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These stories were published Thursday, May 1, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 85
Jo Stuart
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Scammed tourist finds little sympathy here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Remember the New Jersey man who said he was the victim of a credit-card scam at a San José strip club?

Well, the Judicial Investigating Organization does not think that taking a man’s credit cards and maxing them out for $11,000 constitutes a crime.

The man attempted to get information on filing a criminal complaint via e-mail. But what he got was a statement from a judicial employee that the situation is a civil matter and not a criminal one. In other words, the New Jersey man will have to sue in the slow Costa Rican civil courts.

The man told the story via e-mail to A.M. Costa Rica a week ago.  But we withheld his name and the name of the strip club in anticipation of charges being filed.

He said he was a tourist and ended up with friends at a strip club where he became drunk and naked in an upstairs room.  During that time he believes someone took his wallet and ran his credit cards through for all they could get. When he returned home he found credit card bills in favor of the establishment for $11,000, an amount he could not have possibly spent in one evening.

A companion later lost a wallet and passport 

and a woman he met at the club is the prime suspect, the New Jersey man said.

An even more uncomfortable aspect of the drunken evening emerged. The man said that after he returned to his hotel and again lost his clothes, the new female friends took a number of photographs of him in unflattering positions.

The New Jersey man related this to the judicial employee and suggested that the women were running a blackmail racket. He is single so does not have a wife who might be monumentally unhappy to see the photos. 

But the judicial employee did not agree.

"You said they took pictures probably to blackmail you, but that hasn’t yet
happened. You’re just speculating," said the employee.  "There is nothing we can do at this stage."

The judicial employee also said that if the man wanted to press charges he would have to be present in Costa Rica during the course of the investigation so he could identify suspects.

The New Jersey man seems to generate little sympathy due to the circumstances of his loss. In addition to the unhelpful response from judicial officials here, he said his credit card companies will not return his calls.

Raid nets suspects in stickups near area banks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators raided four dwellings early Wednesday and arrested three men they say are suspects in sticking up bank patrons throughout the Metropolitan area.

By mid-afternoon investigators said they were looking for six more suspects, all of whom have been identified.

The Central Valley has been plagued by a gang whose members spot bank patrons when they withdraw a significant amount of cash. The gang members confront the patron within a few blocks of the bank and take the money. In one case, they shot the individual.

Although the individual was shot in the leg, the bullet cut an artery, and the individual died. More than six such crimes have been attributed to the same violent gang.

The raids Wednesday took place in Los Guidos de Desamperados and were done by the División de Asaltos of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Investigators coupled their announcement of the raids with a warning to people who carry large quantities of cash. They suggested that using credit cards or electronic transfers would be safer. The robberies generally involved amounts of about 1 million colons (some $2,500 or so).

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 260 readers already have expressed their opinion on the Villalobos case via an e-mail poll published Tuesday.

You can have your chance. The information is HERE!.

We will keep the poll active until May 9 or until it appears readers have had their say.

The e-mail addresses to which readers express their opinion of the former financier Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho have been active since about 4 a.m. Tuesday. Already they are attracting Internet junk mail and requests for funds from Nigerian scamsters.


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Here's a little something more just to bug you
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those little brown bullets that are hitting your windows and finding their way into the house can’t hurt you, but they can be pests.

The so-called June bugs or June beetles are hatching out of their underground larva stage now and looking for a vegetable snack before restarting the lifecycle.

In the meantime, they can scare the daylights out of people when they land abruptly and unannounced on a shirt or in the hair.

The bugs are members of the Scarabaeidae family, with the scientific name Phyllophaga. They are true bugs with six legs and mouthparts that have a taste for vegetation.

But the real damage done by the bug is when they are in the larval stage chewing on roots of grasses and shrubs sometimes to the extent that the plants die.  Their relative is the Japanese beetle known in the eastern United States as a real plant killer.

Sometimes with the correct weather the bugs will mushroom into huge numbers, although that does not seem to be the case this year.

But there is something a bit startling when a brown bullet hurls into your window pane about 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
These uninvited guests dropped by for a visit Tuesday.

2 a.m. when you are curled up with a spine-tingling mystery story.

Or the pure joy of finding one  swimming in the morning coffee.

Youngster packed
pistol to school

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 7-year-old first grade student showed up at school this week with a loaded .22-caliber pistol among his other school supplies.

The drama unfolded Monday at the Mauro Fernández school in the center of San José when a teacher noticed and confiscated the gun.

The child told the teacher that he was carrying the gun to defend himself, according to a report by the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Police located the father of the child the next day. They identified him with the last names of Rojas Acevedo. Investigators said that he told police he had the weapon because he is handicapped and he fears being the victim of a stickup when he goes into the streets.

The man has no permit for the weapon, police said, and he reported that his wife mistakenly put the gun in with the material the boy carried to school. The investigation will continue, police said.

New rules offered
to fight laundering

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Treasury has proposed new regulations that would require advisers involved in the trading of securities and commodities to set up comprehensive programs to combat money laundering.

In a news release Tuesday, the department said the new rules would also require futures commission merchants to report "suspicious activity."

"These rules will serve as additional tools in the [Bush] administration's continuing effort to fight illicit money laundering," the Treasury Department said in the release.

The proposed rules are the latest in a series of actions taken by the Bush administration to implement the Patriot Act, the broad legislation that was passed by Congress following the September 2001 terrorist attacks. The act included measures that expanded the government's ability to crack down on money launderers and terrorism financiers.

Comments on the proposed rules will be accepted for 60 days from the date of the rules' publication in the Federal Register. 

Floods kill four
in Argentina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Authorities say widespread flooding caused by torrential rains in the central part of the country has left at least four people dead and forced at least 50,000 others from their homes.

Hardest hit have been the Santa Fe province and surrounding areas, where torrential rains caused the Salado River to rise at least six meters. Santa Fe Gov. Carlos Reutemann says the floods are the worst in the area's history. 

The floods have disrupted traffic, inundated farmland, and in some cases caused power outages and disruptions to telephone service. Local television stations broadcast images of residents using canoes and small boats to navigate the streets, where water levels reached halfway up doors. 

Health officials also say contaminated water has caused an increase in gastrointestinal illnesses. Meteorologists have forecast more rain for the predominantly farming region known for its soy crops. Farmers' losses are estimated at more than $200 million.

Vieques will be
wildlife refuge

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Residents of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques are holding a four-day celebration that began at midnight Wednesday, when the U.S. Navy gaveup its bombing range on the island.

The Navy will turn the 6,000-hectare site over to the U.S. Department of the Interior to be made into a wildlife refuge.

Protests over the 60-year-old bombing range began in 1999, when an errant bomb from a practice mission killed security guard David Sanes Rodríguez. 

Following that, news the military tested chemical weapons on the island - combined with high rates of cancer there — caused even further unrest. More than 1,000 people have been jailed for civil disobedience while protesting the military presence on Vieques.

Residents and officials plan four days of celebration before beginning the decontamination process to transform the bombing range into a refuge.

Two journalists
die in Colombia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Unidentified gunmen have shot dead two Colombian journalists in separate attacks in the war-torn Andean nation. 

Authorities say Jaime Rengifo was gunned down early Tuesday as he left a hotel in the northern city of Maicao. Rengifo hosted a controversial radio program that criticized Colombia's political class. But he had not reported being threatened recently. 

Hours earlier, television reporter Guillermo Bravo Vega was killed at his home in the southern city of Neiva. The motive for Bravo's death is not clear. 

Colombia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Leftist rebels and rightist paramilitaries seeking to silence criticism of their illegal activities frequently target journalists. More than 115 reporters have been killed in Colombia in recent years. 

Holiday is time for protests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is a legal holiday in Costa Rica: the Día del Trabajador, the day of the worker. You can count on a parade made up of proponents for all sorts of protests.

Meanwhile, at 3:30 President Abel Pacheco will be reporting to the Asamblea Nacional on his first year in office.

Costa Rica re-elected

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Costa Rica has been re-elected for a new three-year term to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Weather warning
includes floods, slides

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Don’t hang up your umbrellas. The report that skies would clear today were a bit premature.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional now says that today and Friday will see an increase in humidity due to two low pressure areas, one on either side of the country.

More importantly, the weather experts say that the Central Valley, the northern zone and the Pacific will face the possibilities of heavy downpours and sudden flooding. Landslides are a possibility.

Earlier in the week, the weather experts said that the rainy weather would dissipate today.

Police catch four
after Heredia stickup

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four men suspected of sticking up an auto sales firm Tuesday were in police custody about two hours later.

Officers said that the holdup took place in Santo Domingo de Heredia when bandits burst into the auto sales office, fired a bullet to punctuate their demands and then took a safe with an undetermined amount of money.

The suspects were in a car on an approach road to the highway to Guápiles in San Isidro de Heredia when police saw them and pulled them over about 5:30 p.m.

Comisionado Gary Eubanks, regional director of the Fuerza Pública in Heredia, said he thought the men were on their way to the Caribbean area.

The suspects were identified by their last names of Fonseca, Badilla Pérez, Gómez Zúñiga and Zumbado, said a report from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.
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Annual U.S. report issued
Latin America called battleground for terrorists
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — International terrorist groups have made Latin America a battleground to advance their causes elsewhere in the world, the U.S. State Department says.

In its annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report, released Wednesday, the State Department said in its overview of the region that the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the Argentine-Jewish Cultural Center in 1994 are examples of the damage caused in the Western Hemisphere by international terrorists.

Meanwhile, the report said many countries have struggled with domestic sources of terrorism for decades, and many still do.

As a result, these countries have sought to shore up legislative tools to outlaw terrorism, discourage terrorist financing, and make their territory as unattractive as possible to terrorists fleeing from other regions who might seek safe-haven in the hemisphere.

When compared to other regions of the world, the Western Hemisphere generally does not attract attention as a "hot zone" in the war on terror, said the report, adding:

Latin American countries have struggled with domestic sources of terrorism for decades, and many still do. International terrorist groups, moreover, have not hesitated to make Latin America a battleground to advance their causes elsewhere, such as the Buenos Aires bombings.

Domestic terrorist groups continue to ravage Colombia and, to a lesser extent, Peru, said the report. 

The Colombian government under former President Andrés Pastrana cut off long-running peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which the United States has designated a foreign terrorist organization in February after a series of provocative actions, including kidnapping of a Colombian senator. 

The FARC intensified its campaign throughout the year and steadily moved its attacks from the countryside to the cities. On Aug. 7, new President Alvaro Uribe was inaugurated amid an errant FARC mortar attack that killed 21 residents of a poor Bogota neighborhood. 

In Peru, the Shining Path is suspected of carrying out the march 20 car bombing at a shopping center across from the U.S. Embassy, two days before a state visit by President Bush. Ten Peruvians died in the attack, including security personnel protecting the embassy.

At year's end, there was no confirmed, credible information of an established al-Qaida presence in 

Rebel spokesman
regrets murder

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BOGOTA, Colombia — A Colombian rebel group has issued a statement apologizing for the murder of a young teacher and promised to make amends. 

A spokesman for the National Liberation Army, Francisco Galan, made the statement on Colombian television late Tuesday. He said the group recognizes its mistake and will punish those responsible for the murder. Galan spoke from a Colombian prison where he is incarcerated. 

Last week members of the leftist group kidnapped 31-year-old Ana Cecilia Duque and demanded her father carry out the assassination of a man they said was a far-right paramilitary leader. He refused. Ms. Duque's body was found several days later on a dirt road near the small northwestern town of Cocorna, with a bullet in the back of her head. A farewell letter to her 10-year-old daughter was found beside her. 

Latin America, said the report.  However, it said that terrorist fundraising continued to be a concern throughout the region. 

Activities of suspected Hizballah and HAMAS financiers in the Triborder area (Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina) led those three countries to investigate and disrupt illicit financial activities last year. Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina also invited the United States to join a new counterterrorism consultative and cooperation agreement to analyze and combat any terrorist-related threats.

Canada and Mexico have worked closely with the United States to secure their common borders and to implement the comprehensive border accords signed in December 2001 and March 2002, respectively, said the report. 

At a June 2002 General Assembly, member states of the Organization of American States adopted the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism — the first international treaty against terrorism adopted since the Sept. 11 attacks. All states but Dominica have signed, and Canada became the first state to ratify in late 2002. The Convention, a binding legal instrument, establishes mechanisms for coordinated action to prevent and combat terrorism by the states of the Americas.

Terrorism attacks
decline for year

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department, in its annual report on global terrorism, says the number of terror attacks declined sharply last year due to increased international cooperation and resolve. Seven countries — Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan — were again listed as state sponsors of terrorism, though Iraq may soon come off the list. 

The State Department says there were 199 terrorist attacks last year, a 44 percent drop from 2001 and the lowest figure in more than 30 years. 

A total of 725 deaths were attributed to terrorism, a dramatic decline from the nearly 3,300 recorded the previous year, which included the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. The past year's most deadly single attack was the car bombing last September in a tourist area of Bali, Indonesia that killed more than 200 people.

Uribe receives
praise from Bush

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush has praised efforts by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to crack down on terrorism in the South American country. At a joint White House news conference Wednesday, Bush described his Colombian counterpart as courageous for targeting the Andean nation's illegal armed groups. 

President Uribe, for his part, said the Colombian government understands the need to fight terrorism wherever it occurs.  Colombia is mired in a 39-year civil war that pits leftist rebels against rightist paramilitaries and the government in Bogota. The conflict leaves thousands of people dead each year. 

Since taking office in August of last year, President Uribe has been cracking down on the armed groups that the Bush administration brands as terrorists.  Presidents Bush and Uribe met hours after Colombia's Constitutional Court lifted a state of emergency that gave extra powers to that nation's military. 

Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper reports the court took the decision on the grounds the state of emergency did not comply with the necessary constitutional and legal requirements. The measure was due to expire later this month.

or Devil? 

Give your 
opinion about 
Luis Enrique

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Is Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho a cad or a victim? Here is your chance to say what you think.

There are about 6,500 investment accounts in the former financier’s books. Rival investor groups are claiming the allegiance of the silent investors.

We think it is time to poll readers to see what they think. The opinion of the investors is decidedly mixed. But which opinion predominates?

You can express your opinion by sending a blank e-mail to one of the e-mail accounts we have set up. Do not include any text because no one will read the e-mails. We will just count them.

But please put in the subject line "from investor" if you invested money with Villalobos. Put "from non-investor" if you did not.

Please, one e-mail from any single e-mail account.

If you think that Luis Enrique Villalobos just took the money and ran, send your e-mail to 


If you think that Luis Enrique Villalobos is an honest man who has been put out of business by a greedy Costa Rican government, send your e-mail to


If you are uncertain but think that international arbitration would be a good way to get Costa Rica to compensate investors for their loss, send your e-mail to


If you are fed up with the whole story and do not care what happens, send your message to 


We will tabulate the e-mails at the end of two weeks and publish the results. We also will discard the e-mail messages.

What we published this week: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Earlier
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