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(506) 223-1327         Published Thursday, March 29, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 63          E-mail us    
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Jacó robbery/assault victim DOES want to go public
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Jacó woman who survived a brutal robbery said Wednesday she wants her case to be public and is critical of how law enforcement handled the crime.

Spokespersons for both the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Fuerza Pública said Tuesday they could not provide much information to reporters because the woman did not want publicity of the crime. A.M. Costa Rica reported that in a news story.

The law enforcement officials made these comments at about the same time that the woman, Robyn Wright, was in a meeting with investigators and about 40 neighbors at a restaurant on her Calle Vieja a Punta Leona.

Readers give views on crime
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Ms. Wright, a pensionada, said that the Judicial Investigating Organization, known as the OIJ, concluded that she wanted to drop the case because she was unable to travel from her home to Puntarenas to meet with a forensic examiner.

Ms. Wright and her boyfriend, Henry Kantrowitz, have been the victims of three robberies at their home recently.  The third, the most serious, took place early March 20 when  Kantrowitz was out of the country and Ms Wright was home alone. Two men broke into the home, beat her, strangled her and sexually assaulted her when they thought she was near death.

She said the men checked her pulse and shined a light in her eyes in an attempt to verify she was dead. Then the men sacked the house and took electronic equipment and the third computer the couple has lost to criminals, said Ms. Wright.

"I went to the clinic in town who called OIJ," she said.  "OIJ came to the clinic and talked with me. Which is more than the Tarcoles police did when they arrived at my home at 6 a.m. the same day of the assault.  They only asked someone what my name was (and spelled that wrong) and the two of them left on their little moped. That was the extent of their investigation. They never spoke one word to me."

Ms. Wright, 57, is not fluent in Spanish, and investigators in Jacó had to enlist the aid of a bilingual real estate agent to translate, she said.

A neighbor says he has important evidence about  
Robyn wright photo
Robyn Wright after the attack

the crime, and this information has been relayed to investigators but they have not contacted the man, she said. Ms. Wright also may be able to identify one of the men whom she described as being short.

Ms Wright says the Jacó area is in the middle of a crime wave and has heard from investigators that the incidence of criminality there is the highest in the country. She now is on a campaign to make her crime well-known. She even has visited the local chamber of commerce to show workers there her bruised and battered face.

Law enforcement officers were embarrassed March 21 when four robbers broke into the Rohrmoser home of Ricardo Toledo, a former presidential candidate. They killed a maid and a neighbor and broke the arm of Toledo's wife in three places.

In the week that followed, there have been a number of proposals to counter the growing crime problem. Fernando Berrocal, the security minister, wants to eliminate the compartmentalizing of the various police forces. Fuerza Pública officers are barred from doing investigations, which probably is why the local police merely took down Ms. Wright's name.  Berrocal also wants more men and more resources.

Others have called for toughening the laws, denying criminals lawyers duing the initial interview and expanded wiretapping.

The courts are overwhelmed by cases, and only the most visible receive professional treatment.


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A.M.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 29, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 63

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Arbitration center accepts
investor case vs. Costa Rica


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes has registered an arbitration case by former investors with the Luis Enrique Villalobos operation against the Government of Costa Rica, according to Jack Caine, the local contact.

Some 245 investors from 15 countries are seeking more than $200 million from Costa Rica claiming it did not adequately supervise the Villalobos operation, which failed Oct. 14, 2002, with losses approaching $1 billion.

 Villalobos trial report
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The claim was submitted to the center, a unit of the World Bank, in May 2004 by the Canadian law firm of Cain Lamarre Casgrain Wells.

Caine said that registration means that the secretary general of the center has reviewed the case and did not reject it. The case is being filed under the center's additional facility rules because Canada, where many investors live, has not ratified the convention creating the center.

Costa Rica has ratified the convention, and the agreement went into force May 27, 1993, according to the center.

Caine said the next step is a jurisdictional hearing, but he was optimistic since the case submitted by the lawyers addresses jurisdictional issues.

The center is headed by Ana Palacio, who was the first woman foreign minister in the history of Spain. She was appointed secretary general in September.

The center was set up to arbitrate disputes between private companies and foreign governments of countries where they may do business.

Caine said the case was registered Tuesday. According to center documents, the selection of a three-person arbitration panel to handle the case takes about six to eight months. Costa Rica has been non-committal on the matter of arbitration.

Caine has been a controversial figure since he began to organize investors to bring a case against the Costa Rican government. He has distinguished himself by being among the most knowledgeable laymen with regard to the Villalobos court case.

He also has had to deal with angry investors, including some who called him a con man for soliciting money for the case.

Caine has said that Costa Rica is guilty of failing to follow its own laws and for not trying to fix flawed laws that would have led to tighter regulation of money exchange houses. Oswaldo Villalobos operated Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house in Mall San Pedro. The Villalobos brothers say the two operations were separate. The Judicial Investigating Organization, in a report, said the money exchange house and Luis Enrique Villalobos’ borrowing business was one operation. Both firms were in the same office complex.

Oswaldo Villalobos is now on trial in San José, but his brother remains a fugitive.

The arbitration proponents cite a litany of Costa Rican regulatory agencies that the investors contend were remiss in not supervising the Villalobos operation and its many corporations. Among the agencies criticized are state banks, the Central Bank and agencies that regulate banking and the stock exchange.

Roadway fixed to save cable

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad says it has restored a road in Santiago de San Ramón where rain and flooding last year jeopardized a fiber optic cable.

The stretch was 6 kilometers, nearly four miles, and the cost was 15 million colons, some $29,000. The cable running along the road is part of the national system, part of a project to span the country from Nicaragua to Panamá with fiber optic technology.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 29, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 63




Our readers' opinions
Two reasons why he left his home on the Caribbean coast

By Michael Cook
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I've only been back in North Truro for a little more than two weeks, and already I almost wish I'd stuck to my original plan to stay in Costa Rica until May.
 
It's damn cold when that old northeast wind blows across the sand dunes at the tip of old Cape Cod in mid March. 
 
But, even with the cold, I am glad I came stateside when I did.
 
I needed a break from Costa Rica, for two primary reasons.
 
The first was I'd just grown weary of obsessing about security and making sure I got home to my house in Playa Negra outside Puerto Viejo while the night was young, to avoid being jumped by a wide variety of lowlifes who are making life increasingly unpleasant, not to mention dangerous, for tourists and community members alike.
 
I was tired of knowing, when I visited the home of a dear Costa Rican friend, that a loaded shotgun was always within easy reach.
 
I'd grown disgusted with stories of people's dogs being poisoned by thieves so that victims would be unaware trouble lurked in the neighborhood as the thieves moved house to house, holding people at gunpoint, while they robbed them blind.
 
I also grew tired of many people from other parts of Costa Rica perpetuating the myth that such things only happen on the Caribbean coast.
 
Crime in Costa Rica is a national problem, an exploding national problem, crying out for attention.
 
In just two and a half weeks of being stateside, I've heard from two different sets of friends that they will never return to Costa Rica after their experiences there this year.
 
One was a couple who was robbed in Manuel Antonio and, although they acknowledge they cannot prove it, they firmly believe they were victimized by someone on the staff of the hotel where they stayed. All the stolen items were locked in their hotel room while they went to the beach. The hotel management would not even listen to their concerns.
 
Another was a friend who is a Spanish teacher in Connecticut. She has brought groups of prep school students to Costa Rica for more than a decade. She won't be doing so anymore.
 
We'd talked  about the growing crime issue before, but this year it took on a real personal angle for my teacher friend,
 who is responsible for the students she brings to the land of pura vida.
 
Cameras and passports of a couple of kids were stolen on one leg of the trip, but it was what happened in Jacó that made Karen decide this would be the last student trip to Costa Rica from her Connecticut prep school.
 
During the day, the kids were given a certain amount of free time to hit the beach and explore the town.

Out of a group of 22 kids, nine came back and reported a total of six different incidents in which people were pressuring them to buy drugs.
 
We're not talking just marijuana here folks. According to Karen, cocaine and crack were frequently offered for sale and, in one instance, the drug for sale was methamphetamine.
 
When she went to the police with her concerns she told me, "They filled out a form, thanked me for coming in, and proceeded to go back to watching television."
 
The word, sadly, is out that Costa Rica is no longer a safe place, and that things are getting worse not better.
 
To say that breaks my heart because, after nearly eight years of spending six, eight, sometimes even 12 months at a pop in CR, and despite all its warts, there are  many things about CR I really love.
 
My second reason for needing a break involves the rampant environmental degradation, destruction of habitat, and subsequent placing of growing numbers of animal and plant life on the country's endangered species list, almost all of it happening in the name of foreign, greed driven, luxury, real estate development.
 
In the interest of space, I'll just say the icing on the cake for me was the front page La Nacion story in the second week of March that reported 97 percent of Costa Rica's raw sewage flows directly into the country's river systems.
 
There is a whopper of an irony, a very bitter irony, in Costa Rica portraying itself to the world as an eco-tourism paradise, while almost all of its raw sewage flows directly into one of its most important eco-systems.
 
That ecological irony, coupled with the spiraling crime problem, is going to cause Costa Rica big problems in the years ahead.
 
In fact, they already are causing Costa Rica big problems and, unless something is done soon, those problems are only going to get worse.
 
And all I can say is Que lastima.


Three suggestions to confront the nation's growing problem with criminals
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
The recent incidents of violent crime rightly alarm us all. Costa Rica needs to address the problem in an agressive and effective manner. The following three principles might form the basis of a new approach to crime control.
 
First, criminals need to know that they will face certain incarceration for their unlawful acts. Fines, community service, probation and parole should be eliminated. And the length of sentences should increase substantially for repeat offenders whose entire record of convictions (juvenile and adult) should form the basis for sentencing. It is not necessary that every crime be punished by a lengthy sentence as long as the perpetrator knows for certain that s/he will be taken off the street for the very first conviction. Whether one steals an apple or an automobile, prison time should be a certainty with no exceptions whatsoever.
 
Second, while sentences need not be excessively long to be a deterrent, prison time needs to be sufficiently aversive that would-be crimimals will take the risk of it seriously and want to avoid it. The penal system needs to reconsider the conditions under which its inmates are kept. The comforts. afforded to inmates, in large part to maintain 
control, should be eliminated and the discomforts of incarceration should be maximized.
 
Third, aversive incarceration should apply equally to juveniles and adults. Many repeat offenders begin their criminal careers as juveniles. A system which clucks and shakes its finger at them but does nothing else is a mockery of justice and a laughingstock. The community needs to teach its children what their parents do not. If that includes the lesson that criminal behavior is unacceptable, then so be it. Children, too, need to know what is unacceptable behavior, and they need a strong motivation to avoid the consequences.
 
In an ideal world, the community would work with individuals who stray from the norm to help them understand and voluntarily adhere to society's expectations, as most of us do. Sadly, this is not an ideal world. Those of us who obey the law are less interested in what crimimals know and how they feel than in how they behave. The system should give them a strong incentive to behave acceptably.
David C. Murray
Grecia, Alajuela





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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 29, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 63


Promotional stunt with turtles draws fire from academic
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Universidad Nacional academic is challenging the concept of a turtle race from the Parque Nacional Marino las Baulas to the water of Ecuador as a commercial use of the animals.

The so-called race is being sponsored by The Leatherback Trust and a host of other organizations including the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía.

The academic, Freddy Pacheco the Sala IV constitutional court decision said that endangered creatures may only be manipulated for purposes to improve the species.

The race appears to be a fund-raising and membership generating event in which transmitters are in place on turtles and the animals are followed from their nesting grounds on Playa Grande to the Galapagos Islands.

In addition to The Leatherback Trust, the Conservation International and Yahoo are sponsors, according to a Web page.

Pacheco also seems to be upset because another Web site is selling T-shirts promoting the race. He said there is nothing of scientific benefit to be learned from the migration of the turtles because scientists already know the
great turtle race logo

animals use a corridor about 100 miles wide.

The event is supposed to begin in Costa Rica April 16. By signing up with the Conservation International individuals get to follow the turtles on the organization's Web site, which gets its information from satellite.


Luis Enrique Villalobos worker faces extensive questioning
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

María Inés Ulloa got a job at the Luis Enrique Villalobos high-interest lending operation by responding to a sign in a window seeking staff who could speak English. She said she worked there from January 2002 through the July 4, 2002, raid that effectively crippled the operation, until October when she was fired due to a disagreement with another employee. The offices closed shortly thereafter.

Ulloa described herself as an employee of Inversiones Artísticas de Teatro S.A., which only appears in the investigation as the shell company responsible for payroll at the Mall San Pedro office. This is the place where investments were accepted and interest paid to the Villalobos clients. The actual principle and interest went to other accounts. She faced extensive questioning from prosecutor Walter Espinoza as to the fine points of the office’s operation with much digging in boxes to find the documents he wanted her to explain. There are 27 boxes of evidence supporting the case.

Several spiral-bound notebooks were reviewed with questions about handwriting and the record-keeping method in general. Most of the operation was manual, and, according to Ms. Ulloa, it was she who offered to set up a database. The notebooks had colorful covers with pictures of teddy bears and apparently a cartoon character “King Crash,” though this was covered with an orange evidence record sticker.

It appears the books recording millions of dollars in investments were purchased at the local supermarket.

One book also had a list of telephone extensions which attracted Espinoza’s attention because an earlier witness who was the switchboard operator said the system was shared between the Ofinter exchange house and the investment operation run by Enrique Villalobos. The prosecution is trying to show that defendant Oswaldo Villalobos was connected to the borrowing operation. He operated the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house adjacent to the Luis Enrique Villalobos borrowing operation.
Ms. Ulloa maintained she had no use for the Ofinter extensions. Espinoza asked repeatedly how she answered the phone, but Ms. Ulloa insisted it was nothing but “Good morning” as all business with clients was face-to-face or written. The only activities the two companies’ employees shared was the prayer to start and end each working day.

Shown an investor file, she said those were normally only in the office when there was a specific matter to visit with that investor. To invest or withdraw interest did not require the file. During the raid on the Mall San Pedro offices, only about 30 customer files were found out of more than 6,000 known clients. Ms. Ulloa said she did not know where they were kept, or where the considerable quantities of cash needed for the operation came from.

Ms. Ulloa had the misfortune of spending lunchtime in the witness waiting room when her interrogation did not finish in time.

Later Judge Manuel Rojas took an interest in additional details.

Rojas’ discovery of several checks made out on a Servicios de Soporte al Turismo overseas account set off a minor stampede to the judges’ bench, as most of the trial participants both defense and prosecution, went to see the evidence.

Responding to a previous question, Ms. Ulloa had not remembered that company as figuring in her work, but suggested it was the account used to pay interest to investors not in Costa Rica. Accounts in the name of that shell company were a favorite vehicle for Villalobos money maneuvers.

Villalobos paid Ms. Ulloa a generous 500,000 colons per month, about $1,300 at the time. At present an accountant in San Jose makes about $650-$800 a month. She was given proper severance pay when dismissed, she said.

The trial is suspended until Monday, April 9, with the prosecution warned to have the remaining witnesses on a firm schedule for that week.


Gas used for cooking and automobiles will increase in price Saturday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency has approved an increase in liquid petroleum gas, a product many residents use for cooking and some use for automobiles.

The resolution reflected the decision of the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos is expected to be published Friday in the La Gaceta official newspaper,
meaning the prices will be effective the next day.

The per liter price goes for 263 to 271 colons.

A 21-liter cylinder of the type frequently used for home cooking will go from 6,690 colons to 6,922.

The product is made by the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo from imported petroleum.


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