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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, March 27, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 61          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Insurance coverage for Nicoya ferries are modest
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new Tambor II ferry holds 500 passengers and 150 vehicles. It cost $11.5 million and was imported from Europe.

Under terms of the concession to haul passengers and vehicles between Puntarenas and Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula, the operator, Naviera Tambor S.A., must purchase insurance.

The required amount is $1.5 million for civil liabilities or about $3,000 per passenger not counting the vehicles. But according to a company representative, Enrique Boza Montero, the firm voluntarily purchased an additional $3 million in insurance because the Costa Rican insurance monopoly, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, will not pay international claims.

The monopoly is being challenged as the Asamblea Legislativa works to open the domestic insurance market and create a commission to supervise it.

These changes are expected to take place with or without passage of the free trade treaty with the United States.

In the current situation anyone who travels the Gulf of Nicoya on public ferries is pretty well self insured. The Tambor I, also owned by Naviera Tambor, carries an identical amount of liability insurance. Both also carry hull insurance, Tambor I at  $1.25 million and Tambor II at $1.44 million. These amounts, too, are far less than the actual values.
The smaller Ferry Peninsula, operated by the Asociación de Desarrollo integral de Paquera, carries just 65 million colons or about $125,000 in insurance on its passengers, according to the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes.

Maritime disasters are not unknown in the gulf where the Pacific Princess went down on a run from the Island of Tortuga to Puntarenas in 1997. A mother and daughter died and 52 persons were thrown into the sea.

The Pacific Princess case illustrates one reason why boat owners do not aggressively seek insurance protection. The case against the captain is just now coming to trial along with civil claims.

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros has not been anxious to provide protection to boat operators, according to others in the business. The typical Costa Rican boat insurance policy is between $100,000 and $300,000, according to an institute spokesperson. Like Naviera Tambor, those who wish additional coverage look to the international market.  They also note that the monopoly known as INS does not pay claims easily.

So with a slow court system, an undeveloped personal injury tradition and a fairly good safety record, ferry passengers just have to take their chances.

But if the proposed legislation passes, Costa Rica's insurance market will become increasingly sophisticated and complex and populated with companies ready to write policies with high coverage.

Environmental ministry worker faces bribe charge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained an environmental ministry employee in a sting operation at a San Pedro mall Monday morning.

The man was identified as Miguel Valverde Fernández, 45, an employee of the Departamento de Aguas of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía.

He is accused of accepting money to give a construction permit for a drainage system located just two kilometers from a spring in a finca in Upala in northern Costa Rica.
The owner of the finca made the complaint to the Judicial Investigating Organization in Cañas where plans were made to trap the public official, said a press statement from the investigatory body. The owner appeared at the mall and made the requested payment in dollars, and then the arrest was made, agents said.

Valverde is in charge of making inspections and making sure that construction does not interfere with water sources, said agents.

In the case of the spring in Upala, the drainage was too close, they said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 61

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Our readers' opinions
This is the week that was:
Just one jolt after another

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In order to effect positive change, I sincerely believe it is almost an obligation to give "legs" to last weeks negative news events. We are a nation that has lost its innocence.

The week started with three ex-presidents being raked in the news and headed for trial because they stole from the very public that elected them. Two live in-country but one remains in self imposed exile. Not one or two, but three thought the climate for graft was too tempting to resist.

Corruption continued in the news as the once revered Ministry of Education, a leader in the creation of the second republic, is ripe with undeserving, salary earning political appointments. Last week's reported case describes teachers being fired and replaced with "friendlies."

But the big story last week that remains the buzz among frightened residents and citizens was the tragic death of a maid and an innocent man who tried to help law enforcement. According to most news stories and interviewed police, this was a revenge killing because the maid identified the criminals in an earlier theft. A 16-year-old and 25-year-old returned to kill her. The innocent bystander made the mistake of helping out. He yelled at the killers and called 911 before being shot down on his own balcony.

Because the maid worked for a hi-profile Costa Rican, heaven, earth and the general assembly are wringing their hands not to mention recanting and spinning the story. But talk is cheap, real cheap. It is a custom of ours to wait out bad news and it will go away.

This time, maybe not. Costa Ricans are arming themselves big time. If government cannot or will not provide security, then we are headed much like El Salvador, Guatemala, Brazil, Colombia by forming private police forces. Maybe even one or two para military forces to strike first before being robbed, stabbed or shot.

Before more crime, chaos and a country where the prisoners run the prison, we must demand security from our government. No exceptions! Hire more police, get better technology, be more pro-active, weed out the police criminals and trim, trim like hell the bureaucracy that stops most people from ever reporting a crime. There is money, make them use it wisely. This could very well be the last chance before heading into an abyss or violence.

And this time around, do not let the police purchase 84 cars from Romania that never got out of a parking bin because they never ran and the company that sold them to the government went out of business the minute the check cleared.

I was sadly amused last year and sort of knew nothing much was on the planning board when the Minister of Security, Fernando Berrocal, made a major press announcement that he negotiated a deal where the estimated 18,000 private guards in Costa Rica would now call the police when they see a crime. Isn't that what they're supposed to do? And now? I don't think so.

Not a good week, sadly not an unusual one either.

John Holtz

Learning a new language
keeps older folks sharp

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I hope to become a "pensionista" in the near future.  I love Daniel Soto's column, and read it every week.  I often jot down his dichos to memorize and help me learn Spanish. I thought his most recent column about learning Spanish was "dead on" (is there a dicho to match that?) I'm in my 50s and learning Spanish now. 

I believe that learning a new language in later adulthood keeps ones mind active and staves off Alzheimer's and other forms of mental decline.  As a physician, I have seen that my older patients who take on new learning challenges seem to do much better, and enjoy their lives more. Norteamericanos who move to Costa Rico have much to gain for themselves by learning the language. I will try to contribute when I move to Costa Rica, perhaps by teaching medical English.

Connie Lentz, MD
Amherst, Massachusetts

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 61

More phone taps and no defense lawyers are anti-crime ideas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A proposal presented to the Costa Rican security minister Monday urges elimination of the law that requires a suspect to have a lawyer during interrogation.

In addition, the proposal urges extending the scope of telephone eavesdropping from not just narcotraffickers but also those involved in any type of organized crime. The proposals came from Juan Diego Castro Fernández, a former security minister, who presented the proposal to Fernando Berrocal, who holds that office now.

In a separate action, the office of the president said a high level commission was being formed to push laws and actions to confront the wave of violence and criminality that has faced Costa Ricans for several years.

The actions come less than a week after the Rohrmoser home of a former presidential candidate was invaded by robbers who killed a maid and a neighbor. Injured was the wife of the politician, Ricardo Toledo, who suffered a broken arm and injuries from a pistol-whipping around the face and jaw.

The proposal to Berrocal also included opening up police and arrest records for public inspection so that citizens can protect themselves.

Specifically Castro suggested elimination of Article 98 of the Código Procesal Penal which prohibits police from taking statements from suspects. If a suspect wants to make a statement, the police officer must contact the Ministerio Público, the nation's independent prosecutorial arm, which will accept the statement as prescribed under the law. This is believed to mean in the presence of a defense lawyer.

Police can only interview suspects for investigative purposes and to obtain an identification under the article.

Castro was security minister from 1998 until 2002, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Some additional proposals are designed to protect the rights of victims, said the ministry. In addition, the proposals would toughen existing laws and upgrade crimes that are now considered misdemeanors or  contravenciones in Spanish.
Berrocal said he agreed with Castro over the need to have a data base where citizens can check the criminal record of persons with whom they are in contact. And Berrocal said he agreed that there should be more use of telephone intercepts in investigations against organized crime.

Berrocal, himself, came out Friday for making the criminal laws tougher on those who commit thefts and robberies. The justice system usually lets these people out within a day or so. But Berrocal wants to treat a series of smaller offenses as a big one with penalties to match.

He also said Monday that there must be a plan of rehabilitation for petty criminals and drug addicts.

Rodrigo Arias said that the high-level anti-crime commission would have its first meeting Thursday.

"In this battle against the criminals, the government will not lower its guard," said Rodrigo Arias. "The Costa Rican wants to return to walking on the street with tranquility and
in this we will work without rest have it clear that the strategic axis against criminals is an effective collaboration between all of those we have the obligation to protect and serve in society."

Rodrigo Arias said that President Óscar Arias Sánchez considers it unacceptable that small thefts of articles that do not exceed 250,000 colons ($480) represent a  misdemeanor.

The idea to create a commission was voiced Friday by Laura Chinchilla, first vice president.

The proposals specified by Casa Presidencial Monday also include expanded wiretapping and a way to check on the criminal record of citizens. The protection of victims and witnesses also is in the plans, as is a special effort against juvenile gangs, according to Casa Presidencial.

Óscar Arias addressed citizen security in his election platform. Since being elected, he has moved to increase the number of police and has created a tourism police that is funded in part by the Instituto Costarricence de Turismo.

Berrocal has targeted drug dealers as the source of the substances that encourage crime.

Villalobos associate Bobbie Cox defends high-yield business
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

A long-time associate of Luis Enrique Villalobos described in his testimony Monday the workings of the Villalobos’ businesses that had not been heard previously

The defense witness was Robert Cox, known as Bobby to expats. He described few connections between Enrique Villalobos and his brother Oswaldo’s money changing business. Oswaldo Villalobos is on trial for charges related to The Brothers’ high-interest investment operation.

Cox said he met Enrique as early as 1980 when Cox arrived in Costa Rica to work a gold mining operation, and needed helicopter services. Eventually they became partners in the ownership of a Bell 206 helicopter, using Enrique’s Helicópteros de Costa Rica franchise.

This helicopter was used for charters and local services and was sold when Teletica and other customers brought their own aircraft to Costa Rica, he said.

Cox, who lives in Los Ángeles de Santo Domingo de Heredia said he was also involved in Enrique’s agricultural spraying operations, which he described as quite profitable with as much as 29,000 hectares under contract.

During that time Cox said he had $500,000 come in as a pay off for an investment in the gold mine and needed somewhere to put it. He said he asked Enrique to “do me a favor and store the money.” He said he was not expecting interest. When Cox got back the money Enrique had paid him 3 percent per month. After that he said he made regular investments over the years until he had in excess of $2 million with Enrique Villalobos.

Cox also said he could withdraw principal out in substantial amounts with little advance notice.

According to Cox, Enrique could pay this interest by investing in European “high yield” funds, which required at least $11 million to participate. Returns, Cox said, “depend on how many times the money is turned over per month. There are times it’s possible to obtain 7 percent, at times 8 percent.”   He did not specify the funds.

And from his testimony it was unclear if he meant return of that magnitude per month or per year. A brief Internet search of high yield “junk” bond indexes showed annual returns in the 8 to 10 percent range. Specific funds have payouts ranging from about 20 percent to negative amounts in a given year.

A business buying and repairing used helicopters in the United States was a big moneymaker for Enrique, according to Cox. That was the reason for the various bank accounts that the Villalobos companies had there, he said. Previous testimony has not included any reference to this sort of commercial activity outside Costa Rica.
Religion was a big part of Cox’s relationship with Enrique. They often attended meetings of a group of Christian businessmen together. Someone there provided the Bibles to give away in the waiting room at the Villalobos Mall San Pedro office. Cox denied there was anything inappropriate about this, as investors were not pressured to participate. Still, he described Enrique as a “faithful missionary.” The specifics of their religion were irrelevant, as each “had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Cox said he was involved in the case of investor Keith Nash, an elderly Canadian in the Villalobos operation who needed help. Cox said Enrique took charge of Nash’s medical care. When Nash’s son arrived, Enrique determined he was not the beneficiary on the investment contract, and would not relinquish any money, said Cox.

“When he [the son] tried to use the law to harm Enrique, Enrique went to court to allow him to give the money directly to Nash.” The court also declared Nash incapacitated so Enrique managed the money and paid “every bit” of Nash’s medical bills. This conflict was “the only black spot” on the investment operation ever, Cox said.

In fact, the elder Nash was pressing a legal claim against Enrique Villalobos when the entrepreneur vanished Oct. 14, 2002. He is still a fugitive. Villalobos also engaged in a propaganda campaign against the younger Michael Nash by inserting fliers in envelopes containing the monthly cash interest payments saying the younger man wanted to steal his father's money.

Enrique Villalobos owed the elder Nash $1.5 million but in a deposition shortly before he left town he claimed under oath that Nash might even owe him money because he had paid some of the man's medical bills. Nash was in a coma for a time.

Cox said Monday that after the investment operation’s closure, “unscrupulous lawyers” tried to take advantage of the situation. There was some effort to organize legal actions, though he said most of those involved did not realize it was a criminal case, they were just interested in registering a claim for their money. Among others, Kenton Brown arrived at Cox’s home to discuss action, Cox said. Brown testified last week that the failure of the Villalobos operation ruined his life.

Some investors, finding out that he was close to Enrique, “sought refuge” and advice from him, Cox said. Many of those involved in the legal actions dropped their suits, after “it was explained to them that their claims where harmful to Enrique and Oswaldo, he added.”

In response to a question from Judge Juan Carlos Chavez about why Enrique wouldn’t use money in high yield accounts to pay off important investors, Cox said “Enrique Villalobos is an honest person. If he were to pay off one or two without returning the money to everyone, that would be dishonest.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 61

Six persons die violent deaths in less than 24 hours here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Six persons died violent deaths in less than 24 hours, and one person, badly wounded, clung to life.

A taxi driver in Limón died in Barrio San José 2000 when someone stabbed him in the neck Sunday night. He was Carlos Douglas Darkins Zuñiga, 37.

A few hours later in Mojón de Upala on the border with Nicaragua, Thomas Obando Jaime, 40, died when he tried to force his way into a home there. He had been drinking.

The homeowner killed him about 10:30 p.m.

In Tamarindo about 4 a.m. Monday, José Quijano
Quintanilla, 40, died possibly from a laceration in the head.

About 8:30 a.m. a man identified as Marcos Antonio Zuñiga Vargas, 23, shot a former girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself in Tibás centro. He died, but the ex-girlfriend, Wendy Zumbado Flores, 20, was fighting for her life with a bullet wound in the head at Hospital México.

Around noon, someone found the body of Escazú businessman Armando Jiménez Quirós in the bed of his pickup hidden in a cardboard box. An autopsy is scheduled but foul play is expected. The vehicle was in Hatillo 7.

Investigators also reported the death of Keilor Orayco Zuñiga, 2, who drowned in a pool of the patio of his home in Aguas Claras de Upala.

Intel to build $2.5 billion wafer facility in Dalian, China
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Intel Corp. said Monday it plans to build a 300-millimeter wafer fabrication facility in the coastal northeast China city of Dalian in Liaoning Province. The $2.5 billion investment for the factory, designated Fab 68, will become Intel's first wafer facility in Asia and adds significant investment to Intel's existing operations in China.

"China is our fastest-growing major market and we believe it's critical that we invest in markets that will provide for future growth to better serve our customers," said Paul Otellini, Intel president and CEO. "Fab 68 will be our first new wafer fab at a new site in 15 years. Intel has been involved in China for more than 22 years and over that time we’ve invested in excess of $1.3 billion in assembly test facilities and research and development. This new investment will bring our total to just under $4 billion, making Intel one of the largest foreign investors in China."

Not since 1992 with the construction of Fab 10 in Ireland has Intel built a facility from the ground up at a brand new site. Construction on Fab 68 is scheduled to begin later this year with production projected to begin in the first half of 2010. Initial production will be dedicated to chipsets to support Intel's core microprocessor business.
Dalian Mayor Xia Deren said, "As an open city on China's coastline, Dalian provides many geographic advantages as well as existing infrastructure and services for foreign investment. We are very excited Intel has chosen Dalian to build a wafer fabrication facility. This investment will not just impact Dalian's social and economic development, but will generate a significant and positive impact on the economic and industrial structure in Northeast China."

When completed, Fab 68 will become part of Intel's manufacturing network that includes eight 300mm factories in 2010 with other fabs located in the United States, Ireland and Israel.

Manufacturing with 300mm wafers dramatically increases the ability to produce semiconductors at a lower cost compared with more commonly used 200mm (eight-inch) wafers. The bigger wafers lower production cost per chip while diminishing overall use of resources. Using 300mm manufacturing technology consumes 40 percent less energy and water per chip than a 200mm wafer factory, the company said.

Intel operates manufacturing operations for Pentium and Xeon processors, a test facility and an assembly and distribution facility in La Ribera de Belen west of San José.

Chávez says Venezuela has taken some 815,447 acres of land it said was idle
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Venezuelan government has seized about 330,000 hectares of land, about 815,447 acres, it considers idle from 16 estates for use as collective farms.

President Hugo Chávez announced the seizures Sunday on his weekly "Hello, President" television show.

He said the land will be mostly used to raise cattle for meat and milk production.

He did not elaborate on how the collectivization of the
property would work, but said the land belongs to everyone and will benefit everyone.

Chávez said the move is part of a program to do away with large private estates. Chávez began nationalizing privately owned industries when he began his second term of office this year in an attempt to turn Venezuela into a socialist state.

In February, he ordered the nationalization of oil projects run by foreign companies. He had already taken control of a foreign-run telecommunications company and an electric power company.

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