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Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

Conservation pledge brings debt relief

October 18, 2007

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— The U.S. government and environmental groups will trim $26 million off Costa Rica's debt rolls in exchange for the country spending the same amount on tropical forest conservation, according to an agreement reached Wednesday.

As part of the U.S. Tropical Forest Conversation Act, the United States will spend $12.6 million to buy back Costa Rica's debt at discounted rates. Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy will each contribute $1.26 million.

Together, with interest, the money will be enough to pay down $26 million of the Central American country's debt, according to the agreement.

"Costa Rica is teeming with natural beauty, biodiversity and threatened species," said Stephanie Meeks, The Nature Conservancy's chief executive. "And as an increasingly popular tourist and retirement destination, it faces increasing development pressure."

Begun in 1998, the forest conservation program has provided about $135 million to 11 countries, including Panama, El Salvador, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

Under the agreement, Costa Rica must spend the money on forest conservation over the next 16 years. Areas targeted include the Pacific coast's Osa Peninsula, home to Corcovado National Park and a number of endangered species, and Totuguero on the Caribbean.

Costa Rica owes about $90 million to the U.S., according to Finance Minister Guillermo Zuniga.

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