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These stories were published Tuesday, April 1, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 64
Jo Stuart
About us
Life is just too funny to make up stuff here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is April 1, and a lot of newspapers — college and professional — produce phony newspages as a joke.

Although the day to trick your friends in Costa Rica is the Día de los Inocentes two days after Christmas, today April 1, April Fool’s Day, has a long tradition of practical jokes in the English-speaking world and Europe.

The temptation to create a spoof edition was enormous because few countries can compete better than Costa Rica in being the target of a joke. Yet A.M. Costa Rica will resist the temptation because the danger is that some literal-minded person will accept a page full of humor as the real thing.

The concept of April Fool’s Day seems to go back to 16th century France where today the small practical jokes result in the cry of "April Fish." But in French, of course.

France has been hit so hard during the last two months due to its pacifist stand on the Iraqi war that jokes about that country and Frenchmen should be outlawed for today.

But there is plenty of joke fodder, war-related or otherwise.

Had we produced an April’s fool’s edition, one  story would certainly report the wild and uncivilized behavior of the porpoise and whale populations in the Pacific due to the many tons of Colombian cocaine dumped there by fleeing drug transporters.

And we would have printed a story about how Judge Judy, the outspoken U.S. television character had agreed to hear the case of Villalobos investors against the Costa Rican government. But writing jokes about investors is almost as much bad form as writing jokes about the beleaguered French.

There would certainly have to be a story about the tourism ministry deciding to move Arenal Volcano closer to San José to get more tourists to see it. But the tourism ministry also is an easy target.

We would have written a story about how the folks who brought you revisión tecnica vehicle inspections made a mistake and have to do all the cars all over again. At 10,000 colons a crack.

Perhaps the real reason we will not have an April Fool’s edition is that we really can’t compete. Life is so quirky here that even television comedian Jay Leno would have trouble beating the truth.

How about the religious cult that claimed it wanted to start a new country among the Indians of the Talamanca. They got booted out of the country, but their goal was a joke. Even some newspapers took this seriously.

Revision tecnica is a total joke. Three out of four cars that went through the test the first time did not pass. 

The tourism ministry may not want to move a volcano but it has ambitious plans for a giant convention center near friendly hotels in Alajuela. The joke will be on us when the bills come in.

Not to mention the bridges: the still-unopened Tempisque span and the poor suicide bridge at Los Anonos that should have been finished by Christmas.

Then there are the Costa Rica peace protestors whose sons and daughters never will sense the horror of combat. Yet they are irked because President Abel Pacheco has come out strongly against terrorism.

So play a nice joke today on your neighbor. Set back your housemate’s alarm clock about an hour. And tell your U.S. work associate that the Internal Revenue Service called and will call back.

Or better yet, check the Web and find hundreds of great practical jokes, past and present.

Snake and lightning strike down victims
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two persons near Buenos Aires de Puntarenas died unusual deaths  Sunday.

The deaths involved a child bitten by a snake and a man hit by lightning, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The child, Reynaldo Ortiz Figueroa, 4, died after a snake bit him around the ankle, said the organization. The bite occurred while he was in a banana plantation near his house in San Antonio de Olan.

At first it was thought the boy had been pricked by a lemon branch. But one and a half 

hours later the boy died. It was then that the snake’s bite was discovered. The area is remote.

The other incident, which occurred in Changueña de Buenos Aires, involved a 30-year-old man, Alfonso Fonseca Carranza, who was electrocuted while waiting for a bus with his wife and child, according to authorities.

The authorities reported the man’s wife as saying all she heard was thunder. After that, everything illuminated and then her husband was dead, she said. He was a resident of San Marcos de Tarrazú.

The Judicial Morgue is verifying the exact causes of the man’s death, said authorities.

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Oscar Arias prompts walkout with criticism of war
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica, began to harshly criticize the war in Iraq, some 150 guests stormed from the charity fund-raiser where he was speaking Saturday, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Arias was speaking at an event at the Four Seasons hosted by the The South Florida Blood Banks Foundation called "An Evening with World Leaders." The hotel is in Palm Beach.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner took his turn at the podium while dessert was being served and went on a 15-minute blast  of the war and President George W. Bush, according to the local newspaper.
Guests at the fundraiser left and began an impromptu protest outside the banquet hall, reported paper.

The former Costa Rican president continued his 

speech while protestors voices grew from the 
outside of the hall, but he did not stop his speech until the chief executive officer of South Florida Blood Banks asked him to stop, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Arias, who may be a presidential candidate if re-election is approve by the Sala IV constitutional court, has spoken out against the war here. He has been vigorous. He got the Nobel Prize for his 1980s efforts to bring peace to Central America.

The newspaper said about 225 people were at the fund-raiser, so those who left were the majority.

A  spokesman said that the speakers had been asked to avoid politics as a topic. Some of the guests were military reservists on the verge of being called up for duty.

The protestors sang "God bless America" when they were outside, said the newspaper.

Costa Rica a jewel in a grim U.S. report on rights
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
with wire service reports

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Costa Rica finds itself in bad company in the grim annual report on human rights produced by the U.S. State Department.

Singled out for special criticism was Iraq, and much of the report is a litany of rights violations in other parts of the world.

Said the report:

"Governments that rule by force and use violence against their own people often threaten and intimidate their neighbors. Driven by shaky legitimacy, these regimes rule by iron fist, putting their people and neighbors at the mercy of the cruel logic of repression. 

"In an age when the destructive capacities of brutal regimes exceed national and even regional boundaries, addressing human rights violations ?—whether episodic or systemic — becomes imperative to the assurance of security throughout the international community. On a smaller scale, governments that breach their constitutional obligations and the rule of law place their societies’ well-being at risk in their pursuit of stability. 

The report became public Monday afternoon during a press conference with Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state.

In announcing the report, Powell spoke of what he called Iraq's failure to respect the  rights of its citizens.  The report says Iraq's Republican Guard and other security personnel are guilty of  killings, torture, disappearances, rapes, and imprisoning Iraqi political opposition and  ethnic and religious minorities. 

The report also criticizes Cuba, China, the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the former Soviet  republics of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic for their  human rights records. 

The report is required by Congress each year, in part to help lawmakers determine  foreign aid levels. 

There has been no immediate reaction from the nations named in the report, which  reviewed the human rights record of some 200 countries. But there was some reaction  from the world-wide human rights organization Amnesty International. 

Amnesty said that while the State Department report is generally honest and factual,  U.S. policies in combating terrorism are often inconsistent with protecting human  rights. 

In a lengthy summary of conditions in Costa Rica, the report noted some complaints of abuse of authority that were being investigated and a police force in which officers generally get their jobs via political patronage. However, the report said that efforts were being made to depoliticize the organizations. The report also noted that La Reforma prison is a continual scene of problems.

Property rights enforcement was called irregular, and duplicate registrations of title damaged the real property interests of many who believed they held legitimate title to land, said the report.. According to the Ministry of Public Security, there were no large-scale removals of squatters during the year, and no violence occurred during 14 small-scale evictions, said the report.

Costa Rica got high marks for press freedom and other individual rights, but the July 2001 murder of talk show host Parmenio Media received mention. that case still is unsolved.

The country also received notice for the peaceful election of President Abel Pacheco.

Child prostitution was called a serious problem. Although no official statistics existed, the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia identified street children in the urban areas of San Jose, Limón, and Puntarenas as being at the greatest risk. 

The government took steps to enforce a 1999 law  to protect children and raided brothels and arrested clients, said the report. On Dec. 5, a court convicted five persons arrested in 2001 for sexual exploitation of children. Two were sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment and three to 16 years, the report noted.

Woman stays in jail
in murder probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 19-year-old woman charged with the murder of an American was sentenced to three more months of preventive detention while the case against her proceeds.

Authorities are investigating the woman with the last names of Castañeda Garitain the Jan.16, 2002, murder of Steven Ines Hartling. Hartling, 54 at the time of his murder, was in Costa Rica at a friend’s home in Itiquis de Alajuela.

Ms. Garita was hired as a domestic employee the day before the murder occurred, according to a release from the courts. 

The woman arrived shortly after 1 a.m., according to the release, she brought with her two men who forced their way in after the door was opened for her. The trio was looking to rob the home.

Hartling resisted the intruders, and one of them shot him in the chest. He died at the house, police said. Hartling had only been in the country a short time before being murdered.

Police said the house was owned by another U.S. citizen, but one who has spent about 10 years in Costa Rica. They said his last name was Story and that the dwelling was located in the Dos Emas subdivision.

Another suspect in the case, who authorities only named as Alpizar, 25, is currently out on bail while authorities investigate his role in the murder, according to the release.

Medical care plan
targeted Talamanca

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States and Costa Rica joined in an effort to bring medical services to parts of the country where indigenous people are lacking in healthcare.

The medical relief operation was carried out during the month of March in Talamanca, in the southeast region of the country. Medical personnel from the U.S. Air Force as well as members of the Costa Rican medical community tended to more than 6,000 indigenous Costa Ricans, according to a press release from the Ministerio de Gobernación,  Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The U.S. Air Force personnel came from Beal Air Force Base, Calif., with $45,000 in medical supplies for the exercise, according to the release, also the supplies and manpower were donated by the Air Force.

The Bribri and Cabécar communities live in very remote rural areas with little or no healthcare. The medical programs like the ones carried out last month are essential to the health of the community, according to the release.

The doctors sent to the area specialized in family care, children’s care, dentistry and eye care, among other fields of expertise.

Similar medical assistance programs are already being planned for 2004.

Hundreds missing as homes buried in Bolivia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Authorities say as many as 700 people are reported missing after a landslide engulfed a gold mining village north of here. About 400 homes were buried in the incident. 

Authorities say the landslide happened Monday in the remote town of Chima after heavy rains hit the area. International news reports say survivors have been spending the day digging through the rubble in search of loved ones. 

Rescue teams are en route to the region 190 kilometers north of here, but officials say the trip by road could take at least 12 hours. The region is accessible by a narrow, treacherous mountain road. 

Colombian lawyer given
human rights award

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — A Colombian human rights lawyer has been given one of the most prestigious awards of the human rights movement. Alirio Uribe Munoz was honored during the annual meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission here. 

Uribe, a lawyer, has worked for more than 10 years with Colombians who have been the victims of human rights abuse. He is this year's winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which is presented by 10 of the world's leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

After receiving the award, Uribe made a few remarks about the human rights situation in Colombia. He said years of conflict between government troops and guerilla forces have taken a huge toll on Colombians.

"In the last 10 years there have been more than three million people displaced who lost their houses, belongings and what is important for any human being," he said.

Uribe says, over a four-year period, guerillas kidnapped 10,000 people and there were 20 political murders a day in Colombia. 

While Uribe acknowledges that violence has increased in recent years, he also expresses concern about some of the special measures Colombia's new president, Alvaro Uribe Velez, has initiated to reduce the violence.

Canadian emergency
gets U.S. warning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. State Department has issued an alert to U.S. citizens, warning them of potential health dangers from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in Ontario, Canada.

The government of Ontario last week declared the syndrome, commonly known as pneumonia, a "provincial emergency." The declaration by the government there follows the deaths of three individuals, said the State Department.

Canada is attempting to stem the spread of the disease by screening all passengers who arrive at airports for the disease.

The United States also issued a travel warning to cover parts of Far-East Asia, including China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Further information on disease is available from: the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization  and the Canadian Health Organization.

Pay Pal studied
for casino links

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In its annual report eBay Inc. responded to a federal prosecutor’s charge that the company violated the U.S. terror laws when it processed payments for online casinos. 

Friday the electronic-auction company received a letter from the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri saying an eBay Inc. subsidiary company, PayPal, violated the USA Patriot Act, according to the eBay Inc. annual report. 

PayPal is a service that helps transfer money over the internet. The company said in its report that the online gambling accounted for 6 percent of its PayPal revenue. 

PayPal has discontinued the business of processing the online gambling payments since 2002, according to the report. Also, it has handed over documents and information related to its dealings with online casinos to federal authorities, it said.

The company is being investigated for the portion of the anti-terror law which prohibits the transmission of money known to have come from a criminal offense or money intended to be used to promote or support unlawful activity, according to the report.

PayPal said in the report that it acted in the good faith belief that its conduct did not violate the anti-terror law. A.M. Costa Rica is a Pay Pal subscriber.

The company may have to forfeit money it earned in dealing with the online casinos, according to the report.
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U.S. decides not to police call-back phone service
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. _ The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has eliminated a policy to kept U.S. telephone providers from offering call-back services to Costa Rica and other countries where the service is illegal.

The commission said it is removing the policies on the most popular form of call-back services — uncompleted call-signaling — because these rules restrict global competition. Costa Rica has a monopoly telephone service, and the provider, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad wages a continual battle against offshore competition.

The commission said, however, that it will continue to remind U.S. carriers that it is in their best interest to act in a manner consistent with foreign laws, and to refer [those carriers] to the public file and note which foreign governments have notified the commission that call-back is illegal in their countries.

Call-back services allow a foreign caller in a country with relatively costly international 

connections to use a U.S. dial-tone at less expensive U.S. rates.

In 1995 FCC banned U.S. carriers form offering certain international call-back services to countries where those services had been expressly prohibited. It also established a mechanism for notifying the U.S. government about the illegality of the services in a foreign country and procedures for seeking U.S. assistance in enforcing a foreign government's prohibition on this type of services.

The commission said it removed the prohibitions and the policy that provides for a foreign government or entity to make use of the enforcement mechanisms of the commission to prohibit U.S. carriers from offering the uncompleted call signaling form of call-back abroad, thereby restricting global competition.

Monopoly telecommunication services are a major barrier to free trade treaties between the United States and various Latin American countries. Costa Rica has said it will not sacrifice its monopoly communications system to participate in a free trade treaty.

Local Democrats get pitch for organic produce
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Local Democrats got a pitch for organic products Monday. That’s fruit and vegetables grown in a manner free of agro-chemicals.

The speaker is a British woman working to sustain and widen the idea of eating organic produce in Costa Rica was the guest speaker at the Democrats Abroad monthly meeting.

She is Noel Payne, originally from Windsor in England. She has a vast pedigree in organics and sustainable development across Europe and in Costa Rica dating back to the early 1970s. She has operated Comercio Alternativo, a supplier of organic products based in Guachipelín in Escazú since 1996.

Organic food production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Ms. Payne said her main problem is encouraging organic farmers to obtain and maintain certification for organic products. She said very often farmers cannot afford certification. Having it gives them a marketing edge.

Another problem is products bearing alleged organic labels, whose producer may have certification but do not necessarily comply with the standards, said Ms. Payne.

Ms. Payne said for organic produce to grow in market share, the consumer must shoulder some of the responsibility.

She laid the price of organic consumption bare to the audience. "You can sit back and fold your arms — or complain about the dire environmental situation we have," she said.

The alternative is conventional produce. Ms. Payne said 1.2 kilos of agro-chemicals per person per year are used here. A common complaint of organic produce is that it is expensive. "If you want something bad enough you’ll pay for it," said Ms. Payne.

This is where education and communication become important, said Ms. Payne. The problem is she can’t educate, she has to sell, she said. 

Ms. Payne suggested one of the strongest ways of getting the message across is through the Costa Rican press. But, she said, this isn’t easy because you can’t scare the consumer. She highlighted an example of a production company which did filming on her work. As they left they were intrigued, she said, but they didn’t run the filming.

The message has to be packaged in such a way that the message gets across, without being over-zealous, said Ms. Payne. 

Producers who were present as part of the audience pinpointed weaknesses in the certification processes for organic products. "Certification is extremely demanding. It is almost impossible," said Ruth Dixon, a small producer.

Ms. Dixon said in order to be certified requires the producer to invest a significant amount of money to an agency, who will normally also take a percentage of sales. 

She also lambasted the complicated bookkeeping that is expected of the small farmers, too. Ms. Dixon said to follow standards is then almost impossible for most small organic farmers.

The comment perhaps most likely to convince, at least environmentalists, of the benefits of organic consumption came near the end of Ms. Payne’s delivery. "You can do more by eating organic than cleaning rivers," she said.

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.

A reader proposes a bet on Villalobos
The letter relates to the collapsed investment operation of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho.

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Open letter to Michael Jean Nystrom-Schut.

I was the person you referred to who suggested, in a letter to the editor at A.M. Costa Rica, that Villalobos stand and deliver. It would seem to me that a rational approach to your circumstances would be to stop the constant and on-going rose-colored glasses view and cheerleading, and after six months of duplicity, ask for a clear demonstration of good faith. A rational man would stop the constant refrain of "next week great things are going to happen." Duke is getting it done. What a guy!

One has to question why you people ignore the obvious fact that The Brothers ran a ponzi scheme. 

I know that I will be proven correct in this assessment. I know that you and the rest of your ilk are wrong. I question why?

But, here is what I'm prepared to do: I'll bet you $10,000 USD, contributed to the charity of the winner’s choice, that six months from now you have not received your initial investment money back from The Brothers, live alone, interest. So much for the return of your "Glory Days."

So what do you say? $10,000 USD and you can prove me wrong and help some worthy cause in the process? Why not the church Villalobos used as a front and source of fund-raising? They could use my $10,000.  Remember the words of Voltaire, Michael: "Never has man done more evil then when he has done it in the name of God."

Let me know. You got my E-mail address. I'll set up the escrow account tomorrow.

Wadda say? Wanna bet? Oh. My winnings will go to Boys and Girls Clubs of New York.

C. K. Hobbs
New York, N.Y. 
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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