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These stories were published Tuesday, April 15, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 74
Jo Stuart
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Arias should look out for frontrunner's curse
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

With presidential elections three years away, Oscar Arias Sánchez has plenty of time to confront the curse of the frontrunner.

The former president has emerged as the leading candidate for the Partido Liberación Nacional nomination. He is the principal beneficiary of a Sala IV constitutional court vote that said former presidents could run for a non-consecutive term.

Analysis on the news

Arias gets the nod because Liberación is in disarray after losing two presidential elections in a row and because he is a Nobel Peace Prize winner much respected by Costa Ricans.

He also is a gigantic target that should have media manipulators licking their lips. Not only does Arias face the curse of the frontrunner, he carries the baggage of his past four years in office, from 1986 to 1990.

For three years every bit of his personal and public life will be studied by opponents in search of a flaw, a weak link, a soft spot. 

Ask George Bush Sr. about the vulnerability of a frontrunner. He was the victor of the Gulf War who lost the presidency to Bill Clinton a little more than a year later. 

A poll this week by Ipsos Centroamérica and La Nación showed that 50 percent of the voters contacted would reelect Arias. Just 20 percent would support Ottón Solís, who up until the April 4 Sala IV ruling was the frontrunner.

Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana carries less negative baggage than Arias if only because

he is younger. Arias also has written books, 
including a 1977 work "Costa Rica in the Year 2000." Who knows what predictions can give opponents ammunition.

Age is another problem for the former president, who was the country’s youngest when elected. He was born Sept. 13, 1941. That will make him 64 for the next presidential 

Oscar Arias Sánchez
election. His physical condition could become an issue, although this is less likely here than in the United States.

A big albatross opponents are waiting to hang on the neck of Arias is that of the Costa Rican economy. He was a presidential economic adviser and a minister of planning before he was president. How much of the current economic mess is his fault, they will ask.

During the 13 years he didn’t think he could run for reelection, Arias became known for his opinionated speeches. He called the United States cowards for using missiles in Afghanistan and his anti-war views prompted a walkout at a Florida event last month. He certainly left enough raw materials for clever opponents.

Of course, his strength is in winning the 1987 Nobel Prize for crafting a Central American peace plan and his strong support for Costa Rican neutrality.

However, the political history of frontrunners shows that the position is a double-edged sword. Arias may wish that the Sala IV held off making its ruling until 2005. 

Tax amnesty seen as boon for foreign residents 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican government has offered taxpayers here a gift. But they have to act before April 30 to accept it.

The gift is an amnesty from tax penalties and interest on any levies administered by the Dirección General de Tributación Directa that should have been paid or incurred by last Sept. 30.

Garland M. Baker takes his taxes seriously, and he points out to foreign residents here that the amnesty represents a great opportunity to avoid the compounding of interest and penalties that may multiply a forgotten minor tax to head-shaking proportions.

The amnesty was included as part of the temporary fiscal package passed by the Asamblea Nacional. Baker, vice president of finance for Calypso Tours, said he asked for and received a tax printout on every corporation operated by his firm.

Even he found some hidden taxes that he was able to pay without interest and penalties. He said that the government will crack down on outstanding taxes as soon as the amnesty ends.

Baker has fought running battles with tax authorities and has won his share. A battle  over what he considered discriminatory taxes 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Garland M. Baker holds a Tributación Directa printout that saved him interest and penalties on a forgotten tax.

on the boat operated by his company recently was settled in his favor.

The complex Costa Rican tax code is hard to understand for foreigners, and Baker has offered to help anyone who needs information and responds to this e-mail address: taxamnesty@gmbaker.com .

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Easter holiday may help stomach virus to spread
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican health authorities are working hard to stem a wave of virus infections that seem to be spread by food handlers.

The Semana Santa holidays probably will result in widespread distribution of the virus, which can be serious for children.

This is not the flu-like disease that has health officials on alert worldwide since its discovery in China. This local virus causes diarrhea and vomiting.

Some cases have been found in San José over the last three weeks.

Ministerio de Salud employees say that the virus is widespread throughout the city but not epidemic. There is not a lot of treatment short of letting the virus run its course of from 24 hours to two days.

Cleanliness is the key, health officials said. The virus is spread from hand to food to mouth, and a 

good washing of hands can break the chain. Restaurants should insist on extreme cleanliness to prevent the spread of the virus, health workers said.

At the same time, health workers are encouraging Costa Ricans all over the country to clean their backyards and gardens in advance of the rainy season so that dengue-bearing mosquitoes will not find breeding grounds in standing water. A dengue outbreak last year even hit the Central Valley. That disease also can be dangerous if contracted a second time.

And if that is not bad enough, health workers also say they are on the alert for cases of tuberculosis, which seems to be making inroads in poorer neighborhoods of Costa Rica. Any cough that lasts for more than a few weeks and generates yellow phlegm with blood prompts a visit to a physician. Loss of appetite and night sweating are other symptoms.

TB  is highly contagious but can be treated with antibiotics. Several cases have been found in the country.

Man and girl die
in water mishaps

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two more persons have drowned in water accidents, according to officials. Two other persons died usual deaths over the weekend.

A man with the last name of Rodríguez who was 43 years old died at Playa Manuel Antonio Saturday, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. 

A 6-year-old girl died in the Tempisque River near Filadelfia in Guanacaste, agents said.

In La Cuesta, Ciudad Neily, a 92-year-old man died Saturday when gored by a bull. And in Guápiles a man named Noguera, 53, died the same day after being attacked by honeybees.

Police shot man
near stash of loot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police shot a man when he went to recover stolen goods from a discovered hideaway, investigators said.

The home of Orlando Solís in Sarchí Norte de Valverde Vega, Alajuela, was looted Saturday, according to a police report. The burglars stole a VCR, a toolbox, jewelery, important papers and wallets.

A stash of stolen items was discovered underneath some shrubbery during a search, according to police. Investigators simply waited for someone to return. At midnight a man with the last names Núñez Fernández showed up along with others.

One of the officers shot Núñez in the throat during the effort to arrest him. Núñez was treated at Hospital de Grecia and is believed to have been involved in the burglary, said police.

U.S. urges probe into
Caracas bombing

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department is urging Venezuelan authorities to probe the bombing of a Caracas office building where negotiators had agreed to work toward a referendum on President Hugo Chavez's rule. 

Philip Reeker, State Department spokesman, said Monday that Washington condemns Saturday's attack by those who seek to undermine what he termed a "significant accord." Reeker also called on Venezuelan authorities to bring those responsible for the attack to justice. 

The blast happened at the Caracas Teleport building one day after Venezuelan government and opposition negotiators reached their deal during talks sponsored by the Organization of American States. The parties agreed that the vote would take place after Aug. 19, the midpoint of Chavez's six-year term. 

Venezuela's opposition has been pushing for the president's removal. They say he is leading Venezuela toward economic ruin and trying to model the country on Cuba. 

In April of last year, Chavez was briefly ousted in an unsuccessful coup. 

In December, the opposition began a failed nationwide general strike to force the president to resign and call early elections. The two-month labor action was felt most severely in Venezuela's key oil industry.

Bush visit to Canada postponed

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. and Canadian governments have decided to postpone U.S. President George Bush's May 5 visit to Ottawa. The postponement is due to the president's ongoing obligations to the Iraq situation. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien look forward to accomplishing these goals that both share.

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We will discontinue reward offer after today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper will withdraw its reward offer for Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and Luis Milanes at midnight Tuesday.

A.M. Costa Rica believes that the two men, suspects in multi-million dollars frauds, are unlikely to be found in the near future. In addition, there has been little support from investors in either high-interest operation to add to the rewards.

For six months investors in the Villalobos high-interest operation have been biting their fingernails in the hopes that something would happen.

The financier closed the doors to his business Oct. 14, and he has not been seen since. He did, however, send a message to investors at that time and another around the first of the year. 

Since then there have been no public statements, although some investors claim to have had contact with the man. Investigators did jail his brother.

Milanes left town around Nov. 20. Several associates have been jailed, but not Milanes himself.

Some investors, in fact, have been critical of the reward offer. They see Villalobos and perhaps Milanes as victims of a dark governmental conspiracy. The arrest of Villalobos, at least, would shatter their dream of ever getting back their money. He has said that if he is jailed he never would pay up.

The A.M. Costa Rica rewards, just $500 each, were largely symbolic. Heavily financed investigators are seeking both men, and the small amount offered by A.M. Costa Rica is irrelevant after six months, the newspaper management concluded.

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.

More letters on the Villalobos case
Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I read with interest Gregory Kearney Lawson’s comments on peace human rights and respect in Costa Rica. I am rather surprised at his wrapping himself in the Costa Rican flag when he is acting on behalf of Villalobos investors who have been bilked out of their money by a government that seems to have not one iota of proof against him. It has seen fit to let two other people on similar charges out of jail while keeping Oswaldo Villalobos incarcerated. I guess it is a case where they release the little fish and keep the big one to feed the treasury. 

I understand that a short stay in San Jose's infamous prison will soon show you the error of your ways and then no trial is required. So much for human rights. International human rights organizations are constantly stating that Costa Rica has a lot of work to do in this department. So much for human rights. I read your paper daily about crime and it seems that a gringo can have his throat cut if he fails to hand over his wallet. So much for peace. 

I lived in Mexico for a number of years and, yes, the people in Latin America do have a form of government-enforced respect (begrudgingly given) to keep you spending. You are a commodity to these governments called tourism. 

From a faithful reader who feels that we are being abused by a government whose greed knows no bounds in grasping for dollars using their dictatorial powers. 

Gordon Jantzi Oshawa
Ontario, Canada
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your recent article written by Christopher Walvaren has him writing about "illegal operations" and "illegal funds." I presume he is referring to the likes of "The Brothers" and the "Cubans." But what information does he possess that can show either the operations were illegal or that the funds were illegal? 

His remarks are blasphemous. Perhaps what was foretold has come to pass — loss to the Costa Rican economy of $5 million per month.  No doubt Costa Rica is in the throws of an economic slowdown, top down or complete catastrophe. 

Frankly, Costa Rica is not that far removed from a banana republic. Political control continues to rest within the ruling gentry, where nepotism, inefficiency and bribes continue to rule. As long as the liberal socialistic attitudes remain the modus operendi, the economic situation will not get better. 

As long as a legal system allows criminals to perpetuate crime with impunity tourists will think twice about visiting Costa Rica. As long as politicians take an anti-residency attitude toward potential immigrants with liquid income, Nicaragua, Panama and other Central American countries will gain capital influx.  As the adage goes: "You reap what you sow."

James B. Crowell,  Ph.D.
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 tonight

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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