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These stories were published Friday, May 9, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 91
Jo Stuart
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Costa Rica to tighten sales of firearms

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is tightening up the rules for purchasing firearms. Now a psychiatric evaluation will play a big role in determining who gets to take home a gun.

Officials said they were surprised to find out that nearly half of the guns legally sold in the country in 2002, some 2,561, were not subsequently registered by the purchaser, some 1,116.

So the procedure is being changed to make sure the weapons are registered.

Officials also said they wanted to correct a flaw in existing law that fails to give the Departmento de Control de Armas the right to deny a person the right to buy a gun. Right now, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, the only reasons for rejection are a criminal history or a judicial order prohibiting a person from having a gun.

Under the rules proposed Thursday, a potential gun purchaser will have to be examined for mental fitness by a member of the Colegio de Psicólogos or of the Colegio de Médicos y Cirujanos de Costa Rica, in other words, psychologists or medical doctors which would include psychiatrists.

The mental health professionals will have to retain a file with the details of each individual to whom they issue a fitness certificate.

If an applicant for a gun permit fails the psychological test, he or she would have to wait two years to reapply. There were no standards announced by the ministry Thursday on which the mental health professionals would base a decision, simply idoneidad or fitness. The announcement said that the type of mental fitness test would be devised by the psychologists’ and psychiatrists’ associations.

The purchase of a weapon would start where it starts now, at the gun dealer, and it would be the dealer who initiates contact with officials.

The purchaser would have to have passed a theoretical and practical course on firearms, as well as have the mental fitness certificate.

In the case of a corporation making the purchase, the rules would apply to the legal representative of the firm.

The ministry noted that the penalty for not registering a legally purchased weapon is from one to three months of supervised work. The penalty for having an illegal gun is from six months to three years in prison.

The ministry said the theory behind the new law is that persons who purchase a weapon legally are less likely to use it to break the law.

Man in kidnap case
is Quepos fisherman

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The man whose wife and two children were kidnapped in Quepos Wednesday is a fisherman, and police still are searching for a motive.

Kidnapped was Ana Hidalgo Madrigal, 24, a daughter, Yoselin Hidalgo Madrigal, 9, and a stepdaughter, Verónica Zapata Barbosa, 14. The father, identified by the last names of Zapata Pizarro was confronted by men when he stopped his car at a Quepos intersection. He got away.

While he was making a police report, two men broke into his home and kidnapped the trio who were recovered safe early Thursday at a gas station near Quepos.

Two men, identified by the last names of Nuñez Rodríguez and Charpantier Rodríguez were arrested in Purriscal because they had rented the vehicle used in the kidnapping

The case still is being investigated. Police claim the two men turned the vehicle over to kidnappers and then reported it stolen to divert suspicion. The search is on for the persons who actually did  the crime.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

More Reasons for Shopping at the Feria 

The world doesn’t seem to be getting better. With fear and depression — both economic and personal — hovering over everyone, many are looking for somewhere where they can live a safe, simple, stressless and affordable life. I know of no place in the world that fills that bill completely. 

Back in the 60s I found Majorca, Spain, and moved my family there. We lived for three good years on that lovely island. Now I don’t think I could afford three weeks in Majorca.

Costa Rica has filled some of those requirements for me. It is probably as safe from terrorist attacks as any place in the world — foreign terrorists — Costa Rica has its own crime problem. When I first moved here, some Nica "terrorists" occupied the Nicaraguan Embassy and took the people inside hostage. While in there, they used a computer to make a big sign that they hung in the window. It said in Spanish, "We’re sorry, Costa Rica." I can’t imagine that happening today. 

One can certainly get back to the simple life in Costa Rica — and I mean basic. You can find places without electricity or indoor plumbing on an unpaved road. That is living at its cheapest, but don’t ask me where to find them, please. 

Stress free? Well, most of us make our own stress — with considerable help from the jobs we hold. But if you are able to quit your job, or are about to retire, Costa Rica, even with its own brand of stresses, is as good as it gets — to my mind. 

Mind you, if I could afford it, I would probably opt for at least half of every year in Italy. Between the Italian view of life and their love of good food, I think I could happily fit in. But the catch is "affordable." The "comida tipica" of Costa Rica, which usually includes rice, beans, cabbage, and plantains, cannot compete with Italy, but there is available here a great variety of good food. And just about every week a new restaurant featuring a foreign cuisine (including Italian) opens. 

Thinking of affordable and good food and a stressless way to shop, I decided to price the produce I generally buy at the local feria. Then I asked Laureen Diephof who writes a consumer column for a California newspaper, to price the same things there. 

This particular Saturday I bought: 

6 extra-large eggs (250 colons or 64 U.S. cents), 
6 grapefruit with seeds (¢200 or 51 cents), 
a liter of freshly squeezed orange juice, (¢350 
   or 90 cents), 
4 hearts of romaine (1/2 kilo) (¢200 
   or 51 cents), 
2 cartons of not great strawberries (¢500 
   or $1.28), 
1 lb. local apples (¢200 or 51 cents), 
1 lb. miniature squash and zucchini (350¢ 
   or 90 cents), 
1 miniature cauliflower (¢100 or 26 cents), 
1 small pineapple (¢300 or 77 cents), 
1 kilo (4 large) tomatoes that still taste like
   tomatoes (¢400 or $1.03), 
pkg. of 4 ears of corn (¢450 or $1.15),
and a bunch of 13 small bananas (¢100 
   or 26 cents). 

The total came to $8.75. Laureen shopped for the same things, but in a supermarket, so we must make allowances. Her purchases totaled $29.47. Now I am sure everything she bought was washed and packaged and was free of blemishes. That is not so here. Her largest expense, surprisingly, was the cheapest here: the grapefruit. 

Although a vegetarian or fruitarian could eat more cheaply, one can find a good selection of meat and fish and seafood, too. The price of fish and seafood was very reasonable when I moved here but has since skyrocketed now that most of it is being exported. The same thing has happened with flowers, but all are cheaper at the feria. 

A vase full of flowers on my coffee table adds luxury to my apartment and looking at them gives me pleasure, especially since their price has not stressed me out. I know I couldn’t afford them in Italy or the United States.

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The Vietnam Memorial is the work of a U.S. student

Tri-cultural show
features kids' work

This is U.S. Thanksgiving
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This month the Museo Calderón Guardia presents art by youngsters from Costa Rica, the United States and Taiwan.

The World Awareness Children Museum in the United States initiated the project and sent the works of U.S. youngsters here.

Costa Rican youngsters were encouraged to participate and drew scenes from their culture, including masks, processions, ox cart parades, 

coffee fields, soccer football and the last king of Talamanca.

Some 30 works from here combine with 30 works from the  United States and 30 more from Taiwan, said the museum. At the end of the exhibit, the Costa Rica works will go to the United States.

The museum is in Barrio Escalante some 100 meters east and 100 meters north of the Iglesia Santa Teresite in northeast San José. Information is available at 255-1218. Museum officials consider the project not just art but also education.

A procession at night is guided by candles
Traditional Tico masks are pictured here

Dead Immigrants
are topic of suit

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Relatives of 14 illegal Mexican immigrants who died in the Arizona desert after crossing the border into the United States have sued the U.S. government, accusing it of harsh immigration policies. 

The families filed the lawsuit in a court here last month, asking for $42 million in damages. 

The suit blames U.S. officials for cracking down on illegal immigration in urban areas along the border with Mexico, forcing illegal immigrants into parched desert areas. The suit says officials barred a U.S. group from placing drinking water stations in Cabeza Prieta National Park where the 14 men died. Twelve other immigrants survived the illegal crossing in 2001. 

The lawsuit comes as Mexican lawmakers press President Vicente Fox to reach a long-awaited agreement with the United States on immigration. A Congressional group on Wednesday urged Fox to work for greater protection for undocumented Mexican workers. 

Belgium’s consul
killed by gunmen

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Two gunmen have killed Belgium's honorary consul in Honduras here.

Police said Thursday that businessman Arnulfo Gutierrez was shot as he was getting out of his car late Wednesday. Police have reported no arrests in the case. 

It is unclear if the killing was related to the kidnapping of Gutierrez's wife, who has been missing since March. The family has made three ransom payments, but she has not been released.

Anti-Aristide coup
nipped by arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

DAJABON, Dominican Republic — Police in the Dominican Republic say they have arrested five men suspected of planning a coup against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. 

Officials said Wednesday the men were captured in this northern border town.

One of the men arrested is a former Haitian police chief, Guy Philippe, who has been accused of leading an attack on the presidential palace in late 2001. At least seven people were killed in the failed attempt to overthrow Aristide. 

Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen attacked a Haitian power station Wednesday, leaving two security guards dead and two policemen injured.  The attack occurred at the Lake Peligre hydroelectric plant in central Haiti. 

Mediation attempts
continue in Caracas

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Envoys from six nations have held separate talks with Venezuelan government and opposition figures here in another bid to end the political crisis in the oil-rich South American country. 

Diplomats for the so-called Group of Friends of Venezuela, comprising Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and the United States, met behind closed doors Thursday with the rival parties. 

Sources close to the talks say the discussions include the issue of holding a referendum, demanded by the opposition, for President Hugo Chavez's recall. 

Since January, the six-member diplomatic group has supported efforts to negotiate a peaceful solution to the long-running turmoil that triggered a brief military coup against President Chavez last year. The latest negotiations come three months after Venezuela's opposition ended a two-month general strike that failed to force Chavez to resign and call early elections. 

The opposition accuses the Venezuelan leader of ruining the economy and trying to model the country after communist-run Cuba. President Chavez says his adversaries are responsible for the economic downturn.

Judge finds Iraq
linked to Sept. 11

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. — In a decision finding a thin link between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaida, a federal court judge in New York has awarded more than $100 million to the families of two World Trade Center victims. 

U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer said the opinions of expert witnesses showed a tenuous link between Iraq and al-Qaida terror group in committing the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

In his written decision, Judge Baer noted that the experts' testimony was largely hearsay, and presented few actual facts connecting al-Qaida and Iraq. But he said the experts "provide a sufficient basis for a reasonable jury to draw inferences which could lead to the conclusion that Iraq provided material support to al-Qaida and that it did so with knowledge and intent to further al-Qaida's criminal acts." 

One of the experts, former CIA Director James Woolsey, testified that non-Iraqi fundamentalists trained in airplane hijacking and other forms of terrorism in Iraq prior to the attacks. 

The lawsuits were brought by the families of George Eric Smith and Timothy Soulas. Soulas was married with five children and his wife was three-months pregnant when he was killed. Judge Baer awarded the families $104 million, and assigned damages to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida, the Taleban, Saddam Hussein, Iraq and Afghanistan. The case is the first lawsuit stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to reach the damages phase. 

U.S. deplores decision
in Myrna Mack case

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department has criticized the decision of a Guatemalan appeals court to overturn the conviction of Army Col. Juan Valencia, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the 1990 murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack. 

Urging Guatemalan authorities to pursue justice in the case, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher deplored the apparent inability of Guatemala's justice system "to punish those responsible for Dr. Mack's murder" and warned that the court decision "undermines the rule of law" in Guatemala. 

The Mack case was heard in the Court of Human rights here in San José in February. She was 40 when she died of stab wounds.

The state of Guatemala submitted to the court a document that outlines the country’s partial acceptance of responsibility in the politically motivated murder. Her supporters contend she died at the hands of intelligence officers because she was writing a book on Guatemala’s bloody civil war. 
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United Citizens group to contest 'complex' status
Investors asked to withdraw Villalobos complaints
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Villalobos investors are being asked to give the fugitive financier and his detained brother clean bills of health.

The United & Concerned Citizens and Residents of Costa Rica, an ad hoc group of investors, is asking the investors to sign  formal declarations withdrawing any complaint or denucia they may have filed against the pair.

The investors are being asked to say that they withdraw any claim for the crime of fraud, misappropriation or theft by deception and to say that the intent in filing the charge was simply to recover the money that they had loaned Villalobos before he fled.

The campaign is being orchestrated by John Manners, the president of the group, and José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, the former minister of Justicia who has been hired by the group of investors.

José Villalobos said on the group’s Web site that withdrawing the allegations would be a positive step because if investors withdraw from the legal case, their number would be reduced.

The case has been declared a complex one by a local criminal judge. That means prosecutors have more time to investigate. José Villalobos said in a message Wednesday that this decision means that the investigation can continue until next April.

Some 600 of the estimated 6,500 investors have filed formal charges against the Villalobos high interest lending operation that closed down Oct. 14 and left investors wondering where their principal and interest were.

Since then the theory has been floated that Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and his brother Oswaldo are victims of a government conspiracy aimed at shutting them down and confiscating investor money, which may be on the books for up to $1 billion

No one has ever given specifics of this conspiracy, but José Villalobos has said he believes this, too, which is one reason the investors wanted to hire him. Part of his strategy is to file legal actions against the prosecutors, judges and relevant public

agencies. Some 400 investors said in a recent poll that they believe this scenario that Villalobos is a victim.

This week the United & Concerned Citizens said that it will join with the defense lawyers for the Villalobos in trying to appeal the criminal court judge’s ruling to a higher court. The strategy is to reduce the number of investor complainants to show the appeals judges that the case is not really a complex one.

If that were done, Oswaldo Villalobos might get out of jail quicker.

The general belief among the United & Concerned Citizens is that if the government’s case fails, Enrique Villalobos will return and begin distributing money to his creditors. He hasn’t been heard from publicly since January when he e-mailed A.M. Costa Rica and said that if he were jailed or died, no one would get any money back.

Some members of the United & Concerned Citizens interpret the prosecutor’s request for more time as an indication that no evidence of wrongdoing has been found yet. However, prosecutors are seeking Villalobos to answer allegations of fraud and money laundering. He is an international fugitive.

José Villalobos confirmed in his message of Wednesday that Villalobos is out of the country. He did not say how he knew.

Despite the lawyer’s goal of eliminating individual complaints, some investors are adamant that they will continue to press their claim. These investors believe that Villalobos simply took the money and left and that the legal posturing is either misguided or orchestrated to the benefit of the Villalobos Brothers.

In addition, charges could be filed in the United States because Villalobos accepted money from U.S. investors at U.S. banks. Some investors there said they already have filed complaints with their local law enforcement agencies or with U.S. federal agencies.

Hardly any of the prosecution case here has been made public because the investigation is continuing. Meanwhile, many investors continue to suffer the loss of their money. Some who lived here have returned to the United States or Canada.

Response to analysis article
Lawyer says that trial judges here are impartial
A  local lawyer has taken issue with an article published Thursday. The lawyer is Arcelio Hernández, and he disagrees with the statement that said:

"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. [...]."

In fact, the judge panel that hears a case at trial, has not previously participated in the criminal process and hears all evidence at trial. Just to give an example, I defended a client in trial last week, and the judges had never even looked at the file.  This helps to keep the objectivity of the judges. 

They were informed of everything the day of trial, and heard all evidence and arguments that day, and made a decision that day, based on the evidence presented and incorporated at the trial.  The investigation stage lasted about two years, and everything was heard and decided in one day.  My client was found not guilty. 

I grant that the investigation process is too lengthy at times, but not so is the trial, which is generally swift, and, by law, has to be continuous and heard by the same judges throughout.

In our criminal system, we have a criminal investigation in which there is a judge of guarantees, who can be appealed to and who decides on questions brought to him.  Then at the end of the investigation, the fiscal sends a request to the judge to dismiss the case or to send it to 

trial.  The preliminary hearing is private, yes, but if the case goes to trial, it won't be the same judge who hears the case. 

Alternative ways of ending the process may be discussed at the preliminary hearing, and it is not for sure that the case will go to trial, which justifies the private nature of this preliminary hearing.  At the preliminary hearing there is a judgment of probability only, not of guilt.
Some petitions made by the Ministerio Público (like the petition to make a case complex) are communicated only to the defense, and not necessarily to third parties, even if they are considered victims of the process, because such a decision is not supposed to harm victims, but rather grant them a better chance of preparing a case adequately, given the volume of documents and the number of people involved. 

An oral hearing is not always granted when a petition is made by one of the parties, but in most cases a hearing is available to the defense, if not for oral arguments, certainly for written ones. 

Also, the petition of the Ministerio Público to make the case of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho complex was known by most people for weeks, including most investors who keep some kind of communication with forums and the like.  This topic was discussed, and it was foreseeable that it would be granted by the judge, given the size of the case.

Hernández may be reached via his Web page: www.forovial.com

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