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These stories were published Thursday, Feb. 13, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 31
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Caribbean flooding hurt earnings
Chiquita's losses send its stock price plunging
By Garett Sloane and Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chiquita Brands International, Inc. reported fourth quarter losses that sent shares of the stock plunging nearly 30 percent.

One factor in the loss was the heavy flooding  this year which took its toll on the banana export business, said the company. A pair of storms in late November ravaged Costa Rica’s Atlantic slope.

The company posted a loss of $26.3 million, or $0.66 per share for the final quarter of 2002. Wednesday the stock price plummeted $4.15 to $10.01 per share. The drop was 29.3 percent and was the worst performance of the day on the New York Stock Exchange.

The quarterly losses included $5 million as a result of the flooding here, a Chiquita press release said. 

Fourth quarter net earnings were $5 million compared to $18 million in the same quarter the year before. This decline was primarily 

due to lower local banana pricing in Europe and North America and higher tropical production costs, partially offset by the strengthening of major European currencies against the U.S. dollar, the company said.

The company noted that it has initiated a series of global performance-improvement programs to reduce gross costs by $150 million per year by the end of 2005.  These programs include improvements in farm productivity and canning operations as well as reductions in global purchasing and overhead expenses, the company said. 

"We were clearly disappointed with our fourth-quarter performance, which can be attributed to a number of negative events compared to the same period a year ago, including a poor pricing environment in Europe and higher tropical production costs," said Cyrus Freidheim, chairman and chief executive officer. 

The fruit company has been involved in Costa Rica since 1871. Among other feats, the company brought the railroad here.


 
New tourism campaign stresses Tico pride
A.M. Costa Rica photo
This is one of several versions of the "proudly Tico" ad displayed at bus stops around San José.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new tourism ad campaign directed at Costa Ricans has the hombre on the street scratching his head.

"Orgullosamente Tico" is the title of the ad that is beginning to show up at bus stops around San José. The words mean "proudly Tico," but the problem is that is about all the sign says.

"Sure, they are directed at the national market, but a discount would have been a better idea," said a taxi driver as he passed one sign Wednesday.

The backlighted photos feature volcanoes, a beach scene and an orchid. The ads are overprinted with a shadowy four letters spelling out "TICO," the adjective for a Costa Rican. The newer ads also are paid for and bear the logo of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

However, as some bus patrons noted Tuesday, the ads don’t even suggest that Costa Ricans should take trips to tourism locations. An ad campaign kicked off after the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 was highly successful because it encouraged  Costa Ricans to visit their own beaches and mountains. Plus officials were able to negotiate healthy discounts with hotels. 

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EU rep here says that tariff woes are overstated
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s increasingly desperate pleas to stay within the European Union’s system of low trade tariffs may be in vain. The country is trying to avert a decision to impose union import tariffs on fruits, ornamental plants and nuts.

Andrew Standley, the head of the European Commission here, says that he has yet to see clear evidence that some 45,000 jobs actually are in danger if import tariffs are applied. Producers make this claim.

Standley questioned the media coverage that championed Costa Rica’s cause, where, he said, one article quoted a grower as saying the tariff imposed would put the affected industry in a very precarious position. But another article, he added, quoted another grower as saying removal from the system would not affect the industry much at all.

Articles like the latter, said Standley, indicate that the situation wouldn’t be as bad as is being portrayed, if or when Costa Rica’ loses its tariff preferences.

Pointing to the early days of the euro currency and during its growth period, Standley said: "If you look at the statistics, Costa Rica has had a tremendous success in boosting exports to Europe."

Within a year of the euro’s introduction into the union, the currency had decreased in value by 30 percent against the dollar, said Standley. With Costa Rica being basically a dollar economy, said 

Standley, buyers of Costa Rican products in euros were paying 34 percent more. 

Standley added that despite this transitional period for the union, Costa Rica still managed to increase its exports there.

He said: "Take with a grain of salt the cries of the growers." 

The 40 percent figure being touted as the tariff that the country would incur after removal of preferences is exaggerated also, said Standley. Moreover, actual tariffs would vary from 2 to 10 percent, depending on the product, he said.

Tuesday the 20 union commissioners decided to accept the proposal to subject Costa Rica to tariffs in June. The country’s agricultural products originally were due to be hit with import duties in January.

Roberto Tovar, the Costa Rican foreign minister, said Tuesday he still had hope that the situation could still be remedied in Costa Rica’s favor.

A meeting will be held sometime at the end of this month, where the union’s council group will formally decide whether to accept the commissioners’ proposal to remove Costa Rica. Colombia is also affected by this decision.

A qualified majority of 62 out of the 87 council votes are needed to stop the proposal. "Normally, you’d expect the proposal to go through," said Standley. However, technicalities might cause another temporary delay.


 
Canadian schools
seek students here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Canadian educational institutions will be present at a fair Feb. 25 at the Hotel Barcelo San José Palacio.

This will be the third time the Edu-Canada Fair has been held here. The event is organized by the Canadian Education Center Network. The Canadian Embassy here is helping out.

The fair is primarily designed to attract students to Canadian universities, technical colleges and schools, said Ted MacKay, political counselor at the Canadian Embassy.

MacKay said that the world is competitive and Canada wants to attract as many foreign students as possible to stimulate diversity and strengthen the quality in Canadian institutions.

The education network also takes the fair three days each to Colombia and Mexico.

The San José fair begins at 2:30 p.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m. Entry is free. Contact the Canadian Embassy for more details at 296-4149.

Conference topic
will be very deadly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A conference is coming to Costa Rica where the main topic for the health experts attending is death.

The 5th annual International Congress in Pain Control and Palliative Care will be held in San José from May 14 to 16. Healthcare workers from Argentina, the United Kingdom and the United States will join experts from Costa Rica to teach each other how to deal with terminally ill patients.

Forum discussions will include topics like the last 48 hours of life, dealing with the bereaved and dying at home. Also discussed will be the issue of pain management for the suffering. 

Pain management often involves the use of opiates which can be a controversial subject. Some countries are unprepared to relieve suffering through drug distribution because of strict legislation.

Costa Rica has been dealing with the issue of palliative care and pain relief for the terminally ill and in 2001 signed into law a bill dealing with the topic. The bill established guidelines for clinics and hospitals to follow regarding uncurable patients.

The congress will convene at the Union Club in downtown San José. The $175 to $295 price tag to attend may put off most non-health professionals. But interested parties should register before March 15 to get the lowest rate. Information about the conference can be found at www.geisinger.org.

Prison riot leaves
6 dead, some headless

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — A violent prison riot here has claimed the lives of six prisoners, four of whom were decapitated. At least 15 others were wounded. One of the prisoners who lost his life was jailed for the high profile murder of a Guatemalan bishop five years ago. 

As a light drizzle fell on the grounds outside this prison on a hillside on the northern edge of the city, municipal firefighters took wounded prisoners out of the prison gates. A group of prisoners, some of them with blood stains on their hands, looked on from the other side of a chain link fence. 

Eric Giovanni, 22, was one of them. He says he saw dead people, people without heads. He says what he saw has him terrified and he thanks god that he made it out alive.

One of those who did not make it out alive is Juan Obdulia Villanueva, a former member of the presidential guard who was serving a 30-year sentence for the 1998 murder of a Guatemalan bishop, Juan Gerardi. 

Bishop Gerardi, a champion of human rights, was bludgeoned to death two days after he released a report attributing the vast majority of deaths in Guatemala's 36-year civil war to the military and paramilitary groups. 

Villanueva was one of three members of the military convicted for the crime. Their lawyers have appealed the ruling and are awaiting a decision. 

One of his co-defendants, Byron Lima, says he holds the Catholic Church's human rights office responsible for Villanueva's death, since they were the ones who put an innocent man in jail. 

The cause of the riot has not been officially determined, but law enforcement authorities suspect rivalries among prisoner gangs have led to the violence. 

Last Christmas Eve, 14 prisoners were murdered in a riot at another prison just outside the city.

Bodies found
from jungle crash

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Officials here say emergency workers have found the bodies of a government minister and four others whose plane crashed last week.

Authorities say the bodies of Juan Luis Londono, social welfare minister, three aides and a pilot were found Wednesday in a mountainous area near the town of Cajamarca, 84 miles west of here.

The group was aboard a twin-engine plane that disappeared Thursday, shortly after take off from the central city of Girardot. The plane was headed to the southwestern city of Popayan.

Search teams located the wreckage Tuesday in the rugged mountainous terrain.

The search had been postponed several times due to bad weather and the presence of leftist rebels in the area. 

On Friday, a search helicopter was hit by gunfire from suspected rebels, but the crew managed to land safely. Government soldiers were sent to the region to ensure the safety of the emergency personnel.

Ecuador premier allies
with U.S. on terror

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Lucio Gutierrez, president of Ecuador, has met with President George W. Bush at the White House for talks covering regional and international issues.

After meeting for more than 40 minutes Tuesday, Gutierrez was quoted as saying his country wants to be Washington's best ally in the fight against terrorism and narcotics trafficking. The former army colonel and coup leader also said the two leaders discussed Ecuador's poverty.

Last month, the White House issued a statement saying the United States is committed to working with Ecuador to promote democracy and open markets, and fight terrorism and illicit drugs.

Drug policy team plans
on ‘disrupting market’

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON D.C. — The White House Office on National Drug Control Policy rolled out the Bush administration's plan for countering drug trafficking and substance abuse Wednesday. The top priorities identified in a release are stopping substance abuse before it starts, healing the nation's drug abusers and disrupting the profit flow in drug trafficking.

The goal of disrupting the market is based on the belief that drug traffickers will get out of the business if governments can make it very difficult for them to earn profits. 

In another statement released by John Walters, the office director, said: "We must make drugs scarce, expensive, and of unreliable quality. Reducing the availability of dangerous substances will keep our children healthy and complement our efforts to reduce the demand for drugs."

The Bush administration is proposing $731 million in funding for the Andean Counter Drug Initiative to be applied in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

The $11.7 billion budget identified by the Bush administration for implementation of the National Drug Control Strategy also increases funding for the Drug Free Communities Support Program and recovery programs for drug abusers.

Officers killed 
near presidential home

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Reports here say three police officers have been shot and killed in clashes outside the presidential palace. Several people were injured. The violence erupted Wednesday as troops clashed with police who were protesting a tax hike and demanding higher pay.

Students from a nearby school descended upon the plaza and hurled rocks at the presidential palace. Military police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
 
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Professional Directory
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.


Psychiatrists

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Lawyers

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Also, we invite you to join one of the most active discussion groups on the case.  Find out what people who care are saying. Join at irccr-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

2/16/02
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Real estate agents


MARGARET SOHN  of Carico
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Member of the Costa Rican Real Estate Association, Lic. #1000 
Member, Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce
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(506) 232-5016 home   (506) 233-8057 office  (506) 382-7399 cell 
2/9/03


Investments




Investigators

Empresa de Investigadores Internacionales S.A.
Telephone (506) 280-5217 
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Lawyer says he has a Villalobos reward offer, too
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another reward for locating Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho has appeared. But in this case the lawyer publicizing the reward simply wants to talk to the fugitive financier in an effort to make a civil settlement with clients.

Although there has been talk of the reward for a month, lawyer Gregory Kearney said Wednesday that he was about to finalize the details with a government bank. The initial reward amount is $1,500, which was put up by a client. Kearney said he expected other clients to fatten the reward in the hopes that they will be able to get their money back under a private agreement.

A $500 reward by A.M. Costa Rica is for providing information to authorities that leads to the arrest of Villalobos. Kearney said, however, that he is more interested in an agreement so his clients could get their funds returned than he is in seeing Villalobos arrested.

Villalobos was the operator of a high-interest borrowing operation who closed his office Oct. 14 and left his mostly North American investors in the lurch. He has been in hiding since. He may have had as much as $1 billion in investor money on his books when he left.

In another development involving Villalobos Wednesday, two persons heading an investor organization said they hired a Canadian law firm to seek international arbitration. The firm named is Cain LaMarre Casgrain of Quebec and the partner in charge of the case is Martin St. Amant, said the announcement.

The announcement came in an e-mail from Jack Caine and Charles Bergeron of the Class Action Center. The law firm did not reply to a reporter’s inquiry.

The center is the same entity that was going to file a charge against President Abel Pacheco on the grounds that he slandered investors by suggesting that they were fools.

The center now says that under treaty agreements Costa Rica has the legal and international 

 

obligation to protect foreign investment in Costa Rica, and this has not been accomplished. The center seeks to arbitrate Costa Rica’s handling of the criminal investigation of the Villalobos borrowing operation with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, which is connected with the World Bank.

A number of investors say they believe that the July 4 raid on the Mall San Pedro office of Villalobos and offices of the related Ofinter S.A. money exchange firm was politically motivated.

The center says on its Web site  that its goal is to obtain reparations and damages for the Costa Rican government’s negligence and mishandling of the case, the government’s total lack of respect of basic protection of investment and the government’s negligence for over  22 years while supervising Villalobos’ operations.

The center says that it needs about 500 investors to join the cause.

The Class Action Center is not to be confused with another group seeking legal action in Costa Rica. That group is United Concerned Citizens & Residents of Costa Rica who are trying to hire a former minister to file criminal or civil charges against key persons in the Villalobos investigation.

United Concerned Citizens has established a new Web site set up in part to solicit membership and funds to pay the estimated $100,000 upfront fee the former minister, José Miguel Villalobos wants to take on the case. Villalobos and the organization leadership have not said exactly who they will target with their charges, but they have said their main goal is to speed up the investigation.

Prosecutors and investigators have been looking into the Villalobos case since the July 4 raid. They have leveled allegations of money laundering and fraud against the fugitive financier. They have placed Oswaldo Villalobos, the brother of Luis Enrique, into pretrial detention.

What made the Villalobos operation attractive to investors was that he paid up to 3 percent a month on investments of at least $10,000. About 6,400 persons placed funds with him.


 
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.

More letters on Villalobos situation
This reader unhappy
with blame game

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The two letters on Wednesday have the same theme — Costa Rica bashing.

Yes, there is a degree of corruption here. Also in the U.S. Corporate fraud there has stolen the life savings of tens of millions of Americans. Where's the fraud capital of the world? The U.S.

Yes, there is short-sightedness here, but of course, in the U.S we are all far-sighted visionaries! Yes there is crime here. It's a human condition. But crime in the U.S. is so massive and pervasive we export it. We send our Mafia-linked characters to Costa Rica (per La Nacion) and then blame the Costa Ricans!

Most of the fraud and scandals here involve foreigners in one capacity or another. As perpetrators — witness past, huge money frauds — or as open- pocketed, victims. Americans giving money to The Cubans? Blame Costa Rica for not stoppng Americans from giving money to The Cubans?

The beauty, peacefulness and generosity of this country in opening its doors has attacted the kind of financial crooks that move around the world looking for pools of naive, innocent victims. 

These often foreigner-operated frauds could never thrive without a huge pool of unquestioning people ready to fork over their money. It takes two to have a fraud. It takes two to tango.

Re: the second theme of the letters — Costa Rica heading for disaster, loss of jobs etc. Dream on! Costa Rica ranks amongst the top three countries in Latin America for incoming investments. Money is pouring in. From the Rio Grande to Argentina, Costa Rica is one of the most attractive investment destinations.

Costa Rica has its share of problems, as do all coutries. But Costa Rica bashing is just looking for someone — anyone — to blame. 

The blame game is an all-season sport. 

Jack Evans 
Denver and San Jose
He says money woes
began before raid

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The thing that bothers me most about the letters I've been reading about the "Brothers" situation written by the "investors" is the extremely naive presumption that this slow-motion ponzi was going to continue forever and that it only stopped because of government intervention. I feel that the government intervention gave them the excuse they needed to bolt with the cash.

I have several friends that were involved with the Brothers. Around the beginning of the year (2002), these friends of mine where strongly advised from certain sources to get their money out and that there were problems. 

This was six months before the offices were raided on July 4. The word was on the street way before the offices got shut down. I had $10,000 in there, and I went in to arrange my withdrawel 4 December, 2001. They said come back 4 January to get the money, as per the agreement. 3 January comes around, and I get a phone call from them asking me if it was OK if they paid me 21 January. 

Surprised, I reminded them that we had an agreement for them to pay me the next day, which they did. However, it's pretty unusual that an operation handling that kind of money would want to slow-pay me. They're supposed to have $10,000 as pocket change or hidden in the plant in the corner. My point is that $10,000 is not even a drop in the bucket, and they were sweating it. RED FLAG.

Another friend of mine they couldn't pay anything to on June 15, 2002, a few weeks BEFORE the raid. I'm tired of hearing how standup these guys are. People get a chat and a handshake and they think they know all there is to know about a man's integrity. POPPYCOCK. CON-JOB.

Everyone readily admits that the Cubans was an out-and-out scam, but somehow "Don" Enrique has everyone mesmerized. Well not everyone because some people have started to snap out of it lately. I guess it was the religion part that sold a lot of people.

Anyways, the word was out of the Brothers way before it went down, and this thing was going under even without the government stepping in. The only difference that made was less time to take more money.

By the way, one of the reasons the office was shut down is that people were going in there and GETTING their money by force. This operation paid the people it HAD to. The little guys, people with no clout, got the finger. 

Isn't it funny how no prominent Costa Ricans and/or government officials have come forth to say how they got scammed? That's because he paid those people, and then left with a parachute made of gold.

Jeff Lindheimer 
Pittsburgh, Pa.
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