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(506) 223-1327            Published Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 30             E-mail us    
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Even at twice the price roses here are a bargain
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some Costa Rican flower markets have been raising prices on roses for St. Valentine's Day because demand is at it's peak during this romantic holiday. 

Aracella Matamoros Hoyes, the 27-year-old owner of the Floristaría Kiosk on Avenida 2, said that roses in her store usually go for 600 colons (about $1.15) apiece or 7,000 ($13.46) for the dozen. 

As St. Valentine's Day approaches a single rose is priced at 1,000 colons ($1.92) or 10,000 colons ($19.23) for a dozen.  There didn't seem to be any one better place to shop for roses Sunday because all of the flower stores that a reporter visited had the exact same prices.  Mrs. Matamoros's shop might have a slight edge for those late night shoppers who forgot all, because it is open 24 hours a day.

Ariel Solano, 23, has been working at his family's 15-year-old store on Avenida Central for as long as he can remember.  He said that roses are in such demand that they are having to import them from El Salvador.  When this is the case, his family is forced to pay extra import duties on the prized flower and the price goes up for the consumer, he said.  Normally the price for a dozen roses at his shop is half the price, just 5,000 colons ($9.61) for a dozen, he said. 

Adriana Barrantes, 24, works at Floristería Doña Grace that has been open in the same location by Banco Central for 40 years.  Mrs. Barrantes said that the cheapest time to buy flowers is around May because they are generally approaching full bloom at this time. 

The three store owners said that the majority of their flowers are brought to San José from the  Llano Grande, Cartago, area of Costa Rica. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Aracella Matamoros Hoyes on Avenida 2

Mrs. Barrantes said that this area is especially rich for flowers because it is on the damp side of the Irazú volcano.

Local flowers that were not roses are still going for around the same prices as always, the store owners agreed.  For about half the price of a rose, St. Valentine's Day shoppers have their pick of just about any other bloom in San José.  Complete floral displays were priced between 3,000 colons ($5.75) to 5,000 ($9.61).

Even with the higher prices in Costa Rica, it's a buyers market as far as a tourist is concerned.  A dozen roses in North America was going for anywhere between $60 to $140 Sunday, according to Internet sources. 

St. Valentine's Day was unanimously the most popular day among San José flower store owners, followed by Mother's Day and the month of December.



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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 30

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Foundation reps here to view
harvest of its microcredits


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A foundation linked to a U.S. grocery firm has given $297,092 worth of microcredit loans to 1,474 women in the province of Limón. Representatives are scheduled to arrive in Costa Rica Wednesday to take a look.

The foundation, The Whole Planet Foundation, is a private, non-profit that finances loan programs for the self-employed poor in Latin America, Africa and Asia, said its Web site.  The program the foundation supports here, entitled Otorga Microcréditos, focuses on the Guácimo, Siquirres, and Limón areas of the Limón province. 

The foundation began as a project by Whole Foods Market IP, L.P., the worlds leading retailer of natural and organic food, according to its Web site.  On Oct. 25, 2005, the food chain donated five percent of customer purchases for the start up capital of Whole Planet Foundation and has promised a donation of $1 million annually to continue the organization's work, said the Web site.
 
Donnell Dianne Ocker, vice president of partnership development, said that the foundation mission is to create economic partnerships with the poor in developing communities that supply the Whole Foods Market stores with product.  The stores sell bananas and pineapples that are grown in the Limón province. Mrs. Ocker said that through assistance for entrepreneurship, including micro credit loans, the company seeks to support human creativity and create wealth and prosperity in emerging economies.

To meet with the funding needs in Limón, the Whole Planet Foundation has partnered with the Grameen Trust.  This organization is part of the Grameen Bank, which was founded by Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient.  Yunus and the bank received the peace prize for their efforts to create economic and social development from below, said Nobel's Web site.

The credit system developed by Yunus and applied by the Whole Planet Foundation is meant to give the poor access to credit without requiring contracts or collateral, enabling them to rise out of poverty through their own efforts, said the foundation's Web site.

The loans are primarily given to women so they can develop and run businesses to generate income for their families. The foundation believes that women tend to take the money they earn and invest it in their families, education, and homes.  This is believed to counter some of the cultural obstacles in developing countries that make it difficult for women to advance, said the foundation's Web site.

Another partner in the projects is Earth University in Guácimo, an institution that strives to create leaders for the 21st Century in the areas of environmental protection and development, said the school's Web site. Representatives are scheduled to meet with U.S. Ambassador Mark Langdale in Limón where they will visit some of the current micro-credit borrowers.

Police and coast guard join
to secure Puntarenas fiesta


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police are out in full force to ensure the safety of those visiting the Puntarenas carnival this week, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Thousands of tourists and locals are expected to take part in the celebration. 

Mario Calderón, regional director of Fuerza Pública in Puntarenas, said that this time around police will be collaborating with the Policía Turística tourist police and the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas, the coast guard.

The coast guard is responsible for the areas around the Pacific beaches and will be accompanied by a group of life guard to protect those in the water as well, said Calderón. 

Police warn that regardless of the increased security presence, tourists should be mindful not to carry high value items or leave their car in unprotected or solitary areas.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 30


Lawyers didn't want to sit through long trial, one says
Some Villalobos plantiffs didn't want to be  cut from case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At least a handful of Villalobos creditors are angry because their lawyers dropped their cases in court without their permission.

The best excuse comes from a lawyer not directly associated with the current trial of Oswaldo Villalobos. He said the private lawyers did not want to sit through a long trial.

The action happened Monday during the first day of the Villalobos trial, but the full significance is just becoming clear.

Six lawyers representing plaintiffs in the civil case that parallels the criminal case asked the court to drop allegations for their individual clients and received assurances from the defense lawyers representing Oswald Villalobos that money damages would not be sought. Then the men left the courtroom.

The only remaining lawyer for civil complainants appears to be Ewald Acuña, and even some of his clients are being challenged by the defense. This is an issue that has not yet been resolved.

A.M. Costa Rica has received angry e-mails from Florida and elsewhere from plaintiffs who did not want their case dropped. In Costa Rica a civil action for damages can be heard at the same time as a criminal case, and the trial court can award money damages.

The case against Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho and his brother Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho began in October 2002 when Oswaldo Villalobos closed his Ofinter S.A. money exchange business and branches and Luis Enrique Villalobos closed up his informal borrowing business that paid creditors up to 3 percent a month.

A number of lawyers sought private clients at that time, but some have farmed out the work to colleagues as the cases dragged on. Lawyers representing private clients were required to show up on the first day of the trial. They did but then sought the first opportunity to excuse themselves from the trial.

Among those who said they did not want their lawyers to drop the cases are Susan Wallace, a former Escazú resident now in Argentina; Tom Sazani, a Costa Rican physician now working in the United States, and William Wade, a Florida resident.

If Oswaldo is convicted of the charges he faces — fraud, money laundering and illegal banking — the plaintiffs who dropped their cases probably will not be included in any money damages, it appears.

Luis Enrique Villalobos is still a fugitive, so his case is not in court.

The situation with Acuña is different. The defense has challenged some of his clients, claiming that their claims have been drawn up incorrectly. The defense said that several dozen claimants were not in the country at the time they are said to have sworn to the contents of their claim.

Most are from the United States. The process for transmitting a valid legal document from one nation to another is complex and includes validation by the second country's consul of the signatures and seals on the
document. The method is covered in an international treaty.

The defense said that Acuña accepted claims transmitted from other countries by FAX and that these claimants should be thrown out. The three-judge panel declined to eliminate these claimants Friday.

Also Friday Oswaldo Villalobos took the witness stand briefly but declined to say anything more than give his age, marital status, residence, education, and health issues. He had the right to answer the prosecutors allegations in depth but did not do so. His defense team will do that later. The court already has ruled that the trial may continue even if Oswaldo Villalobos becomes ill and cannot attend.

Also Monday morning Judge Manuel Rojas read into the record a report from the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras, the country's financial regulator.

The report was that of a limited study from 1998 to 2000 of the Villalobos brothers’ bank accounts and gave a month-by-month summary. The investigators for the regulating agency noted that transactions from Oftinter S.A. exchange house were mixed with Luis Enrique Villalobos's investment operations making analysis difficult. Several accounts maintained low balances relative to activity, according to the criteria of the regulator.

Some operations had already been flagged as suspicious by local banks, the report said. These involved large cash deposits, changing dollars to colons and back again, and immediate withdrawals. These currency exchanges often involved substantial losses from exchange rate differentials. In one case the loss reached $9,000. A requirement to declare cash transactions over $10,000 was not always followed, and a Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago (now Bancrédito) employee was the subject of an internal disciplinary process as a result, said the report.

Additional details about the many shell companies controlled by the Villalobos family also were summarized by Rojas. The same lawyer registered most of them, and the names of the same family members and business associates
appear repeatedly as officers, he said. Both defense and prosecution gave consent to enter these files into the record without a complete reading in the interest of time. Officers, shareholders, and accounting histories of the corporations still required considerable time to present.

A summary of the assets of the various corporations included 46 properties scattered around the country, with all seven provinces represented. Naranja Tica S. A. and Cítricos Carara S. A., juice producers, have about 800 and 550 hectares of land, while other properties include a substantial holding at Playa Negra on the Caribbean coast and the El Pizote Lodge near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in the same area. Some 44 vehicles and 31 aircraft (mostly helicopters) are registered to companies, with a few more vehicles in the names of the Villalobos family members. Eight tanker trucks are unaccounted for.

Also, 63 telephone lines, still registered as an asset in Costa Rica, belong to the various corporations.

The trial ended at noon Friday because witnesses were not available. The proceedings resume today with testimony from expert witnesses.


Dennis Rogers, special correspondent, contributed to this report.


Hungry youngsters take advantage of a Christmas tradition
Dios aprieta pero no ahoga
 
“God squeezes but does not choke.”  This dicho tells us that even when things get really bad, they’re not all bad.
 
I sometimes think of people and circumstances from my childhood and contemplate how life, and my view of it, has changed. We may have thought things were really tough back then, but with the perspective that time grants situations don¹t always look as bad.
 
When I was a boy, a family moved into our neighborhood. They had a double lot and decided to build a second house for the sister of the husband and her large brood of children. We quickly became pals with the new kids on the block. They were lots of fun and amazingly free, being permitted to roam round all over town as they wished. In our house we had rules concerning when we were allowed to leave the immediate neighborhood, where we could go, and especially about obtaining parental permission for such adventures.
 
But our new friends had friends in their old neighborhood, and once they invited us to go to el rezo del Niño in that part of town.
 
Now, I feel I must digress for a moment for the benefit of those who do not know what el rezo de Niño is: Back in the olden days, before the Christmas tree was known in Costa Rica, the central focus of the household celebration of the holiday was a nativity scene that here in Costa Rica we call a paso (in standard Spanish it’s called a portal vivo navideño).

These, often very elaborate ceramic or wooden tableaux, traditionally are erected 12 days before Christmas, but without the figure of the Baby Jesus. On Christmas Eve at midnight the Christ Child is installed in his place as the central figure of the scene. The paso remains in place until 40 days after the holiday when it is put away until the next Christmas season. In the Roman Catholic tradition there is a liturgy for this event of disassembling the nativity scene. It is called el rezo del Niño in Spanish "devotion to the Child."

A clergyman is not required to celebrate this event, and a neighborhood woman who has learned the liturgy is usually hired to come to the house and perform it. Musicians too also sometimes are hired to play special hymns and carols. Of course, following the ceremony there is a big fiesta involving copious amounts of food and drink. In Latin America we seldom need much of a reason to have a party, and this occasion provides a very good one.
 
But, getting back to my story: Our friends were too poor  

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto



even to afford a paso for their own house. But they knew where to find the rezos del Niño with the liveliest parties and the most delicious food.  So, we kids started going nightly to “pray” at every rezo in our friends’ old neighborhood. Of course, we did not let our parents in on what we were up to. Since the rezo del Niño nearly always takes place in a private house, attendance is by invitation, so we were essentially crashers. We knew perfectly well our folks would be quite upset about this and forbid us to go.
 
You are probably thinking that all this would one way or the other have to come to an end, and you’re right. Our new friends told their uncle that we had been going along on their devotional peregrinations, and, in the course of conversation, the uncle happened to mention it to my father who promptly put his foot down. From then on we were forbidden to go out at night with the neighbor children.
 
I was reminded of this episode ­ and our poor neighbors ­ weekend before last when I attended two separate rezos del Niño, this time by invitation, I hasten to add. It is a lovely tradition. The celebrations were very elaborate, featuring mariachis to play the special hymns, and the festivities following the liturgy were sumptuous. At one of these feasts many delicious dishes from Limón were served, since the owner of the house is from the Caribbean coast.
 
But now back to today¹s dicho. It came to my mind when I remembered those neighbor kids from so many years ago, who often throughout the year didn¹t have enough to eat. But, looking back, it seems to me now that a way was provided for them to dine richly as guests of the Christ Child.

And that is what Dios aprieta pero no ahoga and our tradition of el rezo del Niño are really all about, are they not gentle reader? After all, it was Jesus himself who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 30


Concessions sought for poor fishermen on islands in the gulf
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers will see a proposal to turn over the islands in the Gulf of Nicoya to the residents who have lived there for years.

Legislators hope that by formalizing the occupancy of the people living there they will give a push to economic development and tourism.

The majority of the people in the islands survive on fishing and are among the nation's poorest. The gulf is heavily over fished.

The islands are Chira, Bejuco, Venado, Caballo, Jesusita, Cedros and Islas Tortuga.

Under terms of a proposed law, the residents would have  a priority to receive concessions from the municipality to 35 years if they have lived on the island for at least 10 years. First, the municipality would need to create a plan regulador prior to awarding the concessions.
Among other goals, the plan would protect wetlands and other environmentally sensitive spots.

The proposal envisions the creation of a commission containing representatives from a handful of government agencies to oversee the projects.

Bienvenidos Venegas Porras of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana is one of those in support of the proposal. He represents Puntareanas province in the Asamblea Legislativa. Venegas noted that the proposal bars what is called a megaproject for tourism purposes. The law also seems to restrict transfer of the proposed concessions.

However, the law also would allow the Municipalidad de Puntarenas to award concessions within the 50 meters of average high tide. Existing Costa Rica law gives only the legislature itself the power to award such concessions.

One result of a valid concession would be that the person holding the rights to the land would be able to borrow money to improve it.


Organic farming methods will be presented at event in southwest Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Finca Tres Semillas, a small, family-owned farm and mountain inn, is hosting an educational event to raise awareness on practical organic farming methods.  The event begins at 10 a.m. Feb. 24.  Neighboring farmers, tropical conservation leaders, eco-tourism operators, and the general public are all invited to attend.

In response to the growing pressures for farms to adopt more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, the owners of Finca Tres Semillas began experimenting with organic farming methods six years ago.  The farm has discovered successful ways to farm organically, manage waste appropriately, use alternatives to toxic agricultural and household cleaning products, and convert to more sustainable income strategies, said a press release.

The farmers understand the lack of alternatives and economic pressures that farmers face these days, and want
 to share their knowledge and experiences with those interested in growing food and living in harmony with the environment, said the release.

There will be recreational activities, prizes, demonstration workshops on composting, organic agriculture, proper waste management, as well as a roundtable discussion.  Participants are welcome to share their ideas, hopes, frustrations and solutions about the topic of sustainable development and how it affects the life, culture and future of the Costa Rican farmer, said the release. 
The event is also a fundraiser for El Brujo elementary school and its environmental education programs.  Finca Tres Semillas is located in the Savegre Watershed between the communities of El  Brujo and El Llano de Río Nuevo, Pérez Zeledón. 

More information is available by contacting:  contact@finca3semillas.com, info@connectionsinstitute.net, or on a Web site at www.Finca3Semillas.com


Pope surprises Arias administration with claim of growing poverty here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pope Benedict XVI stung the Arias administration Saturday by suggesting that poverty has continued to increase here.

The pope made his comments while receiving the country's new ambassador to the Holy See, Luis París Chaverri.

The allegation stung because President Óscar Arias Sánchez has constructed his entire administration program as a war on poverty.  The pope said that local churchmen are worried about the growing level of poverty, the public insecurity, domestic violence and the heavy immigration from neighboring countries.

The reply from Casa Presidencial was oblique. No democratically elected Latin politician wants to go head to head with the Pope. The Arias's spokespersons released a
statement that applauded the pope for other comments. Only in paragraph four did Arias disagree.

The Arias statement noted that his administration has provided funds so poor children can stay in school and that the plan is to reduce poverty by 4 percentage points by 2010. The rate of poverty has been steady at 20 percent since 1994, the Arias administration said.

Poverty is not something that requires just technical solutions but also a strengthening of values, said Arias in the statement.

Part of the Arias antipoverty plan is passage of the free trade treaty with the United States, something leading churchmen here do not support strongly, if at all. Presumably the pope was responding to information supplied by Costa Rica's bishops.


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