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These stories were published Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 5
Jo Stuart
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An invitation for readers to enter our 2004 photo contest
These 2003 winners
and other entries
are available
This is an invitation for you to participate in our 2004 photography contest. The deadline is April 15, so you have plenty of time to capture that very Costa Rican scene.

There are five categories, and there is a $100 prize in each category.  The contest is an open one, meaning that anyone (except persons connected to A.M. Costa Rica) can enter. 

The rules have been posted along with links to pages that contain our entries for last year. The submissions were excellent, but newspaper employees and the panel of judges are certain that even better photos will come in this year.

Check out last year’s entries and the 2004 rules


It's been a rough time for Villalobos supporters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This has not been a great week for die-hard supporters of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho.

Defections by former supporters of the fugitive financier have been frequent on the Internet mailing lists visited by the creditors. Most of the lists were set up shortly after Villalobos closed up his borrowing business and vanished Oct. 14, 2002.

Perhaps the most talked about defection was by Henk Guichelaar of Longview, Texas, who boasted that he maintained an Internet mailing list of some 1,000 former Villalobos clients under his online persona of sky_boy. He had been steadfast in his support of Villalobos and once said that he knew for a fact that clients’ money was safe.

After a 10-day visit to Costa Rica over Christmas he penned an online missive in which he suggested that Villalobos was running a ponzi scheme. He also suggested that he wrote material in the past that he really didn’t believe because "In order to stay on the inner fringes and close to the core, one  must maintain that he believes in Enrique." Otherwise, he said he would have been frozen out of information.

A ponzi scheme is where victims are paid alleged dividends or interest that really comes from new money that other people bring to the scam, and there is no real economic activity.

Wednesday John Manners was threatened with eviction from his Pavas home. Manners is the president of the United Concerned Citizens and Residents of Costa Rica, the group that strongly supports Villalobos and has hired a lawyer to badger the prosecutors.

He said in an Internet message that "police came this morning to evict me, my wife, my children and dog." Manners said that he asked for a brief stay and was looking for a new home.

"I lived in this house for nine years and paid rent promptly until the Villalobos  disaster," Manners said in his message.  He has been a key force in raising money for José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, the group’s lawyer, who negotiated a $300,000 agreement.

Manners and others in the informal group have been active trying to raise more money for the 

lawyer, who already has collected about $120,000, according to the group’s web site. But raising the money is much harder now than right after the Feb. 2 meeting when the lawyer made his first appearance and promised to uncover the conspiracy that had driven Villalobos out of business.

The theory that an honest Villalobos was the victim of hostile and corrupt politicians is a key tenet of Manner’s group. The theory has never been proven. The silence from Villalobos, who has been a fugitive for nearly 15 months, does not help the cause.

Creditors who remain in the San José area had their spirits buoyed around Christmas when a rumor started that Villalobos had sent another letter. However, no such document has been released, and grumblings are audible in the places where creditors gather.

On Jan. 1, 2003, Villalobos sent a 10-paragraph e-mail to A.M. Costa Rica in which he told his investors "In case I die, or I go to prison, due a behavior which is not a crime . . . nobody will recover anything." Manner’s group released a letter last June 6 that was said to be from Villalobos and directed to the judge in his case.

Also irking some creditors is the silence of Oswaldo Villalobos, the brother of Luis Enrique. Oswaldo, who had been in custody since late 2002, was allowed to go home under house arrest  in November but has avoided contact with most creditors.

Meanwhile, the United Concerned Citizens continue their efforts to have creditors who have filed fraud allegations against the Villalobos brothers withdraw those claims. Manners and those close to him are conducting a telephone campaign. They think that Luis Enrique Villalobos will return to Costa Rica and pay them if creditors drop allegations.

Even many investors who believe their money is long gone are reluctant to say that publicly. They do not want to alienate the Villalobos Brothers because of the slim chance that some creditors might eventually be paid.

The brothers ran an informal borrowing operation that paid creditors around 3 percent a month on deposits of $10,000 and more. Their Mall San Pedro base of operation was raided by investigators July 4, 2002, and the business shut down three months later.

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Expats will find
flu shots available

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican health officials want to vaccinate 80,000 youngsters and oldsters against influenza. But expats who may not qualify due to age limits can still get a shot if they pay for them.

Spokespersons for Clinica Biblica, Hospital CIMA and Clinica Catolica all say that they have or will have doses available for adults and also for children. 

A  spokesman for the Ministerio de Salud said that even though this year’s wave of flu already has caused deaths in the United States, May and June are still considered the high flu season here. They encouraged vaccination this month or next so that the body can build up the necessary antibodies to fight infection.

Prices for purchasing the vaccination privately vary depending on the location and the type of vaccine. There are two brands of vaccine: Fluarix and Imovax.

At Clinica Biblica in San José, 1,000 colons is the cost of administering the shot, said spokesperson Susana Guzmán .The vaccine itself costs 3,500 for Imovax or 3,750 for Fluarix. 3,500 colons is about $8.35.

She suggested that each person contact a private physician who can evaluate individual risks and the possibilities of medical complications.

At Clinica Catolica in Guadalupe, Julieta Gutiérrez, a pharmacy assistant says that shots for adults is available for 3,739 colons and the price includes administering the shot. For the moment, Clinica Catolica does not have  doses for children. She said that demand for the shots is up after the ministry announced its own vaccination plan.

The best deal Wednesday was at Hospital CIMA in Escazú where a spokesperson said that the vaccine was available for 2,565 colons, some $6.12. That price includes administering the shot.

Some persons may experience what seems like a light cold three days after getting the shot, the spokesperson said, adding that the condition might last for three days. Persons who have allergies to eggs or a serious medical condition such as AIDS should only be vaccinated under a physician’s recommendation, the spokesperson said.

The health ministry wants to vaccinate 80 percent of the youngsters between 6 months and 5 years, officials said. Those 65 and older also are able to get the shots for free at a government clinic or hospital.

Health officials note that an epidemic of flu takes place every 15 to 30 years and that the last one was in the 1960s.

Roadblock results
in big drug haul

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers set up a surprise roadblock Wednesday near San Jorge near Coto Brus in southwestern Costa Rica and seized 200 kilos of what they said was cocaine.

Police said a minute inspection of a Datsun about 4 p.m. showed that the vehicle had a double floor and that is where they found the packages presumed to be drugs.

The driver of the vehicle who has the last name of Navarro was a Costa Rican who had begun his trip in nearby Ciudad Neilly, according to Comisionado Raúl Quesada Galagarza, the top police official in the area.

After the packages were found police said they contacted the Policía de Control de Drogas whose agents conducted field tests on the substance with positive results.

Change in policy
strands Nicaraguans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 6,631 Nicaraguans have been refused entry into Costa Rica even though some of them have residency here.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería said Wednesday that a Sala IV constitutional court decision that involved North Americans and tourist cards gave them the authority to demand passports from Nicaraguans.

Traditionally Nicaraguans who have residency in Costa Rica have crossed the border by showing only their cédula of residency. At Christmas many Nicaraguans living here travel to their home country to be with their family for the holidays. As they returned, they discovered that Costa Rican immigration officials were strictly enforcing the law.

In November, the Sala IV upheld the need for a North American to have a passport to enter the country. In the past, other forms of identification were accepted, including tourist cards.

Immigration officials extended this ruling to Nicaraguans, many of whom do not have passports. Immigration officials logged from Dec. 17 to Jan. 4 some 31,922 exits from Costa Rica at the Peñas Blancas border crossing and just 23,814 entries. They estimated that more than 1,000 Nicaraguans tried to use their residency cédula as an entry permit.

Immigration officials confiscated the residency cédulas of Nicaraguans trying to use the document to enter the country. The Nicaraguans now must either locate or obtain a passport and then retrieve their cédula from the immigration office.

Another city sweep
ends with five held

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law enforcement officials checked out more than 100 persons Tuesday in the downtown San José area and captured two persons who carried a gun in a suspicious car. Officials also detained three illegal foreigners.

The three illegal foreigners, all women, were found working in various nightspots.

Involved in the sweep were officers of the Delegación Metropolitana of the Fuerza Pública, the Policía Especial de Migración and the Judicial Investigating Organization.

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Reaction mixed over U.S. demand for sky marshals
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An order for foreign airlines flying to the United States to put armed sky marshals aboard their planes when Washington determines there is a terrorist threat has sparked a mixed reception in Europe. Pilots, the public, and governments have all been caught up in the controversy.

It has become an agonizing daily judgment call: whether to cancel international flights on the basis of fragmentary intelligence warning of a Sept. 11-style attack.

But that is what has happened several times since the U.S. terror alert status was raised last month. Flights from London to Washington and from Paris and México City to Los Angeles have been sporadically grounded, delayed or tailed by U.S. fighter jets.

Western intelligence officials say they know just enough to believe that specific flights are at risk, but that they do not have enough information to be able to track down and arrest anyone.

Security analysts say the information is probably coming from intercepts of e-mails or phone calls that are only yielding scraps of data, such as a specific flight number.

The French interior ministry said last week that several Air France Paris-to-Los Angeles flights were grounded in December after U.S. investigators misidentified six passengers as suspected terrorists. French justice authorities say they are looking for a passenger who failed to show up for a Dec. 24 Air France flight to Los Angeles that was eventually canceled for security reasons. 

Analyst, Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, says it is difficult to establish reliable watch lists of potential terrorists.

"One part of the equation is that they are looking at passenger lists, looking at people's names that are appearing on lists," he said. "But that is throwing up a lot of false positives, people that are being identified as potential risks, but turning out to be perfectly safe passengers."

But Baum says British Airways twice suspended its Flight 223 to Washington last week, probably because of specific intelligence rather than concerns about names on the passenger list.

"At the end of the day, we know that we can screen passengers at airports and we can deny them boarding if we want to," he said. "I think the information out there would indicate that there is a possibility of an attack on operating certain routes, be they from France, from the United Kingdom, from Mexico. That is what they are worried about. That is the focus."

Baum says the other possible reason for the suspension of the British Airways flights was that the pilots decided that, if the threat was so high, they would rather not fly than obey Washington's orders to put armed marshals on the flight.

British pilots have been among the most recalcitrant about allowing armed guards on their flights. Jim McAuslan, the head of the British Air Line Pilots Association, explains why.

"Once you try and deal with one risk, the risk of terrorism, you create another risk, which is the risk of safety, of having arms in aircraft," he said. "But if we accept that they are going to be there, I think our second concern is how they are deployed, about the quality of the police sky marshals, about the sort of weapons they carry, and, ultimately, about who commands the aircraft."

Britain's Transport secretary, Alastair Darling, defends the deployment of marshals as responsible and prudent and says they will be used where appropriate.

"There is an increased threat, and we have to deal with that in a balanced and proportionate way," he said. "Our objective is to ensure that we deploy all the security measures available to us, as and when appropriate, while at the same time enabling people to go about their day-to-day business."

Darling struck a deal Tuesday with the pilots' union whereby passengers will not know when an air marshal is aboard, though the pilot will know and will remain in charge of the aircraft. But Mr. McAuslan says a formal agreement is still needed.

"Until we have an agreed protocol in place, the advice to our own members who are confronted with a police sky marshal is you do not fly," he said.

Some other European countries do not have such qualms.  Germany began to use air marshals on flights to the United States and elsewhere soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. Switzerland has deployed them randomly on international flights for more than 30 years. And France, which shares the tough U.S. approach to terrorism, put marshals on its civilian aircraft in the past few weeks.

Portugal, Sweden, and Denmark say they will refuse to conduct flights carrying armed guards. And Europe's biggest charter carrier, the German-owned Thomas Cook Airlines, has vowed to cancel any flight rather than carry sky marshals.

Some airline analysts say the presence of sky marshals is likely to raise fears among passengers. But Simon Evans, of Britain's Air Transport Users' Council, a passenger advocacy group, says travelers will see the marshals as a step toward increased security.

"I think, overall, people probably would feel very sure that there is a presence there, somebody trained who knows what they are doing when a terrorist — hopefully it does not happen — but if the terrorist gets on board the plane and starts threatening people," he said. Another issue is the cost of placing marshals on aircraft. Who is going to pay for them? The International Air Transport Association, which represents the world's major airlines, says governments should foot the bill for enhanced security. Andrew Brookes, an aerospace analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, says governments have little choice but to do so.

"There are a lot of airlines out there that are on the brink of bankruptcy anyway," he said. "They are only kept going by governments, so, at the end of the day, will the government pick up the tab for Air this, Air that, Air the other? It probably will. It probably won't give compensation to passengers necessarily. It will keep the airline flying for prestige purposes."

Most international airlines have left little doubt that, although they do not like the new U.S. measures, they realize that they have little choice but to go along with them or face being shut out of the lucrative trans-Atlantic market.

Despite the renewed concerns about terrorism and airlines' fears that the new U.S. measures will scare passengers away, some major European carriers got good news on Wednesday, as their stock prices surged on signs of a recovery in demand for air travel after a two-year slump caused by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Shares of British Airways, the Dutch airline KLM, Germany's Lufthansa, Spain's Iberia and Air France rose an average of 6 percent as investors brushed off the latest security jitters. 

Cuba and U.S. trade charges over canceled talks
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration said Wednesday Cuban intransigence was behind a U.S. decision to reject a proposal by Havana for a new round of immigration talks this week. U.S. officials say Cuba is refusing to talk about several key issues regarding the orderly migration accord, but Cuba denies it. 

The two sides have held review talks twice yearly since they reached an agreement in 1994 for the "safe and orderly" immigration of Cubans to the United States. 

But the State Department says U.S. officials rejected a Cuban proposal for a new round Thursday in New York, because Cuba has been refusing to address five areas of concern to the United States. 

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said they include the Castro government's refusal to grant exit permits to all Cubans cleared to leave, and its failure to cooperate in holding a new lottery from which most of those allowed to leave are chosen. 

He also said Havana authorities have declined to discuss giving U.S. Coast Guard vessels a deep-water port for repatriating illegal Cuban immigrants, the restoration of access by U.S. diplomats to repatriated Cubans, and its obligation to accept the return of its nationals deemed excludable by the United States. 

Under such conditions, Boucher said, U.S. officials see no point in another meeting now. 

"We have raised each of these issues in at least the last six sessions of the talks and Cuba has refused to discuss them substantively," he said. "Consequently, when the Cuban government proposed Jan. 8 for the next round of migration talks, we determined that, given the Cuban government's expressed unwillingness to engage on these five most important issues, that another round of talks at this point did not serve our interests." 

Boucher said there is no requirement in the 1994 accord for regular meetings, but that the United States is willing to reconsider having another 

round when Cuba agrees to what he termed a "productive agenda," including the five U.S. talking points. 

In a statement Tuesday, the Cuban foreign ministry said the United States had unilaterally canceled the talks in a move it described as irresponsible. 

It insisted that Cuba was willing to seriously discuss all issues mentioned by U.S. authorities, but said that in what it termed the "imperial language" of the United States, dealing seriously with the issues meant forcing Cuba to give in to "every whim and demand" from Washington. 

Spokesman Boucher said the Cuban government began barring U.S. diplomats in Havana from traveling in Cuba to interview returnees last March, when it launched a sweeping crackdown on domestic dissent that it claimed was fomented by the U.S. mission. 

He said despite the disagreement on new talks, the United States attaches great value to the orderly migration accord, saying it has likely saved many lives over the years by giving Cubans an opportunity to reach the United States without risking an illegal passage by sea. 

Argentina is irked
by Noriega’s comments

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Agrentina — The government here has reacted angrily to a top U.S. official's criticism of the country's Cuba policy. Argentine chief of staff Alberto Fernandez Wednesday called the criticism "impertinent" and said it surprised the government.

He was responding to remarks made Tuesday by the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Roger Noriega.

Noriega expressed concern over Argentine President Nestor Kirchner's warming relations with Communist-run Cuba. He also said he was disappointed that Argentine officials had failed to meet with Cuban dissidents on a recent trip to Havana.

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Powell defends U.S. policy of prints and photos
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Colin Powell defended the new immigration security procedures at U.S. airports Wednesday and said the Bush administration aims to further streamline the process. The new measures have sparked a conflict with Brazil, where a judge ordered that U.S. visitors undergo similar though more time-consuming screening. 

Powell says the new security system is intended to protect, not harass, travelers entering the United States, and that most people who have undergone the screening have encountered no problems and been understanding of the reasons for it.

In effect since Monday, the system called US-VISIT requires entering visitors to be digitally photographed and fingerprinted. Identification data and passport information are entered into a computer system containing watch lists of suspected terrorists and other criminals.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is administering the system, says it has added only an extra minute to immigration processing. 

But it has been criticized by some abroad and a Brazilian federal judge ordered retaliatory screening of Americans entering that country, including police-style ink fingerprinting that has resulted in hours-long airport delays for U.S. citizens.

In a talk with reporters in Washington, Powell, 

who discussed the issue by phone with his Brazilian counterpart Celso Amorim, said the U.S. security measures are not unreasonable and have generally been well received by travelers themselves.

"A couple of fingerprints and a picture," he said. "It is not delaying people very long at the ports of arrival. And a number of the people who have gone through have done it without any problem whatsoever. Most of them do without any problem whatsoever and they recognize why we're doing it. We're not doing it to harass anybody. We're not doing it to keep anyone but the wrong anyone out of the country. And to the extent that it is protecting all those who travel on airlines, I think people will understand it."

Powell said U.S. airport delays will eventually be reduced as American diplomatic posts abroad acquire the equipment needed to do the screening when potential visitors apply for U.S. visas.

Citizens of some 150 countries are subject to the photograph and fingerprint requirement. Visitors from some 30 countries which have reciprocal no-visa agreements with the United States are exempted, though their passport data is examined by computer.

The United States complained that the Brazilian requirements were hastily-prepared and discriminatory, since they applied only to Americans. Officials said Tuesday that some U.S. citizens arriving in Rio de Janeiro had experienced nine-hour airport delays. 

Morning quake rattles most of country
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
This story also appeared later Wednesday

A 5.0-magnitude earthquake hit northern Panamá early Wednesday, and the shock was felt in nearly all of Costa Rica.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica placed the epicenter at 2 kms. west of Puerto Armuelles, Panamá, close to the place where a stronger Christmas morning quake was centered.

No damage was reported. The early morning quake Christmas killed two persons and damaged at least 70 homes across the border in Costa Rica.

The quake hit at 4:42 a.m., said the observatory. As with the Christmas quake, the source was a local fracture, a report said. The observatory said the quake took place at a depth of 20 kms., some 12 miles.

Sources in Panamá said the quake was slightly stronger.

The area has been hard hit by earthquakes, and the Christmas quake that hit at 1:14 a.m. generated more than 100 aftershocks.

One Desamparados resident said she was awakened by the quake, which she described as of long duration.

Jo Stuart
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