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(506) 223-1327            Published Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 37             E-mail us    
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New proposal seeks to fix inadequate hydrants
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If residents have a choice, they should try not to have a fire anytime soon.

The government revealed Tuesday that only 10 percent of the fire hydrants in the country have a water flow sufficient to fight fires.

The news is timely because San José and other areas of the Central Valley have been hit with a dramatic increase in home and business fires. Investigations are under way.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica, the firefighters, conducted the study and determined that some hydrants awaiting emergency use were installed some 70 years ago.

There seems to be some confusion over who exactly is in charge of the hydrants. Firemen are employees of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the country's insurance monopoly. Water is under the domain of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados.

A measure that the executive branch said it was sending to the Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday puts the institute firmly in charge of the hydrants and levies a 1 percent tax on each water bill to maintain the system.

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The measure is being proposed by Clara Zomer, a legislative deputy of the Partido Liberación Nacional. However, Casa Presidencial said that the proposed law has support from other parties.

Lack of water is a perpetual complaint of firemen everywhere. However, in the case of Costa Rica firemen have had to run hoses six or more blocks to get enough water to fight fires in the downtown. Pressure is a continual problem here, too.



Uh Oh! Nicaraguan ambassador uses the A-word
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new Nicaraguan ambassador to Costa Rica has jumped the gun by using the A-word.

The man, Harold Rivas Reyes, said in Managua Tuesday that he would push for amnesty for his countrymen who are living illegally in Costa Rica.

The politically charged concept of an amnesty brought a quick reponse from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, which said that Costa Rica was not in a condition to consider or analyze an amnesty involving Nicaraguans.

However, the ministry in a release, said that the executive branch has sent changes to the existing immigration law for adoption by the Asamblea Legislativa. And these changes would solidify the Costa Rican tradition of respect for human rights.

A.M. Costa Rica has reported that the immigration law changes also include a power that would let the president decree amnesty if he so desired. Also reported was that any amnesty decree would benefit North Americans and Europeans here illegally.

Rivas made his comments as he was sworn in to 
his ambassadorial job. He had been Nicaraguan consul in Washington and is known as flamboyant.

He told a reporter that he would lobby on behalf of his countrymen, particularly those who have worked in Costa Rica for years in agriculture or as domestic employees even though they did not have legal permission.

A news service report alerted Costa Rican officials to what Rivas had said.

The ministry release said that Costa Rica has offered three amnesties in the past, the latest being in 1999 when 152,000 persons from Central America, 97 percent Nicaraguans, obtained legal residency. Officials estimate that perhaps 300,000 Nicaraguans live here illegally.

The ministry said that the issue would be raised with Rivas when he came to San José.

The issue of an amnesty is politically sensitive because many Costa Ricans believe that Nicaraguans drain the educational and medical budgets. A proposal by the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration would require foreigners to contribute monthly to a governmental fund.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 37  

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Pacific Princess skipper
detained by investigators


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican official have finally detained Álvaro Campos Villagra after he had been on the run since January 2002.  Villagra was the captain of the Pacific Princess that went down in the Gulf of Nicoya Feb. 15, 1997.  A mother and her daughter died and 52 other passengers were stranded at sea.

An investigation at the time resulted in a finding that certain openings in the boat’s hull were not secure, and that is how water entered. The accused was set to face trial against charges that are the equivalent of criminal neglect Jan. 22, 2002, but failed to show.  His lawyer at the time said he could not attend court because he was undergoing medical treatment.  The Puntarenas court was unimpressed and issued a warrant for the captain’s detention and presence.

The boat tour was a St. Valentine's Day holiday for employees and their families of Tornillos Centroamericanos S. A.   The craft went down about six nautical miles from port, where the two victims, Cecilia Rodríguez Solís, 48, and her daughter Marianella Salas Rodríguez, 20, died.

There had been little noise on the matter until Programa Siete Días, a Costa Rican news program on Channel 7, aired a 10th anniversary show featuring the story Monday.  The 73-year-old accused was arrested in Trinidad de Alejuela the next day, said the office of judicial investigators.

The Channel 7 program claimed that sufficient time had passed for the case to expire.  The judicial release said that Villagra also believed this to be true, and had returned to Costa Rica from the United States where he had been hiding.  Judicial investigators said this piece of information is incorrect and the case against Villagra is now being reactivated.

Bikini fashion show and sale
to benefit disabled children


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fundación Roberta Felix is hosting a concert and bikini fashion show with famous Costa Rican models to raise money for disabled children Thursday.

The organization develops resources for disabled children in rural communities in Aguirre, and is looking to open two new special education classrooms.  Skyrocketing enrollment has brought the current facilities to near capacity, said a release.  Their foundation center also offers physical and occupational therapy and is set to begin speech therapy in March.  

The night will feature some of the country's better known models showcasing bikinis from Jungle Avenue in Quepos.  The swimwear will later be auctioned off to raise money for two new classrooms that will provide special education services.

The event is scheduled to run from 9 p.m. to the early hours of the morning at the Disco Arco Iris in Quepos, said organizers. Live cabina music is being provided by Luana and Friends while money is being raised through the bikini auction, raffles, and a 2,500 colons ($5) entrance fee.    

The foundation, that began in 2003, distributes wheelchairs, orthopedic shoes, donated food, clothing, diapers, and also helps with fund raising for specialized surgeries, prosthetic devices and other items for handicapped children, said a release from the organization. 

More information is available on a Web site at www.felixfundacion.org.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 37  


Scientists concerned by warmer temperatures for turtle eggs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Scientists from the University of Exeter, England, say that if global warming occurs at predicted levels, marine turtles could be in serious trouble.  The research was conducted on loggerhead turtles, a species that nests at the Parismina beach on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast.  The turtles are also known by the Latin name Carreta carreta. 

The team of experts, based at the university’s Cornwall campus, estimated that an increase in temperature of just one degree Celsius could completely eliminate the birth of male turtles from some beaches. A rise of three degrees Celsius would lead to extreme levels of infant mortality, they said.

The sex of marine turtle hatchlings is determined by the temperature of eggs during incubation, with warmer temperatures producing females and cooler conditions producing males. Temperatures during nesting also need to be at the right level for eggs to develop healthily and hatch successfully, said the university.

The research, which is published in the journal Global Change Biology, analyzed 26 years of loggerhead turtle nesting and climate data and compares the findings with models for future temperatures. The study shows just how vulnerable marine turtle populations are to changes in temperature, said the release. 
“We are stunned by these results and what they could mean for the species in the future,” said Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter's School of Biosciences. “In particular,
we're concerned that populations that are already predominantly female could become 100 percent female if temperatures increase by just one degree," he said, adding:

"This is a major issue for nesting populations further south, in Florida, for example, where males are already in short supply.”

The research team recommends that conservation efforts are focused on protecting northern breeding grounds. While in Florida, 90 percent of hatchlings are female, in North Caroline 42 percent are male, said the release.  Scientists believe some of these males currently travel south, bolstering southern populations. A decline in male turtles in northern populations, as a result of global warming, could potentially affect marine turtles across the continent, said the researchers.

Godley said, “In the face of climate change, it's essential that we prioritize the protection of sites that produce males not only for local breeding success, but to help support potentially vulnerable populations further south.”

The work was carried by the University of Exeter in partnership with the Bald Head Island Conservancy and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.


Faithful Villalobos treasurer admits to having a bad memory
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

Banking executive-turned-campesino Federico Fallas took the stand at the Oswaldo Villalobos trial and told the court that he could remember very little of what happened in the final months of The Brothers investment operation and the Ofinter S.A. currency exchange.

Fallas took the stand in a wrinkled flannel shirt and jeans with the cuffs rolled up, and described himself as a “peon” on a farm in the Guácimo area. He gave a rambling account of his history, starting with his first job at the Banco de Costa Rica in 1974, where he eventually rose to become the general manager for foreign operations. He lost his job with a change of government in 1998, he said.

As he had made the acquaintance of Oswaldo Villalobos as a customer who was “highly esteemed at the bank,” Fallas was able to ask about work with him. “Come on Monday,” he quoted Villalobos. That was Aug. 17, 1998, the last time in about three hours of testimony he was easily able to remember a date or figure.

Fallas only worked for Oswaldo Villalobos at the currency exchange house downtown, as treasurer, he said. He had also been hired to work opening accounts overseas in the names of various corporations, but he couldn’t remember the names or dates and didn’t know what they were for. He had a power of attorney for this task, and remained in charge of the accounts. This meant signing large numbers of checks, sometimes 100-200 per month, but he didn’t know the destination of those funds, he said.

He did become concerned upon seeing the account statements with large numbers of checks he presumably had signed that had been returned for lack of funds. At that
point he took his attorney’s advice and voluntarily turned the documents over to investigators, not involuntarily as stated in a previous A.M Costa Rica article.

Fallas also invested with Luis Enrique Villalobos. When pressed by prosecutor Walter Espinoza, he managed to recall the amount, 17 to 19 million colons ($45-$50,000 in September 2002).  At that point, he said, he was told his money “wasn’t needed anymore” and it was returned with interest.

As someone with a licenciatura in finance, he said he understood the risks that must be taken to produce such a high return but trusted the Villalobos brothers totally. Ultimately, his role was to do as he was told by Oswaldo, his boss. “A peon does what his boss tells him to,” he said. “If he’d told me to make ceviche, I’ll make ceviche.”

At one point during Fallas’ testimony presiding Judge Isabel Porras had to reprimand audience members to refrain from laughing or face expulsion from the courtroom.

Two investors, a married couple, also testified. Vilma Retana, gave $50,000 to Enrique Villalobos, having heard about him from a neighbor. She was unsure of most details. Her husband Raúl Soto, remembered it as $40,000 but was also vague on details. Judge Porras and Judge Manuel Rojas looked with some doubt at Soto’s new plastic residency identification card, apparently not one of the better ones.

A brief period before the witnesses arrived allowed the judges to read into the record some files relating to the seizure of documents at various locations. Among others, a raid at Bertrand St. Onge’s condo in Jacó produced some papers and a copy of Bob Marley’s “Legend” album, which perhaps explains the operation the St. Onge group ran to smuggle hashish from Jamaica to Canada.


Cantaloupe being sold in Costa Rica get a clean bill of health from Dole
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Good news for cantaloupe lovers in Costa Rica.  Marty Ordman of the Dole Food Co., Inc. said that none of the Costa Rican cantaloupes that tested positive for salmonella is  being sold here.  He said that all of the fruit in question was grown by a third-party farmer in Costa Rica, but that
all of it was exported from the country to Dole suppliers.
Dole has recalled 6,104 cartons of cantaloupe that were delivered to the eastern United States and Quebec, Canada.

In an unrelated matter, David H. Murdoch, president of Dole, is scheduled to meet with President Óscar Arias Sanchéz at 3:30 p.m. today.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 37  


Pop star and Costa Rica formally agree on exploitation fight
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pop Star Ricky Martin and President Óscar Arias Sánchez launched a program to combat the trafficking and exploitation of children Monday.  The initiative, entitled, “Llama y Vive” (Call and Live) creates telephone support lines that are meant to offer protection and prevention from human trafficking, said a release from Casa Presidencial.

The program has already been embraced by Peru, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Ecuador with plans to introduce it in Mexico, Columbia and Washington D.C., said the release.  The program also had been announced here when Martin's visit was expected. He sang Monday night.

The human trafficking contact number in Costa Rica will be 9–1–1.  Radio and television commercials featuring the Latin American singer will be used to promote the campaign here, said Casa Presidencial.

Arias said that the trafficking of people, of children, for labor, sexual, and military reasons, or to sell their organs, is a truly grave problem throughout the world.  He said that the industry generates $10 billion annually.  The United Nations Children's Fund, better known as UNICEF, said that at least 1.2 million children are victims to human trafficking every year. 

Before presenting the program, Arias and Martin listened to a special presentation by the 141 children of the

Casa Presidencial photo
Ricky Martin and Óscar Arias Sánchez field questions about the new program against trafficking.

Orquesta Sinfónica Infantil.  Martin finished by telling those present not to be afraid to denounce those involved in human trafficking, said Casa Presidencial. 
 
Organizations involved include the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, the Organización Internacional de las Migraciones, and the Fundación Ricky Martin.


Immigration employee held as leader of trafficking ring
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have arrested an immigration employee as the presumed head of a human trafficking gang. Three other persons have been detained on the same allegation, and six illegal immigrants have been captured.

The immigration employee, identified by the last names of  Ávila Gómez, is the second to be detained in less than a week. An employee at the Peñas Blancas immigration station on the Nicaraguan border was detained inside Nicaragua last week with six foreign passports in his possesssion.

The latest arrests took place in southwestern Costa Rica at the Barú checkpoint in the Canton of Osa. The illegal immigrants who said they were either going to stay in Costa Rica or go to Spain or Canada were in a microbus driven by a person identified by the last name of Castro.

In addition to Ávila, investigators detained a man with the last name of Borbón Mesén and a woman with the last name of Valverde, they said.
Two men from Colombia with the names and ages of   Ramos, 36, and Uribe, 32, and two Colombian women with the names and ages of Belalcaza Angola, 34, and Rueda Vargas, 46, were detained when police suspected that the refugee identification they carried was false. Also detained was a Dominican woman, identified by the last names of  Matías Peralta, and the 6-year-old daugher of one of the Colombian women. The girl has the last names of Rueda Vargas and has Panamanian nationality.

Investigators connected with the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería determined that the refugee cards carried by the travelers were the result of a scanning and copying process.

A release from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía  y Seguridad Pública said that the gang charged $1,500 a head to smuggle foreigners into Costa Rica. In some cases the gang accepted partial payment and collected the final installment when their travelers arrived in San José.

All those detained were spending Tuesday night in Quepos to be brought to San José today.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 37 



Surf photo expert hopes her work will draw sponsors
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Shifi Ettinger has been a driving force behind popularizing the Costa Rican surf scene for the last three years, and she's been traveling with the tour on her own buck.  Ms. Ettinger volunteers her time taking action-packed digital shots that are used to showcase local surf events in almost all Costa Rican newspapers, including a recent front page spread in La Nación. 

Ms. Ettinger said that she's out there for the kids, hoping people take notice and start sponsoring some of them.  Most of the surfers don't have corporate backing and have to pay their own way on the tour, she said.  She added that “Hopefully it helps them surf harder if they get cool shots too.”  The 30-year-old photographer said that she gets a free stay when traveling with the tour, but that she is basically spending her life savings on her true passion.

Her career began in her home country of Israel after she received her first camera at the age of 8.  Since then she shot in New York, Mexico, Panamá, and other countries around the world, she said. 

The photographer has upgraded her equipment since her days in Israel and now shoots with a Canon EOS 20D digital camera and 500 millimeter lens, she said.        

Life on the circuit is good, she told a reporter. The beaches are great. The surfers are really amazing, and the Costa Rican people are cool.  In her free time she likes to paint, hit the surf and boogy board.  Ms. Ettinger's favorite beaches to shoot are Playa Hermosa and Playa Negra. She said that she has always been interested in photography and plans to be taking pictures until either she can't see or can't click the trigger on a camera.

Shifi Ettinger, her camera and some of her work

Ms. Ettinger has a Web site  but said she rarely has time to update it.  The next event in the Circuito Nacional de Surf is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday in Playa Nosara, Guanacaste.


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