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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 21, 2003, Vol. 3, No. 37
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Milanes buddy brought back 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A handful of Savings Unlimited investors ran down the man who was the right arm of Luis Milanes this week.

The man, José Victor Poo, is now back in Costa Rica in custody, although officials are not saying much about him.

Poo, also a Cuban-American, was the mouthpiece for Milanes in the declining days of his empire. Investors who had significant funds with Savings Unlimited ended up talking to Poo before the bubble burst, according to sources.

Milanes left the country with Poo Nov. 22 or Nov. 23 for parts unknown.

Poo was found by investors at the Marriott Hotel in Panamá City registered under his own name. They held him until the Policía Tecnical Judicial of Panamá intervened.

The fiscal in charge of the case is Amelia Robinson. She walked away from a reporter Thursday when he tried to question her about the arrest. She is the fiscal or public prosecutor in charge of the Sección de Delitos Financieros, or economic crimes.

That may be because Costa Rican authorities totally botched the arrest warrant.  A spokesman for those who captured Poo said that Costa Rica sent a warrant in the name of José Victor Milanes instead of José Victor Poo.

Poo was found living in the hotel and registered under his own name. Representatives of investors grabbed him in the lobby of the hotel, sources said.

A spokesman for the Poder Judicial said only that Poo was arrested on the national territory Thursday and would be subjected to an interrogation within 24 hours. Under Costa Rican law, investigators may hold a suspect for 24 hours unless further detention is authorized by a judge.

Investigators are expected to ask for three to 

four months of preventative detention for Poo at a hearing that probably will take place this morning.


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The spokesman had no information on how Poo ended up on the national territory or the circumstances leading to his arrest. Sources said that mercenaries snatched him from Panamá when they realized that the Costa Rica arrest warrant was faulty.

Those in contact with the handful of investors in Savings Unlimited said hunters employed by the group tracked Poo down to Panamá. The group is believed to be made up of persons who had each invested more than $1 million in the failed investment scheme.

Similar groups of hunters are believed to be on the trail of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho. Some have contacted A.M. Costa Rica.

Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and associated casino properties from an office in Edificio Colón. His principal spokesman was Michael Gonzales, who now is in prison.

Poo was the man who spoke fluent English and tried to calm down investors who were concerned that the operation was in financial trouble. He offered big ticket investors real estate as collateral. In many cases, investors reported that Poo was short on candor.

The spokesman for the judicial authorities also said Thursday that four more months of preventative detention has been authorized by a judge for José Milanes, the brother of the fugitive, and Enrique Pereira, another associate.  Mércedes Lopéz Blandon also remains in jail. She ran a string of beauty parlors for the firm.

Milanese and Pereira were jailed for two months shortly after Luis Milanes fled closing a high-interest investment business that paid clients up to 4 percent per month. the firm may have defaulted on as much as $240 million.


 
A.M. Costa Rica staff
Officer Eugenio Mora Sánchez keeps an eye on the paintings on loan to the Museo Nacional.

Italian art movement
displayed at museum 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Los Macchiaioli is an Italian art movement at the second half of the 19th century. It also is the title of an exhibit running until March 18 at the Museo Nacional in San José.

The exhibit has historical importance because the movement had a strong influence on Costa Rica painters in the middle of the 20th century.

The paintings on display at the museum are part of a 10,000 works collection of Carlo Pepi. 

The exhibit insists that the works are not impressionistic but of a different stripe completely. They border on representational because they mostly are taken from 19th century life.

The exhibit at the museum also is a commemoration of the 500 years since the landing of Columbus in 1502 in Costa Rica, hence the Italian connection.
 
 
Missing girl found
living with a friend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After an appeal by the Judicial Investigating Organization earlier this week, a 15-year-old U.S. citizen, missing since the end of last year, was found safe Thursday.

The girl, Xochil Enoch Quirós, 15, was discovered living with a friend in San José. A spokesman said that agents visited the place where she is staying after receiving information about her location. A spokesman said the friend the girl is living with is female.

Her mother, Francisca Quirós Urbina, had reported her daughter missing. The girl said to the officers when they found her that she did not want any contact with her mother, according to investigators. Ms. Enoch disappeared from the family home Nov. 15, 2002.

According to investigators, the girl’s father is American and her mother is Costa Rican. 

 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

The Transition from Tourist to Resident

Living in a foreign country as opposed to visiting it is something like getting married after dating someone you love who is trying to impress you. Instead of total acceptance, you start seeing all the warts and behaviors that are less than perfect, even annoying. But you also become aware of the enduring positive traits. This is what I wrote in my journal after living here just a month. This triggered thoughts about some of the changes that I have noticed.

I am more aware of the increasing crime and the increase in violent crime, and am not very happy about this. But I am also pleased that almost nobody hates Costa Rica because, as Dieter Doniet-Schmitz has pointed out, this country has never invaded another country nor tried to influence another country except by its example.

My perception of the country has changed, but so have the priorities of this tourist cum resident. I was thinking about this the other day as I was walking downtown and saw some tourists with their backpacks and skimpy clothing. Some of them look like they are on safari. San Jose is a temperate, breezy city. I wear long sleeves and slacks and because it is a city I wouldn’t think of wearing shorts. Of course, there are other reasons why I wouldn’t wear shorts. But I do try to look presentable when I go downtown. When I first visited Costa Rica in the late 80’s, I bought three pairs of black pumps (about all they had in the shoe stores) because I was embarrassed wearing sandals in the city! Now, when I am not wearing sandals, I wear sneakers, just like the locals. 

Instead of waking up to some new experience every day, I have developed a comfortable (and somewhat repetitive) living routine. Ferias have replaced fiestas I take as much pleasure in finding the most delicious canned tuna (Sardimar’s tuna in olive oil) to eat at home as I did in finding an especially good restaurant.

Instead of going in search of quetzals, I delight in the little sparrows and occasional yiguirro who enjoy the seeds I’ve put out on the balcony, and I shoo away the bigger greedy pea-headed birds who bully the sparrows. I did see a quetzal once, in Monte Verde, I think it was.

When I was visiting, I thought Costa Rica had some of the handsomest men in the world. Now I notice (and envy) the lovely small boned, long waisted Ticas, and determined once again to go on a diet. The handsome men must have emigrated.

Instead of looking for a rain forest to tread, I make a little detour in San Jose to the Parque España in front of the INS building when I want to experience the peace of a mini rain forest. I no longer enjoy the weather here as a respite from the less than perfect weather ‘back home.’ I now consider myself lucky for having moved to a place where the coming Ice Age (which I am convinced is what the temperate zones are experiencing), will affect me less. 

As a tourist, I ignored the news of the rest of the world — I didn’t bother to read newspapers (except for restaurant reviews or local news) and avoided TV. I needed a respite from that, too. 

Now, as a resident, I am much more involved with what is happening in the rest of the world. I attended the anti-war — the peace — rally here in San Jose on Saturday. I was dismayed to learn from a friend’s e-mail, that in New York not enough room was allowed for the great number of peace demonstrators, and when people tried to join the rally, the police, in an effort to contain the frustrated people, ran their horses into the crowd. Here, at our demonstration that filled the plaza in front of the Teatro Nacional, I didn’t see one member of the police force. Of course, none were needed. 

More Jo Stuart HERE

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Forged jeans grabbed by police in warehouse raid
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police raided a Heredia warehouse where counterfeit jeans were being stored and confiscated 437 pairs of phony Levi Strauss pants Thursday morning.

Police made the raid after a complaint by a representative of the Levi Strauss trademark here in Costa Rica. They said that the location raided was where many vehicles came and left each day, suggesting that there is a Central Valley ring of distributors of phony jeans.

The raid was by the Fuerza Pública, the Judicial Investigating Organization and prosecutors of the Ministerio Público. The raids were under the intellectual property laws that provide for a penalty of between one and three years in prison for those who infringe such rights.

The place that was raided is the home of a man with the last names of Prendas Montero, said a 

spokesman for the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The location is near the church of Fátima de Heredia, they said.

Investigators said that the Levi Strauss complaint was motivated by the manufacturer who worried that the brand would get a bad reputation from shoddy merchandise bearing its name.

Investigators said that the suspect used a van to distribute phony jeans all over the Central Valley.

Investigators sought the help of citizens who may have been victimized by the scam and asked them to call 226-7407 or 227-4010 Ext. 20.

Pirated or cloned products are a problem all over the world but more so in Costa Rica recently because it did not have strong laws against such practices. However, last year deputies passed legislation that brought the country into compliance with the many international treaties on the topic.

Lawyers want Guatemala to apologize for 1990 murder of woman
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The family of a murdered Guatemalan human rights activist wants an apology and a public identification of the governmental agency behind the killing.

The lawyers for the family of the dead, Myrna Mack Chang, a Guatemalan anthropologist, made these demands Thursday in the third and last day of a hearing at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights here.

Ms. Mack was murdered outside her place of work Sept. 11, 1990, in Guatemala City. She received 27 knife wounds covering most of her body. The family’s lawyers said that the Presidential Security Service was behind the murder.

The actual killer, Noel de Jesus Beteta, is currently serving 35 years in prison, 25 of those for her murder.

The accused "intellectual authors" are in custody, awaiting trial. The Mack family wants these men tried in court for the murder of Ms. Mack. The family says the men have avoided justice for almost 13 years due to a judicial system that has gravely failed them with frivolous delays and intimidation of witnesses and judges.

The men, identified at the hearing, are former members of the Presidential Security Service. They are Edgar Augusto Godoy Gaitán, head of the 

service, Juan Valencia Osorio, head of the 
intelligence unit within the service, and Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera, assistant head of the intelligence unit.

The domestic trial starts Feb. 26 in Guatemala. The decision of the human rights court trial — not a criminal hearing — is not expected for months.

Cruz Mungua Sosa, a representative of the Guatemalan government, said Thursday his country refuses to accept full responsibility for the murder of Ms. Mack.  Guatemala contends the proceedings failed to recognize the domestic trial in Guatemala, which is still underway.

The Mack lawyers said that the Guatemalan state deemed Ms. Mack’s work to be dangerous to it because the truths of the region in which the woman worked, the brutal realities and danger of the lives of displaced peoples in the region, was what she recorded. She planned to write a book. The lawyers said Ms. Mack was the only one doing this kind of work in the field.

At the trial’s outset the Guatemalan government submitted a document outlining their acceptance of partial responsibility. 

The lawyers of the Mack Family called this submission insufficient. They said it only identified basic details, accepting only that Ms. Mack is dead, that she was murdered, that domestic justice is slow and that victim’s family has rights.


 
Opposition leader
detained in Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The opposition leader Carlos Fernandez has been detained here by armed men believed to be secret police. 

Opposition leaders called for protests in support of Fernandez, one of the organizers of a two-month anti-government strike. Fernandez is charged with treason and criminal conspiracy. 

Fernandez, president of Venezuela's main business organization, Fedecamaras, was one of three main leaders of the two-month-long strike against the government of President Hugo Chavez. 

Chavez has accused the leaders of the strike — which remains in effect in the economically crucial oil industry — of sabotage and of seeking to overthrow his government by force. 

During his regular Sunday morning television and radio program this week, the president exhorted judges and public prosecutors to take action against the organizers of the work stoppage. 

Two other strike leaders, Carlos Ortega of the main trade union confederation, the CTV, and former oil industry executive Juan Fernandez, have been warned to turn themselves in, or face arrest in similar circumstances.

Although government officials were slow to comment, the judge who claims to have issued the arrest warrant for Carlos Fernandez listed a series of charges against him. These include treason, rebellion and criminal conspiracy.

According to spokesmen for Fedecamaras, the armed men who detained the business leader presented neither identification nor an arrest warrant. They fired into the air to disperse a small crowd, before taking Fernandez away.

Leaders of the opposition umbrella group, the Democratic Coordinator, were quick to condemn the reported arrest as arbitrary and illegal. 

The seizure of Fernandez comes just days after the torture and murder of three soldiers and a young woman involved in a four-month-old anti-government protest by military officers in a square here. The circumstances of those murders have yet to be clarified. 

The Washington-based organization, Human Rights Watch, has called on the government to carry out a full and impartial investigation of the murders, and to protect a teenage witness who was also seriously injured. 

Aleman will stay home, not leave, judge orders

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — A judge has rejected a request from the attorney general that former president Arnoldo Aleman be moved from house arrest to a federal prison. 

The judge ruled Wednesday that the 56-year-old former president will remain under house arrest until he goes on trial for fraud and money laundering charges. A trial date has not been set. 

Prosecutors had argued that Aleman's house arrest was special treatment. But the judge said continued house arrest would make it easier for him to continue medical treatment and avoid more health problems. Aleman was hospitalized Saturday and Sunday for chest pains. 

Aleman faces charges of misusing more than $1 million in a deal involving the state-run television station. He denies the allegations against him.

U.N. ambassador gets
a second chance

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
and wire service reports

Roberto Tovar, Costa Rican foreign minister, gave the Costa Rican ambassador to the United Nations a second chance Thursday after comments the diplomat made about the anticipated war on Iraq didn’t jive with what the Foreign Ministry had mandated.

Ambassador Bruno Stagno had said all states should provide any relevant intelligence information in their possession to the weapons inspectors — searching for weapons of mass destruction — operating for the U.N. inside Iraq, according to the U.N. Security Council Web site. It is essential to achieve peaceful disarmament, the Web site quotes him as saying.

He also said that it is the weapons inspectors themselves who should decide when the course of their inspections is exhausted.

The comments came under scrutiny because they were seen to misrepresent Costa Rica’s position. The Costa Rican government has been quoted as saying that the text of Stagno’s speech makes it appear Costa Rica supports Iraq.

Tovar said that these comments had been issued without the prior authorization by the ministry. Tovar added that an ambassador can’t say something, and then consult the minister afterward.

The ministry says it regrets the comments made by Stagno.

In a press conference at Casa Presidencial, President Abel Pacheco and Tovar announced that Stagno had forwarded a note outlining his error and apology. Tovar said that Stagno was being handed another opportunity, and would not be asked to resign as had previously been reported.

Pacheco said that he fully backed the decision made by Tovar.

The United States has stated its wish to push Iraq into compliance with the U.N. arms inspectors and to admit that it has — and give up — weapons of mass destruction. Concurrently, the United States has made it clear that it is losing patience with what it sees as Iraq’s non-compliance with these international demands. 

The United States has openly said that war may be unavoidable.

Internet providers giving
problems with distribution

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some readers who have accounts with America Online and Hotmail might not be getting the daily bulletin that tells you what is in the newspaper. 

We are having repeated bounced messages from Hotmail and AOL. We think they have their system configured to reject messages that arrive in groups. We have many Hotmail and AOL readers.

We would encourage them to get a different Internet provider because we cannot guarantee the delivery of their daily messages.

$50,000 reward offered  in women's murder case

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

JUAREZ, Mexico — Police here, just across the border from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas, have identified three young women whose bodies were found in a desert ravine on Monday. 

Authorities are now offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for these murders and of more than 300 other young women. 

In the face of harsh criticism from victims' families, women's groups and human rights organizations, the chief prosecutor for the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Jose Solis, announced the reward offering. 

He says the prosecutor's office is offering a reward of 500,000 pesos (about $50,000) an amount larger than any reward ever offered by that office, for information leading to the capture of the person or persons responsible for the murders.

Now that the three young women have been identified, their remains have been turned over to family members for burial.

Human rights groups here and across the Rio Grande River in El Paso are calling for more effective police work to end the decade-long string of killings. Some investigators suspect one or more serial killers could be involved in the murders. 

They say it is also possible that there are killers who reside on the U.S. side of the border and cross over occasionally to rape and murder women. Most victims are factory workers from poor families who must often come home at night through dark streets where there is little security.

Juarez has a reputation as a tough border town where violence is common. There have also been hundreds of murders related to drug trafficking and other criminal activities.
 
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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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Investments




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Sex trafficking confab spotlights modern slavery
By Charlene Porter
A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department is joining a coalition of non-governmental organizations to sponsor a meeting next week to focus on ways to stop sex trafficking. Entitled "Pathbreaking Strategies in the Global Fight Against Sex Trafficking," the Washington conference is being held as the result of a congressional directive that conference organizers say demonstrates the U.S. commitment to counter sex trafficking, widely denounced as a form of modern day slavery.

"The commitment of the United States to fighting this issue is very evident in the high-level U.S. participation that we have," said Elizabeth Pryor, the senior coordinator in charge of the conference within the State Department's Trafficking in Persons office. In an interview, she said "an extraordinary line-up of senior U.S. officials" will participate, including the secretaries of State, Justice and Health and Human Services, as well as members of Congress and other agency heads.

The State Department's co-sponsor in the meeting is the War Against Trafficking Alliance, comprising four U.S.-based non-governmental organizations that are working to combat sex trafficking, a form of criminal activity that is reaping enormous profits for organized crime, almost as much as trafficking in narcotics and weapons. The alliance was formed by the Johns Hopkins University Protection Project, Shared Hope International, International Justice Mission, and Salvation Army U.S.A. The group lobbied Congress for financial support for this meeting and was designated as a co-sponsor at the same time.

Human trafficking claims between 700,000 and 4 million victims a year, according to a 2002 survey conducted by the State Department. But given the covert nature of the activity, even the greatest experts in the field are uncertain of the statistics. Authorities estimate that 50,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year.

Trafficking has emerged as a criminal growth industry in part due to the demise of the Soviet Union and the greater freedom of movement and more open borders that resulted. At the same time, serious economic difficulty has befallen many countries. Young women and girls are anxious to find new economic opportunity and a better life, so they become the victims of criminal gangs who dangle prospects of good jobs and a better future just across the next border.

Trafficking has also been on the rise in cultures where women have a lower social status. Anti-trafficking groups report that desperately poor parents are selling their lesser-valued daughters into the sex trade in some nations. 

Taken away from their homes, across an international border, left with no other means of support, the victims of sex traffickers are kept as virtual prisoners and frequently physically abused.

"They are basically slaves," said Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, who has been a strong advocate in Congress for greater international action. "The abuse of these women over and over, . . .  with HIV/AIDS, it's a death sentence," said Wolf in an interview. He was a co-sponsor of the law that called for the conference, and he will be among the speakers at the event.

As global recognition of this criminal activity has increased, non-governmental organizations have been active in attempting to combat it, and so it is appropriate that such groups are co-sponsors of the upcoming meeting, Pryor said. 

The upcoming Washington conference brings together about 250 anti-trafficking activists from more than 110 countries who have demonstrated success in attacking the problem in a variety of ways — through stronger law enforcement, increased public awareness, or rescuing and rehabilitating victims.

Pryor said the conference will "move beyond rhetoric" to discussion of effective strategies that have produced concrete results.

"It's an opportunity for us to learn from them, as well as they learn from us," said Wolf.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed by Congress in 2000 may provide some lessons for attendees from other nations. The law was designed to correct a dual victimization of the women and children caught up in trafficking that old laws created. When a trafficking ring was broken and authorities took custody of sex workers in a brothel, the law often treated them as illegal immigrants or prostitutes, without recognizing their forced participation in these activities. The 2000 trafficking law reshaped the legal code to better recognize the emergence of this new form of criminal activity and the innocence of the victims.

As a result of the law, "now there are more sensitive things being done with regard to the courts," Wolf said. The law also works to help the victims recover from their ordeal as forced sex workers, with funding authorized for emergency medical treatment, food, shelter, legal and mental health counseling, and other social services.

"There's a lot being done, but, there's a long way to go," Wolf said. He underscored his concern for the serious dimensions of sexual trafficking in other nations where new legal regimens have not been put in place and where law enforcement may act as a silent partner in this form of slavery.

U.S. trade deficit skyrockets 21.5 percent for 2002
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. trade deficit jumped 21.5 percent in 2002 to a record $435 billion, reflecting continued weakness in the global economy and a strong U.S. dollar.

Throughout the year rising imports, particularly for such consumer goods as pharmaceuticals and video equipment, combined with slumping U.S. exports to set the stage for the widening gap, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Services exports, long a strong sector in the U.S. economy, rose just 4 percent during the year.

The growing trade gap was led primarily by higher deficits with Western Europe, China and Mexico. The largest increase, $24.5 billion or almost 38 

percent, to $89.2 billion was with Western Europe.

The imbalance with China jumped $20 billion, or 24 percent, to $103.1 billion. Imports from China increased to $125.2 billion, only exceeded by goods coming in from U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico.

The department also reported a new record monthly deficit in December up 10.5 percent from the previous month. 

Economists say that continued large U.S. deficits are yet another sign that the United States remains the engine for global growth. Despite repeated calls by Bush administration officials and by the previous U.S. administration for actions in Europe and Japan to spur growth, U.S. expansion continues to outpace that of its major trading partners.


 
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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