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These stories were published Friday, May 7, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 90
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International arbitration papers filed 
Villalobos creditors seek $204 million award
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 245 creditors of the Villalobos high interest operation want the government of Costa Rica to pay them $204 million for failing to properly supervise the investment scheme.

That was the gist of a filing announced Thursday by the Canadian law firm of Cain Lamarre Casgrain Wells. An e-mail announcement said that the lawyers have finally filed their papers seeking international arbitration with Costa Rica.

The filing was with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, an agency of the World Bank.

The announcement said that investors and corporations from 15 nations were involved in the case, which carries the name of Charles Bergeron, one of the original creditors who sought arbitration.

The statement said that the demand for money is based on bilateral treaties for the protection and promotion of investments and other treaties signed by Costa Rica. The statement says that Costa Rica, by signing certain international agreements, already agrees to accept international arbitration.

The local contact for the Canadian firm has been Jack Caine, himself a creditor, who operates a Web site promoting the arbitration concept. 

Each of the investors has put up at least $500 to be included in the international effort. Caine still is seeking more persons to join the case. The Villalobos operation involved at least 6,600 individual creditor accounts and as much as $1 billion.

The filing claims that Costa Rica had an obligation under international treaties to protect investors. The Villalobos brothers, Luis Enrique and Oswaldo paid creditors 3 percent a month, frequently in bulky brown envelopes. They operated out of a licensed money exchange house in Mall San Pedro, although Enrique Villalobos says that his operation was separate.

Oswaldo is now in jail awaiting the possible filing of criminal complains of fraud and of running an illegal investment operation. Enrique is an international fugitive.

A full description of the arbitration case can be found HERE! 

Briefly, the arbitration proponents cite a litany of Costa Rican regulatory agencies that the investors contend were remiss in not supervising the Villalobos operation and its many corporations. Among the agencies criticized are state banks, the Central Bank and
agencies that regulate banking and the stock exchange.

The filing likened the arbitration request to the current case of BCCI vs. the Bank of England, which is in court in London claiming gross negligence by bank officials.

Costa Rica is expected to reply that the Villalobos case is an unresolved criminal matter and that no one complained while the unusual level of interest was being paid. The government is expected to try to link the Villalobos operation to international criminals.

The law firm said that Costa Rica has three months to pick one of three members of an arbitration panel.


 
This little card is worth its weight in gold
Several people have reminded me about the usefulness of the ciudadano de oro in long lines at the doctors' offices. This is a gold card residents 65 and older can get at the Social Security office downtown. This card is free and allows older residents to get either in a special line or to go to the front of lines in banks, the Registro Civil, and even, I am told, in lines in the clinics. It is also good in other places. 

I often use my ciudadano de oro at the bank and for discounts at pharmacies and the movies, but, like Jean's husband Rich, I can't handle the guilt of getting in front of people who may have more serious medical problems than I do. 

Jean had a good idea to counteract this guilt. She takes her gold card out and waits alongside the line and when the person being served is finished, she asks the server if the card is honored. In doing this, the people in the line see her gold card and don't think she is just crashing. 

When I went to Calderón Guardia to make an appointment for an x-ray, I stopped first in the large building where the doctors' offices are and asked someone behind a window where I should be going. She directed me to "under the ramp." I went to the ramp adjoining the next building and debated with myself what she meant. Finally, my preference for walking downhill versus uphill won and I followed the walk below the ramp and there I was in the right place. 

Then, following my own advice, which I don't always do, I asked someone in line if I was in the right line. She was not sure, so I went up to the window just to check. The young man there said it was the correct line and motioned for me to give him my appointment request. Two minutes later I left, smiling broadly.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

On the street from the hospital going to the National Park there is someone selling something every few feet: pens, silver necklaces, lottery tickets, newspapers, sweets and fruits. One woman had some simple mule slippers for 500 colons each. Thinking I would give my socks a rest, I immediately bought a pair. Having worn them for two days around my apartment, I wish I had bought more.

I seldom buy things sold on the streets, but one could survive in San Jose without ever going into a store. Street merchants sell everything from souvenirs to razor blades and batteries. There is a fruit stand on every other corner, and some streets, like Avenida 6 have several blocks devoted to fruit and vegetable stands. 

I am told that the feria on Avenida 10 has cheaper and fresher produce than other ferias. I am also told that it is a dangerous area. Like many cities around the world, you can buy ready-made snacks on the streets. Besides the free-standing kiosks, there are tiny stores with counters facing the street where you pick up an empanada or even a hot dog (haven’t tried the hot dogs yet). You can wash that down with some fresh coconut milk (said to be very healthful) which you drink out of the coconut.  Then, on the way home, you can pick up a bouquet of flowers. 

As I walk the streets of San José, I am reminded that we are descended from hunters and gatherers.

 
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Banana workers affected by chemical reach accord on payment
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former banana workers who are suffering from effects of an insecticide have reached an agreement to end their two-day downtown hunger strike.

Ricardo Toledo, the minister of the Presidencia, reached an accord late Wednesday to pay those who have been designated victims of the chemical some $3.4 million. About 1,500 men and women are involved. These are persons who worked in the

banana plantations between 1967 and 1979 when the insecticide Nemegón was used.

The chemical causes allergies, skin problems and impotency in men.

The government reached an agreement with the affected individuals in 2001 but never made the payments.

Many others have come forward claiming also to be victims. They are not covered by the accord.


 
 
Jacó man, 26, is held
a tourist drug source

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents in Jacó have arrested a 26-year-old Colombian who is suspected of supplying marijuana and cocaine to the area’s tourists.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization said that the arrest was the result of a two-month effort in the Pacific beach town and that the suspect had marked money in his possession as well as cocaine and marijuana when he was picked up Wednesday night.

The man’s name was not available.

Katia case hearing
put off for week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The preliminary hearing for a suspect in the murder of 8-year-old Katia Vanesa González Juárez was delayed Thursday because the country’s legal department had not been notified.

The suspect is Jorge Sánchez Madrigal, who is alleged to have lured the girl off the street in the Barrio Quesada Duran, Zapote, neighborhood last July 4, murdered her and put her in the ground under the floorboards of his home.

The family of the girl has filed a civil action against the government seeking about $300,000. Because the state is named in the case, a representative of the Procuraduría General de la República, the nation’s lawyer, should have been notified about the trial but was not, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial.

The hearing was put off until next Friday with Judge Jorge Villalobos Araya.

The suspect was convicted once before of raping. killing and burying a woman, but he was then 17 and tried as a juvenile.

Teen says he killed
man in self-defense

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A neighbor spotted a blood-soaked teen trying to climb a nearby fence about 8 p.m. Wednesday and grabbed him.

Investigators then found the body of Eliécer Madrigal Muñoz, 65, stabbed four times in the chest in his home in Curridabat.

But the victim is emerging as the criminal. The youth, 15, said that Madrigal invited him to his home and then molested him. He claimed self-defense.

A juvenile judge accepted the story of the youth and set him free later Thursday to await further investigation and legal action.

Kane murder pair
face trial today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man and a woman, suspects in the murder of well-known expat David Brian Kane, will go on trial today.

Kane, 59, who lived in la Granja, San Pedro de Montes de Oca, east of San José died Jan. 4, 2003. He was murdered in mid-morning by someone he had let into the home, police said at the time.  Death was attributed to blows to the head.

The presumed motive for the crime was robbery, and the killer or killers took Kane’s vehicle, which was recovered later.

Standing trial for murder is a man with the name of Hernandez. A woman with the last name of Céspedes faces trial as an alleged accessory.

A spokesperson for the Poder Judicial said that nine witnesses would be called.

Appeal in Harris case
rejected by court

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Guatemalan appeals court has upheld the acquittal of children’s rights activist Bruce Harris on a charge of criminal defamation.

Harris, the regional director of Casa Alianza here, exercised his right to free expression by denouncing irregularities in the international adoption processes of Guatemalan babies and his goal never was to harm the honor of the notary Susana Luarca de Umaña, the appeals court concluded, Casa Alianza said in a release.

The appeal by the notary went to the 10th Appeals Court of Guatemala, which rejected the notary’s petition to void the previous ruling and to convict Harris. 

Harris was acquitted of the crimes of perjury, slander and defamation Jan. 30 after a six-year judicial process. The charges stem from a 1997 press conference at which Harris spoke.

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$60 million earmarked to free island
Bush administration tightens screws on Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush is moving to reduce the flow of U.S. dollars to Cuba and taking other steps to try to hasten the end of Fidel Castro's Communist government in Havana. The steps were recommended by a study commission headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell. 

Bush said the United States will increase support for organizations supporting Cuban dissidents and take steps to reduce the flow of dollars to Cuba from tourists and remittances, as part of a tough new strategy to help Cubans become free of what he termed the "tyranny" of the Castro government.

At a White House meeting Thursday with members of the commission he ordered be set up last year, the president said the United States will not passively await a change in government in Cuba.

"It is a strategy that will prevent the regime from exploiting hard currency of tourists and of remittances to Cubans, to prop up their repressive regime," he said. "It is a strategy that says we're not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom. We are working for the day of freedom in Cuba."

The report called for spending of nearly $60 million in funds already appropriated by the Congress to support democracy-building and public diplomacy programs directed at Cubans. 

This will include $18 million for the relay into Cuba by specially-equipped U.S. military transport planes of U.S. funded Radio and TV Marti broadcasts, which are heavily jammed by Cuban authorities.

The plan aims at reducing the hard currency available to the Castro government by restricting dollar remittances and gift parcels by Cuban-Americans to only their immediate family members in Cuba and barring such transfers altogether to Cuban Communist Party members and some government officials.

Family visits to Cuba by Cuban-Americans would be limited to one trip every three years and the amount of money they can spend in Cuba would be cut by two-thirds, to $50 a day.

Additionally, the plan would impose tighter restrictions on so-called "educational travel" to Cuba by American groups, which have increased in recent years and are widely considered tourism.

At a news briefing, Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said Cubans are well-aware that tourism money has become a major prop for the Castro government.

"They're worried about the repressive apparatus which is supported by people who do trade and travel to Cuba and go and enjoy the beaches in Cuba, beaches which, by the way, Cuban people don't even have access to. That money is ploughed into a system or vacuumed up by a regime that pays a policeman four times what it pays a teacher."

Some of the funds would support planning for a political transition in Cuba after Castro's departure and be aimed specifically at preventing a hand over of power from the Cuban leader to his younger brother, Raul, the country's longtime defense minister.

The Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba was set up last October with a mandate to, among other things, formulate a response to Cuba's crackdown on dissent, earlier in 2003, that resulted in long prison terms for more than 70 leading political opponents of Castro.

Democrats have said the new White House strategy is aimed at currying favor with Cuban-American voters, who wield political power in Florida.

New Jersey Democratic House member Robert Menendez said earlier this week, setting the commission's reporting deadline for May 1, during the U.S. Presidential campaign, is so politically-transparent as to be laughable.


 
Haiti's acting prime minister meets skepticism
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Haiti's interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, has visited the Organization of American States in Washington, to reiterate his intention to guide the chronically unstable Caribbean country to free and democratic elections at the end of next year. Latortue's visit comes as some O.A.S. officials express skepticism about his plans for restoring stability to Haiti. 

Latortue was paying his first visit to Organization of American States headquarters since a council of prominent Haitians appointed him transitional prime minister in early March. 

The 69-year-old former U.N. development official took his post after weeks of fighting between gunmen loyal to then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and armed gangs opposed to him, which eventually forced Aristide to leave Haiti. 

Wednesday, Latortue met with Secretary of State Colin Powell to request additional economic aid for his impoverished country, where more than half the population is unemployed.

Thursday, the prime minister, who has no ties to any political party, spoke about political reform and good governance. Speaking through an interpreter, he told ambassadors from the 34 organization countries about his plans for running Haiti, until his team makes way for an elected government in February 2006. 

"One of the main tasks of the government consists in working actively to return to a normal, regular operation of the democratic institutions," he said. "As you may well guess, this goes through the holding of free, honest, transparent and democratic elections."

Speaking for the Pan-American body, Deputy Secretary General Luigi Einaudi urged Latortue to keep his pledge and organize free elections, noting that Haiti has known few of these in its 200-year history.

However, Einaudi expressed concern about some of the prime minister's policies since taking office. 

He noted that in March, Latortue called the gunmen who opposed President Aristide "freedom fighters," while the United States and other countries have referred to these former rebels as "thugs" and criminals." 

"Our member states favor inclusive and non-violent solutions," he added. "They believe that there can be no place for armed groups operating outside the law and national tasks of reconciliation."

Einaudi also expressed regret that efforts by the Organization of American States and the Caricom group of Caribbean states, earlier this year, failed to find a political compromise between then-President Aristide and Haiti's political opposition. 

Caricom, in particular, has criticized the United States, Canada and France for waiting to send a peacekeeping force to Haiti, until after a rebel advance on the capital made Aristide's situation untenable. 

The group said the overthrow of Aristide, who had been elected, set a dangerous precedent for the region. Aristide said he was removed against his will by U.S. and French officials.

The Caribbean group still has not recognized Latortue's government. 


 
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Guatemalan find is a rare one, archaeologists say
Dig uncovers burial site of Maya queen and warlord
Special from Southern Methodist University

She was a queen and a warlord. Now her royal tomb has been opened after more than 1,200 years, revealing some of the secrets of her wealth and power, while offering new clues to unraveling the mysteries of ancient Maya civilization.

Royal tombs are rare finds in the field of Maya archaeology. Rarer still is the tomb of a queen, according to David Freidel, of Southern Methodist University. Freidel, along with Guatemalan archaeologist and co-director Hector Escobedo, leads a team of 20 archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Waká in the rainforests of northwestern Guatemala.

"This tomb will help us understand how women shared power with men in ruling their kingdoms," said Freidel. "Tombs of important royal women have been discovered at fewer than a dozen other sites, including at Palenque and Yaxuna in Mexico; Tikal in Guatemala; and Copan in Honduras."

Freidel says this is the first tomb to be discovered at a site in Laguna del Tigre, Guatemala's largest national park, which means Waká's populace was as wealthy and powerful as those of other Maya cities.

The Waká Archaeological Project, which began research at the site (located approximately 60 kms., about 36 miles, west of the famous Maya site of Tikal) in 2002.

The project's excavations have focused on a number of important areas of the site, looking into the past activities at locations of both ritual and residential activity. 

The large ceremonial complex in the southeast portion of the site center is one such focus, where evidence may provide clues to the events at the end of the site's life. 

At this location, SMU graduate student Olivia Farr found that dozens of complete ceramic vessels, vessel fragments, and human remains lay scattered on the surface in front of the building. 

"This kind of termination is an act of desecration and speaks to a violent event in the site's history," Freidel says. 

Excavations have also delved into the activity at residential compounds, and at the main palace complex of the site, where at one time the rulers of Waká presided over the sprawling ancient city. The palace served as a place of residence, politics, trade and governance, but evidence from this season also indicates that the palace served another function, that of a burial site. 

In one structure of the palace complex, while conducting excavations to collect ceramic samples, Canadian archaeologist and SMU graduate student David Lee discovered a royal burial chamber. The burial contained remains identified by project bioarchaeologist Jennifer Piehl, as that of a female ruler or queen and over 2,400 artifacts. 

"It is an important discovery," Lee says, "An important piece of the much larger puzzle of the lives and deaths of the people we regard as the rulers of this site." The individual was buried in a vaulted chamber that was built inside the shell of an existing building atop the palace acropolis. A preliminary analysis of the 23 complete vessels found in the chamber suggests a Late Classic burial date, estimated between AD 650 and AD 750. 

The interment, which contained artifacts of greenstone, shell and obsidian, provides significant information about the importance of this person 

David Lee and the Waká Archaeological Project
Part of queen's carved jade diadem

during her life. The individual's royal status was identified by the presence of greenstone plaques that form a war helmet and by the presence of a carved royal jewel, or huunal, that may have once been a part of this headdress. 

"This helmet is consistent with a kind we associate with the title kaloomte, or 'supreme warlord'," Freidel says. "A title generally associated with male rulers and important warriors." Recent studies have shown that this is not always the case, however, and on one of the site's monuments, a queen is mentioned in hieroglyphic inscriptions as bearing the title of kaloomte. 

The woman buried in the chamber also had stingray spines placed on her body in the pelvic region. Stingray spines are bloodletting implements that are depicted being used to let blood from the genitalia of Maya kings. "That this female ruler had these implements supports the idea that in ancient Maya culture, gender roles were sometimes blended," Lee says. 

Once more detailed analysis is complete, researchers hope it will help shed light on the lives of the kings and queens of Waká. While the individual in the burial chamber is not named in hieroglyphs, chemical and radiocarbon analysis of remains inside the burial will help place this individual with the site's history. 

The project's 10 different research operations are focusing not only on the hieroglyphic record at the site, or on new archaeological discoveries. The project also has undertaken an important conservation effort at the site. 

Looting over the years since the site was discovered has resulted in significant damage to both ancient structures and monuments. Starting in 2003, the Waka' Project has begun stabilizing, restoring and reassembling the buildings and monuments of Waka' disturbed in the centuries since the site's abandonment in the 9th century.


 
U.S. will tell other nations about stolen passports
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States will share limited information about lost and stolen passports with the International Police Agency (INTERPOL).

The U.S. Department of State said the new program will contribute substantially to worldwide travel document security and its ability to impede the movement of terrorists and other criminals.

U.S. passports that are reported lost or stolen are immediately invalidated, added to an electronic database, and may not be used for travel, the department said. 

But to protect the original passportholder's privacy, the name and biographical data from the passport will not be given to INTERPOL, said the State Department. Only the passport number, 

country of issuance and document type will be provided, it said. 

During the processing of travelers at ports of entry, if a hit occurs against the INTERPOL database, the hit will be verified with U.S. authorities before action is taken against a bearer of such a passport, said the announcement.

"We believe this is a significant step in the direction of curbing not only terrorism but also identity theft and other types of identity fraud," said the department release. 

U.S. citizens were encouraged to report the loss or theft of their passport at the earliest possible moment as a measure of preventing misuse of the document and identity theft.  U.S. citizens abroad should contact the nearest Embassy or consulate to report such a loss or theft, the announcement said.


 
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