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(506) 223-1327            Published Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 38             E-mail us    
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Lent begins, but many Ticos are thinking of a week at the beach
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday marked the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter when the faithful are supposed to fast and abstain from meats, according to tradition.

The period actually is 46 days because Sundays are not counted.

The time is called cuaresma in Spanish, and the period is supposed to be one of spiritual renewal.

For some Costa Ricans the renewal comes during Holy Week before Easter. March 31 to April 7 this year. The week is usually a holiday, and many residents head for the beach to get in the last good days before the rainy season starts. 

Holy Thursday, this year April 5, and Good Friday, April 6, are legal holidays and dry laws are enforced. A Sala IV constitutional appeal against the ban on liquor failed this month, although the prohibition is taken with a grain of salt at tourism resorts.

For others Holy Week is a time of procession and religious devotions. Nearly every Catholic church holds some form of procession where the patron saint of the parish is venerated. The big one is Good Friday at the Catedral Metropolitana where the black-clad image of the Virgin Mother is carried from the Iglesia La Solidad four blocks away. There the marchers join with a funeral procession for Jesus Christ that included a life-size image of the crucified body. Archbishop Hugo Barrantes Ureña usually leads the afternoon march around the downtown, as hundreds of tourists photograph the event.

For photographers, there are many processions. The first is Palm Sunday, April 1 this year. Several more take place in the vicinity of the cathedral during Holy Week.

Those outside the Central Valley may find that the locals churches put on processions that rival those in the Central Valley. La Fortuna de San Carlos, for example, hosts a Good Friday march that includes Roman legionaries and marchers

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
The Rev. Guido Villalta supervises distribution of the ashes.


Parishoner received a cross on the forehead

representing biblical characters.

Ash Wednesday, called Miercoles de Ceniza in Spanish, is the day a priest places a cross on the forehead of the faithful with the command to reject sin or with a warning that life is short. The Catholic Church recycles, so the ashes come from palm fronds used in the previous Palm Sunday.

About 500 persons attended the Ash Wednesday Mass at 8 a.m. at the cathedral.

The Rev. Guido Villalta told them that the world was in chaos with wars in Iraq, the Middle East and elsewhere where life was not respected. He urged the faithful to fast, pray and make donations for spiritual renewal.


Robbery suspect dies in struggle with cruise passengers in Limón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men tried to stick up a microbus containing cruiseship passengers in Limón Wednesday, but one of the armed assilants died, according to police.

The robbery happened about mid-afternoon when the microbus containing at least 10 tourists stopped at a popular parking place so the Carnival line passengers could take photos.
One of the robbers came into the bus and held a gun to the head of the driver.  When he tried to leave someone grabbed a necklace or a strap he was wearing and he fell to the ground. An autopsy will show if he suffered a broken neck or soffocated.

The dead man was identified by the name of Segura. He was 20, said officials. The bulk of the tourists were from the State of Ohio. The departure of the cruise ship was delayed but all the passengers are believed to have left.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 38

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Sala IV reject appeal to put
free trade treaty in braille

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Persons who cannot see will be spared the duty of reading the free trade treaty with the United States.

The Sala IV constitutional court has declined to order the government to publish the lengthy document in braille.

The constitutional appeal came July 5 from Oscar López Arias, a legislative deputy who is himself blind. He said in his appeal that neither the Asamblea Legislativa nor the Imprenta Nacional planned to reproduce the text of the treaty in a way that could be read by the blind. The decision was released Wednesday

López also said that the Sistema Nacional de Radio y Televisión has not provided simultaneous translation into sign language for its programs that cover the legislature.

Although the Sala IV magistrates rejected the appeal, they suggested that the television system consider the complaint.

The Imprenta Nacional already had to reprint copies of the treaty because opponents argued that the original press run of 1,000 was not sufficient for everyone in the country to see the treaty. However, the treaty is available in both Spanish and English on the Internet.

San Carlos hosts festival
of arts March 23 to 31


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A free nine-day festival with more than 2,000 artists will crowd the streets of San Carlos, next month.  The event runs from March 23 to March 31, and organizers of the seventh annual Festival Nacional de las Artes have scheduled a number of music, art, theater and cultural displays.

The event will be centered in the town square of Ciudad Quesada, as San Carlos is also known, where many of the dances, concerts, children's theater and movies are taking place, said organizers.  Concerts for big name performers will be held on a street in front of the Iglesia Católica de Ciudad Quesada.  Featured musical acts include Editus, Gandhi, Mundo Loco, Humberto Vargas, la Big Band, Adrián Goizueta, María Pretiz and Orquesta de Lubín Barahona.  The major concerts are scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. everyday of the festival, said organizers.

Other theater events have been scheduled for the Casa de la Cultura and Parque Central in Quesada.  Special guest Tom Zabel, a professional marionette artist from Germany, will be one of the central theater attractions for both children and adults, said organizers.

Students participate in recital

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Students of Carol Wunderle in The Suzuki Piano Talent Education Program have presented a recital. 

Those performing were:  José Leonardo Brenes, Escazú;  Cynthia Soto, Escazú; Couloir Hanson, Escazú; Alejandro Faerron, Escazú; Emma Cazzulini of Moravia;  and Jonathan Duarte of Heredia, who performed selections from the final Volume 7 of the Suzuki Piano School. 

The next studio recital will be May 17. Leo Brenes, Escazú,  Ana Luisa Bonilla, Escazú; Alejandro Faerron, Escazú; Emma Cazzulini, Escazú; Juan José Chacón, Escazú; and Jonathan Duarte, Heredia also performed at the International Suzuki Festival  Feb. 9.  All programs are open and free to the public.  Information: 232-3999.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 38  


Those in tourism businesses still find a fair beneficial
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fair even in the days of the Internet, video and teleconferencing seems to be worthwhile, according to those at a tourism investment fair Thursday.

The event at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú is where big and small businesses met to showcase their wares.  Unlike Expotur in May where tourism providers seek to meet wholesalers, this event was about investing in Costa Rica tourism.

Around 300 representatives from hotel chains, developers, banks, airlines and other businesses were there staffing booths. The general sentiment seemed to be that such events are essential to making connections and gaining future customers.

Joana González, coordinator for Interval International, a worldwide time share company, said that in her line of business Costa Rica is considered to be growing fast.  The company sends representatives tourism conferences to seek out opportunities to buy up time shares.  At this conference she said she made 10 contacts for new hotels that are being built.

Delta Air Lines, Inc. was attending the event to offer discount flights for traveling business personnel, said Juan Carlos Calderón, company sales representative.  Calderón said that organizations such as Proctor & Gamble, the U.S. Embassy, Chiquita, Carlson Wagonlit, and Roche all do business with Delta because they have personnel with high numbers of flights.  He said that these conferences are essential to gaining new partners.

San José native Cynthia Duran was on hand to represent and advertise for Hacienda Pinilla, an upscale  property and community developer in Guanacaste.  Ms. Duran said the event is important because it reinforces and promotes Costa Rica as a great tourist destination.  Her company also meets the occasional renter or buyer, but said that having a presence at the events is important regardless.

This sentiment was shared by Scotiabank representative Rosemary Biramontes C.  She said that meeting new clients is important, but making an appearance among the international business community is essential for future

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Even at the fair the cell phone rings

potential.  It's more of an investment, she said, so that when companies and business people require finances they know what banks are in the area.  Mrs. Biramontes was promoting new commercial and personal loan options for foreigners looking to develop tourism or residential projects.

Banking options at the trade show ranged from personal loans to those looking to finance their development, their own home or their business. Representatives of Banco Banex were at the conference showcasing their new loan application process available specifically to U.S. citizens.  A financial analysis can now be provided by the bank in 30 days, said representatives.

The two-day event ended Thursday.


Villalobos employee didn't know for whom he was working
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

A customer-service employee of The Brothers high-interest investment operation testified in the Oswaldo Villalobos trial Wednesday, along with the notary who registered many of the shell companies used in the Villalobos financial operations.

The employee, David Jiménez, worked briefly attending investors in the waning months of the business at the Mall San Pedro. He had taken the job after seeing a flier at the mall seeking “bilingual staff with Christian principles.” Jiménez reported to David Matthison. After a month of training, he attended clients with assorted matters and interest payments.

Jiménez didn’t know the name of the company he was working for or who were the owners. Prosecutor Walter Espinoza produced a payroll for Inversiones Artísticas de Teatro S.A. with the name of Jiménez on it. This is not a company that has figured in discussions of the Villalobos financial operations.

In client relations, Jiménez handled investments of “$10,000, $20,000, $30,000” but not “exorbitant” amounts. If customers expressed doubts, he would say “if you don’t trust us, don’t invest with us.” As for the income, he would just say “offshore” activities provided the income to pay interest.

In a new revelation about the case, Jiménez said that it was a man he thought was the manager of the Ofinter S.A. exchange house who collected the money at the end of the day. The connection between the two operations physically and operationally has been the subject of many questions by both the defense and prosecution.

Dealing with investors was not difficult before the July 4, 2002, raid that crippled  the investment operation, he said.
It was more difficult afterwards, though he emphasized by waving a finger in the air that the Villalobos brothers had never missed an interest payment to anyone previous to the government’s intervention.

Despite a protest by the defense based on attorney-client privilege, Spanish-born Carlos Fernández testified about his work as a notary for Oswaldo Villalobos. Fernández said he started to work for Villalobos in the mid-1990s commenting that the property and legal affairs of Villalobos and his immediate family were “very disorganized” and he helped put them in order. Later he registered many of the shell companies used in the Villalobos financial operations, but said they were off-the-shelf companies formed ahead of time to avoid delays in the registry office.

This led to connections like the office of Fernandez remaining the legal address of the company, but he disavowed involvement in management. He vehemently stated that he’d only met Luis Enrique Villalobos once, at the wedding of Oswaldo’s daughter. Oswaldo Villalobos is on trial on charges of fraud, money laundering and illegal banking. Luis Enrique Villalobos is a fugitive.

Three expat victims of the collapse also testified. Due to problems scheduling a translator, Richard MacFarland, Ram Rajal, and Maurice Windrey testified in Spanish ranging from halting to quite fluent, to the satisfaction of the court. Their stories were similar, with investments of $20,000 to $54,000, guarantee checks they never tried to change, and moderate suffering as a result of the loss.

“I just want my $40,000 back,” said MacFarland. Rajal had a longer history, dating to 1991. He at first refused to tell the court how much his interest payments were, saying it was nobody’s business. After being told it was indeed the court’s business by presiding judge Isabel Porras but maybe he just didn’t remember, Rajal allowed that was the case.
Still, Rajal got away without giving a precise figure.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 38    


Cell tower radiation well within accepted limits, ICE reports
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The telephone company said that its cell phone system emits radiation well within acceptable levels.

There was no obvious reasons given why the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad came out with the results of its four-year study Wednesday. But the release made references to allegations by those who are near the towers of the cell phone system.

The company said that a study had been conducted in conjunction with the Republic of Argentina. It cited recommendations of the World Health Organization and other agencies.

The company, known as ICE, said that Dr. Walter Giménez of the Universidad Tecnológica de Buenos Aires had visited the country five times to make studies.

The researcher measured the radiation of the cell phone towers in the San José area and in Puntarenas during the hours of peak use. The study measured radiation from the use of TDMA and GSM cell operations, the company said. It said that one reason for the study was the anticipated operation of 600,000 more cell lines.
A study also was done in Coronado where measurements were made from 25 meters to 250 meters from the cell tower, the company said.

The radiation at the base of the tower was .00012 milliwatts per square centimeter and at the greater distance the measurement was .0006 milliwatts, said the company.

These are well below the standards published by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission of .53 milliwatts for TDMA and 1.2 milliwatts for GSM, said ICE.

Although there are a lot of concerns voiced on the internet over cell telephone radiation, the American Cancer Society says that there is no evidence that such radiation causes any damage to humans.

ICE has been under fire for the radiation emitted from its electrical transmission lines and is under court order to provide those near the lines a summary of available information.

The cell phone itself is a source of radiation, and most researchers say that the data is contradictory. However, many advise using a hands-free setup to keep the device away from the head and to limit conversations.


Policemen will not be wearing guns during Monday's march
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister is disarming police and putting policewomen in the front row to guarantee a peaceful march by free trade opponents Monday.

Meanwhile, opponents say they are fielding a socio-labor alliance the likes of which has not been seen since the revolutionary days of the 1940s.  Albino Vargas Barrantes, secretary general of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, called the effort to defeat the free trade treaty an historic gesture similar to the Central American war against filibuster William Walker in 1856.

The security minister, Fernando Berrocal, said Wednesday that the Fuerza Pública would defend the protesters' rights to demonstrate but that officers would not permit blockades. Berrocal said that officials were certain that the march would be peaceful and that the police involved with the demonstration have been told to not wear guns.

Anti-treaty marches have dwindled in support, but now the
 agreement is on the verge of being approved in the Asamblea Legislativa. This is the last chance that opponents have to shake the resolve of one of the 38 lawmakers who have said they will approve the treaty.

Vargas in a statement published on his organization's Web site made reference to the so-called combo of 2000 when marchers and union activities from the public monopolies forced then-president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez to shelve legislation that would have opened up broad sections of the economy to competition.

Vargas called on the users of public services to ignore the paralysis that the demonstration would have on day-to-day activities and to join the march that will lead to "a true democracy with real justice and social equality."

Vargas notwithstanding, the real danger of violence comes from the university communities which have blocked roads and set up barricades in the past. Some are self-styled Communists or anarchists who conduct their activities with masked faces.


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