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These stories were published Monday, April 21, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 77
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Bearers carry glass coffin containing image of the crucified Christ from cathedral
Semana Santa in San José means processions
Torchbearer

Bishop Barrantes

Youngster keeps the incense flowing by swinging the censer in front of an image of the mourning Virgin Mary
By the A.M. Costa 
Rica staff

Under a cool, gray April sky the funeral marchers carried an image of the crucified Christ in procession to the beat of a dirge.

One of a number of such processions in the Central Valley, the march from the San José Cathedral attracted the faithful, tourists, beggars and a few food vendors. Archbishop Hugo Barrantes led this procession. This is his first year in the church's top local office.

The march through downtown streets moved slowly and represented what might have taken place nearly 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem after Romans executed Jesus Christ.

Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Christian calendar and the procession follows many others throughout Holy Week. The day is a holiday in Costa Rica and much of Latin America.

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New twist in the Villalobos case
Pa. lawyer threatens Pacheco with bad publicity
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In an unusual twist in the Villalobos case, a Pittsburgh, Pa. lawyer has threatened to send an article to U.S. news organizations if President Abel Pacheco doesn’t step in and return $8 million in investments made by the lawyer’s client.

The lawyer circulated a letter March 19 to a number of Costa Rican officials. He gave Pacheco a deadline of April 10, which has been reached.

The lawyer is identified in the letter as Peter K. Blume of the Pittsburgh legal firm of Thorp, Reed & Armstrong.

The letter said the firm’s client is a U.S.-based institutional investor. The accompanying article said that Laura Kent of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce is the managing director of the investor, which is Cornerstone Investment Circle L.L.C.

The lawyer does not say why he is writing to Pacheco, who is in the executive branch, but he also provided a copy to Luis Paulino Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia. The cases of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and his brother Oswaldo are in the courts.

However, the article outlines what might best be described as the Villalobos as victim theory. The article is titled "Costa Rican Government steals ‘World Trade Center Victim’s Money.’"

The article attempts to make the case that an innocent Villalobos was shut down in a conspiracy involving the government and leading banks in Costa Rica.

Said the article: 

"Recently President Pacheco and his cabinet members were served with the evidence which indicates no wrongdoing on behalf of the Villalobos operations, and the request for the release of investors’ funds."

"The exiled Luis Enrique is trying to clear his name and get the money returned to his helpless investors. E-mails have been appearing around the country appealing for his wellbeing and success with his efforts."

The Pittsburgh lawyer in the letter also lists José Miguel Villalobos Umaña as the Costa Rican lawyer for the investment client.

The letter and the accompanying article were found by Jack Caine of the Class Action Center and posted to his Web site.

Caine said in an e-mail that he got the letter from the Villalobos case file. Caine is trying to set up an international arbitration case against Costa Rica to benefit Villalobos investors but he is not involved with lawyer Blume or Lawyer Villalobos. He simply posted the letter to his Web site.

The lawyer’s article was written by Mark Bellinger and Anthony Kandan, who were not further identified. Blume is a lawyer who got his bachelor’s degree from Yale University and his juris doctor degree at Notre Dame University, according to the company Web site.

It is not clear what the lawyer seeks to accomplish with the release of the article. The article gives two reports on the problems caused two Villalobos investors because they lost their money.

Similar and worse case studies have been published here, including an article about an investor who took his own life.

The article names Marianne Marquez as a client whose husband died in the World Trade Center attack. The disabled, retired teacher took the small savings that she and her husband accumulated over the years, and after visiting Costa Rica, gave the money to Villalobos, it said.

"However, before Marquez received her first investment return, the Costa Rican officials raided the offices of Mr. Villalobos and the offices of

 Ofinter, run by his brother Osvaldo, on false 
Peter Blume
charges and froze the company’s accounts," says the article.

Also cited was the case of Marion Ward of Encinitas, Calif. She is 82 and is being evicted from the Evergreen Encinitas Healthcare Center because she invested with Villalobos and now cannot pay for her care, the article said.

The story said that Enrique 

Villalobos ran a business providing short-term factoring and loans. "Both Brothers were known for their impeccable service and for faithfully paying interest to the creditors . . ., " it says.

"However, with the newly elected president, Abel Pacheco, having strong ties to the financial institutions, the large banks finally brought enough pressure on the government to force the closure of the Brothers’ businesses and a move to confiscate the operation, which had grown to an estimated $1 billion . . ."

Luis Enrique fled into exile so that he could remain in a position to fight for his clients as well as his brother, who was arrested and put in jail, said the article. The article outlines a sprawling conspiracy in which local banks, specifically Scotia Bank and Banco Cathay, worked to shut down the Villalobos operations.

Virtually any U.S. news organization would certainly seek additional comments from the Pacheco administration before basing a more balanced news story on the two-pages provided by the lawyer. The Wall Street Journal, the New  Orleans Times Picayune and the Chicago Tribune already have published stories that point out the plight of investors, and some of these are available on the Internet.

Villalobos, of course, is an international fugitive wanted to face money laundering and fraud charges. The investigation against him is at least two years old and started before Pacheco won the presidency.

However, the idea that Villalobos is an innocent victim is accepted among some circles of investors even though none really is sure how the financier managed to pay his investors 3 percent a month. By the time he closed his office Oct. 14 he had about $1 billion in investor money on the books.

The lawyer’s letter and the article make no mention of Keith Nash, the investor who has been trying to get his money back for more than two years.

There are about 6,500 investors, and Villalobos has not been heard from since he sent an e-mail to A.M. Costa Rica around New Year’s. However, some investors claim they are in contact with him and have generally maintained an optimistic point of view, insisting that Villalobos is continuing to earn high interest with his investments and will return to pay all that he owes to those who have been true to him.

Others say they now believe that Villalobos was running a combined money laundering and ponzi scheme in which he attracted more money, like that of Mrs. Marquez by paying high interest to current investors and managing to stay afloat by coaxing investors to roll over their interest for more interest.

The Cornerstone Investment Circle is not the largest investor. At least one has $13 million posted with Villalobos.

The Costa Rican lawyer associated with Blume in Pittsburgh is the same man hired by the United Concerned Citizens and Residents of Costa Rica, a group which is in the process of raising perhaps as much as $300,000 for legal fees. That is the lawyer Villalobos. It is unclear if the U.S. investors are part of the United concerned Citizens or if lawyer Villalobos is only working for that group part-time.

The individuals involved could not be reached during the weekend.

Drowning takes at least 15 lives during holidays
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The good news for the Semana Santa week is that deaths were less than last year.

The bad news is the increase in the number of water deaths.

More bad news is that the week marked a change in the weather and the rainy season is on the way.

The Cruz Roja reports that some 31 persons died over the holiday week, which began informally April 11. That’s nine less than last year. This year there were just nine traffic deaths, including three pedestrians struck by vehicles. The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública gave these reports:

Some 15 persons are confirmed drowned, and four persons are missing. Among the dead are two cousins, Samuel Barquero Calvo, 14, and Miguel Barquero Calvo, both 14, who lived in San Marcos de Cutris and died in Pueblo Nuevo de Cutris about 10:30 a.m. Friday. Their bodies were not found until Sunday.

In another case a child Stuart Cundano García, 7, 

died in the swimming pool of the Club José Martí, in Guachipelin, Escazú, about 4:30 Friday.

Among the missing is David Ching, 16, of Hatillo, who vanished at Playa Barrigona in Sámara, about 11 p.m. also Friday.

Two deaths took place at Playa Avellana in Santa Cruz de Guanacaste. Jesús Segura Alvarado, 10, died there Thursday afternoon. He was on vacation with his parents and lived in Alajuela, police said. About 6: 30 p.m. Friday Miguel Coronado Coronado, 46, who lived nearby, also died in the water there.

Although the final reports are not yet compiled, no tourist appears to have died over the busy holiday in either a water accident or in a vehicle incident.

However, in Río Rosario between San Juanillo and Ostional Erick Juárez, 22, and Andrés Keyler, 24, vanished Friday night about 7:45 p.m. Keyler was described by police as a foreigner, but no nationality was given.

In the same general area on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula a few hours before the body of Fernando González Cortes, 58, was found. He had died a few hours earlier.


 
Rival gangs clash in Venezuelan jail, 11 die

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Rival gangs have clashed in one of the largest prisons here, leaving 11 prisoners dead and about 50 injured. 

Authorities said the conflict erupted early Friday at the Yare 2 prison in Miranda state. Officials said some of the victims were decapitated in the fighting. 

Prison officials called in National Guard troops and police to restore order. Authorities said the cause of the clash was unclear.

Canada extends SARS quarantines to Quebec

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

OTTAWA, Canada — Authorities in the eastern province of Quebec have quarantined at least 450 people for possible exposure to the SARS virus, although none of them has developed the illness yet. 

The measure, in effect until next week, is the country's first major SARS quarantine outside the province of Ontario, where the illness has killed 13 people. 

Quebec officials say those quarantined all attended a financial services conference in Dorval, a suburb of Montreal, last Saturday. 

They say they ordered the measure after one of the participants returned home to Toronto, the capital of Ontario, and became ill with what doctors believe could be SARS. 

There are more than 300 confirmed or likely SARS cases here, most of them in Ontario. 

In the United States, meanwhile authorities said they reduced the number of suspected SARS cases there from 208 to 35 by adopting a new definition of the illness. 

On Thursday, federal health official Julie Gerberding said authorities will begin using the World Health Organization's definition to avoid exaggerating the scope of the problem in the United States.

Caracas demo protests 
country's “Cubanization”

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Opponents of President Hugo Chavez held a demonstration Friday outside the Cuban Embassy here to protest against what they called the "Cubanization" of the country.

Scores of demonstrators lined the streets near the Cuban Embassy waving Venezuelan flags and placards denouncing Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro. 

The protesters expressed anger over Castro's crackdown on dissidents in Cuba and criticized policies implemented by Chavez that they say are turning the country into a communist state.

Friday's demonstration came one day after Venezuela voted against a resolution by the U.N. Human Rights Commission urging Cuba to accept a visit by a human rights envoy.

Court orders Cuba to pay for 1960s execution

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — A court here has ordered the Cuban government to pay $67 million to the family of a U.S. businessman executed in Cuba more than four decades ago. 

The court made its ruling Thursday, based on a new U.S. law that allows people to sue foreign governments accused of terrorism. 

Attorneys for the family of Howard Anderson said they plan to collect the money from frozen Cuban assets in U.S. banks.  The Cuban government did not send a representative to the trial. 

Cuba accused Anderson of conspiring to smuggle weapons to a group opposing President Fidel Castro at the time of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Cuba says it will apply for 2012 Olympics

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The government here says it is planning to enter a bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games here in the country’s capital. 

Jose Ramon Fernandez, the president of Cuba's Olympic Committee, said Friday he will urge Olympic officials to consider the country’s sporting achievements and not its economic limitations. 

Madrid, New York, Moscow and Paris are also expected to compete for the 2012games. A final decision on the Olympic host city is scheduled for July 2005.

11 die in ferry sinking
off Brazilian coast

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — At least 11 people have died in the sinking of a tourist ferry near the coastal resort city of Cabo Frio. 

Officials said the boat was carrying about 45 people from an island popular with tourists. Searchers are looking for other possible victims. 

Officials said most people on the boat were from the country’s Sao Paulo state. They said it is not clear why the boat sank.

Costa Ricans said dead 
in Argentine bus crash

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS ARIES, Argentina — Eight people were killed and 41 others were injured in a bus crash in the central region here Friday. Reports say Costa Ricans are among the dead.

Bus company officials say the bus was on its way here from Mendoza, 1,100 kilometers to the west, when it overturned on a highway in the central province of Santa Fe. 

Also killed were tourists from Britain and Peru. 
 
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The immigration official, armed with a pen and 
a cold stare behind the glass, tackles his next victim. Instructional documents are posted to the left.

A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay
Crossing the border can be a strange experience
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

PEÑAS BLANCAS, Nicaragua — My border crossing into Nicaragua was by no means painless. To be blunt, crossing the border was a nightmare.

The bus journey from San José to the border was actually quite pleasant, despite its length — about five hours. I managed to sleep, intermittently, which is unusual. And though I’d heard the horror stories others reported from the border, I was quite optimistic. I actually expected immigration to be smooth and my friends’ tales fanciful.

So approaching I was quite calm, not quite sure what to expect really, though thinking the lines would be small, the employees not the abrasive people popularly portrayed.

The Costa Rican side of the border held my theory, proving straightforward. I bought my 200-colon timbre (about 50 cents). No drama. The timbre or stamp seller and his assistant deliberated: "Cual nacionalidad?" probably perplexed by my passport’s advanced stage of erosion. Then I went to the stamping booth, where with little effort, though with a blank and stern expression, a clerk processed my passport. There was no conversing with this official. It was as if he was saying under his breath, "The quicker you are out of here, the better. You and all the rest of them."

I got back on the bus, only to be told I needed a photocopy of my passport for the police. Okay, I thought, security, it is important in these times. So I ran back and a got a copy: 40 colons. It did seem a bit excessive but no real hassle.

At the bus, Costa Rican police boarded for an inspection. The inspection included climbing onto the roof, walking up and down the gangway and peering up into the air-conditioning. They found no drugs, I don’t think. And everyone on the bus paid $1 for the privilege. I still wonder what would have happened if they had found drugs.

We then took the short trip through no-man’s-land to Nicaragua and its immigration checkpoint. This is where I received a free lesson on how not to administrate. I saw bureaucracy at its purest.

The line for immigration was long and slow. Food and gadget sellers were swarming, bartering relentlessly: dried beef, soft drinks, passport cases (How did he know?). The sellers were not put off by the frequent response "no." 

One woman said, when asked how much a coke was, "$1 or 14 cordobas." One dollar equates to about 14 cordobas. She took 10 cordobas. I was by now hungry and contemplated buying some dried beef. But that brief thought was offset by the sight of the old man selling the beef. His rugged, soiled appearance turning my stomach. Another traveler gave the vendor money just so he would leave. My hunger waned.

I got to the front of the line after about 40 

minutes. The immigration official was not the nice gentleman I expected. He decided British citizens were due detailed examination. Well, his idea of detailed examination. 

The traveler in front of me, British, was asked to get a photocopy of his passport after the official had all but processed his documents. The traveler wasn’t pleased. His Dutch friend was also subjected to the official’s interrogation. He was told he had to complete another form, adding to the fast growing list. The two other Dutch people in the group sailed through without the official raising an eye away from his desk.

I got the same treatment as the other Brit. Five minutes, I waited, while he slowly read and wrote, deliberating over my documents. He eventually said "No," as predicted by the Dutch group. I by now had had enough. I had to run a few hundred yards to copy my passport. Another 100 colons. As I left the copy store, I bumped into the other Brit refused by the official. He was breathless. He had been sent in the wrong direction after asking where he could find a copy store.

When we returned, he merely dated the photocopies and placed them on a pile with various other documents. Not before asking for another $7. 

I decided to ask why British people in particular were being scrutinized in this way. He said all Europeans were. Apparently, then, Holland is no longer in Europe. The Dutch reaction was philosophical. No one knows where we are anyway, they said.

The official pointed to a list taped on his screen window. Though the print was facing in his direction, I could read it. The countries on the list included Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. But I did not see Britain. He said those were the countries being stopped. I’m still scratching my head.

I also asked if that level of scrutiny was a daily occurrence. He said no. A result of the war? He shakes his head. Then I asked if it was the case on selected days, suggesting a quota system was the reason. But he continued to process documents, without looking up.

Meanwhile, I started a conversation with a Canadian who lives in Costa Rica. He makes the trip every 90 days, as he hasn’t yet secured residency. He said last time he paid someone to get his passport stamped, avoiding the mess on the Nicaraguan side. This time he was trying to do it alone. He said his Costa Rican wife was waiting for him at the other side. I left him dealing with the official who had tended to me.

I got back on the bus and left immigration and about $10 behind. I am sure it will be put to good use. And now it doesn’t seem so strange that Britain would be on the same list as Iraq. 

Everywhere else it, and the United States, is synonymous with Iraq.


 
Smart mammals go to war for first time
Bottlenose dolphins clearing mines in Iraqi ports
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program is making a splash in the Persian Gulf with a unit of dolphins and their handlers who have taken to the waters off the coast of Iraq. Their mission: to clear ports of killer mines.

The deployment to Iraq marks the first time the mine-hunting dolphins have been used in a real-world wartime situation.

Since arriving March 24 at the port of Umm Qasr and several other locations in Iraq, the dolphin teams have unofficially cleared 913 nautical miles of water, investigating 237 mine-like objects, recovering 90 mines and destroying 11 more.

"What is significant here is the large areas which the dolphins can search quickly and report that there are no mines, allowing the search to proceed without the labor-intensive effort of searching every square foot of harbor bottom, literally by hand, to determine if mines are out there," says Tom LaPuzza, Navy public affairs officer for the Marine Mammal Program at the Space & Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, Calif.

Efficiently detecting mines is even more important when there are thousands of desperately hungry Iraqi citizens waiting for humanitarian aid, notes LaPuzza. "Without the marine mammal teams, clearing a lane for a ship, even a narrow [lane], would have taken many long, careful hours of searching if only [human] divers were doing the work."

LaPuzza tells of one instance when the Royal Navy ship Sir Galahad, filled with tons of food for Iraqi citizens, was floating outside the Iraqi harbor of Um Qasr waiting to make delivery. The marine mammal teams worked swiftly to clear the harbor channel so the Sir Galahad could enter and off-load its humanitarian aid.

Using their biological sonar, dolphins went to work, alerting their human counterparts to anything that looked like a mine while allowing them to bypass areas where there were no mine-like objects. "In that fashion," LaPuzza says, ". . . it took only a matter of hours to clear a path for the Sir Galahad to get to the pier and unload its food supplies."

There is no doubt that clear ports are vital to the flow of aid to the Iraqi people, and the Navy's marine mammal teams have made this possible in record time.

Unrivaled by any man-made device, the precise biological sonar of the mine-hunting Atlantic 

bottlenose dolphins allows them to locate mines and clear areas with unparalleled speed and efficiency. "At more than 100 yards distance, in dark, murky water, a dolphin can easily distinguish between a rock, a small fish, a shark and a discarded boat motor," notes LaPuzza.

In the shallow water of a harbor like Umm Qasr, there are all kinds of noises from boats, waves, pier pilings, and other marine life. Dolphins have the ability to overcome such obstacles of sound reverberation to locate mines.

Dolphins are not the only marine mammals deployed to the Gulf. California sea lions have been participating in training exercises off Bahrain since January, learning to detect and tag enemy divers.

During these "force protection capabilities" exercises, the sea lion alerts a human member of the team when it has spotted a swimmer or diver near a pier or a U.S. Navy ship anchored in the harbor. Then the sea lion attaches a restraining device to the suspicious person and swims away at speeds of up to 25 miles (40 kilometers) per hour. Humans can then drag the suspect to the surface.

The Navy uses sea lions extensively to recover practice mines used in training exercises by Navy divers and dolphins. It is estimated that these exercises save the Navy and taxpayers more than a million dollars annually.

The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program began in 1959 to research hydrodynamics of the dolphin in order to improve torpedo, ship, and submarine designs. Impressed by the dolphins' ability to learn (their level of intelligence is thought to rank between smart dogs and chimpanzees), the Navy began training dolphins, and later, sea lions to perform underwater tasks.

In 1996, dolphin teams were called up to support waterside security at the Republican National Convention in San Diego. Earlier, dolphins were used in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971 to help protect an Army ammunition pier in Cam Ranh Bay from further attacks by North Vietnamese divers.

In 1987 to 1988 dolphin teams were deployed to Manama Harbor in Bahrain to protect the Navy's Sixth Fleet flagship, the USS LaSalle, which was helping direct Kuwaiti tankers through the Strait of Hormuz, a channel that had been mined by Iraq during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

Today, LaPuzza says, the program has a budget of $10 million to $20 million annually, with 75 dolphins and 20 sea lions onboard. He says it takes at least three years to train dolphins in complex behaviors such as detecting mines. 

Scientists say mystery of TB drugs untangled
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Researchers from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced Thursday they have learned why once-reliable antibiotics are not working to cure tuberculosis and save patients' lives. 

The appearance of drug-resistant TB over the last 20 years has been a critical factor in the resurgence of the respiratory disease — once thought to have been overcome.

An institute release says its researcher Dr. Clifton E. Barry, working with associates in South Africa, discovered how mutations can occur in the DNA strand of the TB-causing bacteria. After mutations occur, formerly effective antibiotics no longer work against the bacteria. 

Multi-drug resistant TB can be cured, but only with much more intensive, expensive and long term treatment, a regimen that is unaffordable for

many developing countries.

TB has resurged to become one of the world's most serious infectious diseases, claiming almost 2 million lives each year. Eight million people develop active cases of the disease each year. 

Health officials estimate that one third of the world's population may be infected with the virus.

The insight from the institute opens new avenues for scientists to explore in the development of drugs targeted specifically at multi-drug resistant TB, the release says.

The latest institute research is being reported in the journal, Cell. The article is available online at http://www.sciencemag.org/sciencexpress
/recent.shtml

Further information on the international campaign to overcome tuberculosis is available at http://www.stoptb.org/default.asp


 
 
Internet usage in the US hits two-year plateau 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The percentage of Americans using the Internet has remained steady between 57 and 61 percent for the last two years, ending the steady yearly increases in usage seen prior to that time. 

The findings released Wednesday on online behavior come from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a nonprofit research organization conducting periodic studies of the online world.

The American online population is "fluid and shifting," according to a summary of the new report that focuses particularly on those population segments that say they do not use the Internet. 

"The Ever-Shifting Internet Population" is based on surveys of more than 3 500 Americans. It finds 24 percent "truly offline" with no direct or indirect 

Internet experience.

Twenty percent of respondents are described as "net evaders" who don't go online themselves, but receive information or communicate in cyberspace through a household member. 

People who had once been online regularly but had discontinued their use for various reasons were described as "net dropouts" and made up 17 percent of the survey group.

"The road to Internet use is paved with bumps and turnarounds — brought on by economic difficulties, waning interest in going online, or more pressing demands," said the survey summary.

Though the report finds significant numbers of Americans are not online, it also finds non-users have close proximity to the Internet through a family member, friend or a public access location in the community.


 
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