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These stories were published Monday, Feb. 24, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 38
Jo Stuart
About us
Unique concept: City will answer alarm calls
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San José’s city government wants to go into the alarm and security business.

Johny Araya, the incoming mayor, announced this at a session with top-level police officers, who were discussing citizen security in the capital.

Araya said that the city would soon be competing with private alarm companies, and the city would offer the services cheaper because municipal police already are available to answer calls.

He said the service would be for homes, businesses and offices. It would consist of a system of alarms and monitors similar to those already offered by private industry in the country.

He said all the legal, material and financial work would be ready in three months and that the service would be offered slowly, sector by sector, to the 11 districts of the city.

Araya’s plans were contained in a report of the meeting provided by the Ministerio de 

Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The report did not make clear how the service envisioned by Araya would be different than what the Fuerza Pública is supposed to do in answering emergency calls from the public.

The City of San José also has a police force which concerns itself mostly with activities in the downtown. The Fuerza Pública is under the ministry.

Araya was meeting with Rogelio Ramos, minister of Seguridad Pública, Walter Navarro, director general of the Fuerza Pública, and representatives of the Policía de Control de Drogas, as well as regional commanders of the Fuerza Pública in the city.

Ramos said that one activity planned to help suppress crime is that the anti-drug police soon would be giving training to municipal police, who are identified by their gray uniforms. Ramos said that when Araya was mayor previously there was good relations between the major police forces. Araya left to help his brother Rolando in an unsuccessful bid for the presidency. He won reelection earlier this year.

Plant manual will feature new discoveries
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

During the last 10 years scientists discovered more than 500 new species of plants here, which is why a new manual is being prepared to identify the country’s flora.

One of those involved is William Bush, uncle of the president of the United States. Although strongly insisting that William Bush was just a private person, President Abel Pacheco invited him to lunch Friday at Casa Presidencial. Bush is a director of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The St. Louis-based botanical garden— in collaboration with the Museo Nacional and the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad here — is about to produce a Spanish-language manual of plants of Costa Rica. Peter Raven, director of the botanical garden, is an advisor to the institute here. Also involved in identifying the various plants is the Universidad Nacional, according to a release from Casa Presidencial.

Bush and Pacheco share an interest in the environment and biodiversity. Examples of the manual are available on the Web at 


A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
William Bush is greeted by President Abel Pacheco. U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich gives the introduction.

The printed manual is expected to make its appearance in three volumes in April, according to a report from St. Louis. The botanical garden said that the work is being helped along by a $30 million donation by Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The national Science Foundation also is involved in support.

The manual is also expected to have a presence on the Web with maps of plant distribution and color images of most plant families.

March 9
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Unity-Costa Rica will hold a blessing of animals Sunday, March 9, in Piedades de Santa Ana.

"This delightful bilingual service will include a short message on the role of the human being with animals and a special blessing with a food treat for each animal," said an announcement from the church.

The public is invited, and a collection will be made. Call 203-0198 or 381-5147 for further information.

The group said that animals that will be involved in the 11 a.m. program must be registered ahead of time. The location is 150 meters South of Bar La Enramada on the right with large green gate, said an announcement.

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You say you want action???

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I decided to try something new (nothing else was working this year!) and put a photo in an ad for my rental. 

That was on Monday, by 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday it was rented — not only that, the person rented it long distance.  After 10 years of renting apartments that's the first time that's ever happened.  I will definitely advertise with you and always put in a photo!  Thank you very much and keep up the good work.

Christine Essex
San Antonio de Escazú
A.M. Costa Rica photo contest rules specified
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Additional specifics are being announced for the first A.M. Costa Rica photo contest.

The deadline for submission is April 15. The contest was announced in November.

Five categories have been established:

1. DEADLINE NEWS: A news photo that shows a breaking news event, such as, but not only, crime, accidents, fires, arrests.

2. SCENIC: Landscape scenes which may or may not include people as a secondary emphasis.

3. WILDLIFE: Photos that have as their principal subject one or more animals, plants or insects. 

4. SPORTS: A photo related to one of the major or minor sports, team or individual.

5. PEOPLE:  A photo that has as its principal emphasis one or more persons, including individual portraits. 

BASIC RULES: The photo must be taken by the person who submits it, and he or she, as a condition of submission, agrees to give A.M. Costa Rica the right to publish the photo in A.M. Costa Rica. Upon publication, the photo will be covered by A.M. Costa Rica’s copyright, which the newspaper will happily assign back to the contestant upon request. As a condition of submission, the contestant affirms that he or she owns full rights to the photo and that it has never before been published in any professional medium.

The photo must have been taken within the borders or territorial waters of Costa Rica between Nov. 15 and the contest deadline. 

Only one entry per photographer is allowed in 

each category. Judges reserve the right to place the photo in another category during the selection process.

Employees, shareholders or interns with A.M. Costa Rica may not enter the contest. 

This is an open competition. No distinction will be made between professional and amateur photographers.

A.M. Costa Rica, at its option, will publish photos and information including the name of the photographer, as submissions are made.

The management of A.M. Costa Rica and judges are the final authority on contest rules and submissions.

TECHNICALITIES: The photos must be sent digitally via e-mail to editor@amcostarica.com, and the subject line must specify “photo contest.” Within the body of the e-mail, the contestant must specify into which category the photo is submitted. The photo should be between 4 and 8 inches in width and contain no less than 72 pixels per inch of density. Each photo should not be larger than 200 k.

The e-mail message must clearly state the name and the circumstances surrounding the taking of the photo and the date the photo was taken. 

The photo should be in jpeg format and sent as an attachment with the file name starting with the number of the category in which it is being submitted followed by the name of the photographer.

For example, the file name of a photo in the sports category taken by Mr. Jones would be 4jones.jpeg or 4jones.jpg

PRIZES:  A first place winner will be named in each category, and the prize will be $100 paid via Pay Pal, the electronic fund-transfer system.

Author of financial guidebook to talk in Costa Rica 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A clinical psychologist who once dropped $35,000 in a fraudulent investment scheme is coming to Costa Rica to discuss, among other things, the beliefs and habits that sometimes subvert the way people use money.

She is Maria Nemeth, author of “The Energy of Money: A Spiritual Guide to Financial and Personal Fulfillment.” She will speak Sunday at 10 a.m. in Unity-Costa Rica headquarters located in Piedades de Santa Ana. That same day at 2:30 p.m. she will host a seminar at Unity Satellite Center in Bello Horizonte.

A summary of her book on the Web page of amazon.com said that the ordeal of losing money caused her to learn “how most of us develop relationships with money, and the ways in which we subsequently can bring these in line with our actual dreams and realities.”

An announcement from Unity said that her visit could not be more timely “in light of the negative shift in finances for many people in Costa Rica,” an obvious reference to the collapse of several investment operations here.

Ms. Nemeth led seminars on personal improvement and has written books on the spiritual and psychological dimensions of personal finance, according to Unity.

She takes a relentlessly positive approach, a major affirmation of which was her TV guest 

appearance with Oprah Winfrey last March, said a Unity announcement. She also has been a guest expert on National Public Radio’s "Talk of the Nation" discussing the challenges faced by winners of lotteries, it said.

Ms. Nemeth will discuss the link between psychology and finances in her free presentation. The talk is titled  “Would it be all right with you if life got easier?”  Her afternoon seminar is titled “The Energy of Money: Having what you want with clarity, focus, ease and grace.” 


Maria Nemeth

The three-hour workshop will be presented in English with simultaneous headset translation into Spanish at a cost of 9,000 colons, said Unity. For further information or to register, Unity may be contacted at 203-0198 or 381-5147. 

Plane shot down, 3 taken hostage, say terrorists 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Rebels here say they are holding hostage three Americans whose plane they say they shot down earlier this month. The rebels want the military to withdraw from rebel held areas in return for the Americans' safety.

Rebels say the Americans were spying for the Central Intelligence Agency when their plane was shot down Feb. 13 over the southern region of Florencia.

In a statement broadcast on rebel radio, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia says they will only guarantee the lives of the three Americans if the military withdraws from the region.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the men are not agents of the intelligence agency but private civilian contractors working for the U.S. Defense Department. 

He refutes the rebel claim that the single engine Cessna was shot down, saying the best information the White House has is that the plane had engine trouble and was forced to crash land.

Fleischer would not comment on U.S. news reports that President George Bush has sent 150 more U.S. troops to Colombia to help search for the Americans. He says the United States has "common cause" to work with Colombia's government to defeat the terrorist group.

With an estimated 17,000 fighters, the terrorist group is the country's biggest and best-armed rebel group.

This is the first time that people working for the U.S. government have been captured in the 38-year civil war between leftist rebels and the country's right-wing paramilitary army.

Castro reminisces with 
Vietnamese counterpart

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HANOI, Vietnam — Cuban President Fidel Castro met briefly Saturday with fellow aging revolutionary and cold war veteran Vo Nguyen Giap. 

The two shared memories of past struggles with western powers during the Vietnam War era at Giap's villa here. The visit followed an official welcome ceremony and talks between the Cuban dictator and Vietnam's Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh, President Tran Duc Luong and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai.

Castro arrived late Friday for a stopover ahead of his participation at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Malaysia on Monday.

Another volcano
eruption hits Mexico

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Residents here were treated to a display of sparks and ash on Friday when the Popocatepetl volcano shot a plume more than 1,000 meters into the sky.

Authorities said the minor eruption posed no danger due to strong winds that blew the ash and water vapor away from the capital, 65 kilometers northwest of the 5,450-meter-high mountain. The same winds also blew away pollution that normally covers the city, allowing residents to enjoy the fireworks.

It was Popocatepetl's second eruption in two days.

Haitian radio closes
in face of threats

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Radio station Radio Haiti Inter will stop broadcasting here on Saturday because of constant threats of violence against its journalists. 

The announcement came Friday from Michelle Montas, the widow of the station's slain owner, Jean Dominique.

Ms. Montas said the decision to temporarily stop broadcasting was made to prevent possible attacks on employees. She did not say when the radio would resume broadcasts.

Gunmen attacked the house of Ms. Montas last year, killing one of her bodyguards. Her husband was shot and killed in 2000 by unknown attackers.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says these attacks appear to have been carried out by militant supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In a letter to Aristide earlier this week, the Committee criticized his government for failing to protect the safety of journalists.

Friday's announcement by Radio Haiti Inter comes days after another radio station, Radio Metropole, halted news broadcasts to protest similar threats.

Tax expert here
to help U.S. citizens

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The taxman cometh. To the U.S. Embassy in Pavas, that is.

An embassy spokesperson said that the tax assistant specialist would visit Tuesday through Thursday and that short, individual consultations would be available on a first-come, first-serve basis in the consular section.

An announcement said that the I.R.S. aide will be available Tuesday from  9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesday from 8:15 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday will be a short day from 8:15 a.m. to noon.

U.S. citizens need to bring photo identification and check in with the consular cashier, although the service is free.

Trio douses man
to steal some tools

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Lomas de Desamparados man suffered burns when assailants doused him with gasoline and set him ablaze early Sunday. The three attackers wanted to steal some tools, said police.

The man, Jorge Palomo went to Hospital San Juan de Dios in stable condition, police said.

More illegals caught
in downtown sweep

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In what is beginning to seem like a weekly event, police grabbed 44 foreigners without immigration papers in the center of San José. Among those arrested were a U.S. citizen and a south African, according to police.

The sweep took place Thursday and involved the Policía Especial de Migración, the Fuerza Pública and the Sección de Capturas of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Meanwhile, in Filadelfia, Guanacaste, some 50 Nicaraguans were grabbed in one location by immigration police. They said the individuals had entered the country illegally to work on a farm.

Costa Rica's cricketers to
take to the roots here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican Cricket Association is back on the road for the first time since its Nicaragua jaunt, this time headed for Límon.

Richard Illingworth, association president, said Sunday that the association’s team will play a match Sunday against Límon at the behest of two cricket enthusiasts from England, who want to re-introduce cricket to the Caribbean coast as a serious sport.

Andrew Redfern and Adrian Hall are putting together a project, called PROCRICAR, which seeks to restore not only cricket, but also West Indian culture in general to the Caribbean coast. Michael Cannon, a Brit who has been a regular visitor to Costa Rica for many years, is sponsoring the project.

The match Sunday represents an important showcase for the pair’s efforts, said Illingworth. He added that it also will do the association’s development no harm.

Redfern and Hall hope to secure expansion funding from England —the home of cricket — to take the project forward, said Illingworth. They have already made progress over the course of the last six weeks in the Puerto Viejo area, he continued.

The match in Límon is scheduled for a 9:30 a.m. start. Illingworth is encouraging all to attend, saying: “Limon is always fun and this is a rather special occasion, [attracting] special outside interest which, thanks largely to Michael Cannon, should advance the project in particular and cricket in Costa Rica in general.”

For further information, contact either Barry Ashworth at barrycor@racsa.co.cr, or at 391-2080; Tim Baker at timbakercr@hotmail.com, or at 289-7009; or Richard Illingworth at trillingworth@yahoo.co.uk, or at 241-5708.

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks
Abagnale flirts in true conman style as he cons American banks for millions of dollars

Movie Review

Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken and Nathalie Baye
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Based on the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr.

“Do you know why the Yankees always win?” Because the other team can’t keep their eyes off the dazzling pinstripes. That is the philosophy behind the fraudster Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he charms his way into bank vaults with phony checks in the movie Catch Me If You Can. 

The Steven Spielberg produced and directed film is based on the true story of 60s real life master of deception Abagnale, who bogusly impersonated an airline pilot, Harvard graduated doctor and Berkeley trained lawyer while defrauding banks of millions all before he had reached the age of 21. 

Abagnale is chased by FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) from Miami to Atlanta and from New Orleans to France. Hanratty stakes his career on catching the young con but often appears foolish as Abagnale slips through most of the traps.

Much of the movie is about the chase and the criminal-pursuer relationship that develops between Abagnale and Hanratty. In typical Hollywood fashion the pair become friendly nemeses. Abagnale calls Hanratty on Christmas Eve for years knowing the work-focused agent will be hard at work on the case.

These conversations show the loneliness and connection shared by the two. During one Christmas call Abagnale seems desperate. He pleads with Hanratty to just take him home, revealing how youthful and in-over-his-head Abagnale is.

Abagnale becomes miffed when his family is broken by poverty and divorce. He runs away from home in despair at the separation of his parents, whereupon his crimes begin. He uses tricks learned from his father (Christopher Walken) to convince bank tellers to cash his fake checks and the scam grows from there until he becomes an expert forger of all documents: diplomas, passports and payroll checks. 

The 60s style and smooth Spielberg directing make the movie not only entertaining but pleasing to watch. The movie captures the fun beach boys aspect of the 60s with its costumes and commercial aviation theme, a time when pilots were looked upon almost as astronauts.

One flaw with the story is its treatment of women. It seems Hollywood political correctness was dropped completely and women performed their stereotypical role of always falling for flattery. Abagnale is mainly successful by choosing young females he could seduce into cashing checks or giving him information. 

In real life good frauds have used sex to get their way with women, but are women terminally stupid as portrayed in "Catch Me If You Can?" 

Maybe strict feminists should stay away from this movie, but if you allow a little leeway for some male-fantasy then you can enjoy the movie no problem.

-Garett Sloane
Professional Directory
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.


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Investor with dogs gets a string of lucky breaks
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

She had all but reached the end of her time in Costa Rica. Her financial losses in the failed Brothers investment firm had all but ended her dream in paradise. She should be back living in England right now.

But Margaret Cowell, a broke Brothers investor, is still in Costa Rica, thanks to a seemingly constant stream of A.M. Costa Rica readers who read about her situation and decided they wanted to help.

Ms. Cowell’s story first appeared in A.M. Costa Rica Jan. 16. The story reported how she was about to leave the country after losing $25,000 with the Brothers, the failed investment firm operated by Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho. 

The story also told of her greater plight: how she was living on handouts and proceeds from the sale of household goods and how she was faced with the possibility of putting her pets — three dogs and one cat — to sleep since no one wanted to adopt them.

Later a U.S. Embassy employee adopted one of Ms. Cowell’s dogs.

Then Feb. 7, A.M. Costa Rica published another story about Ms. Cowell. A reader had contacted Ms. Cowell after reading the first story and said he wanted to help her. In that story, it was reported that the reader had sent Ms. Cowell $500. He is a dog lover, said Ms. Cowell at the time.

Since then around five or six more readers have contacted Ms. Cowell offering help ranging from rent-free accommodation and a home for her dogs 

to working at a bed and breakfast, where she would stay with and help the owner to revitalize the business. The dogs would have a home at the bed and breakfast, too, sharing it with the owners’ dogs.

And only recently another person has come forward. This person has offered to allow Ms. Cowell to stay at her home for two months until she is able to stabilize her situation or find homes for the rest of her animals.

Meanwhile, the man who donated $500 has been in contact with Ms. Cowell again. He apparently said to Ms. Cowell that what he did for her was "God’s will." He maintained that he wants to be anonymous, said Ms. Cowell.

So Ms. Cowell’s future in Costa Rica looks to have been extended once again. She moves out of her own home in the mountains overlooking Heredia this weekend. 

From there, she will either go to live with a friend — who has also offered accommodation — or to the home of the woman who offered two months’ accommodation for her and her dogs. She has not yet finalized her plans there, though.

There is also the possibility of a job on the horizon, but Ms. Cowell, cautious as ever, is not holding her hopes too high.

Maybe it is the thought of cold and wet England, as she puts it, driving her. But the luck that seems to surround her and the determination and will to go on she emanates has bought her precious time here again. 

"It might work out, mightn’t it?" she says.

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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