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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 25, 2003, Vol. 3, No. 59
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Their favorite word in English is 'Gimme'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The saying goes: "Just because they speak English, they are not always your friend."

And that truth is being verified these days as downtown San José seems to be hosting a handful of skillful, English-speaking beggars.

They are native English-speakers and they have a hard-luck story. Their pitch always ends with a request for money. The average Tico beggar is happy with 20 to 50 colons, some five to 13 U.S. cents. But the English speakers nearly always seek 2,000 to 3,000 colons, about $5.15 to $7.75.

The hard luck story nearly always is the same. The poor man or woman has been the victim of a bold robbery, perhaps along the street, perhaps at the bus station. They just need some cash to return home or to rejoin their tour group.

At least four persons sometimes patrol the city seeking likely marks. Nearly always their pitch begins "Do you speak English?" They sure do.

One slender, dark-haired man about 30 has been running his scam for at least three years. He sometimes stakes out the building of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica and buttonholes foreigners as they leave.

He just needs 2,000 colons to return home to some unstated Costa Rican village because robbers took all he had. But if you give him your name, he will send you the money, he says with straight face. 

A woman about 40 has begun to make the rounds downtown. She appears to have seen better days as she tries to create a conversation with a possible English-speaker. She had dark circles around her eyes and seems to be working in tandem with a man who generally is a couple of blocks away.

The woman displays a sharp tongue to tourists or foreign residents who do not fall for her pitch.

Some of these beggars have been known to confront English-speakers in upscale stores. Store guards usually let them enter because they appear to be North Americans.

So far there has been no violence associated with the beggars, even though some of the confrontations happen in darkness along city streets. Clearly the beggars or gang of beggars plays on the sympathy tourists might have for fellow countrymen or women who have been mugged or otherwise are down on their luck.

Their random visits to San José suggest they may be plying their deceptive trade in seaside resorts.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
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A dog’s best friend is a guy with an ice cream cone. Jack, a yellow lab, can’t take his eyes off a possible treat held by his owner, Alfredo Barrantes Moya, a producer and announcer at Radio América 780 A.M. The setting is the pedestrian mall downtown.
 

Walkout stalls assembly action on censure vote
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq continued to generate heat here Monday.

Deputies allied with the Partido Liberación Nacional walked out of the legislative assembly session about 5 p.m. and brought that body to a halt.

Meanwhile, opponents to the war have erected booths and signs and were distributing black ribbons Monday in memory of the Iraqi dead.

Party chief Bernal Jiménez said that the walkout that prevented the assembly from maintaining a quorum was a protest for the aid that President Abel Pacheco has given the United States.

Party sources said that Jiménez managed to speak with Pacheco and asked him to change his position. Jiménez also was said to be concerned at the long-term implications for Costa Rica because it is listed among those nations that support the war.

He claimed that the assembly is the only body that can decide to end the nation’s traditional neutrality. He said the president did not have that power. He said the action of the president was tantamount to having declared war on Iraq.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana, which opposes the war, too, criticized the Liberación walkout, but Gloria Valerín, a deputy of Pacheco’s Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, also left.

Marta Zamora, leader of Acción Ciudadana, said that the appropriate place to fight the battle was within the legislative body and not by walking out. Acción Ciudadana Monday before the walkout proposed a vote to censure Roberto Tovar Faja, the minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Pacheco, for his part, said that he does not support the United States in the war but that he does oppose terrorism.

Within the legislature, Mario Redondo, the leader of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, the ruling party and the party of the president, characterized the walkout as infantil.

Meanwhile, the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales and Escuela de Estudios Generales of the Universidad de Costa Rica have scheduled a seminar to discuss the war tonight at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the law school, the Facultad de Derecho.

The title of the seminar, which will be in Spanish, is "Our world and the war against Iraq." The university opposes the war as official policy. An anti-war activist, an historian and an international lawyer will talk.

A second seminar will be Friday at 10 a.m. This will be in the auditorium of the education school, the Facultad de Educación. the title is "The war in Iraq and the future of the international system."  A member of the global anti-war movement is scheduled to speak.

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New Caracas newspaper publisher found dead 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
By VHeadline.com

CARACAS, Venezuela — The editor-publisher of the Daily Journal newspaper here, Janet Kelly, 56, has been found dead close to the Cota Mil highway above Caracas.

Her Toyota Yaris automobile was parked at a tourist vantage point overlooking the upper Altamira suburb of Caracas close to a major exit from the highway and her body found over the edge, 150 meters below. 

There are no indications as to how the death occurred, but detectives were at the scene through the morning. The site had been cordoned off while investigations proceed.

Ms. Kelly, who also was a leading economist, had only just taken over the Daily Journal March 10 and had great ambitions for the publication under her leadership.  She was also part of an international negotiating committee between the 

Hugo Chavez Frias government and the opposition.

The Philadelphia-born woman had graduated in international studies at the Johns Hopkins University and had become a much-respected economics professor at the Institute for Higher Economic Studies in Caracas and had gathered a group of investors to buy out the newspaper from the Neumann family this month. 

She was an associate professor at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas and a leading light in the expat American comunity as well as a director at the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce.

Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez was at the scene and said that it is up to the experts to determine what happened. Suicide has apparently been ruled out, and it is thought that she may otherwise have been the target of a political assassination.

Local news reporters called her "our highly-regarded colleague."

2003 rainy season reported right on schedule
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
   
Based on the seasonal averages, the Costa Rican weather experts predict that the Central Valley will enter the rainy season right on schedule from May 3 to May 11.

The report from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said the start of the rainy season is not a fixed date but usually is preceded by some three weeks of increasing wet days.

All other sections of the country will begin the 

rainy season about the same time, according to weather bureau predictions, except the Southern Pacific where rain will come nearly a month earlier with the start of the season fixed at about April 2 to 10. That is the usual state of affairs in the rainy south Pacific.

The hurricane seasons begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30, the institute noted.

The report released Monday is based on computer modeling and historical averages, so the estimates are just that.


 
Peru's Montesinos
jailed for 5 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

LIMA, Peru — A court here has sentenced former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos to 64 months in prison for influence peddling. 

Montesinos, who was sent to jail last year on charges of abusing his authority, was found guilty of helping family members of his former secretary and girlfriend avoid legal and financial difficulties. Montesinos told the court Monday he reserved the right to appeal the sentence at a later time. Judges also sentenced the ex-girlfriend, Jacqueline Beltran, to four years in prison. 

The case is just one of dozens against Montesinos, who is accused of leading a giant corruption ring while serving as a top adviser to disgraced ex-President Alberto Fujimori. 

Current President Alejandro Toledo has asked Japan to extradite the former president to face charges of corruption and human rights abuses. Fujimori fled three years ago and insists he is innocent of the charges. 

Brazilian leader toils
under stagnant economy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

BRASILIA, Brazil — President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is struggling to expand his nation's economy and his government's programs for the poor even as the war in the Persian Gulf puts pressure on economic growth prospects worldwide. 

Almost three months into his term, the leader is contending with numerous problems, including friction within his own party.

When he was elected last year, da Silva promised to provide his people with more jobs and expectations, especially among the poor, were set high. Now, with the worldwide economy still struggling to find its footing and a war raging in Iraq, the outlook for job growth in Brazil is somewhat clouded.

Political analyst David Fleischer says administration officials remain confident that the war will have little or no effect on Brazil's economic growth. 

"There are some in Lula's government who actually feel that exports might even increase and that capital flows to emerging markets, especially Brazil, might even be stronger," he said. "That may be wishful thinking and we will have to wait and see what the major consequences of the war are."

For now, Fleischer points out, the da Silva government is taking a moderate approach, continuing many of the same programs that were started under the previous administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. 

Since the country's tax rates are already high and its foreign and domestic debt is enormous, amounting to well over $250 billion, da Silva has concentrated on cutting costs rather than expanding new programs.

This has led to strife within his own Workers' Party, with so-called Radicals condemning their old comrade Lula for taking a centrist approach and forming alliances with other, more conservative parties.

Child advocacy group
seeks investigator

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Casa Alianza said Monday that they would make a formal request to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights for the naming of a special investigator on extra judicial, summary and arbitrary executions for Latin America, said Bruce Harris, director of Latin American programs for the child advocacy group.

The group said this is in light of the significant increase in the numbers of murders of children and youth in Central America in the past few years.

A delegation from the commission was scheduled to meet with Casa Alianza and other child rights organizations in Guatemala City Monday as a part of an official visit to the Central American country, said the group.

“Casa Alianza feels there is a significant need for the naming of a specific Commissioner to permanently look into the increasing numbers of murders of children and young people in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua,” said Harris.

Casa Alianza says it has documented more than 1,700 Honduran children and youth under the age of 23 years of age murdered since January 1998. 

And in Guatemala’s capital, the group says, more than 50 children and youth are being murdered each month — more than 600 each year. In Nicaragua a total of 132 children and youth under the age of 23 were murdered in 2002, the group added.

Robbers knife driver,
steal his cash

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Pavas-bound bus was robbed in La Sabana Monday night as the driver stopped to pick up passengers.

Almost 200,000 colons (about $515) was stolen by three persons, who were posing as customers, during the robbery. The driver incurred a knife wound to the leg. 

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214-7/14/03
Time running out on woman's fight to stay here
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

She had bought some time, managing to stay ahead of the dark cloud chasing her. She found some luck, much of which was rooted in the generosity of readers.

But for Margaret Cowell, that time is almost up. She is a Villalobos investor. That’s where she put all the money she had, some $25,000. Ms. Cowell is broke and surviving mainly on others’ generosity. The now-defunct investment firm operated by Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho closed its Mall San Pedro office Oct. 14.

When a reporter contacted Ms. Cowell, she was living in El Roble, in the hills overlooking Barva de Heredia. That was Jan. 10.

Now she is living with a new friend, who learned of Ms. Cowell’s plight through A.M. Costa Rica. Her current situation is the culmination of a run of events spanning the two-and-a-half-months since her story first appeared.

There have been highs, and there have been lows, as Ms. Cowell readily admits. She has seen hopes arise, some bearing fruit, while others have fallen.

For example, one male reader, a dog lover, contacted Ms. Cowell from Atlanta, Ga.. He eventually sent her $500. Then another lady offered Ms. Cowell a place in her new home in Tilaran. The woman was moving to the home from the United States. 

But when the woman arrived, Ms. Cowell said she could not make contact. 

She now estimates she will leave Costa Rica soon. This she sees as now almost inevitable.

The stories of devastated Villalobos investors are abundant. Some investors despaired: a German man committed suicide. And many other investors have already had to leave Costa Rica.

What seemed to warm readers to Ms. Cowell’s story in particular were her dogs. In her initial interview, she spoke of the hurt and fear she had, as she pondered her departure from Costa Rica and the pets she would have to leave behind.

She said at the time of the interview her three dogs and cat, all rescued from the street, might have to be put to sleep.

That situation though has improved. Ms. Cowell said two of her dogs and her cat have found homes.

She still holds hope her remaining dog, Ben, will find a home before she leaves the country. 

However, Ms. Cowell said the dog is old and fears no one will want him because of this. And, she said, she would rather his life was brought to a peaceful end rather than he be placed in a shelter where his life is likely to be unpleasant.

Meanwhile, for Ms. Cowell either Canada or her native England beckons. She said England looks more likely. There she has many friends. But resolute to the last, she said: "You never know till the last minute."

Meanwhile, Villalobos continues to be an international fugitive being sought to face fraud and money laundering allegations.


 
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.

Investor issues a plea to Villalobos over funds
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

An open letter to Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho

Dear Luis Enrique Villalobos:

You should know that relying upon your claim of being an honest and upright Christian — and who for almost 20 years did meet all of your obligations faithfully — your investors/lenders merely want to know that the funds entrusted to you have not been lost. Some of your very close intimates have stated that money is still being invested and that funds are safe.

Are those who believe that you do intend to meet your obligations naive and foolishly trusting or are they correct in believing that your honesty, integrity, Christianity and good motives are intact? 

As you well know, many of your investors/lenders relied on their interest income to live and have started to lose confidence, as you can well imagine.

In order to restore confidence it might well be to your advantage to show a token of good faith by making at least at this time small token payments. You should also avoid possible criminal action in the States by honoring those checks which were issued but which were returned as marked account closed or insufficient funds.

It is to be hoped that your counsel is really giving you good advice. But your complete silence is not helpful to your cause. May we hear from you directly as to your intentions?

Don Donelly 
Las Vegas, Nevada

 
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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