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(506) 223-1327          Published Monday, March 26, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 60          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Total 2006 tourism up but not from prime countries
By Arnoldo Cob Mora
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More tourists visited Costa Rica last year than in 2005, according to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. The increase was 2.2 percent, according to statistics provided by the institute.

However, visitors from North America and Europe declined 2.3 percent from 1,128,259 to 1,101,840, according to the same statistics.

The institute released preliminary and incomplete figures Friday at the request of A.M. Costa Rica. The institute gets the information from the Dirección General de Migración, and there is more than a two-month lag in reporting.

Statistics for the first eight months of the year showed a slight increase which ran counter to the estimates of Central Valley tourism operators. Their concerns had merit. The final figures show that tourists from the United States were down 33,210, a 4.4 percent drop. European tourists were up less than 1 percent with 232,889 tourists in 2005 and 234,357 in 2006. The biggest European contributor was Spain with 50,205 tourists, a 2 percent increase over 2005.
There is no way of determining how many of the North American tourists really are residents in Costa Rica who leave every 90 days to spend their obligatory 72 hours outside the country before getting a new tourism visa upon rearrival.

The tourism institute estimated that income for visitors was up 3.4 percent over 2005 to $1.65 billion. That's 7.5 percent of the gross national product.

The summary from the institute was upbeat. Officials expect a good tourism year based on preliminary reports for January and February from Alajuela's Juan Santamaria and Liberia's Daniel Oduber airports. Spirit Airlines has received approval to operate here, and officials think this will generate 50,000 more available seats. Iberia has increased its service, too, resulting in 90,000 more seats, officials said.

The London-based First Choice is coming to Costa Rica at the beginning of May. The Spanish line Air Comet will begin flights in June, and the Canadian-based Sunwing Vacation will be increasing its package tours via Liberia. The national tourism development plan anticipated a 4 to 5 percent increase for 2007.

Roberto Villegas and dad, JoseAngel, are dwarfed by their white-tailed deer statue. The deer has the color that is typical of the Costa Rican variety. The animal is well-known in North America where the coat has more brown. The deer has a range that goes as far south as Peru.

A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton

Monumental-size white-tailed deer statue is a Santa Clara original
By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Local Costa Rican artists Roberto Villegas and his dad, JoseAngel Villegas, combined their talents to create a gigantic work of art, an enormous statue of Costa Rica’s national symbol, a deer. 

The statue is 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet) high including the antlers, 3.5 meters long (11.5 feet), and a meter (about 39 inches) wide. The work is embedded permanently into a concrete base at one of the entrances to their property in Santa Clara.  The only part they had help with is completing the concrete base, the rest, Roberto made with his bare hands or hand tools, with his dad there to assist.

This project took three to four days of planning and solutions, followed by eight weekends of a total of about 250 hours of work, they said.  They first made a model that could fit in a pair of hands.  Then they began the process of creating the enormous final three-dimensional structure.  They used various materials for ears, eyes, tail, hooves, antlers. The main body was finished in concrete.  The finishing touches were done with a special outdoor paint, and Roberto applied life-like markings and his artistic touch with dad’s input. 

Roberto, 36, and his dad, 63, have lived their whole life in Ciudad Quesada de San Carlos.  JoseAngel finished six years of primary school and then began making various artistic items of wood material such as bowls, plates, household furniture and wall hangings.
Roberto finished a year of college, and is a certified electrician and certified in the tourism industry.  Other artistic work he has completed is a unique wooden bead curtain with an image of a deer incorporated into it, household furniture and outdoor house and swimming pool moldings, wooden wall hangings and memorable pencil drawings.  At his current position at a private hospital, he is in charge of all electrical, telephone and water maintenance. 

His artistic training is one summer course in which he was guided by a Japanese artist in drawing various animals.  Otherwise, the artistic talents of both Roberto and his dad come naturally and instinctively.  JoseAngel credits his son, Roberto, for the entire creative process of their new statue. 

They wanted a deer, and they wanted it extraordinarily large out of love of one of their country’s national symbol, and the fact that their property has deer. They have named their property “Rancho Venado Cola Blanca,” (Rancho White-Tailed Deer). 

They have had their very tranquil property of nine manzanas in Santa Clara now for eight years, where they have turkeys, chickens and trained geese.  Their property is profuse with unique artistry, from their creatively designed house, swimming pool, furniture, decorations, to their natural land and wildlife.

The place is about 25 minutes by car north of Ciudad Quesada or San Carlos as it is called.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 60

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Sunday afternoon strollers
see man kill his wife

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday strollers in downtown San José were shocked when a man pulled a gun on his wife, killed her and then killed himself.

The deaths were the climax of a long string of domestic violences. The couple had three daughters.

The shootings happened in front of the main Correo de Costa Rica historic building on the Calle 2 north-south pedestrian boulevard. The shooting happened about 3:15 p.m., and the bodies remained on the sidewalk for three hours more while agents investigated.

The dead woman was identified as Rosa Pozos, 35, and her estranged husband as Alfonso Sarnia Obando, 45. He was believed to be intoxicated.

Another murder took place in Playas del Coco Saturday. Dead was a man with the last names of Dixon Allen. Wounded in the head was a 21-year-old woman with the last name of Saboria.

Fuerza Pública officers located a suspect in a bar in the community of Filadelfia. They said they confiscated two pistols.

And in Batan, Provincia de Limón, a woman, Sonia del Carmen Hernández, died when she confronted a man who came looking for her 18-year-old daughter, said police. She was shot.

Politicians begin to call
for action on criminals

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Now that a high-profile robbery took place at the home of a well-known politician, crime and punishment are becoming major topics.

Fernando Berrocal, the security minister, called for changes in the law Sunday when he spoke to residents in Palmares.

Friday, Luis Paulino Mora Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, also called for legal changes that would protect victims as it now does criminals.

Berrocal said he wanted some kind of legislation so that small crimes can be added up into a more seerious charge if the criminal continues to commit them. He called this a chain of high danger.

He gave as examples the theft of earings or a cellular telephone as smaller crimes that result in judges releasing the suspect repeatedly so more crimes can be committed.

The supreme court president said that even his family has felt the impact of crime. He said he would be happy if the problem could be solved just by changing judges. Some have argued that judges should be tougher.

Many Costa Ricas are afraid to report crime or even testify as a witness because they face possible retailiation. In several cases suspects have gone free because witnesses have been killed.

When a victim comes in contact with the judicial system, frequently it is not a talk with a lawyer he needs but an interview with other professionals to help him surmount the problems caused by the crime, said the court president. He was speaking at a ceremony marking the start of the judicial year.

Berrocal was in Palmares to show appreciation for some 10 million colons ($19,200) in motorcycles given by the  Asociación Cívica Palmareña to the police.

Crime is in the minds of politicians because the Rohrmoser home of Ricardo Toledo was the target of violent robbers Wednesday, and two persons, a maid and a neighbor, died.  He is the former mininster of the Presidencia and a former legislative deputy and presidential candidate.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 60

Depleted uranium becomes new weapon against trade treaty
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents to the free trade treaty with the United States joined forces Friday with an ailing Iraq war veteran to suggest that the agreement might expose Costa Rica to radioactivity.

The soldier, Herbert Reed, who served with the New York National Guard in Iraq, is the poster boy for possible negative effects by U.S. depleted uranium technology. He makes frequent public appearances.

He was joined by Oscar López, a legislative deputy who opposes the treaty. Reed was here seeking Costa Rican support for an international agreement against depleted uranium. López is the sole representative of the Partido Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión.

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of uranium enrichment, and it is used for shells and bullets because it is more dense than lead and can penetrate armored vehicles.

López told a press conference that depleted uranium could be produced here if the free trade treaty is passed. Since the treaty cannot be edited, he said the only course would be to reject the document completely.
The idea carries a lot of emotional weight in Costa Rica because of the population's aversion to war and war products. The claim is supported by a mention of radioactivity in the free trade treaty within a list of other products.

Reed became ill after he and his unit were stationed in Samawah, Iraq. during July 2003. Others in his unit also showed up ill at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Reed blames dust produced by the impact of depleted uranium ordnance. He was the topic of a lengthy article by The Associated Press in August. Reed and his comrades have sued the U.S. federal government.

The U.S. military rejects that idea that depleted uranium is dangerous in the same way it rejected concerns about the Agent Orange defoliant after the Vietnam war. But no one doubts that Reed is seriously ill.

Trade treaty opponents have tried to fan public fears before when they suggested that a U.S. weapons manufacturer was coming here. It turned out that someone else had used the name of the company here for a Costa Rican corporation without the knowledge of the U.S. firm, Raytheon. The Arias administration seems to have the 38 votes it needs to pass the treaty in the Asamblea Legislativa, so opponents are anxious to find reasons not to do so.

Language training is the first step in being a good neighbor
Cada uno en su casa y Dios en la de todos
“Each one in their own house, and God in all houses.” Though it may sound benignly pious on the surface, what this dicho is really about is bad guests and those who overstay their welcome.
This dicho also puts me in mind of certain foreigners who love to come to live in Costa Rica, but consider themselves sort of perpetual guests here. They come to take advantage of the beautiful surroundings, the climate and relatively low real estate prices, but otherwise remain aloof from the actual life of the country.

These folks are often critical of our political, social, or cultural traditions and complain of the deteriorating condition of the country’s infrastructure. But many of them often don’t even bother learning Spanish! If you think something is wrong and you want to make it better, then you usually have to get involved, and, in Costa Rica at least, learning to speak the local language would be a pretty good place to start.
When I became a United States citizen, one of the reasons I did so was because I wanted to participate more fully in the life of my new country and do my part to help make the U.S.A. a better place. It wasn’t just because of what I thought I personally could get out of the deal.
I have met many U.S. citizens living in Costa Rica, and the ones who get involved in our society, traditions and customs are invariably the ones who have learned to speak at least some Spanish and are therefore also far better at dealing with the problems that arise in the course of everyday life here.
One of these people is a retired fellow I know who lives with his wife in my town of Santo Domingo de Heredia. He started a volunteer project helping to teach English in the local schools. Several days a week he makes the rounds of the elementary schools in our municipality. He gives of his time, his knowledge, and indeed of himself, to help young Costa Ricans master what is undoubtedly their most important second language by providing them the opportunity to practice with a native English speaker.

Now that’s what I call being an excellent resident inhabitant. Also, he finds the work he does with these kids so rewarding. It has brought a new meaning and greater dimension to his life. For while he’s teaching

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

English he is himself also becoming more assimilated to life as lived by his Tico neighbors. The culture can’t help but rub off on him a little each time he meets with his students.
So getting involved in Costa Rica not only means business, making a quick buck, or just laying back and soaking up our tropical sunshine. It also has to do with giving back to this country to make it a better place for all of us: citizens, residents, and visitors alike.
Helping to clean up the environment is another project that frequent visitors and residents could get involved in. It was recently reported in the media that the Pacific coast between Tarcoles and Jacó is the most polluted stretch of beach in the country largely because the highly contaminated Tarcoles River empties into the ocean there. This is also a region that is heavily populated with foreigners, mostly North Americans, who often complain bitterly and loudly about the situation.  But rather than just griping and grumbling why don’t these alien denizens get serious by forming an environmental committee to work with the government to help clean up the Tarcoles River? After all, aren’t Americans supposed to be famous for their “can do” spirit?
It seems to me better to get up and get involved than to be continually demonstrating the veracity of the old adage in English, which says that fish and houseguests stink after three days. The Tarcoles River may stink too, but there is something that local inhabitants, both Costa Rican citizens and foreign residents, can do about it if they will ban together to get the job done.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 60

State Department official disputes idea that U.S. ties with Latins are frayed
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A top State Department official takes issue with the conventional wisdom of many media reports that the United States is on the defensive in Latin America.

R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, said last week that he firmly believes the United States has a good relationship with most countries in Latin America.

“Maybe I’m wearing rose-colored glasses” regarding good U.S.-Latin American ties, he said.  “But I don’t think so.” Burns made his comments to the Council of the Americas, a Washington business association.

The conventional wisdom is that populism is on the rise and that leftist governments hostile to the United States are becoming the dominant force in Latin America, Burns said.  But he said “an objective professional diplomatic view” shows a “lot of positive forces at work” for better
U.S.-Latin America cooperation, despite all the region’s problems and “sometimes differences of opinion among governments that are friendly to each other.”

Burns said the great majority of nations in the Americas believe in democracy, free elections and “some type of free-market system,” although “we all put different colorations on it.”

In addition, Burns said almost all the region’s leaders agree on the need to combat drug trafficking, drug production and international crime, and that global climate change — a problem for which “we are all responsible” — can be reduced through investment in clean-energy technology.

Burns said only two leaders in the Western Hemisphere are at odds with the shift toward enhanced U.S.-Latin American cooperation — Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.  Burns called Chávez a “figure from the past” because of the Venezuelan’s moves against democracy that include a crackdown on press freedom.

This Villalobos Brothers investor put up his money with his eyes wide open
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

Investor Terrance O’Brien appeared as a prosecution witness in the Oswaldo Villalobos trial Friday, but his testimony did little to suggest he was an naive victim of fraud.

Most witnesses have come with a similar story. They heard about The Brothers high-interest investment operation from other expatriates or relatives. They thought with 20 years of operation it must be safe or even sanctioned by the government. Most invested the minimum $10,000 or other relatively small sums. The closure Oct. 14, 2002, generally came as surprise and caused significant hardship.

O’Brien heard about the investment operation while standing in line at the Ofinter S.A. exchange house, and was able to invest without the recommendation usually required. He said he only dealt with Luis Enrique Villalobos although he was told that the money to pay interest came from the exchange house’s profits.

When asked by prosecutor Ilem Melendez if he thought the investment was secure, O’Brien said “No investment in the world is safe. But I considered that an investment at about 5 or 10 percent to be moderately safe. This was an investment with a rate of about 30 percent. Such an investment could not possibly be considered a safe investment. But I proceeded to invest nonetheless.”
For O’Brien, the $80,000 he lost was “not the end of my life.” When Ms. Melendez asked what expectations he had from his participation in the legal action, he said “not very much” but that he did hope to gain some part of the Villalobos assets confiscated by the government.

That one witness was the only significant activity at the trial Thursday or Friday. Thursday was dedicated entirely to reading evidence into the record, with a total of only four hours actually spent working.

Friday afternoon’s session had already been canceled, and the morning was cut short as a helicopter began dropping commandos into the plaza between the Judicial Investigating Organization building and the building in which the trial was being held.

The noise of the helicopters, part of a demonstration of law enforcement techniques, made conversation impossible in the courtroom.

Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho and his defense lawyers will get their chance next week because O'Brien was one of the few prosecution witnesses remaining.

Luis Enrique Villalobos, the brother most closely identified with the high interest operation, is a fugitive, but Oswaldo, who was known as the operator of Ofinter is facing fraud, money laundering and illegal banking charges related to the entire operation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 60

Cricket corruption investigators join case of murdered coach
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Cricket Council says its anti-corruption unit is investigating whether match fixing was a motive for the strangulation murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer at the World Cup last week.

Woolmer was found unconscious in his hotel room March 18 and was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. His death came after Ireland knocked Pakistan out of the World Cup.

After days of speculation as to the cause of Woolmer's death, authorities said that he was strangled.

Jamaican police say they are reviewing security camera
 video from the hotel where the team was staying. DNA samples were also taken from Pakistani team members. Police say Woolmer's room showed no signs of forced entry, indicating he might have known his killer or killers.

International Cricket Council head Malcolm Speed said in an interview that the ICC's anti-corruption and match-fixing staff is working with Jamaican police. He said the ICC has exhaustive information about bookmakers and betters and if there is a link between the murder and match fixing, the governing body wants to deal with it.

Woolmer, a former England batsman, was South Africa's coach in the 1990s when former captain Hansie Cronje admitted taking money in a match-fixing scandal. Woolmer was never implicated

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