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These stories were published Thursday, May 8, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 90
Jo Stuart
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Confab triggers crackdown on city's sex industry
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is anti-sex exploitation week in San José.

Tuesday judicial officials held a forum to discuss the sexual exploitation of children. Luis Paulino Mora Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia linked the issue to human rights and cited Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Dickens for support.

But as he opened the forum, he was unable to provide any clear solutions, citing instead the need for civil and social action.

As judicial officials were meeting, agents of their Judicial Investigating Organization were shutting down a long-running San José massage parlor on pimping allegations.

Wednesday the Hotel Melía Cariari hosted the first of two days of hemispheric discussions on how to reduce sexual tourism involving minors. That was in keeping with President Abel Pacheco’s goal to substitute responsible and sustainable tourism for sex tourism. Pacheco spoke at the opening of the session.

Casa Alianza, the child welfare organization, was quick to have its voice heard with two press releases issued in two days. One of them suggested a link between Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the sexual exploitation of children.

Also Wednesday the Judicial Investigating Organization announced the arrest the week before of a retired U.S. serviceman here who now faces a charge of corruption of minors. They identified him by the last name of Davis and said he was 60 and lived in San Sebastián, a southern section of the capital.

Investigators said they found photos and videos of youngsters of both sexes, sex toys and three unregistered firearms. They said the man had lived here for five years and was from Massachusetts.

At least in the case of the Arte y Sauna massage parlor police officials admitted that the raid at 3 p.m. Tuesday was to some extent public relations for the hemispheric sex tourism conference. If agents expected to find underage prostitutes at the massage parlor/sauna they were disappointed. However, two persons, a woman, age 42, and a man, age 25, both with the last name of Cruz, were detained for pimping. The two were identified as the administrators of the business, which is believed owned by a U.S. citizen. Eight woman between 18 and 24 were at the locations when police arrived, and agents assumed they were prostitutes.

Prostitution by adults is legal here. Pimping is not.

The massage parlor is just a half block south of busy Avenida 2 on Paseo de los Estudiantes and

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Nothing ambiguous here. The massage parlor sign seems to reflect accurately what is sold within.

well known to nearly everyone who walks in the center of the capital. A spokesman said the place has been in operation for 15 years without trouble.

It is no secret to North Americans here that this is one of the places in town where sexual encounters can be arranged for a fee. At least a half dozen other similar places are within short walking distance.

The hemispheric conference was put on by the World Tourism Organization featured speakers from police agencies and from the European Commission, the United Nations and Casa Alianza, as well as tourism experts.

This is the second of four regional meetings to be convened during 2003 with the financial support of the European Union. Although the emphasis here is on  preventing child prostitution, the organization also opposes organized sex tourism in any form.

Casa Alianza heralded the conference Tuesday with a press release that said 70 pages on the Internet promote Costa Rica as a sexual tourism destination. Bruce Harris, regional director of Casa Alianza, said that in a survey his group did on the streets of San José 62 percent of the underage prostitutes said they had had foreigners as customers.

Wednesday the group said a U.S. citizen arrested in Nicaragua for corruption of minors has made a number of trips to Costa Rica. The group suggested a network of child abuse that crossed national boundaries. The man, 75, was arrested while he was holding a girl, 13, against her will in his home, Casa Alianza said, citing newspaper reports in Nicaragua.

Costa Rica already belongs to a Central American network that is suppose to flag tourists with a history of child exploitation. The idea is to deny them entry into the country. The system still is being developed.

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An analysis on the news
Tico court setup keeps a lot of activities quiet
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge’s decision in the Villalobos case that blindsided everyone Tuesday points up procedures in the Costa Rican court system that frustrate North Americans.

A number of court decisions take place without any sort of hearing. One North American lawyer with experience in the courts here said that judges frequently accept briefs, study them and then make rulings without any kind of hearing or further input from the sides of the dispute.

Not only that, but the courts here do not have a tradition of notifying the parties involved in a case when a decision is made. It is up to the individual lawyers to continually check the case file to see if something has happened.

In the United States, lawyers involved in a case generally have a chance to supplement their written briefs with oral arguments in a public hearing. Then they are provided written copies of other briefs and the judge’s decision.

The Costa Rican court system generally is not open to persons who are not involved directly in the case. Court files are available only to those who are named participants in the case, either defendants or plaintiffs. And many hearings are private when and if they do take place. That includes criminal preliminary hearings.

Only criminal trials which take place at the end of the process are open, and by that time guilt probably already has been established in the minds of the judges. There is no jury in criminal cases.

The decision that surprised investors in the defunct Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho high-interest investment operation was in response to a number of briefs from lawyers. The 

decision was made April 25 but did not become 
generally known until Tuesday when Gregory Kearney, a lawyer, discovered the document in the court file. It is unclear if there ever was a judicial hearing.

Some investors were particularly miffed because they were waiting for their champion, José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, to be recognized as their lawyer and present arguments in the same case. Instead, the lawyer Villalobos who represents the ad hoc United Concerned Citizens & Residents of Costa Rica did not appear to have participated in the legal discussion leading up to the decision.

A defense lawyer representing the Villalobos brothers and the investment firm was the principal opponent to the government prosecutor. The judge’s decision has the effect of lengthening the investigatory stage for as much as 18 months more. Some investors want the investigation to end because they do not believe there is evidence against Enrique Villalobos, who is a fugitive on fraud and money-laundering complaints. They believe that once the legal process is over, Enrique Villalobos will return and refund to them their investments and accrued interest. There is about $1 billion at stake and about 6,500 investors. 

The concern about how the court handled its business comes at a time when a legislative committee is studying proposals for a full restructuring of how justice is meted out.

Everyone seems to agree that civil cases in particular are long and drawn out, some taking upwards of 10 years to complete.  Some U.S. trained lawyers think that open preliminary hearings would cut down on a lot of the paperwork and delays.

Certainly much of the discontent among North American investors in the Villalobos investment operation stems from the closed way the case seems to move along without their knowledge and without them being allowed to at least observe.

Kidnapped woman and kids rescued in Quepos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators rescued a women, 25, and two girls, 9 and 13, today after a kidnapping Wednesday night in Quepos. Two suspects are under arrest.

The confusing chain of events began about 8 p.m. Wednesday when a man named Pizarro and his parents were confronted by gunmen when they stopped the car in which they were riding in  Barrio Pies Mojados, Quepos, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The trio managed to escape and fled to the Judicial Investigating Organization office to make a 
complaint. While they were there, one of their 

neighbors called investigators to report that the man’s wife and children had been taken by force from their home by kidnappers, said agents.

A search began for the kidnapper’s car, a blue Sportage.  It turns out the vehicle had been rented earlier in the day, but the person who was responsible for the car called the car agency to report that the vehicle had been stolen in Pursical. But when the person who rented the car and a companion showed up to file a complaint, investigators said their stories did not jive.

Early today police located the vehicle about 6:20 a.m. in Cerros de Quepos and liberated the trio. The circumstances of that event still are unknown.

Queen’s birthday
benefit is Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican schools in need will be the beneficiaries of the Queen’s Birthday Party Benefit, a garden party at the home of the British ambassador Saturday.

Queen Elizabeth II was 77 April 21, but tradition calls for celebrating the day a little later in the year, perhaps in part due to British weather.

The weather in Escazú Saturday is expected to be fine, at least from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. when the party is scheduled.

The event is at the residence of Ambassador Georgina Butler in Escazú, which is 300 meters west and 75 meters north of Acueductos y Alcantarillados on the road to Santa Ana.

The event is a family affair. Adults pay 2,000 colons and children half that. A similar garden party celebrating the queen’s jubilee last year raised $10,000 for schools.

Organizers promise games, pony rides, face painting, a raffle, silent auction, the presence of classic British cars, a puppet show, theater presentations, Morris and maypole dancers and traditional foods, like chutnies and scones (but not together) and some fluid called Pimms.

Lions Club to help
Tom and Norman Home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lions Club members took a trip to the Tom and Norman  Home for Unwanted Adults March 1. Members were so impressed that they are throwing a benefit tea for the home Friday and have invited the director to speak.

The home in Guápiles and the Angel of Love Foundation is well-known as a charity supported by North Americans. Trips to the home frequently are arranged by Donlon Havener, and he is involved with this new fundraiser.

"They were so impressed that they notified us that they would like to help us in our efforts to help these old people and immediately made plans for the tea this week," Havener said of the Lions Club members. Alexis Banquero, the director of the Home will speak.

The event will be Friday at 2 p.m. in Casa Español in Sabana Norte not far north from Burger King. Tickets cost 5,000 colons, and reservations can be made with Havener at 282-7794. 

The Tom and Norman Home takes in older adults who have no family. It has continued to expand, and Havener said the funds raised Friday might be used to make improvement or to purchase additional adjacent land for expansion. 

Red Cross seeks
help for flooding

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is warning that 150,000 Argentineans are still in danger after floods devastated their province last week.

The Red Cross appealed Wednesday for more than $450,000 in emergency aid to help the homeless. The group says large parts of Santa Fe are still under water, and a curfew imposed to prevent looting has made it difficult to evaluate the extent of the damage. Twenty people are dead, and many others are still missing, the Red Cross says.

Torrential downpours hit the agricultural region around Santa Fe, about 475 kilometers northwest of here, early last week. Reuters news agency reported the area was inundated with almost double its average yearly rainfall in only two days, causing the Salado River to burst its banks. 

Fabio Ochoa on trial
for coke smuggling

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — Colombian drug lord Fabio Ochoa has gone on trial here accused of trafficking cocaine to the United States in the late 1990s. 

Ochoa has been imprisoned in Miami since he was extradited from Colombia in September 2001. He is considered the most prominent Colombian drug suspect to be sent to the United States since the two nations adopted a new extradition treaty in 1997. 

Ochoa served more than five years in a Colombian prison as a former boss of the now-defunct Medellin cocaine cartel. 

U.S. prosecutors allege Ochoa returned to the illegal drug trade after leaving prison in 1996. They say he conspired to ship up to 30 tons of cocaine per month to the United States from 1997 until 1999. He denies the charges. 

Key evidence in the case includes conversations secretly recorded by Colombian police, who spent several months monitoring the office of another accused cartel member, Alejandro Bernal.

Ochoa faces a possible life sentence if convicted. 

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U.S. promises to keep private its air passenger data
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The Bush administration is confident that an upgraded system designed to confirm the identity of airline passengers will enhance aviation security while providing "solid guarantees" of privacy protection, a U.S. Homeland Security Department official says.

Steve McHale, deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration in that department, told a European Parliament committee here that the administration is committed to building the "most stringent state-of-the-art privacy controls" into the new version of Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, known as CAPPS II, which aims to prevent terrorists from boarding commercial airplanes.

He said this week that the system will "minimize the amount of information on travelers coming into the system, collecting only the information needed to authenticate the passenger's identity and conduct a risk assessment."

Lockheed Martin Management and Data Systems is assisting the Transportation Security Administration in developing CAPPS II, which will confirm a passenger's identity and identify any potential terrorism-related threat to aviation in less than five seconds, according to a news release.

CAPPS II will use commercial databases that are routinely employed by private enterprises in hiring or market research, the agency said.

McHale said that CAPPS II will be equipped with a system of "firewalls" to ensure the security of passenger data.

"Commercial data companies assisting with the authentication process will not acquire traveler personal information and TSA will not have access to data about passengers from commercial databases," he said.

McHale said that the system will not profile passengers, conduct surveillance, or employ sophisticated automated data analysis techniques such as data mining. Nor will it use ethnic, 

religious or racial data in selecting passengers for additional security checks, he added.

McHale said that his agency will operate CAPPS II under a "strict privacy protection protocol" worked out through discussions with privacy advocacy groups and the general public, and establish a "comprehensive" complaint process to enhance passenger rights.

McHale was responding to concerns raised by European Union officials and European privacy groups about the adequacy of passenger data protection in the airline security regime introduced in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

During the same hearing another U.S. official assured the commission that the data the U.S. authorities receive through passenger name records will be processed fairly and lawfully for a "specified and legitimate purpose."

Passenger name records are files created by airlines for each journey any passenger books. These files are stored in the airlines' reservation and departure control databases.

The aviation security law enacted by Congress in November 2001 requires all airlines operating in the United States to provide U.S. border authorities with electronic access to passenger name records.

In February the United States and the European Commission reached an interim agreement that would allow European airlines to comply with this requirement without compromising privacy laws. 

The two sides also agreed to continue to work toward an agreement to reconcile, if necessary, U.S. requirements with the European Union data protection law. Some European parliamentarians argued that the interim agreement does not conform to this law and was reached under the threat of U.S. penalties. 

Subsequently, they called on the European Commission to suspend the agreement until it can be realigned with the European data privacy requirements. 

Oversea disease fund promises to be more efficient
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria has pledged to improve the efficiency of the organization so it can make the best use of new U.S. assistance. At the same time, a new report prepared for Congress says the fund has made good progress, but is threatened by a lack of resources. 

A report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, says the independent fund based in Geneva, Switzerland, has made progress since its founding at the beginning of 2002. 

Since then, it has disbursed about $21 million in grants to 25 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Fund directors have been establishing the organization's management structure, and working to improve the process of making grants to organizations in AIDS-stricken countries. 

Executive Director Richard Feachem said the fund is now committed to 155 programs in 92 countries nearly half of this money going to non-government organizations. What can be achieved by these grants, he said, is a significant step forward in the fight against all three diseases. 

"It will put 500,000 additional people on anti-retroviral therapy. It will place two million additional people on effective TB treatment," he said. "It will increase the treatment of drug-resistant malaria in Africa from a current extremely low level of about 15,000 per year to 30 million. And it will finance the purchase of 30 million insecticide-treated bed-nets, which as we know are a central preventive strategy for the control of that great killer of African children." 

However, the very ability of the fund to continue making grants longer than a two-year initial period is threatened by what the General Accounting Office report calls a lack of sufficient resources. David Gootnick, director for international affairs and trade, spoke to a congressional subcommittee. 

"The fund faces short and long-term resource constraints," he said. In the short term, the fund has roughly $300 million available for new grants in future rounds. This is far less than the fund projects it will need to support technically-sound proposals." 

As part of the AIDS funding bill Congress is expected to send to President Geroge Bush later this month, the United States could contribute as 

much as $1 billion to the Global Fund in 2004. That's on top of more than $1.5 billion already pledged by Washington as of April. 

However, the General Accounting Office report says the fund will need another $2.2 billion to support already-approved programs over the full five year life of most grants. 

The report has also raised questions about how the fund has been approving grants, and its ability to monitor their performance. 

Tommy Thompson, U.S. secretary of health and human services, also serves as chairman of the Global Fund. He says he is committed to making sure the fund operates efficiently. 

"I am working hard to ensure that the fund has the right management and the accountability systems in place in order to fulfill this subcommittee's vision, as well as mine and the president's," he said. 

Of grants approved by the Global Fund, Mr. Thompson says 36 have gone to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 13 of 14 African and Caribbean nations targeted by President Bush's initiative to battle the diseases.

Warnings reduced
for two countries

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week that efforts to contain severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Singapore and Vietnam have been successful. In response, the agency is relaxing its travel advisory regarding the two nations that had suggested travelers avoid all but essential trips to those countries.

The centers director, Julie Gerberding said in a briefing that travel alerts do remain in place for Singapore and Vietnam. That means the agency is alerting travelers to the existence of the viral illness and suggesting that visitors avoid health care environments where transmission has occurred.

CDC maintains a travel advisory, its highest-level warning, for mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, but at the same time Dr. Gerberding praised the aggressive efforts that health officials are making in those areas to contain the disease and stop the chain of transmission.

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