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(506) 223-1327            Published Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 28             E-mail us    
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New Web site will monitor corruption in Central American nations
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Transparency International has launched a Web site that will help to monitor anti-corruption initiatives in Central America and serve as a virtual home for anti-corruption knowledge on the region, said the organization

The launch follows the signing of the Guatemala Declaration, which commits the leaders of Central America and the Dominican Republic to reach concrete outcomes in the fight against corruption by 2010 — and which is one of the primary targets of the Web site’s monitoring activities.

The Central American Anti-Corruption Resource Network or RECREA, provides an in-depth view of anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala,
Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama. The Web site seeks to address the regional need for information on the different individuals and institutions involved in reducing corruption, said Transparency.

The organization said that defining these players offers an explicit, much-needed description of the systems necessary for carrying out anti-corruption strategies. The Web site includes data on the performance of governments and institutions and will be updated regularly, Transparency said.

The summaries are divided by country. About Costa Rica, for example, the organization said that there has been little success by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones to make public the financing of the various political parties.

First day begins
with challenge

It's off to school in Desamparados. The youngsters go to the Escuela Manuel Ortuño Boutín, and like many children and their parents they have to walk on the roadway. The government is trying to cut down on pedestrian accidents for school kids. Such mishaps took nine lives of children between 5 an 10 years old in 2006. Being distributed are 11,000 reflective stickers for children's backpacks and reflective vests for the adults that help students cross streets.

A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Antonio Ramírez Corrales

Dispute in Puerto Jiménez leaves two men dead
By Arnoldo Cob Mora
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A dispute over hijacking passengers erupted into a shooting Wednesday that left a father and son fatally wounded on the docks at Puerto Jiménez on the Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica.

Dead are Edwin Castro Vásquez, 58, known locally as Chino, and Marvin Castro Cavallero, 32, known as Panfils, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The shootings happened about 5 a.m. Less than two hours later Fuerza Pública officers took Claudio Jesús Ferreto Alfaro, 60, into custody in Golfito. He is a business competitor of the boat and bus transport firm operated by the Castros. He is expected to claim self-defense.

Puerto Jiménez is on the peninsula along the west side of the Golfito Dulce. The nearest major community is Golfito on the east side of the gulf, so water transportation is important.

Although the elder Castro died at the shooting scene, his son died on the dock in Golfito after a 
boat ride en route to medical attention in the town. Both men were shot in the stomach. The younger Castro also was hit in the knee and chest.

Ferreto, the suspect, ended up in the local hospital, too, suffering from injuries suffered from being hit, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The elder Castro, who nearly always went barefoot, according to a long-time resident, owned two boats, including one that could accommodate 75 persons. He charged 800 colons, about $1.50, for a 90-minute trip across the gulf. The larger boat is called Lancha Tropical Tour. He also had a boat called Lancha Don Isidro.

Because Puerto Jimenez is one of the gateways to Parque Nacional Corcovado and the roads from the mainland are so bad thousands of visitors have been passengers on the Castro boats.

Recently smaller, faster craft have been charging 2,000 colons, some $3.85, for a trip that takes about a third of the time. Ferreto's boat is called  Lancha Cuyo Leitón. In fact, he left the scene in one of his own boats and arrived in Golfito where he was arrested about 6:40 a.m., said police there.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 28

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Sala IV case would treat
whales as natural resource

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican politician has brought the fight to protect whales to the Sala IV constitutional court in a case that demands the protection of the animal as one of the nation's natural resources.

The politician, Legislative deputy José Merino del Río of the Partido Frente Amplio, has filed an action with the court that would require the several government departments to ensure the welfare of the animal.  The departments include the Presidencia, the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía and the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Part of the appeal would make it mandatory that the government attend the meeting of the International Whaling Commission this May.  The international agency was formed in 1946 to regulate the whaling industry and in 1986 ordered a commercial moratorium on the hunting of the animal.  With the exception of Norway and Japan, the international community has now agreed to cease commercial whaling.

The Coalición Costarricense por las Ballenas, that represents 12 non-government organizations, also said that it will be filing a proposal that would force the government to adhere to the International Whaling Committee's moratorium.  They also said that Costa Rica is within the top ten whale watching countries in the world and makes $4.2 million from the industry.

Business research firm
doubles workforce here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Amba Research Costa Rica S.A., an investment research and analysis provider, announced plans to double its Costa Rican work force to 100 persons, a move that it believes will bring further investment into the country.  The company currently has some 500 consultants working in India, Sri Lanka, the United States, England, Costa Rica and Singapore, providing investment services to over 70 clients including 15 of the largest investment banks in the world, the company announced.

The company said that some of the reasons for increasing its personnel here are economic and political stability, a good investment, and the quality of the Costa Rican human resource.  Responding to the announcement, President Oscar Arias Sánchez reiterated his promise to increase direct foreign investment in the country which, in turn, will generate higher quality jobs for Costa Ricans.

Arias said that the Costa Rican economy grew by 8 percent last year and that the direct foreign investment grew by 60 percent.  He added that companies such as Amba Research, Hospira, Boston Scientific, Procter & Gamble, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel Corp. have permitted Costa Rica to transform itself from a bananas and coffee exporter to a producer of technology, such as computer chips.

Armando Balma, general manger of Amba Research, said the company is already recruiting young talent between 23 and 28 for the position of financial analyst.  He said that proficiency in English and a strong command of numbers are required.

Cut planned in electrical service

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Electrical services in San Antonio de Belén and Barrio San Isidro in Heredia, will be suspended from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. today, said the Compañia Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, S.A. The company is installing new utility poles, it said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 28

Villalobos defense follows what supporters have been saying
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

The Oswaldo Villalobos defense team laid out its strategy Wednesday. “We have nothing to hide,” said Federico Campos, who opened the defense presentation.

The arguments closely followed what Villalobos supporters have been saying for years.

The main introductory argument is that since Costa Rican banking authorities found no reason to investigate the operations of Villalobos's Ofinter S.A. exchange house, there was no reason for the narcotrafficking prosecutors to begin an investigation, according to Campos.

These prosecutors have no understanding of the technical aspects of this sort of financial service and don’t know how Oswaldo Villalobos separated his business from the collection of capital attributed to his brother Luis Enrique, said Campos. The prosecution has resorted to a “cut & paste”  approach (using that term in English) to their presentation of the facts, falling into a “separate reality” which has damaged the Villalobos name, Campos said.

Campos also said that the Villalobos brothers were providing financial services for more than 20 years and that their downfall was the result of the July 4, 2002, police raid on the Ofinter offices and the Mall San Pedro operation of Luis Enrique Villalobos. Canadian investigators who were on the trail of a Villalobos client also had only asked for an investigation, not a raid, Campos said. He also noted that only about 150 of the many affected individuals have pursued any sort of claim.

Rodrigo Araya, a second Villalobos lawyer, addressed the question of fraud, one of the charges his client is facing. He sought to distance Oswaldo Villalobos from the activities of his brother. Still, he minimized the magnitude of Luis Enrique’s actions, saying that there was a collection of funds without deception and that individuals wishing to invest were recruited without any public advertising.

He also defended the use of post-dated checks as a guarantee and said this was not illegal and that the customers were clearly informed that the checks they received were not negotiable.

There was no failure to pay interest or return capital until the police raid of July 4, 2002, he said. “Suspension of payments was caused by the hasty intervention of the authorities, which resulted in the freezing of accounts and the closure of the business.”

Araya did not mention the case of an elderly Canadian investor who already had initiated a legal action against Luis Enrique Villalobos seeking to recover his money before the July 4 raid.
As for the civil case, the essential flaw, according to Araya, is that the only date the litigants put as firm is October 14, 2002, when the last interests were paid. According to him, the dates could have been in “the 1980s, the 1960s, the 1950s.” There is no way to prove that Oswaldo Villalobos was present for any particular transaction.

Defense lawyer Alexander Ruiz considered the civil suit against Ofinter as a business. The defense lawyer said that from the number of documents sent by fax by participants in the group of plaintiffs represented by Ewald Acuña that many were outside of the country at the time they placed their complaints and that immigration records confirmed this. As a result, about 35 individuals had problems with properly authenticated documents, he said.

A list of expert witnesses has also presented, mostly persons involved with the operation but also outside independent experts. The remaining member of the defense team, Juan Tovar, summarized the defense.

Much of the rest of the morning session involved bickering between the defense and Acuña along with Ilem Melendez who is in charge of the government’s fraud prosecution.

Several former Acuña clients were present to request that they be officially removed from the list. One, Avery Patterson, said that he had told the lawyer that he wished to drop out two years ago. Another client apparently is dead.

As a result of the need to reconcile the list of plaintiffs, court was adjourned until Friday morning.

Oswaldo Villalobos is in ill health and spent more than seven months hospitalized during the period of his pre-trial detention. He agreed in court that the legal process may continue in the event of his absence for health reasons.

The defense summary presented Wednesday is similar to what supporters of the Villalobos brothers have been saying for years. They blame the government and police action for the collapse of the enterprise, which paid up to 3 percent a month on deposits of $10,000 or more. They say Luis Enrique Villalobos became a fugitive to protect his depositors.

Villalobos supporters have been highly critical of Acuña and claim that he tricked creditors into hiring his legal services. An associate of Acuña attempted to place a classified advertisement in A.M. Costa Rica shortly after the Villalobos brothers ceased operation. The proposed ad said "We got our money, and you can too," suggesting that Acuña's office had access to a large sum of Villalobos money that had been recovered in Panamá.

A.M. Costa Rica was unable to verify the claim and declined the ad. The Tico Times published the ad, and some clients hired Acuña as a result. But there was no cash.

Changes planned in nation's technical high schools to meet new demands
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rica government has been outlining a number of reforms at technical high schools to meet the demands of international markets and business.

Leonardo Garner, the minister of Educación Pública, announced that 89 technical high schools will be undergoing a transformation to meet with changing needs.  He said that the Consejo Nacional de Educación, the national education council, spent the month of December analyzing various sectors of the economy in order to come to its conclusions.  He spoke about the changes at the weekly Consejo de Gobierno or the president's cabinet meeting.

Some of the changes are to better prepare students for jobs in the shipping, marine technician, and tourism industries, said a government release.  The minister also announced that an additional four credit hours of English classes will be added to the curriculum.  Some of the specific areas of improvement are in conversational, technical, data processing, and accounting English. 

Another theme covered at the Consejo de Gobierno was the creation of a negotiating team specific to the European Union.  The meetings between Central American nations 
and the European Union are scheduled to take place March 8 and March 9.  Ambassador Roberto Echandi Gurdián has been appointed the leader of the Costa Rican representation to the European Union.  He will be accompanied by trade specialists Fernando Ocampo and cooperation representative Christian Guillermet.  Costa Rica wants to discuss topics such as telecommunications and insurance, said officials. 

The Arias administration has declined to allow a negotiating team from other Central American countries to represent Costa Rica.

The Costa Rican government has also shown an interest involving itself in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, whose member countries account for nearly 40 percent of the world production.  Bruno Stagno, minister of Relaciones Exterior y Culto, said that Costa Rica will be seeking candidacy during the next union vote in November 2007.  Mexico, Peru and Chile are the only Latin American countries that are currently members.  Joining Costa Rica in its 2007 bid are Ecuador, Colombia and Panamá. 

Stagno said that Costa Rica would look to increase its computer chip production by integrating into the Asian market.  He also said that involvement with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation is not a new aspiration, and pointed out that Costa Rica has participated in previous meetings of the Pacific Rim forum.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 28

Secretary Rice says Chávez is destroying his own country
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the policies of Venezuela's populist leader Hugo Chávez are destroying the South American country.

In congressional testimony, Ms. Rice said the ongoing U.S. feud with Chávez is deflecting attention from the good relationship the Bush administration has established with other leftist governments in the region.

Bush administration spokesmen have warned that recent moves by the Chávez government, including nationalization of oil and utility assets, would prove to be counterproductive. But in an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ms. Rice went farther, saying the Venezuelan leader's policies were destructive to the country's interests.

Asked by Rep. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, whether she thought Venezuela was heading toward dictatorship, the secretary of state said there is an assault on democracy and significant human rights issues in that country and that it is a major topic in U.S. contacts with other regional governments.

"We raise these issues in the Organization of American States at all times, and with all the states of the region," she said.  "I do believe that the president of Venezuela is really destroying his own country, economically, politically, and this is a place with which we've traditionally had very good relations and would like to continue to have good relations."

Despite her comments, Ms. Rice said she wanted to avoid getting into a rhetorical contest with Chávez.

She said that takes attention away from what she said was a very positive U.S. agenda in Latin America, and the fact that the George Bush administration has worked well with other left-of-center governments, including those of Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.
U.S.-Venezuelan relations have been troubled since 2002, when Chávez accused the Bush administration of supporting a military coup that briefly drove him from power. U.S. officials denied that allegation. They have since accused Chávez of, among other things, meddling in the affairs of neighboring countries and engaging in an out-sized military buildup.

The verbal sparring reached a new level last September when, in a policy speech to the U.N. General Assembly, the Venezuelan leader referred to President Bush as "the devil."

In her Congressional testimony, Ms. Rice said Chávez "did
himself no good" with the General Assembly speech and undermined what proved to be a losing effort by Venezuela to win a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

She said Venezuela is in a negative transition and that the United States, in its aid program to the country, aims to support non-governmental groups trying to resist that trend and preserve democracy.

Venezuela rejects U.S. drug aid

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A top Venezuelan official says his country will fight drug trafficking without the help of the United States. The official, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday that Venezuela is a sovereign nation that does not need what he described as "money from the devil."

Maduro's comments come after the release of President George Bush's budget, in which a request for aid for anti-drug efforts in Venezuela was eliminated. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez severed ties with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2005, claiming agents were involved in espionage. The South American country is a major transit route for cocaine destined for the United States or Europe.

U.S. wants to join Brazil in exploiting need for ethanol as fuel, diplomat says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A senior U.S. diplomat says the United States is seeking an agreement with Brazil to produce and find new markets for biofuels such as ethanol, to reduce the U.S. dependency on oil.

Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said during a visit to Sao Paulo Tuesday that biofuel can become, in many ways, the symbolic centerpiece of the new, stronger U.S.-Brazil relationship.

Burns said the United States wants to involve other Latin American countries in learning to produce these alternative
 fuels. He said this could lead to what he called "a global ethanol market, with ethanol as a true commodity" to lessen the power of the world's oil exporters.

The United States and Brazil are the world's biggest producers of the biofuel ethanol, which is derived from plants such as corn and sugar cane.

Last month, President George Bush, in his State of the Union speech to Congress, called for a 20 percent cut in U.S. gasoline consumption over the next 10 years. He said the goal can be reached through improved fuel economy standards in cars, and increased use of alternative and renewal fuels like ethanol.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 28 

U.S. soccer squad hands Team México yet another loss, 2-0
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States men's national soccer team handed Team México yet another loss Wednesday, 2-0, in a friendship match in Phoenix, Arizona. The U.S. team scored both its goals in the second half.

When hosting Mexico, the U.S. soccer team has dominated the series in recent years, with seven wins, no losses and one draw since 2000. Team USA has scored 13 goals in that time period while Mexico has failed to put the ball in the net on American soil since the turn of the century.

Both teams are members of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association and will be seeking to win a limited number of berths for the 2010 World Cup match in South Africa.
Jimmy Conrad and Landon Donovan were the players who scored. Conrad scored first on a ball served up by Donovan. 38 minutes later Donovan outdistanced his Mexican opponent and was able to blast a shot past Oswaldo Sánchez, the Mexican goal tender.

There were 62,462 paying spectators, according to the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The two teams had not met since a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 3, 2005. The U.S. won that match 2-0 to become the first team from the confederation to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Costa Rica also is a member of the confederation and regularly plays against both México and the U.S. team for a World Cup place.

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