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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 24           E-mail us
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Chocolate entrepreneur found dead at her home
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian woman who ran a chocolate operation near Puerto Jiménez died at her home and judicial agents were at the scene Wednesday afternoon.

The woman was Kimberley Blackwell, described as a long-time resident of the Osa Peninsula. She lived in San Miguel de Cañaza, a friend said. The Judicial Investigating Organization described the location as remote and said that investigators did not arrive until 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The agency described the cause of death as unestablished, but a friend near the scene said that items were taken from her home. An autopsy is certain. Fuerza Pública officers have taped off the location.

Ms. Blackwell ran Samaritan Xocolata, which produced high-end chocolate items from Costa Rican cocao. Several Costa Rican women are employed there.

She lived alone and was raised in the Yukon, a former neighbor said.  "She was a brash woman who had enemies, but also a ton of good friends," the former neighbor, Gene Warneke, added.
Kimberley Blackwell
Photo by Gene Warneke
Kimberley Blackwell in a January photo

Much of U.S. is digging out from Blizzard of 2011
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States continues to face the aftermath of severe weather, mainly in the eastern half of the country.

Continental Airlines said Wednesday night that it was suspending most of its operations from Houston Intercontinental today starting at 3 p.m. in anticipation of a winter storm.

The airline said that many of its other flights had been canceled.

Parts of Texas were expected to see from one to three inches of freezing rain.
The winter storm that buried the Northeast is expected to move on by early today although some light snow will linger over northern New York and New England, the airline said.

The Weather Underground that provides data to A.M. Costa Rica reported at midnight that the temperature in Chicago was 15.3 F (-9 C) and the overnight low was expected to drop to -2 F (about -19 C). Wind gusts were up to 20 mph.

Chicago endured the worst blizzard since 1967, but the storm has moved on. The situation was similar in the rest of the Midwest. The University of Missouri in Columbus said it would be closed again today.

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Following Arias scandal
will require a scorecard

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Rodrigo Arias controversy is getting so complex observers are going to need a scorecard.

Arias, the brother of the former president, made himself a target, in part, because he seeks to run for president in 2014. He also is serving as a surrogate for his brother who is not available and is too revered for criticism now.

Rodrigo Arias was the chief of staff or minister of the Presidencia for his brother. In order to get the Free Trade Treaty with the United States passed, they obtained about $2 million from the Centroamericano de Integración Económica and spread it around in small contracts to political freinds and even political foes.

An analysis of the news

For example, Epsy Campbell, the president of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, a former lawmaker, got a job as a legislative consultant. She quit as soon as the contract became known. That party was one of the leading forces against the free trade treaty.

Óscar Arías Sánchez and his brother maintained that the money was a private grant and did not have to be handled in the way officials have to handle public money. The Contraloría de la República wanted to look into the matter, but Rodrigo Arias appealed to the Sala IV constitutional court.

The Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica gets its money as grants from the Central American nations and First World countries.

Casa Presidencial spent about $342,000 of the funds. In addition to paying people who had technical expertise, some contracts went to vehicle drivers and similar. The contracts were terminated when the deal became public, thanks to La Nación.

Prosecutors began to investigate the case, and Rodrigo Arias was called before investigators. He made a call to the incoming chief prosecutor in early October, about a week before the man, Jorge Chavarría, actually took on the job. The investigation was halted, and the acting chief prosecutor said that this was at the request of Chaverría.

La Nación Wednesday called on the man to resign, citing what it said on a lack of truth in the accounts of the contact with Rodrigo Arias.

Opposition lawmakers smelled blood and wanted to set up a legislative investigatory committee, something that frequently happens when a scandal brews. However, the first effort to do so failed because the Partido Liberación Nacional, the Arias party, has enough votes in the 57-member legislature to prevent any action it opposes. So lawmakers have been squabbling for days.

The seven opposition parties came up with a compromise Wednesday. They proposed a mixed commission with a three-month term. Liberación would have two members. There would be five members from opposition parties.

Lawmakers are likely to come to some kind of accord to save face today. But it is equally likely that Rodrigo Arias, faced with a possible criminal charge from prosecutors, will not say anything new to a legislative committee.

Our reader's opinion
Phone company needs power
to cancel $30 account

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This letter was directed to President Laura Chinchilla.

I left Costa Rica on Dec. 25th to spend a few months in Panama on business. I find that the cost of living here is about 40 percent cheaper than Costa Rica.

Now for the totally absurd:

I had one phone line still connected in Costa Rica for my Internet service while I was getting Internet service in Panama, which took all of two days to get, just two days to get cable, Internet, and phone service.

I had left a friend with a power of attorney in Costa Rica to close my telephone line there. He spends four hours at an Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad office only to be told that he had to have a power of attorney that was not older than 30 days.

Then, we call ICE, and ask if I could fax my credit card, passport, cédula, and a letter so the account could be closed by me, and was told that we could not. Mind you, that I am in Panama, and want to pay my remaining bills from Costa Rica.

So now we have to go through all the trouble of getting an updated power of attorney in order to pay this small remaining bill of about $ 30.

Do you realize the total absurdity and stupidity of this fiasco? Please don’t ever mention to the press or to anyone, that you want Costa Rica to become the first developed country in Latin America, it’s never going to happen with these kinds of bureaucratic idiots in charge of your country. Shame on you, and what a pity for the people of Costa Rica.
John A. Bisceglio
Boquete, Panama

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 24
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The residents of Dominical call these lifeguards their heroes. The corps has 1,000 documented rescues to its credit.
Dominical lifeguard corps
Dominical Lifeguards S.A. photo

Dominical prepares a benefit Valentine for its lifeguards
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists probably would be surprised to learn that lifeguards in Costa Rica do not protect all the popular beaches nor are they all supported by the central or municipal government.

At some of the major tourist magnets, community leaders have been responsible for supporting the lifeguard corps. And sometimes there is no lifeguard corps.

Dominical residents are planning to make sure their lifeguards stay on the job by means of a Feb. 13 benefit. That central Pacific community has had lifeguards on the beach since 1996. Recent economic conditions have  created stress, so much so that the six-person lifeguard corps briefly staged a walkout.

The situation there is typical of other beach communities.

A.M. Costa Rica wrote about the Dominical lifeguard corps eight years ago when it was becoming more professional. That happened after a relative of a local hotel owner died in the surf the day after his wedding in the beach community.

The community had been able to support the lifeguard corps until the recent economic downturn. Steve Fergus, now the chairman of the board of directors of the recently formed Dominical Lifeguards S.A., notes that a July 4 fundraiser brought in $10,000 last year. The organization even has a Web page.

However, the donations are inconsistent and other community groups also now seek donations, he noted.
Fergus said Wednesday that the six-person local corps won
 certification under unusual circumstances, and this will allow the corps to see municipal funding.

The certification came from a Jacó man, Marvin Méndez, who supervises the lifeguards in that community. The unusual circumstances, according to Fergus, is that Méndez arrived Aug. 31 in the community just as lifeguards were rescuing a surfer who got in trouble amid 10-foot waves. After that demonstration, certification was assured, Fergus said. In all, the corps can claim 1,000 documented rescues. The beach there sometimes has a strong undertow.

One of the lifeguards  participating in the Aug. 31 rescue was Andrew Webster, a California-trained lifeguard who joined the corps after 8-year captain Matt Haley married and left.

Fergus credited Mike Witte of Hotel Roca Verde and Jennifer Brummer of Tortilla Flats restaurant with picking up much of the financial slack. They and other local merchants have agreed to cover the estimated $1,600 monthly payroll of the lifeguards.

Fergus, who operates a surf camp, said he thinks that municipal support and acquiring non-profit status with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service will be the long-term solutions for supporting the corps. With non-profit status, the lifeguard organization would attract donations from foundations and others Stateside because those who give would be able to deduct the expense from their tax returns.

In the meantime, the Dominical Little Theater Group has stepped in to set up the Feb. 13 benefit. The event starts at 3 p.m. It is called "A Valentine for our Heroes."

Mother fighting U.S. custody case files another court appeal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman who took her child to Costa Rica filed another Sala IV constitutional court appeal to avoid having the girl sent back to the father in Missouri.

The woman is Trina Atwell Chavarria, who has followed in the footsteps of other runaway moms. She even filed for refugee status for herself and the child.

She would be a refugee from the Green County, Missouri, court where a judge awarded sole custody to Roy Koyama, the father. In December Koyama said he was pleased to be the first person to receive a judicial decree here based on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The convention says that child custody issues should be resolved by the court of initial jurisdiction, in this case Green County. But Costa Rica has been slow to comply with the Hague treaty. In fact one woman was granted refugee status so that she would not have to face federal
 child abduction charges in the United States. The plight of mothers resonates well with the Costa Rican public.

Ms. Atwell's case already has had one hearing before the Sala IV. The child is now in the custody of the Patronato Nacional de Infancia, the child welfare agency.

Koyama expected a representative of the agency to escort the child to Missouri in December. He said he even purchased air tickets. However, the Defensoría de los Habitantes filed its own Sala IV appeal claiming that the Hague treaty had been incorrectly interpreted.

Ms. Atwell, who is married to a Costa Rican, is seeking to have her child returned. She claims she suffered abuse at the hands of Koyama. She also said on a Web page that he was a drug user. Koyama has no forum in Costa Rica to answer these allegations.

Ms. Atwell fled Missouri Feb 9, 2009. Koyama has been persistent in trying to find her and the daughter and in pressing his judicial case.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 24

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Easy victory was not to be for supporters of Villalobos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Supporters of fugitive financier Luis Enrique Villalobos thought they had scored a decisive court victory.

The informal group filed a law suit against the government of Costa Rica, asking in part that Villalobos be allowed to come home and pay them what he owes.

Lawyer David E. Romero Mora filed the case on behalf of the United Concerned Citizens & Residents. As the Christmas holidays approached, it appeared that the government had not responded to the suit within the required time. That would have meant that the court would accept the allegations that Romero made in the suit.

In an e-mail report distributed widely, United Concerned Citizens said that Romero filed a request Dec. 20 to have the government declared en rebeldia, basically being in contempt for failing to appear or to answer a judicial order.

Then came the Christmas holidays, and the courts closed for two weeks. The e-mail said that Romero expected a judge to respond to the request within eight days.

"When repeated visits to the courthouse by Attorney Romero or his assistant to review the case file did not disclose either the government’s reply or a resolution of our request for the declaritoria, Attorney Romero visited the judge personally on Jan. 26 and was told that the state’s legal department (Procuraderia) had, indeed, submitted its brief on time, and for that reason it was deemed unnecessary to resolve our request.' said the e-mail.

The judge set Feb. 28 as the day for the preliminary hearing, said the e-mail, which added:

"Careful examination of the documents we obtained showed irregularities in their reception and dating at the courthouse.  The judge acknowledged that discrepancies existed, but he insisted that everything was handled legally.  We are not so certain."

Nevertheless, the group said its members decided to go ahead with the case instead of making a fuss over what may well be a late reply.

The group has continually claimed that the investigative raid on the Villalobos money exchange house and other locations July 4, 2002, was illegal. Their claims were supported by an analysis by Romero.

Romero has said that he thinks the case against the government has a high probability of success.

Villalobos paid those who loaned him money up to 3 percent interest a month. Usually the money was paid in cash, and a number of U.S. citizens are known to have ducked income tax in that country.
The United Concerned Citizens group argues that the raid disrupted the Villalobos business and caused him and his brother to go out of business. Their suit will be hampered by the fact that the other brother, Oswaldo, has been convicted of aggravated fraud and illegal banking by a trial court that characterized the operation as a ponzi scheme.

The United Concerned Citizens opposed the criminal action against Oswaldo Villalobos and urged other investors to withdraw their claims. Many did and did not participate in the money awards that were part of the sentence. Many of the members of the group expect the fugitive Luis Enrique Villalobos to return and pay them off when the statute of limitations on the criminal allegations takes effect in 2012.

Perhaps as much as $1 billion was lost by investors when the high-interest scheme collapsed. Not only that, the crash reverberated through other similar schemes run by others during the early part of 2002.

For example, The Vault high interest scheme run by Roy Taylor, had substantial investments with the Villalobos Brothers. Taylor shot himself when police came to arrest him.

Luis Milanes closed his Savings Unlimited the weekend of Nov. 23, 2002, not long after Luis Enrique Villalobos fled. He, too, offered high-interest investments. Unlike Luis Enrique, Milanes returned to Costa Rica and spent just a day in jail. He continues to manage his casinos and is attempting to engage his creditors in a conciliation in which he would pay them some money and they would withdraw their charges.

Milanes claims an associate took all the money and ran off to Europe.

Romero has said that "The action of Costa Rican authorities, through a series of deeds completely corrupt and invalid, damaged all of these people who believed in good faith that Costa Rica had a rule of law protecting them."

Among other requests, the legal case seeks to have Costa Rica freeze any possible actions against the fugitive Villalobos so he can return and pay off his debtors.

Although there have been claims to the contrary, A.M. Costa Rica does not believe that any messages have been received from Luis Enrique Villalobos by investors in the last seven years. He sent a fax to this newspaper when he decided to close down his operation, and he sent an e-mail Dec. 31, 2002, from Guatemala a few months later.

The fugitive surprised many by not showing up to support his brother when he was on trial. Luis Enrique's wife divorced him and returned to her native Romania. 

He was born April 24, 1940, so he will be 71 in three months.

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World trade in counterfeits
put at $1 trillion a year

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Illicit trade in counterfeit goods and piracy of intellectual property not only cost global economies more than $1 trillion each year and put more than two million jobs at risk but threaten the lives, health and safety of consumers worldwide, a United Nations-backed meeting was told Wednesday.

Over 800 delegates from intergovernmental organizations, governments, enforcement agencies and business from more than 100 countries convened in Paris to address the problem at the Sixth Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting and Piracy, hosted by France’s Industrial Property Office and chaired by the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization.

The two-day meeting, also organized by the international police agency INTERPOL, and the World Customs Organization in cooperation with the global business community represented by the International Chamber of Commerce, will discuss a full spectrum of issues ranging from pirated patents to potentially lethal fake medicines.

“New research to be reported at the congress will show that the total impact of this illicit trade in fakes is staggering, with more than $1 trillion in annual losses to global economies, governments and consumers and potentially more than two million jobs at risk,” Jean-Guy Carrier said, calling on all to find new and creative solutions.  He is secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce.

“Counterfeiting and piracy continue to generate massive economic and employment dislocations at a time when governments are most hard pressed to maintain economic stability and create jobs,” he stressed.

Highlighting the recent Operation Jupiter during which counterfeit goods worth more than $200 million were seized and nearly 1,000 people arrested, Ronald K. Noble, INTERPOL Secretary General, cited the benefits of combining public-private sector expertise.

“INTERPOL has steadily increased its efforts and resource commitment to combat counterfeiting and piracy producing tangible results worldwide, not least in protecting the public from potentially lethal fakes and counterfeits,” he said.

Wedding guests carried cholera back to Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's health minister says the number of people who contracted cholera while visiting the Dominican Republic last month has risen to 185.

The minister, Eugenia Sader, said the patients were among 450 people who attended a wedding in the Dominican Republic.

Venezuela had urged everyone who attended the wedding to get tested after more than 100 people got sick. 

Dominican officials blame the outbreak on lobster purchased in a town bordering Haiti, where cholera has killed 4,000 people since October.

U.S. researchers say tests indicate that the deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti likely came from South Asia and resembles a strain found in Bangladesh.

The scientists issued their assessment in a study released in December, but say they cannot trace who or what precisely carried the disease to Haiti.

Haiti is struggling to recover from a January 2010 earthquake that left more than 200,000 people dead and 1 million homeless.  Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

Tourist police frustrate
beach theft in Guanacaste

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian tourist in Playa Grande, Guanacaste, became the victim of a thief Wednesday, but Fuerza Pública officers were able to detain a suspect and recover the items the woman lost.

Police attributed the theft to the fact that the woman was not keeping an eye on her possessions.

The officers involved were members of the Policía Turistica. The suspect was identified by the last name of Siles, said police.

Recovered was a GPS device, credit cards and a personal music player.
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High school teacher gets
36 years for sex crimes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A trial panel Wednesday convicted a high school teacher in Dota of various sex crimes involving students and sentenced him to 36 years in prison.

The teacher, identified by the last names of Masis Montenegro, faced charges of rape and distribution of pornography. One of the two boys involved in the case was the son of the man's companion, said the Poder Judicial.

The trial panel gave him five years each for three counts of sexual relations with a minor, 12 years in prison each for two counts of simple rape, three years for exhibiting pornography and four years for sexual abuse against a minor. However, based on the penal code the total years were reduced to 36.

The man was remanded to preventative detention while a higher court studies the case.

The trial panel said the man used intimidation and other means to influence the actions of the boys, who were 13 years old when the crimes happened three years ago.

Real 'Waterworld' film
in contention for an Oscar

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The serious consequences of Earth's changing climate are the subject of a powerful documentary film nominated for an Academy Award, the U.S. film industry’s top prize.

"Sun Come Up" is the story of the Carteret Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea, where filmmaker Jennifer Redfearn says Islanders have had no choice but to move to higher ground.

"We documented some of the destruction that is happening from rising sea levels, more frequent storm surges, from the lack of fresh water sources and how the sea has contaminated some of their gardening land."

Average global temperatures have climbed about one degree Celsius since the last century and at an accelerated rate in recent decades. And scientists believe the global warming trend is responsible for an increased severity of droughts, floods, and storms across the globe, and slowly rising ocean levels.

Ursula Rakova grew up on the Carteret Islands. "In those times the sea wasn't as cruel as it is today," she says. By 2015, her homeland is expected to be under water, so she now heads the relocation effort for 3,000 people.

Sea levels have risen about 200 feet in the last 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age.

Director Redfearn says the Carteret islanders are among the world's first climate refugees.  The International Organization for Migration predicts the number of people displaced by rising ocean levels will grow to 200 million by 2050. Director Redfearn is hopeful that the Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Short Subject will stimulate greater public awareness of the real human and environmental costs of climate change.

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