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(506) 223-1327              Published Wednesday, April 18, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 76          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
Boxes and piles of evidence litter the courtroom where the Oswaldo Villalobos trial is held
Oswaldo Villalobos trial is nearing its final stage
By Dennis Rogers
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The final boxes of evidence were the stars of the Oswaldo Villalobos trial as they were read into the record Tuesday. Judges and lawyers alike yawned while Judge Manuel Rojas sorted through the leftovers of the prosecution’s written case.

Boxes 23 to 27 held mostly assorted documents, checkbooks, some photos, and receipts from accounting of various Villalobos companies. As most evidence was packaged separately in the boxes, considerable rummaging to find each item on the inventory sheet was needed.

In an exchange with prosecutor Walter Espinoza as to the status of a misplaced document, Rojas allowed that they seemed to be talking about something with the same sort of content and format. “But what we really need to know is where it is.”

Judicial proceedings in Costa Rica rely more on written documentation than similar trials in North America and England. Judges are not merely arbiters of the law but active investigators.

The Oswaldo Villalobos trial is nearing its final stage, and the three-judge panel probably will delve into much of the written documents during their deliberations. There is no jury here.

Villalobos was one of two brothers who were involved in money exchange. Luis Enrique Villalobos is now a fugitive. He was identified with the high-interest borrowing operation that prosecutors suggest was a ponzi scheme. He had about $1 billion on his books when he closed up and vanished Oct. 14, 2002.

Oswaldo Villalobos is facing charges mostly related to the high-interest operation. They are fraud, money laundering and illegal banking. The prosecution has made an effort to connect Oswaldo with the high-interest operation. There are checks
he signed and deposited that trace back to the borrowing operation. There are documents that say he had the power to accept money from creditors who came without a recommendation.

Witnesses have said he was involved with accepting money from them for the high-interest operation, although the testimony could be wrong.

The fraud charge is supported by records that show the borrowing operation would accept money and agree to pay up to 3 percent a month and then deposit the money in accounts paying 3 to 4 percent a year. The borrowing business took in about $90 million in both 2001 and 2002, according to the prosecution.

The money laundering allegation is supported by the nature of the funds the borrowing operation would accept. A central issue here are deposits from Canadians later linked to a cocaine smuggling operation.

The judges must not only decide if Oswaldo Villalobos is linked to the borrowing operation but whether the operation itself represents a criminal activity in the three areas alleged by the prosecutor.

Oswaldo Villalobos is more closely identified with the Ofinter S.A. money exchange operation which had a branch that functioned adjacent to the high-interest scheme in Mall San Pedro. Office layout has been a major topic at the trial.

In their final summary, defense lawyers probably will seek to answer why Oswaldo Villalobos closed up shop the same day that his brother ended the high-interest operation. This is a strong fact suggesting a link.

Meanwhile, a dwindling number of expats are hoping for an acquittal because they have been told that Luis Enrique Villalobos will return to pay them off if that happens. Many have been the target of an effective campaign that caused them to withdraw their Villalobos allegations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 76

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Treaty opponents' desire
for vote said to be cooling

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the executive branch firmly signed on to a proposal to provide a referendum on the free trade treaty with the United States, officials suggest that the desire of opponents for a vote is cooling.

Some groups that always said they wanted a referendum are now throwing up a curtain of smoke and excuses to impede the process of letting the people decide on the pact, said Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia as he delivered to lawmakers a presidential decree calling for a public vote Tuesday.

For example, the  Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados published on its Web site an article saying that the move by President Óscar Arias Sánchez to call a public vote generated a conflict between the executive branch and the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones.

It was the tribunal Thursday that announced it would allow opponents of the treaty to collect vote with the goal of holding a public vote. The next day President Arias used another part of the referendum law to say he would ask the legislature Tuesday to approve a vote.

The difference is in the timing. A signature campaign could have dragged on for nine months while the treaty remained in limbo. Some say that was the goal of the opponents because they are not sure they have the public support to defeat the treaty. Under the Arias plan, the tribunal has to schedule a vote in 90 days once the legislature approves the measure.

The government maintains a two-thirds coalition majority in the Asamblea Legislativa. There is little doubt the Arias brothers will get the 29 votes they need to put the question to the people.

However, as Francisco Antonio Pacheco, assembly president, noted Tuesday when he got a copy of the presidential decree, the  text must be published in the official La Gaceta newspaper before any assembly action takes place. That process will be expedited.

While the Arias brothers and other pro-treaty advocates say they will respect the outcome of the public vote, opponents have not said the same thing. In fact, a series of constitutional challenges is a certainty if the treaty is approved. The  Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados has been laying the groundwork for such a challenge for months.

The treaty faces a February deadline. If it is not ratified, it becomes void insofar as Costa Rica is concerned. The Dominican Republic and four other Central American states already have ratified the treaty, as has the U.S. Congress.

Costa Rica also has to pass legislation making fundamental changes in certain laws before the treaty goes into force. Lawmakers will continue their discussions to create a fast-track method for doing that. They will seek to make changes in the internal rules to limit debate to 22 legislative session. Otherwise debate would be unlimited.

Costa Rican kids trained
to be financially literate

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans do not have a savings culture and the average adult is not fully conversant on financial topics, according to officials.

So the Ministerio de Educación Pública, the Banco Central and the  Superintendencia de Pensiones have set up a course for 150,000 fourth- and fifth-grade students. The course includes calculating interest, planning a family budget and the importance of picking a good pension plan.

Costa Ricans have few choices in some financial areas. For example, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros in an insurance monopoly, and one size usually fits all. Recently adult Costa Ricans had to decide where their pension money was placed.

Intel earns $8.9 billion for quarter

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SANTA CLARA, Calif., — Intel Corp. Tuesday announced first-quarter revenue of $8.9 billion, operating income of $1.7 billion, net income of $1.6 billion and earnings per share of 27 cents. The results included the effect of a $300-million reversal of previously accrued taxes that increased per-share earnings by approximately 5 cents.

"The strong momentum of our industry-leading Intel Core microarchitecture product family, combined with ongoing structural cost improvements, delivered solid financial results in the first quarter," said Paul Otellini, Intel president and CEO  "Our product strength is reflected in the fact that average selling prices for the quarter held up well in a very competitive environment."

Intel has chip manufcaturing facilities in San Antono de Belén.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 76

Town meetings bring democracy to the local level here
By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Despite the seeming dominance of the central government, local democracy is alive and well in Costa Rica.

The Catholic diocese five years ago built a new church in downtown Florencia next exiting one.  The diocese still own the old church building and allows free use of it, as available, for community activities.

Saturday the two buildings are not left without weekend use.  While a wedding took place in the new church, the Florencia community association used the old church building for a decision-making meeting.  The group wanted to convince residents to approve the purchase of a tract with a natural spring so the community can end its freeze on building permits.

The community association owns and rents the building opposite from the church.  With the money approved to purchase the land with water, there would also be enough money left to build a new community sports gym facility behind the building they rent out.  The gym would be free to the community during the day.  To pay for the electricity, groups wanting to use the gym after dark would be charged a nominal fee, according to the plan.

A district community association is a group that takes concerns to the municipality, which for Florencia is in Ciudad Quesada.  The municipality then turns to the representative body for the canton, which in this case is San Carlos.   

The representative body for San Carlos then passes Florencia’s concerns to the government in their province of Alajuela, in order to receive permission to proceed with what the people approved.  After approval, all the represented towns under Florencia’s jurisdiction could benefit. 

There are seven towns that fall under Florencia: 
florencia meeting photo
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton
Alvaro Marín  presents the proposal to purchase land to acquire more water for the community.

Caimitos, San Francisco, Penjamo, Peje Vieja, Puente Casa, La Vieja, and Molino La Florencia.  The associate needed a quorum of 20 to finalize an approval, and about 24 people from the area showed up.  The community association’s fiscal, Alvaro Marín, gave a presentation, and with the assistance of Javier Villalobos, the president, and Cynthia Pérez, vice president, the entire agenda was approved.

But the group only needs to go through the above elaborate. multi-level process when it has to ask to ask the higher governments for financial assistance. 

In this case, the association only needed residents' approval to go directly to a local bank for a loan, because the organization has property and income for a guarantee.

Four investigated in attack at home of U.S. Embassy worker
By Arnoldo Cob Mora
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have detained two men as suspects in the Escazú home invasion Feb. 15 that terrorized the wife of a U.S. Embassy employee.

In addition, two persons have been detained as suspects in receiving stolen goods that came from that crime.

The daylight home invasion took place in a patrolled neighborhood in the upscale Trejos Montealegre of San Rafael de Escazú. At the time Fuerza Pública officers said three men with shotguns somehow evaded the security systems of the home and broke in shortly after 9 a.m.

Officers identified the occupants at  Robert and Geannina Coopley and said he was an embassy employee. The Embassy declined to identify the individuals involved. The embassy is believed to maintain a security patrol in the area where many of the U.S. citizen employees live. Embassy officials upgraded their security efforts after the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The robbers were in the home for about two hours and 30 minutes, and there has been no explanation as to why security guards did not detect their presence. The home has a security fence topped with razor wire.

The robbery suspects were identified by the Judicial Investigating Organization as Enock de Jesús Vega Alfaro 
and Henry Bryan Murillo Harley. They were detained where they live in Loma Linda de Paso Ancho. They were jailed for two months preventative detention.

The persons suspected of fencing the estimated $10,000 in electronics and other items taken from the home were identified by investigators as Andrea Roxana Paniagua Moreno and Edwin Andrés Gutiérrez Cisneros. They were arrested where they live in Los Cuadros de Guadalupe. A judge declined to jail them and instead ordered that they sign in with the prosecutor's office every 15 days while the investigation continues.

Upscale homes in Escazú and Rohrmoser have been continual targets of home invasions like the one Feb. 15. Usually the bandits strike at night, break through the metals fences and hold the family inside and any domestic help at gunpoint.

Even the home of recent presidential candidate Ricardo Toledo Carranza was invaded by gunmen in Rohrmoser March 21, and the robbers killed a maid and a neighbor. Toledo's wife had her face fractured and her arm broken in three places.

The attack on the politician's home seems to have generated an effort to crack down on such crimes by law enforcement officials and the persons just arrested will be questioned to determine if they have been involved in other crimes, said officials. The suspects of the crime at the Toledo home were captured within hours.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 76

Even more opinions from our readers on Costa Rican living
Do not live in fear here:
Get yourself a firearm

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Letterwriter John Holtz had this to say about law enforcement in Costa Rica ("He wants some solutions to problems from crimes," April 17, 2007), "Until we centralize law enforcement, demand accountability, up the pay, up the quality of the force and make sure their shoes hit the streets 24/7, we will continue to live in fear."
There is no need to live in fear. My family and I lived in Costa Rica for years and we were never in fear. The reason was simple: we were not unarmed. We made no secret of being armed, and criminals bypassed us and our home, even though our Tico and Gringo neighbors were frequently victimized by thugs. You see, criminals vastly prefer unarmed victims and will go out of their way to avoid someone who will fight back. While living in Costa Rica, I only had to use a firearm once in self-defense. Word quickly got out that we were ready, willing and able to defend ourselves, and we were never bothered again.
You might be surprised to know that many, perhaps a majority, foreign residents in Costa Rica are armed, whether they advertise it or not. Many of us from a variety of countries got together for occasional target practice. We were never hassled by the police. To the contrary, I would usually invite a few of them to join us for practice, since their own departments didn't provide ammo for training and we had large quantities of ammunition.
To the point: some people just don't get it. Police very rarely prevent crime or catch criminals during the commission of a crime. If you want to be safe, if you want your family and your property to be safe, then step up and take the responsibility for the safety of your loved ones, yourself and your property. Own a firearm. Practice with it. Develop a mindset for self-defense. Be aware of your surroundings. Refuse to be a victim. Fight back. Then and only then will you and your loved ones truly be safe. The choice is yours. If you live in fear, it's because you choose to live that way.
For what it is worth, that advice applies anywhere in the world. During my military service and years as a professional peace officer, I lived in some of the most crime-ridden places imaginable, in the U.S. and abroad. The rules are the same regardless of where you live.
D. J. Buckner
Denver, Colorado, and Atlanta, Georgia

The people in Costa Rica
clinched their decision

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Phil Baker's article captured the essence of our interest in Costa Rica.  My wife and I visited this past January and decided we would like to build a vacation home in Costa Rica.  I had investigated ocean front property in Chile last year but came to realize my wife would never had been comfortable there.  My last hope for a retirement vacation home outside the U.S. was Costa Rica.  I arrived with limited expectations that my wife would enjoy Costa Rica enough to consider building there.

I instantly fell in love with Costa Rica.  The country's natural beauty and climate were irresistible but the clincher for us, especially my wife, was the Ticos we met.  From Alex at Poaz Rental to the gift shop manager at the Mono Azul, we met delightful people living a lifestyle many Americans assume has disappeared forever. 

My wife was amazed and overwhelmed to see Costa Ricas enjoying family life.  We saw families walking arm in arm, playing with children in the parks, intensely engaged with each other.  Contrast this lifestyle with American families' tales of "stealth children," family members who are rarely seen by their parents in their homes. 

We soon began to discuss how cultures could be so different.  Television viewing and Saturday morning sports substituted for parenting, the degree of privacy children enjoy, unrestricted and Internet usage without supervision, access to automobiles and material coddling were in stantly identified as major reasons for the differences.  Our only concern about building in Costa Rica was that American culture and the concomitant values of rampant, mindless materialism could invade the country and reduce Costa Rica's culture to the level of our's without the conveniences. 

Mr. Barker correctly identified working mothers as the fatal change that may forever alter Costa Rica.  I also think the close connection between Costa Rican's and their religious life is a key to preserving their cultural identity.  One of the first changes Costa Ricans will experience in the "global economy" will be the eroding of religious faith in favor of political correctness that challenges their religious faith.  Materialism replaces faith and, viola, you the basis for a new United States of Costa Rica.
My wife and are philosophic Kantian's and therefore, very reluctant to embrace a concept that advocates American expats and visitors depriving people of their autonomy in making these kinds of decisions, even more so for a people and culture we barely know.  Many Costa Ricans will naturally view materialism from the viewpoint of people who haven't tasted the forbidden fruit and can only imagine the benefits of escaping poverty and have no perspective of the devastating effects produced by that taste. 

America society deteriorated gradually and few realized what was happening, even fewer wanted to admit it.  Costa Ricans may have to traverse the same, painful territory to fully realize the Faustian bargain they have made.    
The reports of rampant crime in Costa Rica, reported in A.M. Costa Rica, has made us reconsider our decision to build in Costa Rica.  However, our place is in an area
where reports of violent crime are still rare and we're proceeding with our plans.  Costa Rica's inability to police its society may ultimately save it from American-styled materialization.

A friend who accompanied us on our recent trip to Costa Rica opted out of a property purchase after reading the continuous reports about increasing crime rates in Costa Rica here in A.M. Costa Rica.  Many "baby boomer" Americans may be very disillusioned with the quality of life in the U.S. and, especially in mid-April, U.S. confiscatory tax policy, but few will find a country that cannot protect its citizens from crime or apprehend, prosecute, and incarcerate those who responsible as a viable alternative.  A Costa Rica consisting of fenced-in American enclaves hiding from marauding criminals is attractive to no one.              
So Costa Ricans have some difficult decisions to make.  The results of those decisions will determine whether or not Costa Rica becomes "Paradise Lost," or has the courage to develop indigenous solutions to the many problems that face the nation. 

Be certain that capitalists from the north and beyond will use every means legal, corrupt and merely dishonest to seduce Costa Ricans to sell their birthright.  The aftermath will make 30 pieces of silver will look like a good deal.  And all those women playing with their children in the parks and making a rich home life for their families?  They'll be working 12-hour shifts at call centers for low wages and no benefits while their children are raised by their newly affordable wide screen TVs whose programming objective is to alienate their children as completely as possible from their parents and their parents values.  Pura Vida!
J. Sam Mobley
Indianapolis, Indiana     
Trade treaty will destroy
the Costa Rican lifestyle

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am planning on moving to Costa Rica as soon as my wife retires. There are two huge reasons why I’ve chosen Costa Rica. First the people, the Ticos. They are laid back. They make do with what they have and enjoy the moment. They do not chase after the next big thing to buy to keep up with the Jones. The eat better than most people I know in the States, they have also a very high literacy, about 95 percent, which gives them the ability to make choices for themselves.

It saddens me to know that in the States from the day we are born we are subjected with things that keeps us in line, not to think for ourselves, to become good little taxpayers. The gap keeps widening between the haves and the have nots because the have nots are taught not to take chances (Don’t go into business for yourself. You could loose. Be safe. Get a good education and get a good job and pay your taxes).

The government controls the schools through things like SAT tests and the withholding of federal aid if the schools don’t jump through the governments hoops. The state can take over a school system if they don’t perform to the state's standard. Then they make things like legalities to overload the teachers so they don’t have time to teach (the old catch 22 if I’ve ever seen one).

John Holtz has hit on many things that will destroy the Costa Rican lifestyle, CAFTA will do exactly that. Costa Rica must import steel, lumber and such to supply manufacturing businesses (owned by outsiders), businesses that can shut down overnight and put workers out of a job and into poverty.

Will CAFTA come to those peoples aid? I think not. I hope to buy a not new Tico-style home and spend my retirement money with the local businesses to support the local population, not by buying imported products that support out of country corporations.

The second reason is the environment, clean healthy warm air. Not the crud produced by those manufacturing companies that have ruined the air here. The area where I live have some of the poorest air in the country so what did our wise government do, they allowed six new power plants built here and then they go after the farmers for polluting the air.

In most places you can’t have a wood stove and only can use a fireplace on approved nights. The real hard part to understand is that the power from those plants is not used in the county but elsewhere. That will happen to Costa Rica too as the demand for power keeps increasing.

Of course the price of power will go up causing either the Tico to put in more work hours or for his wife to go to work. This is the progress that will cripple the States in time. It will happen there too when a man can’t work enough hours to feed his family.

Crime, oh yes, the crime rate will go up too and how do you pay for more police protection, taxes. Taxes create corruption of the worst kind. It never goes down, only up. Where will the tax money come from? Not from the outside corporations but from the little guy as the corporations will threaten to shut down if you tax them.

The prevention of crime will only come from the inside not from outsiders telling Costa Rica what is wrong with Costa Rica. If retirees (and others) want to help, then they need to get out and help those who can help not just sitting behind their closed doors trying to make Costa Rica like the mess they left behind.

I have been blessed with a good life that I and others have worked hard for. Now I am to be blessed again in that I get to move to paradise and share my good fortune.

Art Edwards
U.S.A./Costa Rica

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