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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, June 5, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 111        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
Off to the stars
from a Tico field

In the middle of a Guanacaste field, near where a boy once went hunting with his father, there is an unlikely technical facility that will soon be saving the United States government millions of dollars.

Inside the small white building, a fat metal cylinder sits within a single laboratory. Technicians watch activity on their computer screens, making simulations of improvements to the cutting-edge technology that was dreamed up by one of Costa Rica's best known figures 35 years ago.

Without the hunting trips in the 1960s, Franklin Chang Díaz may never have situated this branch of the Ad Astra Rocket Co. in a corner of Costa Rica where employees agree that it is sometimes difficult to get hold of equipment and personnel.

See our story HERE!

Long-time fugitive Latullipe likely in U.S. custody
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some investors with Principal Services are anxious today to confirm that the company's main figure has been arrested in New Hampshire.

The investors hope that the man, Gerald Latullipe, 64, is brought back to San José in chains to face
Gerald Latullipe
Gerald Latullipe
allegations that he defrauded as many as 150 persons.

A check of New Hampshire jails Wednesday failed to locate Latullipe, but a local lawyer said he had been told by a government prosecutor here that the arrest had been made. An investor also said that his lawyer in the United
States had confirmed the detention via the Office of the U.S. Attorney in Concord.

Latullipe has long been the subject of an international arrest warrant and is even featured on the Web site of the International Police Agency, better known as INTERPOL.

A small gathering at a lawyer's office Wednesday included Michael J. Forrest, a sales agent for Principal who spent nearly two years in preventative detention before he was absolved in a tribunal decision April 7. He had faced 79 counts of fraud and a host of other allegations.

With him was Thomas R. Sweeney, a man who lost more than $1 million with Latullipe. Neither man was in a forgiving mood. Both had suffered health problems.

Forrest, who frequently was portrayed as the bad guy because of his association with the defunct company, recounted how he aggressively pursued Latullipe to the United States in an effort to get a settlement for clients of the investment operation.

His lawyers, Mauricio Brenes Loaiza and Sandra Arauz, successfully convinced the judicial panel that Forrest was no more than a commissioned salesman
who operated his own company and promptly turned over all proceeds to Principal.

The lawyer's strategy worked so well that the judicial panel took the highly unusual step of finding against Principal and awarded investors money damages against the firm even though the company was not named in the case nor was it represented at the trial.

For Sweeney, the arrest of Latullipe opens the possibility to get some money back from what he believes are the man's vast property holdings in the United States.

Principal Services was one of those firms that offered investors a 4 percent monthly return. It was a contemporary seven years ago with the likes of the Villalobos Brothers and Savings Unlimited. But Latullipe was the most professional. He told investors that he was running a hedge fund and that the amounts invested were insured by international companies, according to the text of the Forrest decision.

Latullipe used to court his would-be investors at the penthouse suite of the Hotel Intercontinental in Escazú. But the bulk of his time was in the United States, where Sweeney thinks the money remains. Counting accrued interest Sweeney estimated that Latullipe got $100 million from about 150 persons.

During the time that Sweeney and Forrest were tracking down Latullipe, they came to realize that others had been selling the same financial product offered by Principal. Forrest had thought he was an exclusive agent. For that reason they do not have precise figures on the number of victims.

In addition, some of the investors ran their monthly interest through Costa Rican corporations as a way to avoid U.S. taxes, the men said. So there is still a degree of uncertainty about the case. The men hope to get answers when and if Latullipe is extradited to San José. Sweeney said he was told that U.S. officials are seeking a formal request from Costa Rica.

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costa rica demoted
U.S. demotes Costa Rica
in human trafficking report

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

The U.S. government has downgraded Costa Rica in the State Department's annual report on human trafficking issued Wednesday,

Costa Rica went from being a tier two country to a country on the human trafficking watch list.

"Costa Rica is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for its failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat human trafficking, particularly in terms of its failure to improve its inadequate assistance to victims," said the report which covered 153 countries.

Some 14 were placed in the lowest category, Tier Three, which makes them subject to possible U.S. sanctions. Key U.S. Gulf ally Saudi Arabia was put in Tier Three for the fourth consecutive year, along with fellow Arab states Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Algeria, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Sudan and North Korea — all countries whose human rights records have been subject to strong U.S. criticism — were also listed. Moldova, Fiji and Papua-New Guinea were added to Tier Three for the first time.

The U.S. report had these recommendations for Costa Rica:

• Amend laws to prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons;

• intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and ensure that offenders are convicted and sentenced appropriately;

• provide greater legal protections and assistance for victims; increase training for law enforcement; and improve data collection for trafficking crimes.

"The Costa Rican government made inadequate efforts to provide protection for trafficking victims in 2007, and relies on non-government agencies and international organizations to provide the bulk of assistance," said the report. "There are no specialized shelters or services for trafficking victims, although the government did fund a non-government organization working with victims of sexual exploitation. Overall, protective services remain lacking, although trafficking victims may be able to access services provided for adult and minor victims of violent crime."

The report does not mention that prostitution by adults is legal in Costa Rica. Curiously, Colombia, the origins of many prostitutes here, received a top tier rating for what the report said was efforts to help trafficking victims.

The report said that Costa Rica was "a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama, Russia, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines are trafficked into the country for sexual exploitation. Costa Rica also serves as a transit point for victims trafficked to the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Europe."

During 2006, the latest period for which official statistics are available, the government opened 11 trafficking-in-persons investigations, but secured no convictions or sentences against perpetrators, said the report. However, the document failed to mention recent convictions of members of a ring who were trafficking infants for adoption.

The government improved prevention efforts during the reporting year, said the document adding:

• The president condemned human trafficking in public statements, and the government acknowledges the serious nature of the problem.

• The government also prosecuted 77 cases relating to the commercial sexual exploitation of minors, which reflected solid government efforts to reduce consumer demand for sexual acts with children. The government achieved six convictions against offenders, with sentences ranging from two to 50 years in prison.

• Public campaigns against child sex tourism continued, in addition to widespread media and billboard notices designed to warn young women of the dangers of commercial sexual exploitation.

• The government continued to support a national hotline project publicized through a nationwide media campaign featuring U.S. Pop singer Ricky Martin.

• The government improved coordination with non-government agencies and international organizations on prevention activities, and sponsored campaigns to reduce demand for commercial sex acts with minors by warning potential exploiters that they will be prosecuted in Costa Rica. Approximately 200 tour companies in Costa Rica in 2007 signed a conduct code as part of a global initiative against the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The director of the State Department's human trafficking monitoring office, Mark Lagon, said U.S. intelligence estimates are that some 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, 80 percent of them women, and that millions more are exploited within their home countries.

He said China remained on the so-called Tier Two watch list — just above the lowest ranking — because of insufficient efforts to protect trafficking victims, most notably North Koreans who have fled into northeastern China.

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Luis Diego Fonseca Flores works with a computer simulation before the large metal tank where million-degree plasma will flirt with supercold magnets.
big tank at Ad Astra
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Helen Thompson

Ad Astra is a way for Costa Rica to make its mark in space
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In the middle of a Guanacaste field, near where a boy once went hunting with his father, there is an unlikely technical facility that will soon be saving the United States government millions of dollars.

Inside the small white building, a fat metal cylinder sits within a single laboratory. Technicians watch activity on their computer screens, making simulations of improvements to the cutting-edge technology that was dreamed up by one of Costa Rica's best known figures 35 years ago.

Without the hunting trips in the 1960s, Franklin Chang Díaz may never have situated this branch of the Ad Astra Rocket Co. in a corner of Costa Rica where employees agree that it is sometimes difficult to get hold of equipment and personnel.

“Franklin loves Costa Rica so much that he wanted to put part of his company here,” said Ronald Chang Díaz, his brother and general director of Costa Rican operations. Although official reasons for the facility's location are the proximity of the Liberia airport and its location on the new EARTH University campus for sustainable development, Ronald Chang says that it was the fondness his brother feels for the area that was the real impetus.

Only around 10 percent of the Ad Astra company resides on Costa Rican soil. The rest is in Houston, Texas, where Franklin Chang spends the majority of his time.

Aided by charts and props, Ronald Chang explains what it is that his staff is actually doing in this facility through weekly open house sessions attended by students, teachers and people who just want to know more.

Pictures of the typical rocket with two huge fuel tanks attached to it provide a contrast to the rockets envisioned by the Ad Astra staff in Costa Rica, who are all Central Americans.

Instead of setting alight masses of combustible fuels in order to provide enough downward thrust to throw a vehicle into outer space, Ad Astra has a lighter, more environmentally friendly, economical way of pushing objects around.

By heating matter up to an unimaginable one million degrees using the same kind of wave used in microwave ovens, the scientists make plasma, which they shoot out into a vacuum chamber in order to create propulsion.

Argon, the planet's most abundant noble gas, is the only raw material that they need to make this plasma. Plastic solar panels will capture the energy to warm the gas up until it becomes ionized plasma.

“The satellites and space stations that orbit the Earth need to be pushed around three times a year, to keep them moving through space,” said Ronald Chang. “With the older technology, this would cost NASA about $140 million a year per satellite, as it would cost them so much in fuel. Our rockets use the sun as their energy source, making it incredibly cheap by comparison.

“With this technology, the same amount of thrust will cost around $7.2 million a year. What's more, as our rockets have the fuel on board, we can turn the rocket away from its trajectory, changing directions and speeds, unlike a traditional rocket.”

Carrying such incredibly hot material on board does come with its difficulties. In order to keep the plasma under control and stop it from burning the copper-lined insides of the chamber, Ad Astra uses super-conducting magnets. Placed on all sides of the ionized material, they keep the plasma in a tight tube of 10 centimeters (about four inches) in diameter, floating in the middle of the chamber.

But in order to function, these magnets need to be kept at a temperature of 220 degrees below zero.

“Having these two temperatures next to each other does present a challenge,” said Jorge Oguilve Araya, one of the thermal engineers that make up the 12-strong team. “We are working on a thermal management system which will keep the temperature constant.

“At the moment the rocket is like a car without a radiator. It starts up and then it would just keep heating up and heating up until at some point we would have to shut it off. We are looking into a way of keeping the plasma at the same temperature and allowing the rocket to run continuously without overheating.”

Six months remain until the deadline for the thermal
ad astra workers
Workers adjust ventilating tanks at Ad Astra.

management system, which will fit into Ad Astra's rocket, the VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket).

Lift off is set for 2011, when Ad Astra will send its first unmanned, fully robotic vehicle into space. Flexible arms will allow it to grab onto satellites and space stations, and give them the thrust they need to stop them from slowly loosing height and speed.

“What we're selling is the push,” said Ronald Chang. “We've signed an agreement with NASA, and we may also be working with Bigelow, which is creating the first space hotel.

“After 2020, Franklin wants to move into deep-space travel, but at the moment that's a romantic dream.”

Other aims of Franklin Chang are already on the road to completion. Sharing space travel with other Central American people is now one of Franklin Chang's priorities, said his brother.

“People in Costa Rica think rockets are not for them, that space travel is out of reach,” says Ronald Chang. “But Franklin wants Costa Rica to touch space. That's why you'll see the country's flag all over our rockets. This facility, with the open house program to educate citizens about space travel, is a way for us to say 'Space is here, you can reach out and grab it.'”

“As we expand, this program can give a really good push to Costa Rican students thinking about going into space travel. It's also for Central Americans — we feel that it's easier for South Americans to achieve in this sector, and this is a good chance for Central American engineers to make their mark.”

Franklin Chang himself started to dream about traveling in space with the lift off of Sputnik in 1957. Born in Costa Rica, but made a resident of the United States in his late 20s, Franklin Chang first went into space in 1986. He returned to a hero's welcome with people lining Paseo Colon to welcome him back. Since then he has completed six other space missions, making him the joint record holder for the most spaceflights by an astronaut.

The idea for a plasma-fueled rocket came to him while he was completing his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1970s.

Ronald Chang said he believes that it is Franklin's image that has made the program such a success with Costa Rican investors. The first two years of the program was entirely funded by Costa Rican investors, a fact that surprised the brothers, who had thought they would need to rely largely on capital from the United States.

Luis Diego Fonseca Flores is one of the Costa Rican children who grew up dreaming of working with Franklin Chang and who has now become a talented engineer in the Ad Astra program.

“Franklin's always been a figure and a motivation for me,” said Fonseca, who comes from San José and has been working with Ad Astra for one and a half years. “Ad Astra can show the world that Costa Rica has a good base of education, and can encourage other developing countries to  start their own companies like this one. It will give kids hope to study engineering and realize that in Central America these things can be done.”

Canadians in Costa Rica will celebrate their day June 29
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Maple leaves are the order of the day on June 29 as Canadian expats and their friends celebrate the country on Canada Day.

It has only been 141 years since the North American nation broke away from Britain's imperialist clutches, and every year Canadians have marked their independence with a national holiday.

Costa Rica's Canadian community will be celebrating with a day of games, swimming, mini-golf, tennis, a tug-of-war and a bouncy castle to entertain families.
Barbeque food and a red and white maple leaf cake will feed the guests, and the day will end with dancing and raffles.

The event takes place at the Club Campestre Español in La Ribera de Belén, Heredia, and will be opened by Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder at noon.

Advanced tickets for the party can be bought through the Canadian Club by calling 2288-6762 or e-mailing

Prices are 8,000 colons ($16) for adults or 5,000 colons ($10) for children.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 5, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 111

Arias signs controversial telecom bill that opens market
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration achieved one of its greatest victories to date Wednesday when the president signed the new telecommunications law.

It wasn't that Óscar Arias Sánchez was speechless by the event. He still is under the orders of physicians to refrain from talking due to a cyst on a vocal cord. But Rodrigo Arias, his brother, was under no such constraint and praised the measure.

The measure removed the monopoly long held by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad for wireless  telephone service and Internet. The institute had farmed out much of the Internet work to a subsidiary, Radiográfica Costarricense S.A.
The communications monopoly was defended bitterly by employees and union members of the agency who beat back a similar attempt in 2000 with marches and protests.

Although privately administration officials may hope the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad withers, in public they say the new law is a good thing.  Pedro Pablo Quirós, executive president of the entity known as ICE, said his agency was ready to compete in an open market. 

Rodrigo Arias did note, however, that the government institute has more obligations than would a newcomer to wireless communications.  Much of the home telephone lines are subsidized as are connections in rural areas.

The law requires the government to create a regulatory framework that might take some time.

U.S. official says Colombia's neighbors should bar rebels
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

John Negroponte, U.S. deputy secretary of State, is calling on Colombia's neighbors to help stop Colombian guerrillas from cross-border operations in jungle regions of South America. He spoke at the regional meeting of the Organization of American States in Colombia.

Colombia's government is hoping to use the annual meeting of the 34-nation group to show how its tough security policies have helped curb violence and transform Medellin into a safe and vibrant city. While the nation has stopped the threat from its largest paramilitary group, leftist rebels continue to operate in remote jungle regions.

Officials say a U.S.-backed campaign to fight drug trafficking has pushed back leftist guerrillas, leading them at times to cross into neighboring countries.

Negroponte said Venezuela is one area being used by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. "As far as the government of Venezuela is concerned, I don't think there is any doubt that FARC have sought sanctuary on Venezuelan soil, across from the territory of Colombia." he said, using the popular initials of the rebel group

Venezuela's government had denied providing any support to leftist guerrillas, and has criticized Colombia for failing to police the border. Officials in both countries say smuggling of illegal drugs as well as contraband food and gasoline across the frontier is a problem.
Negroponte said Colombia's government is making great strides to end terrorist activities of the rebels, but he said it needs more support from its neighbors. "Those who are in a position to do something about that, need to think about their long-term bilateral relationships, and about whether it is in their interest to let that type of situation to continue," he said.

Rebels also have been spotted inside Ecuador. Sunday, Ecuador's foreign minister told reporters in Medellin that security forces have destroyed more than 100 rebel camps inside Ecuador in recent years. Quito has criticized Colombia for a cross-border military raid March 1 which killed a FARC commander.

Foreign ministers from Colombia and Ecuador have met with the head of the Organization of American States, on the sidelines of the organization's annual meeting. Ecuador cut ties with Colombia after the March raid.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the organization's secretary general, said officials from the two countries have expressed their hopes of overcoming the incident.

Insulza says he is optimistic because of recent progress between the two sides, but says further mediation is needed to help resolve ongoing concerns.

Insulza says additional talks are planned, which he says could lead to a restoration of diplomatic ties between the two South American nations.

Three buses are involved in collision with valley passenger train in Barrio Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The valley passenger train had another accident Wednesday and collided with three buses. Three persons were hospitalized, and many others were treated. This is the same train that crushed a policeman's car in Pavas last week. The officer died and two other off-duty companions suffered injuries.
The accident Wednesday was in Barrio Cuba in southwest San José, and Alajuelita buses were involved. The buses mostly sustained cosmetic damage to their sides.

The train mixes with traffic at a number of points along the route from Pavas to the Universidad Latina in San Pedro.

Appropriate signals have yet to be installed.

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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.


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Ex-Sandinista minister
to head U.N. Assembly

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The 192-member United Nations General Assembly has elected for a one-year term a former Nicaraguan foreign minister and Catholic priest as its new president. The man, Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, will oversee the annual General Assembly debate with world leaders in September.

D'Escoto was elected by acclamation to take over as head of the 63rd session Sept. 16. He was the only candidate of the Latin American and Caribbean region which was in line for the rotating post.

D'Escoto, the son of a Nicaraguan diplomat, was born in the United States in Los Angeles. He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest and later admonished by Pope John Paul for his involvement in politics. But he continued to support the marxist Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional and was appointed foreign minister when the insurgents came to power in 1979. He remained in that position until the Sandinistas lost power in 1990.

D'Escoto's first meeting with the news media after his election got off to a rocky start as several reporters asked questions about his criticisms of the United States over the years. D'Escoto says he has always had great love for the United States, regardless of his opposition to some U.S. policies. At the same time, he says his top priority will be to end the dominance of the United States and Europe at the United Nations, especially on the powerful Security Council.

Costa Rica is a non-permanent member of the Security council representing this area.

"I hope my presidency will address what has become a universal clamor all over the world for the democratization of the United Nations. I promise to give full support to the working group on the revitalization of the General Assembly. I bring nothing new. It is a matter of emphasis," he said.

Father is in court trial
over death of his baby

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The father of a baby who died after allegedly suffering sustained physical abuse was in court Wednesday and will be there again today to face a charge of homicide.

The child, Esteisy Nayeli García Arce, died at the age of 15 months and is said to have endured repeated hits to her stomach, face and buttocks inflicted by her father, who is identified by the surnames Zúñiga Junes.

Staff at a clinic in Limón referred the case to social workers, but the child died Feb. 20 of perforations in her gastric system, peritonitis and stomach trauma, said the Poder Judicial.

The trial, which will take into account the testimonies of 11 witnesses, will determine whether the abuse that caused these injuries was indeed inflicted on the child by the father at his home in Sahara de Matina, Limón.

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