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(506) 223-1327            Published Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 33             E-mail us    
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Ants on the move with their St. Valentine's gift
Even the ants remember to bring home a little gift for their mommy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Somewhere there is a very happy mother ant. These critters of the leaf-cutting variety, obviously had Mommy in mind when they decided to bring a flower home for St. Valentine's Day.

Ants, of course, do not engage in torrid boy-girl romances — mostly because nearly all ants are female produced by one or more queens in the colony. So St. Valentine's Day is a bit different than among the human beings on the planet. Unlike being mere tokens in the human 
world, the flowers serve a purpose. They are not eaten by the ants but provide the growing medium for a type of fungus that feeds the colony.

These Atta cephelotes range through much of Central America and northern Colombia, but there are similar species all over the world.

Now don't you feel like a creep? You forgot a St. Valentine's Day present, but even the ants remembered. Go sleep on the couch!

— Saray Ramírez Vindas

President Óscar Arias Sánchez with
María de los Ángeles Antillón Guerrero.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Luis Blanco of the union of Caja employees displays a relevant page of law.
Unions say Liberación leader has conflict with treaty, husband's  job
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Free trade opponents are targeting assembly deputies that say they will vote for the treaty with the United States.

Spokespersons for Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja and the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privadas said Wednesday that María de los Ángeles Antillón Guerrero has a grave conflict of interest. Her husband, a lawyer, has represented U.S. pharmaceutical companies in registering their trademarks here.

Ms. Antillón, who is a legislative leader, said later that her husband has been a legal specialist in intellectual property for 15 years. She said that the unions and legislators of the Partido Acción Ciudadana and the sole legislator of the Frente Amplio were acting in bad faith. They were engaged in a witch hunt, she said.

The union spokesmen displays copies of the La Gazeta official newspaper where the woman's husband, Luis Pal Hegedus, was listed as having filed patent requests on behalf of companies like Pfizer Inc. and Upjohn Co. Seeking patents here for products and trademarks popular in the United States and elsewhere is a daily event, but the union leaders and legislators linked the patents to the high prices that must be paid by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. They also lambasted the U.S. companies for have made profits in the range of 18 percent a year. 
The union leaders and legislators who oppose the treaty are seeking to continue to use so-called generic medicines that are manufactured elsewhere without regard for existing patents.

In one case they said that a firm selling so-called generic medicines offered to sell the Caja a large quantity of hypertension medicine for $145,440 when a bid from Pfizer was $20.3 million.

Union leaders produced a copy of a 2004 law that said legislators could face prison for voting favorably on matters that directly benefit them or their family members.

Mrs. Antillón, the legislative leader for the Partido Liberación Nacional, is one of 38 deputies who have said they will vote for the free trade treaty. The treaty needs 38 votes for passage in the 57-member legislature.

She said that those favoring the free trade treaty are aware that opponents have targeted others who have said they will vote for the measure.

Opponents are investigating everyone, she said. She spoke at the Consejo de Gobierno meeting that took place after union members made their case at a 10 a.m. news conference.

Intellectual property rights involving medications are an important aspect of the free trade treaty because U.S. firms are losing billions to foreign competition on products they have researched and created.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 33  

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Visitors, staff and patients at Hospital Calderón Guardia got a St. Valentine's Day treat Wednesday as the Ballet Folklórico Nayuribes performed on the front plaza. The group is made up of employees of the social service system.

Two fairs will be running:
In Ciudad Colón and Orosi

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There are two events awaiting those looking to get out and experience some Costa Rican culture this weekend. 

The annual Expo Feria de la Naranja, or orange festival, is considered to be one of the most important agricultural activities of the country, said the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.  There will be an exposition and sale of farm products, crafts, local food, artistic activities, a painting exhibition, and lots of cultural and musical performances, said the tourism department. 

Market activities will be carried out from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in Mercado Viejo and along Villa de Pacacua boulevard located in the Josifino de Mora section of Ciudad Colón.  The event is also an opportunity to enjoy other tourist attractions in the area such as the Reserva Indígena de Quitirrisí, the Reserva Biológica El Rodeo, the recreational area of the Universidad para la Paz, as well as the surrounding natural landscape, said Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. The event is in its second weekend.

The second option for those looking to experience something cultural is 40 kilometers out of the capital in the village of Orosi.  The village, founded in 1743 by Franciscans, will be hosting its Expo Feria Orosi Colonial both Saturday and Sunday.  Two of the more popular events during the annual festival are the tortilla and bread-making competitions, where the biggest product wins.  Other attractions are the sale of crafts, traditional foods, and locally grown vegetables and fruits, said the tourism department. 

The Orosi valley is surrounded by lush vegetation, coffee plantations and has some of the last remaining colonial architecture in the country, said the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.  Visitors are invited to travel the area by horseback or tractor.

The event is organized by the Asociación Cívica Orosi Colonial with the support of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.  Organizers hope the fair will rescue the values and traditions of the town as well as promote the Orosi Valley as a tourist destination. 

Both fairs are filled with a different performance or activity almost every hour from Friday to Sunday, and entire program lists are available on the Internet at the Spanish version of www.visitcostarica.com.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 33  

Volunteers will chop off their hair to help sufferers of cancer
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Eight people have decided to cut off their hair in support of children suffering from cancer, and they hope that others will join the cause, said organizers.

Meranda Glesby, an event organizer and leader of the Iain Program, said that Cutting Hair to Show We Care is an event that is meant to help out cancer patients in more ways than one.  The first eight volunteers are already taking pledges to raise money for the big day.  The funds will then be donated to the Fundacion Cuidado Paleativo, a children's cancer facility in Costa Rica.   

The hair that is chopped off will be donated to one of two organizations, both of which make wigs for people suffering from cancer.  Hair loss is a common side effect of the chemotherapy, the treatment that many of those diagnosed with cancer undergo.

Donations over 10 inches will be sent to Locks of Love where the hair will by styled into a new look for awaiting clients.  Mrs. Glesby said that they are looking into getting
 Panteine Pro V to create wigs for donations between 6 and 10 inches.  Mrs. Glesby is donating 10 inches and Evangeline Methura of the Helping Hands organization is parting with 14 inches of hair.  Ms. Methura first came up with the idea and then contacted the others involved.
Mrs. Glesby said that pledging money for a current volunteer,  organizing other groups for the same type of event, becoming a volunteer and raising money for another date, or donations of free hair cuts from salons are some of the ways that people can help out.  She said that those involved are hoping that their actions inspire others to host their own events.

The hair will start hitting the floor at 11 a.m. on Feb. 26 in The Beauty Club, located in the Country Plaza in Escazú.  The hair salon will be donating free hair cuts for all of the volunteers, as well as half price cuts for anyone else donating their hair to the cause until March.

More information on how to get involved is available by contacting helpinghandscr@gmail.com and will be on the www.helpinghandscr.com Web site soon.

Gunplay punctuates robbery attempts all over the Central Valley area
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More disputes seem to be settled with gunplay, and robbers appear to have adopted the motto: shoot first and rob later.

Six victims suffered gunshot wounds Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The Judicial Investigating Organization listed these cases:

One shooting has been linked to revenge. Two guards threw out rowdy individuals from a commercial center in Hatillo 5 about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

About 1:30 a.m. the men returned with guns and shot up the guards as they were letting bar customers through a  locked gate. A man with the name Oviedo, 41, suffered a wound to the chest. His companion, with the last name of
Ulate, also suffered a serious gunshot wound. He is 40.

About 7 p.m. Tuesday, a man with the name of Canales suffered multiple gunshot wounds when men tried to rob his motorcycle near the Parque de la Paz in south San José.

At 10 p.m. a man showed up at Hospital San Juan de Dios. His last name is Araya and he is 32 years old. He was shot as he walked on the public street in Alajuelita. Robbers took a gold chain, his wallet and even his shoes.

In Calle Fallas in Desamparados men tried to rob a car from a 34-year-old man named Retana and shot him in the chest.

Later, around midnight, a man walking in upscale Barrio California in east San José was shot in the back by robbers who took his cell phone. His last name is Morera.

Internet-in-the-air is a big help to flying arm of security ministry, officials say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican government announced that a donation of wireless Internet equipment from HotspotExpress S.A has been helping with the fight against crime, giving weather warnings, providing faster ambulance service, spotting deforestation and more. HotspotExpress, S.A is a provider of Wi-Fi Alliance, an organization that sets the standards for high-speed wireless local area networking, according to its Web site.

Beginning in November, the Internet company has been providing free service to the Servicio Nacional de Vigilancia Aérea, the branch of the security ministry charged with air, sea and land protection.  With more convenient Internet access, and a two-megabit capacity, the agency has been receiving faster and more dependable information, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.
One of the advantages is access to information from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  This data can be vital in situations where air ambulances are used, a service that has increased by 40 to 50 percent in rural areas around Costa Rica since the 2003, said security ministry.  The wireless Internet can provide up to the minute weather and flight information for the air ambulances, 70 percent of which are conducted at night, said a government release.

The Vigilancia Aérea of Costa Rica has used the service in locating plane accidents, shipwrecks, deforestation zones, the best ground ambulance routes, as well as secret trails throughout the country that could be used by drug networks, said police officials.  

Oldemar Madrigal, the director of Vigilancia Aérea, said the the wireless system has also help cut down on labor cost and maximize the department's productivity.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 33  

Details of Villalobos money shuffling give judge a migraine
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

A dwindling audience took in the continuation of investigator Elisabeth Flores’ presentation of the money movements associated with the Villalobos brothers high-interest investment operation as the trial of Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho continued Wednesday.

Her PowerPoint presentation of the convoluted transactions among and between the many shell companies used by the Villalobos brothers was numbing. Adding the curious pink-purple letters and background of the overhead slides, it is unsurprising the session ended an hour early with one judge complaining of a migraine.

Only two reporters and one interested observer were present from the beginning of the session. When the guards showed up an hour late at 9 a.m., they promptly made the audience member stop reading his newspaper. A few more observers straggled in later, including Oswaldo Villalobos’ wife.      

Ms. Flores finished her discussion of financial intermediation, which had been interrupted on Tuesday when she was visibly unprepared to present the reams of evidence to the court. Once underway with the specifics of the financial maneuvers, she picked up steam Wednesday and detailed many manipulations of the sort that are considered strong signs of money laundering.

Manipulations of the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house accounting served to avoid the need to report cash transactions, usually by balancing activities for the reporting period in question. Also repeatedly used as a way to get dollars off the books of Ofinter as required by Central Bank regulations, greenbacks were often sold to Ofinter itself, with the check in question held overnight. In other cases checks written to cash were held for up to 100 days without being in the accounting of any company. Oswaldo Villalobos was the brother publicly identified as the operator of the Ofinter operation. The prosecution is trying to tie him to the high-interest operation, too.

Mostly movements around the system went by way of the local bursatil Mercado de Valores. Accounts owned by Villalobos corporations received checks directly from investors or via individuals to dollar accounts in now-defunct mutual funds. Then the dollars were used to buy certificates of deposit.

Almost immediately, the certificates would be sold and exchanged for colons. One day later, these were cashed into
dollars to be moved elsewhere. This generated losses due to exchange differentials and made the operations nonsensical from a business standpoint. Some days dollars came in while cash was moving out, suggesting that there was no need for the liquidity provided by buying the dollars, Ms. Flores said. Checks did occasionally go out of Mercado de Valores accounts directly to investors, including two totaling $500,000 to Alvin Moss of Escazú. He later was extradited to the U.S. to face fraud charges.

The Villalobos brothers had significant connections inside the government banking system and regulatory structure. Among documents found in a raid on Oswaldo Villalobos’ residence in San Jeronimo de Moravia July 2002, was a copy of a report from the Banco Credito Agricola de Cartago to the regulatory agency the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras. It reported “suspicious activity” involving cash operations by Villalobos-controlled shell companies. A stamp indicated that the document had been received by the Superintendencia before the copy was slipped to the Villalobos brothers.

Ofinter and the investment operation employed as an auditor Gabriela Rodríguez Alvarez, who previously worked in the banking oversight division of the Central Bank. Also Federico Callas Callas, a long-time employee of the Banco de Costa Rica with experience in areas of international operations, worked concurrently with the brothers, according to Ms. Flores.

Another document found in Oswaldo's house was a handwritten draft emergency plan apparently drawn up by lawyers sometime in July 1999 which detailed what to do in the case of a run on the operation by investors seeking their principal. The document has been described earlier.

The draft recommended limiting criminal liability of Enrique Villalobos and to move everything to civil jurisdiction with no shares in his name of any of the companies which could be embargoed.

An emergency board would be formed, and each company should be given a double directorate “anticipating the absence of the Villalobos brothers from Costa Rica.”

Offices would close. But since many of the investors were not reporting their returns to the relevant tax authorities, they would be reluctant to initiate legal action, according to the document.

In fact, Luis Enrique Villalobos, the brother most closely identified in public with the high interest operation, did flee and is now a fugitive.

Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank is showing an interest in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the world's major international banks pinpointed Costa Rica as the most promising Latin American country in terms of economic growth, said the Presidencia de la República.

The announcement was made during an official welcoming of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp., better known as HSBC, into the country.  The bank has decided to invest in Costa Rica because of its current growth, social and political stability,  and commercial and macroeconomic friendly policies, said the government release.

During the Wednesday meeting, President Óscar Arias Sánchez assured those present that Costa Rica will continue to make local markets more attractive to foreign investment. 

Stephen K. Green, the executive president of the bank, said the company always seeks long-term investment in economies that they consider to have strong prospects for the future.  He added that Central America, along with China, India, Mexico, Brazil, and other national unions, make up the emerging areas of the world that will be the key conductors of economic growth in the 21st century.  
Honk Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. finalized its buyout of the Primer Banco del Istmo Nov. 23, 2006, and in doing so acquired Banex, a Costa Rican bank.  The Asian bank's purchased 99.98 percent of Primer Banco del Istmo, which is valued at more than $1.8 billion, said the Presidencia de la República.  This also established their presence in Columbia, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  

Founded in 1865, the bank now has approximately 9,500 offices in 76 countries of the world.  In December 2005 the net worth of Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. was more than $163 billion, said the government release.

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, has 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 their 2007 bid are Ecuador, Colombia and Panamá. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 33  

Saprissa humbles Santos, 3-1, and takes undisputed lead
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Deportivo Saprissa made short work of Santos of Guápiles in a St.Valentine's night game at Estadio Saprissa in Tibás.  The home team won 3-1.
This puts Saprissa in undisputed lead of its group. Allan Alemán, a Saprissa forward, scored the first goal, the only score in the first half. Gabriel Badilla scored on a corner kick in the second half. Alejandro Alpizar scored the third Saprissa goal on a free kick.

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