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of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Business and community leaders from Manuel Antonio and Quepos are coming together to discuss the recent troubles of the area that include a late December assault on two tourists by a street gang.
Roberta Felix, owner of Hotel California in Manuel Antonio, said a group of about 25 people composed of police, entrepreneurs and concerned citizens met Wednesday to come up with solutions to the tourist town’s problems. She said she was optimistic the community was ready to act proactively to address the primary concern of the state of the youth of Quepos.
The meeting comes only a few weeks after two Washington women were brutally attacked on a beach in Manuel Antonio. The attack has been highly publicized.
Some community leaders are calling for "immediate prevention" of crime, which would entail the incarceration of the members of the youth gang who are believed responsible for much of the town’s troubles. Ms. Felix sees a far more complex and long-term solution that would include providing positive outlets for the youth of Quepos.
Ms. Felix, the founder of Fundación Roberta Felix, an organization helping disabled children, sympathizes with the impoverished children who participate in drug and gang lifestyles. She said she was once drug addicted and defiant in her youth because of the effects of much abuse.
She said she thinks many children in Quepos are treated as "throw away kids," who are never given a chance to do something positive.
Ms. Felix said she is trying to reach out to the children to participate in her foundation. She said
|she thinks that community projects
will help enhance the self esteem of the troubled children.
A leading suspect in the case of the gang attack on two women is not a minor. Police are investigating charges of sexual violation and robbery against Denis Chinchilla Araya, a member of an intimidating street gang of Quepos.
Ms. Felix said the night spot where the girls were partying is partly to blame for the attack. She said Mar y Sombra should have hired private guards to protect the patrons. She said she would like to see night spots on the beach closed down, because they are havens of dangerous activity. She said no other discos or bars had security issues.
Frederico Ramirez, owner of Mar y Sombra for 34 years, said that blaming his establishment is ridiculous. He questioned whether if owners of bars or hotels in Quepos take responsibility from the crimes that often occur near their doors.
He said the police have been sleeping for too long and that is why crime is common.
Ramírez defended his position by saying that he already hires four guards during the busy season, and two guards patrol the grounds during the low tourist season. The recent attack occurred about 150 yards down the beach, which at that time of night is a dark, secluded area.
The long-time restaurant owner said that the Ministerio de Salud is forcing him to re-apply for a new permit as a result of the latest attack and he is not sure he will be allowed to continue operating his business as a disco on weekends. The ministry is responsible for a wide range of health issues.
He said he was not invited to the recent community meeting attended by some of the affected businesses.
Guaro, the Costa Rican sugar cane liquor, has a certain following among tourists and foreign residents.
A.M. Costa Rica has had a small but steady flow of
|In other words, the readers in New
York couldn’t get guaro because of a customs scam, according to the report.
The amount that was said to be subverted over two years was 95 percent
of the scheduled export, and even some of the remainder just left the country,
was turned around and shipped right back in without paying the healthy
liquor tax, said the report.
The Contraloría General de la República, the chief financial entity, has been asked to investigate. The amount of liquor involved may be as much as 40,000 liters. and Costa Rica may have been cheated out of nearly $1 million in taxes. A liter bottle costs 850 colons (some $2.25) without tax. Liquor tax doubled the amount to the consumer.
The Fábrica Nacional got its monopoly in 1851 and has been the only legal source in Costa Rica for distilled spirits since.
The new emergency fiscal plan passed in December by the Asemblea Nacional provides new incentives for bootlegging and custom scams. The law adds a tax of 5 colons to each unit of liquor.
A.M. Costa Rica incorrectly reported that the unit was a 750 milliliter bottle. Actually, the unit is approximately a shot.
Burglary suspect loses hand
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A man suspected of trying to burglarize a home in Limón ran into the homeowner who happened to be carrying a machete.
The suspect, identified by the Fuerza Pública as Manuel Garriet Marshal, 45, lost his left hand in the confrontation. The owner, identified as Cedeño Jonson, also administered two cranial fractures, police said. The confrontation took place in Barrio San Juan about 4:20 a.m. police said.
|Library in Quepos
gets a big lift
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Ambitious plans for a multi-functional library in Quepos have recently been handed a much-needed lift.
After starting out with nothing, and continuing that way for over a year, the group charged with making the project a reality raised $1,500 at a single event in mid-December.
Kris Krengel, president of the Cultural Association of Quepos and Manuel Antonio, Monday reported that the group had a successful auction at La Colina Bar. The sum was from the sale of auction items and money generated from drink sales at the event. All items were donated.
Next on the agenda is a flea market at the Hotel Plino, planned for Sunday.
Best-selling Canadian author, William Deverall, will donate proceeds from sales in Costa Rica of his soon to be launched book, "The Laughing Falcon," to the association, said Ms. Krengel.
A meeting is also planned with the Canadian Embassy in the next couple of weeks. The embassy is supporting Deverall’s book launch, and are to help plan a reading in the Quepos area to help promote book sales, hence the library.
The local municipality is still working to have the old Ministerio de Salud building in Quepos transferred into its name so that group may develop it as the site for the library.
Wave dumps boat
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A mid-morning fishing party just south of Limón ended in death for one man, and a 15-year-old still is missing.
Four persons were tossed in the water when a big wave overturned the panga or open fishing boat about 10 a.m.
The dead man is Róger Martínez Retana, 38, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. The missing boy is Adrián Ramírez González.
Another occupant, a boy, 12, said he managed to survive by clinging to a fuel can. Another man also made it out of the surf safely.
The boat overturned in the open sea at the mouth of the Río Wesfalia.
Let’s do lunch,
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Police grabbed a burglary suspect after he showed up at a home seeking the lunch investigators claim he left behind.
Fuerza Pública officials are calling the case one of the strangest in recent years.
It all started in the community of La Cruz de Guatil de Acosta when a family arrived home to find the door to their house open. When they entered, a burglar fled out the back door. However, the family quickly noticed that the man had left behind a briefcase that contained what appeared to be his lunch.
The suspect, identified by the last names of Arias Abarca, 22, showed up a few hours later because he wanted to retrieve his lunch, police said. However, the occupants of the home were waiting, and they were able to identify him when police arrested him in a nearby coffee field a short time later.
The arrest triggered an outpouring of complaints of prior burglaries by residents.
Hondurian street kid killed, says child group
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
In what continues to be the constant murder of children and young people in Honduras, another street youth was murdered Saturday in Tegucigalpa, according to child protection group Casa Alianza.
Ariel Alexis Garay, 17, was walking through the busy Galindo market in central Comayaguela, a city adjacent to the capital of Tegucigalpa, when he was approached by two unidentified males, who opened fire and shot him twice, wounds which later killed him.
Because the Casa Alianza graveyard is full, the agency's street educators found a place in a nearby graveyard where Alexis was buried. Alexis, who was originally from Orica, would regularly sleep in La Merced Park in Tegucigalpa, where Casa Alianza’s street educators attended him.
Alexis was addicted to toxic shoe glue, according to the group. Casa Alianza is looking into the possibility of increasing the size of the graveyard plot for more children.
More than 1,500 people under the age of 23 have been murdered in Honduras since Casa Alianza started collecting statistics in January 1998, claims the group.
Despite government efforts to investigate the murders, there have been few advances, said the group.
The group also says that ambassadors from the five country members of
the European Union represented in Honduras have written to the government
of Ricardo Maduro expressing their concern over the constant murders of
Honduran children and youth.
U.S. Customs strengthens
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Customs Service has announced both the domestic and international expansion of a multi-agency financial crime task force targeting financial systems used by terrorist organizations.
Led by the U.S Customs Service and labeled ‘Operation Green Quest,’ the increase relates to the number of dedicated field units, which stands at one right now. It will be raised to 15 after the changes.
It is anticipated that there will be limited costs involved.
Free trade sparks protest
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Farm groups here continue to protest the reduction in agricultural tariffs that took place Jan. 1 under terms set by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Over a dozen protesters are carrying out a hunger strike at a major city intersection near the U.S. Embassy.
In his folk song, singer Andres Contreras says the Mexican campo, or countryside, cannot take any more and that the small farmers have lost their patience. He says people should listen to the complaints of the peasants, known in Spanish as campesinos so that they might preserve their traditional lifestyle, living off the land.
Nearby, 16 men and women lie under a tarp covered in blankets. They are representatives of various campesino organizations and they are undergoing a fast to draw attention to the cause.
One of the organizers of this protest, at the Angel of Independence monument here, is Fernando Olivaria Saavedra. He says the free trade agreement has been a disaster for the campo, although he admits that some sectors have done well because of the treaty.
He says large farm operations have benefited most and that the government failed to take into account the needs of the peasants who work small plots of land and are ill-equipped to compete with Canada and the United States, the other treaty participants.
The government of President Vicente Fox has tried to mollify the farmers by opening a dialogue with them. Last week, Fox even suggested that he might be disposed to renegotiate parts of the agreement, something he had previously said he would not do. But the president warned that it might not be wise to reopen treaty negotiations since the country could lose more than it gains in a new deal.
Free trade advocates have supported the government's refusal to renegotiate and have expressed concern that Fox might damage both trade and his own credibility by giving in to the farmers groups' demands.
Sergio Sarmiento, a Reforma newspaper columnist notes that the overall effect of the agreement has been positive. In the past ten years, he says, Bank of Mexico figures show a more than 58 percent increase in exports.
He also notes that imports of cheaper grains and other products from the United States and Canada have kept food prices for consumers much lower than they would have been without the treaty. Sarmiento says the real problem is not trade, but the inability of the small, inefficient farms to produce and compete.
But the farm protest has taken on political force and is being backed by members of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution and some members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico for 71 years until Fox became president two years ago.
Oil prices increase
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Global oil prices are again rising despite the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' decision to boost output by seven percent amid concern over Venezuela's long-running general strike and the prospect of a U.S. led war with Iraq.
Venezuela and Iraq are both organization member nations.
Crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange climbed to $32 per barrel Monday. In London, Brent crude was selling for more than $30 per barrel.
Last week, crude oil prices soared to $33 per barrel before the organization announced its decision to boost production. The markets were reacting to the Venezuelan strike and the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf.
Venezuela has been the world's fifth-largest oil exporter. But the general strike — now in its seventh week — has paralyzed Venezuela's oil industry and led to widespread shortages of fuel and food.
Venezuela's opposition called the strike to force President Hugo Chavez to resign and call early elections. He refuses to give in to their demands.
In a related development, Chavez is expected to meet with Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary general, Thursday in New York to discuss Venezuela's political crisis. U.N. officials also say Chavez is due to speak to reporters afterwards.
International pressure is building for a solution to the conflict in Venezuela, which usually provides 13 percent of U.S. oil imports.
On Monday, Venezuelan police fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse hundreds of Chavez supporters who attacked opposition demonstrators in the capital, Caracas, and the city of Maracaibo.
|U.S. plans closer scrutiny
of foreign visitors
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. immigration authorities are implementing tightened registration procedures on foreign visitors in a policy designed to enhance national security while continuing to allow foreign visitors to enter the United States.
The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System was launched Sept. 11, 2002 to register selected foreign visitors with U.S. immigration authorities. At U.S. ports of entry, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has questioned and fingerprinted thousands of visitors from 145 countries before allowing them into the United States.
At the same time, several groups of men already in the United States have been asked to report to INS offices for similar registration. Most of the people affected by the new registration procedures are citizens of Arab or Muslim majority countries. U.S. officials insist that the new system is based solely on national security concerns about terrorist threats.
"The last thing in the world we want to do is discourage people from... the Arab world, from continuing to visit the United States," explained Richard Haass, the State Department's director for policy planning, in a speech to a Moroccan audience Friday.
"What we are trying to do is find a balance, to strike a balance, between retaining our openness and our welcome, while at the same time providing the necessary security," he said.
In a June 6, 2002 speech announcing the program, John Ashcroft, attorney general, said the purpose of the registration requirement for the visa applicants and current visitors was to "determine if foreign visitors follow their stated plans while guests in our country, or even if they overstay the legal limit of their visas."
Most of the approximately 300 million yearly foreign visitors to the United States come as tourists, students, for business purposes, or to visit friends and relatives.
According to most estimates, the vast majority pursue their stated purpose and return home. However, the National Commission on Terrorism report released more than one year before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks said that as many as two million visitors who legally enter the country each year "overstayed their visa and remained here to live."
In 1996, well before that report was issued, Congress had requested INS to implement a comprehensive entry-exit registration system by 2005 in order to gain a better knowledge of who was in the country.
Terrorism suspects are
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — John Ashcroft, attorney general, and Robert Mueller, FBI director, released a statement Monday regarding the arrest of suspects in Frankfurt, Germany.
"Today German authorities arrested a number of suspects in Frankfurt as part of an ongoing terrorism-related investigation between the FBI and German law enforcement.
"The United States deeply appreciates the excellent cooperation of the German government in this matter. We are confident that our continuing partnerships with our international allies in the War on Terrorism will bring us ultimate victory."
U.S. hands poor of
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has donated $2 million to the United Nations World Food Program to help hungry and displaced people in Colombia.
In a release Thursday, the program said the U.S. contribution will help assist 375,000 displaced Colombians.
The program said the U.S. donation will enable it to continue with mother-child health programs and nutritional recovery activities, and to support preschoolers.
The program also said its assistance aims "not only to satisfy the immediate food needs of the displaced, but to encourage children to attend school and to provide displaced persons with the necessary food so they can participate in productive and skills-development activities."
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut senator, announced Monday that he will be a candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination for U.S. president in 2004.
The vice presidential running mate with Al Gore in 2000, Lieberman joins a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls for the party nomination, including Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt and Vermont Governor Howard Dean. At least five others are considering running as well.
Two big name Democrats who announced they would not seek the nomination are Gore — Lieberman had stressed since 2000 that if Gore ran again, he would not — and South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle, the party's leader in the Senate.
Addressing a group of students at his old high school in Stamford, Connecticut, plus a national television audience, Lieberman said the nation can "renew the American dream . . . if our leaders are ready to lead."
Regime rebel criticizes
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MIAMI, Fla. — The leading pro-democracy dissident in Cuba says the decades-old U.S. economic embargo is a poor tool for promoting change on the communist-run island.
In an address to Cuban exiles here, Oswaldo Paya said reform can only come to Cuba when Cubans themselves take the initiative. He says change cannot be imposed from abroad, whether through an economic embargo or any other means.
Paya says some people believe the embargo is the solution to Cuba's problems, but he says it is not. He says others believe that foreign investment, tourism, and cultural exchanges with Cuba can bring change.
But, he added, these ideas leave out the primary agent of change in Cuba, which is the Cuban people.
The United States recently relaxed the embargo to allow the cash sale of food and medicine to Cuba. But the Bush Administration insists overall U.S. policy to the island will not change.
Paya, 50, is best known for championing the Varela Project, a grass-roots petition campaign seeking a referendum on civil liberties and other reforms in Cuba. The initiative generated more than 11,000 signatures but so far has been cast aside by the island's communist-controlled national assembly.
Paya's rejection of the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, along with his efforts to promote change while working within the legal confines of Cuba's constitution, have made him a controversial figure here.
Many hard-line Cuban exiles back the embargo and advocate President Fidel Castro's ousting by virtually any means.
Generally ignored by Cuba's state-run domestic news media, Paya is better known abroad than in his native island.
Paya recently met with Colin Powell, secretary of state, in Washington
and had an audience with the Pope at the Vatican. Last year, he received
the European Union's top human rights award.
GENEVA, Switzerland — The 3rd Biennial 5 a Day International Symposium will bring health professionals and industry representatives together next week to widen the initiative to boost increased fruit and vegetable consumption. The symposium will be held in Berlin, Germany, from Jan. 14 through 15.
"Increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables is a necessary part of the effort to reduce the growing global burden of chronic diseases," says the World Health Organization's Dr Derek Yach, executive director of Non-communicable Diseases & Mental Health.
Chronic diseases now contribute to 60 per cent of deaths and 49 percent of the global disease burden. And already, 79 per cent of these diseases — which include cardiovascular diseases, stroke, type II diabetes, cancers and obesity — are occurring in developing countries.
This is largely a result of a few major risk factors, including tobacco use and a significant change in diet habits and increased physical inactivity. Such changes are taking place in the context of increasing industrialization, urbanization, economic development and food market globalization.
The World Health Report 2002 attributes at least 2.7 million deaths globally per year to low fruit and vegetable intake. Evidence suggests that there
|is insufficient consumption of these
foods in most countries of the world. As well as helping prevent chronic
diseases, adequate fruit and vegetable intake also improves nutritional
deficiencies and increases resistance to infectious diseases.
"The increasing burden of chronic diseases is one of the leading health problems of our time, with significant implications for the future health and prosperity of millions of people in both the developed, and increasingly, the developing world," says Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the organization’s director general.
"The 5 A Day program is playing an important role in working with the private sector to encourage greater consumption of fruit and vegetables.
"We need to find ways to extend the 5 A Day concept globally, and especially to tailor it to the conditions, cultures and distribution systems of the developing world," says Dr. Yach.
"Boosting fruit and vegetable consumption is a simple message with profound implications for global food production and distribution systems. But we must ensure that public health needs remain the overall driver of this, not delivery system bottlenecks," he said.
The symposium will highlight lessons learned from 5 A Day-type programs and examine ways to adapt the program appropriately to different national realities in developing countries, in an effort to boost fruit and vegetable consumption.
Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.
Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books.
Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.
Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.
|Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes
had about 2,400.
Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants. Associates of both men have been jailed.
A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.
Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.
|He thinks Pacheco
is at fault
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Well in my opinion the whole mess with the Bros is a gov't ploy to "GET MONEY". Think about it first. You should know every time you go into a bank and as you wait you see the dry erase board with the loan interest rates on them. Since there is no regulation on interest rates for loans in CR, the interest rates tend to be as high as a TV mafia loansharks. How would you like to buy a house for 28 to 38% interest for 15 years? 2.5% a month interest seems high but that is exactly what our max interest is in the USA that's 24.99% a year. But in CR the interest is much higher. Well, any way that's not my thing, just my attempt at justifying it is possible to pay that kind of interest to people and still make a legitimate profit for your company.
My thing is being a corrupt gov't as CR is which is not as bad as the other countries around it just seized almost 1 billion dollars. Do you actually think they will return the innocent investors money or will it disappear in the name of national debt or personal finance only to end up lining the bank accounts of the true criminals: the lawyers and politicians.
I don't think any investor will ever see his money again. But I hope they do. I don't look at the Bros as criminals. They did business for almost 20 years out in the open with no problem. Also the fact that someone goes to a bank for a loan and has all his paperwork in line and just so happens to be a criminal or terrorist and does not use that loan for the legitimate purpose the so called money is for stated in the paper work does that not make the loaner a criminal also? If this was the case all the Swiss banks should have been shut down and all their assets seized for funding Nazi Germany in WW2.
If this is the case I myself bought a pack of Marlboro cigarettes here in the U.S. from my local gas station, and it had the words "tax exempt" stamped on the pack only to find out later on there was a warning from the FBI that those cigarettes that were sold here the money from the sales were being used to support terrorists. So I guess I am also a criminal of sorts or am I just ignorant in believing that I actually was giving my business to a legitimate business? This being the case whether or not the Bros. did legitimate business with the money. The seized money should be returned to its rightful owners at the least. Should it not?
Well enough of my ramblings. My closing thoughts: I firmly believe since this all happened with the Bros, when Pacheco took office with his new tax plan and all his unthought out ridicules taxes to help pay off the national debt. He found a billion dollars that was ripe for the taking and he is not turning it lose. When his new laws pass it won't be legal to just give it back to its owners. After all its all rich gringos’ money and they can just go back to the U.S. and pick more from their grove of money trees.
Pura Vida! or should I say Pura Dollares!
Ron NeffEDITOR’S NOTE: Interest rates in colons here reflect the annual devaluation of the currency that is about 11 percent per year. On a second point, Costa Rica has not frozen $1 billion. At best, the country has frozen $10 million in Villalobos assets. The fugitive financier has control of the rest.
New Smyrna Beach, Fl./
Osa Peninsula, CR.
|Time to step forward
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Thank you for your periodic reasoned and intelligent analyses of the local Villalobos and Savings Unlimited scandals. Your reporting has been superior to the New Age nonsense that frequently dominates the local hard-copy English newspaper.
You are also the only English-language news source to raise the issue of unpaid taxes. On Dec. 14, Al Dia carried an article which stated that the Costa Rican government has a list of Villalobos investors and is going after them for non-payment of back taxes. Investment income, unlike earned, is not tax free as some Americans here erroneously believe. And under an agreement between Costa Rica and the United States, taxes due that are not paid to the IRS are then owed to the CR government.
For those Americans who actually paid taxes on their Villalobos income (and I know almost no one who did), the Costa Rican government has the right to assess a 15% tax on the balance. There is a five-year statute of limitations, and it may relieve some of your readers to know that no one over 65 goes to jail in this country — or so I've heard. Please keep us informed about this aspect of the story.
And what do I think of your reward offer? I honestly thought you were trying to help investors get back at least some of their money. Many of your other readers don't see it that way, especially when it comes to Enrique Villalobos. A frequent comment: how would you like it if something similar happened to you?
Hmmm. Let me see. If I were innocent of wrong-doing and a reward was posted on the Internet for my capture, how would I respond?
Initially with surprise, then shock, eventually outrage. I would probably protest — and vigorously — my innocence.
But just for conjecture's sake, let's try another scenario. Accused of a crime I did not commit, I might at first be so frightened that I would flee the country or go into hiding — which is exactly what supporters of Villalobos say has happened.
From a safe place, I would wait and watch, hoping that the building news coverage would make my case so noteworthy that when I finally came forward, no dirty business could take place without intense media scrutiny. Many people think that Enrique Villalobos is doing just that.
As a final step, I would turn myself in, watch my accusers proved wrong in all of their charges, and be dramatically and publicly vindicated. And the editor of A. M. Costa Rica would have to eat crow for his wanted poster.
So Enrique, we're waiting. It's time to step forward, speak up, and be counted.
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