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These stories were published Monday, Feb. 7, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 26
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Coast Rica via Keyhole and with a zoom to 
the crater of Volcan Poas.

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Smile! All of Costa Rica is on Candid Camera
By Garland M. Baker 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Google has puts Costa Rica on the map. Literally. 

Google acquired Keyhole Corp. last October 2004 adding the firmÝs service to its growing list of its satellite imaging offerings.

Founded in 2001, Keyhole is the 3D digital Earth pioneer ˇ the only company to deliver a 3D digital model of the entire Earth via the Internet.

Costa Rica is now included in medium resolution.  At this 80-meter to 200-meter view one canÝt see what Ticos are having for breakfast, but one can see the craters of most of the countryÝs volcanoes in great detail along with other sights of the nation.

Presently, a number of Earth observation systems continuously monitor the surface. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration along with the U.S. Geological Survey and other organization have donated maps to countries of Central America, allowing them to develop strategies for protecting the environment and for urban planning.  However, the availability of the maps has been limited to people in academics and government. 

Costa Rica is now available to the general public, and it is the only country in Central America that is, thanks to Google.  Virtual tourists can actually tour almost the entire country using Keyhole.  Real estate developers can do site analysis and prepare movies for prospective clients along with high-resolution printouts.  The uses of digital cartography are endless.

This technology is just getting better by the year.  New satellites can photograph the earth at an incredible one-foot spatial resolution. 

What is spatial resolution? 

Spatial resolution is the distance along the ground between samples in a satellite 
photograph. If a satellite image has a spatial resolution of 30 meters this means that one pixel in the image represents a square of 30 by 30 meters on the EarthÝs surface. In an image of this resolution, one cannot see small buildings, but can definitely see a football field or plantations.  At one-foot resolution, one can see someone in a swimming pool.

Satellites are contributing to the growing field of GIS. 

What is GIS? 

Maps have always been a powerful way to represent information.  Geographic information systems (GIS) combines the power of maps, satellite images, and aerial photographs with databases that store information behind the maps and images to study natural hazards and disasters, population growth, water resources, and minerals deposits, to name only a few topics on a very long list. 

Want to take at trip to Costa Rica and donÝt have enough for the airfare?  Use your Internet browser and download the free trial of Keyhole. 

Travel in the comfort of your home. 

If youÝre planning a trip for pleasure or to evaluate a piece of property, you can check out the area you are interested in before you come.

Garland M. Baker is a 33-year resident of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community. Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.

 
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School bells ringing
for public education

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the start of the school year for public schools, and nearly a million youngsters, almost a quarter of the population, is expected to show up.

Education officials promise 200 solid days of instruction in the wake of a short year last year despite a Sala IV constitutional court order insisting on 200 days.

The Ministerio de Educación Pública is constantly on the financial ropes, and President Abel Pacheco noted in his upbeat television talk Sunday that the country is investing more than $1 billion in public education this year.

More than 2,000 new teachers have been hired, as well as 300 near special education teachers, said the president. Some 39,225 teachers are part of the 52,301 ministry employees working in public education.

Officials estimate students this year at 969,225 in both primary and secondary grades. The school year runs until next Christmas.

For youngsters living in the northern zone and the Caribbean coast the first day might be less than they expect. Some school buildings were heavily damaged during the heavy rains that raked the area during the first two weeks of January.

Education ministry workers have been on the job overtime replacing destroyed furnishing and helping to clean the drenched classes. 

In other communities the school building is one of the few that survived the flooding. 

The Fuerza Pública is fielding a force of 10,000 to provide security around the nationÝs school buildings. Police officials have expressed concern that every year younger children walk to school without having had the benefit of precautionary training about traffic and criminals.

Walter Navarro, chief of the Fuerza Pública, is among those who urge parents to accompany their children to school and, if they cannot to designate a family member to do so.

Expats unite to watch
super close Super Bowl

By Joe Medici 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats and vacationers alike took up residency at the Gringo bars downtown Sunday night to watch Super Bowl XXXIX. Men from Boston to Los Angeles settled in at local bars to watch the Philadelphia Eagles take on the New England Patriots. 

Philadelphia took an early lead, but the Patriots battled back. At halftime the score was 7 to 7. During the second half, both teams scored in the third quarter keeping the game tied at 14. The Patriots scored 10 quick points in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles scored a late touchdown, cutting the Patriots lead to 3 points. The Eagles had one last chance when the received the ball with under a minute left in the game, but a Patriot interception sealed the victory for New England, 24 to 21.

Local bars closed out the football season with a bang with one of the closest Super Bowls in history. At the Sportsmens Lodge, near the towering Edificio de Instituto de Seguros, more than 150 gringos packed into a former hotel living room to watch the game. Elsewhere downtown, the results were similar as men lined up to catch one of the biggest games of the year.

Although the game was televised on cable, the downtown bars and lounges were a more convivial place. Plus there was the cold beer.

"The Eagles need to win this game," Tim Connors, a Philadelphia native, muttered just before halftime. "To come so close to many times and not win, they need to win tonight." Connors joined several others at the Horseshoe Casino downtown. 

Perhaps the only losers in the deal, aside from the Eagles, were the professional girls working downtown. The girls sat around the bar nursing cocktails as their potential suitors sat entranced by the game. 

Costa Rica again wins
team title in golf match

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 62 annual Central American Golf Tournament ended Saturday, and for the second straight year, the Costa Rican team captured the team crown.

The tournament featured over 180 players from countries throughout Central America. Costa Rica beat out Guatemala and Panamá on the final day to claim the victory.

Costa Rican Paulo Montoya led the team, capturing the individual championship with 293 strokes. He edged out Salvadoran Herbert Day, who finished with 297 strokes.

The tournament was held over the weekend at the Costa Rica Country Club.
 

Carnival is under way
in Puntarenas until Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Carnavales de Puntarenas began Saturday. The annual carnival attracts locals and Gringos alike from around the country. This years festivities will run through Sunday.

The festival features live music and dancing, as well as traditional types of food and drinks. 

Carnival, a 13th century Italian creation, is celebrated up to the night before Lent begins. These days carnival is celebrated in countries throughout the globe, with Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, La., being famous. Lent is a 40-day period of fasting and prayer for Christians who will celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ at the termination.

The carnival in Puntarenas runs over into the beginning of Lent, which starts very early this year. Ash Wednesday in two days and Easter is March 27.

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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.M. Costa Rica
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Costa Rican version of Friday the 13th and coded talk
Martes ni te cases ni te embarques

"Never get married or leave on a journey on a Tuesday." TodayÝs dicho is similar to what we say in English about Friday the 13th, except in Costa Rica we say it about Tuesdays, especially if that Tuesday happens to fall on the 13th of the month.

This dicho is all about warnings. ItÝs interesting how ˇ in my family at least ˇ  we have developed ways of talking in order to prevent other people from understanding exactly whatÝs going on. 

For example, if my sister asks me to go with her to shop for a new car and I reply with something using the word martes, or "Tuesday," it means that I donÝt think itÝs such a good idea. Another word we use in this way is menta. This is the Spanish word for "mint" but we are relating it to the word mentira, meaning "a lie." 

If someone says something we donÝt believe, someone else who is a party to the conversation may make a comment using the word menta indicating that he thinks the person is lying. ItÝs a way of sending a coded message to family and friends not to be taken in.

When I was a kid I had an uncle named Regulo. Once he paid us a visit  because his older brother was very sick in the hospital and Uncle Regulo came to alert my grandmother. But, since my grandmother was quite old and far from being in the best of health herself, my mother and my aunts warned Regulo not to say anything that might upset her. But upon seeing grandma the first words out of his mouth were, "José is dying in the hospital." 

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

Whereupon, as predicted, my grandmother became very upset and agitated, and the doctor had to be called in to give her a sedative. From that day forth, in my family at least, the word regulo came to mean "stupid person who regularly inserts foot in mouth."  If you make such a gaffe around my family, someone will be sure to comment: "Is it Tuesday already, or did he just do a regulo?"

A dear friend of mine recently observed, after having read one of my columns, that I certainly do have an interesting family. Well, yes I guess I do. And the best part is that weÝre still very much together, still very much interested in each otherÝs lives, still doing things together, laughing and joking and remembering how life has been so good to us despite all the mentas and the regulos and a whole lifetime of Tuesdays that might have messed it up. 


 
First week of Villalobos hearing just set the stage
By Clair-Marie Robertson
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawyers representing creditors in the Oswaldo Villalobos fraud hearing report that the first week has been procedural.

The judge at the preliminary hearing has been mapping out how the lengthy judicial process will go. Basically, each of the 30 lawyers involved in the case will have their own days in which to present their evidence. 

Mark Beckford Douglas, one of the lawyers, said he believes that the hearing will result in an order for a trial for the Villalobos brother and that the trial probably will begin this October. Others have predicted a much longer wait, although most agree that the judge will find that there is sufficient evidence for a trial.

Beckford is a lawyer with the Investment Recovery Center, which includes lawyers who were suing the Villalobos Brothers even before the high-interest borrowing operation went bust. He now represents 25 creditors, the majority from the United States and Canada. Some of his clients are Ticos.

The hearing is private, and for the time being only lawyers are attending the sessions.

Beckford will have his day in court Friday and said he will list all that he believes should be resolved in the case. He said he is
more engaged with civil action because he is interested in seeing creditors get a percentage of the money that is being held by the judiciary. Some $7 million in property belonging to Luis Enrique Villalobos has been frozen. 

Beckford said that even if the case against Oswaldo is successful the investors will only get a very small percentage of the money back that they invested. He said that he believes that this part of the case, the return of money to investors, will take up to two years because the courts are very slow in compensating victims.

The Villalobos Brothers had as much as $1 billion on their books when they closed the Mall San Pedro operation and several other branches Oct. 14, 2002. The brothers were the most visible of the high-interest operations that collapsed around the same time.

Costa Rican law allows victims to join with the prosecution of a criminal case to seek financial compensation. That is why the case has a civil dimension. Prosecutors are pressing fraud, money-laundering, illegal banking and conspiracy charges.

Only about 300 creditors of the more than 6,000 have filed as victims in the Oswaldo Villalobos case. Luis Enrique Villalobos is a fugitive so he will come to trial only if caught.

$7 million divided by about 300 litigants comes to a little more than $20,000 each.

BeckfordÝs summary of the case was confirmed by another lawyer who represents victims. Beckford said that in two weeks time the criminal part of the preliminary hearing will begin and prosecutor from the Ministerio Público will present evidence to the court.

Keith Nash is an elderly Canadian investor who tried to take his money out of the Villalobos operation long before investigators raided the offices July 4, 2002. Villalobos tried to get him declared mentally incompetent and claimed he was paying the medical bills of Nash. The Canadian rolled over his money until he had about $1.5 million on the Villalobos books.

Luis Enrique Villalobos wrote letters to his creditors in which he claimed that NashÝs son, a lawyer, was simply seeking his ailing fatherÝs money. Many investors believed the Villalobos explanation and vilified Nash and his son, Michael, when they filed suit.

Villalobos went so far as to file a slander suit against The Tico Times when the weekly newspaper reported the case.

The lawyers representing Nash were well positioned to represent other victims when the operation went bust, and they started the Investment Recovery Center.

Other creditors chose an opposite approach. They blamed the government for closing down the Villalobos operation, and some still actively try to encourage those who have filed suit to drop their complaints.

Luis Enrique Villalobos hasnÝt been heard from since he sent A.M. Costa Rica an e-mail in January 2003. Oswaldo Villalobos has been in preventative detention and, for a time, under house arrest.

The case has been declared a complex one, thereby giving prosecutors more time to obtain evidence.

Evidence has been obtained from the United States where the Villalobos Brothers maintained bank accounts. Costa Rican prosecutors requested via diplomatic channels the aid of the U.S. Justice Department. A federal judge in Miami invested an assistant U.S. attorney there with subpoena power and supervision of FBI agents who conducted an investigation and multiple interviews. This material has never been made public but it is likely to be presented at the preliminary hearing.

So far U.S. officials have not said one way or the other whether they have started their own investigation of the Villalobos brothers, although some creditors there report they have been interviewed by agents.

Oswaldo Villalobos was more closely identified with the Ofinter S.A. money exchange firm. Luis Enrique Villalobos operated his high-interest business in an office adjacent to the Ofinter storefront in Mall San Pedro. However, using material collected by the Judicial Investigating Organization prosecutors are claiming that Oswaldo Villalobos also was actively involved in the high-interest business.


 
Response from a reader
Brothers creditor expresses displeasure and says case is trumped up
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

So now the dog and pony show starts . The government of Costa Rica is holding a hearing behind closed doors which outcome could destroy the lives of thousands of innocent people . 

Of course, most of these people are North Americans who believed (wrongly) that the Costa Rica government was honest and would look out for them. 

Too late they are finding out that Costa Rica is just as corrupt as any other banana republic. 

The president of Costa Rica called us fools, and he is right. Any Gringo that goes to that country expecting a fair shake is a fool. The 600  people that let lawyers 

convince them to file suit against the brothers are the biggest fools of all . All that they did was to give the government a excuse to declare the case "complex ," thus letting them take their sweet time to trump up charges of money laundering so that they can confiscate an estimated one billon dollars. 

They have already got their sticky fingers on seven million dollars that you can bet your bippy will never be seen again . 

It isn't a total loss. I have learned to speak a different dialect of Spanish . It is the dialect spoken by Costa Rican politicians. For instance, the phrase  "Trust me " translates into "Screw you, gringo." 

Jim Donathan
Muskogee, Okla.  USA

 
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Famous tree
gets haircut

Firemen and electrical workers were out Sunday to trim some branches from a gigantic tree on the lawn of the foreign ministry, Casa Amarilla.

Although the age of the tree is uncertain, the trunk diameter is about five feet.

Nearby powerlines turned an ordinary forestry job into a major operation.
 


A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici

 
Sinai Monge pimping trial slated to start this Tuesday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The woman who is considered to be the pimp to the rich and famous goes on trial Tuesday in the Tribunal de Juicio de San José. However, the additional arrests anticipated after investigators seized her records never materialized.

The woman is Sinai Monge Muñoz who was arrested in Oct. 9. 2003 when police raided a home in Hatillo 3, a southern suburb of San José.

Investigators allege that she recruited and marketed many underaged youngsters to highly placed Costa Ricans and a number of expats. She is well-known in certain sections of the expat community.

Investigators said they found a treasure trove of  information within her home. 

Neighbors had complained that fancy vehicles, including some that appeared to be from ministries, stopped frequently at her establishment to pick up women. The home has been described as a pickup point rather than a place of prostitution.

When she was arrested, the Spanish press asked openly why the arrest took so long. Spanish television reporters pretending to be businessmen interviewed 

her and took hidden photos of the women and girls she offered to them for a March 2001 show.

The 43-year-old woman bragged openly of having high connections that gave her protection from the police. She was acquitted from a charge  of pimping in 1994 when judges ruled there was not enough evidence against her.

Although laws against prostitution are not enforced here, pimping is illegal and the involvement of minors is a serious allegation.

The raid was conducted by the Fiscalía de Delitos Sexuales of the Ministerio Público and the Judicial Investigating Organization after a six-month probe, officials said.

Prosecutors are expected to call 23 witnesses. They alleged that the woman charged up to $300 for providing the sexual services of minors, who ranged in age from 14 to 17.

A man with the last names of Solano Brenes also will be in the dock with the Monge woman. He is alleged to be an employee who provided transportation services.

Two others persons have admitted guilt in the case during abbreviated hearings, officials said.

A larger view of the global image of Costa Rica
 

As large as this image is, it still does not do justice to the Keyhole system of maps available on the Internet

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