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These stories were published Thursday, March 6, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 46
Jo Stuart
About us
There's no fun in being toasted in the tropics 
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

My face is burning like a petroleum-ignited fire. It has been three days since I incurred my facial wounds, and today is, by far, the worst. I have sunburn.

Unlike most people, I did not exert the deepest care while wandering in the tropical sun. And unlike most people here, I have northern European skin. That is, whiter than white. 

According to medical consultants, skin like mine is among the worst affected. Well, there is a surprise. Let me see: Scottish, from a predominantly red-haired family (though I am without this) known for their freckles. Historically we are famous for frying like a lobster after only minutes in the sun.

There are six types of skin, ranging from mine to black African-type skin. This darker skin type, according to a report by Dr. James Foster, a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, will never suffer sunburn. No news there either.

The sliding scale warns against excessive sun exposure in most skin types. Even if you do tan well, it is advised that you be cautious. As lovely and cute as the sun may seem, the way it lights up the day and makes the beach seem like a good idea, it is very much a monster. You, the unsuspecting bronze-hungry innocent, are its easiest prey.

So just what is sunburn? Indeed, it is not the sun itself — the part the naked eye can see — that does the damage. Ultra-violet rays cause the damage. When these overwhelm your skin’s ability to withstand the heat, burning starts. In light skin, burning can start after 15 minutes. Eye cataracts can occur, too, with prolonged periods of exposure to ultraviolet rays.

The closer geographically to the equator you happen to be, the more susceptible you are to these rays. Well, I guess Límón is a lot closer to the equator than Scotland. 

An extension to this is the higher in altitude you are, the higher the risk. Thank heavens I was not on Mount Chirripó at 3,819 meters, Costa Rica’s highest point. 

The blisters that invaded my pretty little face 

Monday and which turned to flaky cardboard by Wednesday will make me a little more wary in future.

According to information provided by the National Library of Medicine in Maryland, these pesky little blisters can make you more susceptible to skin cancer. That is, after suffering the annoyance of red raw skin, you are lucky enough to avoid other inflammations or infections as a result of these open wounds. Someone who has had blisters from sunburn must take more care in future visits to the beach. 

In extreme cases, sunburn can cause death.

For someone who is burned, a quick, cold shower can reduce the burning effect. A pain-killing pill can help, too.

Doctors say the best way to avoid being burned is to wear high factored sunscreen, especially if you have lighter skin. Wearing a hat or going into the shade for periods is also advised. Being in the sun too long isn’t good for anyone, say experts. 

After reading the literature — the realities of science, the figures for skin cancer — I will never be that cocky guy again. 

Third-World vehicle plan called 'pump and dump' scam
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The vehicle was a dream for less developed countries.

The car has but 500 moving parts, does not rust, runs on three types of fuel, goes where roads do not and costs a mere $7,000.

Waage ordered to pay $58 million

Even better, for $400,000 a savvy investor could purchase a mini-production factory that could produce one car a day using semi-skilled labor.

The company was on a rocket trajectory with its income, earnings and international licenses.

At least those were the claims, and they were enough to interest investors all over the world, including Costa Rica. The claims also helped increase the price of the firm’s stock.

However, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission claims that the company was a classic "pump and dump" scheme that relied on false press releases and Internet public relations to lure in investors.

The commission made these allegations in a civil action against Douglas Norman, identified 

as the de facto head of the company, World Transport Authority, manufacturer of the WorldStar vehicle.

The complaint, filed in U.S. Federal District Court in New York, refers to a licensing agreement made by the firm to produce vehicles in Costa Rica without additional explanation.

In short, the complex and detailed civil complaint alleges that Norman simply lied repeatedly on the Internet and in required financial filings with the commission in order to boost the value of the company’s over-the-counter stock. The commission also claimed he hired an individual to promote the company full time on the Internet.

The commission said Norman, a Canadian in his 60s, made $1.8 million by selling the company stock when it increased in value even though the company has made few vehicles, never made a profit and did not have all the international licenses it said it did.

The firm, based in El Cajon, Calif., replied in a press release that Norman is not an employee of the company and that its lawyers were studying the complaint.

Civil complaints frequently herald criminal actions by the commission, the U.S. investment police.

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Poor of Brazil shown a way to potential prosperity
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The shantytown of Rocinha, one of Latin America's largest, is home to more than 200,000 people. There, in the slum's alleys and byways, hundreds of tiny businesses flourish.

Fruit vendor Nivaldo Dos Santos is among them. His business improved after he was able to borrow money to pay his suppliers.

"When I buy my fruit, I have to pay for it right away, so I got a loan to have more money on hand to do this. Even though I have cash, the more money the better so I don't miss a good opportunity," he said.

The loan came from Viva Cred, a non-governmental organization in Rocinha that works somewhat like a bank. However, it lends money at below market interest rates, does not demand collateral, and its customers are the self-employed poor. 

Alexandre Leite runs a computer graphics firm in Rocinha. Two years ago, he was working out of his home, but after getting a loan from Viva Cred he and his wife now run their business out of a building. 

"The money came at a good time, when I really needed it. I tried to borrow money from other places but there was too much bureaucracy involved. That influenced me to try Viva Cred, and it really made my life easier," he said.

Micro-entrepreneurs like Leite are now being viewed as the cutting edge for economic 

development. Maria Otero heads Accion International, which provides advice to groups like Viva Cred. 

"You put some capital into the hands of a poor person who has never really had access, and they can not only produce and improve the life of their family, but they can become empowered and develop a voice, and the ability to make decisions for the future," said Maria Otero, head of Accion International.

But it's a slow process, and requires micro-lenders to offer more than just money. They have to get to know their clients and become their partners. 

"Here we invest in a person, in the person's business, his character. We ask around about that person. That's why our default rate is so low, just four percent," said Viva Cred's Francisco Jose.

The Inter-American Development Bank, which held a conference here on micro-financing, says low default rates are not unusual. Instead, experience has shown the poor can pay back loans with interest. 

"What we've seen is that the interest rate is an important factor in making these institutions sustainable and not dependent upon donations and that the poor can pay the interest rates necessary and that their main limitation is access to the credit and not necessarily the cost of the credit," said the bank's Dieter Wittkowski.

With 940 borrowers, Viva Cred continues to search for new clients, an example of how micro-lending can put a dent in the poverty of slums like Rocinha.

Court orders latex to be removed from hospitals 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV, the constitutional court, ruled that the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the governmental entity that operates the hospitals, must assure a surgeon an environment free of latex, according to a report from the courts Wednesday.

The decision identified the surgeon as Gabriela Guzmán Stein and said that other employees were also affected at the same hospital. Some patients also are affected, the ruling said.

The court gave the Caja a year to eliminate substances with a latex base from all the country’s public hospitals. The Caja also will have to pay damages to the surgeon.

The court ruling said that latex is used in gloves, catheters and other medical devices. But that continual exposure to the material can create an allergy that can lead to life-threatening shock with just minimal exposure.

Just allowing the surgeon to use different gloves 

will not solve the problem, the court said, because of the substance’s many uses in the hospital.

The Caja has a duty to insure the health of its workers and patients by seeking alternatives to latex and it has not shown that making a substitution would be an insurmountable problem, said the ruling.

Latex allergy, first recognized in the 1970s, is well established in the science literature. The U.S. Occupation Safety and Health Administration said that natural rubber latex is manufactured from a milky fluid that is primarily obtained from the rubber tree. Some synthetic rubber materials may be referred to as "latex" but they do not contain the protein that produces latex allergy, said the administration.

From 8 to 12 percent of health care workers are latex sensitive, said the administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. Between 1988 and 1992, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration received more than 1,000 reports of adverse health effects from exposure to latex, including 15 deaths due to such exposure, it said.

Mexico shows signs of
anti-war stance

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — President Vicente Fox is calling for unity in his country ahead of a possible war in the Persian Gulf. 

The country holds a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and is considered a possible swing vote on an upcoming resolution being sponsored by the United States, Britain and Spain. But, Fox is avoiding any commitment on that vote for now.

As the United States intensifies its effort to gain U.N. approval of a second resolution authorizing force to disarm Iraq, the pressure on the country is growing. In recent days there has been a flurry of communications between U.S. officials and their counterparts here. 

Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state, met in person with Luis Ernesto Derbez, foreign minister here, Saturday and has followed up with phone calls since then.

Powell is seeking the country's support in the Security Council, while Derbez is asking Powell to consider a compromise being proposed by Canada. Under the Canadian proposal, Iraq would be required to meet specific obligations by specific dates leading to the end of the month when the Security Council would meet again to judge Baghdad's compliance.

There has been a great deal of speculation in the press about possible U.S. actions to punish the country if it fails to back the United States in the Security Council. But according to Fox, there has been no such pressure from Washington.

He said his government is in constant communication with the U.S. government and that there has been no talk of reprisals. He added that the country maintains its independent position and is not committed to any other nation's plan. 

Still, many people here have expressed concern over the anger a vote against the United States could produce. The United States is the destination for more than 80 percent of the country's exports. 

Mexico could abstain in the Security Council vote, but that might not satisfy either Washington or the majority of citizens who oppose war. While Fox has spoken in favor of peace, he has also said that Iraq should be disarmed.

Explosion kills 7
in northern Colombia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Authorities say at least seven people have been killed and 68 others injured in a car bomb explosion at a shopping center in the northeastern city of Cucuta. 

The blast ripped through an underground parking lot Wednesday, igniting parked cars and causing an avalanche of concrete as panicked shoppers tried to escape. 

Family members of shopping center employees gathered nearby, awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones. 

Authorities say leftist rebels of the National Liberation Army, are to blame for the blast. Police offered no evidence and the guerrillas did not claim responsibility. 

The group, as well as the nation's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are fighting outlawed rightist paramilitary groups for control of Cucuta. 

The latest trouble happened as Marc Grossman, U.S. undersecretary of state, met with President Alvaro Uribe at the presidential palace here. 

The talks follow the crash three weeks ago of a U.S. government plane in rebel territory in the southern territory. 

Three Americans were kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, while a fourth American and a Colombian soldier were found shot to death at the crash site. The United States brands the country’s outlawed groups as terrorists. 

In recent years, the United States has provided Colombia with an estimated $2 billion in mainly military aid for counter narcotics efforts. Washington has now expanded that assistance for counter-insurgency operations. 

Colombia has been torn by a 39-year civil war that pits the rebels, paramilitaries and the government against each other. Some 3,500 people, mainly civilians, are killed in the fighting each year.

Decision to convert 
currency blocked

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS ARIES, Argentina — The Supreme Court has overturned a government decree that forcibly converted bank accounts from dollars into pesos. 

The high court here ruled Wednesday that the National Bank must reconvert an account held by the San Luis provincial government back into dollars. 

The account, which is worth about $247 million, was devalued last year after the government ended the peso's one-to-one peg with the dollar. The government said the move was designed to prevent a collapse of the banking system. 

Analysts say Wednesday's Supreme Court decision is likely to set a precedent for thousands of account holders across the country who want their savings paid out in dollars. 

Hundreds of Argentines celebrated outside the Supreme Court in the downtown when the ruling was announced. 

A U.S. dollar is currently worth more than three times as much as a peso. So deposits once valued at parity with the dollar are now worth about two-thirds less.

Rights killings suspect
arrested in Miami

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. — An immigration bureau in the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security has arrested a Honduran man wanted in the killings of two human-rights activists in Honduras in 1988.

Jaime Ramirez, 48, was arrested Tuesday at his home in Miami by agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement after being charged with the murders of the human-rights leaders. The bureau said Ramirez was part of a Honduran death squad known as Battalion 3-16, which has been accused of abducting or killing more than 180 dissidents who opposed Honduras' military government in the 1980s.

Ramirez is being held here at Krome Detection Center, pending deportation proceedings. A Honduran court charged Ramirez with the murders in San Pedro Sula of Miguel Angel Pavon Salazar, who headed a human-rights group, and Moises Landaverde, a teachers-union official.

A bureau spokesman here said Ramirez was the first person suspected of human-rights violations arrested by the bureau since it began operating under a new name Saturday. It is one of three bureaus that replaced the Immigration and Naturalization Service on that date.

The bureau said Ramirez' arrest is the result of an ongoing effort by the bureau "to identify, apprehend, and remove human-rights violators who have no legal right to remain" in the United States. 

Coke seized in Pacific
brought to California

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Coast Guard Cutter Rush pulled into San Diego, Calif., Wednesday with 3,465 pounds of pure cocaine that it seized on the high seas Feb. 5 off the coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

A Coast Guard spokesman said the cutter intercepted a fast boat 100 miles south of Nicaragua and captured four occupants of the small vessel.

Belize to vote for
new premier

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BELIZE CITY, Belize — Voters here are casting ballots Wednesday in general elections. 

The ruling People's United Party is seeking to become the first party to win a second consecutive term since the country gained independence from Britain 22 years ago. 

The ruling party has always alternated terms in office with the opposition United Democratic Party. 

During the last elections in 1998, the people’s party, led by Prime Minister Said Musa, won a landslide victory and currently holds 26 out of 29 parliament seats. 

Preliminary results from Wednesday's elections are expected by early Thursday.

Belize is in Central America but is a member of the Caribbean Community. 

Church a victim in San José

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thieves early Wednesday broke into a San José Catholic church and broke into the sanctuary and took an antique chalice and a small box also used in celebrating the Mass. Both objects were gold set with precious stones, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. The church was La Merced.
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Tri-West scammer told to return $58 million
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A federal court judge in California has ordered the operator of Tri-West Investment Club and his Panamá corporation to surrender $58 million it defrauded from investors.

The man is Richard Alyn Waage, and the firm is Haarlem Universal Corp., said an announcement from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Police in Costa Rica detained Waage, a Canadian, in September 2001, on a complaint from the United States that he operated a fraudulent investment scheme. He was extradited to the United States and still faces criminal charges there.

Jorge Rojas Vargas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, said at the time that Waage brought in about $10 million to Costa Rica when he arrived in April 2001. The money was used to purchase personal and real estate property that was confiscated at the time of his arrest.

The order was made by William H. Alsup, a judge sitting in San Francisco, Calif. The order will give U.S. officials the ability to at least distribute funds confiscated from Waage.

The commission's complaint alleged that during 1999 and 2000, Waage used the Internet to solicit investors for the Tri-West Investment Club. The club was promoted as an investment program to trade in fictitious "prime bank" securities. The club offered investors a 10 percent monthly return.

Tri-West also paid a 15 percent commission to investors who brought new participants and their money into the club.

Investors were encouraged to make checks payable to Haarlem and send the checks to various locations in California, Belize, and Costa Rica. The commission alleged that the program was a fiction, designed only to enrich Waage. 

Neither Waage nor Haarlem responded to the complaint in the action. The court granted judgment upon default against each defendant.

The court noted that it had requested and received assistance from the governments of Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico. The commission also issued a formal thanks to the governments of Canada and Latvia.

The Tri-west operation had been targeted by securities investigators in a number of U.S. states, Canadian provinces, New Zealand and other countries since summer 2000. The Internet provided links to a number of individual legal actions against the club and residents who tried to recruit new investors and earn their 15 percent. Most securities regulations insist that anyone who gets a commission on a transaction be licensed. 

The Internet also provided links to discussion boards where investors and would-be investors chat about the legitimacy of Tri-West. Some crow that they have gotten their original investment back. Others express fears that governments will try to crush small investors who deal with offshore investment operations. 

The British Columbia Securities Commission in Vancouver issued a cease-and-desist order against Tri-West and local promoters in April. At that time, it said Tri-West had a $1,000 investment minimum and had nearly 21,000 investors. 

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.

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.

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