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(506) 223-1327           Published  Thursday, April 26, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 82            E-mail us    
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Rolling blackouts again planned by power company
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just two days after the price regulating agency turned down a request from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad for a 23 percent rate hike, the company said that rationing of electricity would start today.

The company, known as ICE, released a long list of power cuts. They were to begin today at 5 a.m. and darken various parts of the country in turn for three hours each.

The announcement came after a weekend in which the company said that all its generation facilities were in order and that rolling blackouts wold not be needed.

The news came from Salvador López, chief of distribution control for the state monopoly. He said that continual problems with the oil-fired generation plants and low water at reservoirs feeding hydro plants required the cuts.

ICE also said that it has expended most of its budget for oil used to run the nation's four oil-fired plants. These plants originally were considered backups but they have been in full service at the need for electricity increase.

There was no word on how long the rolling blackouts would continue, although heavy rains could recharge the reservoirs for the hydro plants. Low water in places like Lake Arenal at the end of the dry months is a seasonal certainty.

López said that the blackouts had nothing to do with the denial of the rate hike by Fernando Herrero, the regulador general. Herrero, who heads the rate setting agency, said ICE had plenty of money with $44 million in net income for 2006.

Pedro Pablo Quirós, executive president of ICE, said in a prepared statement Tuesday that without the rate hikes the company would have to resort to rationing. That statement seems to contradict what López said.

Quirós also said that ICE spent some 45 billion colons (about $90 million) in 2006 for fuel for the oil-fired plants. He blamed inflation and
higher oil prices for an estimate that the company
electrical map
Four ICE projects include just one oil-fired plant, the one in Garabito. The rest are hydroplants.

would spend 70 billion colons in 2007, some $135 million.

Reports from ICE frequently have been contradictory. Despite the comments from López, the Grupo ICE Web page reports that electrical service has returned to normal.

Both Quirós and López appeared Wednesday morning before a special legislative committee studying a plan to modernize and strengthen ICE. Neither mentioned then the proposal for rolling blackouts, according to a summary provided by the Asamblea Legislativa.

Quirós said that 2008 would be worse than this year, in part because the ICE  Instituto Meteorológico Nacional y de Hidrometría predicts drier weather. The country already has had two dry years, he said. He called for the construction of a new energy generation plant as big as possible and as soon as possible. ICE now has four hydro projects in the planning stages. But such a station would take about eight yours to build, said Quirós. He also blamed environmentalists for causing delays.

López told the committee that portable generation units have been installed in plants at  San Antonio de Belén, Barranca and Colima. These units product electricity at a higher cost, he added.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 82

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European Union negotiations
kicked off with ceremony


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The European Union kicked off free trade negotiations with the European Union Wednesday in a ceremony at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú.

President Óscar Arias Sanchez praised the historical process that would involve access to a market of some 500 million persons.

Last year Costa Rica sent about $1.3 billion in goods or about 15 percent of  its exports to the European Union, according to trade officials.

Roberto Echandi, the Costa Rican ambassador in Belgium, will be the country's chief negotiator.

Grecia religious figure
gets suspended sentence


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who claims to have visions of the Virgin Mary got a suspended sentence of three years Wednesday and was fined $4,500 and 3 million colons (about $5,800).

He is Juan Pablo Delgado who maintains a place of worship called a sanctuary in San Isidro de Grecia.

The case involved a U.S. women, a former member of his sect, who said she was forced out of her home that is on the grounds of the sanctuary. She is Alicia Selva, a retiree.

The case was heard in San Carlos.

Bus runs on fryer oil
for Monteverde project


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Students at the  Cloud Forest School in Monteverde say they celebrated  Earth Day by running a school bus on an alternative fuel.

The students took part in a worldwide environmental challenge in conjunction with a partner school in McLean, Virginia.

The students said they collected used oil from fryers in local restaurants, and through basic chemical processes,  converted the waste oil into biodiesel. By using biodiesel, the school bus reduced its output of  greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, and also cut down on their production of  particulate matter, which can lead to lung cancer and respiratory diseases, said the students, adding that the bus smelled like french fries as it passed by.

Escazú home burglarized

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thieves broke into a home in  Trejos Montealegre de San Rafael de Escazú Tuesday evening. The homeowner, identified by the last name of Reyes, said some $10,000 in electronic equipment, including a plasma television and a video camera had been taken. No one was home at the time, said police.

Our reader's opinion

Better firearms training
is the key to acting correctly


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I would like to ad a third opinion to the armed citizen debate.
 
While Carl Robbins gives example of one negative outcome of a citizen being armed during a holdup situation, I believe there are many more situations where an armed victim has prevented escalation of a crime through firearm protection.

Although Carl Robbins does have a valid point that needs to be addressed, first let's talk about motivation and deterrent when it comes to the criminal. The motivation is that you can either earn 5-10,000,(10-$20) a day making an honest living, or  you can rob people for hundreds of dollars, cameras, jewelry, etc. in a matter of minutes.

The deterrent's are what? An improperly trained and equipped police force that is going to arrive to trace around your dead body with chalk way after the violence took place, preventative detention, and "possibly" a short-term jail sentence if a murder occurs.

The bottom line is the deterrents are weak, and the rewards are high.

With this said, I believe Buckner's advice is to make the point that by law abiding citizens being armed makes those citizens less appealing targets to the criminal, and I believe it is a huge psychological deterrent when choosing a victim. The fact that a criminal's day might end in death for his actions is the strongest and immediate best line of defense.

The problem that really needs to be addressed here is firearm education. Just because you have the right to purchase a firearm does not qualify you for proper use of the firearm. I, as a gun owner, believe along with firearm ownership there should be training. Violent acts happen in a matter of seconds where split-second decisions need to be made, such as, whether to draw the firearm and what is behind the intended target, etc.

The example that Carl Robbins gave where the victim drew the gun when he was at gunpoint already was a poor choice on the victims part which probably could have been avoided through better "firearm protection education."

Let's face it. Anyone in their right mind wants peace, not violence. But where do we draw the line and start fighting back against the criminal element. With the options currently available, I believe armed, educated citizens are the best defense we have to prevent and stop these instantaneous criminal acts.
 Kris Winters
Cartago area

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 82


Acuña says Villalobos brothers' religiosity was repugnant 
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

Ewald Acuña began his final argument for additional victims of the collapse of the high-interest lending operation known as The Brothers. He mainly touched on the finer points of the legal definition of fraud Wednesday afternoon, given that the government prosecutor already had described most of the alleged criminal behaviors of Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos.

Acuña did dwell on the darker side of the Villalobos operation: They took money from a widow after the operation was failing. Their use of religious imagery was “repugnant” and amounted to taking the “name of the Lord in vain.” He also maintained that the enterprise still survives supported by members of a group called the United Concerned Citizens & Residents who continue to “defame, lie, deceive, and threaten” those who have filed claims against the Villalobos brothers.

These actors blame the Costa Rican government for the collapse of the high-interest operation, Acuña said. He seemed to have lost a document relating to that group’s money-raising activities, however.

The Concerned Citizens hired a lawyer, former presidential candidate and Justicia mminister José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, in early 2003 to bring a civil suit against the government. But he never did. The group generally is identified as the major supporter of the Villalobos Brothers.

Espinoza suggested that Latins in general are distrustful in business situations, but the foreigners who were the main investors less so. That was why checks with insufficient funds and no date were accepted as a valid guarantee, and even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police thought The Brothers was a bank. Luis Enrique Villalobos was well aware of and took advantage of this “idiosyncrasy.”

On behalf of the 178 clients Acuña represents, he asked for 26 years and 8 months prison time for Oswaldo Villalobos. The government has suggested 30 years on the fraud count. The rest of Acuña’s civil case as well as that of several other lawyers representing a few clients each will be heard this morning.

Prosecutor Walter Espinoza had asked trial judges to give Oswaldo Villalobos a total of 52 years in prison as he finished up his closing statement in the fraud, money laundering and illegal banking trial.

Espinoza gave the money laundering charges the most emphasis as he reached the end of his two-day summary of the prosecution case. Espinoza said that the Villalobos business was ripe for money laundering because there were no controls. He said that there were no questions asked and that the there was a promise that "if someone asks, we don't know you."

He raised his voice and stabbed his finger at Oswaldo Villalobos to suggest that the key to the criminal enterprise was Oswaldo’s part in placing the money into the system the Villalobos brothers used to move it around and eventually launder the funds. When Canadian drug traffickers came along, they were accepted into the investment operation like any other, just needing a recommendation from someone already involved, he said. Oswaldo would move the money to investment accounts in the local stock market, to and from the United States with
accounts in the name of various shell companies, and re-insert it into the formal financial system. Oswaldo’s role was “absolutely hidden” and it wasn’t until the  Keith Nash matter that the fraud started to come to light, he said.

He accused the defendant of using front men to handle checks and operate the business to protect himself. Men who had been taxi drivers or motorcycle messengers cashed checks, and handled more money at a time then they might make in 10 years of work. “Why didn’t he put his family to work?” asked Espinoza.

Espinoza said that the monthly interest paid by The Brothers came from new investments. Although he did not use the term, that is the classic description of a Ponzi scheme. There was no testimony in the two-and-a-half-month long trial to show that Luis Enrique Villalobos, now a fugitive, engaged in any real economic activity that could pay such high returns.

“I can sincerely say that I would have been the happiest man in the world if we had asked Don Oswaldo and Don Enrique about where the money was invested, maybe in Europe, maybe with Bobby Cox, building ships in China, lending capital to Coca-Cola, if they could just show us some documents to support it,” Espinoza added, referring to the brothers and their long-time associate.

The prosecution suggested that Oswaldo should serve time for each person defrauded in the high-interest borrowing operation. Espinoza said that there were 150 complainants by this time in the trial. He suggested three months for each count, but the maximum penalty for fraud of this sort is 30 years.

In fact, more than 6,300 persons were customers of the business that paid up to 3 percent a month to a heavily North American clientele. But most declined to file charges or later dropped their claims.

Espinoza asked for two six-year terms for the 62-year-old Oswaldo Villalobos on the charge of illegal banking. The Ofinter S.A. money exchange he ran was not authorized to do anything but change foreign currencies. Oswaldo was more closely identified with the money exchange house. Those who put money with Luis Enrique Villalobos at high
interest usually did not deal with Oswaldo. They went to an office that was adjacent to Ofinter in Mall San Pedro.

However documentary evidence showed that many of the checks written to Luis Enrique were negotiated by Oswaldo, who did the banking for both enterprises and managed a network of more than 40 shell companies each with multiple bank accounts in Costa Rica and abroad. The activities covered by this charge overlapped heavily with the money laundering allegations.

Nash was the Canadian who had invested with Luis Enrique Villalobos and then became very ill. When Nash's son visited in an effort to handle his father's affairs, he first tried to cash the undated check that represented his father's investment with The Brothers. Luis Enrique countered with an effective propaganda campaign telling his investors by means of notes in their monthly interest envelops that the younger Nash was trying to steal his father's money.

When the elder Nash got better he filed a civil suit against Luis Enrique even before the July 4, 2002, law enforcement raid on Ofinter and the high-interest operation. That case still is pending.


Pharmacies here are a little slow to get the message on suspect drug products
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite an international  freeze on the sale a certain type of medicine, the pills still are available at several pharmacies in the greater San José area.

The medicine is Zelmac, produced by Novartis of Basel, Switzerland. The drug is for irritable bowel syndrom but a warning by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said March 30 that use of the product may cause an increased risk of serious cardiovascular adverse events, including heart attack, chest pains and stroke. The trade name is  Zelnorm in the United States.

In the wake of the U.S. determination, Novartis agreed to suspend sales.

But the news never reached at least three pharmacies in San José. One clerk sold Zelmac pills to a reporter Tuesday,
and employees at two pharmacies sold pills Wednesday.

That came after the Ministerio de Salud said Monday it was sending out inspectors to halt the sales. And the sales took place after a major article appeared in the health section of the Spanish-language newspaper La Nación. Some store clerks said they had received an April 11 order from the ministry.

The pharmacy where the drug was sold Tuesday is near Hospital Calderón Guardia. The two other sales took place at pharmacies within walking distance of the health ministry. Each pill cost about 635 colons or about $1.22.

Employees at six pharmacies declined to sell the product, Some cited the health warning, but employees at other locations simply said their management had told them not to sell the pills. At one pharmacy the product code had been removed from the cash register data base, and a clerk was unable to consumate the transaction.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 82


Cuban ballet master was tricked into beginning his studies
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jorge Felix Morejón Sánchez thought he was getting a chance to be a gymnast when he was recruited as 8-year-old in the Cuban town of  Matanzas. He saw himself representing his country in international athletics.

"Me engañaron," he said, meaning that he was fooled. The recruitment was not for gymnastics but for ballet. But he soon discovered that he loved the art. Now he is a 39-year-old choreographer and director of the Ballet Independiente de San José in the Centro de Artes Promenade in Zapote.

He came to Costa Rica 10 years ago at the invitation of a friend, Cuban ballet master Pedro Martin Boza. The first years were not easy, and he worked cheaply at the Compañía Nacional de Danza.

He spent five years as a youngster at the  Escuela Vocacional de Matanzas in Cuba where he could only go home for weekends. Then he move it to Havana to study in the school associated with the Ballet Nacional de la Habana. There it was weeks between visits to his family.

Ballet was a discipline full of taboos and prejudice 30 years ago. Anyone was was presumed to have effeminate mannerisms was barred from the schools because directors did not want homosexuals.
 
Morejón is clear about who he is: "I'm a product of a revolution, a non-religious, socialist revolution, with a very contemporary perspective, a revolution  pro-arts producing wonderful and amazing, leading schools in the world and artist such as The Clan Alonso, Hannia Rosales and Pedro Martin Boza, all respected Cuban artist. "

Since his graduation in 1986, Morejón has been a contemporary dancer in Cuba. He has performed in the International Music Festival in New Orleans a month before Hurricane Katrina disaster,  with Quebec's Ballet Ouest, with The Ballet Nacional de Panamá, with the Hungarian national troupe and with the Ballet National do Rio in Brazil. 

Now  when he travels back to  Cuba he sees that there have been changes but he appreciates a system with discipline that creates great artists.

Now he is one of the most respected ballet dancers in Costa Rica, and he said he thinks the government is not sufficiently supporting the arts. The Compañía Nacional de Danza is at risk of vanishing, he said.

The Ballet Independiente de San José is a group he
ballet expert
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Jorge Felix Morejón Sánchez

formed with  99  dancer of all ages. Three years later  the group has 230.

His personal dream is to direct movies. He also has a proposal for a ballet school in Wisconsin. His next performance is a ballet version of "Amores Brujos"  by Spanish writer Manuel de Falla. This will be performed in the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar with a debut Aug. 31. Other dates are in the beginning of September.

In December he will stage "Don Peto," which he describes as a magic tale he wrote with Fito Guevara. It is a spectacle full of actors and dancers, he said.

Another project is "Sueños de Verano" or "A Midsummer Night's Dream," as it is called in English. It is his adaptation of the William Shakespeare play. He also will be doing "Sleeping Beauty" with dates to be announced.

This weekend he will be participating in a three-day 10th anniversary celebration of the El Centro de Artes Promenade in Zapote. The music and dance begins Friday at 6 p.m. and runs all day Saturday and Sunday. More information is available at 283-6660. Admission is free.


U.S. said to be changing emphasis in Colombia to welfare
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States plans to focus more of its aid to Colombia on social, economic and human rights programs, while gradually decreasing its assistance for drug eradication and interdiction programs in the Andean nation, say two State Department officials.

In their prepared congressional testimony this week, the pair, Charles Shapiro and Anne Patterson, outlined U.S. support for a new phase of Colombia’s efforts to fight drug trafficking that is will help bring peace and reconciliation in the country.

The new phase, issued by Colombian officials in January, is called “Strategy to Strengthen Democracy and Promote Social Development.”  The six-year plan, running from 2007-2013, builds on the success of the first phase of the Colombian peace strategy, called Plan Colombia, while responding to new challenges, they said. Plan Colombia began in 2000. With U.S. support, it has achieved “remarkable gains” for Colombia, said Shapiro, principal deputy assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs. 

Shapiro told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere that these gains included reversing the high rate of growth in the late 1990s of coca and opium poppy cultivation, while significantly reducing poverty and improving Colombia’s justice system, security situation and economy.  Plan Colombia also has helped demobilize right-wing paramilitary groups that have been engaged in Colombia’s long-running civil war, he said.

Shapiro said the next phase of the Colombian strategy places increased emphasis on expanding Colombian government programs in remote rural areas, especially those emerging from conflict in the civil war.
Colombia’s priorities include aid to vulnerable indigenous groups that have been displaced from their homes by the country’s war, said Shapiro.  He added that the Colombian strategy stresses economic development through sustainable growth and trade.

Shapiro said that to ensure the secure environment necessary for making political and economic progress, the Colombian strategy continues the fight against “terrorist groups and narcotics producers and traffickers.”

He said Colombian government officials have “clearly told us that continued U.S. support to counternarcotics and counterterrorism programs remains critical and that our proposed mix of U.S. assistance reflects their needs.” However, Shapiro said, Colombia will assume a larger role in fighting narcotics and terrorism over the next few years.

Ms. Patterson delivered the same message to the subcommittee.  She said Colombia has begun to assume more responsibility for U.S.-funded counternarcotics programs, “thus allowing the U.S. to scale back its role” in the country in fighting illegal drugs.

Patterson, the assistant secretary of State for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, said that for the first time in two generations, Colombians can “envisage the possibility of real peace,” and Colombia’s government seeks to make “this possibility a reality” through its new strategy for strengthening democracy.

As U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 2000 to 2003, Ms. Patterson said Colombia has changed for the better since the time she served in Bogota. 

For example, she said Colombia is addressing its problems related to drug trafficking “in a way that could not have been imagined just a few years ago.”


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 82



Charity golf tournament includes five holes at night
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Want to play golf at night?

Five teams will do so Saturday at the VI Clásico de Golf Fundación Infantil Ronald McDonald at the Iguana Golf Course in Hotel Marriott Los Sueños Golf & Resort in Playa Herradura.

For those without battery-powered golf balls, a
conventional scramble start will be at 12:30 p.m.

Sponsors say there are very few golf tournaments at night in Costa Rica. The evening event will be on five holes.

The entire tournament will raise funds for charity, a wheelchair bank for disabled who do not have a way of getting around. Sponsors said that there are 842 persons on a waiting list for wheelchairs, and 80 percent are youngsters.


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