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These stories were published Friday, April 25, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 81
Jo Stuart
About us
Sunday dedication
for boyero statue

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Boyeros are the men who take care of the oxen that have meant so much to Costa Rica.

Today and during the weekend the role of the boyeros will be celebrated in Los Angeles de Atenas, about a kilometer from the center of Atenas.

At the Parque Los Angeles a monument has been erected to the boyero, who were instrumental in transporting Costa Rica’s coffee to the world.

The monument will be inaugurated Sunday, and a series of events are planned starting today with a conference about the cultural patrimony of the oxen driver. Typically, the animals pull the multicolored carts that are the symbol of Costa Rica.

Friday the conference will be in the Biblioteca Pública de Atenas.

Saturday there will be dancing, marimba music and folkloric groups at an evening gathering in Balneario Los Ranchos.

Sunday a parade of ox carts and their boyeros will go from Balneario Los Ranchos to the Los Angeles Park where a group of government officials and members of the boyero organizations will inaugurate the statute.

New exit permit plan
a real mess at airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another Costa Rican legend took form Thursday as a new system to issue exit permits quickly turned into chaos at Juan Santamaría Airport.

The government changed overnight from a system of exit stamps to a computer-driven system that created slips with personalized bar codes for travelers.

The line of departing air passengers stretched for nearly 700 feet outside the airport terminal. Inside, employees of the Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago struggled to keep up with the flood of passengers.

Some travelers missed their flights because they were unable to obtain their personalized exit permit in time. Others were seen with tax stamps in hand, obviously not aware that the system had changed.

The government jacked prices for foreigners to leave the country from $17 to $26. But that was not the root of the problem. Each traveler has to provide personal data to input technicians who would then generate the exit permit and participate in collecting the fee. 

Officials said that one of the reasons for the change is to outwit forgers and recyclers who have been using exit stamps over and over again. The government has described the problem as gigantic and costing the country millions of dollars a year. Reporters have been unable to document that degree of problems at the airport. The last person arrested for allegedly participating in a stamp fraud actually was an employee of a firm working at the airport. 

Officials have never explained adequately why the exit fee is not just included in the price of air tickets.

The new system is in place at the Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia and Tobias Bolaños Airport in Pavas, but there were no reports of problems from those locations Thursday.

Several expats here had predicted the airport catastrophy in e-mails to A.M. Costa Rica the day before. In keeping with Costa Rican tradition, there was no gradual changeover or break-in period for the new system.

A.M. Costa Rica has warned travelers in the overnight news digest to arrive much earlier for their flights because of the new system. 

Meanwhile, at the Asamblea Nacional, the Movimiento Libertario said it would file a constitutional appeal against the new system on behalf of the 40 families that lost their source of income when the self-employed stamp vendors lost their jobs outside the airport. The politicians also lambasted the monopolistic nature of the new setup.

The vendors sold stamps outside the airport lobby to travelers as they arrived, thereby relieving congestion at official sales locations inside.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

There’s Always The Other Side of the Coin

My last column, "When in Rome . . . "  brought more letters than usual. Most of the letters were from people who either are living here and could relate to what I said or are looking forward to moving here and feel that what I wrote gives them an understanding of the people.

On the other hand, there were a couple of letter writers who felt I am seeing everything through rose colored glasses (This is not the first time I’ve been accused of that), and then told me what their experience of Costa Rica has been. They have found the people to be superficially happy and friendly but really no happier than people in other countries. They don’t follow through on their so-called friendship (or anything else, for that matter). They lie shamelessly. The workmanship is shoddy here. The government agencies have failed (i.e. garbage collection, health services, mass transit plans, are not succeeding.) There is so much corruption in both the government and business that the people no longer can trust either. In a so-called eco-conscious country, they pollute and don’t care. And finally, the people (many of whom are racists) live in constant fear behind walls and fences. 

Many of these charges I cannot refute. I have heard them before. I could say that some of the accusations can be made about any country. I can only speak for the United States, but certainly there has been corruption among big business, if not the government enough to make people mistrustful. We have no great mass transit system, although it has been talked about for years. And the U.S. is very ecology conscious, yet we continue to be the greatest consumers of the most polluting energy source in the world and participate in global warming. I cannot say the people in the U.S. are without fear. Although they don’t have fences and walls, they have private agencies to protect them.

However, saying "Yeah, but…." doesn’t help much. The people who are disheartened (I might even say disgusted) with life here are people who are trying to do business in Costa Rica and are being frustrated at every turn. They are also probably trying to do things the way they do them in their country. And interpreting actions from that stance. When a Tico, not wanting to hurt feelings or be negative, wanders from the truth or agrees without following through, the Gringo sees it as lying. A Gringo, on the other hand, who "faces the facts" and "tells it as it is," is seen by Ticos as hostile and rude.

I have said more than once that I have avoided owning or building anything here. It is difficult enough in my own country where I know the mood and mores. (I bought two new cars during my life there, and both were disasters of deceit.) So my view of life here is a very special view of an expat who wants to live a comfortable and contented retirement. 

My dealings with Costa Ricans have been superficial except for a few friends (whom I have found to be honest, funny and helpful beyond expectation). My dealings with people in the health professions have been something I would wish for anyone who needed health care. Even those in the National Health system are kind and caring. And people here, who in many other countries would have no health insurance, get attended to. 

I think the garbage collectors do a good job. Actually, I like to watch the men on the trucks operate. They hop off and grab the bags along the street and throw them onto the truck, then run to the next collection site, keeping up. I bet they could be Olympic class athletes. And there is always a bus or a reasonably priced taxi when I need one, sometimes not that comfortable, but I can afford them. 

A word about the perceived inefficiency: the government employs many people. Government bureaucracies throughout the world and history (except perhaps in Nazi Germany) are notorious for their inefficiency. Also, in order to avoid unemployment, many people are "underemployed," that is, two people are hired where one could do the job. I think this is a far better solution (especially since people here get health and other benefits) than overworking fewer people and having longer lines of discouraged, isolated unemployed. 

So, folks, take everything you read with a grain of salt. Our own experiences and expectations color how we experience life. Must go now, I’m off to Immigration. This time I WILL get my new cédula. 

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Another child abduction case ends safely here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Paid investigators recovered an Idaho child earlier this month when they tracked down the girl’s father and half-brother in rural Costa Rica, according to a newspaper in that state.

The child, Lily June Snyder, 5, vanished nearly two years ago, the newspaper said.

This is another case of parental kidnapping where the parent who did not have custody fled here. 

The child’s father, Stephen Snyder, 52, and a half brother, Eli Snyder, 29, have been extradited to the United States to stand trial in Idaho, said the newspaper, the Idaho Mountain Express and Guide in Sun Valley.

The case received no publicity here. The 
newspaper did not say exactly where the child was

located, but the two men were taken into custody April 11 and returned to the United States five days later after waiving extradition proceedings.

The newspaper said the child was reunited with her mother in San José and later taken from Costa Rica to Panamá for a flight to the United States.

The newspaper said it did not know why the child went to Panamá, but in a previous case Costa Rican authorities refused to let a child leave the country without permission of both parents, so investigators smuggled the child and mother into Panamá where the child passed through immigration there using a letter of transport issued by the U.S. Embassy  here.

A second half-brother, involved in the case, recently obtained probation in the United States after agreeing to help authorities, the newspaper said.

Colombian president
threatens force
over oil isle
Nicaragua claims

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — President Alvaro Uribe says he will not allow Nicaragua to explore for oil in disputed territory off the Central American country's Caribbean coast. 

President Uribe told a Colombian radio station Thursday that he was prepared to send military forces to defend the San Andres Archipelago and surrounding waters.

Uribe, however, says he hopes to avoid the use of force. 

Last year, Nicaragua announced it was seeking companies interested in drilling for oil in the region. Reports say four U.S. companies expressed an interest but that Colombia told them not to drill in the area. 

The San Andres islands are internationally recognized as Colombian territory, but Nicaragua claims ownership of them. 

Fishermen OK accord
and talks on Coco

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Protesting fishermen in Puntarenas agreed to call off their blockage of the harbor and also of the nearby Inter-American Highway Thursday afternoon.

They signed an accord with representatives of the government in which officials promise to introduce legislation favorable to the fishermen who were protesting higher fuel prices.

Officials also said they were open to discussing relaxing restrictions on fishing near Isla del Coco, a key tourist area that was put off limits last year.

Some 45 persons underwent arrest in disturbances over two days at the Pacific port. One man, Victor Espinoza, remains in critical condition in Hospital México after he collapsed while participating in a melee. Family members claim he was bludgeoned by police. Physicians say they can find no sign of this.

Satellite system
still is secret

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

How come high officials of the telephone company use expensive satellite telephone systems while the rest of the country has to use the monopoly cellular system here?

That’s the question Movimiento Libertario is asking the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, also the telephone company, in a filing with the Sala IV constitutional court.

High officials of the institute have been seen using the Iridium communication system that hooks directly to a satellite and allows speakers to communicate with any other part of the world, the political party said.

Installation costs about $80,000 and the basic monthly fee is at least 100,000 colons, the LIbertario deputies said in  a release. That’s about $256.

The purpose of the court filing is to get Pablo Cob, executive director of the institution, to respond to the question. The court gave him three days to respond in February, but he did not.

Forest fires ravage
southern México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hundreds of forest fires are devastating large parts of Mexico's southern forest lands and environmentalists are concerned about both short-term and long-term effects on local populations as well as animals and plants in the fire zones. However, government authorities are stepping up efforts to contain the fires while waiting for seasonal rains to start. 

Dry, windy conditions in much of southern and central Mexico are to blame for this year's devastating fires and the rainy season, which might offer some relief, is still almost two months away. There have been more than 2,600 fires reported so far this year, with more than 300 raging at the moment. The fires have burned 110,000 hectares of land so far, much of it in sensitive rain forest regions in the southern states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Yucatan. 

OPEC agrees to cut
its daily output

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VIENNA, Austria — OPEC has agreed to cut its current oil output by two-million barrels a day in an effort to stabilize weakening oil prices following the war in Iraq. OPEC also decided Thursday to temporarily raise its oil production quota to 25.4 million barrels a day, up from its existing ceiling of 24.5 million. 

OPEC states produced an estimated 27.4 million barrels in February and March, nearly three million barrels over its quota, in an effort to prevent an oil price shock as war in Iraq loomed. 

Thursday's announcement came after OPEC representatives held emergency talks here to discuss oil prices and output levels now that the war in Iraq is over. 

Oil prices, which jumped to almost $40 a barrel before the war in Iraq, now hover in the 20s. Oil prices fell after the OPEC announcement. 

For more than a decade, the cartel has excluded Iraq, an OPEC founding member, from its quota export system because of U.N. sanctions. Iraq did not participate in Thursday's meeting. 

Chavez and Uribe
agree on border

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PUERTO ORDAZ, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have agreed to strengthen security to stop cross-border raids by Colombian leftist rebels and rightist paramilitaries. 

The two presidents made the pledge Wednesday as they met here to smooth over relations strained by a dispute concerning border security. The talks followed weeks of tension fueled by accusations that Venezuela harbors Colombian leftist rebels. 

Earlier this week, Colombian Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio said in published remarks that Venezuela has become a refuge for what he called "Colombian criminals" trying to topple Uribe's government. 

President Chavez denies his government has ever aided Colombian guerrillas or knowingly allowed them to slip into Venezuelan territory. 

Bush meets Batlle for talks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush met at the White House Wednesday with his counterpart from Uruguay, President Jorge Batlle, for talks on Iraq, the war on terrorism and economic issues. 

During their meeting, the White House says Bush reaffirmed his support for President Batlle's efforts, in cooperation with the International Monetary fund, to promote sustainable economic growth in Uruguay. 

Bush said the United States is committed to strengthening trade and investment ties with Uruguay. 
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Rival investor groups have each other in sights
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two groups that seek to represent Villalobos investors are taking shots at each other.

The first volley came from José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, the lawyer/presidential candidate hired by the United Concerned Citizens & Residents of Costa Rica. This is the group that wants the government to drop its investigation of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, the fugitive financier.

Villalobos the lawyer criticized the approach of another group on a statement published on the UCCR Web site Thursday. 

The lawyer said that international arbitration could not take place over the Villalobos issue while investors still had legal options available to them in Costa Rica. ". . . one must first resort to an administrative claim followed by a legal suit against the government.. . .," he wrote.

The other group, the Class Action Center, quickly replied in its own e-mail and Web posting. 

". . . we are forced to show the world that Jose Miguel Villalobos knows little about international arbitration and that the UCCR strategy and intentions should be suspect," said organizer Jack Caine.

Caine also took a swipe at John Manners, UCCR president, and accused him of accepting commissions to sign up investors with Savings Unlimited in the past. That operation also has gone bust.

Caine said that the Quebec law firm his group employs knows far more about international arbitration than does Villalobos the lawyer.

Caine’s group plans to file a request for arbitration

 under international treaties on the grounds that Costa Rica did not do enough to protect investors in the defunct Villalobos high-interest operation. The arbitration is not keyed to whether Villalobos is a scamster, as some have claimed, or a victim of the Costa Rica government and local banks, as others have said, according to Caine.

In other words, Caine’s group wants Costa Rica to reimburse the investors who lost money.

Manners, in a parallel e-mail, noted that a key court date is coming May 26 when judges will be asked to renew preventitive detention for Oswaldo Villalobos, the brother of Enrique.

Villalobos the lawyer has not done anything visible even though the UCCR has accepted his fee of $300,000 which will be paid in three installments of $100,000. But Manners said that the lawyer is waiting until nearer the key court date before unleashing his public relations talents.

Manners also said that those in his group will hold a public meeting May 11 to discuss the lawyer’s strategy. Manners said the lawyer would seek to enter the existing court case as a participant.

Manners also disclosed that his group has about 400 investors as members. Villalobos the fiancier had about 6,500 primarily North American clients. He is believed to have had about $1 billion on his books when he closed his office Oct. 14 and vanished.

Said Manners of his group’s strategy (using initials as has become the custom on the Internet) :

"We  firmly believe that sooner or later we will reach our goal, and get EV to come back and do his best to repay the money we entrusted to him. We also believe that JMV can be instrumental in achieving this." 

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