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(506) 223-1327          Published Thursday, March 15, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 53           E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Richard Cleroux
Fading sun colors the scene of the Río Grande de Térraba in Palmar Norte

Sala IV comes down on both sides of access to info
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has come down on both sides of the citizen's right to public information.

In a vote reported by the Poder Judicial over the weekend, the court said that a citizen could not have access to professional contracts between the Sistema Nacional de Radio y Televisión, a public agency, and independent program producers.

In a vote reported Wednesday, the same court ruled that a citizen could have access to professional contracts authorized by the Concejo Municipal de Abangares.

In the Abangares case, the court cited Article 30 of the Costa Rican Constitution, which says "Free access to administrative departments for purposes of information on matters of public interest is guaranteed."

There was no way to reconcile the two divergent decisions of the court, and the information on the decisions was bare bones. Yet, those who fight corruption and governmental excesses would say that access to information by citizens, which is being called transparency, is vital.

In the Abangares case, the citizen made the request of municipal officials and was told that a "legitimate interest" must be shown for the information to become available. The court rejected this interpretation of the law. Instead, the
magistrates ordered the mayor and municipal council to provide the information sought within five days of receiving notification of the judicial decision.

Sistema Nacional de Radio y Televisión has evolved from Radio Nacional and now includes television and radio stations. It is a counterbalance to commercial stations, although it does accept advertising.

In denying the individual information about contracts with independent producers, mainly for television, the Sistema Nacional invoked the right of privacy.

To provide the requested information would prejudice the commercial credibility, compromise the best interests of the organization, and expose the business practices to competitors, said the report on the court vote.

The key element in the seemingly contradictory decisions appears to be the use to which the persons seeking the information was going to make of it. In the Sistema Nacional case, the court seemed to stress the commercial nature of the information. In the Abangares case, the court seemed to be backing a citizen who wanted to monitor government.

Typically when a governmental agency does not want to provide information, workers engage in stall tactics. However, many contracts are on file with the Contraloria de la República, which, as a watchdog agency, reviews most such documents.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 53

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Dengue shows an increase
over same period in 2006

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dengue and whooping cough are the priorities of health officials.

Dengue is showing a significant increase over the previous year with 3,010 persons ill.  Included in this number are some 29 cases of potentially fatal hemorrhagic dengue.

The health minister, Lidieth Carballo, reported this news at the weekly presidential cabinet meeting. She said health officials were asking citizens to survey their properties for the breeding places of the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

The number of cases reported this year is 167 percent greater than last year and the biggest increase, some 53 percent, is in the so-called Chorotega region, the north Pacific.

A second threat, whooping cough, is the object of a medical emergency. Some 42,000 units of a vaccine are expected to arrive in two weeks. The government is paying $320,000 for the delivery. An additional 140,000 doses of vaccine for 70,000 children also will be required. That's a $1.2 million investment.

Would-be robber dies
when victim pulls a gun

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man and a woman tried to rob a passer-by about 6 a.m. on Calle 8, but the would-be victim had a gun.

The robber took two bullets in the chest and fell dead in the street. Both the man with the gun and the robber's companion fled.

Investigators said they pieced together what happened from witnesses. The name of the dead man is not known. He is about 35 years old, investigators said.

Prices of many sea foods
are taking a Lenten leap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than half of the fresh sea food products in Costa Rican markets have gone up since March 1, according to the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura.

The institute's marketing department keeps track of prices.

Sea food is a traditional main course for Lent. Prices of 11 products did not change.

Whole sea bass (corvina) went up 130 colons per kilo but fillets of the same fish stayed at 6,220 colons per kilo, said the institute.

Dorado fillets went up 520 colons to 3,640 colons per kilo. Large shrimp went from 6,500 colons per kilo to 8,075, colons, the institute reported. There are about 520 colons to the U.S. dollar.

U.S. citizen found dead

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 73-year-old U.S. citizen, Wayne Gollip, died in Jacó in his condominium some time this week, and officials are investigating the death.

Gollip, a former serviceman, was from Ohio and lived here in the Condominios Tropical. Attendants said they thought the death was from natural causes because there were no signs of violence and all the man's belonging were intact.

Cable thief electrocuted

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A 40- to 45-year-old man tried to steal some electrical cable at Finca La Verbena in Alajuelita Wednesday, but he died of electrical shock instead.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 53

Arias and U.S. ambassador consider status of free trade pact
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a visit that free trade opponents certainly will use as ammunition, the U.S. ambassador paid a call on President Óscar Arias Sánchez Wednesday.

The ambassador, Mark Langdale, told Arias that now is the time for Costa Rica to make a decision on the trade treaty, according to a summary provided by Casa Presidencial.

The meeting was in the presidential office in Zapote, and Arias was reported to be explaining the steps the executive branch was taking to have the treaty approved as soon as possible.

Treaty opponents have characterized Arias as a lapdog of the United States, and the visit by Langdale will be used to further that image.

Costa Rica is the only signatory to the treaty that has not ratified the agreement. The treaty was signed nearly three years ago, but former president Abel Pacheco delayed sending the document to the Asamblea Legislativa for ratification for fear of public strikes. Public employee unions oppose the treaty, as do others, including those who seek a stronger socialist state in Costa Rica.

Arias told Langdale that a priority of the Costa Rican government is a positive decision on the treaty. The government has 38 lawmakers, a two-thirds majority, lined up to vote for the treaty. But legislative procedures are slow.

Marco Vinicio Ruiz, the minister of Comercio Exterior who also was at the meeting, said keeping the U.S. government informed is important so that Washington can

Casa Presidencial photo
Langdale airs U.S. expectations with Arias

send signals to its investors that there is confidence that the commercial accord will be approved, said Casa Presidencial.

The only way to enter the U.S. market on a permanent basis it through this trade treaty, Langdale told Arias, according to Casa Presidencial. Treaty opponents have argued that the existing Caribbean Basin Initiative allows Costa Rica to send goods to the United States without import duties.
The ambassador's visit was interpreted as countering this view. He is a representative of U.S. President George Bush, who has the authority to void the Caribbean initiative.
The U.S. Embassy here has as its highest priority the passage of the trade treaty.

Langdale was quoted as saying that the Feb. 26 public protest against the treaty was not very big and had the same dimensions as protests in October. A.M. Costa Rica estimated the protest to be bigger — at about 80,000 persons.

Villalobos witness said he was pressured to drop his claim
By Dennis Rogers
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two cases of supporters of fugitive Luis Enrique Villalobos attempting to influence claimants in the case against his brother Oswaldo came up in testimony Wednesday. Prosecution lawyers only recently became aware of such pressure and have begun to ask witnesses if they had been contacted.

One witness, who was identified as Durk Van Dirk, had attempted to retrieve his $98,000 investment in the months before the July 2002 raid that triggered the eventual closing of the Villalobos high-interest investment operation, but was put off by the staff until it was too late, he testified. He later did his own investigation at the Registro Nacional and found large numbers of properties in the name of Villalobos family members and shell companies, he said. Van Dirk suggested these properties could have been liquidated to pay part of the amount owed.

Responding to questions by private lawyer Luis Solórzano about other investors, Van Dirk described a group with a nucleus of people with “an unnatural faith” in Enrique Villalobos who met and spoke of conspiracies by the government and had hired former Justicia minister José Miguel Villalobos Umaña to represent them. He said he discontinued contact with this group as he thought their claims were “not based on reality.”

Later, Van Dirk said he received “aggressive” phone calls asking him to withdraw his claims. A caller he referred to as Phil Yarmon, was “very rude,” he said.

“He told me, ‘You don’t have any chance, no chance of getting your money back unless you drop your claim,’” said Van Dirk.

Clara Alvarado had also received phone calls, telling her that Luis Enrique would return and pay back the $30,000 she had invested if she rescinded her claim, she said. Ms. Alvarado did not appear to consider the attention threatening.

Neither witness linked Oswaldo Villalobos to the pressure to drop their claims.  Oswaldo Villalobos is the defendant in the current trial. Prosecutors are trying to tie him and his Ofinter S.A. money exchange operation to the high interest borrowing operation identified with his brother.

These witnesses, along with Maria Elena Vargas and Ligia Matamorros, who also testified Wednesday, were called by Solórzano as part of a civil action by his clients. Three more could not be accommodated and were rescheduled for Monday. Solórzano had not been present at the trial since the first week.

No progress was made with the continued incorporation of printed evidence into the record. The trial resumes next Monday.
The unincorporated group that calls itself the United and Concerned Citizens has been a main force in getting victims to withdraw their allegations.

As long ago as Oct. 31, 2003, the group published a message they attributed to lawyer Villalobos. Among other things, he said " The existence of these charges delays the resolution of the case and makes don Luis Enrique’s return to the country even more difficult.  In no way does it help the interests of the very investors who have made the charges, for as long as they remain, the return of the money is even further delayed."

That sums up their position, that fugitive Villalobos would certainly pay his creditors if the judicial process would go away.

That claim has been undermined seriously by the current trial in which the high interest operation was shown to be taking money at 3 percent per month and investing it at 4 percent a year. There has been no hint of outside business activity that would need great sums of creditor cash.

The high interest operation appears to have taken in about $92 million in 2001 and more than $80 million up until the Villalobos Brothers closed their offices Oct. 14, 2002.

More recently a Web site run by unidentified individuals has picked up the drumbeat. It said April 21, 2006:

"Enrique intends to bring a civil suit against the filers for lying against him through their denuncias. You filers are trying to destroy Enrique, what would you expect in return.

"Not only will the filers not get any principle or interest back, but you will also have to deal with a civil suit against you which will surely include the loss of your home and savings."

The Web site has been cleaned recently of exhortations for charges to be dropped, but early editions are available at Internet archive sites.

A San José businessman who continues to have a claim against the Villalobos Brothers said he was visited several times at his place of business by individuals who  asked that he withdraw the allegations.

For a time, victims were offered help in preparing documents to withdraw their allegations. And the Oswaldo trial has seen a number of witnesses testify that they had withdrawn their claims and had full faith in the Villalobos Brothers.

The defense has not begun yet to present witnesses. It is likely that Oswaldo Villalobos's lawyers will not attempt to justify the high interest business but stick to trying to show that their client and his Ofinter S.A. money exchange operation had no part in it despite occupying adjacent offices at Mall San Pedro.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 53

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From a hotel owner:

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Puppets of the Group Balagan await their curtain call.

Photo by Luis Roverssi

Puppet presentation will relate the resurrection of Christ
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The period between the crucifixion of Christ and His Resurrection is the setting for a puppet drama  "Resurrección" being presented Sunday and again March 25 at the Teatro Eugene O'Neill at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses.

The show is designed for children, and the puppets are handed by the group Teatro y Títeres Balagan, which is strongly influenced by the Russian puppet tradition. Puppet
manipulation is by Dimitri Ordanski and Marta Rein.
According to a summary provided by the centro, the show is based on the four gospels. Christ's character dominates the show even though He is not present until the end.

The setting is Jerusalem and finally the tomb of Christ. A centro release said the show is especially appropriate for the Easter season.

Ordanski has been in Costa Rica for about 10 years. The group will present "Hansel y Grettel" from May 13 to June 3 in the same theater. Admissions are charged. Co-sponsoring is Neovisión Proyectos Kulturales. 

San Carlos will host nine days of arts and culture
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

San Carlos will welcome the VII National Arts Festival- North Huetar Zone March 23 through 31.

The event’s venue will be the Parque Central of the community and its surroundings where platforms and places for adult and children’s plays, dances, music and movies will be installed. The artistic and cultural activities are programmed for nine days.

This year 2,000 artists, including the groups Editus, Gandhi, Mundo Loco, Humberto Vargas, the Big Band, Adrián Goizueta, María Pretiz, and the Orquesta de Lubín Barahona, among others, will perform at the event. Their concerts are programmed every day at 9 p.m. on a special platform on the street in front of the catholic church.

A special place was arranged for the dances where the Farmer’s Fair takes place, on one side of the central park. Recognized companies will present shows, including a
show with groups from San Carlos.

The Casa de la Cultura and the central park will be the venue for shows that have been divided into themes for adults, families, and children. For the children there will be a special guest from Austria, the artist Tom Zabel, who tells his story between himself and its marionette. Also national artists will entertain adults and children with their puppets, stories, and even a circus full of color, fantasy and movement.

The festival will have places for the craftsmen and artists so that they can display their works. Also there will be places for activities like workshops and presentations for children, pasacalles (music played in the streets by bands), musical groups, story tellers, clowns, and street theater.

The arts festival is a program of the Teatro Polular Melico Salazar. All the shows are free and open to the public. More information is available on the the Web site: www.festivaldelasartescostarica.com.

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