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These stories were published Monday, June 7, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 111
Jo Stuart
About us
But there does not seem to be an overall plan
Development in high gear at the Pacific beaches
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Everyone up and down the coast of Guanacaste is getting ready for the real estate boom, all except maybe the Costa Rican government.

With few exceptions, most of the important thoroughfares are in very bad condition. As one traveler put it "car-sized potholes" are everywhere.

After one gets used to the "bumpy bump" of the roads and seeing car parts falling from their vehicle like in an old Charlie Chaplin movie, one notices all the new real estate offices, which are everywhere. This is especially true in Nosara and Sámara. 

The new Puente de Amistad built by Taiwan and the Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia are the major reasons for this land explosion.  Now tourists can pop on a plane in the United States and land in Liberia, Costa Rica. In a matter of hours they are surfing on one of the great Guanacaste Pacific surfing spots.  One such surfer was overheard last week talking to a buddy on Wall Street via a local phone saying he left New York in the morning and was surfing in Nosara before sunset.

In addition to real estate offices, beautiful houses are growing out of the jungle like trees.  Land is being subdivided and condominiums are being built for those who gravitate to Costa Rica.  They range from the plain old naturalists to the yoga meditation set.

Guanacaste is becoming like Aspen, Colorado, but for the summer set.  Those who love to grab a plane to go skiing in one of the world’s most popular spots, also are coming to Costa Rica for its natural beauty.  Many speculative investors can see the writing on the wall, and that is why there are so many of them in Guanacaste building houses for those yet to arrive. 

The Costa Rican government seems to have left Guanacaste without a development plan, except for the Papagayo Project in the far northwest.

One of the major problems seems to be that there is no realistic property tax base.  Taxes are hated by all, but they are a necessary evil in development. Taxes are currently 2,500 colons (about $5.90) for every million in tax value.  There are properties worth $200,000  whose owners pay $50 a year or less because of the way such values are calculated. 

Slowly this is changing. The municipalities are trying to update their records, but many factors stand in the way: Lack of personnel, lack of computers, lack of correct information from the Registro Nacional, Costa Rica’s countrywide public records center. But most importantly the municipalities lack money.  This results in a vicious circle because the money comes from the tax value, and this value is under reported 

Just a sampling

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Garland M. Baker
And real estate offices galore

on purpose by everyone who prepares a property sales contract in Costa Rica.

All the progress in Guanacaste is really sweet sorrow.  This area of Costa Rica 30 years ago was really the paradise everyone talks about, untouched and undeveloped. The boom happening on the Pacific coast today will be great for the economy of the country as well as very beneficial for the little communities in that area. But progress without a development plan could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Garland M. Baker is a 32-year resident of Costa Rica who provides business services to the international community. He can be reached at info@crexpertise.com. Baker has recently returned to San José from Guanacaste after a trip, in part, for research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. 

Mark your calendar for big July 3rd celebration
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Because July 4 is a Sunday this year, the big celebration for U.S. citizens will be Saturday, July 3.

Once again, the event will be at the Cervercería Costa Rica recreational facilities west of San José. That area is not available for use on Sundays, which is why the event this year will be Saturday, said a member of an organization that is preparing a booth from the event.

More than 4,000 U.S. citizens and family members attended the event last year. The highlight is the raising of the colors by the U.S. Marine honor guard.

The exact schedule has not been announced by the American Colony Committee which puts on the free event. This will be the 43nd annual observance of fourth of July here. 

Typically the celebration ends in the early afternoon to avoid expected showers.

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Legislators seek free
water for schools

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two national deputies have proposed a bill that would allow private schools and colleges to have free tap water.

The pair, Luis Paulino Rodríguez and Bernal Jiménez, said that the nation is providing insufficient public resources for the schools and that the money saved would be better used for repair of facilities, books or other needs.

The description of the measure by the staff of the Asamblea Nacional gave no indication where the water companies will get the money to pay the bills that would otherwise be paid by the schools. 

Local casino here
goes virtual on Web

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Casino Europa, located in the Radisson Hotel in San José, has gone online with a Web camera hookup that allows individuals all over the world to gamble via Internet.

Online casinos are not unusual, but this is believed to be the first time that an established casino in Costa Rica has branched out to Internet customers.

The Europa said it is the largest land-based operation in Costa Rica with three separate gambling facilities: Casino Europa, Tropical Casino and the Royal Dutch Casino. All are in San José.

"And now, through the magic of the Internet, Casinos Europa delivers our Costa Rica casino experience to casino players the world over," said the company on its Web page. "CasinoEuropaWebcam.com is a live webcam casino featuring live dealers dealing real cards to real casino players via a live casino webcam! Using real time video streaming, casino players see and hear actual blackjack games, baccarat games, roulette games, Caribbean poker games and sic bo games."

The three casinos were believed to be the property of Luis Milanes, the operation of the defunct Saving Unlimited. Milanes and key associates vanished in November 2002 and left investors holding the bag for an estimated $250 million.

Milanes always said money loaned to him would be used for casino investments and purchases or to build more slot machines. Prospective investors were given tours of the casinos to show them where their money would go.

However, prosecutors investigating the demise of the Savings Unlimited operation have not moved against the operations to recover money for the victims, and the victims have not begun any legal actions to do so.

Amnesty International
seeks sergeant’s release

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Amnesty International has adopted Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia Castillo as a prisoner of conscience and has called for his immediate and unconditional release. 

Mejia, who holds both Nicaraguan and Costa Rican citizenship, is the first U.S. soldier to be tried for desertion after service in combat in the current Iraq conflict. 

Amnesty International said it believes he has been imprisoned for his conscientious objection to the war in Iraq despite having taken reasonable steps to secure his discharge from the army.

A U.S. military court sentenced Mejia, an 8-year member of the Florida National Guard, to one year's imprisonment because he had refused to return to his unit in Iraq, citing moral reasons, the legality of the war and the conduct of U.S. troops towards Iraqi civilians and prisoners.

Ex-hotel owner dies
after robbery try

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Italian citizen shot three times by a motorcyclist Thursday night has died at a Heredia hospital.

The man was Guglielmo Proietti, who was known in the San José area because he once operated the Hotel Petit Victoria.

Proietti was believed to be carrying a substantial sum of money when he was attacked by two men on a motorcycle in San Francisco de Heredia. Both Proietti and a man on the motorcycle had firearms, and they engaged in a running gun battle.

The victim managed to shoot one of the assailants who then died wedged between Proietti’s vehicle and a tree. But Prioetti also took three bullets in the chest. He died late Thursday at Hospital San Vicente de Paúl. The second assailant fled.

Proietti was believed to be operating a business in the Heredia area, although he is best known for his association with the hotel on Calle 28 a block south of Paseo Colón.

Man sent to prison
after abduction foiled

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man from Hatillo, identified as Mayor Eduardo González, 31, has been jailed for a year of preventative detention after he became a suspect in the attempted abduction of a young school girl in Barrio Cuba Friday.

A man tried to drag the girl, 12, into a car outside the Escuela República de Nicaragua, a public institution. The girl fought back and would not let the man close the door of the car.

A father at the school came to her aid, and, although the man pulled a knife and claimed that the situation was a family fight, the girl was rescued. The man fled.

Investigators made an arrest that afternoon. Children there have been threatened by a man who was prowling near the school.

Youth falls from bridge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 15-year-old, identified as Norman Cerdas Hidalgo, suffered injuries Sunday when he fell off a bridge over the Río Virilla near the settlement of La Carpio just west of San José. Officials said the teen was with friends. A helicopter airlifted the boy from the scene to Hospital México.

Snake and dog cause
emergency flights

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In Barra de Tortuguero a 2-year-old girl suffered pitbull dog bites to her face, and her grandmother was bitten on the arm.

In the Indian community of Bajo Blei, a 17-year-old sustained a bite from a velvet snake.

All three victims were airlifted Sunday to San José area hospitals by the Sección Aérea del Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The young dog-bite victim, Génesis Urbina Urbina, went to the Hospital Nacional de Niños from the Caribbean community. She was reported to be in serious condition. Her grandmother, Rosalía López Miranda, 56, came to the girl’s aid with a machete and suffered the bite as she tried to get the dog to release its hold on the girl, according to a ministry account.

The snake-bite victim, identified as Bernabé Pérez, went to Hospital México. The velvet snake, one of the more common in Costa Rica, can be exceptionally aggressive when it feels threatened, according to snake experts.

Democrats will learn
about sex and politics

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sociologist Ruth Dixon Mueller will mix sex and politics in a talk to Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica Saturday, June 26.  The meeting will be at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica and the topic is "Love, Sex and Procreation: Democrats vs. Republicans in Election 2004." 

Dr. Dixon Mueller said topics will include contraception, abortion, same-sex unions, HIV/AIDS, abstinence-only sex education, international agreements on sexual and reproductive rights, and

Everyone is welcome to attend the business meeting and political discussion at 11.  Buffet lunch is at noon, and the presentation is at 12:30. For lunch reservations call 494-6260; for voter registration 282-5365.

The group also said that U.S. citizens could  visit its Web site and register to vote at at its booth July 3 for the traditional Independence Day picnic at the Cerveceria Nacional.
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He wants to help those who were 'hammered'
Villalobos hunter Peck is off in a new direction
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jim Peck, the Arizona private investigator who had plans to find Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, has changed his emphasis.

Now Peck says he wants to help frustrated creditors and others with a new self-help book distributed via the Internet. In addition to rules for happy living, the book says that anyone can make money as an internet marketer.

"I was motivated to write this book, because I have seen so many senior investors in Costa Rica and in the U.S. who have given up," said Peck in a letter to A.M. Costa Rica. "Many people got hammered and are still getting hammered with losses, high medical costs and simply do not know what to do and cannot find a niche."

On his Web site, Peck advises: "If people would follow the "blueprint to live by" in my book, they would reduce stress substantially, live "problem free lives," have more sex, more love, more money and be happy." 

Peck said he moved back to a New York suburb where his corporation, Net E-Visions L.L.C., has published an online book "How to Change Your Life in 7 Days," which promises to teach readers "a simple way to change your thinking, develop the power of your mind, and live an executive lifestyle.

His next book will be a no-nonsense way to make web site traffic explode by writing short stories, he said.

Peck said he set up Operation Recovery to help those who have lost money in the Villalobos Brothers high-interest "investment program." The operation and its Web site were announced June 12, 2003. 

Peck, about 58, was himself a Villalobos investor and worked briefly as a salesman at The Vault, another high-interest business operated by Roy Taylor, who killed himself during a police raid June 24, 2003.

"Apparently, the majority of people who had been burned by the ‘investment’ program were unwilling or unable to make the financial commitment required to assure the success of  Operation Recovery, he said in a news release that accompanied his letter.

But because some 200,000 persons from 42 countries visited his Operation Recovery Web site in a few week, Peck said he got the idea to use the internet to replace the money that was lost. The Villalobos Brothers  may have had as much as $1 billion on their books when they closed up the office Oct. 14, 2002.

While Peck was doing his research, he said he was thinking about unemployable seniors, people living outside the U.S., who are not able to work, have computers and need to generate U.S. dollars to re-establish and maintain their lifestyle.

Peck said he also thought about the scores of people who were left financially helpless with no solution in sight.

Peck reported that with state-of-the-art marketing software, op-in E-mail, auto responders, and merchant accounts, those who learn from his book 

The book
Jim Peck

can turn their computers into money machines.

The 62-page book sells for $29 over the Internet, a price that Peck characterizes as promotional. He also markets a sales newsletter.

In a quick read of the book, a reporter found that Peck does exactly what he says that he will do. His change-of-life rules include ceasing a destructive lifestyle and develop a positive mental attitude. In many ways this is the core of nearly every self-help book.

But Peck integrates his self-help tips with advice on starting an Internet business. He provides links to useful Internet sites and says that the second biggest money-maker on the net is selling information. For example, he provides a link to firms that will process credit cards.

But others still seek
the fugitive financier

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some persons who would like to find Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho have been monitoring the citizen band radio frequencies for several months because the fugitive financier is a radio buff.

The emphasis has been on the 11 meter band, from 25.0 to 27.995 MHz where easily available commercial equipment allows someone to transmit and receive voice messages without a license.

Monitoring has been with commercially availalble scanner radios that can zero in on the 40 or so established channels of the band. This is the same band popularized by truckers in the United States.

Typically such low-power transmissions do not travel far, so the group has been concentrating on nations and areas where members think Villalobos might have relocated.

The one known group or network of Villalobos creditors active in this area does not plan any direct action if they locate him. A member said the idea would be to help direct police to the location.

Direction finding is an established technology, and once signals from Villalobos can be isolated, radio experts can establish the source within a few hundred meters, the member said.

While he was running his high-interest borrowing operation at Mall San Pedro, several creditors became aware of his intense interest in the radio hobby.

El Salvador, Nicaragua and Grenada
Reagan's anti-communism had big impact here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

Ronald Reagan, the 40th U.S. president who died Saturday, will be remembered here as a strong partisan for his country even at the expense of Latin American interests.

Reagan arrived in the presidency on a wave of U.S. conservatism, created, in part, by the ineffective foreign policy of Jimmy Carter.

Almost to the day of his inauguration, guerrilla activity began against the authoritarian government of El Salvador. While the Carter administration linked military aid to human rights issues, the Reagan policies did not.

The El Salvador civil war established the ground rules for the administration of strong support for authoritarians and the characterization of local revolutions as being Communist-inspired.

In October 1983, Mr. Reagan authorized the U.S. invasion of Grenada following a Marxist coup, still considered by many one of his administration's foreign policy successes. But the invasion came only two days after one of his biggest foreign policy failures — a devastating terrorist attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 U.S. troops. That incident eventually led to the withdrawal of American forces from Lebanon.

Conservatives in the U.S. Congress hailed his support for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua during the 1980s. But the administration came under intense criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for the 1986 Iran-Contra Scandal in which the proceeds from secret arms sales to Iran to free U.S. hostages were diverted to the Contra fighters in Central America. Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North was a key player in that operation.

Reagan's popularity fell after the Iran-Contra scandal and it will be up to historians to judge how much that affair tarnished his administration's accomplishments. But by the time he left office in January 1989, the president's approval rating had rebounded. He held the highest favorability rating of any retiring president since World War II.

The Nicaragua war had a strong impact on Costa Rica, which was the one of two principal staging areas for activities against the Sandinista regime.

Oscar Arias Sánchez was president much of the time. He won the Nobel Prize for Peace based on his efforts to create a Central American peace plan signed by heads of state in the isthmus in 1987.

But Reagan never was a strong support of the peace plan, and Arias has said the U.S. president only saw military might as the solution for Communist insurgency.

Reagan, 93, suffered for a decade from Alzheimer's disease. He died at his California home in Los Angeles.

Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911, in Tampico, Ill. He served two terms in the White House from 1981 to 1989. 

He was a successful Hollywood actor before turning to politics and serving two terms as governor of California from 1967 to 1975.

His family, wife, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, and children Patty Davis and Ronald Reagan Jr., were at his bedside. He also has a deceased daughter Maureen, who died of cancer in 2001, and an adopted son, Michael.

According to current U.S. President George Bush, the son of Reagan’s vice president, "During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of division and self-doubt. And because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny. Now, in laying our leader to rest, we say thank you." Bush commented in Paris where he was reached before observances of the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

Reagan, who has lived longer than any other U.S. president, has been out of the public eye since it was disclosed in 1994 that he had Alzheimer's disease. In a note on Nov. 5, 1994, Reagan said, "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."

Reagan, who was born to Nelle and John Reagan, attended high school in nearby Dixon and then worked his way through Eureka College. He began his career in radio in 1932, but a screen test in 1937 won him a contract to a movie studio in Hollywood. During the next two decades he appeared in 53 films.

He came to national political prominence when he gave a speech in 1964 on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater.

In 1966 Reagan was elected governor of California and was re-elected in 1970. 

At 69, Reagan was the oldest man ever elected president when he won Nov. 4, 1980. On Jan. 20, 1981, Reagan took office. Only 69 days later he was shot by a would-be assassin, but quickly recovered and returned to duty. His grace and wit during the dangerous incident caused his popularity to soar.

When wife Nancy asked him what happened, Reagan with his customary dry wit said, "Honey, I forgot to duck."

During his two terms he increased defense spending 35 percent, but sought to improve relations with the Soviet Union. In dramatic meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he negotiated a treaty that would eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Reagan declared war against international terrorism, sending American bombers against Libya after evidence came out that Libya was involved in an attack on American soldiers in a West Berlin nightclub. 

By ordering naval escorts in the Persian Gulf, he maintained the free flow of oil during the Iran-Iraq war. In keeping with the Reagan Doctrine, he gave support to anti-Communist insurgencies in Asia, and Africa. Although his policies are generally credited with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that took place after he left office.

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Miss Costa Rica, Nancy Soto, 
mariachi band
A musical triumph for one of the world's beauties
By Laureen Diephof
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Red, yellow, green, gold and orange beams of light danced on the high ceiling and walls to the boom, boom, boom music, you felt first in your gut and then in your ears.

About an hour later, a long, hot pink column — Miss Costa Rica, Nancy Soto — appeared at the entrance and froze in a posed position. The audience rose up and applauded.

Just 6 feet tall, Nancy Soto, wearing a strapless top and a hip hugging, long, body-clinging skirt, showing lots of skin. She worked the room. She hugged and kissed about 150 of her best friends, all sitting, if not dancing, at round, white cloth-covered tables topped with pink petunia flower centerpieces. 

She posed with her fans, moving quickly into the classic pageant stance, brilliant smile on her face. 

Then the familiar, but always surprising blue-and-silver-costumed mariachis stormed into the room, exciting the crowd with brass, strings and loud singing honoring Miss Costa Rica. One of them made a little speech and then plopped a huge sombrero on her head. 

After several songs, and some dancing, she sat down next to her mother, who, by now, wore the obligatory sombrero. They listened to the mariachi sounds and the whistles and screams that traditionally accompany the music.

Jumping and jiving continued. White haired men, women in animal print blouses, and other celebrants of all shapes, sizes, and ages, gyrated the rock and roll, bump and grind, twist and (oh, yes), shout.

The Miss Universe Pageant, held Tuesday in Ecuador, named Miss Soto among the 10 semi-finalists. This marked the first time any one from Costa Rica had gone this far in the Miss Universe Pageant.

This year’s winner, Jennifer Hawkins, from Australia, accepted the title from outgoing Miss Universe, Dominican Republic’s Amelia Vega.

Miss Soto did not win the pageant, but because she one-upped the former Costa Rican contestants, by being among the top 10 most beautiful women in the universe, makes her friends want to jump and shout.

So that is what they did on into the night at La Hacienda Saturday in Miss Soto’s hometown of Heredia, in the San Lorenzo District.

How to make a modest gift really, really expensive
EDITOR’S NOTE: This reader comments on the $3,150 in charges levied against a Manuel Antonio-Quepos foundation for transporting wheelchairs from the United States to Costa Rica. We usually don't like unsigned letters, but this one contains a warning for our readers.

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

No Christmas presents, birthday presents, or surprises from loved ones. These are a few of the costs of living in paradise.  The article from Robbie Felix reminded me that after our arrival as permanent residents a few years ago, it was difficult to tell all of our friends and relatives in the U.S. to please not send anything but papers to our Miami mail-forwarding address. The costs of shipping and customs expenses in Costa Rica usually meant that we paid more on this end than the original cost of the gift and shipping to Miami. 

Recently, friends sent us a thank-you gift after visiting us.  We failed to tell them about the problem of shipping.  They purchased a gift ($25) and shipped it ($15) to Miami.  When we were notified that a package had arrived, we were informed that we had no option but to pay the $25 customs fees and the $40 for shipping and handling 

here in Costa Rica.  The gift cost, in total, $105.  The same item is available at Pricemart for about $30.

What happened to us is not tragic, but what happened with the wheelchairs must border on criminal.  Do you think the well-intentioned gift-givers expected that on top of the fees they already paid, these fees would have added to the cost of their charity?  I doubt it.

For a change, the customs fees don’t seem that outrageous.  I wonder what it would have cost for shipping and customs for donated clothing for these children?  It is possible to ship a car from anywhere in the U.S. to Costa Rica for a third the cost of shipping these wheelchairs.  A good lesson here:  if it’s not mail, don’t use a mailing service.  Use a shipping company!

It’s not clear "who’s doing what to whom," but what we all know is that this insanity hurts us all — not just the children and others that Robbie Felix is trying to help, but all people who live in Costa Rica. 

Name Withheld
San José

U.S. seeks to generate support for new Haitian governmental leaders
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States is urging Latin American and Caribbean leaders to do all they can to support Haiti's interim government, led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.

Some governments have withheld recognition, in part because they believe Jean Bertrand Aristide, the former president, was deposed by the United States and France.

Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said it is important that the Caribbean Community and Organization of American States recognize the important changes that have happened in Haiti. 

Ereli also said they should help contribute to Haiti's attempts to build prosperity and democracy for its people. The spokesman mentioned that United Nations troops have begun arriving in Haiti for peacekeeping operations. 

Ereli made his remarks as the Organization of American States prepares to hold its 34th General Assembly in Quito, Ecuador, this week. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will lead the U.S. delegation to the talks. He is to arrive today.

Miguel Angel Rodríguez, the former Costa Rican president, is the unopposed candidate to win a four-year term as secretary general of the hemispheric group.

Jo Stuart
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