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These stories were published Friday, April 11, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 72
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Youngsters, one on the shoulders of a parent, march to the demonstration.

Peace demonstration
draws schoolkids

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the younger set didn’t show up, the peace demonstration Thursday would not have been much.

In all, some 150 to160 persons gathered at Parque Nacional to protest the Iraqi war, and more than half were elementary school children between 9 and 12 years. Most were from the Instituto Educativo Moderno in San José.

The crowd was much smaller than similar gatherings a week earlier when several thousand showed up.

Tourism and the war: BELOW!

U.S. successes and the sight of cheering Iraqis on television screens seems to have taken the steam out of the anti-war protests.

That was not the case in the Asamblea Nacional. There some 33 of the 57 deputies signed a letter to President Abel Pacheco asking him again to have the name of Costa Rica removed from the White House list of those nations that support the war. Pacheco was in Washington Thursday to meet with U.S. President George Bush.

That Costa Rica appears on the White house list is less than a footnote in the history of the war, but to some Costa Ricans it is important to maintain the image of neutrality of the country.

Among these is Luis Ramírez, a deputy of the Partido Liberación Nacional who proposed a motion in the assembly. He is from a political party that is a rival of Pacheco’s.

The motion could not pass because it did not have enough votes to carry an emergency measure, so deputies opted simply to send a letter via Costa Rica’s embassy in Washington. Pacheco says he supports a war against terrorism not necessarily against Iraq.

Today is a big holiday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is a holiday, the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Rivas in which Juan Santamaría distinguished himself by torching a building held by the forces of William Walker.

The battle, won by Costa Rican forces, is generally considered the beginning of the end for Walker, a U.S. adventurer who wanted to annex  Central America to the United States.

All government offices are closed today, as is the U.S. Embassy.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

It isn’t easy trying to stay legal

For the average person who does not have a phobia about tramites (bureaucratic procedures), completing their residency renewal would probably take three visits at the most. For me, I set up a self-fulfilling prophecy — anything that can go wrong will. 

However, my fifth visit to Immigration was pretty painless. My friend Sandy who was visiting from Tilaran gave me a lift right to the door. I had my receipt for $100 deposit, and I was told I could get the necessary photos right there, which I did. I simply delivered all of this to the proper office and was told to come back in two days to pick up my new cedula. I also picked up a list of requirements to become a permanent resident. It has a list of 13 steps that must be completed. Not all of them apply to everyone — but even those that didn’t apply to me intimidated me — just think if I had to get all those documents! I think I have a problem. 

Two days hence was a Friday. I decided to give them the benefit of time and waited until Monday to return. Waiting for someone to appear in the office, I chatted with the other woman there. I’ll call her Rachel. She was fluent in both Spanish and English. She told me the person in charge was off looking for her file. She then went into a small tirade about the difficulties she had been having getting her permanent residency. Nobody seemed to know the rules and they kept changing. My heart sank.

Two more people joined us, one of whom was the kind woman who had helped me when I first got my residency. She remembered both my names, and I couldn’t remember hers, so I’ll call her Ariel. She knew Rachel, too and asked after her family. Then she got the exasperated story of Rachel’s difficulties (which dismayed me all over again). After Rachel left, Ariel said, "Rachel se pone muy brava." Always ready to fight. But then, she said that Rachel was Nica. This was not a put-down, just a fact. I also believe that growing up in a country that is at war, or violent in a major way, makes its people prepared to fight. I said, "But Ticos don’t get angry" 

"No," She shrugged. "Que vale?" (I interpreted this as "To what purpose?" I smiled and said, "That is one reason I am in Costa Rica." This conversation took place after I had given the woman behind the desk my papers and explained that I had simply come to pick up my cedula and she had gone to get it. The woman returned empty-handed and told me I would have to come back tomorrow because it had not been signed yet.

"But," I said, "You told me it would be ready in two days, and I waited three!" She shrugged helplessly "It takes me hours to get here, I have to take three buses. (Bureaucrats are not in the least interested in the trouble we have arriving to stand in front of their desks.) I could feel myself getting really brava. 

I ranted on, trying to control my ranting because Ariel was being very very quiet. I could imagine her saying "Josephine es muy brava" then explaining — "Es estadounidense." Finally, defeated, I asked for a phone number I could call before I came in again, just to make sure my cedula was indeed ready. She wrote down a number for me. I knew I wouldn’t call. If I did, the person on the other end of the line probably wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, and if she did know, I probably wouldn’t understand what she was talking about. I nodded sheepishly to Ariel and left. 

 Semana Santa is coming up. I will wait until after that to retrieve my cedula, hoping it doesn’t get lost in the meantime. I am beginning to think it would be easier for me to become a resident of the Vatican. 


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Pacheco says U.S. will respect ICE monopoly here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Abel Pacheco had three minutes with U.S. President George Bush in which he pitched his view that Central America countries need aid, time and technology to surmount their differences from the United States.

For the first time in many years there is peace in all of Central America and for the first time in history the five presidents are on friendly terms with the goal of reconstructing the area to eliminate poverty, Pacheco told Bush, according to a release by Casa Presidential.

Pacheco came away saying that he was sure that Bush recognized the differences between the United States and Central America and their asymmetrical status in negotiating a free trade treaty. "We are five very small countries negotiating with the most powerful nation," said Pacheco.

The Costa Rican president also said he was sure that Bush realized how sensitive is the subject of telecommunications. 

Telecommunications is a state monopoly in Costa Rica, but it is an area that the United states would like to open up to competition from private firms in that country.

"I see that the United States is disposed to respect this peculiarity," said Pacheco after the afternoon meeting.

Pacheco and the four presidents of other Central America states have a number of meetings with other U.S. trade and development officials.

Pacheco also revealed that he would meet with Ernie Allen of the national Center for Lost and Exploited Children because that organization would like to expand its work to Costa Rica.

Proposed cultural center in south wins prize
By Saray Ramírez Vindas 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A family home in Pérez Zeledón built in the mid-1930s won the award Thursday set up to support and preserve the country’s architectural heritage.
The dwelling is being described as the first home in the Valley de El General. The home is of the family Barrantes Elizondo and was declared a national landmark in 1997.

The structure was one of 10 projects submitted to the Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio 

Cultural. Others were in San José, Heredia, Alajuela and Guanacaste. 

The reconstruction of the dwelling will turn it into a cultural and information center run in conjunction with the municipality. The structure is in Barrio Liceo, San Isídro de El General, Pérez Zeledón.

By being selected, the project gets 25 million colons (about $64,000) from the government to help with the restoration.

The restoration projects were evaluated by a jury which considered the cultural value, the state of conservation and the viability of the project, according to a handout by the center, which is part of the Ministerio de Cultural, Deporte y Juventud.

Mother's murder cost 20 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who cut up and set fire to his mother got 20 years in prison in a Puntarenas courtroom Thursday.  He has the last names of Mesén Chaves.

His mother’s remains were found near her home in February 2002. She was Olga Chaves Lobo. The remains were so badly damaged that investigators were unable to determine the cause of death.

Alcohol ban covers
Thursday and Friday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite rumors to the contrary, Costa Rica will enforce a ban on alcohol Holy Thursday and Good Friday. These are key days in the Catholic religion, and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the ban was to allow the faithful to participate in religious celebrations without fear of problems generated by the sale and consumption of alcohol.

As is traditional, officers of the Fuerza Pública will seal off bars and the alcohol section of stores by midnight Wednesday.

And as is traditional, Costa Ricans will continue getting around the ban.

Bars will be physically closed with tape and Fuerza Pública stamps placed on the doors.  Such establishments may not open until midnight Friday,

Violation of the law carries a prison term of from three months to two years. But informal bars in homes and stores are traditional during such periods of prohibition.

Places where tourists congregate frequently flout the law by calling any gathering of tourists a private party where the law allows alcohol.

Gigantic drug haul
grabbed in Golfito

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police stopped a pickup near Golfito, brought in a trained drug-sniffing dog and uncovered the largest stash of drugs in the country’s history, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Police said they stopped the pickup because the two occupants, a man and a woman, had been under investigation for possible links to drug trafficking. Police said they found a false floor in the pickup and encountered 40 kilos of heroin and 101 kilos of cocaine. 

The man taken into custody has the last names of Alvarado Gómez and is 40 years old. The woman has the last names of Herrera Castro and is 43, police said.

Rape suspect caught

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators took into custody Wednesday a Panamanian man wanted for the rape of minors in his home country. He is Rodolfo Betancourt Escudero. The arrest was made in the Ciudad de Tejar del Guarco in Cartago, said a report from the International Police Agency (INTERPOL). Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization also participated. The man will be brought to court for extradition proceedings in Cartago.

Police foil attempt
to kill president

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — Police say they have foiled a plot to assassinate President Lucio Gutierrez.  Police Gen. Edgar Vaca told Congress Thursday here that two Ecuadoreans met with Colombian hit men recently in Cali, Colombia to discuss the plot. 

Gen. Vaca says the would-be assassins were paid an advance sum of $37,000 to buy guns, scopes and silencers and that the money was part of a $1.5 million contract on the president's life. 

The police official did not say how the plan was foiled or if anyone had been detained, but he did point out that Ecuadorean authorities were working with Colombia and the International Police Agency on the case. 

President Gutierrez took office Jan. 15 after winning a runoff election in November.  As an army colonel in January 2000, Gutierrez led thousands of indigenous Ecuadoreans and fellow officers in a coup that toppled President Jamil Mahuad, whose policies were blamed for a severe economic crisis. 

Loyal officers arrested Gutierrez and installed Vice President Gustavo Noboa as Ecuador's new leader. Gutierrez was subsequently jailed for four months for leading the rebellion. 
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Tourism struggles with the effects of the Iraqi war
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Iraq war may have cut North American tourism in half, and the deficit will be hard to offset.

The buildup to war has had an effect on tourism since January, but industry executives also blame the slow North American economy and the default by high-interest investment firms for the current woes.

In addition to hotel room statistics and airline head counts, reports from taxi drivers, rental car agencies and tour operators supports the view that tourism may have been cut in half for at least the last two weeks. 

Several hotels that have reported full occupancy during February and March in past years say they are at half or 60 percent capacity.

A few tourist operations with excellent marketing efforts say they are bucking the trend, and one even reported that business was up 10 percent this year. But these are the exceptions.

Even as the war seems to be winding down, tourism executives expect that any return to normality will not take place for a month to six weeks because there is a lead time for tourist visits.

Tourism officials were expecting to take a hit from the general world economic situation. 

March usually is a big month. Some 57,000 North American tourists visited the country that month in 2002. The numbers dip to about 40,000 in April and May, but in June and July North American summer vacationers drive the figure to about 45,000. September and October are the true off-season with numbers about half that of March.

So the war hit Costa Rica in what normally is a great tourism month. And any recovery will arrive along with the rainy season.

The tourism industries that cater to male vacationers seem to be bearing the brunt of the default by the high-interest investment firms, principally Savings Unlimited and the operation run by Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho.

The bar business and charter fishing would seem to be among those hard hit. Many North American men used to visit here and finance their annual or semi-annual vacations with interest payments from the investment firms. One was overhead speaking by telephone in a restaurant last week complaining that the Villalobos firm had closed its doors. He apparently had been unaware of that fact until he arrived here this week. 

The firm shut down Oct. 14.

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.

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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