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(506) 223-1327                Published  Friday, April 27, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 83            E-mail us    
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Conservation of electricity sought, too
Emergency decree will let ICE spend $150 million

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration declared a state of emergency Thursday so that the electrical monopoly could spend $150 million on new power plants to the ease the rolling blackouts that started Thursday. The plants would produce the 200 megawatts that represent the shortfall of generating capacity now.

Without the emergency decree, the bidding for the two to three new power plants could take four years, officials said. Now they envision making a purchase in six months.

The government also decreed that public institutions should embark on efforts to save electricity.

Both President Óscar Arias Sánchez and Rodrigo Arias, the minister of the Presidencia, separately lamented the fact that the power generating monopoly, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, had not moved forward with new hydro power projects. Rodrigo Arias said that the current administration would do everything to get the projects moving.

However, Cartago area residents rejected one project, and the Boruca dam and power plant has been under heavy fire from environmentalists and the Boruca Indians who would lose part of their reserve.

After the afternoon meeting with Rodrigo Arias at
 Casa Presidencial, Pedro Pablo Quirós, executive president of the company known as ICE, said that rolling blackouts would continue until rains raise the water levels in the nation's reservoirs. Levels at some locations are so low that the plants might have to go off line if rain does not come soon.

Some of the oil-fired generating plants continue to fail, he added.

Roberto Dobles, minister of Ambiente y Energía, was ordered to come up with a comprehensive plan within a week to address the energy issue.  Rodrigo Arias said that one idea would be to change the laws to permit electrical cooperatives generate more power.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos said that ICE and Quirós were expected to explain in detail within two weeks the reasons for the blackouts.

That request was made earlier this week when the regulating agency turned down a request for a 23 percent hike in electrical rates.

The spokesperson said that the agency had received complaints from the public over the rolling blackouts. ICE and the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz Wednesday released lists of areas that would be blacked out Thursday, but A.M. Costa Rica declined to publish them. The lists proved to be faulty and generated a lot of unhappiness among citizens who were caught short.


A little less juice can be a positive development
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The good news is that most expats came here for a slower, simpler life.

What could be simpler than watching the sun set over the Pacific with chilled glass of white wine? In the dark.

Just remember to chill the wine when you have electric power. In fact, planning ahead is the key to survival during rolling blackouts, particularly with wine and beer.

There needs to be a couple of quarts of water in the refrig, too, because most water pumping stations do not have their own power backup. The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados said Thursday that its pumping stations were hostages to the electrical system.

At least cold showers won't be a problem. No power to heat the water . . . no power to deliver the water.

Meanwhile traffic signals continue to be out of service. The transport ministry blames power outages, but the stop lights were out long before the blackouts began, and they will be blacked out long after the blackouts have gone. They need bulbs.

While sipping that white wine, expats also should be getting more expert in the charcoal grill. Food taste better that way than from the electric range.

Coast Ricans who are prepared can have wood fires of the type used for roasting chicken. Ummmmm! A la leña.

Now that television is on again and off again, it's time to catch up on all those books. A quick investment can acquire battery powered lights. Everyone should have some anyway in case of
candelight dinner

earthquakes and other natural disasters. Or failure to pay the electric bill.

The radio stations have backup power. Most people remember radio.  The portable can bring a night of easy listening. Radio Eco (95.9 FM) is great with its "Simplemente Tango" show from 9 to 10 in the evenings. But Radio Nacional in stereo (101.5 FM ) is great for evening call-in and talk shows.

The more advanced listeners will stumble to their iPod for their own music menu.

Security goes to pot during blackouts. Electric doors do not function. Neither do alarms. Sometimes telephone are off, too. Fortunately those friends, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, do not need batteries.

The police have promised to double patrols in blackout areas. The electric company promised to tell where those areas are. So far, no list is accurate.

So hurry and read this. You can never tell when darkness falls. Even in the daytime.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 83

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Five from sinking boat
are designated traffickers


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials said that five Ecuadorians among a ship load of immigrants rescued at sea were the traffickers.

The boat suffered mechanical problems, and those aboard eventually ended up in Costa Rica.

Ana Durán Salvatierra, the vice minister who supervises the Dirección General de Migración, outlined the operation Thursday, She said that the 56 Chinese on the boat had paid from $35,000 to $65,000 apiece to be smuggled into the United States. She said they traveled around the world from China, to Hong Kong, eventually to Paris, France, and Colombia where they were taken by truck to Ecuador and the boat.

The immigrants were supposed to leave the boat and enter México and later the United States on foot.

The five persons immigration officials designated as traffickers will face prosecution here. The new immigration law makes that activity a crime. The suspects were identified by the last names of  López, Estrada, Barreto, Mejía and Santizábal.

The average age of the immigrant group is 23 years, and there are six minors among the Chinese, officials said.

Old school in Heredia Centro
will become arts center

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

 The  República de Argentina school in the center of Heredia will be restored and become an arts and cultural center, President Óscar Arias Sánchez said Thursday.

The cost of the project is about 500 million colons or just short of $1 million.  The school is well known because many Heredia residents attended there.

The facility had been abandoned for at least 10 years. Among its students was Arias, who attended sixth grade there in 1953. He visited Thursday with some of his former classmates.

Fernando Sánchez, who represents Heredia in the Asamblea Legislativa, said he would introduce a bill that would transfer the ownership from the Ministerio de Educación Pública to the  Municipalidad de Heredia.

Celebrated turtle is unaware
that she is the race winner


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although the turtle had no idea, she has been declared the winner of what has been called the Great Turtle Race.

The event is a publicity stunt sponsored by environmental organizations to raise awareness in the leatherback turtle.
The environmentalists attached radios to 11 turtles who nested at Playa Grande in Costa Rica's Parque Nacional Las Baulas. The sponsors then followed the turtles' travel back to their normal feeding grounds near the Galapagos Islands, a trip of some 500 miles.

About 40,000 persons signed up to follow the turtles on the race's Web page, said organizers.

The winning turtle was named Billie by the organizers, which included Conservation International and the Leatherback Trust.

The event had been criticized in Costa Rica for using endangered creatures for non-scientific purposes, although organizers said that a lot of data had been obtained from the effort.

Gunman raid Loma Real home
in  Guachipelín de Escazú


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two bandits managed to get inside a home in Urbanización Loma Real in  Guachipelín de Escazú about 3:30 p.m. Thursday. They found an employee there and put the individual in a bathroom at gunpoint while they looted the home, said police.

The employee said he was unable to give any kind of description. Stolen were two portable computers and a safe for a total loss of about 7 million colons (about $13,500), according to the owner identified by the last name of Chávez, said the Fuerza Pública.

In the same area Wednesday three bandits pulled knives on two university students at a bus stop in a section called Alto de las Palomas. The students who were waiting at a bus stop in front of the Restaurante Doña Lela, lost $500, police said.

In Santa Ana, burglars get into the Bar El Jardín either Wednesday night or Thursday morning and took a dishwasher, a soldering machine, a pasta cutting machine, two boxes of breakers, a wireless telephone and sound equipment worth about 1.3 million colons or about $2,500, according to the Fuerza Pública there. The restaurant is in the center of town.

Atenas celebrates its weather

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The party is in Atenas this weekend. It's the ExpoFeria del Clima Atenas 2007, a celebration of the area's weather.

The event starts today, and there is a fire ceremony in the town park at 7 p.m. Saturday there is a children's theater at 2 p.m. and a concert at 7 followed by a ballet. Sunday is the traditional ox cart parade starting at 10 a.m. followed by a folkloric presentation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 83


She chides Luis Enrique support group
Prosecutor cites damage to lives caused by Villalobos firm
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

A prosecutor in the Oswaldo Villalobos case outlined the damage done to the lives of   clients by the collapse of the high-interest scheme know as The Brothers. And she specifically rebutted a Villalobos support group which claimed government action caused the failure.

She is fraud prosecutor Ilem Meléndez. She gave details of what she considered the most extreme cases of lives damaged by the default of the Villalobos high-interest investment operation.

Most of the individuals featured in Meléndez’s report had testified at some point in the trial. They as a group were largely Costa Rican, with several described as humilde or humble people who had invested their life savings with the Villalobos. Most had suffered severe deprivations or disruptions as a result, sometimes with sons dropping out of college or retired people returning to work.

Ms. Meléndez made special reference to the case of María del Carmen Chacón because Luis Enrique Villalobos accepted her money in August 2002, after the July 4, 2002, police raid on the Villalobos offices and homes. The raid triggered the end of the operation, though a few months’ more interest was paid. The money invested came to Mrs. Chacón as part of a settlement over the negligent homicide that killed her husband. Ms. Meléndez choked slightly describing the “inhumanity” displayed by Luis Enrique, supposedly a man “who knew the path of God,” in swindling this widow of her money.

Ms. Meléndez also turned to the audience, made up almost entirely of Villalobos supporters, and addressed those associated with the informal group called United Concerned Citizens & Residents, first waving what she said was a UCCR membership form soliciting money and personal information from claimants represented by her, and accusing the group of intimidating others into dropping their cases or not filing at all.

She reminded them that the amount of money found by
 investigators was not even 10 percent of the total taken in by the operation, and if Luis Enrique or Oswaldo could return their money, they would have done so already. They shouldn’t take it personally, she said, it wasn’t the actions of the Costa Rican government that resulted in their loss.

Luis Enrique is a fugitive from justice, and won’t be back soon, she said. Oswaldo Villalobos faces up to 52 years in prison if the judges accept the recommendations of the prosecution.

Several lawyers representing from one to nine civil clients gave brief presentations. These attorneys were rarely present during the trial itself.

Ewald Acuña presented the list of those represented in his civil case, about 170 individuals, and also the list of those

being sued, which in addition to Oswaldo Villalobos and well-known Villalobos shell corporations, had a number of names of companies that had not been featured in the trial before.

One of the previously unheard-of companies was Marañones del Pacífico S.A., and small-town lawyer José Alberto Campos arrived to defend it. He declared from handwritten notes how the company is the owner of 80 hectares of teak in Turrucares, had strictly Canadian shareholders, and had apparently been added to Acuna’s list in the basis of an a notation in Ana Leonor Villalobos’ legal books which were seized during the raid on Oswaldo Villalobos’s house. Campos insisted that the company had never had any bond-trading activities or anything to do with the Villalobos brothers.

Closing statements from the defense were scheduled for this morning and will likely continuing on Monday, according to defense team lawyers.

Oswaldo Villalobos is facing fraud, money laundering and illegal banking charges. He ran Ofiner S.A. money exchange house, and his defense basically is that the high-interest operation was run only by his brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos.


Labor celebrates its day Tuesday with  a march downtown
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  country is getting ready for another holiday. This one is el Día Internacional del Trabajo, and it is Tuesday.

The day,  which is called May Day elsewhere, is one of nine days a year when Costa Ricans are paid for not working. If they do work, they are entitled to double pay.

Government offices, embassies and similar will be closed.

Various employee unions will be celebrating the day with a
march beginning at 8 a.m. in front of the Minsiterio de
 Hacienda on Avenida 2. The union members will walk the seven blocks to Plaza de la Democracia.  Although the free trade treaty will be a major topic, union members also will be demonstrating for higher pay and quality jobs for youngsters, according to the  Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, which is among the march organizers.

At the Asamblea Legislativa, May 1 is the start of the regular session for lawmakers. Officers will be picked for the year, but the betting is that Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández of the Partido Liberación Nacional will continue as assembly president.


A meeting with a pirate at the height of the big blackout
According to the calendar, the rainy season will shortly be under way.  It can’t come too soon for me. Each day dawns blue sky and warm — warmer than I recall it in the past.  Spring weather in San José has given way to early summer weather.  And I, for one, am not happy.  We need rain. Not having enough water affects everything in this country.

This became all too real last week when there was a countrywide outage of electricity with a warning there are more to come.  I was downtown heading for home on the Sabana Cementerio bus. Suddenly the street and the world around us became pitch (I mean pitch) black.  My plan always is to take the bus to Paseo Colon where I hail a taxi for the rest of the trip. 

Without thinking I got off the bus at the corner of Paseo Colon and found myself in the kind of darkness that seems to press against you.  I could see taxis heading for the city but couldn’t make out those coming in my direction.  I was afraid to stand in the bus shelter and there was no way I was going to cross the street with no traffic light to serve as some protection. 

So I just stood on the curb frantically waving my arm and telling myself there was no reason to panic.  A taxi stopped.  At least I thought it was a taxi.  I got in the back seat and thanked the driver for seeing me.  He said something to the effect that he had not seen me and asked me where I was going.  I decided to not explore the first statement and said, “Sabana Norte.”

Then I noticed there was no maria (meter), and that I hadn’t seen the triangle on the door that tells us it is a taxi. I couldn’t have seen the triangle on the door if there had been one.  When I commented on this he said,  “No, but I will take you there for the same price.” This did not exactly make me sit back and relax.  Then, since there was no way I was going to jump out of a moving car onto a midnight street, I decided to make conversation. 

“What do you think caused the blackout?” I asked He told me it was because the water in Lake Arenal was very low.  I noted that he was taking the correct route to Sabana Norte so I did relax. 

When we got to my apartment, I asked him how much.  He told me five hundred colones.  Usually the fare from that spot is over 600.  I handed him a 1,000-colon note and told him he was a fair and just man and I was very grateful for the ride and would he please wait a moment while I tried to find the door and keyhole to my apartment
building.  He not only waited, he maneuvered his car so
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com


the lights shone on my doorway.  Just then my neighbor came out the door with a flashlight, and I waved to the kind pirata taxista.

This is not an endorsement of all pirata taxistas, just a memory of an unexpectedly happy experience.  By the same token my column on my latest hospital experience was not to decry all hospitals of the Caja.  Most of my experiences have been just fine and very successful, and there is a certain good feeling that comes as I leave a hospital, prescribed medicines in one hand, and no bill for services in the other.

The residence where I plan to spend the month of May called to say I needed to go there for a check up by the resident’s doctor. My new friend Fatima, who had attached herself to me on my first visit, happened to be at the gate when I arrived and was stunned that I remembered her name.  (How can one forget the name Fatima?)

I met the resident nurse and Doña Luz, the administrator.  And, of course, the doctor.  He pronounced me healthy both of mind and body and seemed a bit dubious about my desire to move in, although he said it was a beautiful place with a very kind staff. I explained that I wanted to see what it was like to live there and simplify my life now, walk more, exercise perhaps even get inspired to finish my book and not spend my time doing household chores. At this point he opened the door to the exercise room which is next to his office, and I was impressed with the facility.  I wonder if I will really use it?

Before I left, I saw and greeted a few of the other residents, all of whom ignored me.  It crossed my mind that I might have more in common with the staff than with my new neighbors.  We shall see.  The guard in the front office called a taxi for me.  It was another pirata, who was very pleasant, but I thought, he overcharged me.


Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available at the 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact Jostuart@amcostarica.com.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 83


World survey shows strong support for globalization, trade
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new survey of countries around the globe has found what it calls remarkably strong support for globalization, the increased integration and openness of the global economy. It also says that while many support the trend, they also think trade harms the environment and threatens jobs.

The survey was conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and World Public Opinion.org in 18 countries around the world.  The countries were China, India, the United States, Indonesia, France, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Israel, Armenia and the Palestinian territories.

Organizers say the results of the poll represent 56 percent of the world's population . Steven Kull is the editor of World Public Opinion.org.

"Majorities in all countries perceived trade as having a positive affect on their economy and on companies, they also had a very positive view of the impact on them as consumers and their standard of living," he said.

According to the survey, support for globalization was particularly high in export oriented countries, such as China, South Korea and Israel. Respondents in 14 of the countries were asked whether trade's impact was positive on their national economies, and in all 14, majorities said the effect of trade was good.

At the same time, however, majorities around the globe expressed concern about the environment and expressed the
desire to have minimum environmental and labor standards.

Kull notes that, while world leaders of developing countries frequently say their citizens do not want labor and environmental standards to be a part of trade agreements, that is apparently not the case.

"There have been statements for some years by leaders of those countries, of the developing countries, saying that they oppose labor standards and environmental standards of being a part of trade agreements and they certainly hold themselves out as representing their people, so it was very interesting to find out what the people in those countries did feel," he said.
According to the survey, respondents in developed countries overwhelmingly supported adding labor standards to trade agreements, as did respondents in China (84 percent), Mexico (67 percent), India (56 percent) and the Philippines (55 percent).

Economist Peter Morici says that many citizens in developing countries are often under the thumb of the powerful elites and those who want to maintain the status quo.

"It is important to recognize that citizens in places like China and India often align with Americans on wanting a better environment, common labor standards and so forth. It's the development strategies of governments that often negate these sentiments," he said.

Morici argues that, just as there can be common standards among U.S. states, there can be environmental and labor standards \between places like California and China.


Venezuela and Cuba seek U.N. investigation over bail for Posada Carilles
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela and Cuba have asked a United Nations committee to investigate the release on bail of a Cuban militant from a U.S. prison.

The governments in Caracas and Havana sent a letter Wednesday to the U.N.'s Counter-Terrorism Committee, urging it to examine the release of Luis Posada Carriles.

Venezuela and Cuba accuse the U.S. of flagrantly violating
U.N. Security Council resolutions on counter-terrorism by releasing him.

Venezuela convicted the former U.S. intelligence operative of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Posada Carriles denies the charge. He escaped a Venezuelan prison in 1985. Posada Carriles was born in Cuba and is a naturalized Venezuelan citizen. Posada Carriles has been in U.S. custody since 2005 for alleged immigration offenses. A U.S. court released him on bail last week ahead of his trial on May 11. 


Appeal promised over decision in México City to allow first trimester abortions
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's conservative ruling party says it will ask the Supreme Court to review Mexico City's recent decision to allow first-trimester abortions in the capital.

City lawmakers approved the measure Tuesday. 46 to 19. The move makes it legal to have an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Elsewhere in Mexico, abortion is legal only in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother.
Supporters, including Mexico's liberal Partido de la Revolución Democrática, say the new law will protect women from unsafe, illegal abortions.

But critics, including the Roman Catholic Church and President Felipe Calderon's Partido Acción Nacional fear it is a step toward legalized abortion across Latin America.

 Only Cuba and Guyana currently allow abortions, though Colombia is considering a law to allow the procedure.


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