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These stories were published Tuesday, March 11, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 49
Jo Stuart
About us
Simple redevelopment is not a solution
City's future must mesh with inevitable forces
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

The San José core of the Central Valley is under development pressure, and politicians are responding in a way that may not help.

In comparison to urban areas in North America, San José still enjoys the benefits of the 1950s. A strong retail core provides the primary shopping district for many citizens. The flight to the suburbs that demolished many North American cities has not yet taken place.

An analysis 
on the news

But there are signs. The Forum Office Park in Santa Ana is just one example of a satellite city that has no strong connections with the downtown. A nearby mall, the sprawling PriceMart store and the new commercial/retail areas nearby provide alternatives. Elsewhere other malls are being constructed or planned much further from the city center.

Typically, cities move west, and President Abel Pacheco extolled the benefits of a Ciudad Colón-Orotina highway Sunday night in his television talk. Such a highway will put more developmental pressure on land between Escazú and Ciudad Colón. Escazú itself is an example of a growing satellite city that rivals the downtown.

Last week San José officials met with developers to outline plans to fill in vacant land that dots the urban core. They estimated that some 200,000 more citizens could live in high rises within the city center. This is the same thinking that triggered the redevelopment and urban renewal boom in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States as city officials tried desperately to lure middle class residents back to the downtown.

In competition were many attractive developments served by a growing road network that made the daily commute bearable. California is the classic case study. U.S. officials on one hand worked diligently to rebuild the cities while other officials worked diligently to provide the support for those who would move to the suburbs: highways, shopping, schools, utilities.

One additional element was the arrival of the discount store. This may happen in Costa Rica if free trade agreements reduce traditionally high Tico customs tariffs.

Walmart has cleaned out more than one downtown shopping district, and only in a few cases have local merchants had the will and the 

smarts to compete successfully against such merchandising giants.

San José still has time to plot a response to the wave of development pressure that is inevitable. A bad answer would be turning the city into one of those ceremonial governmental districts where everyone goes home at 5 p.m. Redevelopment has created such districts elsewhere when government stepped in to save faltering renewal projects.

San José officials perhaps underestimated the development possibilities of the city. The entire area south of Avenida 8 seems ready for renewal. But to interest private development, the city and country must provide real, long-term benefits.

Then there is the political question which wonders if the general quality of life might not be better if San José and adjacent areas were allowed to sprawl. Real estate developments outside the city seem to offer safe and happy living, despite the need for a daily commute.

Politicians and citizens must determine if the city core is worth saving. If they do, the obvious strategy is by control of the public utilities. Only with water and services can an area grow. 

And such decisions will define the San José of 2053.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
These parrots have a home at the Parque Zoologico Simon Boliver, one of the city’s hidden pleasures.  It’s along the Río Torres in Barrio Otoya.
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Police arrest vendor in exit-stamp check at airport
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police at Juan Santamaría International Airport detained a man and found 238,000 colons in doctored exit permits Friday. That’s more than $600.

The arrest came from an operation in which police tried to check the exit permits of all outbound air travelers Friday morning, according to a report from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Costa Rican officials always complained that the country was losing money due to exit permits recycled by crooks at the airport, but the seizure Friday is the biggest in recent memory. The permit is a piece of paper to which postage-like stamps are affixed. 

Police intended to locate exit permits that travelers had purchased outside the airport where officials and vendors are in a constant state of conflict. Officials say that is where many of the recycled stamps attached to the permits are sold.

Police said they encountered a suspicious document being carried by a U.S. citizen they identified as Mr. Howell, a tourist. However, the man told police that he did not purchase the 

permit outside the airport terminal but at the hotel where he was staying. The hotel sells the permits as a service to their guests, police said. This is legal, and a number of hotels do this.

Police investigators went to the nearby hotel, which they did not name, and interviewed the manager who told them that a man would visit later in the morning to sell the hotel more exit permits. The transactions are handled by a travel agency located in the hotel.

At 11 a.m. the man showed up, and police, in conjunction with hotel security, detained him, they said. He was identified by his last name of Vargas. Police said he was 44 years old.

During the arrest, police said they took 12 permits with exit stamps attached from the man. These were valued at 70,000 colons or $17 each, said police.

Police said stamps used on two of the permits had been cut in half or scanned to resemble unused stamps that had not been canceled.

Later police located 27 additional permits that are suspect, they said. The suspect has an open charge for the same offense pending since 1998, investigators said.

Panamá holding man
who faces charge here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A British man was detained Saturday in Panamá by the country’s national police based on a red alert posted by the French branch of the International Police Agency (INTERPOL), according to news reports. 

Ian Calvert Bleasdale, 62, who lived some months in Costa Rica, was wanted for crimes relating to fraud, falsification of documents and sexual crimes against minors, reported the Panamanian daily newspaper El Panamá América.

The report claimed Costa Rican authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Bleasdale, too. 

Bleasdale left Europe for Central America after he learned he was under investigation, though it is not clear when. The charges of fraudulent activity in Europe are associated with various companies he was involved with, said the report.

Bleasdale is now in the custody of the Panamanian authorities awaiting extradition to either France or Costa Rica. Officials from those countries will travel to Panamá to take part in the extradition proceedings.

A search of Interpol’s Web site did not produce information on any outstanding warrants for Bleasdale’s arrest. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
The sun glows red and appears bigger than normal in this view seen from San Pedro Friday. The sunsets are helped, in part, by dust from a continuing volcanic emission on Montserrat in the West Indies that has been going on since Jan. 5.

Iranian diplomat called for questioning

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS ARIES, Argentina — The government here has summoned a top Iranian diplomat for questioning in a growing dispute over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center here. The blast left 85 people dead and more than 200 others injured. 

Just days after a judge asked Interpol to arrest four other Iranian diplomats suspected of playing a role in the blast, officials summoned Monday Iran's business attaché here, Mohammed Ali Tabatabaei. 

They say they want the envoy to explain what Tehran meant when it vowed to "take appropriate action" if the warrants are not withdrawn. The envoys in question worked at the Iranian Embassy at the time of the bombing. 

Iran has long denied having anything to do with the attack on the community center. The incident took place two years after another blast destroyed the Israeli Embassy here, killing nearly 30 people. Like the community center case, the embassy bombing remains unsolved. 

Argentina's 300,000 strong Jewish community is the largest in Latin America. 

Leftist group denies
bombing involvement

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The country’s largest rebel group has denied responsibility for a car bomb explosion last month in a social club that killed 36 people and injured about 160 others. 

In a statement posted on its web site, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia said that after conducting what it called a "patient, rigorous and earnest investigation," it determined not a single one of its members or units participated in the attack. 

The statement claimed the Colombian government planted the bomb then blamed the group in an attempt to unite the country against the rebels. 

But Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio said Monday the government has evidence linking the group to the bombing. 

The attack on the exclusive El Nogal Club Feb. 7 was the worst terrorist attack here in more than a decade. 

Americas unite to discuss
electoral technology

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An Organization of American States meeting in Panama City this week will bring together senior elections officials from twenty member states to examine the challenges facing the Americas in the area of electoral technology. 

The Inter-American Meeting of Electoral Authorities, scheduled for March 12 to 14, will also review the experience with electronic voting in Brazil as well as horizontal cooperation through the organization to bring the technology on stream in Paraguay. 

The agenda includes as well the experience with electronic voting and horizontal cooperation in Europe, the question of technological adaptation, and awareness by citizens and political organizations, with an emphasis on transparency, security and confidence in electoral systems. 

Specific topics to be addressed include the implementation of electronic voting, technological advances by country and their impact on election organization, the social face of technology, and the advances, successes and goals of computerization procedures being applied to election organizing. 

The organization is sponsoring the upcoming Inter-American Meeting of Electoral Officials through the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy’s Area of Strengthening Electoral Processes and Systems.

Vendor turns tables
in Heredia robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men held up a vegetable vendor in Barrio El Molino in Heredia Saturday, but one robbery suspect ended up shot and a second was arrested, police said.

The three men pulled up in a car to threaten the vendor, Leonel Sánchez Valverde, with a sharpened screwdriver. The robbers took two gold chains the man was wearing, according to a report.

A witness told police that the vendor managed to escape from the three men, got into his nearby vehicle and pulled out a gun.  Injured was suspect Luis Brenes Cordero, 48, police said. Sánchez denied that he had a gun, and police were unable to locate one when they investigated.

However, Fuerza Pública officers did grab one Uba Fernández, 38,   The case now is in the hands of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

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Café grew from catering for Oklahoma couple
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tucked away in a Cuidad Colón side street, Carla’s Café and Laundry Club takes the imagination on a journey through little country towns in bygone years.

Nestled in between rustic shacks passing for stores, on a dusty street swimming with a mixture of young and old Costa Ricans, the café is easily missed, inseparable from its surroundings.

The café is in what is best described as a living room. And in fact the café is part of the apartment of the Oklahoman owners, Carla and David Clawson. It does have a genuine homey feel to it. 

Mrs. Clawson, 50, said the idea of the café was an accident. She said she used to do a home catering service — as well as laundry service — making food in the couple’s old house up in the hills and delivering it to the homes of customers.

She said: "Once they found out we were here, [when] it became our house, everybody just showed up." The café opened about two weeks ago.

Every Sunday, said Mrs. Clawson, they even have a barbecue cookout, which invariably results in a whole array of food.

The café seems more like a bit of fun for Mrs. Clawson. She said as long as she can afford to pay the young Costa Rican who works in the café and cover the cost of food, she is happy.

A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay

She also still does ex-pats’ laundry. She estimates two to three customers per day.

"It’s catching on, it’s not making a lot of money but it’s paying itself," she said.

Mrs. Clawson says: "We have something different every day," after saying that ex-pats get a little tired of the food here sometimes. Indeed, the food at the café is good home cooking, including goulash.

Carla’s Café and Laundry Club is near to the Internet café in the center of Cuidad Colon.

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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