Feet of Cement

cementazo

An earthquake of 6.5 shook the country recently.

We had had an early night as we had a crack of dawn start for a hosital appointment the next day but had hardly settled down before the dogs started yodelling. We thought they must have heard the coyotes who have been roaming the mountain behind us for a couple of weeks now but then they fell quiet as the house began to sway back and forth. It was like lying on a jelly.

It lasted a few minutes only and we had no damage. Friends have told us that the danger comes when the action is percussive and we did experience one of those in the original house down below…it was like a hammer drill doing its worst, but luckily, as the epicentre was only ten kilometres away, it was deep, at seventy five kilometres down, unlike the latest one whose epicentre was off the Pacific coast, and only ten kilometres down.

Still, it took the country’s mind off its problems for a moment.

Problems, you ask? In the land of Pura Vida where the people are amongst the happiest on earth according to some survey which is no doubt selling something?

I don’t know where they find these people as most of my friends are usually moaning….perhaps they  interview politicians.

Others interviewing politicians at the moment are the police. It is fairly normal for previous presidents to be investigated by the police, but only after a discreet passage of time when the proceeds have been salted away, so what has occurred to upset the applecart?

Cement…that is what.

No, not cement as in disposing of bodies while road building – the time it takes this country to get a road built the body would have disintegrated enough not to need burial anywhere – but cement as imported from China.

A happy duopoly controls cement sales in Costa Rica. It has no doubt paid well for its position over the years so was far from pleased when it looked as if the President was encouraging the import of cement from China with the aim of lowering prices.

Intolerable! Have his guts for garters!

So the duopoly set the hounds of the press on the job…or at least those parts of the press where it had influence….and finally they dredged up  one of the bosses of the Customs department who said that he had an e mail from the Deputy Finance Minister telling him that the ‘Big Chief’ – supposedly the President – wanted any shipments of Chinese cement to get through Customs without the usual old Spanish practices so that it would still be fit to use when released.

Shock horror!

Then the hounds went further. They discovered that one of the state banks had made a huge loan to the importer – with the cement as security –  the major part of which loan had ended up in his private coffers, while no cement ever arrived in Costa Rica.

And this is where things started to  go wrong.

Aiming at the President, the duopoly accidentally put one of their own in the frame.

The Chief Prosecutor.

This man, a stalwart of the old regime in Costa Rica, was an expert in delaying and burying unwanted dossiers and had been found with his fingers in the bank’s affairs, dividing the investigation into a myriad of mini investigations which would run into the sand, leaving those responsible at the bank to live a quiet life in the offices which had been refurbished recently at vast expense from the bank’s money…..i.e. public funds.

He was suspended and a young lady was appointed as interim Chief Prosecutor.

She seems to hold the view that prosecutors should prosecute and to that end has put the would be importer and the bank officials into preventive detention while she investigates.

Further, she has unearthed links between a magistrate, the Deputy Finance Minister and several politicians which she believes may give rise to prosecutions for the traffic of influence and has, with the consent of the courts, proceeded to seize their offices, computers and cars in search of evidence.

Mark you, this being Costa Rica, where the sublime usually descends to the gor blimey, the cars of the police seizing the gear of the Deputy Finance Minister were nicked for parking offences by the Municipal Police in San Jose.

She has also had a look at the mosaic of dossiers prepared by the Chief Prosecutor over the years in other sensitive matters, the upshot of which is that said Chief Prosecutor has decided to retire and a recent President is being summoned to explain how a mining company managed to get a permit to mine in a conservation area.

The country is reeling.

Action on corruption! Whatever next!

It does not come at a good moment for the politicians. Any of them. Because the Presidential elections are coming up in February and corruption is a major beef for the electorate.

Normally the level of enthusiasm of Costa Ricans for elections equals the energy of a crocodile in the early hours of a chilly morning, but this case has roused people to resemble crocodiles at midday, ready to wolf down anything in their path.

And what is in their path?

Politicians.

I can bet that the man who put up this poster is not going to vote for the PLN.

PLN elections

He seems to have strong feelings on the subject.

Historically the PLN held a firm grip on the vote as they were the party of the President who abolished the army and set up the CAJA – the NHS of Costa Rica. People were grateful and remained so for years.

Further, under the same recent President who is now being summoned to explain the mining licence, the civil service was expanded beyond anything that was necessary in order to form a client vote of those who benefited from the excellent wages, perks and pensions  – and their extended families.

Occasionally the PUSC, sort of Christian Democrats, would get a look in to keep them sweet, but basically the PLN had it all their own way, including in  local government.

The last elections brought a change….the people elected an almost unknown candidate, a university professor, who stood on a platform of opportunity for all, not the few.

Thus the enmity of the cement duopoly who regard such views as heresy.

He has had a hard fight. No majority in the National Assembly, ministries stuffed with partisans of the outgoing party….but the ship is slowly turning round. People are discontented with the slow pace of change but with the cement case there is a chance that they will see that change is possible…if they will back those who work for it.

Locally, too, politics is in the news.

This town is built on ground that is unstable…underground water courses run all over the place, let alone fault lines,  so holes tend to appear in the roads without warning. Ideally the council would use a study done by the University of Costa Rica which showed how to channel  and drain the area, but, of course, that would cost money and the council never seems to have any of that for infrastructure problems despite having a dedicated budget for same.

So the holes tend to be there for a long time.

puris holes in road

 

Exasperated by the inaction of the council a group of businessmen got together, hired an engineer and the necessary equipment and did the job themselves in the course of one night when they could reckon to be undisturbed by council workers or police who tend not to venture out after dark.

The alcalde – mayor – outraged by this demonstration of citizen power announced that the work was shoddy and would collapse within a week. Furthermore it would all have to come up anyway as the council was about to start a programme of repairs!

Several weeks later the holes remain mended and the council has managed to repair one road…the one leading to the fiesta ground which has been done in time for the annual high jinks surrounding the celebration of the town’s patron saint’s day.

Clearly it is not for nothing that the alcalde is a member of the PUSC.

I have been a trifle unfair to the police here.

They have a new boss. He is a local lad who has worked in other areas for years before being drafted back to his home town.

He wishes to clean up the place, but is a realistic gentleman.

No point rounding up the drug dealers and the wild young men who make the roads dangerous by doing wheelies, etc on onlicensed motorbikes during the week, as the resident judge for criminal affairs has a great respect for the presumption of innocence and tends to release anyone  daft enough to be caught by the previous police chief.

No…save the effort for the weekends, when a duty judge comes down from San Jose and jugs the lot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holes in the road.

Head in the Clouds

IMG_2765

This the view from the balcony this evening…..somewhat subfusc, you might think; not at all your idea of Costa Rica.

But this is the rainy season, and we are up in the clouds.

We have been in and out of San Jose all week for hospital and legal appointments – with a bit of light relief at a meeting of a writers’ group – and with impeccable timing just as we have alighted from the bus the heavens have opened, the Central American version of Thor has made a nuisance of himself and by the time we have reached the car we are like two drookit hens – and just about as voluble.

The road – the back road – to the house has become a river: two vast piles of hoggin dumped by the council in a gesture designed to mollify local residents sit just where they were a week ago as the council bulldozer has gone down with the lurgy yet again.
By the time the machine recovers from its latest malady various enterprising persons will have half inched the hoggin for their own purposes and the ritual dance will begin again.

Residents apply to the council for road repairs.
Council, sucking its collective teeth, declines to make extraordinary provision.
Residents – in greater number – apply again.
Council, relying on an old favourite of an excuse, announce that the bulldozer is out of action – again.

Now, each time the bulldozer is out of action it apparently costs forty million colones ($80,000) to have it repaired, and it breaks down every time it is put into service.
Thus, announces the council’s lawyer, it is best not to use the thing at all.

Residents, rising in their wrath, point out certain irregularities in council proceedings and payments to councillors.

The council produce the bulldozer.
It breaks down.

The dance resumes.
As a participant, you feel rather like Mr. Pastry dancing The Lancers…

There is something that you just don’t seem able to grasp…

Still, given the power of blackmail, things might improve.

The council has been showing its less attractive profile just lately.

One of its members took exception to the Peruvian couple who regularly play their pan pipes in the corner of the park by the taxi stand.
We remain in ignorance as to the origin of the incident – perhaps he had asked for and been refused a performance of the Magic Flute, who knows?…but the taxi drivers assembled in their shelter nearby saw him grab the Peruvian lady by the arm and in turn be felled by a well placed kick from her husband.
He was carted off to hospital with a broken leg.

Then the council’s lawyer published a letter on the council’s Facebook page announcing that those who wanted the installation of a Walmart in the town were thinking not with their heads – but with their livers.
This apparently curled a number of said livers and the lawyer has retreated under heavy pressure which centred on his relationship with a member of the family running the local supermarket monopoly.

And to cap it all it has been discovered that:
A…one of the councillors hasn’t attended a single meeting since her appointment:
B…said lady denies ever being a councillor
and
C…the witch hunt is up for who it is that has been pocketing her allowances.

The bulldozer might yet make a miraculous recovery.

We have had to leave the puppies rather longer than is desirable in terms of their socialising routine…..
IMG_2762

But they have clearly made their own arrangements and who are we to quibble..

The older dogs are doing a good job on the pair, working on the principle that if older dogs can’t do that there ‘ere, then neither can two upstart puppies

Yet some fine tuning remains to be achieved….
They happily accept collars and leads…but insist on carrying the leads themselves…
But they follow the terms of employment in the collier brigs sailing out of the Tyne as recorded by Hervey Benham, maritime historian of the East coast of England

Duff out
Dumpling home
Poop in the cabin foul weather.