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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, June 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 110        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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That 3 percent-a-month interest was a big, big draw
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The case may seem like old history now, but more than five years ago a North American could have come to San José and invested a nest egg with The Brothers and then picked up 3 percent interest in cash every month.

No worries about the U.S. Internal Revenue
Enrique Villalobs
Luis Enrique Villalobos
Service. No worries about how the interest was
earned. No worries that the interest being paid was far beyond economic sense.

This was the Villalobos borrowing operation nestled in a back office at Mall San Pedro. When North Americans met at bars to initiate newcomers, the talk almost always turned to The Brothers and
their wonderful investments.

No one knew how the operation could afford to pay such interest. No one cared. Villalobos himself said that if investigators came around asking about one of his investors, he would not know them.

This operation went on for years. How many is still in dispute. North Americans moved to Costa Rica to be near the fountain of funds. The operation attracted many dollars that were the products of illegal activities in the north.

One man had $16 million drawing interest at 3 percent a month. That's nearly a half million dollars in interest every month. He was extradited.

People cashed in their retirement accounts and gave the money to Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho. In return they received a Banco Nacional check and maybe a Bible because Mr. Villalobos was a godly man.

Don't confuse him with his brother, Oswaldo, who was struggling to make a living with the adjacent Ofinter S.A. money exchange house, they said.  It was Luis Enrique who was the investment guru. He was doing better than Citibank and all those Wall Street wannabes.

He had a good background. On his wall he had a photo of Oliver North. He had run a helicopter operation in Nicaragua until the Sandinistas kicked him out. Then he started an agricultural spraying operation here.

Investors speculated that the man was involved in factoring, buying accounts receivables from big corporations that needed cash now. Or maybe he was involved in something darker. Most investors never pressed the point. Those who did got their money refunded and were shown the door.

They were the lucky ones.

July 4, 2002, the balloon burst. Costa Rican investigators raided the Enrique Villalobos operation and his brother's Ofinter money exchange house. They missed some key rooms full of evidence. But there was enough to eventually bring charges. By that time Luis Enrique judicially left the scene letting Oswaldo take the rap.

A.M. Costa Rica offered a token reward for Luis Enrique with the hopes that other investors would add more dollars. But they were offended. The reward besmirched the reputation of this godly man who only fled to protect the investors and to prevent Costa Rica from taking all the money, they said.

They launched death threats. They wrote nasty letters to the editor.

The more intelligent slowly drifted away. A Chicago Tribune reporter visited and went away chuckling. So did a reporter from another major
oswaldo goes into cuffs
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
by José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Oswaldo Villalobos is handcuffed at the end of his trial in May 2007.

news outlet. They had seen it all before.

But the friends of Enrique enjoyed being victims. They held a big meeting at which the government and the Costa Rican banks were damned for destroying the high interest operation.

They chipped in and hired a lawyer. They formed an organization. They held meetings. The topic always was that when the charges are dismissed the Brothers will pay what they owe. The amount was about $1 billion.

There even was a Web site that allowed credulous creditors to computer the current worth of their investment at 3 percent interest.

The smart lawyer used the $100,000-plus to run for president. He lost. But the creditors still supported him. Then they began to die off.

For years the remaining creditors clung to the belief that Enrique would return to pay them off. When Oswaldo was charged and went on trial, the slogan changed to Enrique would return when his brother was cleared.

That was not to be. A trial court found him guilty of fraud and illegal banking. The prosecutor's case was strong but incomplete. There was no hint of what the Villalobos brothers actually were doing with the money. Perhaps that evidence was among the material that evaded confiscation. Still Oswaldo emerged as a partner and not an observer.

The three-judge tribunal last May decided there was no evidence of economic activity so that the operation must have been a ponzi scheme in which high interest is paid to participants from the funds invested by newcomers.

But the dwindling faithful were not convinced. Many had been encouraged by anonymous Internet posts and a persuasive personal campaign to drop their claims against Oswaldo. Those who did failed to share in the money awards ordered by the court.

Then the diminishing number of the faithful pinned their hopes on an appeals court. They began a newspaper campaign, but the appeals court supported the trial court decision in a decision released Tuesday and upheld a prison sentence. Oswaldo Villalobos must spend years in prison for fraud and illegal banking.

Still they had hopes. They now talk about an appeal to some international human rights body. A few are party to a case before the World Bank's  International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. That case has yet to be resolved, but the battle is sharply uphill.

Meanwhile, the hope of most creditors is to find Luis Enrique Villalobos and bring him to justice if he still lives.

Prison sentence of 18 years upheld but there are technical changes
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho, one of the men charged with swindling millions of dollars from more than 6,300 people learned his fate Monday afternoon, said a court spokeswoman. The Sala III of the Corte Suprema de Justicia upheld the 18-year prison sentence for one half of the infamous Villalobos brothers with no more chance of appeals, said the court spokeswoman.

Oswaldo Villalobos appealed the trial tribunal's decision in May 2007, and after more than a year some money awards changed but the basic prison sentence stayed the same.  The court awarded money to some plaintiffs who had originally been given nothing. Magistrates also nullified the awards of some original plaintiffs and adjusted the amounts of others.

For example, the court ruled that Jocelyne Belle Isle and Rolando Percival Wilder III whose civil actions were originally rejected be awarded $10,000 each. James Burger Jennings whose civil action was also previously rejected was awarded $100,000.
The court annulled a previous ruling in the case of numerous plaintiffs who had previously been told they would receive thousands of dollars in damages. They will now receive nothing, according to the decision.

Other property and technical decisions in the case were changed by the ruling. The appeals court accepted parts of the arguments of defense lawyers Juan Guillermo Tovar González and Alexander Ruiz Castillo while rejecting other aspects. The money awards may be moot if the Villalobos assets are not sufficient.

The court made its final decision on Monday afternoon, said a judicial spokeswoman, but the actual document was not released until Tuesday. There is still a chance revisions may be made in the case, said the spokeswoman, but there will be no more chances for an appeal.

The “other half” of the Villalobos brothers, Luis Enrique Villalobos, still is in hiding and millions perhaps a billion dollars are still missing. The two brothers, who had their main offices in Mall San Pedro, are accused of running a ponzi scheme.

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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 110

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Country Day School plans
to move its campus west

By Jeremy Arias
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Owners of the Country Day School in Escazú plan to relocate the institution to an as -yet-undeveloped site to the northwest of Ciudad Colón, according to a press release from the school president, Woodson Brown.

According to the release, the new campus will accommodate the increased numbers of American families that have moved to the Central Valley to be involved with mounting multi-national business interests in Costa Rica.

The future campus will be located 11 kilometers west of the Multiplaza on the San Jose–Caldera highway currently under construction at a site owned by an unnamed private developer, the release said. The new facility will accommodate up to 1,200 pre-school through 12th grade students.

Project teams made up of parents and teachers will be organized to discuss planning, design and space needs of the planned campus, said the school release, but it does not name a specific architectural firm to design the school. Construction on the new campus is estimated to take 18 months, but an actual timetable for the construction and relocation will not be released until an access road from the Próspero Fernández Highway to the development site is completed, the release said.

The school offers English-language, U.S.-standard schooling to the children of foreign families and locals who can afford the tuition, which can run upwards of $10,040 a year for those enrolled in grades 1 to 12 according to Country Day's Web site. The school was established in 1963, and moved to its current location in Escazú in the 1980s.

Our readers' opinion
There still are many places
for smokers to light up

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

There were complaints by some readers about the negative affects of a smoking ban in Costa Rica.  I would like to put a positive spin on this possible new law. 

The effects of a smoking ban in California had all of the hype it would destroy businesses.  It did no such thing.  Bars and restaurants kept flourishing after the ban, even mama and papa businesses.  People who don't smoke could go to restaurants and bars and not experience all of the second-hand smoke floating around the establishment.  It gave back the freedom for non-smokers, who outnumber smokers, not to have to inhale their smoke.   Also many wait staff were very happy to not have to inhale the smoke from the locals visiting.

There was another statement that went like this: "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."

This has been taken completely out of context.  Anyone will be able to continue to smoke if they choose.  No one is banning cigarettes from people who smoke.  You will still be able to smoke in your car and give your loved ones second-hand smoke while driving or sitting in you house.  So for all of you smokers, you can still smoke in your car, living room, bathroom, bedroom, on the streets, outside, at the park, on the beach, in the rainforest, cloud forest and a number of other places here in Costa Rica.  It isn't so limiting after all.

By the way please dispose of your cigarette butts in the trash.  They take years to biodegrade and are one of the most common pieces of trash when cleaning up beaches and other areas.
Henry Kantrowitz
Punta Leona

How about getting online?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Who is kidding who? All the immigration head has to do is contact the U.S. Embassy and Interpol.  In the United States they have a system called NCIC, National Crime & Information Center. In this day and age it would take maybe a month or two to set up a system where Costa Rica would know if, in fact, a criminal or an individual with a lengthy criminal record was entering the country.

Maybe if they took some of the money that the transport ministry wastes digging up perfectly good roads then repaving them and putting that money into the Immigration department, it might be a first step.  I doubt that will ever happen. Why? They really don't care. If they really want to clean up this country, they'd have an outside agency investigate the corruption that abounds here.

I know: If you don't like it here-leave. That's going to solve the problem?
Lawrence T. Horn
Shirley Mills, Maine

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 110

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Bird's eye view shows a sprawling campus near Guacimo de Limón.
birds eye view of campus
Photo courtesy of EARTH University

EARTH University explores a brave, new, sustainable world
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Imagine a farm where all the practices are environmentally sustainable and where people from many different countries, cultures and religions work side-by-side. Cows listen to soothing music to promote their well-being, much more carbon is taken in than is produced and the community still makes a decent profit.

It's not a futuristic dream, and tourists, locals and well-wishers poured into EARTH University, near Guácimo de Limón last month, to see it for themselves and celebrate the annual Feria America Tropical with the institution's students.

In a Costa Rica that often does not live up to the environmental ideal that it projects, the students are being trained to uphold the highest standards of eco-friendly agricultural practices and to spread their knowledge throughout the world.

In the process, the university reports it is managing to suck up 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide while only emitting 2,000 tons, making it one of the few institutions able to call itself carbon positive.

Everything on the site is a model for sustainability — from integrated animal production farms to a banana finca that uses the minimum amount of chemicals and has become an example to farms all over the country.

The university's over 8,000 acres of campus include an organic farm, a banana-paper processing plant, medicinal plant gardens, a 2,000 acre forest reserve, botanical gardens, a livestock farm, an orchid garden, fruit fincas and plenty of laboratories, all open for practical learning.

The cafeteria is a highlight for those who come here on the tourist trips that have recently included the campus in their schedule. Vats of home-made yogurt, bunches of locally-produced bananas and even pork fattened on site are all on the menu, not to mention plenty of freshly-picked salad components.

“Everything we produce here is at least partly used on site,” said Carlos Araya, coordinator of external relations for EARTH. “We don't produce quite enough to feed our 416 students and 42 professors, so we do bring some things in. Equally, we are selling some of our produce.”

Shoppers in the United States can now buy EARTH bananas, and those strolling through Auto Mercado or Mas x Menos will find that they are offered fruit yogurts with the university's logo. Tourist shops sell natural paper souvenirs made of waste products from the banana finca, such as stalks and inedible fruit.

Last year, EARTH made a $300,000 profit, and all of that went straight back into the scholarship fund. Around 86 percent of the students have at least a partial scholarship to attend the university and are brought from all corners of the tropics, especially the most marginalized areas, based on their intellectual promise and ethical values rather than their economic means.

Students from the countryside of Southern Africa and the sons of farmers from South America all study together with a few people from Switzerland and Canada thrown in for good measure.

Individual donors, largely from the United States, also support students, who write a letter of thanks and news of progress to them each year.

The idea is that the students will take their knowledge on how communities can work together to save the environment back to their home countries. There they will become leaders in the agricultural field who will build a world based on equitable and sustainable development.

It was all started by a group of Americans from business, academic and leadership backgrounds, who came together at the end of the 1980s to build an institution that would teach leadership, commitment, honesty, social and environmental awareness, in order to create tomorrow's leaders.

Costa Rica was chosen because it is in the middle of Latin America, the first target area. It also has a useful range of natural environments in a very small space, meaning that students can get a wide variety of experiences with ease. And of course, at that time it was exceptional in the region for its political stability.

“It's sad that we have to take our good ideas out of the country to set them up, then try to slowly introduce them back in,” said Hardin Rahe, a professor of agriculture from Texas State University who has been spending a six month sabatical at EARTH.

“In the US, people think they already know everything, and it's hard to make them change. Americans are the least informed about alternative practices, whereas here, they're on the cutting edge.”

There's nothing like practical experience for learning, and at EARTH the students can hardly get away from it. They must learn everything from the bottom up, from how to dig a ditch or mend a fence to how to set up their own small businesses.

Rotations include sorting the garbage, none of which is wasted. Everything that can be used again at the university is recycled, food waste is fed to the animals after it's been washed, and anything left is put in a landfill within the grounds, meaning that the university is contributing no waste to the outside world.

Even animal waste is put to good use. It is fed through a biodigestor, where bacteria munch away at it for 40 days, reducing the dirtyness of the water from 3,200 miligrams per litre to 180 miligrams per litre, while producing methane gas that can be used for cooking. From there, the water filters through ponds full of aquatic plants where it is cleaned until it can be used for irrigation of plants that animals can eat, closing the circle neatly.

An organic fertilizer called bokashi is also a product of many of the campus' various fincas, and it has caught on in the surrounding communities.

“Years ago we managed to persuade farmers near here to use this as a fertilizer,” said Araya. “In the end it's much cheaper than buying artificial fertilizers from outside, because you make it from manure, you don't have to buy anything extra, and it's very effective.”
earth university pigs
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
This piglet is on the integrated animal production farm where the animals are being fattened up.

recycling from trash
Sharon Againe, a third year student from Uganda, shows how to separate garbage for recycling at the university's sorting area.

stems for paper
Stems and rejected bananas are being sent off to the paper-making plant.

Sharing ideas with local communities is a central part of the university's philosophy, and it is essential for students to learn how to interact with farmers as this is what they are expected to do in their home countries once graduated.

When EARTH cannot produce enough bananas to meet its quota with Whole Foods Market Inc., which distrubutes its produce in the United States, or enough milk to make yogurt, these things are bought from outside producers.

“We send students out to dairy farmers, and they standardize the milk production on all of the farms before we start using it in our products,” said Araya. This includes the way cows are treated, and the university is strict about its animal welfare policy. Livestock on campus can often be seen relaxing to soothing tunes, a technique used to calm cows down so they will produce more milk.

Big production companies also have something to learn, however, and the use of waste products such as stalks and inedible fruits to make bokashi on banana fincas is also used by Dole and Del Monte.

“Our bananas are not organic, as we do use pesticide to kill a fungus that affects our plants,” said Araya. “They are, however, sustainable. We keep applications of the pesticide to a minimum — only 26 applications per year — and we don't use preservatives. The blue bags that help the crop to ripen are re-used to cover the corners of the pallets in which we transport the bananas.”

EARTH is aiming to increase its profits to $1.2 million next year. Money that will directly benefit the 400 odd students who live on campus year-round.

Within the curriculum are science courses, English courses, community programs and supervision programs, which empower older students to direct younger years in their learning.

Typically the students start classes at 6 a.m. in the morning, and some days do not finish until 6 p.m., with the evening spent studying. The work is hard, the rules are strict, but almost everyone seems thoroughly glad to be there.

Funds are being collected to expand the program to other countries as well as a second campus that is being set up near Liberia in Guanacaste. Seminars have been held at various universities across the tropical region of the world, with an eye to exporting EARTH's method of teaching.

“Everyone who comes here is completely blown away by what they are doing at EARTH,” said Rahe. “This is one of the top three agricultural universities in the world, and a model for everyone. We need to try and take what we learn from this university and put it into practice in every country, because we know that if we don't start paying attention there's not going to be a world left.”

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

Jaco Towers

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A.M. Costa Rica
Real estate
About us
San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 110

recovery work
Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias photos
Commission priorities are opening roads and distributing necessities.
Red alert continues for three cantons hard-hit by storm
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

About 80 percent of those communities cut off by Tropical Storm Alma are again connected to the nation's system of roads, according to the national emergency commission, which said that a red alert continues for the canton of Pérez Zeledón and Parrita and Aguirre on the central Pacific coast.

The emergency comission said that two more communities that have been cut off near Parrita would be reached today overland by rescue workers bringing food, drinking water and other necessities.

Daniel Gallardo, head of the commission, said that officials were putting together a list from various ministries on the damage that the storm caused. He said that an emergency decree signed Monday by President Óscar Arias Sánchez would expedite repairs. Covered by the decree are Puriscal, Tarrazú, Aserrí, Mora, Acosta, Turrubares, Dota, Pérez Zeledón, and León Cortés in the Provincia de San José; Nicoya, Santa Cruz, Bagaces, Carrillo, Cañas, Nandayure and Hojancha in Guanacaste; and Puntarenas, Buenos Aires, Montes de Oro, Aguirre, Parrita, Corredores and Garabito in the Provincia de Puntarenas.
The  Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias is in charge of coordinating recovery efforts.

Gallardo said the commission has three priorities: fixing roads, maintaining shelters for storm victims and distributing food and other needs to communities that require them.

Machinery to repair roads were on the job in Herradura, Miravalles, Rivas and Pueblo Nuevo Tuesday. Commission machinery also was trying to redirect the flow of water in two rivers in Pérez Zeledón: San Isidro and Prado. and efforts were being made to fix roads for communities that had been cut off, such as Piedra Alta, Siberia, San Martín,  División, Jardín, Piedras Blancas, Macho Mora, Jaular, Buena Vista, La Piedra and Alaska.

Some 412 persons remain in shelters, the commission said at mid-afternoon Tuesday. Gallardo said that 110 persons still were in shelters in Parrita, some 60 in Playón Sur and 18 in Jericó. In Pérez Zeledón there were 35 person sheltered in Tierra Prometida, 100 at Campo de Exposición and 89 in Peñas Blancas.

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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.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

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Chávez sets up new units
to control nation's security

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has used his decree powers to overhaul the country's intelligence agencies, putting all operations under his control.

The new intelligence law dissolves Venezuela's two main intelligence services: the Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services and the Directorate for Military Intelligence and replaces them with new agencies: the General Intelligence Office and General Counterintelligence Office, to be overseen by Chávez.

The law requires Venezuelans to comply with requests to assist the new agencies, whose secret police and community monitoring groups are loyal to the Venezuelan president. Those who refuse can serve anywhere from two to six years in prison.

Human rights advocates and legal scholars have condemned the measure, charging it will force citizens to inform on one another to avoid prison terms.

Chavez says the law is intended to protect national security and combat U.S. interference.

The intelligence overhaul reflects a bid by Chávez to assert greater control over public institutions.

Under the law, intelligence officials can use electronic methods, such as wiretapping, to intercept and obtain information.

Venezuela's Interior Minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, said the law taps into the responsibility all Venezuelans have to what he referred to as "the security of the state and the resolution of any crime."

Chávez has repeatedly accused the United States of spying on his government. Last month, he said the United States had been using anti-drug flights in the Caribbean to spy on Venezuela. U.S. officials said a U.S. military aircraft inadvertently violated Venezuelan airspace because of a navigation problem.

U.N. chief seeks cooepration
to solve hunger problem

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

World leaders are gathered in Rome at the headquarters of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. They are discussing ways to deal with soaring food prices and how to improve ways to provide food to the world's hungry.

In a speech at the start of the world food security summit U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said food production must rise by 50 percent by 2030 to meet increasing demand. He added that nations must minimize export restrictions and import tariffs at this time and quickly resolve world trade talks.

The U.N. secretary-general said action must be taken immediately.

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