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(506) 223-1327           Published Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 17             E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Pity the

This oversized egg was among those on sale at a local market. Costa Ricans prefer brown eggs,  but they usually come normal size like the one in the background. The supersize egg had two yokes.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Villalobos drug figure convicted in Canada of conspiracy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another drug smuggler who triggered the raid on the Villalobos high-interest operation has been found guilty in Canada.

He is Richard Thibault, 48, who was convicted on two of three charges Friday in a jury trial. He was part of a ring that was trying to smuggle 590 kilos in cocaine into Ottawa.

Canadian newspapers reported the conviction.

It was Thibault and his associates who had attracted the interest of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  Mounties came here and sought help from the Costa Rican  government. Officials here who had been investigating the Villalobos operation for years used the Canadian request as a pretext to raid the Mall San Pedro operation run by Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and his brother Oswaldo.

Local agents also raided the Jacó condominium of Bertrand St.-Onge, the former leader of the ring who had died of natural causes several months earlier.

Canadian police called the case "Operation Oil Crew." They said 590 kilos of cocaine had been seized in Canada. Among those held was Sandra Kerwin-St. Onge, the wife of the
deceased Bertrand, and Luc St.-Onge, the man police identified as the new head of the gang.

Bertrand St.-Onge was believed to have deposited money with the Villalobos operation, which justified the raid on the mall offices July 4, 2002. Less than four months later, the Villalobos brothers closed their operation and some 6,000-plus creditors were left hanging. Oswaldo will face trial soon on allegations of money laundering, fraud and illegal banking. Luis Enrique still is a fugitive.

Luis Enrique Villalobos blamed the failure of the business on the freeze the government had put on his cash assets. Customers, who received up to 3 per cent interest per month, lost an estimated $1 billion.

Mrs. Kerwin-St. Onge pleaded guilty March 10, 2003. Another man, Richard Rivers pleaded guilty June 17, 2003, and Luc St.-Onge pleaded guilty June 25, 2003.

Thibault was convicted of two counts of conspiracy but was acquitted of a charge of trying to import cocaine into Canada.  He was arrested driving a minivan near Cape Breton beach where a boat carrying the drugs was seized, according to newspaper accounts of the trial.  He lives in the community of Aylmer.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 17

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Canadian voters put Conservatives back in power
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire srvices

Voting has ended in Canada's general election and with nearly all votes counted, Canadians have elected opposition leader Stephen Harper to lead the first Conservative Party government in more than 12 years.

Canada's Conservative Party surged to victory in Monday's general election, smashing the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals.

Stephen Harper, the 46-year-old Conservative leader, pulled ahead midway through the campaign.

Fifty-five days ago, when Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin called Canada's 39th election, he was leading in the polls and demonizing Harper and his party as too extreme for Canadian voters.

But the strategy that worked so well for the Liberals in the 2004 election, backfired this time around. Harper pushed his policies of tax cuts, an end to the corruption scandals that plagued the Liberal government, improvements to national health care, crackdown on crime and better relations with the U.S.
The Liberal scare tactics, Harper said, were phony. In a television interview, Harper compared his successful effort to re-unite the Conservative Party, which had split into two, with his views for governing Canada.

"My big goal as a leader has to bring all conservatives together, to make sure there's something in the party for everyone," he said. "But at the same time that no one group can demand everything and get everything it wants.

"And that's ultimately the way, if we get a chance to govern the country, the country has to be governed as well. You have to try and have something for everybody but no one group can hold the country hostage."

But the Liberal's message did have an impact.

Harper's Conservative Party is expected to elect about 124 of 308 representatives in Canada's parliament, just shy of a majority. This result was predicted by most polls and Harper knows his performance as prime minister will determine whether Canadians will give him and his Conservative Party their full confidence the next time they go to the polls.

Our readers' opinions

Nuclear clock closer
and closer to midnight

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Does anyone else remember the “Nuclear Clock”? It was a symbol used by anti-nuclear weapons activists during the Cold War. The clock’s hour hand was at midnight, and the minute hand moved either closer to midnight or back from it, depending on what was happening in the world at a given time.
The message was: should the clock actually strike midnight, it meant mutually assured destruction had failed as a deterrent and all nuclear hell was about to break loose.
But that was back in a simpler, bi-polar world when the threat of nuclear war stemmed from the rivalry between the U.S. and old U.S.S.R.
Today, in the multi-polar world in which we live, there are any number of rivalries that could result in the nuclear threshold being crossed in the blink of an eye.
The situation is eerily reminiscent of Neville Shute’s classic 1950’s novel “On The Beach.”
In the novel, the trigger that set the world on the road to Armageddon was not the rivalry between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. It was, instead, the use of a nuclear device by a Middle Eastern country that had developed its weapons in secret. Is anyone else getting a rather ominous sense of deja vu?
Iran, with its intransigence and subterfuge in relation to its nuclear energy program, has raised the nuclear temperature, in an already dangerously overheated Middle East, to new heights.
The possibility of a Hamas victory in the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections has turned that heat up even higher. A Hamas victory will derail the peace process, at least temporarily.
A Hamas victory, coupled with Israel’s recent assertion that Syria and Iran are aiding and abetting radical Palestinian attacks within Israel, will put Israel’s military on high alert. That heightened state of readiness will, no doubt include Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
French President Jacques Chirac’s blunt warning he will not hesitate to use nuclear arms against any state that attacks France or threatens her vital strategic interests, a warning clearly directed at Iran after it threatened to cut off the flow of oil to its European clients if the U.N. imposes sanctions over its nuclear activities, turned the nuclear burner up yet another notch.
Although people may have forgotten amid all the chaos of Bush’s war on terror and Iraq, India and Pakistan, long time adversaries, continue to glare at each other through the distorted and hair trigger lenses of nuclear weaponry. And then, of course, there is GW. He talks non-proliferation, while from the other side of this administration’s forked tongue mouth, Herr Rumsfeld lobbies for “mini nukes” for use on the conventional battlefield.
When all of this is taken together, along with the apocalyptic terms in which Bush’s Christian extremist followers and Osama’s equally extremist Islamic followers frame this struggle in, one can be certain the Nuclear Clock is closer to midnight than it has been at anytime since the Cuban Missile Crisis, nearly half a century ago.
And, Neville Shute’s novel “On The Beach”?
Well, it may just turn out to be of the most brilliant, as well as most horrifying, bit of literary foreshadowing the world has ever seen.
Mike Cook
Puerto Viejo de Limon

Reader is unhappy
with service at Hooters

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My husband and I have been going to Hooters for YEARS.  We were so excited when it opened here.  What a disappointment.

1.) The music is way too loud.  It’s supposed to be a sports bar – more sports on the speakers, less music.  If they would have had the football game on the big screen and turned off the music, there would have been
more people spending more money.  We couldn’t wait to get out. 2.) The girls are not attractive at all. 3.) The service is the worst I’ve had in years.  We were there last night and it took 10 minutes to get one pitcher of beer, a bottled water and a lemonade.  Our waitress was too busy playing with the Hula Hoop to bring our drinks.

They seriously need to improve or they are not going to survive.

Alicia Wagner
San Pedro

Panamá embassy answers
question on passports

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding your reader’s letter entitled "‘Is anyone at home,’ reader asks of embassy," I had the same question to ask of the embassy here in Panama. While I did have a bit of trouble navigating the voicemail quagmire here as
well, my e-mail was politely answered the same day. 

The response is that there is no U.S.government- imposed travel restriction on any passport so long
as it is valid.  The passport is valid until the last day stated therein. Some countries do impose restrictions, such as a three- or six-month period remaining before the passport expires, but the U.S .government does not.  The reader needs to check with the consulate of the country or countries they plan to visit.

Bill Schroff
in sunny friendly and
cooperative Panama
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 17

Private firms enlisted to maintain nation's roadways
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco administration said Monday that it will contract with seven private companies to maintain some 4,500 kilometers (2,795 miles) of highways that have been in bad shape.

President Abel Pacheco said the highways will be repaired by the time he leaves office May 8. The investment will be $36 million.

Some 303 stretches of road are involved in four provinces and 42 cantons, according to documents provided by the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

The contract with the companies will last for three years. Some 22 separate contracts are involved.  The contracts primarily will be applying asphalt to the damaged highways.

Randall Quirós Bustamente, minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, gave a preview of what is expected when he took reporters on a tour of two similar projects Friday. The new contracts, however, provide for maintenance.

Quirós and his ministry have continually complained of lack of funds. The nation's highway system took a heavy blow from the backlash of Atlantic hurricanes this season. The Ministerio de Hacienda, the budget and payment ministry, has diverted much money that was supposed to pay for road upkeep.

The occasion for the Pacheco announcement was the 
publication in the official newspaper La Gaceta of the
contracts. However, they are not yet done deals. In addition the Contraloria General de la República has to rule on some. So officials are saying that the agreements will be final in February and some in March.

The ministry said that the contracts seek to maintain the highways, not to improve them.

Pacheco has complained about not having sufficient money to repair the roads. He used the failing highway network as evidence why the so-called fiscal plan, a proposal to increase taxes by $500 million a year, should be approved. Some said he was deliberately neglecting the highways to get the tax legislation passed. The plan still is being debated.

Now it appears that the government is planning to pay for the road work out of the new fiscal year budget.

Although one contract listed Aguirre, Parrita, Garabito and San Mateo in the Central Pacific, there are some routes not listed in the announcement. One is the highway along the north side of Lake Arenal, a primary tourist route that is nearly impassable.

One contract covers Liberia and north to La Cruz, and a second includes Nicoya, Hojancha, Lepanto, Nandayure, Cóbano and Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula.

One contract covers Golfito, the Osa Peninsula, Corredores and Coto Brus.

Seminars planned on contemporary Latin America art and collecting
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The contemporary art museum is holding a series of seminars aimed at those who love art as well as those that love collecting it. 

The Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo is holding two seminars Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 that will draw together director of the Museo de Bellas Artes in Río de Janeiro, the director of a specialized art project in
Nicaragua, two Tico artist and a curator of historic expositions in New York among others. 

One seminar is on visions and experiences of contemporary Latin American art and artists and the other is about collecting art.  Both will be held in Teatro 1887 in the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.  Entrance costs 2,500 colons for students and 5,000 colons for adults.  Registration for both will take place the three days before the events.

Teachers of English will gather for annual three-day conference here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

English teachers from all over the country will gather for their annual conference Wednesday. The event will last three days.

Two teachers from the United States will attend to address the theme of the conference, which is the integration of principles and practice in the teaching of the language.

One is Diane Larsen-Freeman, who is a professor and
 director of the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan. She also is the author of "Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching," published by the prestigious Oxford University Press.

The second guest is Kathryn Koop, a language and communication specialist.

The conference is being held at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses.  Thursday English teachers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Panamá will attend via videoconferencing.

So just what is the import duty on two truckloads of hay burners?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officers with the Fuerza Pública in La Cruz seized 34 horses Sunday from two Nicaraguan brothers who had illegally crossed the border with the animals to take them to an auction in Upala, officials said.

The brothers, identified by the last names Zeledón Loza, both have residency in Costa Rica, police said.  The brothers were driving two trucks, one packed with 23 animals and the other carrying 11, officers said.   
Officials estimate that the animals are worth approximately 50,000 colons each.  The total seizure was valued at some 1,700,000 colons, officers said. 

The trucks were stopped in Los Corrales Negros de Santa Cecilia.  Officers examined the animals and according to their markings determined they were from Nicaragua, said Juan de Díos Esquivel Torres, head of the La Cruz delegation of the Fuerza Pública.  In addition, the animals appeared to be in bad health, Esquivel said.  The animals were placed under the control of Costa Rican customs, officers said. 

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Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
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You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 17

Failure of 'neo-liberalism' blamed
Populist backlash threatening Latin democracies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Most Latin Americans, say observers, have turned their backs on authoritarianism, but the region is now swept by a new wave of populism.  About 300 of the 365 million people in Latin America live under leftist governments. Latin Americans seem disenchanted with democracy.

Thirty years ago, authoritarian regimes dominated Latin America's political landscape, and many observers were skeptical about the prospects for reform.  By the end of the 1990s, virtually every country in the region had experienced a transition to democracy.  And despite economic problems, gaping social inequalities, crime, corruption and weak judicial and representative institutions, most Latin American democracies have proven to be durable. 

Yet according to a recent survey taken in 18 countries — from Mexico to Argentina — only about a half of Latin Americans are committed democrats. The poll, conducted by Latinobarometro, a leading Latin American survey organization based in Santiago, Chile, also shows that only one in three citizens approve of the way democracy works in their countries.

Many analysts, including Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director of the Center on Global Prosperity at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., are troubled by the continent's move toward the left.  Llosa warns that new social movements and leftist parties have reappeared with unparalleled strength.

"Populism is coming back to Latin America," he said. "We thought we had gotten rid of it at the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s, but it's coming back with force.  And it is going to be a major component of Latin American politics and economics in the next few years.  This is not the type of populism that should be very welcomed.  I don't think it is going to create the types of prosperous societies that we want in Latin America."

Llosa, author of the new book, "Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression," adds that today's populist leaders practice a new style of authoritarianism tailored to the age of democracy.  For example, he says, the most extreme new populist leader in the region, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, controls his country's legislature, the Supreme Court, the armed forces and the main revenue source, the oil industry, while tolerating an active opposition, a vigorous free press and a lively civil society.

Other observers look at the growing leftist movement in Latin America in economic terms.  Mark Weisbrot, co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, says the leftward turn of many of these countries is a backlash to failed economic reforms and policies prescribed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the 1980s. 

Weisbrot argues, "You've had this 25-year period now, which is the worst economic failure in Latin American history by any measure, even by economic growth.  There has been very little growth, about 10 percent in terms of income per person since 1980.  If you compare that to the 82 percent that the economy
grew from 1960 to 1980, you can see why you had all these elections where the same theme prevailed.  You've had these candidates in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, Ecuador, and most recently in Bolivia, where they all ran against what they call 'neo-liberalism,' which is the word that people use for the last 25 years of economic reforms."

The new populist leaders, says Wiesbrot, put strong emphasis on social egalitarianism and rely less on policies of fiscal and monetary discipline favored by the IMF and the United States.

Carol Graham of The Brookings Institution in Washington points out that those reforms in the 1980s did not address the region's age-old social barriers and injustices.  According to Ms. Graham, most leftist leaders in Latin America do not reject reforms and are learning by example from what are often called the 'New Left' leaders in Europe.

She says, "There is a very strong and a sound leftist movement that is very committed to markets and democracy.  And most of these leaders are also pro-free trade.  So it is really very hard to say that they are implementing some unique model as much as trying to implement a market-friendly set of policies that also address unmet social needs in the region.  You have a very similar kind of trend with Filip Gonzales in Spain and Tony Blair in Britain.  This is kind of a 'New Left'."

Ms. Graham, co-director of The Brookings' Center on Social and Economic Dynamics, adds populist victories at the ballot box in recent years are a sign of the growing assertiveness of Latin America's numerous poor.

But most analysts warn that the institutions of democracy are weak and imperfect throughout the region.  According to the Latinobarometro survey, only 26 percent of the respondents said that citizens in their countries are equal before the law, only a quarter expressed faith in their legislatures and courts, and only one-fifth trust political parties, which are viewed by many as corrupt vehicles that cater to elites. 

However, the poll shows that a majority of Latin Americans believe market economies are essential.

Marta Lagos, executive director of Latinobarometro, notes that voters are increasingly holding their political leaders accountable.

"It's a more educated population,” she said.  “It's a population that is not going to support a bad government.  Fourteen presidents have been kicked out of office in the last 10 years in Latin America.  Not a single military is there.  And those 14 guys who have been kicked out of office were somehow populists.  So it shows that being elected, as a populist is not enough.  It is the end of what we have called the 'honeymoon' period because people want results straight away."

Ms. Lagos says Latin Americans will not easily revert to authoritarianism, even in difficult times.  But she adds that in a region where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and is burdened with deep-rooted social, cultural and even language barriers, democracy building will be slow.

U.S. now has its own tropical wilderness area
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is touting a site in Puerto Rico as the first tropical wilderness area of the United States.

Designation of the El Toro Wilderness area in Puerto Rico's Caribbean National Forest helps to protect "critical habitat for generations to come and preserves the natural condition of the land," said Mike Johanns, secretary of Agricultre.

The El Toro Wilderness, he added, represents an area of unique ecological and biological diversity.

The U.S. Caribbean National Forest Act of 2005, signed into law by President George Bush Dec. 1, designated nearly 4,047 hectares (10,000 acres) of the Caribbean National Forest and another site in Puerto Rico, the Luquillo Experimental Forest, as a wilderness area.  The designated area is 40 kilometers east of Puerto Rico's capital of San Juan, on the
western side of the Luquillo mountain range.  The area is named after the highest peak in the Caribbean National Forest.

Almost 1 million tourists — from Puerto Rico, the U.S. mainland and abroad — are said to visit the Caribbean National Forest each year.

The Agriculture Department said the El Toro Wilderness area is home to the endangered Puerto Rican parrot, one of the world's 10 most endangered birds.  Other endangered wildlife species in the wilderness area include two types of Puerto Rican hawks — the sharp-shinned hawk and the broad-winged hawk — and a snake called the Puerto Rican boa.

The Caribbean National Forest also is home to 240 native tree species, along with endangered plants.  The wilderness-area designation prohibits road construction or other development.  Also prohibited are motor vehicles, bicycles and timber harvesting.

Jo Stuart
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