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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 10
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The trees at Cahuita National Park on the central Caribbean coast mask the radiance of a late afternoon sun that peeks through the highly variable foliage.
 

U.S. offers amnesty to offshore tax dodgers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The U.S. government said Tuesday it will offer limited amnesty to taxpayers who hid their incomes in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.

The proposal seems to offer a way for many U.S. investors in the Villalobos operation or in Savings Unlimited to avoid civil or criminal prosecution.


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Under the Offshore Voluntary Compliance Initiative, eligible taxpayers will still have to pay back taxes, interest and certain other penalties. To qualify, taxpayers would have to disclose information about those who promoted or solicited their participation in the offshore financial arrangement.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service announced the initiative.

"With today's action, the IRS is sending the clear signal that those involved in these offshore schemes should come forward now on their own." said Acting IRS Commissioner Bob Wenzel.

A taxpayer who does not come forward by April 15, however, will be subject to payment of taxes, interest, penalties and potential criminal prosecution, the IRS warned. Failing to report income is a U.S. federal felony.

The defunct investment operation run by Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho paid up to 3 percent a month, mostly in cash at the Mall San Pedro location. Both U.S. citizens who are residents here and U.S. citizens living in the United States were required by law to pay taxes on the interest income. Many did not for years. Although taxpayers overseas have an exemption of about $76,000 on earned income, interest income is not exempt.

The IRS said it will use this information provided by taxpayers to pursue promoters of a number of offshore schemes and to obtain information about taxpayers who have avoided tax through the use of offshore payment cards or other offshore financial arrangements and who do not come forward under the initiative.

The IRS said that those who promoted or solicited others to avoid tax by using offshore operations are not eligible to participate in the Initiative, said the IRS.  Villalobos required that an investor be introduced by another investor. It was unclear late Tuesday if that rule would preclude most of the investors from taking part in that initiative. Complete details on this initiative and eligibility can be found in Revenue Procedure 2003-11, which was issued Tuesday.

The Voluntary Compliance Initiative grows out of the two-year-old "John Doe" summons investigation. Since October 2000, the IRS has issued a series of summonses to a variety of financial and commercial businesses to obtain information on U.S. residents who held credit, debit or other payment cards issued by offshore banks.

Access to information is critical to ensuring the full and fair enforcement of the tax laws, said the IRS. In addition to techniques such as the use of these John Doe summonses, the United States has a broad network of bilateral treaties and agreements with countries throughout the world that allow the IRS to obtain information relevant to the tax liabilities of U.S. taxpayers, said the agency. 

The IRS said information requested from other countries under these treaties and agreements is an important means by which the IRS identifies taxpayers who attempt to hide income offshore to avoid their tax obligations. Costa Rica confiscated a quantity of Villalobos records when agents raided his office July 4.

Under the Voluntary Compliance Initiative, eligible taxpayers will have to file or amend their returns and pay interest and certain civil penalties, as well as the tax. The interest and penalties depend on the amount of the unpaid tax liability, the years involved, whether a return was inaccurate or if a return should have been filed and was not.

For example, a taxpayer who understated his income to avoid $100,000 in taxes in 1999 would wind up paying $149,319 to the government. This includes the tax liability plus $29,319 in interest and an additional penalty of $20,000, said the IRS.

If a taxpayer did not step forward, his tax liability generally would include the civil fraud penalty of $75,000, and higher interest of $42,758, the IRS said. The total amount due would be $217,758, without considering probable additional civil penalties for failure to file certain information returns, the agency added.

To apply for the Voluntary Compliance Initiative, taxpayers must notify the IRS in writing and provide their name, taxpayer identification number, current address, daytime phone number and certain promoter information as specified in the Revenue Procedure, said the IRS.

Compliance with the initiative might be hampered because so many Villalobos and Saving Unlimited investors lost most of their cash when both operations went out of business this fall. 

Additional information on the Voluntary Compliance Initiative is available on the IRS Web site at www.irs.gov.

Yet another computer virus is making the rounds here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new computer virus discovered Thursday by an anti-computer virus provider is freely circulating around international e-mail accounts, including many in San José and the rest of Costa Rica.

McAfee Security has published a warning on its Web site about the virus, received as ‘big@boss.com,’ stating that the virus is regarded as having medium risk for all PC users, both corporate and personal.

The virus, known as an e-mail worm, usually arrives with a subject of "Movies," "Sample," "Document" or "Here is that sample." 
Attachments invariably include one of the 

following: "Movie_0074.mpeg.pif," "Document003.pif," "Untitled1.pif," "Sample.pif."

"This worm is written in MSVC and attempts to spread via network shares and e-mail. The worm contains its own SMTP engine," said the McAfee warning.

A McAfee sample revealed that the method of infection was via two files. One was a displayed pornographic image, the other a worm, which attaches itself to the Windows directory as ‘WINMGM32.EXE.’

McAfee describe a worm as "a virus that spreads by creating duplicates of itself on other drives, systems, or networks."

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Slain U.S. citizen David Kane wrote own obituary
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

David Kane was so addicted to detail that he even wrote and filed his own obituary. Friends found it while straightening up his La Granja home where he was murdered.

The robbers who killed him took his computer, but a copy of the obituary was left behind. There was no indication that Kane had any reason to suspect that he would die. His friends said he was a man who paid much attention to detail. The murders are still at large.

Friends will remember the retired telecommunications executive Thursday at 2 p.m. at a memorial service in the home, which is about a kilometer south of the Banco Nacional branch in San Pedro.

Friends are seeking contributions for the memorial service, which may be mailed in the name of his sister, Kathie Curran at Apartado 2347-2050 San Pedro. Any money left over will be used for charitable purposes in his name, friends said.

Here is the obituary Kane prepared:
 

David B. Kane, 59
Boston Bank Executive

David B. Kane, 59, in San José, Costa Rica. Formerly of Boston, Massachusetts and Newport, Rhode Island.

Mr. Kane grew up in Buffalo, New York, and later 

studied at Emerson College, State University of 
New York at Buffalo, Northland College, Park College and Texas A&M University’s Texas Maritime Academy.

He first held positions as an associate editor of EDP Industry Report at International Data Corporation and later as an executive assistant at Computerworld in Newtonville, Massachusetts.

In 1970 he joined New England Telephone Company in Boston and from 1970-1986 served in various telecommunication management positions there and at AT&T.

In 1986 he joined Bank of New England, and served as a vice president in network planning and management for the regional bank holding company. 

In 1991 he joined State Street Corporation where he served as vice president of global voice networks with responsibility for planning support and operations management, He retired in 1998 and relocated to San José, Costa Rica.

A long time Beacon Hill resident, Mr. Kane served on the board of directors fo the Beacon Hill Civic Association and was an avid yachtsman and a former member of the Boston Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He was also a member of the Point Association in Newport, Rhode Island.

He is survived by his parents, E. H. Kane Jr. and Jean W. Kane of Hobe Sound, Florida, and his sister, Katherine K. Curran of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. He was buried in the family plot at Sea Pines Cemetery, Brewster, Massachusetts.

U.S. suspends support of Colombian group
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is banning aid to an elite Colombian air force unit that is under investigation in that country for a bombing incident in 1998 that killed 18 civilians. 

The State Department says the slow pace of the investigation raises questions about the commitment of Colombia's air force to find the facts in the case. 

The Colombian air force unit in question, the 1st Combat Command, is currently getting no direct U.S. aid but the decision announced here has a high symbolic value and will disqualify it from future assistance in a growing Bush administration effort to help Colombia deal with narco-trafficking and terrorism. 

The incident in question occurred in December 1998 when a Colombian helicopter crew belonging to the 1st Combat Command dropped a U.S.-made cluster bomb in the village of Santo Domingo, near the Venezuelan border, in an operation against leftist insurgents said to have been operating in the area. 

The bombing killed 18 civilians and wounded dozens more and has been the subject of a long running military investigation marked by allegations of non-cooperation and stalling by air force officers. At a State Department briefing, spokesman Richard Boucher made clear U.S. 

frustration over the pace and conduct of the investigation.

"The Santo Domingo tragedy occurred over four years ago. The prolonged investigation has raised questions about the Colombian air force's commitment to determine the facts, and we think damages the reputation of Colombia's air force," he said. "We have not prejudiced the criminal responsibility of the Colombian air force members currently under investigation in this case. We support due process and we expect a just ruling based on objective facts." 

General Hector Velasco, Colombia's air force chief, has denied air force responsibility for the deaths, at first saying that a guerrilla car bomb killed the villagers, and later suggesting the evidence of a cluster bomb had been planted at the site. 

Colombia has received nearly $2 billion in U.S. aid in recent years, most of it earmarked for anti-narcotics activities. The Bush administration has gotten Congress to ease restrictions so that some aid can be used in anti-insurgent operations, including protection of a strategic oil pipeline that has been frequently attacked and shut down by guerrillas. 

At least three Colombian army units have been barred from receiving U.S. aid but the decision announced Tuesday marks the first time that an air force unit has been penalized.

Go to third newspage HERE!   Go home HERE!
Import fight brews
with European Union

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is gearing up for a desperate fight to keep some $300 million in agricultural exports to the European Union free of a 20 percent duty.

Costa Rican officials are calling all of their friends in Europe to intercede on the country’s behalf to prevent the exclusion of Tico products from the Generalized System of trade Preferences.

President Abel Pacheco said Tuesday that he had spoken too with José María Aznar, president of Spain. Pacheco said the Spanish leader promised to press Costa Rica’s case with the union.

The industry that would be hit with a 20 percent duty employees some 35,000 persons. The products involved include melons, yucca, pineapples and ornamental plants.

Pacheco said that if the duty is imposed the impact for Costa Rica would be terrible. Officials noted that much of the employment is in the agricultural areas where there are not a lot of options for persons working there.

Colombia joins pact
to fight crime together

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Colombia has become the ninth member state to deposit instruments ratifying the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, an Organization of American States’ treaty. 

Ambassador Humberto de la Calle deposited the ratification documents Monday, underscoring how important cooperation, exchange and mutual assistance in criminal matters were in 1992 when the Convention was adopted. 

It is even more important today, he stressed, adding:  “A convention like this is very important for the Americas, and particularly for Colombia which, unfortunately, has been ravaged by organized crime.” 

De la Calle said that from a practical standpoint, mutual assistance is the best response “to problems that unfortunately grow by the day,” and urged countries that have not yet done so to ratify the treaty, “with the understanding that the avenue of international law must be followed to address these matters.” 

Luigi Einaudi, organization assistant secretary general, who received the ratification documents, commended Colombia’s role in the development of international law since the early days of the organization and described the possibility of harmonizing the laws of the respective countries to ensure more expeditious information sharing as “one of the fundamental objectives not only of this Convention but of inter-American cooperation as well.” 

Adopted in 1992, the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters entered into force four years later.  Besides Colombia, the other states that have ratified are Canada, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, United States and Venezuela.

Arms captured from
police in Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Soldiers loyal to President Hugo Chavez have seized automatic weapons, rifles and anti-riot equipment from police loyal to the city's opposition mayor.

The troops raided several police stations early Tuesday, leaving the officers with just their .38-caliber pistols and ammunition. 

In mid-November, Chavez ordered the military to take control of the city's police department from Mayor Alfredo Pena. But, the Supreme Court later ordered restoration of Pena's authority over the police. 

Chavez has blamed police for shooting and killing two government supporters during recent clashes with the opposition. Tuesday's military action comes amid a long-running anti-government strike aimed at forcing Chavez to resign and call early elections. He refuses to step down and says the strike amounts to a coup attempt. 

The strike has paralyzed the vital oil industry and boosted world oil prices. 

International pressure is building for a solution to the conflict in Venezuela, which usually provides about 13 percent of U.S. oil imports. 

Diplomats and international leaders are expected to meet Wednesday in Ecuador to discuss the situation. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will make a visit here early next week to try to mediate between Chavez and the opposition. 

Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary general, is scheduled to meet Thursday in New York with Chavez for talks on the crisis. 

Pilots on trial 
for bombing allies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BARKSDALE, La. — A hearing is now under way for two U.S. pilots who could be court-martialed for accidentally killing four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan last year. 

The hearing started Tuesday at the Air Force Base here.

Majors Harry Schmidt and William Umbach face charges of involuntary manslaughter, assault and dereliction of duty for dropping a bomb on a Canadian military unit near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in April, 2002. Four Canadians died and eight others were wounded. 

The two men dropped the bomb when they saw ground fire from a former al-Qaida camp, believing it was enemy fire. The flashes came from Canadian troops performing night-time maneuvers. 

The pilots' defense lawyers say the U.S. military is to blame for faulty communication. The defense is also pointing to a prescription medicine called Dexedrine, which is made available to Air Force personnel during missions that are longer than eight hours. The pilots were on a 14-hour mission when the incident occurred. 

The hearing is called an "Article 32," and, in the U.S. military court system, is similar to a civilian hearing of a grand jury. When it is concluded, the men may face court martial and, then, up to 64 years in prison if convicted.

Clinton opines 
about globalization

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK CITY — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton led a day-long conference at New York University on the impact of globalization on the world economy. 

In a room filled with foreign dignitaries, policy makers, students and journalists, Clinton set the day's agenda with an overview of how the people of the world are faring in the era of globalization. In the last 20 years, he said, the global economy has lifted more people out of poverty than ever before, but more than a billion people still go to bed hungry every night. 

"We have here a classic good news, bad news story. We couldn't reverse globalization if we wanted to, and it's simply not true that it is the source of all the problems in the world. But it is absolutely true that economics alone will not come close to solving the problems of the world, and that global interdependence means far more than just an increase in trade," Clinton said. 

One of the central questions of the conference is, why has globalization benefited some countries and not others? The discrepancy between how East Asian economies have flourished over the past decade, versus how Latin American economies have struggled, quickly emerged as a paradigm. 

Plagued by political upheaval and economic chaos, Latin America has not proven adept at capitalizing on globalization. The economies of Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, for example, have grown by less than three percent since the early 1990s. 

Jorge Castaneda, who just stepped down as Mexico's foreign secretary, cites the current crisis in Venezuela which drafted and ratified its constitution just three years ago as representative of what ails Latin American societies as a whole. 

"Whatever else one can say about Venezuela today, it would seem that those spanking new institutions do not seem to be particularly helpful or appropriate in solving the very severe social and political divisions that affect Venezuelan society today," he said. 

Disjoined twins
return home

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Twin girls who were born joined at the head have gone home to Guatemala, five months after surgery to separate them. The prognosis for both is good.

Wearing tiaras over their bandages, the 17-month-old sisters left the children's hospital at the University of California here. Medical workers saw them off Monday, in a farewell one nurse called "bittersweet."

"We know that this is best for them and they need to be back in their hometown, but we've grown really attached to them and it's going to be hard for us," she said.

The girls, known as the two Marias, were born fused at the skull with their faces tilted in opposite directions. They were brought here with help from a charity called Healing the Children. 

Doctors describe the 23-hour procedure to separate the girls as one of the most difficult in the hospital's history. On several occasions, one of the girls was near death.

An anonymous donor contributed $450,000 toward the $2 million cost of their medical care. University physicians donated their services. 

Dr. Henry Kawamoto says the team that cared for the twins included physicians from India, Argentina and Israel, as well as the United States. He calls the successful treatment a cooperative endeavor.

"As the twins go back to Guatemala, we're really exporting some of the best of American technology, American goodwill, and hopefully a message that says, people of the world, we can work together to bring a lot of joy," he said. 

U.N. reports countries
with child armies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK CITY — The United Nations Tuesday issued a report naming countries that violate international standards for the protection of war-affected children. This is the first time the U.N. has cited offenders by name.

Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary general, lists 23 parties in five countries that use or recruit children for military service in violation of international obligations. Annan says publication of the list must now be followed by systematic monitoring and reporting.

"By naming the parties that continue to recruit or use child soldiers, the international community has demonstrated its willingness to match words with deeds," he said. "Those who violate standards for the protection of children can no longer do so with impunity."

The five nations, all of which are on the U.N. Security Council's watch list, are Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Somalia. But Annan says the report also names countries not on the Security Council's agenda, including Colombia, Nepal, Sudan, Angola, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone, as violators of children's rights.

The U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, says the report "breaks new ground." But, in addition to monitoring and reporting, the United Nations must take action against violators," he said.

"The most pressing challenge facing us is how to translate the principles, standards and measures that have been put in place into facts on the ground," he added.

Otunnu recommends including the protection of children in all peace negotiations and rehabilitation programs.

In a meeting with the Security Council, Annan said the United Nations has achieved "steady progress in embedding the protection, rights and well-being of children affected by armed conflict" through previous resolutions.

"The three resolutions adopted by this council - the integration of child protection in peacekeeping mandates, the deployment of child protection advisors in selected peace missions, and the development of child protection training in mission areas - all attest to this," said Annan.

The Security Council is expected to adopt a fourth resolution offering further measures for the protection of children in armed conflict later this week.

Researchers strive to better understand mind

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Health researchers from the United States, Canada and Mexico are collaborating to find better solutions for people coping with brain disorders in the developing world. 

The Fogarty International Center, the international component of the National Institutes of Health, announced the project in a Jan. 9 release.

The work will focus on conditions such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, depression, schizophrenia and stroke and the strain these conditions put on patients and their families.

"While cost-effective treatments to reduce the burden of certain brain disorders are available in the developed world, this is not the case in the developing world," said Dr. Gerald Keusch, center director. "This program will support research on these disorders and efforts to develop new interventions that will benefit low-income populations around the world, and particularly in developing countries."

The center is joining Canadian and Mexican biomedical research agencies for the first time in the program, known as Brain Disorders in the Developing World: Research Across the Lifespan. The project invites researchers to submit proposals and applications in a competition for grants to be awarded.

Politician calls for better climate awareness 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. official says senior government and non-government officials from around the world will attend an Earth Observation Summit to be held here mid-2003 to discuss international cooperation on monitoring the Earth's climate system.

James Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce and director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, told a Senate hearing Jan. 8 that the summit will call on science ministers and advisors of the G-8 and other nations "to develop a new level of comprehensive, climate-quality global monitoring, and to initiate the planning to implement this commitment."

Mahoney said that over the past decade technological investments by the United States and its foreign partners — notably in Europe and Japan — have provided unprecedented global views of the Earth as a complex, interacting system. 

He added, however, that advanced measuring systems were still needed in developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

"To achieve an integrated global observing system, a significant number of developed countries and organizations must be willing to commit the necessary resources to make it happen," he said.

Mahoney said the Climate Change Science Program Workshop held here Dec. 3 through 5 provided the starting point for the upcoming summit. 

The workshop, which drew participants from more than 30 countries, reviewed the administration's new Draft Strategic Plan, which sets priorities for federal research on climate change over the next 10 years. 

At the Senate hearing, Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, introduced a bipartisan bill that calls for mandatory limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from U.S. power plants and industries. 

The proposed legislation, which is modeled after the successful U.S. acid rain trading program, would require a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2016.

The Bush administration has opposed mandatory limits on greenhouse gases, favoring a voluntary approach. Bush has called for more research into the causes and effects of global warming and a series of economic incentives to encourage utilities and other industries to gradually reduce the growth of emissions.
 
 
Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Lawyers

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Luggage spends an extra night in Amsterdam
By Bryan Kay 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nightmare that every air traveler dreads, but think will never happen to them, appears to be ocurring increasingly often.

Setting off on a trans-Atlantic journey, or simply state hopping, the problem is never far away. It only takes one little glitch in the airport system to make you the next unsuspecting victim.

Standing there, staring at the endless rotation of baggage — sometimes mistaking others baggage as your own — there’s just no way your bag isn’t next. You may experience some anxiety when everyone else seems to get theirs and heads for customs while you are still playing eye tennis with the conveyor belt, but it’ll come eventually.

That’s exactly what I thought on my recent return from Europe to Costa Rica with Martinair. But my luggage never materialized.

It seemed from the outset that the journey was destined to be a disaster. In Edinburgh my flight was delayed. My connection in Amsterdam was delayed. In fact, it was there that the penny should have dropped so to speak. The pilot hinted that there was a problem with transfer baggage — that is persons whose luggage didn’t originate in Amsterdam. That would be me.
 
An A.M. Costa Rica
personal report

Come to think of it, I should have realized much earlier that this journey was to be doomed. Two days before I traveled my uncle pointed out that the Amsterdam Schiphol airport baggage handlers are famed for their no-shows. He said he had lost baggage there in the past. Naively, I was quite the smug one, saying: “I’ve never lost anything there before.” Big mistake.

What should have been a straightforward 15-hour journey, including transit time in Miami (that’s another story), ended up near to a 24-hour ordeal.

Upon negotiating immigration all that was left for the plane’s passengers to do was collect their baggage and enter Costa Rica at last. Not so.

At San José’s Juan Santamaría Airport bags of indescribable dimensions and peculiar-looking wrapped objects came and left with their owners. But still a strangely large number of passengers were still waiting for luggage. And it seemed at this point that the same luggage was circulating constantly. No more bags were coming in from the handlers below. But maybe they were just slow — that’s what I thought anyway. And so too, it seemed, did a number of the others, who patiently remained around the belt.

One traveler’s bag, a rucksack, afforded passengers still waiting with a timely distraction to the hold-up. One of the rucksack’s straps became entangled under the runners of the collection point’s feeder belt. 

Numerous passengers proceeded to fight with the spinning machine, unsuccessfully. Staff members showed limited concern. Eventually, when it was 


Amsterdam airport left their urgency a little too late after baggage turned up a day late
 

realized that this rucksack was causing problems with other luggage, action was taken to amend
the situation — but not without the help of passengers.

By this stage airport staff were weaving around passengers asking if their journey originated in several European cities. Berlin, Madrid, Manchester and Paris were among them. Few people responded. The ones that did were merely told to see if their name was on “the list.”

The staff member was instructing these people to go to the services desk behind the belt. It was then I realized that although Edinburgh wasn’t on the list, I was one of the people who should be consulting the desk with their closely guarded information.

I met an English couple also traveling from Scotland. Their origin was Glasgow. They were as puzzled as I when an airport employee informed us that there was no more luggage. He said to queue. 

By this time the queue was long and extremely unruly, both in form and in passengers’ tempers. Two such passengers exchanged pleasantries, though I would be surprised if either understood what the other was saying, as one screamed in Dutch and the other in Spanish.

We queued for around an hour. Who knows why it took so long to deal with people — there seemed like little justification for this time length. Tico culture, perhaps? The staff member at the desk, when I eventually got there, said that my baggage would arrive the next day, probably in the evening. 

Indeed it did. But why did the Martinair pilot blatantly leave Amsterdam when it was clear that not all passengers’ baggage was onboard? 

He said as much when he instructed us in Amsterdam that the reason we were still waiting at the terminal was that there was a problem with the electronic transfer baggage system. Around 10 minutes later, we left. But he said it would be about 30 minutes.

I guess that’s the joy of air travel in the technologically ‘advanced’ 21st century. It is a comforting thought that one day, well-trained staff might be just about right. Because in the post-Sept. 11 world things have tightened in airports. Or so I’m told. 

 World race for charity may pass your front door?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a world where air travel is cheap and time is no object, you might be able to cover all four corners of the globe with relative ease. 

But to do it in three weeks would be tantamount to expect a snail to cover 100 meters in 10 minutes while expending the least amount of slime possible.

Someone neglected to mention this to William Chalmers, the creator of an event that takes 50 travelers from San Francisco to New York City, covering almost everything in between, in just three weeks.

This year sees the 2nd Annual GreatEscape2003: The Global Scavenger Hunt travel adventure competition, the primary event in the GreatEscape Foundation’s calendar.

The event will pair up 50 travelers into 25 groups of two. After flying out from San Francisco April 25 on board a 747 jumbo jet, the pairs will travel to at least 10 countries and four continents. No knowledge of the specific locations will be disclosed until on board the plane, said the organization.

Last year Latin America was not on the itinerary. 

Pamela Finmark, the GreatEscape2003 press
officer, was unable to advise of destinations for this year but hinted that Chalmers made “an elongated research trip” to the continent. There remains a chance then that this swarming group of travelers will visit Costa Rica.

While in the countries, contestants will stay in first class hotels. The pairs will earn points undertaking a variety of tasks pertaining to culture, language, group integration and logistical problems among others.

The winning team will receive $100,000 in prize money and be crowned The World’s Greatest Travelers in New York May 18. To participate, would-be contestants are required to pay a $7,900 entry fee.

The foundation, a California registered not-for-profit organization, hopes to raise $1 million for charity. In the past, the organization has supported Conservation International, Global Green, Habitat for Humanity International, International Special Olympics, Mercy Corps International, UNICEF and the World Monuments Fund.

To participate or get further information contact the GreatEscape Foundation at 310.281.7809 or visit the website: www.GlobalScavengerHunt.com.


 
Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

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.

Four more letters on the Villalobos case
Country has blood 
on its hands

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In a letter of mine to you months back, I told you that even though the OIJ reported that there had been no suicides due to the collapse of the
Brothers I told you to just wait, it would happen. And now it's started. I, too, am thinking the same thing. In one's youth, it is not all that hard to start over. But at our ages, it's next to impossible to
fight against such a total loss of all of our years of hard labor and savings. Congratulations, Costa Rica, you now have blood on your hands!
 

Pat Sanders


Barbaric Costa Ricans

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am an investor with Villalobos for four years. This is how i feel about the mess that the Costa Rican government created. 

1) Peter Hamela's suicide was the first loss in this Villalobos drama. Abel Pacheco & Villalobos are responsible for his death. 

2) David Kane, victim of robbery, murdered in his house,  also a Villalobos investor. Abel Pacheco & Costa Rican barbaric people are responsible for his death. 

3) 6,289 investors of Villalobos, bunch of selfish and ignorent people who are afraid of making a move and demonstrating against the Costa Rican government for the unjust that they have  created. 

4) Let’s all sue the Costa Rican government for prolonging this issue without any merit. 

5) The minister of security and Abel Pacheco should take their personal matters with Villalobos to other avenues and let Villalobos get back to his business, so all the investors can move on with their lives. 

6) people who are not an investor, please keep your opinion to yourself and get a life! 

7) Costa Rica is becoming a wild, wild west, no justice, security or honesty!   Please let’s get united and demand the government & Villalobos to give our money back, so people can move on! 
 

Albert Barkhordarian
San Pedro


Should have given notice

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

How sad that someone commits suicide because of loss of money. Mr. Hamela may be one of many who will end their life because of the governments intervention in the Brothers enterprise that forced them to   discontinue paying creditors. 

It seems totally unfair for a government to interfere with a business relationships and causes people to lose all hope. It is different when someone who just takes people's money and "skips out," as these kind of   crooks should be prosecuted, but for someone who was operating a business that paid high interest rates to be forced out for trumped up reasons, is a sign of corruption in the system of government. 

Poor Mr. Hamela! I did not know him, but feel sorry for his family. I hope everyone, including the media that has interfered with the Villalobos operations and who has caused delays in the reopening of his business, feels the pain that Mr. Hamela experienced that caused him to take his life. May God forgive you for your part in causing him to kill himself. 

What an injustice to the people who invested. If the government is telling the truth and has been investigating the Brothers for two years, how easy it would have been to give investors a chance to save their money by announcing its suspicions of any wrongdoing. 

Kate Brown
He’s not buying it

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Reading about today's Villalobos-related suicide really makes me sick. How do all his LOYAL Investors feel about one of their own committing suicide. Here is a guy that realized that his money was gone, PERIOD. I am sure he realized this after Villalobos sent an E-mail saying that if he dies or goes to jail no one will get any money. 

Well both of the scenarios are a sure thing. It is a matter of what comes first. How can all of you LOYAL supporters of Villalobos still not see the handwriting on the wall? 

If Villalobos was such an honorable man, he would have said in his E-mail: Don't worry you will all get your money back in the future, no matter what!!! 

At least then, the poor guy who shot himself would have had a thread of hope. Stop blaming the government. Because Villalobos was allowed to operate for 20 years means nothing. If the government was not aware of   his criminal activity during that time does not make it OK. They are now aware of his activities, and feel that they have probable cause enough to issue an arrest warrant, which they have. 

He is officially WANTED. Therefore the offering of the $500.00 reward is justified by A.M. Costa Rica. He is a Fugitive From Justice. Not only to the government but also to his investors civily. 

There are some 600 investors, I understand that have filed civil suits to recover their monies. They are entitled to face Villalobos in a court of law for him to answer where their monies are. What all of you investors are asking is that the government totally drop their case against Villalobos, let him open up shop again, and probably have the government apologize to Villalobos and all the investors for the turmoil that they have caused.

If, in fact, all that Villalobos did was 100% legal, how do all of you get around the fact that none of you ever paid taxes to anyone on the interest? That in and of itself cannot and will not change. So should the government overlook that little fact also? That is a crime in about every country in   the world that has taxes. Why is it that 6000 people are right and everyone else is wrong. What if no one paid taxes, like all of you Villalobos investors. We would all have more money to spend in Costa Rica also. So should we suggest to the U.S. government that we don't pay taxes so that we can go to Costa Rica, because if we don't do this, Costa Rica is going to fail. 

It is always the honest taxpayer that suffers. We pay our taxes, so the cheats like you can vacation in Costa Rica, but when you get caught, it all of a sudden is "poor me." How can the government want their tax money??? No more news or letters from Villalobos. Gee, what a saint. God told us he would be back in three days, and he was. When did Villalobos say he was   coming back? 

Robert W. DePretis
Connecticut

 
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