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Leaked Wikileaks Embassy Cable – Costa Rica

April 7th, 2011

I am sure one of the jobs of any United States Embassy regardless of location is to constantly evaluate the host country in terms of  law, infrastructure, political persuasion, stability, attitude towards the USA, geographical considerations and probably a bunch of other stuff of which I have no idea…. like maybe the cool spy stuff! They likely collect info in many ways, but I am not at all sure of the accuracy of their sources.

In fact, one of my favorite sources for pretty excellent info regarding Costa Rica is the good ol’ CIA!  Their World Factbook Costa Rica is handy and is quite accurate. A lot of the info can be really useful to folks studying Costa Rica, planning to move or relocate here, considering opening or moving  a business operation to the country and for many other reasons.

Costa Rica newspaper La Nacion recently made a deal with those idiots at Wikileaks to get copies of various cables sent by various US diplomats to the State Department that pertain to Costa Rica.  If you wish to download a copy of the cable I will be discussing, just click here. Now when you do that, you will supposed see the actual document submitted 4 April 2007, by Laurie Weitzenkorn, an official of Public Affairs U.S. Embassy, but other news sources (La Nacion etc)  have published  lists of comments that do not appear on that document and while I am pretty sure they are accurate, I have not been able to track down the actual Wikileaks document.  All have been published in various online or actual newspapers. The comments by Weitzenkorn and others are a few years old, and perhaps my readers would like to know my thoughts as to whether some of these issues are still valid. Cables like these give the viewpoint of a single person whom we do not know. Did they live here for a a few weeks. months or years? Where did they get their info?  Was/is it biased?  Quien sabe?

Anyway, here are excerpts… some topics I think might be of the most general interest.  If interested, read on!

Nationwide, Costa Rica currently treats only 2.6% of human waste generated, ranking Costa Rica amongst the five worst countries in Latin America. And the country is falling backward. The 2.6% figure was revised down from 4% after the current Minister of Environment challenged the inclusion of non-operative treatment systems in the estimate.) The Central Valley area, which includes greater metropolitan San Jose and nearly two million people, has an antiquated sewage collection system with many underground lines dating from mid-century that have rusted through. In some areas sewage can be seen leaking into the streets. Despite the fact that at least 100 new residential subdivisions have been added to the network, there has been no extensive work on the Central Valley sewer system since 1981.

Nearly all waste enters the rivers that flow through San Jose and drain into the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Nicoya via the Rio Grande de Tarcoles. Local residents know they should avoid beaches in that area due to the “”black waters””. Contamination has damaged mangrove forests and coral reefs and is suspected of causing reduced fish catches. Water contamination is also linked to hepatitis, cholera, skin problems and cases of diarrhea increased 16% in Costa Rica from 2002 to 2005. Almost all sewage entering rivers flowing from San Jose and empty into the Pacific, particularly in the Gulf of Nicoya via Tárcoles River. Locals know to avoid that area beaches by sewage

The Central Valley area, which includes the greater metropolitan area of ​​San Jose and nearly two million people, has an antiquated sewage collection, with many underground pipes mediadios dating from the last century and are perforated by rust

You can see spills on the streets. Although at least they have added 100 new residential network since 1981 not done extensive work on the sewer system.

This is a great example of “I’d like to know how that statistic was determined”.  97+ %?  Huh? That would indicate that the sewage generated by roughly 5 million people is flushed into the Pacific and Caribbean.  I am having a hard time with that…. read that as BS.  If true, it would result in an ecological disaster greater than the Gulf oil spill.

While everyone who lives here has seen or experienced pollution and has read about some beaches losing their “blue” ratings because of contamination, a figure like the one above would indicate that one could literally not find a beach to enjoy in all of Costa Rica.  Sorry embassy person…. that dog won’t hunt. While there certainly have been times when some beaches on the Central Pacific area have had issues, I have heard/read nothing for a few years now.

As for open ditches, yup, I’d have to agree.  I have seen a couple, but the way the cable is worded indicates that they’re everywhere and that is just silly.  Still, the government certainly does take a relaxed view on corporate polluters preferring fines to jail terms.  Click here for article about Dos Pinos in new window. Funny… I wonder if any other countries dish out hand slaps to corporate polluters?

“Nearly all waste enters the rivers that flow through San Jose and drain into the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Nicoya via the Rio Grande de Tarcoles.”

I am always leery of superlatives (or nearly superlatives) like “nearly all”.  While the Rio Grande de Tarcoles is most certainly a toilet and most know to avoid the area, I find it difficult to believe that that much raw sewage would not cause the entire Gulf of Nicoya to become polluted, which it is not.

“The Central Valley area, which includes the greater metropolitan area of ​​San Jose and nearly two million people, has an antiquated sewage collection, with many underground pipes mediadios dating from the last century and are perforated by rust”

Yeah… I can believe that, though I have seen a lot of sewer work in and around San Jose, so the future is looking up and clearly the government is dealing with the issue.

Many miles of roads are potholed, washed in the rainy season, equipped with old bridges that are poorly maintained or constructed with very few traffic lanes for slow, heavy trucks and vehicles in mountainous terrain filled with promotions and declines.

Roads? I have seen a lot of improvement over the past few years and I routinely tell people that this subject has been overblown. I have traveled recently to Guanacaste, areas around San Ramon, Atenas, various mountain roads and the Central Pacific, and I found the roads to be very acceptable.  I also travel San Jose regularly and while there is the occasional pothole, it is certainly not going to be an issue for most folks. I do think that for some reason, Costa Rica does not use the latest technology in road building and repairs.  North American roads last many years despite enormous swings in temperature that we do not have here and in some cases are exposed to nearly the same amount of water.

Now as to the bridges?  That is another story.  Costa Rica does just a horrendous job of maintaining its bridges.  While I do not have the exact numbers, 2010 was a record year for deaths resulting from bridge collapse.  The pressure is on, but I do advise caution on some of those old one lane bridges.  The “Oh MY God Bridge” has finally been fixed as have at least three or four others… maybe more, but it can still be dangerous out there as I know of several where prayer or belief in a higher power would be a fine idea before crossing.

The poor condition of many roads and highways threatens tourism, logistics and security: the average speed to move (even between major cities and normal traffic) can be lowered to 30 miles (48 km) per hour, which is surprising tourists, increasing transportation costs due to weather companies and the rates of accidents when drivers try to anticipate the slow traffic on two-lane mountain roads full of curves, “he said.
“Visitors should be cautious. A combination of streets in bad conditions, erratic driving and traffic of animals and people in the streets make driving very dangerous.

Tourism can be threatened, especially if people believe all of the bad press about the roads.  Speed? Actually, in The REAL Costa Rica, I say the average is about 25MPH. The routes to the sea have horrendous accidents where some impatient moron decides to pass on a blind, uphill curve with a double yellow line and meets a nice semi coming downhill with no place to go.

Expressways here can have pedestrians, horses, dune buggies, the works.  The new San Jose-Caldera highway is kind of a joke and a recent poll of Ticos indicated that a high percentage of the road was simply unsafe.  The government started an investigation last week to determine if there were payoffs. I use it all the time, but drive very carefully. Finally, a strong case can be made that Costa Ricans, arguably the nicest people on the planet, are perhaps the worst (living) drivers on the same planet. Now couple the above with the fact that drinking and driving is 100% LEGAL (drunk driving is not)… well… You probably get the point.

Roads, airports, ports, electric power, waste management and wireless communications suffer from years of neglect, limited capacity and slow development. The lack of local planning, regional or national and rampant development, especially in upscale resorts in the northern Pacific coast, aggravate the problem,

The airports in San Jose and Liberia have been remodeled.  Electric, Internet, phone service (home and cellular) while not unreasonable priced are in fact years behind with customer service bordering on the ludicrous. With the passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, there will soon be 2-3 new cell phone companies and that has already caused the state monopoly, ICE, to begin offering new services and somewhat better customer service.  Competition does that you know.

Anyway… you comments and opinions re welcome!

8 Responses to “Leaked Wikileaks Embassy Cable – Costa Rica”

  1. Jerry Woods on April 8, 2011 5:16 am

    Just got back from our first trip to Costa Rica, an educational tour with students. We did occasionally hold our breath while crossing a single lane bridge in some of the rural villages we went through. There were a few pot holes, but there were also crews doing road repairs. That report about bad roads and poor sewage treatment,somebody must have had a really bad day. Hope to be coming back soon. Pura Vida

  2. teri on April 8, 2011 6:42 am

    Funny, I was the one that told Sally about the Oh MY God bridge and the Oh Shit bridge…. I never dreamed she would blog it! Love your blog.

  3. Dan Marquez on April 8, 2011 10:19 am

    My first visit to your country was in 1972 as a member of the US Geological Survey studying volcanos. By definition, the roads leading to most are dirt and best navigated with a four wheel vehicle or horse. I returned to San Jose in 2008 and to Tamarindo last month. The roads to the volcanos have not changed. Nor to some of the ecological beauties of your country, like sea turtles, zip lines, jungle tours . . . Hey! It’s the jungle! That’s why I returned. There are other countries you can visit, and some are just as beautiful. I’m old, grew up eating lead based paint from my crib, drank water from a creek, and didn’t wear seat belts, and hve a wonderful life. Some people are just to finicky and should just stay home.

  4. Honestmicky on April 8, 2011 11:54 am

    Really enjoy your thoughtful articles and blog. Keep up the great work : )

  5. Glenn Klima on April 9, 2011 10:21 am

    Obviously y’all have not been to Zona Sur lately!!

  6. Tim on April 9, 2011 1:58 pm

    Nope… not since last year when we bought the Indian masks…

  7. David on April 10, 2011 10:13 am

    My first review of the leaked cables lead to the question: “How much is this woman being paid?”. Much ado about nothing. There’s nothing in those cables that couldn’t be gleaned from a fast reading of the Tico Times.

    The White River flows south out of Indianapolis and is a carp stream until 25-30 miles due to sewage pollution. It just isn’t obvious.

  8. Chuck Mercier on August 3, 2018 3:23 pm

    We’re coming to Costa Rica soon for the winter! As a retired vet, tri care for life is our primary health provider paying 70% of out of country services! Would love your comments and and problems, if any, on the matter!