PHOTOS: Our favorite moments from Hanna Gabriels’ big night

The Costa Rican boxing phenom Hanna Gabriels defeated Dominican opponent Oxandia Castillo by unanimous decision at San José’s Gimnasio Nacional on Friday night, thereby retaining her World Boxing Organization (WBO) and World Boxing Association (WBA) welterweight titles.

According to a report from sports media site Marca, “La Loba” Castillo dominated the first four rounds, but “The Amazon” Gabriels improved her defense starting in the fifth round and began switch up her attacks on Castillo.

Gabriels now has a record of 17-1-1, Marca confirmed. Her only defeat, four years ago, was against Castillo, so Friday’s victory extra sweet.

Castillo and Gabriels of Costa Rica faced off during the weigh-in on Oct. 12. AFP Photo / Ezequiel Becerra

Costa Rican boxer Hanna Gabriels (L) defends her WBO and WBA titles against Dominican Oxandia Castillo in a title bout at the Gimnasio Nacional in San Jose, on October 13, 2017. / AFP Photo / Ezequiel Becerra

AFP Photo / Ezequiel Becerra

Still on top: Gabriels celebrates after a win in October 2017. AFP Photo / Ezequiel Becerra

Beijing bans low flying vehicles during key meetings

BEIJING – Beijing will ban the flying of low, slow and small flying vehicles around the upcoming annual sessions of China’s top legislative and political advisory bodies in March, local police said Wednesday.

The ban includes light and ultra light airplanes, gliders, delta-wing airplanes, hot air balloons and drones.

The ban will be effective starting Mar 2 until noon on the day after the closing day of the first session of the 13th National People’s Congress.

Other flights should first receive approvals from the military and civil aviation authorities.

Any violations are subject to severe punishment.

The police also ban the production, sale and flying of sky lanterns, saying they could cause fires.

Protecting Antarctica is a priority

Proposal says what can be taken there and how waste is handled

China will soon publish a regulation that urges Chinese travelers to Antarctica to better protect the southernmost continent’s environment.

The State Oceanic Administration is seeking opinions and suggestions on the draft of the Environmental Protection Regulation on Activities on Antarctica, which was made public on the administration’s website on Tuesday. Individuals can submit their thoughts on the regulation before Feb 7.

The regulation comes amid a surge in the number of Chinese tourists to the icy continent in past years.

According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, an industry group in the United States, Chinese tourists were outnumbered in 2017 only by the United States, overtaking Australia for the No 2 spot.

The association said 5,289 Chinese travelers visited Antarctica last year, 12 percent of the total number of tourists. More than 97 percent of those Chinese tourists landed on the continent.

In 2016, 4,095 Chinese people made trips to Antarctica.

The draft regulation stipulates that organizers of activities to Antarctica and participants must use measures to reduce the possible impact caused by their activities on Antarctica’s environment and ecosystems.

It says organizers and participants will pay for what is needed to clean their pollution and restore the environment, adding they also will cover the expenditures for rescues, medical services or evacuations caused by their trips.

The document forbids the carrying of toxic objects, those that pollute and nonnative creatures to the ecologically sensitive continent. Collecting and bringing out local soil, rocks and animals also will be banned.

Construction work will only be allowed if it is for scientific or educational purposes.

Waste generated during a stay on Antarctica must be taken off the continent and items unfit for transportation should be incinerated and the remnants taken back, the draft states.

Organizers must submit a report about their activities on Antarctica to oceanic authorities within 30 days of the tour’s conclusion.

Violators will be blacklisted and prohibited from entering Antarctica for three years, the draft notes.

Lin Shanqing, deputy head of the State Oceanic Administration, said that China pays great attention to environmental protection on Antarctica and has spared no effort to regulate activities by its nationals on the continent.

Multipurpose malinche, an attractive and useful ornamental

Here’s another attractive ornamental that’s a favorite Costa Rican backyard patio shrub. You’ll find malinche (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) growing in just about any barrio in the country. Its unmistakable bright red or yellow flowers resemble those of the giant poinciana trees, and so it’s called dwarf poinciana in English. Other common names include Barbados fence flower and paradise flower. Costa Ricans call it hoja sen or clavelina.

Malinche is a native plant of Mesoamerica that is now found around the world in tropical regions. This hardy shrub-like tree grows to no more than three meters, but is usually pruned to maintain a compact shape for border hedges. The leaves are double-pinnate, and the stems usually have small thorns. The beautiful flowers bloom most of the year and attract hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden.

Leading nurseries often carry malinche, but you also can collect seeds from local plants or start cuttings. The seeds can be planted in recycled plastic cups with several holes punched in the bottom and filled with prepared potting soil. It takes about two weeks for the seeds to germinate, and another month or two before the young plants are ready for transplanting to the garden, preferably in full-sun locations. Cuttings can be started in cups and take about the same time. Rooting preparations help stimulate root growth and speed up the process.

Malinche grows in poor soils but responds well to additions of organic compost fertilizer for better growth and flowering. As the plants reach about a meter tall, pinch the leading new growth of each stem to form a compact, bush-like shape.

Malinche is a hardy ornamental that has no serious insect problems or plant diseases, and it does not need watering in the dry season. These attributes place it high on the list of eco-friendly garden plants. And it has several other beneficial uses. A small handful of the leaves can be used in an infusion of one cup of boiling water as a laxative and to reduce fevers, while the same amount of flowers in an infusion promotes menstruation. The leaves can also be used as a maceration to treat insect bites and skin conditions, such as fungal and bacterial infections or rashes. The roots and seedpods produce a red dye, and the dried flowers soaked in water act as a natural insect repellent.

As you can see, malinche offers much more than attractive flowers around the home. It’s a multipurpose plant that has become a beloved friend to many a Costa Rican. Will you, too, invite this new friend into your garden?

Send your gardening comments and questions to me at:

Read more of Ed Bernhardt’s monthly Home Gardening columns here.

China’s national legislature to convene on March 5

BEIJING – The 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) will hold its first annual session in Beijing on March 5 to discuss Constitution revision and elect new state leaders, according to a decision made by the 12th NPC Standing Committee Tuesday.

The decision was adopted via a vote at an NPC Standing Committee session held on Monday and Tuesday.

The agenda of the session includes reviewing the government work report, examining reports on the implementation of the annual plan on national economic and social development in 2017 and the draft plan on national economic and social development in 2018, and examining reports on the implementation of the central and local budgets in 2017 and the draft central and local budgets in 2018.

NPC deputies will deliberate a draft revision to the Constitution, a draft law on supervision, and the work reports of the NPC Standing Committee, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, according to the decision.

The NPC is the highest institution through which the Chinese people exercise their state power. Elected for a term of five years, it normally meets at an annual session and is convened by its Standing Committee.

The first NPC was convened in 1954, marking the establishment of the people’s congress system in China.

UPDATED: Mexico reels in response to 7.1 earthquake

At least 100 people were killed when a powerful, 7.1-magnitude earthquake rocked Mexico on Tuesday, toppling buildings in the capital and sowing panic on the anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake.

The toll from the authorities was preliminary and could rise, as rescue crews and volunteers in Mexico City – home to 20 million people – clawed through the rubble of collapsed buildings looking for survivors and bodies.

Four deaths were initially confirmed in Mexico City. The others occurred in nearby regions, mostly in Morelos state just to the south where 42 deaths were recorded.

“I’m so worried. I can’t stop crying. It’s the same nightmare as in 1985,” Georgina Sanchez, 52, sobbed to AFP in a plaza in the capital.

“We ran outside thinking all was going to collapse around us,” said Lazaro Frutis, a 45-year-old who escaped an office building before it crumpled to the ground. “The worst thing is, we don’t know about our families or anything.”

AFP PHOTO / Pedro Pardo

The quake – which occurred in the early afternoon, hours after city authorities had conducted an earthquake drill – caused damage in the bustling center of the city, and to areas south and west of the capital.

Several buildings were reduced to debris and cars were flattened by falling masonry.

Scenes of chaos permeated the city, with traffic jammed to a standstill before blanked-out stop lights, and anxious people running between vehicles as ambulances tried to make headway, sirens squealing.

Emergency officials warned people in the streets to avoid smoking because of the risk of igniting gas leaking from ruptured pipes.

In several locations, people were seen clambering on buildings that were now piles of stone and tangled metal to seek pull people out.

People hurry to free possible victims out of the rubble of a collapsed building after the quake in Mexico. AFP PHOTO / Alfredo Estrella

‘Everyone was frantic’

The disaster immediately recalled the 1985 quake in which more than 10,000 people died, escalating panic among the population.

Jorge Lopez, a 49-year-old Spaniard living in Mexico City, said that he raced to the school in the central Roma district where his children aged six and three were in class. He found the school collapsed but his offspring safe, if terrified.

“We arrived at the school and everyone was crying, everyone was frantic, and the kids were holding on to a rope,” he said. “It’s uncontrollable. You can’t do anything against nature.”

Witnesses said another school was smashed to rubble in Cuernavaca, a town just south of the capital. The fate of the pupils and teachers was unknown.

An office building of approximately five stories in the chic Condesa district of central Mexico City collapsed. Volunteers scrambled among the debris, pulling out three survivors and looking for more.

“There are people trapped there!” yelled one woman.

Similar efforts were made at other smashed buildings nearby. At one, an emergency worker held up a sign commanding “Silence” so crews could listen for the sounds of any survivors.

Patients were evacuated from a hospital in the adjoining Roma district, wheeled out on beds and wheelchairs as staff set up makeshift wards outside.

Civil defence personnel and volunteers form a perimeter around the site where a building collapsed. AFP PHOTO / Alfredo Estrella

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, said on Twitter he had ordered the evacuation of damaged hospitals “and the transfer of their patients to other medical facilities.”

He was to hold an emergency coordination meeting after flying over the disaster zone.

At one collapsed building in Roma, dozens of people clawed at the rubble as they waited for the arrival of heavy machinery to move the massive chunks of stone. Officials called out for more volunteers, and for water.

A woman standing and watching the efforts with her husband, a doctor, turned to him and said, “Darling, if you want to help, give me your glasses and take care.”

Hours after the quake, residents stood around outside, in the streets, fearing aftershocks.

Unconfirmed social media posts suggested the city’s international airport had closed because of damage.

Mexico’s stock market was shut because of the quake.

An injured woman is helped in the aftermath. AFP PHOTO / Pedro Pardo

International response

Officials in other countries began to react to the disaster, with many offering to help.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, who is in New York with other world leaders for the UN General Assembly, expressed his “solidarity” with the Mexican people.

Back home, Costa Rican authorities offered Mexico support in the form of search-and-rescue teams.

“With rising casualties & many collapsed buildings, my thoughts are with those impacted by the Mexico earthquake. The UN is ready to support,” tweeted the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Mark Lowcock.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has forged an antagonistic relationship with Mexico since coming to office, tweeted: “God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.”

Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, tweeted: “Devastating news from Mexico City. My thoughts are with those affected by today’s earthquake – Canada will be ready to help our friends.”

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray responded by saying “Mexico sincerely thanks the displays of international solidarity that we are receiving.”

Trade hopes with China bigger in Texas

Charles Foster, chairman of US China Partnerships in Houston, just returned from a trip to China with a large delegation led by the city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Great Partnership President Bob Harvey.

“I think it’s important for Houston to raise a flag in China. I have encouraged the mayor not to think of this as a onetime trip and said to him, ‘You should go to China every year. We should think to set up an office in China’,” Foster said.

During his most recent visit to China, a positive atmosphere could be felt, Foster said.

“The vision created at the 19th CPC National Congress was a well-referenced road map from people’s speeches. It’s viewed as a fair policy development. It created the sense, at least in the delegation I was in, that the (Chinese) economy is strong and developing with a clear vision. China is expanding its role internationally, taking leadership in areas with respect to broader global economic issues.”

Foster said that President Xi Jinping and China clearly have embarked on a new era. “China now recognizes that to a certain degree it has achieved economic parity with the US to become, along with the US, the major global power and with that comes global responsibilities.”

Foster has been traveling to China regularly since 1979 and knows what the economic situation of China was like back then.

“China has been fortunate that it has been able to maintain phenomenal growth in its economy so that over a period of years every sector has seen significant benefits,” he said.

“Even though some sectors have benefitted faster than others, all have benefitted, thus creating a broad-based support throughout China for the government and its initiatives,” Foster said.

“I think the broad principles introduced by President Xi Jinping will continue to provide significant stability for China and, more importantly, to spread the benefits of its extraordinary economic developments more broadly throughout the Chinese people.”

Foster said that if China can make such huge economic advances over a few decades, it’s encouraging to think that this experience can be applied broadly to developing economies in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, which would be immensely beneficial to people the world over.

In Costa Rica, friends didn’t fight over politics; those days are gone

Just 14 years ago, Costa Rica was the Latin American countries where people were least willing to argue with their best friends over politics. Just 14 years.

The Latinbarometer statistics in 2004 placed Costa Ricans in first place in this regard during the administration of President Abel Pacheco, years when the wall of bipartisanship was broken and citizens’ desire to break with the old model began to manifest themselves. Guatemalans, Brazilians, and Ecuadorians followed us. The nationality most willing to fight over politics? Venezuelans, in the year of the referendum that sought to remove Hugo Chávez from power.

The question that the Latinbarometer asked in 2004 alluded not only to partisan politics, but also to social politics. The historic rivalry between the National Liberation Party (PLN) and Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) provoked few discussions. The protests about “the ICE Combo” – which showed massive frictions between the “statist” and “neoliberal” model, a bit before its maximum level with the referendum about the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 2007 – were already in the past.

Still in the future was the 2010 election, marked by the presence of a woman candidate promoted by the administration of President Oscar Arias; she would later sever that bond and remind us that the PLN has different faces, but those issues were foreign to the majority of the population.

The 2014 campaign brought evidence that many Costa Ricans could easily change their political affiliation in a matter of weeks, and that party flags had become mere accessories, venerated by only a few. There was a second round, it’s true, but Luis Guillermo Solís’s triumph was obvoius since the week after the first round, so much so that his rival Johnny Araya ended up withdrawing from the contest.

There was an ideological discussion in 2014, especially when the leftist Broad Front was picking up in the polls. The importance of the moral values also appeared, mixed with religion, but no determinant results emerged. The two months between rounds turned out to be too much time, because everything was already resolved: the Citizen Action Party (PAC) would get to power, ending decades of alternating PLN and PUSC. Our bipartisan system is dead and buried, we said, but nothing was going to make us fight about politics within our inner circle.

Then 2018 arrived, and we’re screwed. Politics has become an enormous bag of emotions and prejudices, discrimination and religions, anguish and fears. I know that these things also existed in the past, but I’ve never been in such an toxic environment.

Maybe we must accept that our digital spaces exaggerated the arguments, but these spaces are part of our reality. We should’ve had a device to measure how much energy we’ve dedicated to the electoral discussion in 2018 and how much hostility we exchange. Of course, we believe we’re not arguing about politics, but about “my religion,” my human rights, my values, my phobias, my family, my church… But everything is politics, and almost nothing is partisan.

We’re driven to “holy” fights with family and friends. We no longer belong to that society from 2004 that preferred to argue over soccer. We’ve changed. I suspect we’re less happy, and that this influences our political landscape, with so little partisanship, but so essential, so primary. “I’m not defending Fabricio Alvarado, no; I’m defending my values, my family story.” Or, “I’m not from the PAC, I would never be, but I feel that a part of my national identity is being snatched away,” and things like that.

We’re a more unequal society, grumpier, more distrustful. As Costa Ricans we’re now  under the Latin American average when it comes to a belief that we can trust each other. That’s what 2017’s Latinbarometer has to say.

That’s how we got to an election between “Fabricio” and “Carlos,” an unthinkable second round, toxic and dangerous. No matter who wins, we’re already different. We see each other differently. We have now exited the WhatsApp group or we’ve blocked that person who contradicted us. Or I was eliminated from their Facebook friends, or from life itself.

Xi congratulates Armen Sarkissian on being elected as president of Armenia

BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday congratulated Armen Sarkissian on being elected as president of the Republic of Armenia.

In a congratulatory message, Xi highly appraised the achievements made in the development of bilateral ties since China and Armenia established diplomatic relationship.

He said China attaches high importance to advancing China-Armenia relations and stands ready to make joint efforts with Armenia to push forward cooperation between the two countries in various fields to a new stage and bring benefit to the two countries and the two peoples.

Costa Rica dreamin’

A sunny image of Bahía Ballena on this rainy afternoon. Our thoughts are with the families in this Southern Zone community and around the country who are still reacting to Tropical Storm Nate as well as the heavy rains forecast for today and tomorrow.

Would you like to submit a photo to our #TTPicOfTheDay series – the view from your home or favorite Costa Rican spot, or any other image you care to share? Please send horizontal photos at least 1100 pixels wide to We’d love to see the sights with you.