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These stories were published Monday, March 17, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 53
Jo Stuart
About us
The Irish leave for the world from Waterloo Docks in Liverpool in this Illustrated London News sketch of July 6, 1850. The impact of the Potato Famine on Ireland’s monoculture cause anyone who could to leave to better parts. Many ended up in the U.S. Civil War.
The traditional meal just doesn't cut it anymore
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What should be a traditional meal for today, St. Patrick’s Day?

Well, stow the corned beef. That’s for sailors six weeks out of port. The same with cabbage. Serve up a fat ribeye steak, baked potatoes and wine instead.

There goes another Irish myth, that poor Paddy is panting for corned beef and cabbage all year long. 

The second myth is that it is a sin not to get totally drunk on March 17. Of course, amateur practitioners here and elsewhere will wake up Tuesday with a really, really bad head. Lack of practice will do that.

The Irish experience is much richer than corned beef (gag!) and green beer (double gag!) in the same way that Costa Rican culture is much richer than gallo pinto.

The gentle colonial policies of the British managed to spread the Irish young to the four winds. And places like New York, Chicago and Butte, Montana, are more Irish today than Dublin. And these places nurse a culture that is unique, not Irish and yet close. That includes the close relatives from Wales and other Celts.

The Irish Democratic political policies owe much of their social consciousness to the 1845 potato famine and the way the British-dominated officialdom failed to act to save Irish lives. 

The Irish culture, just like the Tico culture, is steeped in Catholicism. And that includes the ghosts, goblins and Devil (pronounced "Divil" Note the capitalization — just in case.). Death is 

Beggars in County Kerry in 1846, thanks to the Potato Famine. Sketch from The Pictorial Times.

a social event.  Costa Rica with its rules about a quick burial are counterproductive to the traditional Irish wake. 

There are at least two bars, one in Philadelphia and the other in Chicago named Finnigan’s Wake. James Joyce based his 1939 story on a Dublin street ballad later popularized by the Clancy Brothers. But where else could you find bars, songs and stories based on the viewing of a corpse? There has to be that strong tradition of fatalism.

A true Irish wake is where the pre-Internet gossip was distributed and the men tapped the barrel. Both in Ireland and North America the wake also was a place for games — of strength and skills. There is a sociological study of Irish funeral games.

Today’s perversion of green beer and an inferior cut of beef probably could be enriched by aspects of the funeral culture. 

Guard slain while on duty at store in San Rafael de Escazú
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone murdered a guard in San Rafael de Escazú while he was on duty at a store either Friday night or Saturday morning.

The murder took place near Plaza Colonial in the souvenir store Sabor Tico, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Fuerza Pública officers of the ministry identified the guard as Eduardo Aguilar Sosa, 40.

They said he was found in the back patio of the store by operator Janet Envey about 7:20 a.m. when she arrived to begin business. The guard had worked there about two years, officers said.

The initial report said that someone had forced bars in the front of the store to get in. The guard suffered blows to the head.  There was no immmediate idea what had been taken, but some paintings were found out of place in the patio, said the initial report.

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Court decisions show inconsistencies in treatment
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The custody cases of Antonio Jorge Vilchez Herrmann and the second case of Marco Stumbo Gaitán spotlight real problems in Costa Rica jurisprudence.

In the first case, a Costa Rican judge quickly accepted photocopies of U.S. legal papers and then sent the police out to detain a father and the young Antonio. The case was brought by the boy’s mother.

Analyisis on the news

In the second case, a court refused to validate a U.S. divorce decree and a custody decision involving young Marco after a prolonged legal battle because of two reasons that fail to hold legal weight. That validation was sought by the father.

Custody and divorce cases are difficult interpersonal problems, and reporters are not capable of evaluating the battles between spouses. But exposure to a number of such cases lead to the conclusion that the court system is heavily stacked against the father, whether he be Tico or North American. Stumbo is a U.S. citizen. Jorge Vilchez, the father, is a Costa Rican.

Another fact is that women, when they seek a runaway spouse and child, get much better service here than a man who seeks the same.

Ms. Herrmann, the mother of Antonio, was able to get a Costa Rican judge to issue a pickup order on her husband in just a few days after arriving here. 

Michael W. Lewis also was arrested quickly. Lewis, involved in a similar case, left the United States with the his two girls Oct. 20, 2001, and arrived a few days later in Costa Rica. By Dec. 19, local police and two F.B.I. agents were knocking at the door to his condo in Moravia, and the girls were quickly reunited with their mother.

But consider the case of Chere Lyn Tomayko, the only parental kidnapping suspect on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list. She is known in the Heredia area, and had been living there under her own name. Her daughter is Alexandria Camille Cyprian, who was with her mother when she fled in May 1997.

When A.M. Costa Rica published her photo in May 2002, both the newspaper and a high official in the U.S. Embassy were informed of the situation. The woman still is on the F.B.I. list, and the embassy stonewalled the status by saying the case is an active investigation.

A consul at the U.S. Embassy issued a letter of transportation to Carola Herrmann May 25 that falsely stated that young Antonio "lost or had stolen his passport." In fact, the father had the passport and he did not want his Costa Rica-American son to leave the country.

Using that letter, Ms. Herrmann was able to get her son on an American Airlines flight out of Panamá. She appears to have left Costa Rica without passing through Migración.

The decision in the case of Stumbo and his U.S. divorce and custody decision also is strange. The 
decision came from the Sala Primera of the Corte Supreme de Justicia in San José. The case was a technical one in which the court had to decide if it would accept as genuine the decision of a Florida court. 

The court did not accept the Florida decision, which favored Stumbo, because it was not sure if his wife, Ms. Gaitán, had been properly notified of the legal case against her. But then it gave two other reasons that are real head-scratchers.

First it said that if it granted custody of young Marco, the boy would likely be taken from Costa Rican soil against his will, something against the Costa Rican Constitution. In other words, the court  said that an underage boy has the right to determine his country of residence even if such a decision is against the better judgment of the person who has custody. The person with custody is supposed to make such decisions for minors.

The court also said that it could not verify the signatures applied to the U.S. legal papers at the Costa Rican Consulate in Miami. Stumbo explained that a clerk had signed the papers on the instructions of the consul, a common practice.

This impediment listed by the court would seem to be one easily removed by simply having a judge make a telephone call to the Costa Rican Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto five blocks away. If the ministry vouches for the signature, the documents should be accepted as genuine. If the documents are forgeries, Stumbo should face a criminal action. He said the papers are legitimate.

What was clear is that the court was simply creating additional reasons why the documents and the U.S. court decision should not be accepted. The validity of such documents should be what concerns the Sala Primera. The implications of the decision should best be left to the family court judges in Heredia before which Stumbo and his wife have a case.

What lessons come from such cases?

First, parental abduction cases should get speedy responses from the courts and police.  The speed of the response should not depend on the gender of the complainant.

Second, in the 21st century Costa Rica should adopt more speedy ways to validate foreign court decisions. A man should not be arrested at gunpoint on the strength of a photocopy. And someone should not have to wait 18 months for a court to validate legal papers. A judge is tempted to cut some corners if the system is so cumbersome.

Third, foreign embassies here should be a little more aggressive in pressuring the courts to stick to international legal precedents. 

Fourth, the U.S. State Department needs to determine why embassy officials here were so quick to give Ms. Herrmann documents that let her spirit her son out of the country contrary to Costa Rican law. And the department needs to determine who was out to lunch on the Tomayko case. And why.

Sportsbooks employees ask authorities for support
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Employees of sportsbooks — online betting houses — are pleading with the government of Costa Rica to help stop what they call the discrimination shown against their employers by banks.

The employees did this in an advertisement taken out Sunday in La Nación.

Earlier last week, banks made public their refusal to open accounts for transactions conducted by sportsbooks for the processing of bets. 

The employees claim these acts jeopardize their salaries and also make insurance and social security payments impossible. There are an estimated 150 to 200 sportsbooks in Costa Rica and they employ around 6,000 people.

Also mentioned in the advertisement was the Asamblea Nacional’s recent approval of a plan to impose an annual license fee for the operation of sportsbooks in the country. For some companies, the fee will be around $60,000, the ad noted.

Some 1,880 signatures are referenced as supporting the declaration, according to the advertisement. The emphasis is on the damage that could be inflicted as a result of the 

authorities’ position.

The employees say sportsbook operators may leave Costa Rica and go to other countries. The employees say this will have grave affects on the economy and affect the many students, for example, who are paying for their education through work in Sportsbooks.

The advertisement poses the question: Is this government prepared to assume the responsibility of the 6,000 employees and their good salaries? And it ends: Deputies and ministers of the government of Costa Rica, we are in your hands!

Some sportbook employees showed up at the assembly when the tax proposal was being passed before Christmas.

From the government’s standpoint, some sportsbooks are being used as money-laundering operations and some have been infiltrated by the Sicilian Mafia via New York.

Several successful con men have placed their ill-gotten gains in Costa Rica Internet gambling houses, including one 17-year-old who ran a bogus investment house from his home in the United States. That’s because the sportsbooks do not maintain the controls on depositors that banks do.

Gold firm planning
to resubmit report

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vannessa Ventures Ltd. says it will resubmit an environmental study of the Crucitas gold mining project in northern Costa Rica.

The Vancouver, B.C. -based company said that the response it got from the Secretaria Técnica Nacional Ambiental allows the company to file a
response and continue the permitting process towards final approval.

The environmental agency rejected the impact study provided by the company last week and said that important aspects, such as the effects on tourism and on archaeological sites were left out. The agency also said that the company did not address the impact of its proposed plan to leach gold with cyanide and that it did not provide a plan for closing the mine when the gold was depleted.

Vannessa and its Costa Rica subsidiary, Industrias Infinito, said it will deal with deficiencies in the study related to the guidelines given to the  company at the time the study was requested.

The firm also said it would appeal the introduction of new topics, which it feels are expanding the scope of the study and which were neither included in the request nor are directly related to the  environmental concerns regarding the operation of a mine.

The company said it would do this in the next three days.

The project is controversial because it involves an open-pit gold mine close to the San Juan River. The location appears to be rich in gold, and the price of gold has skyrocketed.

A number of environmental organizations oppose the plan.

U.S. chopper gets
fisherman to hospital

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. Navy helicopter took an injured machinist from his fishing boat  220 nautical miles southeast of the Isla del Coco Saturday night.

The injured man was Ronald Herrera, 32, of the fishing vessel Niña 3 out of Puntarenas, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The U.S.S. Connin with a rescue helicopter aboard was patroling some 120 miles south of Isla del Coco, and crewmen managed to rescue the man and bring him to Juan Santamaría Airport, said the ministry.

The man is believed to have lost fingers and suffered damage to his hand when he was caught in machinery.

Cuba protests handling
of its convicted citizens

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The Foreign Ministry here has filed a protest with the United States over the treatment of five Cubans serving lengthy prison sentences after being convicted of spying. 

Cuban officials made the announcement Thursday, saying the five nationals are being held in solitary confinement. Cuba also says they have not been allowed to communicate with their relatives and attorneys. 

Washington did not immediately react to the protest, which comes as defense lawyers prepare to appeal the men's cases next month. 

Two years ago, a Miami jury convicted the men of trying to infiltrate U.S. military bases and Cuban exile groups in south Florida. 

Defense attorneys argued the five simply monitored extremist groups that allegedly backed terrorist campaigns in Cuba. The convicted Cubans are serving sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison.

Haitian police release
rights activist

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Police have released a women's rights activist who spent five days in custody without being charged.

Carline Simon and her husband Serge were freed late Thursday in the neighborhood of Delmas, near the capital.

Police arrested the couple Sunday, two days after Ms. Simon led an anti-government protest in the seaside town of La Saline.

Activists for the National Coalition of Haitian Rights said police were initially responding to calls of help from the couple after an unidentified group threatened them. 

The police later arrested the couple, saying they found illegal weapons in the couple's car. However, witnesses say there were no guns in the car.

The French government and several rights groups had urged officials here to release Ms. Simon and her husband.

Ms. Simon heads the group Women the Rising Sun.

Bogotá bombing suspect may 
have tracked leader’s son 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Officials here say the chief suspect in last month's bombing of the city’s El Nogal social club appeared to have been tracking the youngest son of President Alvaro Uribe. 

Authorities said Friday that John Freddy Arellan, a squash instructor at the club, kept a journal on Jeronimo Uribe's daily routines, bodyguards, travel routes and vehicles used. 

Officials say the journal turned up during a search of Arellan's office and that other entries included notes on a former finance minister as well as a television reporter who covers the armed forces. 

Arellan was one of the 33 people killed when the bomb ripped through the nightclub on Feb. 7. 

Authorities have blamed the bombing on leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the nation's largest guerrilla group. The rebels have denied involvement.

Chavez foe gets
asylum from Ticos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has granted political asylum to a Venezuelan opposition leader after he pleaded with diplomats to help him.

Carlos Ortega, president of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, said he believed his life was in danger and sought the refuge of a foreign country for his protection.

The Foreign Ministry here issued a statement saying it is in constant touch with Ricardo Lizano, Costa Rican ambassador to Venezuela, regarding the matter. 

The ministry said Costa Rica is maintaining its traditional position of offering asylum based on Article 31 of the Constitution.

According to VHeadline News, the Venezuelan police arrived at the Costa Rican Embassy in Caracas Friday morning. The embassy staff did not admit the police, fearing their visit might be related to the Ortega case, said the Internet newspaper.

A warrant was issued for Ortega’s arrest in February, and he has been in hiding since. The warrant was issued for his involvement in organizing the almost two-month-long workers strike in Venezuela, which brought the country to a standstill. It is not yet clear if or when Oretga will be brought to Costa Rica.
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New bills cut down fake U.S. currency, officials say
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Counterfeiting of U.S. currency has declined markedly with the introduction of the 1996-series currency, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.  An upcoming new series, to be introduced later this year, will further enhance the security of U.S. banknotes, officials said.

U.S. dollars are held and widely used around the world, and the popularity and ubiquity of the dollar make it a potential target for counterfeiters.

The Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department Friday issued a joint report to Congress that said that procedures to combat international counterfeiting of U.S. currency are becoming more effective.

The report, "The Use and Counterfeiting of United States Currency Abroad, Part II," mandated by Congress as part of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, represents a comprehensive review of the international use and counterfeiting of U.S. currency.  The report details how the combined efforts of the Treasury, U. S. Secret Service, and Federal Reserve have held the incidence of counterfeiting at relatively low nominal levels.

"We continue to improve our currency and resist efforts by counterfeiters the world over to produce and pass counterfeit U.S. notes," said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.  "Only by such efforts can we guarantee that our currency will continue to remain a symbol of American strength and stability."

"U.S. currency continues to hold an important place in the payment system at home and abroad and maintaining its integrity is of utmost concern to the Federal Reserve," said Roger Ferguson, vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.  "A secure currency precludes the need for businesses, merchants and the public to expend significant resources and time validating the genuineness of currency.  When payment systems work well, the economy functions more efficiently." 

This second report to the Congress on the use and counterfeiting of U.S. currency abroad provides further evidence that improved note designs have 

been more difficult for counterfeiters to copy.  The result has been much smaller proportions of counterfeits of new design notes among notes processed at Federal Reserve Banks. 

According to the report, efforts to protect U.S. currency continue to be effective. The incidence of counterfeiting is low, with approximately one counterfeit note per 10,000 notes worldwide. The Secret Service is working closely with overseas banks and law enforcement agencies to help suppress counterfeiting activities.

 The report highlights important steps the U.S. Government is currently taking to combat global counterfeiting:

o A Secret Service web site allows law enforcement agencies and currency handlers worldwide to report instances of counterfeiting and to learn more about the characteristics of a suspect note. 

o The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has established overseas cash depots at foreign commercial banks.  These facilities allow overseas dollar users to obtain new U.S. currency more efficiently and increase the repatriation rate of worn and old-design U.S. currency. 

o U.S. enforcement agencies are working with their overseas counterparts to target cities and countries that first receive counterfeit notes in the wholesale distribution chain.

The study concludes that overseas holdings of U.S. currency ranged between $340 billion and $370 billion out of the roughly $620 billion in U.S. currency held outside of U.S. depository institutions in the last quarter of 2002.

According to the report, advances in reprographic and computer technology will continue to necessitate new and innovative responses to maintain the overall security of U.S. currency. 

These efforts will include further security enhancements to the currency design, enhanced cooperation with international law enforcement agencies and additional training of foreign law enforcement, and financial officials in counterfeit detection.

The report is available online at:


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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