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These stories were published Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 29
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica/ Ken Beedle
Puntarenas carnival goers get sprayed Sunday at the Kalor concert
Stamp fraud arrest at airport may be the last
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Airport police detained an employee there Monday because they think he was involved with recycling exit stamps.

At the same time, officials noted that in April the exit stamps will be history and that a new system will be put in place that will track more closely individuals who leave the country.

The so-called washing of stamps has been a continuing concern at Juan Santamaría Airport because officials claimed they have been losing millions of colons to the stamp washers. They blamed the independent salesmen who hawk the stamps as travelers enter the airport.

The man arrested Monday morning was identified by the last names of Guevara Fernández. The airport security detail of the Fuerza Pública made the arrest. They said the man was an employee of a company that sold services to a foreign airline.

Investigators said they seized various entry and exit cards, some of them original and others that appeared to have been altered. The exit cards bear the stamps required for travelers to leave the country.

Officials have said that once the exit cards and stamps have been used, the crooks remove the stamps and attach them to a new card, and then they resell the stamps and clean card to another traveler. Airline employees accept the departure cards and then cancel the stamps by punching holes in them. So to recreate a seemingly valid card requires a lot of work.

Vendors purchase the stamps at the Banco Credito Agricola de Cartago downtown and sell them at the airport entrances for a 6 per cent commission. They downplay the amount of the stamp washing or stamp twinning that goes on. 

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
About 2.2 million travelers a year use these types of forms and stamps at the airport. But not for long.

Instead, they say the government just wants to make the small profit on the sale of the stamps and tries to get traveleres to use authorized outlets within the airport building.

The Ministerio de Seguridad Pública Monday said that just three other persons have been arrested for irregularities with the stamps between 2000 and 2002.  The arrest Monday came after an investigation that continued for months, they said.

A new law goes into effect April 24 that will eliminate the use of stamps. The traveler will make a purchase from an entity of the state or of a bank, presumably within the airport building. The Ministerio de Hacienda still has to award a concession for this work.

The fee will be $26, lower than the current $43 exit fee for Costa Ricans but higher than the current $17 fee for tourists. Travelers will receive a form of identification that links the exit payment to them personally so the documents cannot be reused, said the ministry. There is a possibility that the system will include some electronic tags to positively identify each payment.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Health officials are trying to stem a malaria outbreak that seems to be centered in Herradura on the Pacific coast. They are using insecticides.

Three persons, including a girl, are being treated for the disease that is carried by the anopheles mosquito. The girl is hospitalized in serious condition in San Juan de Dios Hospital in San José. She went there last week.

Another victim is the girl’s mother. Both were in the Herradura area, which is just north of Jacó. The third victim lives in that area, according to health officials.

Malaria is caused by the introduction of Plasmodium protozoa parasite into the blood via a mosquito bite. Children are more vulnerable, and health officials worldwide are worried about the development of parasites that are resistant to the traditional chloroquine pills.

Two forms of malaria parasites are found in Costa Rica: Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax. The former is the most dangerous of the four forms found worldwide.

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Sailfish tourney will feature kinder, gentler hooks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A weekend of fishing events in Golfito will be highlighted with the 2nd Annual Circle Hook Fishing Tournament Saturday.

The events start Friday with a captain’s meeting in 

Banana Bay from 4:30 p.m. until 5.30 p.m.

Then on Saturday the tournament begins at Mantalo Rock. The competition begins at 6:45 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m.
The tournament, which is for sailfish and marlin, is split into two categories: conventional tackle and fly-fishing. The 

winning boat is the one with the highest total points from both categories.

At around 3:30 p.m. the contestants will gather at 

Parrot Bay for the award’s ceremony where the winners will be unveiled.

Chuck Tilton, captain of the boat Seat Tails and who will participate in the tournament, said that circle hooks are the preferred choice for the tournament because of their kindness to the fish. 

According to a study by the National Marine Fisheries Service in Miami, Fla., circle hooks cause fewer deep hooking and more hooking to the side of a fish’s mouth. This results in less bleeding.

Tilton said that the circle hooks make it easier for a catch to be released than with traditional hooks.
The study also indicated fewer deaths in the fish than with "J" hooks, the traditional variety.

Fishing writer Ron Ballanti said in a report on an Internet page that while some fishermen report circle hooks to be more effective than traditional ones, others do not trust them. He inferred that although they are good for fishing some types of fish, for others the hooks are less effective. 

Colombians march
for end of war

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Hundreds of people have rallied here, calling for an end to nearly four decades of civil war that culminated in last week's deadly car bomb attack on an exclusive nightclub. 

As the demonstrators gathered outside the El Nogal social club Monday, they waved white flags and laid flowers in memory of the 33 adults and children killed in last Friday's blast. 

No one has claimed responsibility, but authorities blame the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the nation's largest guerrilla group. The group says on its Web site that right-wing paramilitaries frequently visited the club. 

Investigators say a car packed with 200 kilograms of explosives detonated in an indoor garage. Several walls of the 10-story building caved in, crushing victims to death. Others died in a fire ignited by the explosion. 

Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were called in to help investigate the bombing as President Alvaro Uribe warned that rebels were planning more attacks on the nation's cities. 

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez meets with U.S. officials this week to seek more U.S. aid for the war-ravaged nation. 

She is expected to meet this week in Washington with Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. defense secretary, Condoleezza Rice, U.S. national security adviser, John Walters, a drug czar, and A.B. Krongard, the executive director of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

In recent years, the United States has provided Colombia with about $2 billion to fight drug smuggling and illegal armed groups fighting in the Andean nation's 38-year civil war. 

Border discussed
to end conflict

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Belize and Guatemala have agreed to confidence-building measures in another step to end a long-standing territorial dispute between the two nations.

At a ceremony Friday in Washington, the two countries signed what was termed an "Agreement to Establish a Transition Process and Confidence-Building Measures" designed to create a "just, equitable, and permanent solution" to the more than century-long dispute between the two.

Under the auspices of the Organization of American States, the two countries reached a draft resolution to end the dispute in September 2002. Final acceptance of the agreement rests in the hands of voters in Belize and Guatemala who must confirm the settlement through nation-wide referendums.

Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state, said in September that acceptance of the draft agreement by the people of Belize and Guatemala would  "remove a chronic obstacle to economic, environmental, and social development" in the two countries and their neighbors. Powell added that final resolution to the disagreement would inspire other nations in the region to resolve their outstanding disputes.

Luigi Einaudi, organization assistant secretary general, declared at the Friday ceremony that over the years, confidence-building measures have proven to be effective vehicles to strengthen relations and transparency while contributing to many breakthroughs towards peace around the world.

"In the case involving Belize and Guatemala, we can say we have taken a very important step in reducing incidents or controversies stemming from this long-standing dispute," said Einaudi.

Assad Shoman, Belize's minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, said the confidence-building measures "are the result of a much more intense negotiation between the two parties, with the help of the [organization]."

Edgar Gutierrez, Guatemala's minister of foreign affairs, said: "This firm step demonstrates a more mature process of understanding between Belize and Guatemala in recent times."

According to U.S. State Department documents, the argument between Belize and Guatemala involved Guatemalan claims to territory held by Belize. Negotiations to settle the dispute have gone on for many years. One such attempt occurred during the 1960s when the United States sought unsuccessfully to mediate an end to the crisis.

Tovar optimistic
on European tariffs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s foreign mininster remained optimistic on the eve of a key meeting today in which the European Union may decide on higher tariffs there for flowers, oranmental plants and fruits from here.

The minister, Roberto Tovar Faja, said that Costa Rica has done its work in an attempt to get the European Union to continue with an exemption for Costa Rica from the 20 percent tariffs. He said this at a press conference at Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry, accompanied by representatives of producers.

Also there was José Joaquín Chaverri, a special envoy to the European Union, who has been battling to keep the special preferences for Costa Rica.

Basically there are three possibilities for Costa Rica. In two scenarios, the country will lose the preferences either abruptly or gradually Jan. 1, 2004. In the third scenario that the country wishes to avoid, the preferences will be lifted next June 1.

Ultimately, the Council of Ministers of the European Union, which meets Feb. 27, have the final say.

Ambassador picked
for Managua post

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rodrigo X. Carreras, a long-time diplomat, will be the next Costa Rican ambassador to Nicaragua, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The selection will be announced officially today at the Council of Government in Casa Presidencial.

Carreras, who was a student of former president Oscar Arias Sánchez when they both were at the University of Costa Rica, has held a number of diplomatic posts.

The administration of President Abel Pacheco has established warm relations with the neighbor to the north and President Enrique Bolaños Geyer there.  Canciller Roberto Tovar Faja said that Costa Rica will continue to solidify its relations with Managua, where Carreras will begin work next month.

Diplomat nominated

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush plans to nominate Lino Gutierrez to be United States Ambassador to Argentina, according to a White House release issued Thursday.

Tourist inspectors 
will help tax man

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tax man has signed an agreement with tourism inspectors to make sure that those companies in the hospitality business and travel agencies pay their promotional taxes.

The Dirección General of Tributación Directa, the tax-collecting agency, said that it entered into an agreement Feb. 4 with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The net effect of the agreement will be to encourage tourism inspectors to make sure that hospitality firms are paying their 3 percent tax and that travel agencies are collecting a 5 percent tax on air tickets.

The agreement also gives the tax officials access to the records of the tourism institute so that investigators can verify that the correct tax is being paid.

The extra effort to collect the taxes will help finance promotional efforts to attract tourists and to finance tourism development projects, the announcement said.

Two brush fires still
keep firemen busy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two small hot spots continue to frustrate firefighters south of Cartago. 

The damage from the week-old blazes may be as much as 300 hectares (about 740 acres) burned. But the bulk of the area is low underbrush. But because of the hilly terain, erosion is now a problem.

One fire started Wednesday in Cañón del Guarco, Province of Cartago, and has burned toward Copey de Dota. The second fire began either Wednesday or Thursday in the vicinity of San Pedro de Tarrazú.

Tango classes offered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wedneday is tango time in San José because classes in the showy dance are being given then.

Class begins at 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of Edificio Rembrandt, which is 125 meteres south of the Hotel Aurola Holiday Inn.

The monthly cost for lessons is 10,000 colons (about $16) with a small signup fee. Those attending are asked to wear shoes appropriate for the dance.
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Colombian refugees may have been scammed
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Colombian refugees in Costa Rica seemed to have trusted the wrong person when they handed money over to an individual who said they could resettle in Canada in exchange for money.

A person claiming to work for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees may have scammed a group of Colombians who wanted out of Costa Rica, according to Giovanni Monge of the high commissioner’s office.

Some refugees last week reported to a department within the high commissioner’s office that they gave money to a person in order to ensure they could be resettled from Costa Rica. The person turned out to be an impostor.

At times during the past year of dealing with Colombian refugees the high commissioner’s office has heard complaints from refugees claiming they paid someone in the office to help them, according to Monge.

Representatives of the high commissioner’s office told refugees at the time to point out the culprit because there is no one in the office authorized to accept money for favors. No refugees came forward to finger the person accepting the money, according to Monge.

This time the refugees reported to the Asociación Consultores y Asesoris Internacionales, a refugee advising office within the high commissioner’s 

office. The refugees were told to report the crime to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

"In the past we have heard the refugees say staff members were taking money from them," Monge said, "But we were angered because we thought they were lying. With these new reports maybe there was some truth to the claims, and it is very serious if a person was using our name to make money."

The high commissioner’s office is looking into the case but has not issued a press release. Payment is not part of the resettlement procedure the Colombian refugees seek.

Applicants need only to prove the conditions of the present country are not safe for them because of political persecution or health risks. With  proof the high commissioner’s office might find a safer country willing to accept the refugee.  The high commissioner’s office has been working with the refugees here to decide the merits of their resettlement cases.

Some of the scammed refugees may be members of the group that took over the courtyard of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Feb. 17, according to Monge.

The group staged a protest in order to be resettled out of Costa Rica claiming they were not safe here because hitmen, who followed them from Colombia, are threatening them. Neither Costa Rican authorities nor the high commissioner’s office have found evidence to back these claims.

Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books.

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.

Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants.  Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.

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