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(506) 2223-1327       Published Tuesday, June 3, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 109         E-mail us
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Villalobos prison term is upheld
By Elise Sonray
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(Posted at 1:15 p.m.)
An appeals court has upheld the 18-year prison sentence of Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho, one of the two so-called Brothers. A trial court found him guilty of fraud and illegal banking  May 16, 2007.

The Sala III of the Corte Supreme de Justicia made the decision Monday, but the text was not released until today. The court found in favor of some technical appeals presented by the Villalobos lawyers Juan Guillermo Tovar González and Alexander Ruiz Castillo.

The decision is a major disappointment for supporters of the Villalobos brothers. Some even took out newspaper advertising last week urging the appeals court to act in his favor.

A very small percentage of the 6,200 victims of the Villalobos scheme was involved in the criminal case. Some were awarded money damages. The appeals court made some adjustments in these awards. Many victims continue to believe that the Villalobos brothers were singled out for prosecution because local banks were jealous of their operation which paid up to 3 percent a month interest to investors, frequently in cash.
Officials raided the informal operation run by Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and the money exchange houses, Ofinter S.A., run by Oswaldo Villalobos July 4, 2002. Luis Enrique Villalobos subsequently fled the country rather than face trial.

A spokesman for the Poder Judicial said that possibilities exist for further revisions in the decision in the case but that Oswaldo Villalobos does not have another chance to appeal.

He has been in prison since the trial court found him guilty. The court found that the Villalobos operation, both the personal borrowing and the money exchange houses, were one enterprise. Lawyers for Oswaldo Villalobos argued that he had nothing to do with his the operation run by Luis Enrique. Evidence presented at trial showed otherwise.

The court decided that those who invested with Luis Enrique Villalobos were being victimized by a ponzi scheme in which interest was being paid by funds deposited by new infusions of cash.  There was no evidence of other economic activity presented at trial, although Villalobos supporters had constructed a number of scenarios under which such a high interest could have been paid. Most victims were North Americans.


Chief of immigration police paints a grim picture
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There are probably hundreds of dangerous foreign criminals who walk the streets of Costa Rica, enjoy the lax laws, and live illegally, according to the director of the immigration police.

And there doesn't seem to be much that can be done,
according to his assessment of the situation in an interview Monday.

The immigration police director painted a picture of an understaffed and resource weak department that cannot make much of a dent in the numbers of foreign criminals here. The interview was triggered by the arrest of a U.S. citizen living here illegally who gunned down a Costa Rican
immigration police director
Francisco Castaing
physician May 22.

But there have been some improvements, said the police director, Francisco Castaing. In the past about 70 foreign prisoners were released each and every year after serving their terms, and immigration officials made no effort to corral and deport them. That was before 2006 when Castaing took over leadership of the Policía de Migración.

And not just any prisoners, said Castaing. They were “people who were serving hard time for homicide, drug smuggling, and hired assassinations.” After these foreign criminals served their time, they were simply shown the prison door and let loose, even though they were in the country illegally, said Castaing.  

It was not until July 2006 when he became director, did immigration officers wait by the prison doors to deport foreign convicts after their release, said Castaing. 

“We have people here from the Sicilian Mafia, walking around,” said Castaing.

Not only that, said Castaing but many criminals come to Costa Rica for its lax laws and social benefits. “If they can't get into the United States, Costa Rica is their second bet,” he said.

Criminals and former convicts from the United States come here, too, and most of the time immigration officials don't even know it, he said.

One of those prisoners who had served time was Frederick Norman Kelch. He came to Costa Rica eight years ago and started a business even though he was on a tourist visa and had an extensive criminal background, according to reports from the Broward County, Florida, Sheriff's Office.

When Kelch made the news in 2003 for possible Mafia links and association with an illegal sportsbook, neither judicial officials nor immigration authorities seemed to take any action. Who should have looked into the case?

Castaing said the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad Nacional is in charge of Costa Rica's security. 

“There are 350 men working for DIS,” said Castaing of the agency. “And there are at least five in charge of the analysis department.” Castaing said if an article were published about a suspicious or dangerous foreigner, the national security agency should have analyzed it. “They've been open for 30 years,” said Castaing, “and this is a matter of national security."

With regard to Kelch, "he had to have been practicing somewhere to shoot like that."
"For all we know he could have been killing people and throwing the bodies in the Zurquí,” Castaing said of the notorious section of Highway 34 in the mountains where many bodies are dumped. It is Kelch who is being evaluated mentally after the May 22 shooting spree. The in-laws of the murdered physician have been critical of the immigration department for not throwing Kelch out of the country.

“It's not that I'm washing my hands, it's just that we have no resources,” said the police director.

Castaing and other immigration police officials said there is no system to check if someone has a criminal background or a warrant out for their arrest when they enter the country legally.

The only way immigration officials know if someone is a criminal when they enter Costa Rica is if there is an international alert out for that person's capture.

Castaing said the immigration police are not given enough support from the government or the current legal system. “I've said this before,” said Castaing who added that immigration police only have four vehicles and 25 officers to patrol the entire country.

Castaing said he has talked with Mario Zamora, immigration director, about getting a new system to identify visitors by photos and fingerprints as they enter the country.

“We have a lot of good ideas but no one listens,” said the police director. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of foreigners work illegally in Costa Rica by entering the country on tourist visas, like Kelch, who took a quick trip to Cuba to renew his visa in January, according to immigration records.

Other problems, said Castaing, include immigration police officers who are scared of retribution.

He said many times officers know the criminals in their area, their children study together, so they are scared of what might happen. Castaing said officers should serve in areas away from their hometowns to avoid this problem.

When asked if there was corruption with border patrol officers, Castaing said, “There's corruption everywhere even in the FBI and CIA, I'd be stupid if I said there wasn't corruption in the immigration police. I can't confirm it though.”
He added that the low monthly salaries were no help.

There are illegal operators who bring a foreigner's passport to the border and for a fee have it stamped with a new tourist visa, said Castaing. The operation is called “vuelta de perro” and it is creating huge problems, he said.

A legal system which takes ages to get anything done, paper filing systems, little government support, and lack of employees and technology are just the start of immigration's problems, said Castaing.  “We're victims to the same system, but who protects us?” asked Castaing.

Meanwhile the now-famous criminal, Álvaro Castiblanco Hernández, seems to have returned to Costa Rica after being deported three times for robbing tourists. Castiblanco, a Colombian, mocked the immigration police when he was last arrested and said the laws of Costa Rica were a joke, vowing to return illegally, according to Castaing.

The police director mentions the case often. Castiblanco called Castaing and threatened him and his family just a few weeks ago, said Castaing. Judicial investigators traced the call to a pay phone in Heredia, according to reports. 


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 3, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 109

Costa Rica Expertise
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4207-10/2/08
Anti-smoking pact wins
initial legislative approval


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers unanimously approved a measure Monday adopting an anti-smoking agreement authored by the World Health Organization.

The measure must be approved one more time on a non-consecutive day to go to President Óscar Arias Sánchez for final approval.

The lengthy document requires Costa Rica to take actions against smoking within a period of a few years. For example, the country must act to prohibit tobacco advertising within five years. Also banned would be sponsorship by tobacco companies and promotions.

The agreement leaves much to the individual countries. For example, the ban on tobacco advertising must be consistent with the constitutional provisions of each country that accepts the agreement. Costa Rica has what amounts to a free speech provision in its Constitution, so the specifics of an advertising ban might be litigated.

María Luisa Ávila, the minister of Salud, was present in the legislative chamber when the measure won approval.

The agreement also obligated Costa Rica to set up a central office to control tobacco and to make payments to an administrative staff set up under terms of the international agreement.

Orlando Hernández, a lawmaker and a physician, told his colleagues that some 300 persons die of tobacco-caused maladies each month in Costa Rica and that tobacco illnesses cost the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social about 139 billion colons a year, about $270 million.

By adopting the agreement, Costa Rica also says it will work against bootlegged tobacco products.


Our readers' opinion
Smoking ban will kills
bars as it did in Florida


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have lived in Tampa, Florida, for 26 years, and we went through the non-smoking phase a few years ago. The damage this ban did to alot of local mom and pop restaurants and bars is still evident in areas around Tampa-St. Petersburg. I have seen many good, hard-working people lose their business because of no business.

This was after attempts to accommodate non-smokers.

If you ride around this area, you can see the survivors have added outside patio areas in an attempt to get back their smoking clients. Some places have used loopholes in the law to keep their smoking status, like having their customers become members and call their bar a private club. Others have regulated their food sales to comply with the legal percentage allowed to be able to smoke.

Within the first year of this ban, you started to see many empty parking lots and then CLOSED signs. The places that were able to skirt the law are busy, and you will find smokers and non-smokers coexisting as if nothing ever happened.

If this ban goes into effect in Costa Rica, its just another small freedom that is taken away,and a sign of many more to come.
Douglas Grimm
Escazú

How about a cell phones ban
to prevent brain cancer?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Yep, cigarettes kill and can hurt other people, but if you quit, you can pull your car over, drink a few beers, get back on the road, and kill yourself AND other people.

Guess we have to ban alcohol, too. And then cars because not everyone drives responsibly in Costa Rica (understatement?). And with cell phone use in cars, we may have to consider them too.

Yep, cars, ciggies, and alcohol. Wait a minute, add cell phones to that list. Don't they give you brain cancer?

Any time I have a beer, I want to have a cigarette with it anyway. And since you wouldn't be able to drive over to my house or call me on the phone, who would know? Guess the only way I can continue smoking is if you ban them all!

You have my vote, but I also live in Florida and you know how much my vote counts (lately, just half a vote).
 
Max Jackson
Laffing Turtle Lodge
Tres Rios de Coronado

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 3, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 109



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Skies are restless

The weather continues to be far from placid. This funnel cloud appeared over Guayabo de Bagaces Monday, near where the Río Bebedero forced 40 persons from their homes.

Hail fell in parts of the Central Valley

President Óscar Arias Sánchez issued an emergency decree to allocate more resources to what is becoming a major disaster from Tropical Storm Alma. And the assessment of damages continues.


funnel cloud over Costa Rica
Photo by Gene French


Sometimes the only way to reach an isolated town is by mountain trail. That is the situation confronting these Cruz Roja workers.
Cruz Roja delivers Cruz Roja photo

Emergency decreed by Arias to help shift emergency funds
By Saray Ramírez Vindas, Elise Sonray
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Oscar Arias Sánchez signed a national emergency decree Monday after assessing the damage done to the Pacific Coast, he said.

The damages are far worse than had originally been assumed, said Arias in a press conference with Daniel Gallardo, director of the national emergency commission, and Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia.

The emergency decree will allow the state to give out economic resources in a more expeditious manner to help repair roads and highways, among other things, said Rodrigo Arias.  Tropical Storm Alma caused millions in damage.

Gallardo, the director of the national emergency commission, said that rivers have not been dredged and bridges have been left in disrepair for more than 20 years. Sediments and garbage have built up, raising water levels and creating greater risk, said Gallardo. The country needs at least 20 new dikes and whole towns should be moved, although that is not likely, said Gallardo.

Many municipalities have not helped the situation, he said. Instead, they have allowed people to construct illegally near rivers, said the commission director. Gallardo also called on the tourism industry to invest into projects that could save lives instead of using all the money for their own projects.

Gallardo also said he supports the idea of hydroelectric dams to help the people with electricity and protect them from constant flooding by creating lakes to hold some of the water generated by the frequent storms.

To date, 21,000 people have been directly affected by the floods from Tropical Storm Alma, reported, the emergency commission Monday. The effects have hit 453 communities, put 1,759 people in some 45 shelters, damaged 1,152 houses and more than 130 sections of road, said the commission.

The Cruz Roja reported two deaths and one person missing Monday. And the rough weather has not ended. The Río Bebedero overflowed its banks Monday morning and chased 40 persons from their homes near Bagaces, Guanacaste. A reader reported and photographed a funnel cloud near Guayabo de Bagaces also Monday.

The Cruz Roja rescue workers were focusing their efforts on the Zona de los Santos, Guanacaste, Pérez Zeledón,  
Cruz Roja at work
Cruz Roja photo
Emergency workers ford a ravaged streambed after delivering necessities to trapped residents.

and, of course, Parrita where 774 persons were reported to still be in shelters.

Jorge Rovira, subdirector of operations for the Cruz Roja, said that the agency is working mainly in San Pablo de León, Cortés and Parrita to distribute cleaning and hygiene kits as well as food and drinking water.

Rovira said that along with the government the Cruz Roja has begun an air bridge to fly supplies from San José to hard-hit Pérez Zeledón.  In the Zona de los Santos two units of the Cruz Roja were trying to reach the communities of San Andrés, Pedregal and Ojo de Agua, which have been cut off for almost a week.

In the community of La Angostura, trained rescuers located three adults who had tried to leave their isolated town and got caught in the mountains. The three were taken out in stretchers.

In Buenos Aires de Puntarenas rescue workers were searching the Río Ciebo for Rómulo Zúñiga Figueroa, 30, who disappeared Friday.
 
The Cruz Roja was encouraging storm victims to stay in shelters where there was drinking water and a degree of safety. Officials point out the risks of contaminated water and more flooding.


Realtor group's charity golf tournament planned for June 29 at Hacienda Pinilla
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Realtors who like to hit the golf course in their spare time are invited to join a charity tournament organized by the Costa Rica Global Association of Realtors at the end of the month.

Groups of four will tee off from each of the 18 holes at the Hacienda Pinilla Golf Course in Guanacaste June 29.

The competition will take a shotgun scramble format, which means each person plays the shot, but the team can choose which of the four shots they like best.

“This style allows those with little or no golf experience to play and have a fun weekend," said Sharon Myers, the association president.  Up to 100 players are expected to take part in the seventh annual tournament of its kind.
 Alongside the 18 holes, information will be available targeted at helping real estate workers to improve their business, from new financial services to ideas to generate business and information on products, services and development projects.

The event will officially start the night before with a cocktail party in Tamarindo to which all players and sponsors are invited.

Breakfast and lunch are provided on the day of the tournament, with a raffle and prizes handed out in the afternoon.

Participation is open to anyone including those who are not members of the association. More information is available by calling 8378-3573 or e-mailing costaricagar@gmail.com.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 3, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 109


Screenshot
of the
Great
Turtle
Race II

turtle race

This year's turtle race starts in California and Indonesia
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The brothers and sisters of some of Costa Rica's most beloved residents are unwittingly taking part in a race across the Pacific Ocean to raise awareness of the threat faced by their species.

Eleven leatherback turtles were tagged while nesting on the beaches of Indonesia and snacking on jellyfish off the coast of California, and their progress across the ocean has been tracked as they migrate from one side of the Pacific to the other.

JK Turtling, Mama Tabitha, Mastodonia and Shelby are among the creatures who are currently recruiting fans on the Web site for the second Great Turtle Race.

Multicolored turtle shapes on a constantly updated map allow supporters to check how their favorite turtle is doing. Half of the turtles started from Australia Monday while the other half started from California, and the final whistle will be blown when they all reach the international date line, half way across the ocean.

Leatherbacks have been around for 100 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs, and some can grow to the size of a small car. The population of the turtles in the world's largest ocean has, however, plummeted in the last two decades from around 115,000 to 5,000, partly due to dangers faced when they make their epic migration across the seas.

Each turtle was tagged with a small satellite tag, attached to the turtle with rubber tubing which does not cause the animal pain or inhibit its movement when swimming, organizers said.

“To understand the ecology of a species we need to know about their migration patterns, and the only technology available for us to follow their location and the dangers they face is to tag them,” said Tod Steiner, executive director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “For example, we now know that the Costa Rican leatherbacks head out along the Cocos ridge, and we're going to use that information to help plan fishery management.

“Without the data tagging gives us, we wouldn't be able to push for protection of the sea turtles along their migratory paths because we wouldn't be able to tell anyone where these paths are.”

Tropical nesting beaches on the coast of Indonesia are
perfect for the turtles to lay eggs, but their main food source is jellyfish, which are found in much greater numbers in the cool waters off California.

They surface every few minutes to breathe, allowing the tags to transmit information on location and water temperature to satellites in space, which in turn gets sent to a computer in the United States.

The turtles will take up to two weeks to make their way from the coast to the middle of the ocean, with the winning giant announced after June 16.

“The race isn't in real time,” explained Mike Milne of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “We have already tracked the turtles and have the data. In the race we have reset the time to zero, and we are using it as a way to share our data with the public and raise awareness. Many people don't know that turtles cover such great distances so this is an entertaining way to educate the public about these amazing animals.”

The turtle characters are also athletic, with each representing a different olympic sport, including football, horse riding and even fencing. Linking the race with the Olympics is part of the organizers' decision to include a Mandarin-language version of the site, hoping to take the sea turtle message to around 100 million Chinese people.

“Sea turtles don't care about borders between countries,” said Milne. “They are ambassadors bringing our countries together, much like the athletes from all different countries who will come together at the Beijing Olympics,”

Turtle-lovers can guess who will win, learn about the dangers the animals face along the way such as fishing lines and plastic bags, view information on each competitor and ask questions about the leatherbacks online at www.greatturtlerace.com.

Sponsors gave money to be able to name the turtles, and donations are being collected online. Money will be distributed between several charities including The Leatherback Trust, Tagging of Pacific Pelagics and Sea Turtle Restoration Project to be used in the protection of nesting beaches.

Last year's turtle race started in Costa Rica in April. The female turtles left Playa Grande after laying eggs. They were returning to their range in the vicinity of the  Galapagos Islands. However, local environmentalists objected, claiming that the event was a publicity stunt involving endangered animals.


Ecuador wants Insulza to study computers taken in raid
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuador says it will ask the Organization of American States to investigate Colombian rebel computer files that allegedly show links to the Quito government.  Ecuadorian officials have criticized Colombia's handling of the computer documents.

Ecuador's foreign minister, Maria Isabel Salvador, announced plans to issue the request before the start of the general assembly of the 34-nation group in Colombia.

Salvador said Ecuador's government has been the target of false information allegedly found on computers of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia after a cross-border raid March 1. Ecuador cut diplomatic ties with Colombia after the military operation, which killed a rebel commander and some two dozen others.

Salvador said she will appeal directly to the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, who led a mission to the region in March to study the crisis.

Salvador said she wants the secretary-general to investigate everything possible about the situation and make the appropriate determinations about the computer data.

Colombian officials have said the computer files show the Quito government had improper contact with rebels about a
possible hostage release. They also allege Venezuela's government was planning to give $300 million to the leftist terrorists — a claim that Venezuela has denied.

Salvador said Ecuador has nothing to hide and noted her government has made great efforts to combat Colombian rebels and illegal drug trafficking inside the country. She said the cross-border raid has caused serious divisions between the two countries.

Salvador said it may be possible to renew diplomatic ties in a short period of time, but it will take much longer to rebuild trust.

Insulza is expected to release his findings about the cross-border raid late Tuesday near the close of the general assembly.

Colombian officials did not immediately respond to the criticism from Ecuador. At an earlier event, President Álvaro Uribe told delegates that Colombia does not have a tradition of inciting trouble with its neighbors.

He said Colombia values the rule of law and judicial order, as what he called the path to building friendship and trust among governments.

Colombian officials have said they are prepared to renew diplomatic ties with Ecuador as soon as Quito wants to do so. 


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This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


Searching

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Guitar legend Bo Diddley
died of heart failure at 79


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Early rock 'n' roll guitar wizard Bo Diddley. 79, died of heart failure near Jacksonville, Florida, Monday. One of the most primitive of the early rockers, Bo took the blues and folk music of his native Mississippi and combined them with Latin American and African rhythms to come up with his trademark "hambone" beat.

Along with the legendary Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley was considered one of the most influential guitarists of the early rock era. His powerful rhythm, which became known as the "Bo Diddley beat" has been imitated by countless musicians.

Born Otha Ellas Bates in Mississippi in 1928, Bo was sent to Chicago to live with an aunt, Gussie McDaniel, who later adopted him. He dropped his first and last names to become Ellas McDaniel. His stage name Bo Diddley came from two sources; the diddley bow, an African stringed instrument, and the slang expression for a mischievous boy.

Bo studied violin at age 7 and became a virtuoso. In the early 1940s, while he was in his teens, he taught himself to play guitar, drawing on the influences of jazz artist Louis Jordan and bluesman John Lee Hooker. Bo explained how he developed his trademark sound after his sister bought him his own guitar.

"I took it home and learned how to play on one string "When The Saints Go Marching In." The other strings didn't make a difference," he said. "Then I accidentally tuned it one day the way that I'm tuning it now. I say I'm playing backwards. I don't play like the average guitar player, the cats who move their fingers all around like this. I do it in chords, and basically, do almost the same thing."

At age 13, Bo Diddley became a street musician, eventually joining with others to form a street corner band. Driven by maracas, congas and bass, Bo played his infectious, hypnotic guitar phrases. When the band was ready to perform in Chicago nightclubs, he bought an electric guitar so he could get more volume. Bo attracted enough attention to get an audition with Chess Records, the same Chicago label that launched the careers of blues artists Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon and rocker Chuck Berry.

Bo signed a recording contract with Chess in 1955, and released two songs, "Bo Diddley" and "I'm A Man." Both went to No. 2 on the national R&B charts. An appearance on a nationally-televised variety show earned him a spot on a national tour. Bo's next break came in 1959 when "Say Man" appeared on the pop charts.

Bo Diddley's career had a lull until the mid-1960s, when British rock bands such as The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, and The Animals started releasing their versions of Bo Diddley's songs.

With renewed interest in his music, Bo continued to release albums throughout the 1960s and 1970s. A series of custom-made guitars were crafted for him, which included oblong, triangular and star shapes, often covered in fur or carpet material.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 3, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 109



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