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(506) 223-1327            San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 41             E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Anarchists have a federation, says the sign.

Giant march
seeks to derail
trade treaty

Story is HERE!

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Avenida 2 is jammed for at least eight blocks

A.M. Costas Rica/
Saray Ramírez Vindas
Fuera Gringos: Invitation to go.

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Barricades kept crowd from assembly buildings

A.M. Costas Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Women police got to be in the front lines

Woman in condo plunge dies, and her U.S. companion is held
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The woman who survived a nine-story fall at a Sabana Oeste condominium complex has died.

An attendant at Hospital San Juan de Dios said Monday that the woman, Xinia Redondo Zárate, 33, died Monday afternoon. She suffered multiple injuries in the fall, which happened early Friday at the Las Brisas condominiums.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Investigating Organization said that the man with whom  the woman shared an apartment has been put in jail for three months while an investigation takes place. He was identified as Mark Bernor. He is believed to be a U.S. citizen.
Bernor was detained at the same time the woman went to the hospital. Investigators in a summary provided Monday still characterized the fall as being due to undetermined reasons.

The dead woman was described as the mother of a 5-year-old and a previous resident of the León XIII section of Tibás. She had been living at the condominium for about three months. Investigators were hoping to talk to her to determine what happened. They said they were not sure if she jumped or was pushed.

She did not die immediately because her fall was broken by the roof of a parking shelter where her body was found by paramedics.

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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 41

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ICE announces an upgrade
of fiber optic service

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad says it will install a $59 million upgrade to its broad band Internet service within a year.

The project, "Frontera a Frontera," creates five interconnected fiber optic rings for the transmission of data, voice and video, the telecommunications monopoly said in a release.

The total length of cable is 1,092 kms. or 679 miles.  The lines will run from Peñas Blancas in the north to Paso Canoas at the southern border and from Limón on the Caribbean to Quepos on the Pacific, said the company known as ICE.

Home users will benefit as well as commercial customers, said the company.  The service should go online in the first four months of 2008, the company said.

Taiwan will make donation
to improve rural networks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taiwan has announced a $1 million donation to assist in building up the digital infrastructure in rural Costa Rica.

The Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología, the government's science and technology department, will receive the money to put toward Centros Comunitarios Inteligentes (intelligent community centers) project, said a release.  The nationwide network of these centers is meant to reduce the technology gap in rural Costa Rica.  The Costa Rican government has already selected approximately 80 communities to be the recipients of the program.

The donation ceremony is scheduled to take place in the Salón Dorado of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores Today at 2:30 p.m.  Maria Eugenia Flores, the minister of Ciencia y Tecnología, Chancellor Bruno Stagno Ugarte and Taiwanese Ambassador Tzu-Dan Wu are expected to attend.

Quake sends a wakeup call

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Light sleepers were jolted awake about 4:42 a.m. Monday when an earthquake hit near the Pacific coast.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica estimated the quake at a magnitude of 4.2. The observatory said the epicenter was about 10 kms. (about six miles) southwest of San Marcos de Tarrazú.

The observatory said that the quake was felt strongly in the Central Valley and less strong along the coast. Getting the blame was a local fault. No damage was reported.

Sunday is for the dogs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 10th annual Festival de Canes, or dog festival, is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Sunday.  The event will feature activities such as, karaoke, making dog masks, theater, and face painting, said organizers.

The event is organized by the Asociación Nacional Protectora de Animales.  Francisco Munguía has been invited for a demonstration of live painting and other presentations have been prepared by the Museo de los Niños, Universidad Latina, and Teatro los Despiertos.

The dog- and fun-filled day is taking place at Plaza de Deportes Roosevelt in San Pedro. 

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Costa Rica
third newspage

Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 41

Are you considering doing business with a burglar alarm company?

If so, you should contact me first
for my opinion

From a hotel owner:

'At this time we have a deposit and all looks good!!  Thank you for your help, and I must say your paper is impressive, and I had no idea you had such a circulation around the world.  Received many inquiries for our hotel for that reason.'

She used our classifieds!

A.M. Costa Rica photos by Saray Ramírez Vindas and José Pablo Ramirez Vindas
One marcher holds a U.S. flag on which opposition to the free trade treaty (TLC in Spanish) has been inscribed. Another marcher in a Che Guevara T-shirt promises fighting in the streets, while a man who may be a farmer says that if the trade treaty is approved,
Costa Ricans will be slaves like the burro on his sign. Meanwhile, Ottón Solís explains to a reporter why he was turned away from the legislative building. He was taking a group with him, and the guards at the complex did not want too many people to enter.
March against free trade seems to demand the status quo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A crowd estimated up to perhaps 80,000 persons filled downtown San José Monday to protest the free trade treaty with the United States. But despite all the activity, there were no viable alternatives offered except the status quo.

A big surprise of the day was Rodrigo Carazo, an ex-president, who addressed the protesters in front of the Asamblea Legislativa. He said the free trade treaty was not something that should be decided by 38 persons. He meant the 38 legislative deputies, a two-thirds majority, who have said they will vote for the agreement.

The problem is that a vote of the legislature is exactly what the Costa Rican Constitution says should take place.

Another big surprise was the lack of incidents during the march, which began about noon. Only a few participants wore ski masks and there were only minor confrontations in San José where the largest protest took place.

In Siquirres, protesting farmers closed the main highway to the coast, Route 32, with flaming tires. Fuerza Pública officers arrested six persons.

Although organizers promised Sunday to leave lanes of Paso Colón and Avenida 2 open for traffic, transit officials closed the streets. The crowd filled at least eight blocks of Avenida 2.

There was no indication that the march, as big as it was, changed any minds among members of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration or legislative deputies. A percentage of the marchers were students, including U.S. citizens. The public universities had given their students a free day to participate. At the high school or colegio level Casa Presidencial estimated that some 20 percent of the public school teachers had joined the march and left their students free to also march or do something else.

In addition to Carazo, Ottón Solís, the unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, showed up. He opposes the treaty. He was denied admission to the legislative complex by police officers.

The afternoon session of the Asamblea Legislativa did not meet Monday, but officials said that all public services, except transportation, functioned normally. Buses and other vehicular traffic was jammed due to detours. Some highway blockage by protesters was reported on the Circumvalación south of the downtown.

The United States and President Arias came in for criticism in posters and slogans. However, the crowd was divided according to their special interests. Certain farmers wanted continued cheap access to hybrid seeds that are patented in the United States. The treaty would prohibit this. The workers from the health community were concerned about access to medicine that carries U.S. patents.

Rice farmers are facing a loss of their subsidy. Pork producers know they cannot produce meat as cheaply as the U.S. agrigiants.

Employees of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, do not want to see competition from multinationals for wireless services, as permitted in the treaty.

Employees of the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica had a large truck protesting the treaty. They are feeling pressure from international banks that are moving on the scene regardless of the status of the treaty.

Some are concerned that the treaty would trump local law and they resent the loss of sovereignty.

Solutions expressed by marchers varied. Some, like Solís, want the treaty renegotiated, although U.S. officials are unlikely to do this. Others want a referendum, which seemed to be what Carazo was suggesting.

Organizers predicted that the march would attract 50,000 persons, so the turnout was more than they expected.

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Amanda Heffernan, Jackie O'Leary and Alexis Dassler characterize the treaty as treason.

Three U.S. nursing students
were among those protesting

By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Questioning the intentions of their homeland, three U.S. citizens could be found marching with free trade treaty opponents in San José Monday.  Most foreigners opted for taking pictures from the sidelines, but Amanda Heffernan, Jackie O'Leary and Alexis Dassler had strong enough thoughts and opinions against the Central American Free Trade Agreement that they joined in the fight and waved protest signs.

All three are nursing students working in the Costa Rican capital.  Ms. Hefferman said that they are worried that the free trade agreement will ruin the nation's social health care system, and that people will be forced to pay higher prices for U.S. medicine instead of lower prices for generic brands.

The Seattle, Washington, natives were all concerned about having their photos taken and a little cautious talking about the issues.  One friend opted out of the shot.  Ms. Hefferman said that a lot of the people they work with in the hospitals are also worried about what will happen to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social if the treaty passes.

One reason there were few confrontations was because police did not wear guns and female officers were in the front lines. At one point a woman police officer at the assembly complex took a baby from a female marcher and led the mother to a first aid station. The baby was suffering from the bright sun even though temperatures never got higher than 24 C. or 74 F.

Although President Arias said he hoped the free trade treaty could be approved this month, legislative delays and a Sala IV constitutional court appeal have slowed the process. In addition, a dozen related measures are working their way through the legislature. These related legal changes will adjust Costa Rican law to what is required by the treaty.

Treaty opponents are seeking every way to defeat the majority in the legislative chamber. In one case they have leveled charges of conflict of interest against a key pro-treaty lawmaker.

Estimate on marching crowd based on square footage and participant space
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Whenever there is a crowd or demonstration, newspeople make efforts to measure the number of people.

A.M. Costa Rica estimated 80,000 in the free trade march Monday simply by measuring the length of the march at its longest point (1.5 kms.) and the width of the street, Avenida 2 (about 80 feet).

In all, the newspaper estimated, based on the observations of reporters, that the crowd occupied about 411,500 square
feet. By applying a rule of thumb in allowing five square feet for each participant, the result is about 82,000.

A more accurate method would be to photograph the crowd from above, lay out a random grid, select representative squares and count the heads in each selected square. However, that method requires an aircraft.

Police statements typically have been cited for crowd size, but policemen have no special training in this art. Nor do politicians, For example, estimates by participants Monday ranged from 40,000 to 150,000.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 41

Duo charged in religious exemption scam with Cuba travel
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. officials have charged two men with helping thousands of people travel to Cuba with fraudulent religious visas. Authorities say the suspects used bogus church names and other information to avoid travel restrictions to the Communist island.

U.S. officials announced the indictment following a months-long probe that involved local police, immigration officials and the Treasury Department.

They say Victor Vazquez and David Margolis are accused of helping some 4,500 travelers avoid Cuba-related travel regulations. The two men are accused of taking advantage of a Treasury Department program that grants permits to churches for religious and humanitarian missions to Cuba.

U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta says Vazquez and Margolis obtained scores of religious travel permits using non-existent pastors and false church names, such as the First Church of Christ. He says the licenses were then offered to travel agents for sale in the Miami area.

"An individual could then go into a travel service provider, indicate a desire to travel to Cuba, pay a fee of $250 and then have the ability to travel as if they were a member of this non-existent church," said Acosta.
Acosta says the alleged sale of the bogus licenses generated about $1 million in revenue during a nine-month period last year. Authorities said the pair could face up to five years in prison, if convicted.

Officials expressed concern that the alleged incident could affect thousands of others who conduct legitimate religious missions to Cuba each year.

Adam Szubin is the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department, which oversees Cuba sanctions.

"The fact that we see fraud as being exposed today with made-up ministers, made-up churches, will mean very sadly that we have to pay increasing scrutiny to church organizations, religious organizations that come in and apply," said Szubin. "I think it's a second tragedy of this activity, aside from the criminal conduct itself."

For more than four decades, the United States has barred American companies from doing business in Cuba. In recent years, Washington has allowed limited cash sales of food and medicine intended to aid the Cuban people. U.S. officials say the sanctions are needed to create pressure on the Cuban government and hasten a transition to democracy on the island.

String of witnesses do not appear to tie Oswaldo Villalobos to investments
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Oswaldo Villalobos trial produced a string of witnesses who pretty much had the same story Monday.

Only one, Fernando Chinchilla who lives in Concepción de Alajuelita, seemed to tie the investment operation of Luis Enrique Villalobos to the brother who is on trial. And he did so incorrectly. He said the name of the company was the Financiera de los Hermanos Villalobos.

Although the investment operation was known on the street as The Brothers, there was no formal title.

The procession of seven witnesses seemed to have the same story of investing modest amounts with Luis Enrique Villalobos. The largest amount was $45,000 invested by Guiselle Mora of Guachipelin. She said that when the Villalobos enterprise went bust she prevailed on Luis Enrique Villalobos to return $10,000 to her because she told him she was building a house.

Liliana Gómez of Guanacaste said she invested $19,000 and after law officers raided the investment operation and the adjacent Ofinter S.A. money exchange house she got a fax from Luis Enrique Villalobos asking that she open an
account in a bank for future interest payments, which never came.

She said many residents of Jacó had lost money with Villalobos. Another creditor, Ligia Maria Garnier of Barrio Escalante said she had heard two investors had killed themselves over their loss. But that was information told her by a friend.

None of the witnesses did what it appears the prosecutor wants: Tie Oswaldo Villalobos firmly to the investment operation. All said they dealt with or had checks signed by Luis Enrique Villalobos. One investor said he received a letter of exchange instead of a check.

Typically Luis Enrique Villalobos would give investors a check without a date as supposed evidence of their deposit. Nearly all involved knew that the check was like a memo and not to be cashed. however, Ms. Gómez said Monday that she thought the check could be cashed after six months.

Prosecutors suggest that Luis Enrique Villalobos was running a ponzi scheme, but he is a fugitive and not on trial. There has been no clear strategy shown to link Oswaldo Villalobos to the investment operation. He was identified with the money exchange house.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 41

Go-kart races scheduled for La Guácima this weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The NACAM Go-Kart racing championship is set to begin this weekend in La Guácima.  The circuit currently has 14 racers between the ages 13 and 19 who will battle it out in their 125 cc, 20.5 horsepower vehicles.  The drivers are from Costa Rica, México, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Venezuela and Ecuador, said a release.

Organizers have scheduled two practice runs Friday and two training sessions Saturday, giving the youngsters lots of time to warm up to the track and prepare their cars.  Events
begin as early as 8 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday. 

There is a classifying race at 3:10 p.m. Saturday to determine the two main heats.  Drivers will then compete in one of two 25 -lap races Sunday at either 11:05 a.m. or 2 p.m, with the awards ceremony following at 6 p.m.  

After the Costa Rican race, the go-kart circuit will travel to Guatemala, México, Colombia and Ecuador.  The top five finishers in the championship will receive a scholarship to an auto racing school in France, as well as funds to cover their expenses throughout the season.

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Jo Stuart
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