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These stories were published Monday, Feb. 2, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 22
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Ministry planning crusade against sex parlors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Seguridad Pública will crack down on massage parlors and, among other things, require that practitioners be accredited by the national medical society and that any beds on the premise be of a type used by massage professionals.

Many massage parlors in Costa Rica are thinly veiled fronts for prostitution.

The ministry announced last weekend that various decrees now in preparation would crack down on sexual exploitation, including massage parlors. In addition, the decrees will target Internet cafes and video games.

Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría, vice minister of Seguridad Pública, is working with the Comisión Nacional Contra la Explotación Sexual Comercial in preparing the decrees, said the ministry.

Among other things, the minister wants to "avoid the camouflage of places of prostitution that function under the name of massage parlors," something that law enforcement officials find frequently.

The proposal by the ministry would require that sanitary permits be issued for massage parlors by the Ministerio de Salud and that the persons working in the massage parlor have 
professional accreditation from the Colegio de 

Médicos y Cirujanes de Costa Rica, the national medical society.

In addition, massage parlors would have to use special massage tables rather than the single or double beds that are common in many places now.

If the ministry carries out its campaign, dozens of houses of prostitution that call themselves massage parlors will have to close. The effect on sex tourism would be dramatic, although persons who pay for sex still would be able to bring prostitutes to their homes or hotel rooms.

The video game parlors will have to post signs specifying the level of violence found in each game. Plus they would have to specify the age group for which the game is appropriate, said the ministry.

Internet cafes would have to adhere to specifications already announced by Casa Presidencial in that youngsters 12 and under would have to leave by 7 p.m. and those between 13 and 17 would have to leave by 9 p.m. The idea is to reduce possible exposure to pornography on computers.

In addition, Internet cafes would have to maintain at least some computers with anti-porn filters and some computers that would be technically unable to access porn sites, said the ministry.

A year after big meeting, and not much is new
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One year ago today unhappy Villalobos investors gathered at the Aurola Holiday Inn and vowed to root out the politicians who had forced the high interest investment firm out of business. 

The main speaker was former Justicia minister José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, who told the estimated 500 investors that they were losing the public relations war. He characterized the legal action against the government as a way to sway public opinion and said he doubted that the case would endure more than the three to six months needed to finish it.


A one-year analysis


As a result of the meeting an ad hoc group, the United Concerned Citizens and Residents of Costa Rica raised more than $120,000 for the lawyer.

But a year later, not much of the legal situation has changed. There was no legal action. Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, one of the investment firm principals, continues to be an international fugitive. His brother, Oswaldo, is in custody awaiting the filing of charges.

The Costa Rican Ministerio Público continues to investigate the case, and at best, the firm’s creditors are frustrated. Money being contributed to lawyer Villalobos has slowed, according to the United Concerned Citizens Web site.

A change seems to have taken place among many residents. Earlier they were angry and blamed the Costa Rican government for acting against the 3-per-cent-a-month-interest operation. Some still feel this way, but they are fewer.

Many creditors vanished, perhaps due to the origin of the money they had placed with Villalobos or, if they were U.S. citizens, their failure to pay income tax on the interest, a felony.

Even the most optimistic believe it will be a long time before they recover their money. Some have placed their faith in a theory that Costa Rica had an obligation to protect their investments and should have cracked down on the Villalobos operation long ago. They want an international money award. This approach, outlined here earlier, is, at best, speculative. 

Curiously, few talk about actually taking positive action to find the fugitive Villalobos. When A.M. Costa Rica posted a $500 reward for him and fellow financial fugitive Luis Milanes of the defunct Savings Unlimited, many creditors were outraged. They wrote scathing letters that still are available on this Web site.  Some uttered threats of death against reporters and editors.

The reward eventually was withdrawn because no one volunteered to help increase the amount.

Any developments in the Villalobos case are closely guarded by prosecutors, so rumors have been rampant, fed, in part, by phony e-mail messages. One, for example, claimed last year that Villalobos had been captured in a shootout with Guatemala police. 

If anyone is on the trail of Luis Enrique Villalobos, they have kept silent. But many creditors seem to have avoided taking this step because they deeply fear what they might learn when he inevitably is captured.
 

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Bruce Harris acquitted
in defamation case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Guatemala court Friday declined to find Bruce Harris guilty of calumny, slander and defamation.

The decision spared Harris, the Latin American director of Casa Alianza, a longer legal fight. He had faced some five to eight years in prison if he were convicted.

However, if that happened, his lawyers certainly would have appealed and eventually brought the case to international human rights tribunals.

A local politically connected lawyer, Susana Luarca de Umaña, brought the criminal allegation because Harris has included her in a list of 19 professionals who were engaged in the adoption of Guatemala babies when he participated in a 1997 press conference. She was said to be involved in irregularities in the international adoptions. No criminal charges have been filed against the lawyers over the alleged irregularities.

The Harris case attracted a lot of media attention, in part because the Guatemalan defamation law does not allow truth as a defense. Such a situation has been established as a human rights violation. Harris was featured on CNN en español over the weekend.

A.M. Costa Rica, in  a rare editorial, had called for a quick end to the proceedings, which it characterized as a judicial joke. 

Ronny Zamora soon
will be free and here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ronny Zamora, the Costa Rican who murdered an elderly neighbor when he was 15, will be free soon from his U.S. prison.

The Costa Rican Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto announced this last week.  Zamora has been in prison 27 years.

Roxana Pacheco, the Costa Rican consul in Miami, Fla., attended a parole hearing for Zamora and reported that his release is tentatively set for June.

When he gets out of prison he will be brought to Costa Rica as quickly as possible, the consul said, according to the ministry.

Zamora, now 42, faced trial as an adult due to the brutality of the slaying. Costa Rica has considered his release a human rights issue. He has been sentenced to life, but various administrative actions reduced that penalty.

A hearing is scheduled for March to reaffirm the decision to release him.

Zamora made history when his lawyer adopted the so-called television defense at his trial. The argument was that Zamora was so overwhelmed by television violence he did not know what he was doing when he bludgeoned the elderly woman,

President Abel Pacheco visited Zamora in prison in December. The president, a psychiatrist, had assisted in appeals filed by Zamora.

New geothermal site
goes into operation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad inaugurated the Planta Geotérmica Miravalles V on the end of the Miravalles Volcano near Fortuna de Bagaces over the weekend.

The geothermal plant will provide enough electricity for 14,000 Costa Ricans, said the institute. Among those present at the ceremony was President Abel Pacheco, who said that "We need an ICE strong and agile to respond to the growing demands of generating electricity, of telecommunications and of infocommunications that is needed by a growing economy and a society that seeks to surmount underdevelopment."

He reaffirmed his support for a measure being considered in the Asamblea Nacional that is supposed to strengthen the utility and telecommunications monopoly.

Nicaraguans not
target, Ramos says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rogelio Ramos, the security minister, said that a massive sweep of la Carpio by police Friday was not directed at Nicaraguans or at any foreigners.

Some 300 police detained 246 persons in an operation that started about 6 a.m. in the lower class neighborhood on San José west side.

The action generated officials statements of concern from the government of Nicaragua because many of those arrested were Nicaraguan.

Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, is in charge of the police. He said there was no maltreatment of citizens and that similar operations would be held in other parts of the country.

In fact, a similar sweep followed this weekend in Hatillo where police made arrests and closed bars.

The La Carpio sweep produced 19 arrests on criminal warrants and the confiscation of nearly two dozen false cédulas or identity cards, police said.

About 170 of those detained have problems with their immigration status, said officials. Some 53 carried expired documents, they said.

The main complaint of those caught up in the sweep was that they were held nearly all day in temporary facilities.

La Carpio is where a Nicaraguan man killed three children, wounded another and his wife last week.  Costa Ricans attribute a lot of their social problems to the Nicaraguan culture that foreigners, many illegal, have imported here.

Newspaper servers
take a big dive

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper’s servers, based in the U.S. state of Maryland, crashed early Friday. The computers that provide the daily edition were restored by 4 a.m., but the mail server was out of commission until about 2 p.m. Friday.

Any e-mail messages sent here during that time were lost. Many subscribers to the daily digest may not have received the daily message.

The server mishap was blamed on technical problems, but a contributor certainly was the massive flow of e-mails generated by the MyDoom virus worm that is still making the rounds. A.M. Costa Rica received more than 2,000 bogus e-mail messages over the weekend.

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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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A long wait for a big voice in Parque La Sabana
By Laureen Diephof
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Ricans, nearly 27,000 of them, came out for the Credomatic sponsored Pavarotti concert Saturday night at the Estadio Nacional in Parque La Sabana Park in San José. 

I was just one other person squeezed into the stadium’s 35,000-seat capacity. Every seat was filled with the exception of the end zone (in U.S. football lingo) near the stage, and those seats were empty only for its lack of visibility to the stage.

If it weren’t for the mild evening weather, star-lit sky, lump-in-the throat music, I would think I was being tortured. The torture began with an hour and half wait where I joined thousands queued up just to get inside.

Once inside, my Tico friends and I scrambled for a good seat in our pre-ticketed $36 space near the 30-yard line. Then, on the coldest, hardest concrete in the world, we sat for another two hours for the concert to begin.

I had the misfortune to sit next to a rotund woman who couldn’t stay seated or quiet. She jumped up and down looking for her party, waving her posterior in my face. She talked loudly on her cell phone, entertaining everyone sitting near.

There was a skirmish above us, with loud cursing, that everyone had to stand and watch. I tried, but couldn’t see and didn’t learn what it was about, but it was not long lasting.  Other than the little unrest above us, the crowd was in great hands. Security began outside with guards on foot and on horses. Inside, event employees provided a safe and organized environment.

Two weeks ago, when my Tico friends and I made plans to attend this concert, because of the language barrier, I did not understand the logistics of the concert, where it would take place and the conditions. Therefore, I dressed up for the opera, long black skirt and top, with a cashmere red stole, and nice shoes. I haven’t been this dressed up since arriving in Costa Rica six months ago. After I got there, I saw that everyone else received the dress-code memo but me. 

The memo would have read, "Dress in the usual Costarricense casual chic style" The only real dress requirement, I learned, were for those in the $1,000-to $1200 seats on the field. They were asked to wear rubber-soled shoes to protect the stadium grass.

Pavarotti from the 'Ti Adoro' cover

Luciano Pavarotti’s music was everything I expected and more. He sang 24 songs, eight of them with soprano, Simona Todaro. Todora sang six solos, obviously enjoyed by the audience, as evidenced with its enthusiastic clapping after each song. 

Starting off, his song selection, "Per la Gloria d’advorarvi" by Bononcini, was beautiful, but the encore sealed the event gloriously. When Pavarotti sang the final selection, "Mattinata," by Leoncavallo, he received a standing ovation. 

With the crowd clapping for two minutes, he finally appeared back on stage for a crowd thrilling, "O Solo Mio," and "Granada," where brass instruments portraying mariachi music brought the audience back on its feet, whistling and whooping it up. 

The final song, introduced by Pavarotti, was "La. Traviatta" by Verdi. He invited the audience to sing the chorus, and directed that himself, demonstrating the stage personality that has made him famous.

The evening of music, the type that can bring up every emotion in me, and did just that, ended in typical Costa Rica style fireworks. That was a show in itself.

The music, I determined after sitting uncomfortably for nearly four hours, could just as well have been enjoyed by taking my boom box outdoors, under the stars in my backyard. 

Pavarotti has just released a new CD called, "Ti Adoro," dedicated to his youngest daughter, Alicia. I’m going to buy that and have my own Pavarotti concert in comfort. After all, it’s not the crowd that makes the event; it’s the man with the voice.


 
Weapons trade cited as possible source
U.N. and three leaders promote international tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The presidents of France, Brazil, Chile and the United Nations secretary-general have signed on to a new plan for eradicating poverty and hunger in the world. The world leaders have jointly unveiled proposals which include taxing the sale of arms to raise the money needed to tackle global destitution.

The world leaders admit they have to come up with new money in a hurry or their battle to cut poverty and hunger in half by 2015 will be lost. 

This latest plan to tackle global destitution is the brainchild of Brazil's president, Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva. He says there are many ways of helping developing countries improve their economic and social situations. He says it is possible to support them through freer international trade, foreign debt relief, foreign investment and greater international aid.

He says taxing the sale of arms could be a new source of revenue for fighting poverty. "We have decided to set up a working group to study all proposals on alternative financing mechanisms such as the taxation of arms trade and on certain financial operations," he said. "The resources raised by such mechanisms would finance the establishment of a fund to fight hunger and poverty." 

French President Jacques Chirac is a staunch supporter of the Brazilian president's proposal. He notes that the weapons trade amounts to about 

$900 billion a year. He says taxes from that and from other sources should be put into a new fund, which he nicknames the Lula Fund, to fight poverty. "I am convinced that we shall not be able to avoid setting up a system of taxation, an international taxation system," he said. "Some people will be aware that I have set up a working group to study this proposal, a working group with representatives of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank involved."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted more than one billion people struggle to survive with less than one dollar a day, about 840 million people are affected by hunger and an estimated 24,000 people die every day from hunger-related causes. 

Yet, he says only 11 years are left to meet the U.N.'s Millennium Development goal of substantially reducing the number of people stricken by poverty, hunger and disease.

"We all need to make special efforts to accelerate progress during this year and next," he said. "If we are not on track by the end of 2005, we shall already know that many of these goals will not be reached by 2015. Even if we make heroic efforts to catch up in the 10 remaining years." 

Annan says last year, many world leaders were distracted by matters of war and peace. He says issues of poverty, hunger and disease do not grab the headlines in the same way. Nevertheless, he says the leaders must refocus their attention on these urgent life and death issues.


 
U.S. says some at embassy in Haiti can leave
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The United States has authorized the voluntary departure of non-essential embassy employees and diplomatic dependents from Haiti because of political unrest in the Caribbean country. The announcement was coupled with a new travel warning advising Americans to defer travel to Haiti.

Announcement of the "authorized departure" of diplomatic personnel came in an updated U.S. travel warning for Haiti, which cautioned Americans about the potential for violent confrontations between forces loyal to embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and opponents. 

It said Haiti's security environment "has been deteriorating" as Aristide has continued to politicize the national police, and used government resources to pay for violent gangs to attack opposition demonstrators." 

The government has not been able to maintain order in this capital city and in other cities and Americans should be vigilant about their personal security, and mindful that the U.S. embassy's ability to assist them is very limited, the announcement said.

Haiti has been in political stalemate since disputed elections in 2000. The United States has urged Aristide to support reconciliation efforts led by the country's Roman Catholic Church leaders.

Meanwhile, In Washington, D.C., a U.S.-Haitian activist group has held a protest against Aristide.

The Haiti Democracy Project organized the demonstration outside the Haitian Embassy Friday. The protesters accused Aristide of corruption and repression, and called for an end to violence in Haiti.

Several dozen Haitian unionists have staged a peaceful sit-in at the United Nations building, also in this Haitian capital. The protesters were demanding the release of other Haitian Union Movement members arrested recently.

Port-au-Prince radio interviewed one of the union leaders, Montes Joseph, who said his group will continue the fight against what he called Aristide's "bloodthirsty, corrupt, drug-dealing and terrorist regime."

The Haitian leader is resisting opposition calls to step down and says he will serve out his term, which ends in 2006.


 
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Digital photography featured in three-themed show
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Digital photography is the medium for an art show with three themes this month.

The Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes and the Escuela de Communication Collective of the Universidad de Costa Rica sponsored the esposition in La Torre de Centro Nacional de Cultura, which is the ministry building just east of parque España in Barrio Amon. The Exposition is called "Pixel Grafias." The works of some 25 university students are represented, and the three themes are woman, sports and landscape. The photos range from the surrealistic to the representational.

The sequence of  photographs and the use of digital technology is what makes this exposition interesting and attractive.  Also the themes will be as in a graphics book that shows you how the artists are expressing their feelings about a subject.

Depending on the context, the artists transmit feelings and sensations about the same theme but from different points of views.  The project also promotes the idea of introducing to the public the digital photography technique and recognizing it as an art form, mixing diverse techniques, said Daniel Varga, assistant of production and events of the school. Displayed as well are the technology manuals for digital computer programs like Quark and Adobe Photoshop.

Among the exhibits are the three winners of the 2003 digital photography awards: first, Silvia Hidalgo with "Almas del Silencio;’’ second, Aaron Mena Araya with ’Decontado;’’ and third, "Caos Urbano" by Oscar Cruz Moya. In addition the honorable mention goes to María Luisa Días with her montage, "Mujer in Rouge’’ and "Los que no se ven" by Ricardo Cubero. The expositions runs through Feb. 23. 

Unusual closeups can be manufactured.

Closeups of blossoms show the powoer of digital in these works, called 'Naturaleza y Photoshop.'

A.M. Costa Rica photos
'Mujer in Rouge' by María Luisa Días is a montage

 
Castro says that George Bush is plotting to kill him
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuban President Fidel Castro has accused President George Bush of plotting with Cuban exiles in Miami to kill him.

President Castro made the accusation early Friday in Havana, at the end of a five-hour speech to anti-free trade activists. He said Bush had made a commitment to the so-called "Miami Mafia" to assassinate him. Castro was referring to Cuban exiles who live in Miami. He did not back up his accusations with specific details. 

The assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Roger Noriega, said that Castro's comments are absurd. A U.S. presidential directive from the 1970s bans the assassination of foreign leaders.  The Cuban leader also said he does not care how he dies but that if the United States invaded his country, he would die fighting.

The Bush administration has progressively hardened its policies toward the communist-run island. Cuban authorities say the strategy is aimed at wooing voters in Florida, home to most of the Cuban-American exiles living in the United States. 

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