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These stories were published Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 40
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confab
at
Pacheco's
pond

The mother duck discusses matters of state with her four offspring.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A bunch of quacks are heard at Zapote's Casa Presidencial
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica, long known as a haven for refugees, has its own refugee family at Casa Presidencial.

A mother duck found the placid and well-guarded grounds of the compound in  Zapote to be a perfect place to raise a family. So four ducklings are now three months old and have a safe playground in the lily pond of the presidential grounds. The feathered refugee came from a less protected park in

San Francisco de Dos Ríos to the south.

Groundskeeper Edwin Andrade, a nine-year veteran of taking care of the presidential gardens, said the only complaints might be from the small fish that inhabit the pond. Mother Duck has drastically reduced their numbers.

Employees at the Costa Rican white house expect the ducks to stay for awhile because they are not a migratory species, they said. And the only foxes nearby are of the political kind.

Government promises action against shoddy road work
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco administration is moving against possible corruption projects managed by the ministry that constructs highways.

Javier Chavez, minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte, sat shoulder to shoulder with President Abel Pacheco Tuesday in a meeting where more openness was promised for activities within the ministry.

The ministry has been cataloging what is being considered shoddy work on public projects, particularly highways. The measures announced Tuesday seemed reasonable and typical of those in place elsewhere.

For example, the Laboratorio Nacional de Materiales y Modelos Estructurales will be asked to provide technical support in controling the mix of asphalt that goes into roads. Standards would be enforced and private laboratories that inspect public projects would have to certify the quality of the work in ways acceptable to the ministry.

The ministry also will require a financial analysis of the companies that participate in the bidding process and a general manager will be named to be responsible for all aspects of public projects, said the minister.

Chavez said that these changes are in response to what he called possible errors encountered in the reconstruction of some highways. 

Among the problems facing the ministry are the access roads to the Tempesque bridge that links the mainland with the Nicoya Peninsula. The bridge is a gift of the government of Taiwan and has been constructed under their control. But the 16 kms. of access roads (9.6 miles) were built by Costa Rican companies 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
President Abel Pacheco and Javier Chavez join in promising openness and measures against corruption.

and are already falling apart. The bridge had not opened due to the condition of the roads.

The reconstruction of the Los Anonos bridge between La Sabana and Escazú continues. Chavez promised that the bridge would be ready before Christmas. It still is not open because workmen found metal problems overlooked in the original engineering inspections.

Chavez said that the ministry would actively seek out corruption and inefficiency in the troubled projects.

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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.

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San Antonio de Escazú
Some spring break rules to live by while you are here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Each year the U.S. State Department issues warnings to more than 1,000 U.S. colleges in anticipation of many students going on spring break and making fools of themselves, possibly overseas. The U.S. State Department calls young people the most vulnerable travelers, and seeks to protect them from jail, accidents or worse. (http://travel.state.gov/studentinfo.html)

So A.M. Costa Rica reporters wanted to take a crack at  a dozen or so more specific rules for college students who may travel here:

1. Guaro is not your friend. It looks like vodka and even tastes a little like vodka. But vodka does not paralyze your entire nervous system after three shots.

2. Do not swing at the cop. Those little blue trucks with the steel box on the back have not been designed for your comfort. And the only thing worse than a Costa Rican drunk tank is a mobile Costa Rican drunk tank.

3. She/he probably does not love you at first sight. But maybe your credit card.

4. You may be a hero at the college swimming pool, but rip tides eat everyone unless you swim under the protection of lifeguards.

5. Dad would be really unhappy with a $50,000 medical airlift back to your hometown, so keep the speed down.  Costa Rican roads were made for oxcarts, not speedy Subarus.

6. She/he probably does not love you at second sight, either.

7. Monkeys think you are stupid, too, and they bite.

8. Taxi drivers think you are stupid, too, but most don't bite. 

9. This is a little country but if you get lost in the jungle you can die.

10. No, you can’t swim from here to there.

11. Just because he/she speaks English, he/she may not be your friend.

12. The quickest way to get your name in A.M. Costa Rica is to go out alone after dark.

United States, Canada condemn Caracas bombings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
with wire reports

The United States is condemning the bomb attacks early Tuesday against Spanish and Colombian diplomatic offices in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. The bombings followed criticism of the two countries by President Hugo Chavez on Sunday for alleged meddling in Venezuela's political crisis. 

Venezuelan officials say the early-morning explosions at the Spanish embassy and the Colombian consulate were the latest in a troubling series of events in Venezuela since last week, highlighting the need for progress in dialogue between Chavez and the opposition.

The powerful blasts, within a 15-minute span, injured at least four people and caused material damage at the diplomatic posts and nearby buildings.

At a news briefing, Philip Reeker, a State Department spokesman, condemned the bombings and called for an "expeditious and thorough" investigation of the attacks, which he noted had followed criticism of the two governments, among others, by Chavez.

Reeker said the attacks, and other recent developments in the long-running political crisis, underscore the need for the Venezuelan parties to uphold an agreement they made only last week to avoid violence and curb political incitement.

Canada, too, has raised its concerns over the bombings.

"Canada calls on the Government of Venezuela to investigate these murders and bring those responsible to justice," said Bill Graham, Canadian foreign affairs minister. "These killings and other more recent developments are contrary to the spirit of the Declaration Against Violence and in Favour of Peace and Democracy signed on Feb. 18." 

The declaration was signed by the Venezuelan government and opposition parties in Caracas following talks facilitated by Cesar Gaviria, the Organization of American States secretary general, said a release from the Canadian foreign ministry. Under this peace and non-violence pact, all parties agreed to respect democracy and freedom of speech, and to condemn violence and work toward peaceful solutions, added the release.

The bombings came less than two days after Chavez had criticized Spain and Colombia, along with the United States and Gaviria for alleged interference in Venezuela's internal affairs. 

All of them had spoken out against the arrest last week of business leader Carlos Fernandez, a key figure in the two-month general strike against Chavez that faded out earlier this month. Another strike leader, labor federation chief Carlos Ortega has gone into hiding in the face of a warrant for his arrest.

Gaviria has been trying to mediate an end to the Venezuelan political conflict. The United States, Spain and Colombia are among members of an international "group of friends" aimed at supporting the negotiating process.


 
Ex-secret police officers 
face murder charges

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — A judge here has indicted two former commanders of the country's feared secret police for the 1974 murder of exiled army General Carlos Prats. 

The judge Tuesday indicted retired General Manuel Contreras and his second-in-command, Pedro Espinoza on homicide charges. Three others, two ex-military officers and a civilian, Raul Iturriaga, Jorge Iturriaga and Jose Zara, also were charged with masterminding the crime. 

The five defendants deny the charges. 

Authorities allege the five men plotted the assassination of General Prats and his wife, Sofia Cuthbert in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The two died in a car bomb explosion Sept. 30, 1974. They had fled into exile in Argentina following the 1973 military coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. 

Report: Illegal narcotics  suppress economies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report by the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board says that the most damaging effects of illicit drugs are on the long-term economies of developing nations. 

The Control Board's annual report recognizes that illegal drugs create serious social problems in developed nations. But the report says the stress on social problems often overlooks the major impact of illegal crop cultivation on economies. According to the annual survey, the production of cocaine and heroin is stunting economic growth in developing nations. 

Illegal crop cultivation can provide jobs for farmers and workers in processing laboratories, giving a short-term boost to developing economies. But the report finds the overwhelming share of profits made in the international narcotics trade are reaped by the nations where drugs are sold and consumed. The report says farmers who grow illegal crops earn one percent of the money ultimately spent on drugs while 99 percent is earned by narco-traffickers. 

Philip Emafo, the Board's president, cited Colombia as one example of a nation where economic growth declined in spite of increases in coca bush cultivation. Afghanistan, he said, is another example. 

"Evidence suggests that Afghanistan witnessed negative economic growth and instability from the time it first engaged in large scale illicit opium-poppy cultivation," he said. "In contrast, Pakistan recorded the strongest economic growth rate at the time when opium production declined significantly." 

Emafo said that global production of illicit drugs increased 35 percent in the last two years. Afghanistan is once again the world's largest opium producer, followed by Burma and Laos. 

Police to toughen up on drug accessories on net

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. law enforcement officials announced Monday a nationwide crackdown on sales of drug paraphernalia over the Internet.

The U.S. Justice Department announced that 55 people have been charged with trafficking in illegal drug paraphernalia. A total of 45 businesses, from Pennsylvania to California, have had their inventories seized.

Under U.S. law, it is a crime to sell products that are mainly intended for the use of illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine. These include items like marijuana bongs, or water pipes, and pipes and miniature spoons and scales for cocaine.

John Ashcroft, the attorney general, said Monday's crackdown targets what he calls the "explosion" of drug paraphernalia businesses accessible on the Internet.

"It is troubling enough for parents to realize that stores with these illegal products may be operating in their neighborhoods," said Ashcroft. "But it is even more frightening when parents understand that with a click of a [computer] mouse, a child's room or college dormitory could become a showroom in which drug paraphernalia merchants can advertise, market and sell illegal products."

Ashcroft says customers who want to visit some of their favorite drug paraphernalia websites are in for a big surprise in the days ahead. They will be automatically redirected to the website for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Youth dies in crash
that injured trio

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 17-year-old was killed, and three adults injured early Tuesday morning when their Nissan Sunny car flew off the road and collided with a tree, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. The incident happened in Bagaces de Liberia.

Officials identified the injured adults with the last names of Garcia, 22, Calvo, 20, and Flores, 21. The name of the youth who died was not released. Officials said the youth died at the scene.

The injured adults were taken to a hospital in Liberia where they were retained as a result of their injuries. The incident occurred around 1:40 a.m., said the officials.

Nightclub encounter
proves to be fatal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization is looking into a possible murder in Pavas after a man died there Tuesday morning.

According to officials, the incident happened in Pueblo Nuevo de Pavas, a nightclub in Pavas, Monday night. Officials said the incident involved two people, the victim and the presumed assailant.

The victim, identified by the last name Badilla, 27, and the presumed assailant apparently had personal problems.

At some point the presumed assailant reportedly left the nightclub before returning again, said officials. It was at this time that the incident initiated as the pair began to scuffle. 

Badilla then received gunshot wounds to the back of his head and left shoulder, continued officials. The officials said Badilla died at the scene. The incident occurred at around 2:20 a.m. 

Shortly after the incident occurred, said officials, the presumed assailant surrendered to authorities and is being held.
 

Pedestrian struck down

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Apparently unaware of a vehicle heading his way, a man in Tres Ríos was killed Monday night trying to cross the road.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the man by the last name of Barrantes, 49. Officials said that the incident involved an Isuzu Trooper, and occurred near Dulce Nombre de la Union.

Bolaños remains firm
against official corruption

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños reassured the Organization of American States Tuesday that his government remains “firm and resolute” in its determination to fight corruption. 

He also urged international financial institutions to give more attention and economic aid to Central America. 

“My commitment to fighting corruption has been, is and will remain unyielding,” declared Bolaños at a meeting of the organization’s Permanent Council, reaffirming as well Nicaragua’s commitment to treaties to fight terrorism and arms and drug trafficking. 

Turning to the recent report on the diversion of Nicaraguan arms to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, President Bolaños said he had given specific instructions “for a thorough investigation at the national and international level, and trust we can count on the cooperation of countries that are friends of this Organization.” 

He lauded the Organization of American States for “the exceptional role it has played in Central America, particularly in Nicaragua,” and said recent Permanent Council resolutions were not only “an eloquent demonstration of efficiency” but also “a clear demonstration of the usefulness of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” 

Secretary General César Gaviria praised Nicaraguans for their “great commitment to democracy,” telling the President: “Throughout these past 13 months holding the reins of Nicaragua’s destiny, you have demonstrated your commitment to transparency, honesty, austerity, and to a frontal and sustained campaign against all forms of corruption.”
 
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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.


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Lawyers

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Also, we invite you to join one of the most active discussion groups on the case.  Find out what people who care are saying. Join at irccr-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

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An invitation to enter our photo contest
The first A.M. Costa Rica photo contest welcomes your submissions and will award a prize of $100 in each of five categories.

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. 


Deadline is April 15

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 as 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.

Some investors seem to be undergoing mood shift 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Changes in attitude are taking place among Villalobos investors in Costa Rica. More and more are fed up waiting for the fugitive financier to reappear and are leaning to strong police action.

Postings to a host of Internet discussion lists and individual comments on the street are less and less optimistic that the man, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, will voluntarily return to Costa Rican and distribute the estimated $1 billion he holds in trust for his investors.

Privately, even some very close to the investigation and legal process confess their boredom with lack of a quick resolution to the case.

Villalobos closed up his Mall San Pedro office Oct. 14 and went into hiding. The best guess by police officials is that he is holed up on a heavily protected ranch in Nicaragua, although no one here knows for sure.

An effort to hire a lawyer by the United Concerned Citizens & Residents of Costa Rica has not reached its goal of $100,000. And no announcement has been made of a firm deal between the group and José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, the lawyer. The group had said it would sign an agreement this week, but others say the organization has not raised enough money to meet the demands of the lawyer.

The group wants to bring criminal and civil action against key members of the Costa Rican government and the judiciary in order to speed the investigation along. The group believes officially that Villalobos is innocent of wrongdoing and has been persecuted by bureaucrats working at the urgings of jealous bankers.

But as time goes on, more and more of the estimated 6,400 investors question exactly how Villalobos was able to pay up to 3 percent per month that he gave his investors. The manner of his business was supposed to be a secret, but some key judicial officials quickly agree that money laundering is the strong charge that Villalobos will face, that and a charge of fraud for what investigators say was a ponzi scheme in which investors were paid from their own principal in order to attract more investors.

However, a charge of illegal financial intermediation (being a broker) is likely to fail because investigators can’t seem to find how Villalobos was working as an intermediary. There does not seem to have been other parties borrowing the money, and this would be necessary for an intermediation charge to stick. That is the most minor of all the charges, and failure to prosecute on this charge actually would lend support to allegations of money laundering.

Villalobos has not been charged with anything, although an arrest warrant has been issued based on allegations of fraud and money laundering. In 

Costa Rica, the charging process comes at the end of the investigation, which still is going on.

Some Villalobos investors were encouraged when investigators detained José Victor Poo, who had been hiding out in Panamá. Poo is a close associate of Luis Milanes, operator of Savings Unlimited, another high-interest operation that failed in late November when Milanes left the country with Poo. Some investors had money in both operations. Milanes may have taken as much as $260 million. He still is at large.

But if Poo could be run down and captured, there is hope for the arrest of the other fugitive financiers, the investors reason. And more are seeing the arrest and return of Villalobos as the best route for getting at least some of their money returned.

 A judge ordered Poo held Friday for four months of preventative detention while agents continue to investigate the Savings Unlimited disaster. Naturally, they will want to ask him if he knows the whereabouts of Milanes.

Another Villalobos group headed by Canadians is seeking to raise money to seek international arbitration under a treaty that was designed to protect investors from predatory governments. Even though some may agree with the spirit of the group, investors are becoming a hard group from which to solicit money.

The Canadians want to hold Costa Rica’s feet to the fire for failing to exercise oversight of the Villalobos investment operations. However, many of the investors were outraged when The Tico Times published stories about efforts by an elderly investor to recover his money from Villalobos in 2001. A similar reaction probably would have greeted any government effort to intervene in the highly informal investment relationship between Villalobos and his predominately North American clientele.

Despite the defections of some investors, a hardcore handful is keeping the faith. And faith it is because the Villalobos investment operation was closely tied to Christianity. He sprinkled biblical terms in his written messages and was a solid member of the International Baptist Church from which he recruited investors. 

One couple this week said they attributed a miraculous healing  of the husband two years ago to the fact that Villalobos agreed to pray for the man after he was badly burned. They are unshaken in their belief that Villalobos will return to distribute all the money he has in trust.

Others call this anticipated return of the financier "the second coming," a clear reference to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in Christian theology.

Meanwhile, investigators are keeping a close eye on the comings and goings of Villalobos family members on the assumption that one or more are in contact with him.


 
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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