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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, April 9, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 70            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Sudden death transforms a tragedy into a miracle
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Brandon's mother was scared, but ready to give her kidney for her dying son. In the hospital room all the surgeons were gathered and prepared, until one last physician, the specialist, entered the room and said “I want to give a heart exam.” 

Rosibeth Campos was devastated when surgeons told her that she was not strong enough to undergo the operation that could have saved her son. 14-year-old Brandon José Sancho Campos had very little time left, the doctors told the mother.  

“She went home very sad” said María Campos Alpizar, Rosibeth's sister, “After that I prayed and prayed for God to give us a miracle,” said María. At that point young Sancho probably only had about six months left to live, said his aunt.

When the good news arrived at the home in San Ramón de Alajuela, the family cried and screamed, said María.

The parents of a girl fatally shot Sunday, decided to donate their daughter's organs. Men attempting to rob the girl's uncle shot into the window of the house. They hit 11-year old Graciela María Tioli Salazar in the head. Paramedics brought the girl to Hospital de los Niños where she died. 

Brandon was a beneficiary of the organ donations. The tragedy has been transformed into a miracle, said his uncle, James McKinley, formerly of Arizona.
“I would like to thank them some day,” said  Rosibeth, who said she feels for the mother and father of young Tioli. Although she hasn't met them, she said if she ever got a chance she would like to tell the mother how much joy was brought to their family, even though the little girl's mother must be devastated.

Sancho's family learned that he was sick in December, said his mother. “The doctor first said it was anemia, but we were very scared, so I took him to a specialist,” said Rosibeth. Sancho, a high school sophomore, would get dizzy in classes, and he was often nauseous and had muscle pains, said his mother. The specialist told the family he had chronic renal failure, a disease that would continue to destroy his kidneys until they no longer functioned. “He had to leave school because he was so sick,” said his aunt.

Sancho will remain in the hospital for about two more weeks, said his family.  When he comes home, it will be a joyful moment but his life will never be the same, said his mother. Sancho who loved to play ball, now must stay away from sports, said his mother. Although Sancho used to talk about being a policeman, Rosibeth said she would prefer something with computers. “He has to work very hard at his studies now,” something he never liked much, she said.
María says she is grateful to God that her nephew was saved. “God is a God of power,” she said, “and he brings miracles into the world.” The doctors said if it wasn't for the operation Sancho wouldn't have lived, said María.

A BAC San José teller perforated this fake bill before she would let it out of her custody.
U.S. fifty dollar bill

Suddenly a good banknote changes to funny money
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even long-time residents and Ticos are vulnerable to the old switcheroo.

Newspaper editors and visitors spent $50 more last week than they had planned on a trip to Arenal because one of their $50 bills was deemed a fake.

A BAC San José cashier in La Fortuna went at the bill with relish and punched it full of holes. She was correct. The bill is a fake, but its origin still is a mystery. The bill is not the bill editors and visitors brought to La Fortuna.

Switching fake currency, Costa Rica or foreign, is a time-honored tradition in stores and banks. Nearly every expat has had the experience of a cashier challenging a bill, frequently when the banknote has been out of sight for awhile.

Such was the case in La Fortuna, but with an added proof. Some local bar owners check their U.S. bills with a $4.95 currency detector pen. If the U.S. banknote is genuine, the pen is supposed to leave an amber streak. If the banknote is a fake, the pen leaves a black streak.

The $50 bill carried to la Fortuna bore inch-long amber streaks applied by a newspaper customer. That bill appeared to be genuine, and that was the bill given to a van driver when the newspaper's party reached a hotel in La Fortuna.
The driver returned minutes later to report that the local bank had rejected the bill. Alexandra Villegas Solorzano was the cashier, and she later pointed out some problems with the bill that was in the custody of the bank. She was the one who took a hole punch and perforated the bill as well as stamped it as funny money.

The bill at the bank had no amber streaks, but it most certainly was a fake. The bill did not have a security strip running vertically to the right of General Grant. The number 50 in the lower right corner did not change color when the paper was held at an angle.

These are all innovations that were applied to the U.S. $50 in 2004.

So the question remains on when the good bill with the amber streaks brought to La Fortuna by the newspaper group became the bad bill. And the case is instructive for visitors and expats alike who may be using U.S. currency here.

The van driver got a good bill in exchange for the perforated fake.

Fake U.S. bills are a major export by Colombian crooks, and with digital technology crooks can produce a pretty good replica. Costa Rican currency also is counterfeited, but nearly every store has a little ultraviolet light that is used to check security features of local bills.

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Saca and court president
Poder Judicial photo
Antonio Saca, president of El Salvador, listens to Luis Paulino Mora, president of the Corte Supreme de Justicia, during a courtesy visit Tuesday.

Arias and Saca agree
to share business info

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

El Salvador's president, Antonio Saca, said that his country's  Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social has had a lot of experience in helping small and medium enterprises, and he offered to share this knowledge.

Saca was on a state visit to Costa Rica Tuesday, and he was meeting with President Óscar Arias Sánchez where the topic of small business came up. The two presidents gave support to an agreement that would seek to advance the strengthening of small and medium businesses in both countries.

Arias also said he would promote the interchange of best practices on the environment and information about Costa Rica's success in sustainable tourism.

Saca still is in Costa Rica today but with a private schedule.

First regional sewer projects
set to start in November

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The sewer and water chief said Tuesday that work on the modernization of the metropolitan area's waste system would begin at the end of the year.

The man, Ricardo Sancho, was speaking at a budget committee hearing in the legislature. He is executive president of the Insituto National de Acueductos y Alcantarillados.

Sancho said that the work would begin with a seven kilometer collector sewer in San Miguel de Desamparados in November. That's a distance of about 4.5 miles.

The budget committee, the Comisión de Hacendarios, is incorporating a $100 million-plus grant from the Japanese aid agency in the national budget. Once the budget is approved, Sancho's agency will seek bids, lawmakers were told.

The entire project will cost much more than the Japanese grant. Planned is a treatment plant, the first for the Central Valley in the Escazú area as well as many new sewers in areas that do not now have them. The work also will include fixing up the sagging current sewer system.

High court confirms plan
to cut la Sabana trees

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court will not stop the cutting of the eucalyptus trees in Parque la Sabana.

The court turned down a so-called recurso de amparo or request for help. The decision was announced Tuesday.

The fast-growing eucalyptus trees use a lot of water and they are not a native species. Most are more than 20 years old now. They were planted when the former municipal airport was converted to a park.

The court noted in the decision that officials at the park are worried about falling limbs and that the people in the park are in jeopardy.

The appeal to the court came from a man identified in the decision as Warner Saborío.

Park officials are slowly eliminating the towering trees and planting native species.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 9, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 70

City snake
Pedestrians wanted to kill this snake when he appeared near Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry, in San José Tuesday. But a reporter rescued it and took it to the relative safety of Parque Bolívar.

This is a zopilota (Clelia clelia), a beneficial critter that eats poisonous snakes and sometimes other small creatures.

city snake
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Electric rate increases of from 11 to 41 percent approved
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The utility regulating agency moved Tuesday to stem what it called an energy crises and established new residential electrical rates from 11 to 41 percent higher.

The agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, said it took special care to protect the poor from the impact of the rate hikes, and those who use a lot of power were targeted in an effort to reduce the usage.

Some 60 percent of the electrical customers use less than 200 kilowatt hours of power each month, and it was this group that received the 11 percent increase. They represent 34 percent of the power used. They will pay about1,000 colons or about $2 more a month on average.

Some 25 percent of the customers use between 200 and 300 kilowatt hours a month. They received a 14 percent increase.

Those residential customers using more than 300 kilowatt hours per month will face a 41 percent increase, the agency said.  This group represents 15 percent of the customers.

Commercial users received a 22 percent hike. The agency said it wanted to preserve the nation's competitiveness.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad had been seeking a 75 percent increase because of increased demand. The government monopoly had to turn to generating power by burning expensive fuel oil to meet the nation's growing demand.

The Authoridad Reguladora said that even with the rate hikes, the company would face a profit margin reduced from an optimal 4 percent to about 1.5 percent.

Still the Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado immediately issued a statement saying that the rate hikes would decrease competitivity. The private group said the cause was the Instituto
Costarricense de Electricidad not taking steps soon enough to invest in more generation capacity. A number of hydro projects are in varying stages of development.

The organizaiton also said the hikes would fan inflation and have a negative effect on consumers.

The rate-fixing agency said that the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad would not have blackouts this year as a result of the oil-fired generation. Such blackouts happened last year as reservoir levels fell at hydro generating stations.
Fernando Herrero, the regulator general, noted that Arenal reservoir still is lower than normal. Herrero said his agency fixed the rate increase at the lowest possible amount without jeopardizing the financial standing of the electrical institute. The agency suggested that more increases might come next year.

Hererro also said that his agency was examining the possibiliity of some kind of subsidy for the poorest group of electrical consumers in conjuction with government social agencies. He also said that encouraging a culture of saving power was important because "now there is no cheap electricity."

More than 80 percent of Costa Rica's power comes from hydro sources. Oil-fired turbines are the last resort to make up the difference. The country also has some wind generators and geothermic generation. The rates will become effective. The electrical institute is the principal generating agency although it does purchase some privately generated power. Other agencies like the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz S.A. in the Central Valley purchase the power for retail distribution. Their rates directly reflect what the institute is charging them.

All the petroleum products for oil-fired generation comes from abroad. Costa Rica has declined to explore its offshore possiblities.

The new rates will become effective when they are published in the la Gazeta official newspaper.

Michael Forrest acquitted in Principal Financial criminal case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A court has ordered a man accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a scam investment operation to pay civil damages to seven plaintiffs. Although the court found Michael James Forrest, formerly of Principal Services S.A., responsible for civil liabilities, judges absolved him from all criminal charges. The court cited the concept of reasonable doubt for the criminal acquittal.

The ruling was made by the Tribunal Penal del Primer Circuito de San José, in a complicated case dragged on for two months that ended with the decision Monday.

Principal Services S.A., also known as Principal Financial, was a firm that promised to give a high monthly interest to investors. Forrest was a main representative of the company which later became known as Montefiore.

Ram Rajpal, a former investor in Principal Financial, has described Forrest as a good talker who knew how to sell.

Employees of Principal Financial told potential investors that they were investing in venture capital projects and would give a 4 percent monthly return, according to Rajpal.  The firm was one of several similar operations in the Central Valley in 2000 to 2002. Investors were mainly North Americans. Principal closed its doors in March 2003. A year later local arrest warrants were issued. Agents arrested Forrest May 16, 2006 near his home in Heredia. He had been in jail since. He is Canadian.
Principal Financial, located in what was called then the Torre Mercedes on Paseo Colón and later on Edificio Colón, was thought to have had about 150 clients and required a $25,000 minimum investment.

The court ordered Forrest to pay moral and material damages as well as personal fees to seven of the plaintiffs. Some were also given the 4 percent interest they were promised for the years their money was invested.

The following amounts are the awards for material damage:

Rajpal, $78,600 (and $279,816 of his investment with interest); Charles L. Gooding and William Realli of El Leon Salvaje S.A.,  $351,060; Brian Cordell Elmslie of Macizo Violeta S.A., $728,134; James Estoll Patterson of James E. Interprizes S.A., $250,000; Gregory John Hammond of Importaciones Y Exportaciones de Mesoamerica S.A., $142,400; John David Borman of Inversiones y Proyectos Narbom S.A., $2,096,179, and Marta Elena Zamora Gonzales $73,025 (and $259,969 of her investment with interest)

An eighth plaintiff, Elyane Hannington, was not awarded any damages, according to the court decision.

The case will be reviewed for 15 business days, said a court spokeswoman. No one can appeal until those days are up, she said. Any appeals in the case will be brought to Sala Tercera, a division of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, for review. Forrest is now free, she added.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 9, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 70

Monetary Fund report on credit crunch says worst coming
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Monetary Fund Tuesday said the turmoil in world credit markets that began with rising home loan defaults in the United States is not over and losses could hit $945 billion as the impact spreads into the global economy.  The Bloomberg financial news services estimates that banks and securities firms have so far written off only a fraction of that total, $232 billion.

Monetary Fund specialists say the overall risks to global financial stability have increased sharply in recent months. Jaime Caruana is the principal author of the fund's report on financial stability.

"The credit shock emanating from the U.S. subprime crisis is set to broaden amid a significant economic slowdown," he said.  "The deterioration in credit has moved up and across the credit spectrum."

As bank losses have soared, lenders have tightened standards and, despite lower interest rates, many commercial and consumer loans are still hard to come by.

Caruana says more than six months into the crisis, credit markets are still not functioning normally.

"We have seen confidence quickly evaporate, ending in liquidity driven solvency events that threaten the core financial system," he added.

He is referring to the U.S. central bank-orchestrated rescue of the Bear Stearns investment bank, which teetered on the
brink of bankruptcy because of loan losses.
The International Monetary Fund is not alone in its worry that the credit crisis could worsen. Morris Goldstein, a financial specialist at Washington's Peterson Institute, says if home prices continue to fall in the United States, defaults on mortgage loans could grow beyond the two million predicted for this year.

"It's been estimated that if U.S. housing prices fall by an additional 15 percent or so, approximately a third of U.S. homeowners will have negative equity in their homes," he explained.  "This raises the question of whether willingness to pay will have to be addressed along with ability to pay."

U.S. home prices on average declined by 10 percent in 2007, a factor Monetary Fund economists say contributed to the global credit crisis.  Many U.S. mortgage loans were bundled into securities and sold to financial institutions worldwide.

Caruana says if the situation worsens, it may be necessary for governments to spend taxpayer money to stabilize markets.

"I think we have to be careful on that," he cautioned.  "And the question is to what extent the situation continues to deteriorate."

The Monetary Fund says lax regulation and a failure to recognize the risks of highly leveraged loans contributed to the credit crisis. Financial markets, it says, will come under increased strain as world economic growth decelerates.

Fleeing men alert police
and prompt vehicle search

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When occupants of a vehicle at a service station got out and started running, members of the Policía de Fronteras in Paso Canoas got the idea that something illegal might be inside. So they called the Policía de Control de Drogas Monday night.

A quick inspection turned up 50 kilos of marijuana, said officials. Officers also managed to catch one of the three fleeing vehicle occupants. He was identified later by the last names of Núñez Núñez.

This is the second big bust of suspected marijuana in just a few days. Saturday drug agents found 2,104 kilos of suspected marijuana in the fuel tank of a truck coming across the border from Panamá. Detained was a man with the last name of Guillén.
Ministerio Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
This is the 50 kilos of marijuana confiscated Monday. A larger amount was confiscated Saturday at the nation's southern border.

Brazil confronts massive flooding that has left 21 dead and 82,000 evicted
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian civil defense officials report that at least 21 people have died and 82,000 have been driven from their homes by floods and mudslides in the country's northeast.

The Brazilian government is releasing more than $300
million in emergency aid for the states affected by the flooding.

Governors of the affected states met with President Luiz Inacio da Silva in Brasilia Monday to request aid. Officials say 17 of the dead drowned in the state of Paraiba, where 14,000 have become homeless.

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Esterillos Oeste is site
for migratory bird day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Esterillos Oeste in the central Pacific is for the birds Saturday. It is the I Festival de Aves Migratorias, kind of a despedida or farewell for migratory birds.

The idea for the festival is to recognize the importance of these birds and the need to conserve them, said a summary of the event. Many species are being disrupted by the extensive development along the coasts.

The event is part of the administration's Paz con la Naturaleza initiative. Organizers, which include the Museo Nacional will be putting on lectures, discussions, videos and even bird games, according to a program.

There also will be the usual sale of food, typical dancing and music, normal at local fairs.

Organizers also plan a 7 a.m. bird watching expedition of some 2.5 kms. or about a mile and a half. There also is a photo contest. Information on both can be found at the museum Web site.

Esterillos is 10 kms or about six miles south of the first Jacó entrance.

The museum reported that Costa Rica is a sometimes host to more than 200 species of tropical and neotropical migratory birds. Some winter here but others just stop enroute.

Boat crew of four spends
16 hours on high seas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A boat on its way from Panamá to Puntarenas and a waiting buyer never got there Tuesday.

The boat began taking on water and the four crew members abandoned the vessel and spent 16 hours in the water until a sports fishing boat found them, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The boat sank with 2,000 gallons of fuel aboard, according to the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas. The four, two citizens of Chile and two citizens of New Guinea, were expected to arrive in Golfito late Tuesday on a coast guard cutter.

Anesthesiologist convicted of abuse

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An anesthesiologist got six years in prison Tuesday after a trial court convicted him of sexual abuse on a patient at Hospital Juan Santamaria in 2004.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 9, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 70

Houston Dyanmo takes on Saprissa tonight cup semifinal
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Houston Dynamo practiced at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in Tibás Tuesday in advance of the second leg of their Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Champions' Cup semifinal series against Deportivo Saprissa.

Despite the absence of four regulars and a winless history for American teams playing in Costa Rica, head coach Dominic Kinnear and his players remain optimistic ahead of Wednesday's game.

"For us, it's a matter of coming in here and having a winning attitude," Kinnear said. "We know they have a good team, but we also have a good team, and if we didn't think we could win, we would not be in this tournament."

The Dynamo were eliminated in the semifinals last year after losing the second leg at Mexican club Pachuca despite  entering the game with a 2-0 lead. This year, the Dynamo
come into the second leg with no advantage after a 0-0 tie in Houston April 2.

To make matters worse, Estadio Ricardo Saprissa provides a sizeable home-field advantage due to the fervent fans. The United States national team is 0-6-1 in its trips to San José, including a 0-6 mark in qualifiers. Major League Soccer teams are 0-4 in road games against Saprissa, although both the Kansas City Wizards and Los Angeles Galaxy made it to overtime before losing in 2005 and 2006.

After arriving Monday night, the 22-player Dynamo squad held a 75-minute training session on Tuesday. With regulars Pat Onstad, Eddie Robinson and Stuart Holden (injury) and Bobby Boswell (suspension) not on the trip, the Dynamo did not run through their typical intra-squad game. Kinnear did close the final 15 minutes of practice, as usual, and the team practiced set pieces and penalty kicks. The Dynamo last went to a shootout in the 2007 SuperLiga semifinal.

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