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(506) 223-1327            Published Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 42             E-mail us    
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Government moves to provide cruise ship safety
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican law enforcement officials said Tuesday that they will beef up police presence in Limón when cruise ships arrive.

The officials made this announcement after Carnival Cruise Lines first decided to cut Limón from the schedule of its stops and then reported it would not.

Fernando Berrocal, the security minister, said that specially trained police officers would be pulled from the Panamá border when cruise ships are scheduled to arrive. The comments were made at a press conference.

This is in response to the stickup of 12 cruise ship tourists Feb. 21 and the death of one of the presumed robbers.

The press also came in for criticism Tuesday. La Nación reported Tuesday morning that Carnival was cutting Costa Rica out of the cruise ship schedule in favor of a stop in Honduras. That was true when La Nación wrote the story, but later Monday, Carnival said that it would resume stops in Costa Rica after skipping Limón one more time. The next visit will be March 8 by the Carnival Legend.

Mitzy Spensy, a local representative of Carnival who was at the press conference Tuesday, said that a cruise ship of the line would not visit Friday, as was scheduled, to give a little time for Limón to return to normal. Carnival also skipped a stop last Saturday.

Some in Limón are upset that investigators allowed cruiseship passengers involved in the robbery and death to leave within a few hours without the investigation having been completed.

Officials also said that they would keep an eye on the tourism providers and pull the licenses of any who risked the lives of visitors by entering dangerous areas. Cruise ships are big business for Limón. More than 100 ships arrive each year bringing more than 150,000 well-heeled visitors to the town and other points of Costa Rica.

That was a factor Feb. 21 when the 12 tourists found themselves in a minibus in a dangerous area. They had been taken there because of the view of the beach and their ship. Three men confronted them, and one with a gun ended up dead.

Berrocal said that 10 of the new police cruisers would be assigned to Limón. In addition, security cameras will be set up at critical points and local police will receive more training. Also involved will be the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Economico de la Vertiente Atlántica that runs the ports.

Guido Castro, a touism operator in the Limón area representing the local chamber, was among those who criticised the press because he said it gives false information about the area. No one took credit for having Carnival officials change their minds, but tourism officials said they had been in contact with the company.

Carnival's Liberty

Berrocal was less clear when a reporter asked him what his Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública was going to do to increase security along the Pacific coast. Towns like Tamarindo, Nosara and Sámara have seen an increase in crime.

The minister said that some of the new equipment, such as vehicles, would go to those areas. He also said that the new administration had just eight months in office and has not had time to make many changes.

He was reminded that in one town, for example, the police have to use the public telephone to receive calls and they have limited transportation. In the meantime, some major development projects are taking place nearby.

Kattia Chavarría, chief of the Policía de Turismo, said later that her new department is working to do an analysis of the needs that exist for public services in the Guanacaste area. The new police force also will benefit from funds raised by residents of the Pacific beach communities, she said.

One problem, she said, was that the new tourism police department did not have a budget when it was formed and that she expects more money soon. The tourism police was a campaign promise of President Óscar Arias Sánchez

Ms. Chavarría also said that prosecutors are using a new technique to send criminals to jail by taking statements from tourists who may then leave the country. In the past, the tourist had to be present physically to press a complaint. This method is the result of an agreement between local judges and the Ministerio Publico, the nation's independent prosecuting agency, she said.

What really happened Feb. 21 in Limón still is unclear. The Associated Press said that a man who killed the robber was an ex-marine in his 70s who used a headlock and broke his neck. The AP source was a policeman in Limón. The tourist also was described as a retired soldier. Police in Limón have been less than forthcoming in providing information about the event, and the names of the individuals are not known.

The AP story had gone around the world.

Another source said that the man died because a tourist grabbed his fabric necklace and strangled him. The other two robbers fled.  Autopsy results are awaited.

An enterprising AP reporter later talked to one of the tourists via a telephone call to the Carnival liner Liberty but was cut off.

The Liberty docked in Florida Sunday, but no passenger would identify himself to reporters as the man involved. The tourists were said to be from the U.S. State of Ohio.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 42

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Stocks continue a decline
after Tuesday's big hit

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Asian stocks are lower in early trading today but not as sharply as Tuesday's massive sell-off that spread to other major world markets amid fears of an economic slowdown in China and the United States.

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index is little changed in early trading, after falling nearly 9 percent Tuesday in its largest plunge in 10 years.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei, as well as markets in Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand are down about 3 percent in Wednesday trading. Stocks are down about 6 percent in the Philippines.

Latin American and European markets also were hit hard Tuesday.

The three major U-S stock indexes — the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the broader S&P-500 Index and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index — fell between 3 and 4 percent Tuesday, wiping out all of the gains each index made so far this year.

Investors' dwindling confidence was knocked down further by a Commerce Department report that said orders for durable goods in January dropped by the largest amount in three months.

And on Monday, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan said the U.S. economy could fall into recession by the end of this year.

Arias cheered by news
Aluminum firm continuing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez said Tuesday that he is happy that an aluminum plant in Esparza will not be shut down by its owner, the Venezuela government.

Arias said he was happy not only for the 400 employees but for the 2,500 persons indirectly dependent on the plant.

Workers at the plant did what the Costa Rican government failed to do. They went to Caracas and talked to President Hugo Chávez. Chávez talked about the aluminum plant on his Monday radio show.

The Venezuelan president said that the decision to continue supplying aluminum raw material to the plant, Alunasa, was a temporary one and that some officials would visit to evaluate the plant.

However, Arias responded as if the decision was final.  Those at Casa Presidencial believe that Chávez decided to halt raw material shipments because Arias had compared him to a dictator in public comments. However, the raw materials situation was something that had been discussed in Caracas since August.

Lights are out at immigration

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anyone who has an appointment today at the central immigration offices will find that their date has been canceled.

A spokesperson for the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería said Tuesday that the complex in La Uruca is having electrical problems and workmen from the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz will work today to fix it.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 42

Despite assurances, deaths of pelicans are still a mystery
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Why hundreds of pelicans died in the Gulf of Nicoya still is an open question.

Feb. 12 a Costa Rican coast guard patrol confirmed that some 500 pelicans died from unknown causes near the island of San Lucas in the Gulf of Nicoya.

Two days later health officials responded to a report that the birds died from eating sardines that had been carrying a natural poison produced by sea vegetation. The implication was that there was nothing to worry about if one were not a pelican.

The whole time health officials were worried about panic among citizens who are concerned with the world epidemic of bird flu.

Now Yayo Vicente, director general of the Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal, reaffirms that the birds, a non-migratory species, did not die of bird flu, but his
organization still does not know what caused the deaths. His agency is within the Ministerio de Producción, which used to be called Agricultura y Ganadería.

Vincente said his department based their findings on some 160 dead pelicans and a live specimen from the Isla Pan de Azúcar in the gulf.

Costa Rican officials are generally nervous whenever an animal die off takes place because they are afraid of the impact on the tourist trade. The last major case of animal deaths was in the Parque Nacional Corcovado in December 2005 involving monkeys, sloths, birds and other animals.

Officials then blamed an intense rainy season that caused a malnutrition problem in Corcovado, but they never explained how the lack of tree fruits would affect creatures like a sloth that ate mainly leaves, which were abundant.

Attempts to obtain copies of animal autopsy reports were frustrated in part because some specimens thawed en route to a U.S. laboratory.

Agents testify how they followed Canadian drug figures
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican investigators followed two Canadians from Juan Santamaría airport to Zurquí and then to the Ofinter S.A. money exchange business at the request of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, one of the agents testified Tuesday.

He was Guillermo Carballo, head of the Sección de Estupefacientes of the Judicial Investigating Organization. His testimony was supported by two other members of the same organization.

The gist of his testimony was that Canadians Norman Denault and Richard Rivers, spent about 40 minutes inside the Ofinter facility at Mall San Pedro. None of the investigators had any idea what transpired inside or why the men were there.

After their visit to the mall, the Canadians and a third person who was not identified other than being the person who picked them up at the airport, went to the Hotel Del Rey where agents discontinued their surveillance.

It appeared that prosecutors are laying the ground work that would link Oswaldo Villalobos, the man on trial, and his money exchange business with money deposited by the Canadians. Both Rivers and Denault later pleaded guilty in Canada for their roles in attempting to import some 590 kilos of cocaine by boat.

Both men were members of a group assembled by Bertrand St. Onge, who died of natural causes before the arrests. Even before the trial began, that St. Onge had invested some money with Luis Enrique Villalobos was known.

There was no knowledge of any transactions by Rivers or  Denault.
The prosecution is trying to show that Oswaldo Villalobos participated in his brother's investment business that was located adjacent to the Ofinter mall offices.

The surveillance took place in January 2002. The activities of the Canadians gave Costa Rican police an excuse to raid both the money exchange operation and the Luis Enrique Villalobos investment business July 4, 2002. Costa Rican investigators had been keeping an eye on the Villalobos operation for at least three years.  Also involved in the raid was a Jacó condo owned by St. Onge. Carballo and his two investigators, Warren Campos and Gilberth Solano, participated in the raids, but their testimony on this point contained nothing new.

In his testimony Carballo said that Canadian police had told him that drug dealers from their country were making investments in Costa Rican real estate and with state banks here. But he said in reality the St. Onge associates were doing all their transactions in the Ofinter money exchange house.

If prosecutors can produce evidence that ill-gotten money from the Canadians passed through the exchange house into other investments, the case for the charge of money laundering would be supported. However, there was no evidence of this documentation Tuesday. Oswaldo Villalobos also faces charges of fraud, in that the Villalobos investors did not get their money back, and illegal banking, a third charge also linked to the Luis Enrique Villalobos investment scheme.

Two investors also testified in the Tuesday afternoon session.  Guiseppe Russo of Playa Tamarindo said he put $72,000 with the Villalobos operation.  Ana Dobles of Rohrmoser said she put in $10,000. Both were enticed by the 3 percent monthly interest paid by Luis Enrique Villalobos.

Heredia utility company wants to be Internet service provider
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Empresa Servicios Públicos de Heredia is ready to go into the internet business and only needs approval of a pending piece of legislation that will give it this right, according to Allan Benavides Vílchez, the general manager.

He was at a meeting of a legislative commission Tuesday to support the proposed law along with other representatives of electrical cooperatives and rural electification firms.

Benavides said that his Heredia firm sees the proposal law
as a golden opportunity not only to commercialize the Internet but to provide a socially viable business to families with low resources, as is required by law.

Benavidas also said that his firm was negotiating with the nation of Israel to make Heredia a digital city in which the services, including traffic lights, are controled by computer.

Empresa Servicios Públicos de Heredia covers 23 percent of the national territory and provides electricity to 120,000 customers.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 42

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From a hotel owner:

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El Salvador's economy doubled with free trade, Saca says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

El Salvador's economy has doubled in size since the Central American Free Trade Agreement took effect last year, according to Tony Saca, the country's president.

El Salvador is a big supporter of the United States. The country even uses the U.S. dollar as currency.

Saca has been a big proponent of free trade and comes from the business sector to the president's office. He made his comments Tuesday talking with reporters after meeting with George Bush at the White House in Washington.

Before the free trade agreement, El Salvador, which was torn by civil war in the 1980s, had a sluggish economy with about 1.2 percent growth per year.

In his statements, Saca gave no figures. Most of the discussion revolved around immigration.
Bush used the press conference to call again on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Bush told reporters that Saca reminded him that the temporary protected status given Salvadoran residents in the United States expires in September. The protected status can be given to citizens of certain countries affected by armed conflict, natural disaster, or other extraordinary conditions, but it does not lead to permanent residency.

Bush did not say whether he supports renewal of protected status for Salvadorans. Instead, he said he told Saca he is working hard to get Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration bill that would permit illegal immigrants to seek temporary work visas.

Saca also voiced support for U.S. immigration reform, adding he is grateful that President Bush has always been sensitive to the issues of the two million Salvadorans living in the United States.

Fidel Castro a call-in guest on Hugo Chavez radio show
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban President Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in public since undergoing intestinal surgery last year, says he is recovering and feeling stronger.

Castro spoke Tuesday with his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in a phone call that was broadcast on radio. In the phone call Castro said he is gaining ground and has more energy and strength.

The Cuban leader temporarily transferred power to his
brother, Raúl Castro, following the July surgery. Cuban officials have refused to release details of Castro's condition, saying the health of the 80-year-old is a state secret.

Earlier Tuesday, the head of U.S. intelligence said the ailing president's domination of Cuba will probably end this year.

But Mike McConnell, national intelligence director, also warned a U.S. Senate Committee that significant, positive change is unlikely immediately following  Castro's death.
McConnell, a retired Navy vice admiral, made the remarks at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Foreign oil companies in Venezuela will come under state ownership
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has ordered the nationalization of oil projects run by foreign companies in Venezuela's Orinoco River region.

Chavez said Monday during a radio address that he would give the companies four months to agree to the terms and conditions of the nationalization — which will result in Venezuela's state oil company holding at least 60 percent interest in the projects.
The companies affected are Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Total SA and Statoil ASA.

Chavez has undertaken a program of nationalizing privately held industries since he began his second term in office earlier this year. Venezuela's legislature in January gave the president the power to rule by decree for 18 months.

Venezuela has already taken control of a foreign-run telecommunications company and an electrical power company.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 42

Monteverde school plans a 10K March 17 as fundraiser
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A race through Monteverde to raise scholarship money for students at a local school has been planned for March 17.  The Cloud Forest School, known locally as the Centro de Educación Creativa, is an English immersion institute with an environmental focus. 

Because many local families earn less than $500 a month, more than 60 percent of the students rely on financial assistance in order to attend, said representatives of the school.

The 10-kilometer race, entitled “Carrera Creativa,” will
wind its way through Monteverde beginning at 1 p.m.  The registration fee is 5,000 colons ($10) and includes a T-shirt, ribbon, and food bag, said organizers.  The race will be divided into age groups, and there will be prizes.

The family event will also have live music, games and food throughout the day.

The mission of the Cloud Forest School is to nurture generations of ecologically aware, academically well-rounded bilingual individuals, said a release. 

More information about the race and how to donate to the school is available on a Web site.

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