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(506) 223-1327        Published Wednesday, May 17, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 97        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Workmen are converting the Herradura Conference Center into tropical jungles  for this year's edition of Expotur, the marketing event that joins tourism buyers and sellers.

Jesenia Villalobos Porras, a designer, said this, the big display by the government of Nicaragua, will feature a diorama of the Río San Juan, a touchy issue

Our story is BELOW!

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Multiple raids target call center lottery ring
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican law enforcement finally has cracked down on what they consider to be a massive scamming operation that exploited older victims in the United States.

Police here have been aware of the operation since at least 2003.

Arrested here were three U.S. citizens and two Canadians. In California, five persons were arrested, officials here reported.

As many as 200 Costa Ricans, many of them bilingual, may have been involved in the operation as telephone callers, messengers and in other supporting roles.

The operation used what is known as an advance fee lottery procedure in which persons in the United States were told they had won a lottery, according to officials here. The victim was encouraged to pay 1 percent of their supposed winnings as tax, insurance or for some other reason and remit the money to Costa Rica or to a third country by Western Union or bank transfer. A local bank was used by the operation.

Advance fee lottery schemes are only one type of scam worked out of the Central Valley. Call centers are selling discounted computers, securities, investment opportunities and other suspect products. They use the international borders as a way to keep U.S. law enforcement at bay.

For those arrested here Tuesday, U.S. law enforcement has a long reach. They are
believed to be facing charges in the United States if they can be extradited.

The operation that was the target Tuesday ran call centers out of private homes. They sought out Costa Rican street hustlers and others who by reason of birth and upbringing spoke perfect English. One group operated at a home not far from the downtown. One young man bragged that he was able to take in $1,000 a week in commissions by convincing victims in the United States to send money here via Western Union.

The callers got the names and phone numbers they contacted from lists of lottery players that originated in the United States.

Officials here said the operation took in $20 million dollars. Some 17 raids were conducted Tuesday, 10 of them in San José. The locations include homes serving as call centers and residences.

The bulk of the local information came from a press conference Tuesday morning given by  Francisco Dall'Anesse, the fiscal general, and Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Local officials became aware of the telephone operation in early 2003, they said. Subsequent investigations by various U.S. entities followed. During that time the call center group collected amounts of from $5,000 to $20,000 daily from victims in the United States.

More arrests are possible, and other operations are believed to be under study. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 17, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 97

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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Carlos Benavides, the new minister of Turismo, addresses the inaugural session of Expotur.

Infrastructure concerns
a topic at new Expotur

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

Expotur, the tourism marketplace, opened formally Tuesday with an emphasis on sustainable development and the creation of adequate infrastructure.

Óscar Arias Sánchez, the new president, attended the opening at the Museo de los Niños as did Carlos Ricardo Benavides the new head of the Instituto Costarricence de Turismo.

At the Herradura Conference Center west of San José workers were busy turning the area into min-jungles or rain forests for promotional stands. The numbers are about the same as last year. Nicaragua will be represented, as will Guatemala and several other tourism competitors.

Tourism had taken it on the chin this year with roads in terrible condition due to an overactive Atlantic hurricane season. Security also is a concern, tourism officials agree. Both Canada and the United States have issued warnings to their citizens.

Tuesday also marked the close of the 2005 cruise ship season.  Some 38,000  fewer cruise ship passengers touched Costa Rican soil and 23 fewer ships visited Limón or Puntarenas on the Pacific. In all 192 cruise ships visited with 280,000 passengers, most of whom spent a few hours in Costa Rica.

Tourism vendors will spend two days at the conference center in appointments with tourism wholesalers.

Arias in his campaign platform promised increased security for tourism with the creation of a tourist police. He also promised a major effort to fix the roads. So far there have not been clear proposals, but the administration is less than two weeks old.

Principal Financial figure
found near Heredia home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police detained Michael James Forrest, 64. as he walked near his Heredia home Tuesday. He is a figure in the failed Principal Financial, a high-interest operation.

Officials have been looking for him for some time and thought that he had left the country. He was sought in his native Canada and in the United States, according to the International Police Agency (INTERPOL).

Unlike most INTERPOL arrests here, the case is a local one in the Juzgado Penal of the I Circuito Judicial of San José where a warrant was issued in March 2004.

Principal Financial, with offices in the Edificio Colón was one of the smaller high-interest operations with perhaps 150 customers. Three investors filed complaints with Costa Rican judicial authorities in 2003. Principal closed its doors in March of that year.

Forrest had said in newspaper interviews that he was working to raise money to pay back investors. Agents said they trailed him to a luxurious home in  Santo Domingo de Heredia and waiting until he left his home today on foot before Fuerza Pública officers picked him up. Also involved in Principal was Jerry LaTulippe, who is now believed living in Florida. The firm also had an office in Torre Las Mercedes, also on Paseo Colón.

The firm offered between 3 and 4 percent monthly interest on minimum investments of $25,000. Arresting agents said that the amount of money involved in the case had not been established, but they estimated that it would be in the several hundreds of millions of colons. That could be as little as $400,000 but might represent only the money lost by the three complainants.

The allegation is fraud. Principal, of course, was one of a number of high-interest operations that failed about the same time.

Deputies want off U.S. list

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

By a unanimous vote, the Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday asked Bruno Stagno, minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, to have the name of Costa Rica removed from the list of countries that support the U.S. war with Iraq.

The list on the White House Web site was done in March 27,  2003, and was accurate at that time, but there does not seem to be an active list of  countries that continue to support the war.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 17, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 97


A.M. Costa Rica photo
The pedestrian bridge at Cariari approaches completion. Officials inaugurated the structure during the last days of the Abel Pacheco administration even though the bridge was built because the Sala IV constitutional court told them they had to do it. There
were too many pedestrians getting cut down as they tried to cross the multi-lane Auotopista General Cañas. A second court-ordered bridge is closer to San José but not nearly as far along. Despite the bridges, pedestrians will still risk their lives.

Tico academic all-star sees peace process as a model
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOSTON, Mass. — Originally from San José, Costa Rica, Mauricio Artiñano said it was in high school where the idea to study abroad was presented to him. After giving it some thought, he knew going to college abroad would be the best thing for pursuing his interest in international relations. 

“I am majoring in international relations and in 10th grade of high school I became involved with the Model United Nations program and that got me interested in the field of diplomacy, international relations, international development so I continued to read up on international affairs and reading newspapers from the States and other parts of the world,” said the Tufts University senior.

“I came here to Tufts, and I am very happy with the program here because its very broad and its very inter-disciplinary so I am able to take classes in everything from political science to history, psychology even things like nutrition and art history.  I really enjoy that because it gives me a very broad understanding of different regions that I am studying.”

Artiñano is the only non-native English speaker named to USA Today’s Academic All-Star First Team, He was selected in February from a pool of 600 nominees. He was among 20 college students who, the newspaper says, “think globally and act globally too.”

Artiñano recently masterminded an international conference focused on the Central American peace process.

While taking a class two years ago Artiñano said he began thinking about the great potential that exists for the successful Central American experiment in peace building to provide lessons for other countries and regions pursuing peaceful resolutions to armed conflicts. 

“I took a class here at Tufts called ‘The Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship,’ and it is a very intensive course where you sort of highlight the courses, you get to meet many different people and speakers are brought here to interact with the students and I was able to meet with a man name Timothy Philips who founded a non-governmental organization called ‘The Project on Justice in Times of Transition’ that does work on transitional justice, rule of law and issues like that,” he says.

“He had a lot of experience with Central America and
he knew a lot of people in Central America, so since I am a Central American I met with him and we started talking about different things and one of the conclusions we came to was that the peace process in Central America which is quite possibly the most successful peace process of the last 20 or 30 years was really forgotten by the international community probably because it was so successful."

"People sort of like to concentrate on everything that is going bad in the world,” he says.  “We talked about how the international community could really benefit from an exploration of what lesson the experience of peace building in Central America could give to the United Nations, to other international organizations and to different countries and regions that are undergoing peace processes.”

Determined to do something and with the support from Tufts University, Artiñano wrote a proposal and a conference was held in Spain to discuss the lessons learned involving the Central American peace process.  “I started drafting a proposal and that summer I traveled around Central America with Habitat for Humanity, and I sent e-mails, made phone calls to different people who were involved with the peace process."

"I presented my idea to them, and it was met with a lot of enthusiasm because there was a consensus that first of all that the world could really learn from what happen in Central America, and, second, that there needs to be more discussion in Central America about both the successes and failures of the peace process,” he said. 

“So I continued to work on the proposal, got more students from Tufts involved and then we continued to work with ‘The Project on Justice in Times of Transition,’ including the Toledo International Center for Peace in Spain who offered to host the conference where this initiative to explore the lessons that Central America can give the rest of the world could be launched and the meeting happened this past March 1st through the 3rd, and it was a great success.”

After graduation this month, Artiñano is looking forward to going home.  He says he plans to pursue a career in diplomacy and conflict resolution.

The peace process grew out of the civil wars that flared in the 1980s, principally in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Óscar Arias Sánchez, the president of Costa Rica, won a Nobel Prize for Peace because of his role.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 17, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 97


Dr. Hector Calvo of the Peruano Americano Hospital in Trujillo, Peru, uses an endoscope to examine inside the Moche mummy, as John Verano of Tulane University and other research team members assist.

Photo provided on a one-time use basis
Photo by Ira Block © 2006 National Geographic

Peruvian mummy surprises scientists with weapons
By the National Geographic News Service

The best-preserved mummy ever known from the ancient Moche culture, parts of it covered with tattoos, has been discovered by Peruvian archaeologists at a ceremonial site called El Brujo — “The Wizard” — on the north coast of Peru near Trujillo. The mummy is dated to around A.D. 450. 
Reported in the June issue of National Geographic magazine, the elaborately wrapped mummy is a woman who died in her late 20s. The woman, buried with a teenaged girl as a sacrifice and surrounded by adornments and exquisite gold jewelry, is believed to have been a member of the Moche elite — possibly a ruler.

Objects buried with her, including two ceremonial war clubs and 23 spear throwers, have left archaeologists puzzled. Such symbolic items previously have only been found in the graves of Moche men.

Archaeologists first spotted the war clubs in X-rays made before the enormous mummy bundle was unwrapped. “I could see from the X-ray a bit of the pelvis — it clearly was a female,” said physical anthropologist John Verano of Tulane University, who has been working with Peru’s El Brujo Archaeological Project since 1995 in collaboration with the Wiese Foundation. “But why would a woman be accompanied by weapons?”

The Moche culture thrived from A.D. 1 to A.D. 700 in the coastal river valleys of northern Peru. The Moche excelled at art, creating splendid ceramics and elaborate objects of gold and other metals. They also constructed huge pyramids. The Moche Pyramid of the Sun is the largest adobe pyramid in the New World.

The young woman lay near the summit of a ruined pyramid called Huaca Cao Viejo, a Pacific Ocean site known since the Spanish conquest but abandoned for centuries until recent excavations. A covered patio where her grave lay was a sacred space, where fellow Moche would honor her with burned offerings and by pouring libations into a vessel set above her tomb. The grave was discovered last year and excavated by the El Brujo Project, managed and funded by the Wiese Foundation with co-direction from Peru’s National Institute of Culture.

“The Huaca Cao Viejo complex has multicolored reliefs that reveal aspects of the Moche religious world only seen previously in their ceramics,” said archaeological director Regulo Franco of the Wiese Foundation. “This extraordinary monument will help enrich our knowledge of Moche religious life.”   

Wrapped in hundreds of yards of cotton cloth, the mummy bundle was unusual.

“I’ve seen many mummy bundles, but this one was huge, obviously symbolic of her status,” Verano said. The bundle was decorated with a large embroidered face, something never before seen in a Moche burial.
The bundle was covered by a cane mat, possibly the one she slept on in life, and a pillow lay underneath.

To remove the bundle for study, archaeologists first had to take out a skeleton lying alongside it. “It was a well-preserved sacrifice, with a rope still around its neck — the girl had been strangled,” Verano said. Such sacrifices were common throughout Andean cultures, he said, some of them people who volunteered to accompany a loved one to the afterlife.

It took eight men to lift the mummy bundle from its grave and take it to the nearby lab, where it was photographed, cleaned and studied. Careful unwrapping and documentation, by a team led by textile specialist Arabel Fernández of the Wiese Foundation, took months.

When the body was finally exposed, the archaeologists found that the skin was largely intact. The body had mummified quickly, partly because the young woman had been placed in a rain-sheltered patio. Complex tattoos, distinct from others of the Moche, covered both arms and other areas.

The woman’s abdominal skin was wrinkled and collapsed, and bone scarring indicated the woman had given birth at least once. The cause of her death was not apparent. Verano said she would have been considered an adult in her prime. Some Moche people reached their 60s and 70s.

Along with headdresses and exquisite pieces of jewelry made of gold and semi-precious stones was a contradictory mix of objects: war clubs and spear throwers — tools traditionally used by Moche males to propel spears — as well as traditional female items such as gold sewing needles, weaving tools and raw cotton.

“Perhaps she was a female warrior, or maybe the war clubs and spear throwers were symbols of power that were funeral gifts from men,” Verano said. In the thousands of Moche tombs previously exposed, no female warrior has been identified.

Moche art tells bloody tales of what once took place at Huaca Cao Viejo, a grand cathedral of the Moche era. Their prisoners were brought into the pyramid’s ceremonial plaza naked, bleeding and bound with nooses. Once inside, they witnessed a Moche priest adorned in gold slit their throats one by one. Those in line who didn’t turn away or faint saw a priestess catch the blood in a golden goblet for the priest to drink.   

Huaca Cao Viejo also was the final resting place of some of the Moche elite. The tattooed woman was accompanied by three other burials, one of which also contained a teenaged sacrifice. The bundles have been excavated and X-rayed and are to be unwrapped over the next few months. The archaeologists hope to extract mitochondrial DNA from them to determine if they were related and do isotopic work to track the elite woman’s lineage and life history.

Fidel Castro denies that he is a financial heavyweight
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban President Fidel Castro says he will resign if critics can prove allegations in a U.S. financial magazine that he is the world's seventh-richest ruler.

Castro angrily denied the Forbes magazine story during a four-hour appearance on Cuban television Monday. The magazine published a report earlier this month that estimates the Cuban leader's personal wealth at $900 million.

The Forbes article, titled "Fortunes of Kings, Queens and Dictators," ranks  Castro higher than Britain's Queen Elizabeth, whose wealth is estimated at $500 million.
Castro ridiculed the report, asking why he would need a huge fortune considering he is almost 80 years old. The Cuban leader, who has ruled the country since 1959, has insisted his net worth is zero.

But the Forbes article quotes former Cuban officials as saying Mr. Castro has skimmed profits from state-owned companies for years.

It says the companies allegedly controlled by Castro include a Havana convention center, a retail conglomerate, and a pharmaceutical company that makes vaccines.

The report also refers to rumors that Castro has money hidden in Swiss bank accounts.

Jo Stuart
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