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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, Sept. 14, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 181             E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Trash and littering have become major problems
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Generating, disposing and treating waste has become one of the biggest and most serious problems of Costa Rican culture.  The problem is not only a contradiction to the self-proclaimed ecological, diverse and clean reputation of the country, but also accurately illustrates the Tico short sightedness that prevents Costa Rica from becoming a developed nation.

The Tico littering mentality is, in fact, a combination of short sightedness, laziness and pecking order.  Many Ticos believe someone else should pick up their messes, as illustrated by going to any fast food restaurant. Rarely do Tico’s pick up their tables and throw their trash in the garbage can. 

Government officials lack the vision and commitment of turning waste into lucrative businesses and much needed sources of employment, keeping civilians in the dark about how serious the littering problem is for their health, their communities and the planet. Therefore, Ticos have never worried about what a chocolate bar wrapping or a bottle of water can create when they mindlessly throw it on the street or out their car’s window. They only think of getting it out of their immediate surroundings.  They still think recycling is just an ecological trend, not a necessity.

The question remains: What was first, the chicken or the egg? Short-sighted government officials or short-sighted Costa Ricans? As puzzling as that question may be, the reality of this so-called green paradise is changing into a littering nightmare, and faster than anyone imagines.

According to a 2003 report written by Ronulfo Alvarado Salas of the municipal management department of research and development (Dirección de Gestión Municipal Sección de Investigación y Desarrollo) called "Solid Waste," Costa Rica’s problem became serious in a very short time. Because the waste produced in the country before and during the first half of the 20th century was mostly organic, littering was a minor problem up until the 1950s. However, due to the rapid industrial growth and massive manufacturing, the growing population’s littering habits created a problem that turned into a national emergency reflected in an executive order May 15, 1991.

During the Figueres Olsen administration in the 90s, the department of specific matters (Ministerio de Asuntos Específicos), conducted a study which revealed that up to that point, 55.7 percent of the country’s municipalities were depositing solid waste in outdoor individual garbage dumps, 14.8 perrcent in collective outdoor dumps and the rest in partially controlled dumps. Different associations were formed to solve the waste management problem, which gradually opened a series of landfills and dumps along the different provinces of the country. However, landfills are the oldest waste management method, which consist of burying the garbage and piling it until it reaches its maximum capacity. This leaves the products of leaching and gases untreated unless there is specific equipment to do so, and even though the government has repeatedly announced initiatives to use the energy of leach products and gases, there are still reports that those pollutants are running out of control in the dumps, threatening the subsoil water tables that servcies different communities.

Besides, according to researcher Silvia Soto in her 2005 account on solid waste for the 11th report of the state of the nation (Undécimo Informe sobre el Estado de la Nación en Desarrollo Humano Sostenible), even though the dumps and landfills are working better since local municipalities started hiring private companies as contractors to collect and dump the garbage, the country lacks an integral effort on treating waste and reusable materials and educating the population on the matter. There is even evidence that some of the private contractors are dumping garbage by highways and empty lots in some communities, especially in Limón. 

In contrast, private companies banded together in Limón Sunday to pick up mountains of trash along the roadways.

Ms. Soto claimed that there are different programs from the government devoted to educating children about generating waste and keeping communities clean, but no aggressive campaigns have been implemented by the government or the media to tackle the problem and change the littering mentality that has infected Costa Rica for several decades. Two decades ago, the media seemed to be launching an environmental campaign propelled by the government. They broadcast a commercial during some months that showed a family in a car
garbage on beach

on the  way to the beach. Family members were eating and throwing packages, bottles, peels and whatnot out their windows. When they came to a traffic light, a mountain of garbage fell on the car, and a message appeared about not littering. Many Ticos remember that commercial, but no other nationwide campaign followed

All those consulted for this article conclude there is a gap between the need for proper communal waste treatment and the awareness of each individual’s responsibility at the initial phase of that cycle: generating waste. They express concern as to how important the media and schools are for creating a waste-management conscious population committed to eliminating the littering problem. However, they also agree on how the government has not made it a priority to invest in such campaigns, waiting for the private sector to take the initiative. Many private organizations have embraced recycling and educational programs, but. according to Ms. Soto, there is only so much private companies can do, since they do not have access to educating Costa Ricans in a generalized way, and the effort must be complemented by law enforcement and schools in order to be successful.

In terms of law enforcement, several environmental laws have been created, which state the importance of preserving and maintaining a clean environment, such as the Constitution, the general health act (Ley General de Salud), the municipal Code, the environmental act (Ley Orgánica del Ambiente) and the urban planning act (Ley de Planificación Urbana).  However, none of these initiatives has any bite when it comes to littering or indiscriminately dumping trash on the roadside or in inappropriate areas.  

The old Costa Rican traffic act punished anybody who littered streets with any kind of waste or did not clean their property with fines ranging between ¢5.000 and ¢20.000. The new traffic act – whose enforcement is being postponed for six more months – penalizes citizens who commit the same littering acts with 10 percent of an amount corresponding to the 289.000.-colon base salary of an administrative assistant.

In 1975, the municipal board of San José approved a project to install a waste processing plant to eliminate the landfills, but the government finally decided not to invest in it. Shortly afterwards a German company took notice of the initiative and offered the Costa Rican government a thorough study and affordable plan to purchase its plant and recover the investment from the recycling of metal, paper and plastic (into oil), which the Tico government ignored. To this moment, no plants have been purchased, and garbage is suffocating the biodiversity of the country.

One Reuters article talks about the future plans for waste treatment in Costa Rica. It claims that Costa Rican garbage scavengers are not allowed to enter the landfills to collect their livelihood anymore, since the government wants to solve the problem once and for all, by industrializing solid waste and recovering 70 percent of the generated waste. They hope to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions produced in the landfills to zero in 2021. That's a very ambitious statement for a country that has not cared ever before about its rubbish statements.

Garland M. Baker is a 37-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2009, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 14, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 181

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Antorcha de la Libertad
runners are on the way

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The torch of liberty reached Costa Rica Sunday morning in time for a ceremony at the border with Nicaragua in Peñas Blancas.

As is the custom, carrying the torch is an honor reserved for school children, who take turns. Those who have done so in their youth, remember the experience vividly.

The torch comes from Guatemala and follows the path that the word of freedom from Spain took in 1821.

Youngsters are carrying the torch today with the goal of reaching San José by 6 p.m. for a ceremony in the Parque Central. Then it is on to Cartago, the colonial capital, for an 8 p.m. ceremony with central government officials.

At any given time there are many torches or Antorcha de la Libertad in play. Just about every community of any size is the end of the line for a torch. For example, runners in San José will branch off with torches for all the communities to the north and south while the main group of runners heads to Cartago.

For those who arrive early for the San José ceremony will be treated with a musical event from 4 p.m. on. The Himno Nacional will be sung at 6 p.m. as the torch arrives. The event is public.

This iss the night that school children carry their homemade lanterns, the faroles. Some are elaborate. These are presumed to be the type of lantern that city fathers carried as they met in the street to discuss the news of independence.

Tuesday is a legal holiday with a 9 a.m. ceremony at Parque Nacional in San José

Cell phone switchover
was rocky for some users

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some cell phones worked Saturday and others got a recorded message from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. Lucky individuals noticed no change as the phone company switched from two separate cell phone systems to one.

Sunday the company had offices open for persons who were having problems configuring the telephone. More than 30,000 calls were logged to 193 and 115, the company said

For those cell phones that did not automatically pick up the signal, phone company workers were able to configure them manually.

The  Ericsson system in use now is believedd to be more flexible than the older Alcatel system that is being replaced. The changeover did not involve TDMA phones, which are an even older technology.

Embassy private ceremony
marks Sept. 11 terrorism

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Peter Brennan was the speaker Friday when the U.S. Embassy held its own private Sept. 11 memorial service.

Brennan, the chargé d’affaires in the absence of an appointed ambassador, delivered a 346-word speech. The prepared remarks posted on the embassy Web site say that he thanked reserve policemen and Costa Rican firemen for attending the service, which was held on the steps of the embassy.

The public was not invited. Some retired military officers objected and said they would hold their own service at the Parque 11 de Setiembre in Sabana Norte.

Caja negotiations resume
Wednesday with unions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Negotiations will resume Wednesday between the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and its unions. The Caja operates the clinics and hospitals, and union members are threatening an indefinite national strike.

The unions said the Caja broke off negotiations four months ago. The put on a show of force Thursday, gathering thousands in downtown San José.

The negotiatingssion will be hosted by Eugenio Solano, the minister of Trabajo. The unionss are urging that officials with power attend on the side of the Caja.

The unions represent about 30,000 non-professional employees.

Robbery conviction stands
in case of 1,800 colons

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A trial panel in San Ramón sentenced three robbers to six years in prison for a crime that involved 1,00 colons, a little more than $3. And now the Sala III supreme criminal court has upheld the sentence.

The trio were convicted last October of threatening a victim, identified by the Jiménez, with a knife. The Poder Judicial said the crime took place about 5:50 p.m. in the center of San Ramón in front of a Musmani pastry shop in May 9, 2008.  Three men approached the victim, and one pulled a knife. All the victim had was the 1,800 colons. Fuerza Pública officers were nearby and apprehended the suspects. They were identified by the last names of Marín Miranda, Hernández Mora and Gamboa Jiménez, said the Poder Judicial.

In a report Friday, the Poder Judicial said that the Sala III rejected a defense appeal in the case.

Our reader's opinions
Don't try to bribe cop
if you go to Chile

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Americans, of the northern type, may assume that the current evidence of widespread police corruption in Cost Rica is endemic to Latin American cultures.  I had the privilege of visiting Chile a few years ago and learned that Chileans take great pride in the honesty and integrity of their police force.  The offering of a bribe to a police officer would be very unwise.

I experienced a sense of safety and security in Chile I never found in Costa Rica.  Perhaps the fact I was never robbed in Chile, unlike Costa Rica, helped foster this sense of well being.
J. Sam Mobley
Indianapolis, Indiana

Book on Latin America
recommended by ex-expat

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have a recommendation for anyone who would like to understand more about Latin America and Costa Rica: it’s an excellent study written in English and available free on the Internet at

 The title is "Twisted Roots: A Look at the Historical and Cultural Influences that Shaped Latin America Into the Most Impoverished, Unstable, and Backward Region of the Western World."

The author, Carlos Alberto Montaner, is a university professor who has taught graduate level courses on Latin America in universities in the States and throughout Latin America. His book is a compendium of eight of the courses, and in it he traces and explains the historical causes and their present effects in government, economy, society, religion, customs and attitudes.

I spent almost 30 years in Costa Rica before finally returning to the States, frequently wondering why things had to be as they were, and now have found most of the answers. I now know why the government monopolies exist and why the great flap over the TLC [free trade treaty], how the economy hypothetically works, where machismo comes from, why business entrepreneurs have a hard time, and why the educational system is as it is. I highly recommend this excellent book for anyone living or planning to live in Costa Rica or Latin America.
James Marshall
Fairport, New York

Sept. 11 has another meaning
in most of Latin America

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article this morning, more an editorial than an article, on "September 11 [being] just another day at the office" displays an appalling degree of Gringo chauvinism.  It is almost certainly forgotten by your writer, but is well remembered throughout Latin America that the date also marks an anniversary that is quite important to Latin Americans, and all but forgotten by the Gringos — the date in 1973 when the United States overthrew a democratically elected, representative government in Chile and installed a brutal right-wing authoritarian dictatorship friendly to its interests that ultimately killed more people in that country than were killed in Manhattan a quarter century later, subjected 10 times that number to excruciating torture and caused nearly a quarter million to flee into exile, and traumatized a continent.  And, of course, Chile isn't the only Latin American country where this has occurred.

Because it happened to them, this is the anniversary that is ultimately far more important to Latin Americans than is the one of which you are complaining that is going unobserved.  Demanding that Latins observe your trauma while completely ignoring theirs is appallingly insensitive and demonstrative of the kind of nationalist chauvinism for which the Gringos have become so well known and often disliked.

If your writer would set aside his Gringo nationalism for a moment and reflect on the history of the region in which he lives and the frequently sordid involvement of the United States in it, he would not only not offend Latin American sensitivities with such articles, but might benefit from it with a sense of perspective.
Scott Bidstrup

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Costa Rica
third newspage

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 14, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 181

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Here are some editorial positions of A.M. Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers have asked recently what does A.M. Costa Rica stand for.

They mentioned that the newspaper only infrequently publishes editorial, so the attitude of the newspaper has to be picked up by osmosis through the various articles and emphases of the news.

So here are 20 editorial positions outlined by editors:

1. We want visiting tourists and expats living here to enjoy safe, happy lives. We oppose the rising crime rate, and try to publicize those criminal trends that may affect tourists and expats.

2. We want to protect those who make legitimate investments in this country. We oppose land invasions and other thefts, and think that the nation should pass tough laws to keep people from stealing land. We include in this the crooked notaries and others who steal land with false documents.

3. We think everyone who lives here should speak Spanish. Not knowing a language of the country where you live diminishes the experience.

4. We think everyone living here should be legal, whether they are pensionados, rentistas, residentes permanente or in some other category. Being a perpetual tourist puts the individual at risk for deportation and loss of property.

5. We think Costa Rica should change its immigration laws to accommodate young people who want to work here for a time.

6. We think U.S. expats living here should have the benefit of the U.S. Medicare program if they are qualified and are forced to pay for it.

7. We think U.S. veterans here are treated badly by the government they served when it comes to health care.

8. We think the U.S. Embassy officials should start worrying about how to better serve Costa Ricans and U.S. citizens.

9. We think that the United States should eliminate the
need for a visa simply for a foreigner to change planes there.

10. We think that 80 to 90 percent taxes on importing automobiles is confiscatory, and we think that legal expats should be able to import a vehicle without paying taxes.

11. We think that sex tourism is morally wrong and demeans those who participate and those who stand by in silence.

12. We believe that crime victims have human rights, too, and that those committing violent crimes and crimes with weapons should get at least 20 years without possibility of parole.

13. We think that there should be more child labor instead of less, and that every child should have chores or work suitable for his or her age.

14. We think that the Costa Rican bureaucracy should be cut by half and a lot of public employees should find real jobs instead of patronage position in institutions with great names but little responsibility.

15. We think that Costa Ricans frequently are exploited when they go shopping and that major products should give full disclosure on manufacture costs, import fees and retail markup.

16. We think that a president should be able to run for office again  and that the people should be able to vote on the president's achievements and either endorse or repudiate him or her.

17. We think that males are subject to judicial discrimination in this society.

18. We think that polluting the rivers and streams should be a crime and that the current sewage situation is a disgrace.

19. We think that required social payments by employers are too high and limit jobs.

20. We think that employers who fail to pay the required Caja charges and other mandated fees should go to jail.

What have we missed?  Feel free to let us know with a letter to

New release of photos shows Costa Rica in 1873-1874
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When independence came in 1821 what is now Costa Rica did not have a printing press, so documents about the period are scare and handwritten.

Among these are the original Acta de Independencia de Costa Rica, which can be found in the minute book of the Cartago municipality signed Oct. 29, 1821. There also is a letter from the provincial congress based in Cartago proclaiming independence. That was sent to the then-emperor of México, Agustín de Iturbide in March 1823. There is no indication if Uturbide got the message. He was deposed about that time and executed the following July.

Both of these documents are in the Archivo Nacional in Zapote.

But the big news for this, patriotic week, is the publication to the Web of photographsof the country taken in 1872 and 1874, These are from the collection of Otto Siemon. They have not been published before and belong to the Meléndez family. The photos have been put on the Web by the Systema Nacional de Bibliotecas of the culture ministry.

Historian Carlos Meléndez has added written details about each photo for the library system.
old photos
A sampling of the work of Otto Siemon

The photos are on the system's Web HERE! Also available are several collections from the 1920s, said a report from the Biblioteca Nacional.

At the time of independence Cartago was the capital, which is why a lot of the details come from the minutes of that municipality. A lot of documents are available on microfilm. The originals are available for serious study, said the archives.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 14, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 181

pavas demolition
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Police form in front of some shacks that are about to be leveled by an oncoming frontend loader

Police evict land invaders in 20 public locations in Pavas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 150 policeman from both the Fuerza Pública and the Policía Municipal confronted hundred of persons Friday who had constructed shacks on public property.

Police torn down shacks and evicted individuals from more than 20 areas in Pavas, including Metrópolis 1 y 2, Bribri, La Manguita, Libertad 1.

Detained were 21 adult and 17 minors for throwing rocks at the officers, for obstructing the right of way and other charges. In some places police faced a rain of rocks. Three Fuerza Pública officers and five municipal policemen suffered injuries as did one civilian.

Coordinated groups took over the small parks and other public areas in these communities in the middle of last week.
Members of a drug dealing gang also seemed to be involved. Some arrests were for carrying firearms.

Police finally made their move with heavy equipment about 3 p.m. Friday.

The strategy of the land invaders was hard to determine. Clearly officials were not going to let them stay in the community center lands and playgrounds where they began erecting structures.  Perhaps the land invaders through that the high number of locations and the number of people would allow them to maintain control of the land long enough to assert some legal claim. Nearlyalready had homes, mostly in the La Esperanza section of Pavas.

Unused public land is fair game for those seeking property. but in these cases, all the locations were being used in some way by the municipality.

Boatload of hungry and thirsty immigrants ends up in Moín

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another boatload of illegal immigrants has come ashore on the Caribbean coast. This one contained 54 persons form Nepal, Somalia and Eritrea.

Coast Guard officers spotted the boat, in poor condition, about a mile and a half off the coat and brought the passengers to Moín. three persons, Colombians, were detained as human traffickers. The others are being held by immigration.

This is at least the third boatload of Africans to end up on the Caribbean coast. In July some 28 persons were detained by immigration officials as they landed in Costa Rica. A reader reported a similar landing took place in Panamá, but south of the Costa Rican border.
A 23-year-old man from Nepal said he fled his country because he did not want to serve in the military.

He ended up in South Africa where, he said, he managed to get a spot on a boat for $1,500. That boat took him to a country that probably was Colombia.

From there the group began a three-day trip north in an open boat with two outboard motors.

The passengers said they had had nothing to eat or drink for three days. They expected to make their way to the United states. Eight of the passengers are in Hospital Tony Facio in Limón.

The three-man boat crew are being considered for prosecution.

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Micheletti says U.S. pulled
his visa to put on pressure

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The interim president of Honduras says the United States has revoked his visa in an attempt to help restore ousted President José Manuel Zelaya.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti told Radio HRN, a Honduran radio station, Saturday he is not bothered by the decision, calling it an example of the pressure the U.S. is trying to exert on the country.

The Central American nation's current administration contends Zelaya was legally removed from office because he violated a supreme court decision ordering him to stop trying to change the constitution to ensure his continued hold on power. But the U.S. State Department has said Zelaya's ouster was not legal.

The U.S. has also criticized the interim Honduran government for refusing to accept a Costa Rican-brokered plan that would reinstate Zelaya.

Earlier this week the U.S. cut off $11 million in aid to Honduras for two transportation projects. Another $4 million in aid for another road project is also being put on hold.

U.S. officials say restoration of any of the terminated aid funds will depend on Honduras' return to democratic, constitutional governance.

The interim government has scheduled elections for November, but U.S. officials say that, based on current conditions, Washington will not recognize the results. The U.S. State Department says a vote in Honduras must be conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.

Interim president Micheletti says the election will take place even if other countries do not recognize the result.

Seven in Guatemala held
in murder linked to Colom

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Authorities in Guatemala say seven people, including police officers, have been arrested in the killing of a prominent lawyer who accused President Alvaro Colom of involvement in his death in a posthumously released video.

The announcement was made Friday by a special United Nations panel known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala that has been investigating Rodrigo Rosenberg's death.  The panel was set up two years ago to probe corruption in the Central American country.

Rosenberg was shot dead four months ago while riding his bicycle in Guatemala City.

In the 18-minute recording that surfaced after his death, Rosenberg said officials might want to kill him because he represented a businessman, Khalil Musa, who was murdered in March, along with the man's daughter. Rosenberg said his client refused to participate in acts of corruption purportedly involving a local bank.

President Colom went on national television to dismiss the accusation and demand an outside investigation. 

The videotape also accused Colom's private secretary, Gustavo Alejos, of orchestrating Rosenberg's murder and alleged the president's wife, Sandra, was involved as well.  The case prompted calls for the president to step down.

President Colom took office in January of last year.

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Chávez soon will be getting
short-range Russian rockets

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says he has signed an arms deal with Russia for short range missiles.
The missiles have a range of 300 kilometers, a bit more than 180 miles. The weapons are a part of a series of arms deals with Moscow. Chávez made the announcement Friday after returning from a 10-day tour of Africa, Asia and Europe and he insisted the weapons are for defense only.

Chavez says the rockets will arrive in Venezuela soon and he says his country is not going to attack with them. He says the weapons will help defend his country from any threat no matter where it comes from.  Venezuela is currently involved in a dispute with neighboring Colombia over that country's agreement with the U.S. to allow American troops access to seven Colombia bases for anti-drug operations.

Moscow says it is willing to sell Venezuela whatever weapons it is willing to buy. Venezuela is currently negotiating the purchase of 100 T-72 and T-90 tanks from Russia.

Russia has already sold the country 24 fighter jets, dozens of helicopters and assault rifles. This after the United States barred the South American country from buying U.S. equipment. In recent years, Venezuela has spent more than $4 billion on Russian weapons.

In addition to the arms deals, President Chavez recently acknowledged the independence of the Russian-supported breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The U.S. and the European Union consider the areas part of Georgia and have repeatedly asked Russia to respect Georgia's territorial integrity. Nicaragua is the only other country, besides Russia, that recognizes the regions.

Juan Almeida Bosque, 82,
Cuban revolutionary, dies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

One of the original leaders of the Cuban revolution has died.

Cuba's communist government says Vice President Juan Almeida Bosque, 82, one of just three Cubans to hold the title of revolutionary commander, died Friday from heart failure.

Almeida was born in February of 1927 in Havana and began working in construction.  After meeting Fidel Castro he took part in the 1953 attack on the Moncada military barracks in the city of Santiago de Cuba, an incident that failed militarily, but that helped to start the Cuban revolution.

After prison and exile Almeida returned to Cuba with Fidel Castro, helping to lead the fight against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in Cuba's Sierra Maestra mountains.

Almeida was considered one of the more influential voices in Cuba's government following the successful overthrow of Batista in 1959. And he continued to play an important role under both Fidel Castro and his brother, Raúl, who became president last year.

The Cuban government has declared Sunday a day of mourning.

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