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These stories were published Thursday, Feb. 20, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 36
Jo Stuart
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From left: Marco Badilla, director general de Migración y Extranjería; Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública; and Randall Quirós Bustamante, vice minister, and president of the Consejo Nacional de Migración

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Immigration rewrite would remove 'rentista' 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco administration proposed a new immigration law Wednesday that would eliminate the category of "rentista" and stipulate that all visas for temporary residency be prepared outside the country.

The proposed law also creates specific rights and obligations for foreigners living here.

The proposed law specifies a five-year wait for temporary residents, such as those in the traditional pensionado category, if they want to apply for permanent residency.

The whole point of the proposed restructuring is to tighten up immigration controls in a country whose social services are under siege by heavy immigration, legal and illegal, from other Latin countries, particularly Nicaragua to the north.

For North Americans and Europeans, the new law eliminates the rentista category, which allowed anyone who could show a $1,000 a month income to live legally in Costa Rica. The law retains the pensionado category that allows anyone to live here if they can show a continuing and established pension.

The proposed law also retains the inversionista category that allowed someone to gain temporary residency by placing $100,000 in an approved investment, such as a tourism project, or $200,000 in an investment that did not have government sanction.

The proposed law also would place all temporary residency visas under the control of Costa Rican consulates outside the country. Temporary residency includes the categories of pensionado and inversionista, the type that most North Americans would choose to gain legal residency here.

The government tried to do this a year ago, but ran into a barrier because the status of pensionado and that of rentista were set up by a law that gave the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo control. The government had to back down on these temporary residency categories and continue to allow persons to make application here in Costa Rica.

Under the proposed law, only those seeking residency due to marriage to a Costa Rican or the birth of a Costa Rican child will be able to apply for temporary residency while here. The rest will have to do so at Costa Rican consulates in their homelands.

National lawmakers on the Asemblea Nacional’s Comisión de Gobierno y Administración got copies of the government proposal Wednesday. Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, gave a presentation. He said the complete restructuring was "one of the most important laws" the administration would bring forth.

He was accompanied by Marco Badilla, director general de Migración y Extranjería, and Randall Quirós Bustamante, vice minister, and president of the Consejo Nacional de Migración.

Immigration has been stepping up enforcement and has been searching for illegal aliens in coordinated sweeps in San José and the beach communities. The immigration section is in the ministry headed by Ramos, as is the Fuerza Pública.

Among other things, the draft law would formalize the Policía de Migración y Extranjería as a branch of the Fuerza Pública.

Among the obligations spelled out for foreigners who live here legally is that of paying taxes. In addition the law would establish a fund into which foreigners would have to pay the approximate value of a transportation ticket back to their homeland. Each would be obligated to pay this money.

The draft law presented Wednesday might undergo wholesale revision at the hands of deputies, and it might not be passed at all. But the measure is part of the overall plan for citizen security promoted by President Abel Pacheco, so the weight of the government would be behind it.

Costa Rica has suffered some embarrassment recently when high profile suspects of foreign crimes have been located here. Among these are reputed members of the Sicilian Mafia. The proposed law would tighten controls and reasons that the country could use in keeping undesirable individuals from entering Costa Rica in the first place. The law sets up a formal list of reasons to deny entry as well as authorizes procedures to maintain such records.

The elimination of the rentista category prevents an individual not of retirement age from buying residency here. The $60,000 a rentista was supposed to prove was available is paid out in $1,000 monthly installments. This money could be used for personal expenses. 

The inversionista category ups the ante for those who come here. They must have at least $100,000 to invest and also adequate sums to keep themselves housed and fed.

Human trafficking
included in proposal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A proposed immigration law presented to deputies Wednesday would penalize those who engage in human trafficking.

Costa Rica is the only country in the region that does not make such activity a crime, said Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The proposed law not only includes persons who smuggle illegal aliens, but also those who provide housing or hide the newcomers. In addition, employers will be responsible for checking the legal status of employees.

The law would cover traditional transports of illegal immigrants and also those who bring in people and children for sexual activity.

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Photographers don’t want to miss a thing as they crowd around President Abel Pacheco and U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich at a ceremonial signing of a grant agreement between the two countries.

Pacheco links poverty and child exploitation 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Poverty is the root cause of sexual exploitation, President Abel Pacheco said as he accepted a U.S. grant Wednesday.

"Can it be that consumerism and materialism has arrived at the degree that some people are disposed to sell even their own children in exchange for crumbs," the president asked.

He was speaking at a ceremony in which the United States agreed to provide more than $500,000 so Costa Rica could train and set up a permanent program to catch, try and convict sexual exploiters.

The efforts will be by the judicial and executive branches and also non-profit organizations seeking the same ends.

The ceremony came as Costa Ricans still are shaking their heads over the case of a 9-year-old rural Turrialba girl who became pregnant and contracted a venereal disease. A similar case involving an 11-year-old girl came to light this week in Liberia.

The result of such programs anticipated by the grant presented Wednesday is that Costa Rica will be able "to investigate efficiently and process rigorously the cases of this type of criminality that destroys the body and soul of our children and young people," said Pacheco.

The money from the United States "is a form of expressing the international unity in the fight against this type of ills and an expression of the national promise to join the battle without quarter against the exploiters, the violators and the producers of pornography and the killers of boys, girls and young people," said the president.

Representing the United States at the ceremony was U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich.

The case of the young girl in Turrialba has caused national deputies to question the response of Rosalía Gil, minister for Niñez, and others. The case also raised the issue of abortion, which is illegal in most cases here. The parents of the child took her to Nicaragua, where the possibilities of an abortion are higher. 

Although foreigners usually are spotlighted by non-governmental agencies and police officials when the subject of sexual exploitation of young people comes up, more than 90 percent of such cases involve non-North Americans here.

However, sex tourism in which foreigners with money come here to engage in sexual activity with youngsters is a component of the hospitality scene.

Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía and Seguridad Pública, said investigators were involved with 80 complaints of exploitive activities. The network of such crimes extends far beyond the national territory, he noted.

United States demands
return of downed crew

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is demanding the immediate release of three Americans who disappeared in southern Colombia after their small plane crashed in rebel territory. 

Richard Boucher, a State Department spokesman, made the demand here Wednesday, one week after U.S. officials said reliable reports indicated that leftist guerrillas kidnapped the crew. 

Boucher said those holding the Americans captive are responsible for their safety, health and well-being. He also expressed sadness and outrage at the shooting deaths of a fourth American and a Colombian who also were aboard the aircraft. The body of the dead American has been returned to the United States. 

The five crewmembers were aboard a U.S. government plane that crash-landed in Colombia's Caqueta province during an intelligence mission. 

The rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Andean nation’s largest guerrilla group, controls large parts of the region. 

The U.S. government says the Americans aboard the doomed aircraft were civilian contractors working for the military on an anti-drug program. 

This is believed to be the first time that Americans working for the U.S. government have been kidnapped by Colombian rebels during the Andean nation's 39-year civil war. 

Bolivian cabinet resigns;
re-shuffle imminent

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — The cabinet here has resigned to clear the way for a ministerial reshuffle by President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who faces protests over his economic austerity proposals.

The 18 ministers resigned Tuesday, one day after thousands of Bolivians took to the streets to protest the president's unpopular economic policies. 

The trouble initially began last week when troops clashed with striking police officers and other demonstrators who were rallying against a proposed tax increase. Thirty-two people were killed and 100 others injured. Looters also ransacked numerous businesses and torched several government buildings. 

Hours after the disturbances began, Sanchez de Lozada appealed for calm and withdrew the tax plan which, reports say, was aimed at reducing the budget deficit.  The country must reduce its deficit to qualify for assistance from the International Monetary Fund. 

The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Bolivia because of the violence. 

Tension has been building here in the past decade over efforts at economic reform. Bolivia is one of South America's poorest nations.

Missing plane of ’76
found around volcano

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — Investigators say they have found parts of a missing Saeta Airlines plane that disappeared in 1976 with 59 people on board. 

Authorities made the announcement Tuesday, saying the four-engine Vickers Viscount was found shattered on the Chimborazo volcano. Mountain climbers stumbled across the wreckage several days ago, prompting the search. 

The plane vanished Aug. 15, 1976.

Mongolian history
Sunday talk topic

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Intellectual Club of Costa Rica will be hosting a talk on the history and current culture of Mongolia Sunday at 2 p.m. in Escazú. The speaker will be Warren Crowther, who has 35 years experience working with the United Nations. 

The club welcomes people who are interested in any type of intellectual pursuits. In the past, the club has had talks from some noted speakers like physics Professor James Miller of Boston University, who was former assistant to Dr. Richard Feyman, one of the most famous people in physics outside of Albert Einstein. 

The club also played host to one of the most well known members of Mensa, Maurice Kanbar, who wrote the bestseller "Secrets of an Inventor" and after whom the film school at New York University is named. Future subjects will include a talk by the former head of strategic planning of Exxon Chemical and a talk on financial arbitrage. Those wishing to attend can call 228-1162. 

Rice shipment renews
complaints of growers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is another shipload of U.S. rice in the Caldera harbor, and the rice growers are restless.

Some 22,000 tons of rice are here to be delivered to three wholesalers. Ricer growers fear the shipment will affect the price they get for their product.

Last April a similar shipment arrived, and the rice growers blocked traffic for a week in front of the Asemblea Nacional. The government entered into an agreement to set up a rice monopoly to maintain the price of rice.

However, this year the political landscape has changed. Deputies, perhaps unhappy with the massive jam of tractor-trailers at their doorstep and rioting near the Pacific port of Caldera, passed a law to prohibit such activity. The law still is untested. Plus Abel Pacheco no longer is president-elect. He is president and a big supporter of free trade.

Water will be out
during afternoon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sections of Desamparados, San José and Curridabat will be out of water for six hours from 1 p.m. today.  The piping to a tank in Cartago has to be installed. The tank is a new one.

The water should be back on by dinner time, according to officials of Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company.

Investigators focus
on inspection station

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents from the Judicial Investigating organization paid a visit to Riteve SyC in Barreal de Heredia in search of information about where a taxi driver might have obtained official paperwork.

The taxi driver was detained Tuesday on suspicion that he was selling documents that said vehicles had been inspected at the station when they had not.

Meanwhile, Channel 7, Teletica, has presented a show, complete with hidden cameras, showing a reporter purchasing official looking vehicle inspection documents and a window sticker from a man whose identify was blurred.

Then the television station showed the vehicle, a wreck that had not been moved due to lack of parts for two years.

The investigation hopes to show if the documents and the stickers come from one of any number of Riteve inspections stations or are simple forgeries.
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Guatemalan walkout is first ever for rights court
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of Guatemala walked out of the trial into the alleged state-sponsored murder of Guatemalan anthropologist and activist Myrna Mack Chang. The walkout happened at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Wednesday.

According to a lawyer representing the family of Ms. Mack, the Guatemalan government’s representatives wanted the trial to be suspended.  The trial wasn’t suspended, so the representatives left, said Roxanna Altholz, a lawyer from the Center For Justice and International Law.

Ms. Mack’s sister, Helen, chased the two representatives as they left. She said they didn’t want to talk to her. But they might be back today for closing arguments.

This is the first time in the history of the court that a country has taken the decision to leave a trial, according to Claudio Grossman, a representative of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that brought the case to the court. 

Guatemala’s representatives said their legal delegation did not accept the decision that the trial should continue and added that there was a failure to recognize a continuing procedure in a Guatemalan court. The representatives said that the court here is not the place to conduct the trial.

On Tuesday, the representatives of Guatemala submitted a document that said the country admitted partial responsibility for Ms. Mack’s murder. However, the Mack family’s lawyers have been strongly critical of this admission, calling it "insufficient."

Ms. Altholz said the Guatemalan government admitted only a few simple things in their submission: that Ms. Mack is dead, that she was murdered, that justice is slow and that the victim’s family has rights. Ms. Altholz added that the submission failed to state why justice is slow.

E. Barrett Prettyman, another member of the Macks’ legal team, said the Guatemalans had insulted the court. He said: "To guess, [the walkout] was an attempt to get out of a factual hearing and move to reparations."

Prettyman said that he thinks this is to avoid unwanted press coverage of the facts of the case in Guatemala and the world. The dead woman was 
investigating rights abuses by the Guatemalan military for a book when she was killed in 1990. 

The trial, in its second day, lasted the whole day and many more testimonies were heard from witnesses. Many of them were expert witnesses, and included Monica Pinto, United Nations delegate to Guatemala from 1993 to 1997, and Henry Monroy, the judge who opened the domestic trial in 1999.

Monroy no longer lives in Guatemala. He left after receiving threats and has not returned since, he said in court.

Ms. Mack’s killer languishes in jail in Guatemala. He has been there since being convicted in the early 1990s. The three accused intellectual perpetrators, former members of the Guatemalan Presidential Security Forces, are in custody awaiting trial — one, it is claimed, that has been constantly delayed and fraught with intimidation, including to the judge.

Rember Larios, a former Guatemalan police officer, spoke of the loss of his colleague, José Miguel Merida Escobar. Larios said assassins, the same ones who killed Ms. Mack, murdered his colleague. Merida was killed for his part in the investigation into the murder of Ms. Mack, said Larios.

Other witnesses gave expert opinions on the circumstances surrounding the case. One was Katherine Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archives which is based in Washington, D.C. She said that she had helped file Freedom of Information Act requests to U.S security agencies which, when returned, revealed information which pointed the finger at the Guatemalan security forces for Ms. Mack’s murder.

Helen Mack, 51, left the courtroom several times Wednesday during testimonies. One such time was when a psychologist testified about the psychology and mental health of Mack family members, including Helen Mack, after Ms. Mack’s murder. Helen Mack was in tears at this stage.

The trial will conclude today. It is expected that the representatives of the Guatemalan government will be present. Closing arguments will be heard. An outcome, or resolution, is not expected for several months.

Guatemala is a party to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights having agreed to its jurisdiction from when it was introduced. According to Prettyman, a Mack lawyer, if Guatemala disrespects any resolutions the court should make, this would be a serious move on the international scene since the country signed up to and recognizes the court.

Helen Mack said she will do whatever it takes to get justice.

Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

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

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

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

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

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

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

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

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

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

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