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These stories were published Wednesday, March 16, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 53
Jo Stuart
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A few vanishings remain mysteries
Not every missing persons case is resolved
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The March 4 disappearance of Brendan Dobbins, the Australian student from Florida last seen during his vacation in Tamarindo, is the latest in a series of disappearances involving visitors and Costa Ricans.

Most persons who disappear here are eventually found. Some are dead. Friends of Dobbins, however, have said that they fear they may never find him. 

Dobbins’ case is a mystery similar to that of an elderly U.S. citizen who disappeared on Nov. 18, 2001. The man, Leo Widicker, 86, walked away from the Tabacon Resort west of La Fortuna de San Carlos. 

Widicker’s wife remained in Costa Rica for 12 days searching for her husband. The couple’s children also traveled here to look for their father. Police and rescue workers combed the area. They offered up $3,000 for information. 

Despite efforts by the U.S. Embassy, the Judicial Investigating Organization, local police and a private detective hired by the family, no trace of Widicker ever was found. 

The cases of the two tourists are high-profile and make news. But every month one or more Costa Ricans are reported missing to investigators. Although most are located, a handful remain among the lost.

Such is the case in Los Guidos de Desamparados where 4-year-old Jessica Valverde Pineda vanished a short distance from her home on Feb. 20, 2002. She has never been located.

Widicker’s son, Rod, said by telephone Tuesday that the reward is still available. "We just want some closure," he said from his home in the U.S. state of North Dakota. "Even one of his shoes, something so that we know what happened."

Leo Widicker’s disappearance has become a legend in Costa Rica. Dobbins’ friends say that they hope they can prevent the same from happening to their friend.

"We know he might not be alive," said Imogen Wells a friend of Dobbins’ over the phone last week. "We just need to find something so that we know what happened."

After Dobbins’ disappearance several of his friends who traveled with him to the country remained for 12 days to help search. Dobbins’ father Brian arrived last weekend to aid in the search. 

Brian Dobbins has made formal requests to churches along the Pacific shoreline, asking parishioners to keep an eye out for his son. He 

A.M. Costa Rica file photo

has also urged authorities at the Australian Foreign Affairs Office to pressure Costa Rican authorities to keep the search for his son alive.

The investigation into Dobbins’ disappearance was officially handed over to the Judicial Investigating Organization Monday. Officials said they will continue to track down the few leads they have in the suburbs of Tamarindo. Dobbins was last seen taking a walk on a beach.

The Widicker family still makes occasional inquiries regarding their father’s disappearance. Rod Widicker said that his mother and his sister still hope that one day someone will provide them with the closure they need.

Both cases are riddled with mystery and difficulty. If foul play befell either Dobbins or Widicker, it isn’t likely that parties with information will step forward. Both the Dobbins and Widicker families understand that gang-related activity may have been involved and, therefore, information may not be forthcoming. 

The Jessica Valverde Pineda disappearance was followed less than four months later on June 4 by the kidnapping of Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, also 4. That also took place in Desamparados. His case made headlines because his father was a anti-drug agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The body of little Osvaldo turned up June 11 as a murder victim behind a dam west of Santa Ana.

Sometimes there is a happy ending. A 12-year-old boy visited friends in Dominical Dec. 31, 2000. His family in Pavas got bad news. The boy drowned while swimming, and the body could not be recovered, said friends. 

Some 14 months later, the boy, Abraham Otárola Rubí, turned up walking the streets of Quepos, according to investigators.

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Florida man captured
after 18 months on run

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Florida man on the run from drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter counts came into police hands in 
Keith C. Cojocar
San Pedro. 

He is Keith Christian Cojocar. Officials said he worked in a sportsbook and had lived in Jacó, Dominical and Quepos. Ironically, he was detained while driving a car.

Although local officials said he was a suspect in three murders, a check of the internet found a Web site dealing in fugitives that said he was sought in Palm Beach County, Florida, on the traffic charges.

Officials here said he entered

the country Sept. 11, 2003. He was using a Canadian passport in the name of Stephen Frederick Bosh.

The arrest was coordinated by Eduardo Guzmán, commandant of the metropolitan police in conjunction with judicial agents and representatives of the International Police Agency (INTERPOL)

He's from Internal Revenue,
and he's here to help us

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Hacienda, the agency that handles the Costa Rican budget, will be entering into an agreement today with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and its parent, the Treasury Department.

A release from the U.S. Embassy identified the U.S. representative simply as an employee of the Treasury Department. He is Larry Westfall, former associate commissioner for modernization of the Internal Revenue Service.

No details of the scope of the agreement have been released. But in general, the embassy release said that the project calls for assistance in planning, administration, organizational structure, training, education and cooperation for contributors, auditing of taxes, computer systems  and collection of taxes.

Fedrico Carrillo, minister of Hacienda, will represent the Costa Rican government. President Abel Pacheco will witness the signing of the agreement.

The Ministerio de Hacienda’s tax collecting entity is Tributación Directa, which has demonstrated it has learned a few techniques of the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS is so good at collecting taxes that periodically the U.S. Congress has to rein in the agency.

Tributación Directa has inadequate computer resources to do its job, as a story Monday showed. And the agency kept a small office open over Christmas so that periods for appealing its rulings would expire even though the rest of the government was on vacation.

Hacienda runs raffles so that citizens can turn in receipts from various businesses and agents can pounce on those merchants not following the law to the letter.

Some legislators have argued that if Tributación collected all the tax it is legally due, there would be no need for a new $500 million tax plan lawmakers are considering now.

Works from young artists
sought by German Embassy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The German Embassy and the German Ministry of Foreign Relations are looking for pieces created by young artists to include in its new online art exhibit.

The exhibit, which will feature 200 German pieces coupled with 200 foreign pieces, is designed to promote the arts in non-traditional venues. 

Pictures of the pieces will be combined with brief descriptions. The German Federal Ministry of Foreign Relations will include several of the pieces on its Web sites, as will foreign embassies and consulates. The pieces will be on display through December.

Artists interested in the project should send a photo of their work in JPEG format to Artists should include their names, the title of the work, its dimensions, and direct contact information. 

Desamparados plans day
for series of sports

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The National Day of Sports will be celebrated this year in the Villa Olímpica de Desamparados on Easter, March 27.

The day will be celebrated with a series of sport and recreational activities beginning at 6 a.m. with a caminata. 

Fair organizers say that they hope to promote wellness and physical activity. Organizers say they are specifically pinpointing the aspects of camaraderie and teamwork. 

After the walk, the fair will begin a roller-skating session at 7, followed by an aerobic activity at 8. An overall athletic training session begins at 9 that will be followed by a decathlon at 10. A soccer session will begin afterwards at 11 and then at noon the fair will feature a band during a break. The day will reconvene at 1 p.m. with several recreational activities and will end at 2 p.m. with a session on boxing.

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Villalobos is moving into the world of literature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Enrique Villalobos is becoming a literary figure.

Among others, a New York man says he is shopping around a screenplay based on the "Villalobos scandal which has deeply affected so many fellow American compatriots and other international investors who were so maliciously and cruelly taken by the scandalous unraveling of what was seemingly a foolproof investment scheme."

The author, Ron Friedman,, identifies himself as a prominent telecommunications executive "who is a passionate lover of Costa Rica and the Costa Rican peoples and culture."

Friedman is the first author to go public, although at least a half dozen authors and would-be authors have told reporters over the years that they were working on a book or a play based on the scandal.

A prominent Chicago area playwright reports he is near completion of a novel, but said he is more interested in creating a fictional character based on Roy Taylor than on Luis Enrique Villalobos.

Villalobos was the religious individual who paid 3 to 4 percent a month to those who loaned him money. He generally kept a low profile as did others associated with the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house and the private lending business.

Roy Taylor was a larger-than-life bear of a man who ran The Vault and was a well-known character in San José downtown. He had been married multiple times and perhaps divorced one or two times too few. He left a child born out of wedlock.

Taylor killed himself in police custody on the second floor of his luxurious Vault headquarters June 24, 2003, in downtown San José. The shooting, like his life, was bizarre.

Authors face some credibility issues writing about both men. Who would really give hundreds of thousands of dollars to Villalobos when he steadfastly refused to tell investors what he did with the money?

Why would people give money to the blustering Roy Taylor when so many of his enterprises would not stand up to a physical inspection?

Although people did ante up the money in quantities, movie scripts and books generally are more logical than life.

Friedman, in his announcement of the screenplay, does 

not hide his belief that the Villalobos operation was a scam. However, Costa Rica still is dotted by former Villalobos customers who believe that he was driven out by greedy bankers and politicians. Even though he has not been heard from since at least January 2003, a decreasing number of creditors keep the faith.

Friedman said in an e-mail that he expects "this explosively controversial story" to become a major motion picture event by the end of this year. He adds:
"Additionally, Mr. Friedman has depicted the scandal by also including and illustrating many anecdotal events and the very humorous and commonplace behaviorisms of the frequent Gringo travelers who have discovered this tropical paradise."

A Villalobos brother, Oswaldo, is expected to be ordered bound over for trial soon to face many of the same charges that would be leveled against his fugitive brother if he surfaces.

The Villalobos enterprise had more than $1 billion on its books when the operators closed it down Oct. 14, 2002. Since many investors rolled over their interest payments, the actual amount of money involved might be considerably less.

For the literary inclined, A.M. Costa Rica has links to 95 news stories through Feb. 13, 2003, posted on its archive page, and a search will reveal many more newer stories.

Renewed rail cargo service seen way to beat fuel prices
By Saray Ramírez Vindas 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government’s response to rising petroleum prices is to go back to using trains for cargo service.

Alfredo Dávila, executive president of the Instituto 
Costarricense de Ferrocarriles, outlined the plan Tuesday at a weekly presidential press conference.

The petroleum crisis has made the country look for alternatives to save energy and preserve the environment, officials said. They said that trains can move cargo quicker and with less impact on the environment and less consumption of fuel. 

Dávila said the pollution generated by the motor vehicles which use gasoline is killing and causing health 

Alfredo Dávila
problems that boost medical costs. The country is spending millions for petroleum that could be invested instead, he said.

President Abel Pacheco seemed to condition the reactivation of commercial train cargo service on passage of the $500 million tax plan that is in the legislature. He called on legislative deputies to pass the plan so the resources would be available for the train service.

The project is expected to cost $644,000 to bring the train lines up to standards again. Regular cargo service supervised by the institute was suspended nine years ago. Some trains still run making special deliveries of steel to a plant in Tibás from the Caldera docks on the Pacific. And a tourist passenger train runs from San José to Caldera some weekends. There also has been occasional train service on the Caribbean part of the line.

The track from San José to Guápiles has been out of service due to damage from the weather. Much of the area is mountainous. Other tracks have been hit by 

vandals and thieves who take the steel rails. In addtion, a test passenger run six months ago shows that train service in urban areas must compete with new buildings that infringe on the right-of-way.

Randall Quirós Bustamonte said that rail cars on the Caribbean and Pacific can haul thousands of tons of cargo that would not be on the roads in trucks. He is minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes.

Pacheco said that Costa Rica was the only country in Central America to have an electrified train from coast to coast. He bemoaned the fact that service was halted. He said with the present price of petroleum, the country would have saved a lot of money by keeping the train service.

Dávila said that a freight train needs only about a half liter of petroleum to haul a ton of cargo for 100 kilometers, some 62 miles. But a truck would use 2.2 liters to move the same amount of cargo the same distance, he said.

Officials have been searching for ways to use the train system. Plans to reactivate passenger service in the Central Valley seems to have hit a snag, mostly lack of money, although plans exist to do that.

Officials said they hoped to get the first cargo service going by June.

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Javier Canton studies information about tuberculosis at the Clinica Dr. Carlos Durán Cartin in Zapote. He said he was surprised to learn that males between 15 and 44 years were prime targets. With him is his daughter.
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Campaign seeks to cut down on cases of tuberculosis
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tuberculosis has returned with a vengeance, and now it is a primary cause of death in many parts of the world.

Although the illness appeared to have been controlled with antibiotics, some environmental and heath conditions have given it new life. Poor nutrition, diabetes, alcoholism and AIDS reduce the natural defenses of the body.

So the Ministerio de Salud it is having its third annual campaign of prevention and information through Friday. Regional clinics are having discussion groups, presenting informational displays and conducting medical tests for TB.

The illness appears more often in men between 15 and 44 years old. The bacteria that causes the illness can live in the air for several days, and the incubation period is from two to six weeks.

In Costa Rica the sickness has increased in the last year. The number of cases in 2004 was 90, and there were some deaths.

At the Clinica Dr. Carlos Durán Cartin in Zapote health workers treated 14 cases in 2004. That was seven more than in 2003. In the first two months of this year, workers located two new cases.

Treatment is a supervised six months of care with daily trips to a hospital or clinic for treatment.

If the patient suddenly decides to stop treatment, a resistance type of bacteria can be created. That is why it is important for health centers to give the most information they can, said Olga Casto Vargas, epidemiology coordinator and nurse at the Clinica Carlos Durán.

The clinic, which is in Zapote in eastern San José,  has set up a bulletin board and provides a lot of information to visitors.

Costa Rican deported from Canada despite her fears
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican who came to Canada on a work permit to be an exotic dancer was deported Monday by officials in Toronto because her work permit expired.

She was working most recently as a radio programmer.

According to a story in the Toronto Star, the Costa Rican, Wendy Maxwell, was deported after officials learned that the community activist was living in the country illegally. 

According to the article, Ms. Maxwell moved to Canada in 1997 with her exotic dancerÕs work permit after she was forced to testify against several gang members in Costa Rica. Fearing retaliation from the gang, the paper said Ms. Maxwell left town.

The Star article said that during her time in Canada, 

Ms. Maxwell became a dedicated community activist and was an advocate for the rights of women living in Canada with no immigration status.

Some 30 people who had supported her stay in Canada held a vigil at Pearson Airport in Toronto as Ms. Maxwell was deported. 

The story noted that Ms. Maxwell is unsure of where she will live in Costa Rica. According to the story, she is afraid to move back in with her family, because of potential gang retaliation. There was no information on the nature of the criminal case in which she was a witness or the location where she lived here.

Ms. Maxwell has also applied for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, the article said. If she is granted residency, she will be allowed to re-enter Canada immediately but she will have to reimburse the government for her deportation fees. 

Jo Stuart
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