself non-practicing Orthodox.(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) Sponsored Stories More Valley freeways to be closed this weekend for improvements Associated PressMOSCOW (AP) – The skinny dissident is thrown headfirst into a police van by camouflage-clad officers. Nearby, a dozen bearded men bearing Russian Orthodox crosses and wearing skull-and-crossbones T-shirts cheer on the cops.It’s the latest flare-up in a growing feud pitting supporters of the influential church, which sees itself as the nation’s spiritual guide, against opponents who say the church has sold out to Vladimir Putin _ becoming an arm of his regime more interested in gold than souls. But resentment slowly grew over the perception that church leaders were becoming Kremlin stooges.Critics said slathering gold-leaf on church domes was ostentation shameful for a country suffering through the hard times of the Boris Yeltsin years. The church has acknowledged that it ran businesses dealing in alcohol, tobacco and oil, and operated jewelry stores and organic farms, to raise money for restoration of churches and monasteries and education of priests.Suspicions grew further under Putin.The church’s backing for the Kremlin became so fawning that it consecrated new nuclear missiles as “Russia’s guardian angels” and urged young Russians to volunteer for military service in Chechnya. Shortly before the Pussy Riot escapade, Kirill met with Putin and praised his two presidential terms as “God’s miracle.” In return, Putin said that “the state still owes much to the Church.”The band said it performed its “punk prayer” inside the cathedral on Feb. 21 to protest Putin’s return to the Kremlin. They thrashed their heads and shouted: “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away!”Three members were charged with hooliganism and face up to seven years in jail _ severe even by the standards of a government notorious for crackdowns on dissent. Despite the growing criticism over perceived sins past and present, there’s no questioning the church’s influence over Russian society.The church claims 100 million Russians in its flock _ more than three-quarters of the nation’s population _ though polls suggest that less than 5 percent of them are devout churchgoers. More than a spiritual guide, many Russians look to the church as a symbol of their identity.Some believers applaud the Pussy Riot arrest.“It’s very good that they were jailed, because otherwise some fanatics would simply tear them apart,” said Natalya Dolina, a 55-year-old historian and churchgoer from Moscow. “They soiled a church; they fouled icons that are dear to many. They are devoid of talent; they just latch onto a trend.”But believers such as Lidya Moniava, who manages children’s hospices at a charity fund in Moscow, asked Kirill in a web-posted plea to forgive the pranksters and facilitate their release _ and thousands joined her petition.A Church spokesman said, however, that the Church will forgive the punk rockers only if they “repent and change their lives.”Several Orthodox priests declined to be interviewed for this story, saying they feared reprimands or were not allowed contact with a non-Russian news agency. Protesters see Kirill’s influence in the harsh treatment. The bearded patriarch in a recent sermon described the punk performance as “devilish mockery” and part of a broader assault by “enemy forces” on the church.The church maintains that desecration of icons and other acts of vandalism have become more frequent since the punk protest. As the patriarch led a procession around the cathedral, priests carried a crucifix and an icon that had been damaged in attacks elsewhere in Russia this spring.Kirill himself is a focus of the growing opposition to the church.The patriarch’s reputation has been tarnished by a pair of scandals involving a (EURO)30,000 ($38,832) Breguet watch he was seen wearing and a court case in which he sought 20 million rubles ($630,000) from a cancer-stricken neighbor _ despite his monastic vows not to have any worldly possessions while serving the church.And just as Putin is supported by gangs of youth thugs who intimidate his opponents, the church enjoys the backing of its own roaming enforcers of orthodoxy _ tacitly approved of by church leaders. The bearded men who cheered Dobrokhotov’s arrest were members of the Orthodox Banner Bearers, a group that combines ultraconservative piety with bellicose acts reminiscent of extreme-right intimidation. They have gained notoriety for attacking gay rallies, tearing pop singer Madonna’s portrait, burning Harry Potter books and running a stake through a toy monkey to protest the teaching of Darwinism in schools. Top Stories The church gave its leader Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich one of the church’s highest awards, the medal of St. Sergius of Radonezh.Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said the church has turned into the Kremlin’s “Salvation Ministry,” obediently approving Kremlin policies and slamming Western democracy as concepts alien to Russian traditions _ all the while enjoying hefty government donations and tax immunity.“The Church inherited its full loyalty to the existing government from Soviet times,” Belkovsky said.In pre-revolutionary Russia, the Church was a state institution whose government-paid clerics reported to czars as their “ultimate judges.” In the Soviet era, Orthodox leaders infamously declared their loyalty to the atheist regime to allow the church to keep operating _ and were enlisted as KGB agents, according to lawmakers and prominent human rights advocates.“We knew back in the early 1990s that 90 percent of church leaders had been KGB agents,” said Lev Ponomaryov, head of the respected For Human Rights group and a former lawmaker who in the early 1990s chaired a parliamentary commission that investigated Soviet-era ties between the church and KGB. 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Colombian exlawmaker arrested in alleged betrayal

first_img Parents, stop beating yourself up Authorities have not mentioned a possible motive.Lopez has said he survived because he was at a different but nearby location when the rebels committed the killings, mistakenly confusing for a military patrol another rebel group that neared the camp without notification.Rebels of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had standing orders to kill their hostages rather than allow them to be rescued.Lopez has said he was held by himself for the next two years until February 2009, when he became the last politician freed by FARC.He said at the time that he owned his survival “to a miracle of God.”“I hope that there is some confusion, or this is a mistake,” Diego Quintero, the brother of one of the slain deputies, said on Thursday.He said he was led to believe from comments in a proof-of-life video of his brother, Alberto Quintero, that his brother and Lopez were never held together.Lopez was arrested in Colombia’s third-largest city of Cali, where he and the other were seized in 2002 from the provincial assembly building by rebels disguised as security force members.Officials in Colombia’s chief prosecutor’s office said Lopez had helped the FARC plan the mass kidnapping. Associated PressBOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – One of a dozen provincial lawmakers kidnapped by the country’s main rebel group a decade ago has been arrested for allegedly helping the insurgents plan the daring daylight abduction.Colombians were stunned Thursday by the arrest of Sigifredo Lopez, 48, on suspicion of murder, treachery and hostage-taking. The news was especially alarming because he was the only one among the 12 who escaped execution by rebels in 2007 under circumstances that remain unclear. Arizona families, Arizona farms: providing the local community with responsibly produced dairy Top Stories Quick workouts for men More Valley freeways to be closed this weekend for improvements New high school in Mesa lets students pick career paths They said various former guerrillas had provided testimony that Lopez participated. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make public statements.One official said prosecutors had video of a man believed to be Lopez offering detailed instructions on how to perpetrate the crime.In the video, the man’s face is not fully visible in the video but his voice can be heard, according the radio station, La FM.It said the video came from computers seized in November when the military killed the rebels’ top leader, Alfonso Cano.La FM said the man appearing in the video explains where each deputy would be, the hours they came and went, and where the building’s security cameras were located as well as also noting that none of the deputies carried weapons.Lopez unsuccessfully ran for Colombia’s Senate and Cali’s mayor’s office last year on the Liberal Party ticket.The party’s chief, Simon Gaviria, called the accusations against Lopez “macabre” and said he would ask the party’s ethics committee to suspend Lopez.(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) Sponsored Stories Meghan McCain to release audiobook on conservatism, family Think Tank analyzes the second round of Democratic debates Comments   Share   last_img read more

Israels Haaretz paper strikes over layoffs

first_img Sponsored Stories Construction begins on Chandler hospital expansion project 5 treatments for adult scoliosis Check your body, save your life Former Arizona Rep. Don Shooter shows health improvement Mary Coyle ice cream to reopen in central Phoenix Top Stories center_img Bottoms up! Enjoy a cold one for International Beer Day Patients with chronic pain give advice JERUSALEM (AP) – Workers at Israel’s respected Haaretz newspaper have begun a strike to protest layoffs.The workers said Wednesday that they would not update the Haaretz website until midnight and will not publish the next day’s paper.The issue is the planned dismissal of about 100 employees.Haaretz has a relatively small circulation, but it is an influential daily popular with Israel’s elite. Comments   Share   Last month Israel’s veteran Maariv paper was sold by its cash-strapped owner to a rival publisher. Most of its 2,000 employees will probably be laid off.Hundreds of Maariv workers and supporters marched in Jerusalem earlier Wednesday, urging the government to intervene to help the industry crisis.(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)last_img read more

Benefits outweigh risks in Philippines peace deal

first_img(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) SEEDS OF THE FIGHTING:Muslims in Mindanao first took up arms decades ago to defend what they see as their traditional homeland under threat by Christians. Tens of thousands have died in ethnic clashes and massacres that sowed bad blood for generations.Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S., Australia and other governments have looked at the southern third of the Philippines _ Mindanao Island and neighboring provinces _ as a second Afghanistan, a place where militants from Indonesia, Malaysia and Southeast Asia fled in order to escape crackdowns at home. They sought refuge with Muslim rebels and set up training grounds in their strongholds.For the rest of the Philippines, Mindanao conjures a place where warlords rule, ransom kidnappings are common and terrorists bomb churches and ambush travelers.RECOVERING FROM A FAILED DEAL:A deal granting autonomy to five Muslim provinces was signed in 1996 and implemented on paper years later, but it changed little in the poverty- and violence-stricken region. Elections were rigged, corruption rife, and political bosses with private armies ruled the day. Disgruntled guerrillas carried on with bombings and attacks under the banner of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. A fresh autonomy proposal from then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo flopped in 2008. It was criticized for promising too much too soon and without public scrutiny.When President Benigno Aquino III was elected in 2010, he agreed to meet with the Moro rebel chief, Al Haj Murad _ something Arroyo did not do. The men met at the Tokyo airport, concluded that they could work together and set in motion a series of meetings in neighboring Malaysia, which has been facilitating the talks since 1997.The talks this time involved the so-called International Contact Group of representatives from the U.S., Europe and Muslim nations who acted as witnesses, observers and advisers. Negotiations under Aquino were initially kept under wraps but now are open to public input.High public trust in Aquino gave him the backing he needed to carry on with the peace talks, which he hopes to conclude by 2016, when his single six-year term ends.GIVE-AND-TAKE:After 32 rounds of calibrated negotiations, the outline of a deal came clear: a new autonomous region will take shape in the south, with Moro rebels giving up their quest for independence in exchange for broad powers to govern themselves. The central government will maintain control over defense and foreign affairs, while the Moros _ their aging leaders worn down by decades of fighting _ will exercise substantial powers locally, including the justice system and tax collection. Sharia law will be enforced but will apply only to Muslims. Comments   Share   ___Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.___Follow Hrvoje Hranjski on Twitter: Associated PressMANILA, Philippines (AP) – A tentative roadmap to peace in the southern Philippines announced this week is the first major step in the latest attempt to end a long and bloody insurgency waged by minority Muslims in the predominantly Christian nation. It carries the risk of failure that has been the fate of similar peace agreements, but strong domestic and international backing could boost its chances of success. Here’s a look at the background and the future of the deal: Construction begins on Chandler hospital expansion project Bottoms up! Enjoy a cold one for International Beer Day Men’s health affects baby’s health toocenter_img 5 ways to recognize low testosterone Sponsored Stories Mary Coyle ice cream to reopen in central Phoenix Former Arizona Rep. Don Shooter shows health improvement Parents, stop beating yourself up Unlike the previous peace deal, this one calls for rebels to disarm.THE PITFALLS:Many tricky details remain. That includes the exact extent of the Moro territory. Although broadly based on an existing autonomous region, the rebels want it expanded. Other potential stumbling blocks are how much tax revenue the locals will have to give the central government, and how and when the 11,000-strong rebel force will be disbanded.THE ABU SAYYAF:Al-Qaida-linked militants from the brutal Abu Sayyaf group, which gained notoriety with kidnappings and beheadings of foreign tourists, including Americans, are not part of any peace deal. Abu Sayyaf and the Moro rebels cross paths in several parts of the Philippines. The hope is that a broader peace agreement with the Moro rebels will isolate the extremists and deprive them of sanctuaries and logistical support.U.S. TROOPS:About 600 U.S. troops will continue to be based in the southern Philippines, training Filipino forces, exchanging intelligence and providing equipment. Mostly aimed at the Abu Sayyaf and their allies from the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah network, the U.S. forces are trying to ensure that the fragile region does not become a magnet for militants, which it may if peace deal falters. Top Stories last_img read more