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These stories were published Thursday, May 19, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 98
Jo Stuart
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U.S. tax evaders urged to come clean
No special deal for Villalobos clients, IRS says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service will not cut any slack for citizens burned by the failure of the Villalobos Brothers high-interest scheme.

However, a special agent based in Miami said that he can be the point of contact for all ex-Villalobos clients "who need to correct their taxes."

The agent is Arthur VanDesande, who made news last year when he engineered the deportation of financier Marc Harris from Nicaragua to stand trial in Miami. Harris, who was well-known in San José, ran various offshore tax evading schemes.

VanDesande said the conditions for ex-Villalobos clients are "full disclosure with payment of all taxes/interest/penalties."

"The IRS can not determine criminality until we have full disclosure, VanDesande said via e-mail. "Small amounts of non-disclosure/non-reporting are usually treated as such. Large cases of non-reporting are different. You may consolidate them and have a representative call me or they may call me individually."

He may be reached at the following address:

Internal Revenue Service 
Criminal Investigation, Group 65-07 
Attn: SA Arthur VanDesande 
PO Box 60 
51 SW 1st Avenue, Suite 931 
Miami, FL 33130 

Many Villalobos investors who are U.S. citizens did not pay taxes during the many years that the brothers paid up to 3 percent interest a month on deposits. Most did not take advantage of an amnesty offered by the IRS two years ago.

U.S. citizens overseas get tax exemption on about $83,000 of annual earned income. However, interest is considered unearned income, and taxes must be paid.

The Villalobos operation based at Mall San Pedro promised confidentiality to its clients and did not make reports to the U.S. IRS even though much of the money was collected there via several Stateside bank accounts. Many checks were mailed from inside the United States, too. One Villalobos brother lived in Florida and conducted the operation’ business from there.

VanDesande suggested that the Villalobos Brothers might be the target of a federal investigation. He spoke first of Harris:

"Harris is now doing a 17-year sentence, currently residing in Texas with two completed. We have moved on to his clients and employees, as all should be made aware. Re: the Villalobos case. It will follow the same pattern. Usually the primary persons are investigated first, then the clients. That's why those clients need to disclose early before they are targeted individually."

A list of many Villalobos clients has been circulated extensively. U.S. law enforcement agencies generally do not confirm an investigation exists until arrest warrants are executed.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, the man most identified with the high-interest operation, is a fugitive. His brother Oswaldo is awaiting the outcome of a preliminary hearing here to see if he has to stand trial on allegations of fraud, illegal banking and money laundering.

Harris faced trial for tax evasion and conspiracy. He was expelled from Nicaragua and arrested by U.S. agents in June 2003. 

Harris headed a Panamá-based organization of the  same name. He was flying high in 1997 and early 1998 and held seminars in San José for which  investors paid up to $500, according to a  businessman here who remembers Harris. 

The public plan was to create vast networks of tax  avoidance for U.S. citizens. In fact, a Miami reporter,  David Marchant, uncovered his operation as a Ponzi scheme in which old investors were paid with money placed by new investors — minus whatever Harris took off the top. 

Harris moved to Nicaragua in 2002 after having financial difficulties in Panamá. He was detained in Managua, served with an expulsion order by the immigration service there and taken by U.S. agents to Miami all within a few hours.

Harris had some clients who still live in Costa Rica. Presumably they are getting the once-over by the IRS now.

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Photo by Silvia Fernández
Pope Benedict observes the representation of the virgin de Los Angeles and the ornate metalwork that surrounds it in St. Peter’s Square 

New pope blesses image
depicting nation's patroness

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pope Benedict XVI has blessed an image of the Virgin de Los Angeles that will be placed next week in an Italian church.

The Virgin is the patroness of Costa Rica.

The blessing took place during the pope’s general audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Javier Guerra Laspiur, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the Vatican, and his brother, José Ángel Guerra Laspiur, donated the replica of the statute of the Virgin which can be seen in the Basílica de la Virgen de los Angeles in Cartago.

The Virgin is the reason nearly two million Costa Ricans walk from all over the country to be present at the basilica Aug.2, the feast day of the Virgin. 

The image was made by the Fundación de la Basílica de la Virgen de los Angeles, also in Cartago. The image will be placed in the Church of Santa María della Luce del Inmigrante Latinoamericano in Rome Wednesday. Archbishop Luis Robles Díaz, vice president of the pontifical commission for Latin America, will preside along with several Costa Rican priests.

Information about the blessing Wednesday was provided by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto in San José. The image is the first in Rome, and Ambassador Guerra said that the Virgin will protect Costa Rican citizens during their daily work in the Italian capital.

Lucas says new ‘Star Wars’
treads on the dark side

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
and wire service reports

Some Costa Ricans got an advanced look at the Star Wars movie "The Revenge of the Sith," but others are planning to make the scheduled debut today.

This is the third installment in the Star Wars series. Several theaters offered benefit performances Tuesday.

The film takes place three years after Star Wars Episode II: "Attack of the Clones." Since it is part three of six, and parts four, five and six were released years ago, there are some unanswered questions such as: the downfall of the Republic and how the heroic Anakin Skywalker became the dreaded and evil Darth Vader. The film also boasts action packed fighting sequences with light sabers.

Actor Ewan McGregor, who plays Obi Wan Kenobe in this film, says the fight sequences were grueling. "It's no holds barred," he says.  "So we really pulled out all the stops and everything."

The first Star Wars film premiered in 1977.

Over the years, the Star Wars series, the creation of writer and director George Lucas, has broken box office records and has made more than $1 billion worldwide. The award-winning series gained a loyal following of fans from around the world, many of whom have dressed up in costume, to celebrate each film's release.

Lucas says this Star Wars film is a bit different.  According to Lucas, "It's definitely the darkest of all the 'Star Wars.' It's a tragedy. It's a tear-jerker, very sad. But, at the same time, I think it's very exciting. And, I think, people who are interested in the actual story of what happened, this is the one that they're really going to love, because it tells how Darth Vader becomes Darth Vader."

U.S. agriculture secretary
praises pact with México

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MÉXICO CITY, México — Trade liberalization agreements are producing substantial benefits for the United States and its trading partners in the Americas, says U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

Speaking last week in Mexico City, where he announced a new agreement to help Mexicans living in rural areas of the United States, Johanns hailed the benefits that the United States, Mexico, and Canada have reaped as co-partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Since the treaty’s enactment in 1994, Johanns said, U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico have more than doubled, reaching $8.5 billion in 2004. The United States forecasts that in 2005, Mexico will surpass Japan and become the second-largest export market for U.S. agriculture, reported Johanns, who spoke at a news conference here with J.B. Penn, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s under secretary for farm and foreign agriculture services.

Johanns said the United States is the No. 1 market for Mexican agricultural exports, which have also more than doubled, reaching $7.3 billion in 2004. The U.S.-Mexican-Canadian agricultural trading relationship under the free trade treaty, said Johanns, "serves as an outstanding example of how trade liberalization does work."

Johanns said the example of North American Free Trade Agreement is why he is urging the U.S. Congress to ratify a proposed U.S. free-trade agreement with five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic. Johanns said that like the older treaty, the Central American pact "provides for a leveling of the playing field so that the United States can compete in the important markets of Central America and the Dominican Republic."

Sala IV orders treatment
for addicted youngster

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court decided Wednesday that addicted youngsters have a right to specialized and efficient treatment.

The case was brought by a nameless drug abuser against the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the Instituto sobre Alcoholismo y Farmacodependencia and the Instituto Costarricense Sobre Drogas.

The court ordered that the youngster be evaluated in the Hospital Dr. Roberto Chacón Paut in Tres Rios and that the youngster be provided the needed treatment.

In addition the court ordered the three government entities to create within 18 months a specialized center for youngsters with addictions. Until such a center is built, the Caja, who runs the public hospitals here, must treat addicted youngsters at the Tres Rios hospital.

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Close brush with tropical storm may bring deluge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

A Pacific tropical storm with an unusual route is threatening Central America, and Costa Rica is getting ready.  The storm is named Adrián, and it is the first of the season. 

The track presents a threat to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional, which said that Costa Rica, although out of the area of direct impact, can be affected by strong rains, especially in Guanacaste. 

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that heavy rains were already falling Wednesday afternoon in the mountains around Santa Cruz in Guanacaste.  The emergency commission said that it was paying special attention to the Central Valley and much of the Provincia de Puntarenas as well as Guanacaste. 

A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch were in effect for the coast of El Salvador.  A tropical storm watch was in effect for the Pacific coast of Guatemala and the Pacific coast of Honduras, including the Golfo de Fonseca.

Individuals elsewhere in Central America should closely monitor the progress of this system, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

At midnight, the center of the tropical storm Adrián was about 230 miles (370 km.) southwest of San Salvador, the center said.

Adrián was moving toward the east-northeast near 8 mph (13 kph) and a generally northeastward motion with some increase in forward speed expected over the next 24 hours, the center said at midnight.

Maximum sustained winds are near 60 mph (95 kph) with higher gusts.  Some strengthening is forecast, and Adrian could become a hurricane before it reaches the coast.

Tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles (95 kms.) from the center.

U.S. National Hurricane Center graphic
Likely track of tropical storm

Rainfall accumulations of 6 to 10 inches with isolated higher amounts of near 20 inches in the mountains can be expected in association with Adrian, said the center, adding that this system also has the potential to produce torrential rainfall over other parts of Central America during the next few days.  These rains are likely to cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, the center said.

Storm surge flooding of two to four feet above normal tide level is possible near and to the east of where the center makes landfall, said the center. The tidal impact is being felt along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

The storm is unusual because its predicted track takes it across Central America into the Caribbean. Typically such storms veer north.

The development of the storm comes early. June 1 is the traditional start of the Hurricane season, which is expected to be stronger than normal this year. The storm’s arrival also coincides with the start of the rainy season in Costa Rica, and this may mean even more rain noted the meteorological institute in San José. 

Family restaurant bucks trend in struggling Golfito
By Susan Reines
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Like many in Golfito, Aradelia Hernández and her family came from Honduras to work for the United Fruit Co. Mrs. Hernández has watched the city fade around her in the two decades since the fruit giant pulled out, but she has not withered with it.

Along with her husband Adonay Vargas and son Daniel, Mrs. Hernández opened Mar & Luna Restaurant on the Golfito waterfront 11 years ago. Its breezy, tiled patio is an oasis in the midst of Golfito's dusty streets. 

There's a good view of the sunset, cool, chunky ceviche and sizzling patacones. Fishermen saunter in for a cold Imperial at the bar. Families chat at the simple wooden tables. In the distance, kids jump off low rooftops into the gulf and, further off, fishing boats bob in front of the mountains. 

While the scenery is pretty, those fishing boats are the real key to the restaurant's success. Golfito has persisted as a fairly popular fishing port, even as other industry in the town has faltered, and the Hernández family gets choice catches straight off the boats each day.

Last week, for example, the snapper was prime, and the kitchen whipped up a light ceviche. It didn't look like much in its little white cup, but it burst with flavor. The fish was fresh and meaty, and the cilantro and citrus juices cut in with a good sharp edge.

Other days the ceviche ($3-$4) is made from mahi-mahi or clam. There is always fish available with vegetable or seafood sauce ($5-$7), or in the form of fajitas ($4-$6). A range of side dishes include palm heart salad and patacones, which come perfectly crunchy brown with warm, smooth bean dip. Seafood soup, chicken with a variety of sauces and lomito fajitas are also available. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Susan Reines
The view from the restaurant is dynamite

The restaurant has a clean and natural feel, from the off-white tiled floors to the thick tree-trunk posts that hold up the high rafters. A little wooden fence is all that separates the open-air dining area, which has nine tables and a bar, from the gulf. 

Mrs. Hernández looked out past the railing and smiled at the sunset, which was a bright gold.

"Yesterday's was great," she said. "Lot of colors." 

Her smile faded a bit when the conversation turned to Golfito. She sighed and said things were "a little difficult" in the city now. She is taking a stand, however, as head of the local business-owner's group. Her smile came back when she started talking about the cultural feria she and the other entrepreneurs are planning for their city next year.

In the meantime, Mar & Luna — which also has cabinas — serves as an excellent respite for fishermen, shoppers visiting Golfito's low-tax zone and travelers just passing through on the way to points south.

Artisan fair will start today near culture ministry in San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

 The culture ministry is hosting an artisans fair starting today at the ministry in San José.

The event is the III Feria Internacional de Artesanías "Uniendo Culturas," and President Abel Pacheco will be there about 11 a.m. today to help inaugurate the event.

The fair is in the ministry, the Centro Nacional de la Cultura, which is just east of Parque España. The park is directly south of the towering Instituto Nacional de Seguros building in north San José.

The fair runs through May 29 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and entry is free. In addition to Costa Rican handiworks, artisans will be coming from Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador,  Honduras and other countries, the ministry said.

Works will include ceramics, leather, recycled paper, all sorts of paintings, wood products and sculptures of stone, said a release from the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

Also available will be entertainment and traditional food.

U.N. voices concern about displaced youth in Colombia
Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

A refugee agency of the United Nations is expressing concern about nearly 400,000 internally displaced teenagers and young people in Colombia who are falling prey to gangs or armed militia.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it continues to receive reports that young people are subject to murder, extortion, sexual violence, forced recruitment into armed groups or prostitution rings, and loan sharking.

That final issue involves members of irregular armed groups encouraging some internally displaced people to take loans at "extortionate" daily interest rates. Extortionate loans involve harsh and unfair credit agreements. If the internally displaced in Colombia fail to repay the loans or the interest on the loans, they or their families are subjected to all types of abuse, including sexual abuse.

The U.N. agency said that as a result of the violence and intimidation by irregular armed groups in some urban areas of Colombia, some internally displaced people were becoming displaced for a second and even a third time.

According to the United Nations, Colombia's long-running civil war has uprooted over 1.5 million people within the country. Unofficial estimates put the number of internally displaced people in Colombia at

between 2 million and 3.5 million. The Colombian government indicates that up to 1 million of the internally displaced live in the country's largest cities, with 400,000 of them between the ages of 13 and 29.

Jennifer Pagonis, a spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency, stressed that Colombia's internally displaced, especially its young people, need to receive the "protection and assistance they deserve -- thus avoiding a situation in which they become easy prey for criminal gangs or irregular armed groups."

Pagonis added that policies are urgently needed to guarantee that the young displaced people have access to school, in order to prevent their recruitment by armed militia, and to ensure their physical safety. Her agency said it has received information that irregular armed groups are forcibly recruiting internally displaced young men in a number of regions of Colombia.

The U.N. agency added that only one in eight internally displaced students have returned to school after having been uprooted. Internally displaced girls are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and pregnancy than other teenagers. The United Nations says 30 percent of these young women under age 20 have at least one child, compared to 19 percent among women who were not internally displaced.

The U.N. findings match those of the U.S. State Department in its recently released rights report.

Venezuela official promises not to turn Posada Carriles over to Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The nation’s vice president says that Venezuela will not turn over a Cuban exile wanted in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner to Cuba if the United States decides to extradite him.

Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel made the comment Wednesday, one day after U.S. authorities detained Luis Posada Carriles in Miami. 

Venezuela has demanded that the 77-year old Cuban exile be extradited to face charges in the airliner bombing, which left 73 people dead. Posada Carriles escaped a Venezuelan jail in 1985 while facing a retrial.

The former CIA operative illegally entered the United States in March and is seeking political asylum. He denies any connection with the airliner bombing. 
U.S. authorities said Tuesday they have 48 hours to determine Posada Carriles' immigration status.

Jesse Jackson says that Mexico's Fox regrets remarks about U.S. blacks 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

MÉXICO CITY, México — Mexican President Vicente Fox has met with U.S. civil rights leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a bid to ease tensions following controversial remarks that Fox made about African-Americans.

Speaking at a news conference here Wednesday, Jackson said Fox expressed regret for any offense caused by his comment. He added that they have 

agreed to work together to unite African-Americans and Hispanics in the United States.

Last week, Fox said during a speech that Mexicans in the United States are willing to do jobs that even blacks are not.

The Mexican leader later said he was only trying to highlight the important contribution of Mexican workers in the United States.

Peasants clash with police in land reform demonstration in Brazil
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

BRASILÍA, Brazil — Landless peasants have clashed with police in Brazil's capital during a demonstration to protest the slow pace of land reform and the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Reports from the scene indicate police and protesters suffered injuries.

The violence came as protest leaders met with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Details of the 

meeting are not available, but they are believed to have discussed his pledge to settle 430,000 landless peasant families by 2006.

The Tuesday demonstration marked the end of a 16-day, 200-km. (124-mile) march by some 12,000 protesters who are part of the Landless Workers Movement.  They also rallied outside the U.S. Embassy here to protest against what they called U.S. imperialism.

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