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(506) 223-1327            Published Friday, Feb. 16, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 34             E-mail us    
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Escazú home invaders target dwelling of  U.S. embassy employee
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers gagged and tied up the wife of a U.S. embassy employee during an armed home invasion at a house in San Rafael, Escazú, Thursday.

Three men carrying shotguns entered the residence of a couple identified as Robert and Geannina Coopley about 9:10 a.m., according to the Fuerza Pública.  Soon after, they tied up Mrs. Coopley, who was home alone at the time, and by 11:40 a.m. had made off with $10,000 worth of possessions, said officers.  The stolen goods include a large amount of jewelry, a television set, a computer, and various documents, said officials.  The three bandits, who police said were sporting white shirts, mixed colored pants and black tennis shoes, made their getaway in a white 4 Runner. A police dragnet produced no suspects.

Mrs. Coopley was unharmed in the incident, said officers.  After the robbers took off, the woman was able to free herself in order to contact authorities.  The Coopleys live in the Trejos
Montealegre of San Rafael de Escazú. It is an upscale area. Their masonry home is protected by a metal fence or portón topped with razor wire. Somehow, according to officers, the bandits were able to defeat the security measures. The area is west of the main highway that connects San Rafael with the Autopista Próspero Fernández.

Because of the cluster of U.S. government-owned homes, there is a security car provided by the embassy that guards use to roam the area, said a Fuerza Pública officer. 

Upscale homes in Escazú and Rohrmoser have been continual targets of home invasions like the one Thursday. Usually the bandits strike at night, break through the metals portons and hold the family inside and any domestic help at gunpoint. There have not been many robberies reported during daylight hours, and the robbery Thursday might represent a change in tactics by the crooks.

U.S. Embassy spokespersons were unavailable and did not respond to several telephone messages.

Kenneth  Freeman
. . . child rape suspect

Byron Keith Perkins
. . . still has kidney

Anthony Kuchta
. . . could be here

William E. Myer
. . . worth $100,000

Can there be a lucrative home business in fugitives?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats in Costa Rica always are looking for a good way to make money. Because of an immigration status that usually precludes taking a traditional job, they look toward the Internet.

Alas, most work at home schemes generate little profit or end up revealed as scams.

Because Costa Rica is a magnet for the "wanted and the unwanted," there is another way to make money: turn in your neighbor for a reward.

Heredia residents missed a big chance in 2005. William E. Myer, a U.S. citizen, spent more than eight years here supporting himself as an English teacher. Meanwhile, he was wanted to stand trial in a sex abuse case in Alabama.

Myer, known ad Eddie here, had the distinction of having been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show as a sexual predator. The talk show star began a Web page to locate child sex fugitives only two months before.

But it was not a current expat in Costa Rica who turned in Myer and collected a healthy $100,000 check from Miss Winfrey. It was Joshua Meiner, who happens to be legally blind. Despite his vision problems, he recognized Myer's photo on the television as a man he worked with in Heredia at the same private university.

Costa Rican police officials said at the time that an alert bank teller spotted documents presented by Myer as fakes, but it was Meiner who got the credit in the United States and a check.

The idea of being a snitch might not sit well with some expats. Costa Ricans call such persons sapos or toads. While bank robbers and successful drug traffickers might be Robin Hoods in the minds of some expats, there are probably not many who praise individuals who molest children. And Costa Rica seems to attract this category of criminal.

Tom Noel Mastin, 70, is another suspected pedophile. He was detained Feb. 1 at Playa Garza on the Pacific. Police said at the time an unidentified tourist saw him and turned him in, but it could have been a neighbor. There was a reward offered for him, too, although police in Florida are vague on this point.

Mastin was a featured face on mugshots.com, a private Web site that contains photos of fugitives.

Some expats already have practice informing on their neighbors. After the Villalobos high-interest operation fell apart in 2002, there were a flurry of contacts with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service from persons here seeking rewards for turning in Villalobos creditors who did not declare the interest as taxable income.

Those who turn in bad guys and girls should not head to the mall. Local police and U.S. Embassy security workers spent a year investigating Mastin after he was identified. If a reward is to be collected, the money won't come soon.

In the case of another fugitive, embassy workers dragged their feet so much that they never made an
arrest. That was the case of Chere Lyn Tomayko, who still is on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's 10 most wanted list for breaking a custody agreement and fleeing with her child from Texas.

Ms. Tomayko, now 44, worked for a time at a private school in the Central Valley, but when coworkers turned her in to embassy officials, nothing happened. Even FBI agents in Texas fumbled the case.

The U.S. Embassy contact for fugitives is the Regional Security Office staffed by workers from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. People there have lots of jobs beyond fugitives.

The Oprash Winfrey predator watch list is HERE! However, registration is required.

Other possible resources to check up on your neighbor are:

FBI Web page for recently televised sexual predators. They will send an update when new information is posted.

The International Police Agency also maintains a site with photos and brief explanations of the charges facing each fugitive.
It is HERE!

The U.S. Marshals Service has a page with 15 top fugitives as well as a more detailed list of selected fugitives. Here you will find the likes of accused child molester Kenneth John Freeman, 44, who is wanted on multiple counts of child rape in the first degree, as well as federal charges of manufacturing, possessing, and distributing child pornography.

Also here is information on the so-called deadbeat dad, Byron Keith Perkins, and his girlfriend, Lea Ann Howard. Perkins got out of jail because he promised to donate a kidney to his ailing son, but skipped town instead. This callous act resulted in his being dubbed the “most hated man in America,” said the Marshals Service.

In addition to current photos of the most wanted, the bulk of the Web sites can be searched for keywords like Costa Rica. But don't worry about the Costa Rican citizens. This country will not extradite its citizens regardless of the criminal charge facing the Tico or Tica elsewhere.

A surprising number of fugitives have a prior relationship with Costa Rica.

A person like Anthony Stephen Kuchta, Jr., is wanted for criminal conspiracy and has a prior criminal history which includes arrests for burglary, armed robbery and assault, said the Marshals Service.  Investigators believe he is living outside the United States, possibly Costa Rica.

Of course those who would inform on their neighbor need to do so quietly and keep a low profile. Arnold Schuster was the citizen who turned in notorious bank robber Willie Sutton in 1952. He got a reward and was lionized as a hero in television appearances. This so irked Mafia boss Alberto Anastasia that he ordered Schuster murdered, an event that took place on a New York City street and totally mystified the jailed Sutton and police.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 34  

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Government protests raid
on diplomat's apartment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Costa Rica has begun an official protest against Nicaragua for allegedly breeching Article 30 of the Vienna Treaty on Diplomatic Relations.

Without notice, on the night of Feb.7, Nicaraguan police entered the apartment belonging to Costa Rican diplomat Óscar Camacho, located in the Las Colinas of Managua, said the Costa Rican Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Article 30 of the diplomatic document states: “The private residence of a diplomatic agent shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the mission. His papers, correspondence and, except as provided in Paragraph 3 of Article 31, his property, shall likewise enjoy inviolability.”

The Costa Rica Embassy in Nicaragua requested an explanation Feb.9, but has not since received one.  Because the officers entered the residence without express permission and were reportedly aware that it was a diplomatic apartment, the Costa Rican government said it considers the actions serious and lamentable.

Bruno Stagno Ugarte, minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, has delivered an official note of protest repeating the request for an investigation to a Nicaraguan official here, Margarita Guerrero de López, and to Samuel Santos López, foreign minister of Nicaragua in Managua.

Denis Tinoco Zeledón, director of the Policía Nacional de Nicaragua, said the raid was circumstantial and there is no ongoing criminal investigation, said reports from Nicaragua.  Because the entrance into the apartment was not premeditated, he said there is no reason to investigate the police actions, he was quoted as saying. 
Costa Rica produced
two teen beauty candidates

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica provided two of the contestants in the Miss Teen
International Beauty Contest that took place in Lima, Peru, Saturday.

Countries are only permitted one candidate. However, 15-year-old Elizabeth Suarez was born in Cuba and lives in Heredia.  She was chosen locally to represent Cuba because that country does not allow participation in the competition.

Silvana Sanchez, 17, from Palmares represented Costa Rica and finished third behind second place Miss Teen Honduras and first place Miss Teen Mexico. 

Elizabeth Suarez
The girls spent three busy weeks in Peru at photo shoots, fashion shows, and interviews with newspapers, magazines and radio shows, said Miss Suarez.

Miss Teen Cuba said that she had a beautiful time and made friends with all of the competitors, especially with Miss Teen Costa Rica and the contestant from the Ukraine.  Miss Suarez said that she does other modeling in Costa Rica, practices salsa dancing at the Club Cubano de Costa Rica, and hopes to someday work in hotel administration.

The competition was created by event organizer Enrique González in 1993 and this year featured 18 competitors.  The girls are mostly from Latin America but this years event also had representatives, in addition to the Ukraine, from Australia, Canada, United States, Vietnam and Russia.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 34  

University group against trade treaty vows 30,000 marchers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Free trade opponents at the Universidad de Costa Rica promise they will field 30,000 persons to demonstrate against the measure Feb. 16, the day of a coordinated protest involving other groups.

The so-called Frente U.C.R. contra el TLC gave this assessment at a press conference Thursday. The organization said that professors would join with students and administrative and service personnel in a big march.

Monserrat Sagot, director of the university council, said she has been making contact with the Universidad Nacional in Heredia and the Cartago-based Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica.

The group released a detailed summary of objections to the free trade pact, known by its Spanish acronym TLC, which is being considered in the Asamblea Legislativa. Among the problems the group sees is the arrival of foreign companies and foreign capital that will overwhelm the small and median enterprises operated by Costa Ricans.

The manifesto said that the free trade treaty would increase the disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor.

The group also said that they were prepared to rely on the Caribbean Basin Initiative in which the United States gives preferential treatment in trade and import duties to a number of countries including Costa Rica.

The group also labeled the steps being taken in the legislature to approve the treaty as undemocratic and unconstitutional.

One major appeal to the Sala IV constitutional court already has been made by legislators who are free trade opponents and object to a measure that would limit debate and amendments on the issue.

Some 38 of 57 lawmakers have said they support the treaty.
That is a two-thirds majority and sufficient to ratify the agreement, so opponents are frustrated.

The group that presented its case Thursday also objected to changes in Costa Rican law that are being made to accommodate the treaty.

The measures, some dozen, are called the complementary agenda. One measure opens the insurance industry to private competition and outlines the method for regulating the industry, Now insurance is a government monopoly, but under the treaty it would have to be competitive.

In a separate discussion Thursday Rodrigo Arias Sánchez,
the minister of the Presidencia, expressed concern that students would try to radicalize the march.

Leaders for public employee unions have promised a peaceful march. But they also fear the arrival of Communists and anarchists who might try to provoke violence. So far there has been little violence at free trade demonstrations. However, student groups have heckled and been rowdy at venues where President Óscar Arias Sánchez has appeared. He supports the treaty.

Defeat of the free trade treaty is a foreign policy aim of Cuba, which resents the spread of capitalism in Latin America.

Cubans have been working closely with some student groups to propagandize about the treaty and claim that the government is responding with unnecessary force. Some of this is being fed through Prensa Latina, the Cuban news agency that seems to have representatives here.

Student protesters sometimes wear masks in the style of rebels in México's Chiapas state. They carry posters containing likenesses of Che Guevara, the missionary of Fidel Castro, and unflattering posters of Uncle Sam and Óscar Arias. In the past, students blocked streets, set fires and maintained blockades but with little harm done to others

Transport officials will try to picture dangerous highways
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transport officials are going to send a van equipped with a camera around the country to try to find out where dangerous sections of highway can be found. The project starts this month but the data will not be analyzed until September, said officials at the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

A van and its digital camera will spend four to five weeks driving around the principal roads of the country. Among these will be the various autopistas, the Interamericana and roads in the Central Valley. The road work will be done by ARRB Transport Ltd. In all some 2,500 kilometers (about 1,150 miles) of road will be covered.

Then the recorded images will be turned over to technicians to study.  The project is called the Programa Internacional de Evaluatión de Carreteras, and other countries have done similar projects.

Karla González, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, said the idea is to evaluate the danger of a stretch of road and not the quality. Dangers to pedestrians will be highlighted.

The work is being supported by the Foundation for Road Security, the World Bank, the Middle East Institute and  Fundación RACC of Spain.

The survey is certain to determine that many road deaths of pedestrians are caused because roads typically do not have an adequate shoulder. In addition, many deaths take place on autopistas as pedestrians try to cross the

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
This is the van to put highways on television

four-lane highways separated by a low wall.

Transport officials have taken to painting yellow hearts on the roadways where deaths take place.

One of those Tico Moments — But guess where it happened
This past week I had to go to the U.S. Embassy.  Unlike the enthusiasm with which I entered the park last week, I was not looking forward to my visit. My past experiences with the embassy have not been particularly pleasant.  Long waits and laconic and indifferent assistance is what I usually got.

When my passport was stolen, I sat with a dozen other people who had also been robbed and listened to them complain about the heartless treatment at the embassy.  Then, too, there was my experience of not being allowed at the outdoor anniversary memorial for
September 11 because I had not been invited.

When I arrived at about 8:30 a.m. there was no line waiting to get in, and once in the door, nobody asked to check my bag or wipe me with a wand.  Once inside — or rather, still outside — things looked very different. 
The outside area was now a big covered pavilion, with various official looking people around and small knots of supplicants.  I got a quick answer as to what I should do about my social security problem — take a ficha and go to Window C. 

Inside, instead of another entry, was a large room with probably seven or eight bank-like windows or doors with letters.  A voice over the loudspeaker announced which number was being served at which window or door.  At Door C the number being served was only two ahead of me.  I hardly had time to finish a short conversation with a woman (or even open my book. Let alone read it) when my turn came.

I explained my problem and showed the letter I had prepared.  The fellow behind the desk clicked his computer and said, “Oh, yes, they don’t have your complete address.  We can fix that.”  He did, then he noted that I was getting my check direct deposit in the United States and said I could have it deposited here at a national bank.  He then said he could fill out the form for me, make a copy of my passport, and all I would have to do was take it to the bank.  He could not see the look of amazement on my face because he was busy doing all of this.

Within five minutes I was leaving the embassy, having told Gabriel (for I learned that was his name), that he had been most helpful and “muy amable.” These changes may 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

be the doing of the new ambassador, or maybe even a new policy throughout the world.  Whatever, they are a huge improvement.

After I had been in Costa Rica a short time I wrote about what I called my ‘Tico Moments,” These were unexpected kindnesses or help proffered by strangers — all Costa Ricans. Like one time on a bus, I was fussing with a torn nail and a woman across from me reached into her purse, found an emery board and gave it to me, insisting I keep it in my purse.

Or the time my friends found a public telephone in the rain, but had no calling card and another couple driving by saw them standing in the rain and gave them their telephone card, and there are the countless times in various hospitals that people have been kind beyond the call of duty.

On the other hand, I have watched many members of the U.S. Embassy being interviewed on television.  I am convinced that they are specially trained to talk without any expression on their faces. Absolutely deadpan, no matter what they are saying. I realize they are in the higher echelons of the State Department, but it must trickle down. 

I guess that is their idea of careful diplomacy.

And I also realize that Gabriel was probably Tico. Still, it was rather comforting, and made me personally proud of my country to experience a Tico Moment at the United States Embassy.

Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City:  A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available through the 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact Ms. Stuart at jostuart@amcostarica.com

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 34   

Auditors failed to find other sources of Villalobos income
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

Investigators in the two-year study of the Villalobos money exchanging and high-interest operation “never found any other source of income to support the business or, indeed, the individuals and their families” except income from checks given them by investors.

That was the word Thursday from Manuel Roldán, who headed the prosecution's audit of the Villalobos documents seized in a raid July 4, 2002. He said the company had reasonable overhead, employed 17 persons and paid $6,000 a month rent at Mall San Pedro.

The prosecution ended its outline of the Villalobos financial empire Thursday, and the defense is expected to ask questions today. On trial is Oswaldo Villalobos, one of the two brothers. Luis Enrique Villalobos still is a fugitive.

The use of shell companies with multiple accounts in U.S. banks got the same detailed analysis from investigator Elisabeth Flores Thursday that she had given to the local banking operations of the Villalobos high-interest investment operation during Wednesday's session.

International operations by the Villalobos and their shell companies are not as well documented because not all of the banks in question answered requests for information, she said. Most overseas activity was in the United States, with some in Spain and elsewhere. Bank Atlantic in Miami claimed to have no knowledge of the Villalobos brothers although investigators had specific account numbers. AmTrade bank, based in Atlanta, failed in September 2002 so no information was forthcoming there. The most cooperative and apparently the most important was the Whitney National Bank, based in New Orleans.

This is Ms. Flores' summary:

Seven Villalobos companies had accounts at Whitney, and it was the most important bank in terms of activity. More than $118 million passed through just the favored Servicios de Soporte al Turismo account in the period studied. Mostly the accounts received transfers from Ofinter S.A. accounts either at Costa Rican banks or internally from the account Ofinter held. The main destination of checks was evidently to pay interest to investors not in Costa Rica.
Nominally, not all the Whitney accounts were under the control of the Villalobos brothers. Various other employees managed the accounts, though the most important one belonging to Servicios de Soporte al Turismo was controlled by Luis Enrique Villalobos. After the July 2002 raid on the Costa Rica offices, these accounts were used to continue paying interest until about September. Then they were closed one by one with the money consolidated in the Servicios de Soporte al Turismo account which was then closed.

Yet another slug of foreign accounts were opened by Federico Fallas Fallas, as documented by papers that he “involuntarily” provided to investigators, said Ms. Flores. Former Banco de Costa Rica executive Fallas worked for the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house as treasurer and was in charge of foreign banking, including opening new accounts. This he did to the tune of 15 new accounts, many in 2002, in a number of new banks. Most of these were closed following the July 4, 2002, raid on Ofinter and the Luis Enrique Villalobos borrowing operation. Many had transfers to other accounts that could not be tracked.

An account at BAC Florida in the name of Servicios Soportes de Turismo was closed shortly after the raid. About $3.4 million passed through this account. It had been investigated in 1998 by the bank itself due to use of post-dated checks. No names of recipients were available.
A lone account at Commercial International Bank in the name of Imobiliarios Internacionales Platinos was apparently never used, and closed in 2002 with a balance of minus $24.

In a summary of the material in the presentation, Ms. Flores’ supervisor, Roldán said that much of the behavior seen in the investigation simply can’t be explained in terms of normal business practices. He noted that the way the Villalobos Brothers operated was not cheap. Each Sociedad Anonima or Costa Rican corporation cost $500 to form. They employed (presumably) well-paid professionals, and had a total staff of as many as 17 people. The nine offices in the Mall San Pedro cost an estimated $6,000 per month, he said.

The trial continues today with cross-examination of the prosecution’s investigators by defense lawyers. The defense asked for more time to prepare but were only given the remainder of the afternoon Thursday.

Venezuela's Chávez emerging as man with unusual powers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In late January, Venezuela's national assembly voted to allow President Hugo Chávez to rule by decree for an 18-month period. Since then, Chávez has moved quickly to nationalize the country's electricity and telecommunications sectors, confirmed plans to strip foreign companies of majority stakes in oil projects, and threatened to seize control of supermarkets and other retail outlets.

In a unanimous vote, Venezuela's national assembly, in effect, temporarily disbanded itself. Assembly President Cilia Flores was jubilant afterwards.

"Long live the sovereign nation of Venezuela," she said. "Long live Hugo Chávez. Long live socialism. Fatherland, socialism or death!"

Venezuela is now under one-man rule. Christopher Sabatini, a policy director at the New York-based Council of the Americas, says Venezuela's democratic institutions have been eroded since Hugo Chávez came to power in 1998 — and his ability to rule by decree vastly accelerates that process.

"This is the most sweeping power that has ever been given an elected president in Venezuela's history," he said. "This is the dismantling of a democracy from within."

Venezuelan legal scholars say the country's constitution, like those of many democracies, does permit the president to rule by decree. But the mechanism is intended for emergency situations, such as natural disasters, and only for brief periods of time.

"The ability to authorize exceptional powers exists as a legal institution," said Venezuelan constitutional law expert Gerardo Fernandez. "What does not exist in our constitution, nor in any democratic constitution, is the abandonment of the legislative process."

Is Chávez a de facto dictator? Not yet, according to Venezuelan opposition leader and magazine editor Teodoro Petkoff, who nonetheless says he is profoundly troubled by the president's expanded power.
"It opens the door to consolidate what is already a feature of the regime: autocracy," he said. "In practical terms, this is an autocratic regime. All public power is concentrated in the executive, in Chávez. It eliminates whatever vestiges may have existed of a counterweight to executive power."

For his part, Hugo Chávez downplays concerns, saying citizens can oppose any decree via a national referendum. Furthermore, he says strong measures are justified in the pursuit of a socialist future.

In a recent speech, he said, "History will absolve us. The people will absolve us. We are turning the people's dreams into reality."

In December, Chávez easily won reelection with more than 60 percent of the vote. Observers say his popularity has been bolstered by heavy spending to provide medical care, educational opportunities, food and housing for the poor.

Yet some see trouble ahead for Venezuela — and Chávez.

Massive oil revenues have sparked a consumer spending binge at a time of declining private investment and stagnant domestic production. The end result has been shortages of basic goods and runaway inflation.

President Chávez says his "21st Century socialism" program will bring prosperity to all Venezuelans. Christopher Sabatini is skeptical.

"What 21st Century socialism means, in the Venezuelan context, is basically the indiscriminate doling out of petroleum revenue," he said.

"That is what really lubricates this entire revolution. Socialism in the past was about the means of production — improving the means of production and sharing. There is very little being produced in Venezuela. What is happening is a grand program of state patronage overseen by Hugo Chávez," he continued.

Chávez is widely expected to press for constitutional reform eliminating presidential term limits. He has pledged to remain in power until the year 2030.

Canadian students coming here to build classrooms in just four days in Guayabal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Twelve students from Queen's University in Kingston, Canada, are coming to Costa Rica to build new classrooms for the Escuela de Guayabal in Cartago.  The program was designed by Volunteer Abroad Costa Rica, an organization that offers cross cultural experiences where volunteers work side-by-side with locals on community projects, said their
Web site.  Some of their other programs in Costa Rica include teaching English to the students of Escuela de Guayabal.

The buildings are scheduled to be completed in just four days. The Feb. 23 inauguration will take place the same day with program directors Kristelled Stright and Gregory Chinchilla and Canadian Ambassador Mario Lagüe there.

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Tests show that there was no drug use to boost endurance in La Ruta race
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The International Cycling Union has announced that test samples collected during the 2006 La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica indicated that there was zero substance abuse during competition.

Winners should be thrilled with the results because only now will the $20,000 of cash prizes be handed out, said a release.  Félix Murillo, anti-drug representative of the Federación Costarricense de Ciclismo, said that the International Cycling Union just recently sent the good news by e-mail.
La Ruta de los Conquistadores is one of the hardest and best known cycling competitions in the world, said the release. 

This is the first in the 14 year history that drug testing of urine has been conducted for the competition, a change that took place because of increased usage in international cycling events, said the release. Testing is also planned for the 2007 race scheduled for Nov. 14 to 17.

The 2006 Open Class winner was Colombian Leonardo Paez León and top spot in the Women's Group went to Canadian Marg Fedyn.  More information about the race is available on a Web site at www.adventurerace.com

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