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(506) 2223-1327       Published Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 40      E-mail us
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two for the ashes

. . . to dust thou shalt return

Devout Catholics were easy to spot Wednesday by means of the ashes on their forehead. The day, Ash Wednesday, is the start of Lent, the season of penitence and reflection leading up to Easter Sunday.

At the Catedral Metropolitana, the Rev.  Francisco Mata led a team to administer the ash and water mixture to hundreds. The idea is to reinforce the concept of human mortality.


church full of persons
A.M. Costa Rica photos/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas


U.S. again cites problems with rights in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

As is usual, Costa Rica came in for some criticism when the U.S. State Department released its annual human rights survey of the world.

While Costa Rica generally respected the human rights of its citizens, the report cited these problems: substantial judicial process delays, particularly in pretrial detention and civil and labor cases; excessive penalties for violations of libel laws; domestic violence against women and children; child prostitution; trafficking in persons, and child labor.

The report only touched on another major area, that of the theft of real estate from Costa Ricans and expats by means of fraudulent paperwork.

The report said that as of December the Defensoría de los Habitantes received 31 complaints of police abuse, 21 from prisons, seven from citizens, and three from migrants.

The State Department also noted that at year's end there were 2,099 persons in pretrial detention, representing approximately 15 percent of the prison population. Foreigners are disproportionately jailed for preventative detention, but the report makes no mention of this disparity. The full Costa Rican report is HERE.

For Latin America, the report once again was critical of Cuba and Venezuela.

The report says in Cuba, suppression of freedom of speech increased last year, and that harassment of dissidents intensified, including the beating of activists. The report says at least 219 political prisoners remain behind bars in the Communist-led country. Cuba denies holding political prisoners.
The State Department report said the government of President Raúl Castro continues to restrict citizens' access to independent information and has sought to restrict their access to the Internet, despite allowing ordinary Cubans to own personal computers for the first time.

The report says non-government organizations noted an erosion of democratic and human rights in Cuba's ally, Venezuela. The report cited what it called hindrances and threats to freedom of expression, including media freedom, along with harassment and intimidation of independent media outlets and journalists on state-owned media.

The report notes Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a referendum that allows him to seek re-election. It was his second bid to remove term limits after voters rejected a similar proposal in 2007.

The State Department did report some progress in Latin America.

The report says in the past year, Argentina's government convicted several perpetrators of rights abuses that were committed during the 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship. It also says authorities conducted trials that had been suspended in 1989 and 1990 when such perpetrators were pardoned.

The document says in Colombia, which is at war against rebel and paramilitary forces, the government's respect for human rights continues to improve despite ongoing problems. It says a number of commanding officers are under investigation for gross human rights violations.

The report says that generally, electoral institutions throughout the Western Hemisphere maintained the independence and rigor they have gained in recent years.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 40

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Villalobos case figure
Keith Nash dies at 96


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Observers of the Costa Rican scene have seen another chapter close in the saga of the Brothers Villalobos. Canadian Keith Nash, who is generally credited with being a factor in the downfall of the ponzi scheme, has died at 96, according to a Canadian newspaper. The Hamilton, Ontario, Spectator said the man died Jan. 20.

Nash was the first to file a court case against Luis Enrique Villalobos. But it actually was his son, Michael, a lawyer, who forced Villalobos to embark on a successful defensive propaganda campaign. The son came to San José when his father was near death and hospitalized. In the father's papers he found those famous guarantee checks emitted by Villalobos. He took them to a bank only to find that the account on which the check was written had hardly any funds.

What followed was an amazing response by Villalobos. At one point he had the elder Nash removed from one clinic and put in another under the care of a Villalobos-appointed physician. Individuals whom Nash had named to handle his affairs quit after Villalobos suggested they were trying to steal the man's money.

Villalobos suggested the same thing about the son and even included written propaganda in envelopes he used to pay his many creditors their monthly high interest. Most seemed to believe Villalobos.

When Nash recovered he sought legal action to get his money. Nash gave Villalobos $189,000 in 1996. By the time he filed his case, he was owed $1.5 million because he had never withdrawn interest that ranged up to 3 percent a month.

In December 2002, shortly after Villalobos fled and became a fugitive, the lawyers for Nash released the testimony that Villalobos gave in the court case. When Nash became sick in 1999, Villalobos also filed a court action claiming that Nash was not of sound mind.

The deposition shows Villalobos as a person being less than candid even while testifying under oath, according to the translation of the court session. For example, Villalobos denied he had an investment office on the second floor of Mall San Pedro. When asked if he had commercial activities related to financial consulting and as a financial and exchange broker, he said:

"It is true that I have a business office, but as a real estate agent and other activities like the purchase of invoices to be collected later, and we give advice to investors and we investigate possible businesses on which we obtain a commission."

Villalobos also denied that he sometimes sent flyers to investors in which he related the state of their accounts, the interest rate and the company’s general policies. When asked if he owed Nash money, Villalobos said that because he paid some of Nash’s medical bills, the Canadian investor might owe him money instead.

To anyone paying attention, the Villalobos testimony raised many red flags, yet creditors continued to support him. Many still do even after a trial court here convicted his brother Oswaldo of fraud and illegal banking.

Late 2002 were the days when creditors were urging that The Tico Times and A.M. Costa Rica should be firebombed, and when this newspaper was receiving death threats.

Nash returned to Canada in 2006, according to the Ontario newspaper. Of course he never got any of his money back, and Villalobos continues to be a fugitive.

A.M. Costa Rica has renewed its $500 reward for his capture, and a Canadian creditor has pledged $150. But most creditors are older, too, and few have shown the desire to seek out Villalobos.

Business leaders give Arias
their own economic plan


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An association of business operators has presented President Óscar Arias Sánchez with proposals to confront the deacceleration of the economy. The group, the Unión de Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, met with Arias Wednesday afternoon.

A key element of the plan is a change in the law to permit employers to assign full-time employees less than eight hours of work a day. The proposal will be presented to the legislature today.

Arias has called on businesss owners and operators to cut their own salaries and to reduce working hours of employees instead of firing individuals. However, there are constrictions on that plan under current law. Under some circumstances, employers have to pay the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social the equivalent of a full-time contribution even if the employee only works a few hours a day.

The business leaders also want a reduction in interest rates and to reduce the percentage of cash banks must keep on hand for solvency to increase funds available for lending. The group also asked Arias to keep the government from imposing any more bureaucratic requirements to maintain efficiency.

Casa Presidencial said that Arias and his ministers would study the proposals and respond to the business leaders in 15 days.

Canadian dies in Jacó surf

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian lawyer, a tourist, died Wednesday morning after he was swept by a wave and his head hit a rock in the surf at Jacó. The Cruz Roja said the accident happened about 9:20 a.m. and that the man died a short time after reaching the local clinic.

The Brockville, Ontario, Record and Times made a fuller identification than the Cruz Roja here. They identified the man as Robert Wilson, 60. The man was vacationing here with his wife, Margaret, said the newspaper.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 40


Immigration police end long vacation for Hawaii fugitive
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fugitive from drug charges in the state of Hawaii spent nine years in Costa Rica using the name of his brother, police said Wednesday.

Flynn arrested
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Henry James Flynn in handcuffs
The man, identified as Henry James Flynn, came into custody Tuesday morning when he showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Pavas where he was seeking the renewal of his falsified passport.

The man entered Costa Rica from the south sometime in 1999 and lived in the vicinity of San Vito de Coto Brus, said police.

He was able to do so apparently legally because he contracted marriage with a Costa Rican woman, they said.  Police claimed that the marriage was only for residency and that Flynn paid the women to do so.

Flynn appears to have had remarkable luck in maintaining his freedom for 15 years. A warrant was issued for him in 1992 in Hawaii, police said.  In 1999 he was able to obtain an Arizona driver's license in the name of his brother, Brian, who is younger by just one year, police said. 

In February of the same year he obtained a U.S. passport, also in the name of Brian James Flynn, they said.

Flynn even was able to join the U.S. Army without arousing suspicion. He did so in 1995, they said.

Immigration officials are verifying his identity, and he is a likely candidate for deportation. There were no details on the drug charges he is facing in Hawaii, but that state has modified significantly its drug laws since Flynn fled.

Costa Rican officials said the arrest was the product of the work of investigators at the U.S. Embassy. Francisco Castaing, head of the Policía Especial de Migración, said it appeared that Flynn paid $250 to the woman he married.


Another runaway mom seeks sanctuary here, TV station says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country has received yet another fugitive mom, according to a Springfield, Missouri, television station. That brings the total of women who are known to have fled here with children to about a dozen.

The latest fugitive was identified by station KY3 as Trina Atwell, who vanished Feb. 2 with her daughter Emily Alina Koyama.

The father, Roy Koyama, was quoted as saying he was going to marry Ms. Atwell in August.

The television station said that U.S. officials here have confirmed that the girl, who is 7 months old, is in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has become a magnet for women fleeing with
minor children since the security minister, Janina del
Vecchio, declined to allow an Heredia women to be extradited to face a U.S. federal charge of international child kidnapping. The woman, Chere Lyn Tomayko, was able to leave custody and is believed still living in Heredia.

In the latest case, the Missouri television station said that Ms. Atwell left a note in which she accused Koyama of abusing her. That seems to be a condition in winning support from Costa Rican officials, although no one here seems to check on the veracity of the claims.

The woman obtained a U.S. passport for the baby with the permission of the father, the television station said. He said he thought the pair were going to a family reunion, according to the station.

International treaties say that such cases should be resolved in the court of initial jurisdiction, but Costa Rican judicial and police officials, mostly women, believe they can adjudicate a case more competently here.


Chief defender sees unconstitutional pitfalls with victim law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of the nation's public defender agency has asked President Óscar Arias Sánchez to veto the proposed law to protect witnesses and victims. The law was authored by the executive branch.

The head of the agency, Marta Iris Muñoz Cascante, said that there were major unconstitutional aspects to the proposal that already has been passed by the Asamblea Legislativa.

Among these is the article that allows for secret witnesses in court trials. The identity of a witness can be hidden from the defendant and his or her defense lawyer, said the letter that the woman directed to Arias. The idea was to protect the witness from retribution.

In addition, Ms. Muñoz objected to the flagrancia process
in which defense lawyers have just 24 hours to prepare a case. These are cases when the defendant has been caught in the act or nearly so. A pilot program is in effect in San José, but the proposed law expands the use of such procedures to the whole country.

Ms. Muñoz noted that in 24 hours the nature of a substance that is key to a drug case cannot be determined.

The defense chief also objected to a section that calls for preventative detention in organized crime cases, trafficking cases or when the defendant has been the subject of two or more judicial proceedings. She said this violated the standard of innocence before being judged guilty.

Her final concern was with a change in the law that allowed police officers to conduct interrogations. This is not now allowed, and the questioning of defendants is left to the prosecutors. She said there was danger of coercion.


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U.S. engineers major crackdown on Sinaloa drug cartel
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday announced the arrest of 52 persons on narcotics-related charges as part of a major campaign against a notorious drug cartel based in Mexico. That brings the total number arrrested to more than 700.

Holder told reporters at the Justice Department that a 21-month law enforcement investigation known as "Operation Xcellerator" targeted the infamous Sinaloa cartel, which, he says, ships illegal narcotics from Mexico to the United States and Canada.

In addition to making hundreds of arrests in communities across the United States, federal agents and police confiscated 23 tons of illegal drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. The arrests Tuesday and Wednesday were in California, Minnesota and Maryland.

Holder said Mexican and Canadian officials cooperated with the investigation.

"It is no secret that we are now seeing many more international aspects to cases that were once only domestic ones," said Eric Holder. "As our world grows smaller, the ability of criminals from outside the United States to operate within our borders grows larger. In the face of internationalized crime, there are no more important partners than our law enforcement counterparts abroad."

As part of the investigation, officials said they confiscated three aircraft, three maritime vessels, nearly 150 vehicles and 169 weapons.
The acting administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele Leonhart, said the Sinaloa cartel is feeling the pressure.

"We know the impact of our enforcement is being felt," said Michele Leonhart. "Since the beginning of 2007, cocaine prices have more than doubled, while purity has dropped by more than a third. With this operation, we have denied the Sinaloa cartel and its networks nearly $1 billion in drug revenue."

Suspects indicted as part of the operation face charges of racketeering, drug smuggling, money laundering and illegal weapons possession.

Drug related violence has escalated along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2006 when Mexican officials launched a campaign involving thousands of soldiers to fight drug gangs.

More than 6,000 people were killed last year in Mexico in violence related to illegal drugs.

Attorney General Holder praised the Mexican government for its efforts to attack the problem.

"The Mexican government has been courageous during the last two years to directly confront the drug trafficking cartels," he said. "And I stand before you today to say that we are ready and willing to continue the fight with our Mexican counterparts against these violent enterprises."

The Sinaloa cartel is also suspected of laundering millions of dollars in criminal proceeds from illegal drug trafficking activities. The cartel has ties to Costa Rica.


Another Mexican newsman murdered in Sunday incident
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A gunman killed a radio reporter Sunday in the Mexican state of Veracruz. He is the second journalist killed in that country so far this year.

He was Luis Daniel Méndez Hernández, 33. He was killed as he was visiting his birthplace, Huayacocotla. At 11:15 a.m. he was heading home when an assailant from a nearby group shot him in the back at point-blank range. He was a reporter for radio station La Poderosa, an affiliate of the Radiorama network, in Tuxpan, Veracruz state He was shot four times.

Police have arrested three suspects who are believed to have
been hired by organized crime bosses. Colleagues of Méndez Hernández said the motive for the killing was unclear. He had been assigned to cover the State Congress and the Puerto de Veracruz Commission.

Police have not ruled out any theories yet, including one that Méndez Hernández, a journalist for five years, may have been killed for the material he reported.

He often broadcast accounts of violent incidents and organized crime's activities.

Feb. 13 the news photographer Jean Paul Ibarra Ramírez from the newspaper El Correo in Guerrero state was murdered.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 40



A.M. Costa Rica

users guide


This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Statistics

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.



Spanish minister in Quito
seeking to solve tax dispute


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Spain's foreign minister is in Ecuador to try to resolve a tax dispute involving the Spanish oil company Repsol.

The minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, is scheduled to meet Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Foreign Minister Fander Falconi during his three-day visit.

Relations between Spain and Ecuador have been complicated in recent months by President Correa's demand that the oil company Repsol repay nearly $450 million in windfall taxes. Repsol is one of Ecuador's biggest foreign investors and operates three oil fields in the Amazon jungle.

Correa has threatened to freeze Repsol assets if it does not pay the debt this week. Repsol is challenging Ecuador's tax law in the World Bank's dispute court, the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Spain's foreign ministry says during Moratinos' visit, the countries are expected to sign an agreement to allow about 300,000 Ecuadoreans to participate in Spain's municipal elections in 2011.

Spanish officials says Moratinos also will formalize a program that will redirect $30 million in Ecuador's foreign debt towards programs to rebuild its coast and support migrants.

Japan and Perú agree
to hold March trade talks


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Perú and Japan have agreed to begin talks on a trade accord next month in Tokyo. Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and his Peruvian counterpart, José Antonio Garcia Belaunde, agreed to the plans Tuesday in Japan.

In the trade negotiations, Japan is expected to seek lower duties on cars sold to Peru, while Peru likely will push for better access to Japan's farm and fisheries markets.

Peru and Japan have not always had such good cooperation. Last year, the countries' leaders held talks for the first time in nine years.

Relations between the nations deteriorated after Japan refused to extradite former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who fled to his ancestral homeland of Japan in 2000 in the midst of a corruption scandal.

Fujimori spent five years in Japan, before flying to Chile to stage a political comeback. He was arrested soon after his arrival in Chile and extradited to Perú, where he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison in an abuse of power case. He also is on trial for alleged human rights abuses committed while he was in office.

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