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These stories were published Thursday, June 12, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 115
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Yes, we doublecheck — and we find we are a friendly city
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A California professor searched the world and found out that San José is one of the most friendly cities in the world.

A.M. Costa Rica went to the streets Wednesday and found out the professor is right.

No sooner did our stalwart reporter hit the Plaza de la Cultura than a nice, friendly man offered him a real Rollex watch for $10. Another had a swell deal on almost Cuban cigars. 

But that wasn’t all. While having a coffee among the friendly waiters and waitresses at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, a friendly North American wanted to help us make 3 percent a month in currency speculation. Nearby, a friendly English-speaking Tico had a nice deal on beachfront property in Liberia.

As our reporter walked the pedestrian boulevard, employees of restaurants, shoe stores, casinos and bars behaved so friendly in trying to get him to come in and sit down.

The professor had some tests. He dropped a pen to see if anyone would return it. He had a student pretend to have a bad leg and ask for help. He had another pretend to be a blind man who needed help crossing the street.

The tests didn’t seem appropriate in the downtown. Our reporter counted seven men with various forms of physical injuries. All friendly. And a handful of blind men, too.  All seeking help. When he tried to drop a pen, our reporter found that the friendly English-speaking Tico had taken it.

Finally, our reporter reached Avenida 1 at Calle 9, and as he entered a bar there, a friendly woman walked up to him and said, in a friendly tone, "I love you." How more friendly can you get?

Judges reject two Villalobos investor motions 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The investors who want to get Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho out of jail have lost another round.

Jack Caine of the Class Action Center said he found that the Sala IV constitutional court has rejected a petition for habeas corpus filed on behalf of Oswaldo and his brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho.

In the case file, Caine said that he found that Francisco Sánchez, judge of the Juzgado Penal de San José, has denied a petition to reverse a decision that the Villalobos case is a complex one. Because the case has been ruled complex, prosecutors have more time to prepare court filings, and Oswaldo Villalobos can remain in pretrial custody longer.


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Both petitions were filed by José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, the former minister of Justicia, who is working for the United Concerned Citizens & Residents of Costa Rica. The strategy of that group is to try to end the legal proceedings against the Villalobos so that Enrique Villalobos will return from being a fugitive and pay them the money that he owes them.

The Villalobos Brothers may have as much as $1 billion in investor money on their books. They ran a money exchange house and an informal investment operation where they paid up to 3 percent a month to a primarily North American clientele.

Oswaldo Villalobos has been in custody since late November. He was kept in jail, but now he is believed to be in Clinica Catolica.

The petition to Judge Sánchez was accompanied by a letter purportedly from Luis Enrique Villalobos, who remains a fugitive. In it, the former financier claimed many violations of his rights and that investigators took $250,000 from his mall San Pedro office when they raided it last July 4.

Caine said that he had to fight to find out the decision of the Sala IV. He said that court aides were reluctant to release the document because notification had not been completed to the parties involved. However, after pressing his case with court officials, he said he was shown the court log that said the petition had been rejected. However, he said Wednesday night he still does not know why.

The decision by Judge Sánchez that the case should remain a complex one was made May 22, said Caine. The letter by Villalobos to the judge was dated May 13. However, the text of the letter was not released until Friday.

The result of these decisions would seem to be that nothing will change. Oswaldo Villalobos will remain in custody, and prosecutors will have more months to prepare their case. That’s not what some investors wanted. They had raised nearly $100,000 to pay José Villalobos his initial fee.

In a presentation to investors before he was hired, José Villalobos said that he was convinced that the Villalobos Brothers were victims of a conspiracy by governmental officials and he wanted to expose the villains. He also said that if hired he quickly would file suit against the prosecutors and other unspecified government officials to cause the case to either move more quickly or to be dropped. Neither of those developments have taken place.

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Former Investment guru Harris in chains in Miami
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of a big offshore investment firm that maintained an office in San José more than five years ago has been arrested and taken for trial to the United States.

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

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

That story was published in Offshore Alerts March 31, 1998, and led to the downfall of Harris’ empire. The reporter was David Marchant, who reported Wednesday that he attended a court hearing for Harris in Miami where the former investment whiz kid was presented to the court in  handcuffs and leg shackles.

For Marchant it was a second victory. Harris and his companies sued Marchant after his 1998 story appeared and claimed libel. A U.S. district court judge eventually said the story appeared to be well-documented and truthful, and Harris lost a plea to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Harris was doing business in Managua under the name of Mitchell Astor Gilbert Trust Co. He moved there last year. In June a landlord posted an 

eviction notice on the organization’s Panamá 
offices for non-payment of some $47,000. according to the Panamá News.

Harris was arrested late Tuesday morning and quickly taken to a plane for a flight to the United States. He did not undergo extradition or deportation proceedings. Instead, Eduardo Urcuyo, minister of Gobernación, signed an expulsion order which claimed that the presence of Harris in Nicaragua was contrary to the national interest, according to La Prensa, the Managua daily. 

Marchant said that an allegation of perjury was raised in the Miami court appearance to go along with 13 counts of money laundering. A sealed  indictment was handed down in early May. The case is being brought by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the taxing agency.

The U.S. Embassy in Managua sought the arrest and expulsion, said La Prensa. The F.B.I., the International Police Agency (INTERPOL) and the Consejo de Defensa of Chile also had sought investigations of Harris.

The speed of Harris’ exit upset his wife, Nubia Gutiérrez Rivas, and his lawyer, Róger Guevara Mena, said La Prensa. The pair claimed Harris had been kidnapped.

Harris was born in the United States, left there in 1989 and now claims Panamanian citizenship. At one time the Marc Harris Organization said it had $1 billion under management. The articles by Marchant said that Harris took money from his clients’ accounts and billed them artificially high amounts for services and investments. At the time Harris collected a $1 million annual salary.


 
 
Don't take the baby
on your crime spree

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It’s not a good idea to leave your child alone in the car when you are going to shoplift. 

Fortunately, Fuerza Pública officers found a 20-month old baby in a suspicious car in the Parque de la Paz parking area late Tuesday.  Child Welfare officials took the child to a shelter in Cedros de Montes de Oca.

Then police started looking for the parents. The parking area is not far from Megasuper. And that was where store officials claimed a couple had taken some goods. Police were called and the pair, identified as Patiño Avila and wife Mayorga Marín.

Police said that the pair never said anything about the child when they were detained but later admitted they were the parents.

Early man fossils
fill major gap

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Scientists from the United States, Ethiopia and several other countries have uncovered fossils of the earliest modern human, Homo sapiens, filling a major gap in the human fossil record.

A press release Tuesday by the National Science Foundation, which provided funding for the research project, said the fossils discovered in Ethiopia are estimated at 154,000 to 160,000 years old, and provide strong evidence that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals co-existed rather than the former descending from the latter. The findings are published in two articles appearing in the Tuesday edition of the journal Nature.

The researchers describe the fossilized crania of two adults and a child uncovered at the Herto village in the Middle Awash study area of Ethiopia, about 225 kilometers northeast of Addis Ababa.

"The Herto fossils are unmistakably non-Neanderthal and show that near-humans had evolved in Africa long before the European Neanderthals disappeared," said F. Clark Howell, professor emeritus of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley. "They demonstrate conclusively that there was never a Neanderthal stage in human evolution."

"The conclusion that these fossils represent a transition from more primitive African hominids to modern humans supports the 'Out of Africa' hypothesis that modern humans evolved in Africa and not in multiple regions of the world," the release says.
 

Pipeline workers freed
in rescue operation

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru —  Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo says 71 gas pipeline workers are free, one day after they were kidnapped at gunpoint by Maoist Shining Path rebels.

President Toledo says the hostages were liberated Tuesday in southern Peru following a rescue operation. He says the workers are safe and healthy and that the security forces are pursuing the gunmen. 

The rebels kidnapped the workers after raiding their natural gas pipeline construction site in the Tocate area of the Andes. The former hostages were working for the Argentine petroleum company Techint. 

Police say the rebels demanded a $1 million ransom and threatened to kill their hostages if the military attempted a rescue operation. Toledo says no ransom was paid. 

Shining Path was one of Latin America's most feared rebel groups during the 1980s. The group weakened considerably after Peruvian police captured its founder, Abimael Guzman, in 1992. 

Mexico will send
Argentine to Spain

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — The Mexican Supreme Court has cleared the way for a former Argentine military officer to be extradited to Spain on genocide and terrorism  charges.

The court ruled Tuesday against Ricardo Cavallo, whose extradition had been sought by  Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon.  News reports say Judge Garzon wants the former officer to stand trial on charges of committing human rights atrocities against Spanish-born citizens in Argentina. 

Cavallo was taken into custody in August  2000 after a Mexican newspaper linked him to Argentina's so-called "dirty war."  Some 30,000 people died or disappeared during a crackdown on leftist rebels and suspected civilian supporters during military rule in Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Cuba will hold rally
against EU decision

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — A mass rally is planned here today to protest the European Union's recent decision to review its Cuba policy. 

President Fidel Castro's government announced the rally Wednesday, calling for hundreds of thousands of Cubans to gather in front of the Italian and Spanish Embassies.  Earlier in the day, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque described the EU policy review as hypocritical, saying Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was behind the move. Aznar's office did not immediately respond to the accusation. 

Cuba-EU relations began to deteriorate after Havana executed three convicted ferry hijackers and jailed 75 pro-democracy dissidents for treason and subversion.  The EU's policy review includes restrictions on political and cultural contacts on the Communist-run island. 

The move comes three months after the 15-member bloc opened a new office in Havana, which officials hailed as the start of a new relationship with Cuba. The EU is Cuba's main trading partner.  Hundreds of thousands of European tourists visit Cuba every year, providing it with much-needed foreign currency.

New United GM
promises linkages

By the A.M. Costa Rica Staff

Fred Thome has been named general manager of United Airlines in Costa Rica, and he wants to strengthen the firm’s operations by forging strategic alliances.

For the Costa Rican and Guatemalan market, the firm has created various promotional packages to increase the traffic between the two countries.

"What we are seeking is to offer passengers a new option with a good itinerary, adequate hours for business people who have to travel one day to Guatemala or México and return the next day, said Thome in a United press release.

At the same time United said it has reestablished some 162 flights, including Pacific and European destinations, that had been cut out during the low demand period of the Iraq war.
 

Child labor day
highlights problem

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is World Day Against Child Labor, and the International Labour Organization estimates that 250 million children in the world have to work.

An estimated 147,000 youngsters in Costa Rica also have to work, be it domestic work, newspaper deliveries, selling bubble gum on street
corners, harvesting coffee, picking bananas and cutting sugar cane, said Casa Alianza, the child advocate organization.

According to the Costa Rican labor legislation, no one under the age of 15 can work, said Casa Alianza.  The work force composed by adolescents between 15 and 18 must receive protection of the State.  But, as it is usually the case, the laws are not always applied, the organization said in a press release.
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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Muslim hatred is over acts not culture, author says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, one question has been heard repeatedly among Americans: Why do they hate us so? One U.S. intelligence official has what he thinks are some answers to that question and has written a book about it.

In reply to the question, "Why do Osama bin Laden and his followers hate Americans," the answer from U.S. President George W. Bush has been clear-cut and unequivocal: "They hate us because we love freedom. They hate us because we love and hold dear the idea that anybody can worship an almighty God in any way he or she sees fit. They hate the idea of a free press, free political discourse. That is what they hate. And so long as we love our freedoms, they will try to harm our country."

But in a new book entitled "Through Our Enemies' Eyes," one senior American intelligence officer, simply dubbed "Anonymous," sharply disagrees with that view. 

"There are a lot of people who say he hates our freedoms, as you said, or hates our liberties, and hates us for what we are, rather than what we do," said the author. "That is a very common piece of analysis, and I think it is entirely wrong. Bin Laden has resonance in the Muslim world because he has focused his dislike for the things we do, not what we are." 

The book was cleared for publication by the Central Intelligence Agency, and the author remains anonymous to the reading public. However, he is a senior intelligence officer of more than 20 years experience, much of it in Afghanistan and South Asia.

Anonymous agreed to be interviewed by a reporter and the interview request was cleared by U.S. intelligence officials. Under the ground rules, he remains unnamed. Anonymous says that, contrary to the portrait of Osama bin Laden as simply a crazed terrorist, the al-Qaida leader is a complex figure.

"I believe that the genius of bin Laden lies in the fact that he has not resorted to saying 'we hate America's freedom, and we have to attack them.' Or 'we hate America because they let women go to work and go to school, and we need to attack them

for that,'" the author explained. "He has not identified our culture, our society, as the main enemy or as the main reason to fight us. What he has identified are specific U.S. foreign policy actions and activities that have a resonance among Muslims all over the world."

Anonymous said Osama bin Laden has a clear political agenda. He says that agenda includes reducing U.S. support for Israel, a withdrawal of all American troops from the Arabian Peninsula, an end to what Osama bin Laden labeled as aggression against Iraq, and a halt to what Osama bin Laden viewed as Western exploitation of oil and natural gas resources of Muslim countries.

"It is a very clear policy," said the unnamed author. "None of it has to do with ephemeral things or slogans. It has to do with very clear-cut, concrete things. And I think that is why he is so effective in the Muslim world. He has picked a number of items that, whether you are, however you term it a moderate, a conservative, or a liberal Muslim, there is a certain amount of sympathy for the goals bin Laden has enunciated."

Anonymous said al-Qaida has taken some significant damage from Western anti-terrorist efforts. But, he adds, Osama bin Laden's strategy is to spur on attacks by individual groups, rather than leading a coordinated terrorist effort.

"His goal all along is to instigate other Muslims to attack the United States," said Anonymous. "He would give them assistance, he would give them training, he would give them some money perhaps. But the best of all possible worlds for him would be for Muslim groups around the world to attack us with no contact with him."

Anonymous said his views are controversial among his colleagues in the U.S. intelligence community. But, he said, understanding Osama bin Laden's motivation is key to defeating him.

"Understanding does not necessarily, and in this case does not, connote sympathy. It simply is an effort to portray the enemy as he is, and therefore give our country the best chance possible to counter and defeat it," he said.

The senior U.S. intelligence officer said that while American politicians refuse to characterize the conflict as a religious war, that is certainly the way Osama bin Laden and his followers look at it. 


 
Human trafficking report shows improvement
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 100 governments around the world are making concrete efforts to end trafficking in persons, according to a wide-ranging international survey released by the U.S. Department of State Wednesday.

At a Washington briefing, Secretary of State Colin Powell said "We hope that this report will help to raise awareness among governments and publics and serve as a catalyst for coordinated international action."

Compilation of the trafficking in persons report is required by Congress. It outlines a three-tier system for classifying nations depending on how aggressively they are acting to control trafficking within their jurisdictions. A nation's tier placement is determined by the actions it is taking to prevent trafficking in persons, to prosecute those associated with this form of organized criminal activity, and to protect victims.

Those nations found to be unresponsive to international calls for specific actions to control human trafficking are placed in Tier 3. Now reaching its third year of implementation, the law calls for the imposition of certain sanctions against nations found to be in that category.

"Countries can avoid sanctions by working with us and taking prompt action to improve their policies and practices," Powell said.

The nations that could be subject to sanctions according to the 2003 report are Belize, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Burma, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Liberia, North Korea, Sudan, Suriname, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

Costa Rica is listed as a Tier 2 nation. (see below)

The report emphasizes that several governments have increased their efforts to combat trafficking in the year since the last such survey, Powell said. "Mauritius has developed a multiagency initiative to combat the sexual exploitation of children. Brazil is fighting sex tourism by working with hotels to stop child prostitution, he noted.

The United Arab Emirates provides an "admirable example," according to the report, having made "great strides to strengthen its efforts throughout the year." The UAE's progress has moved it into Tier 1 in this year's report, among those nations fully compliant with standards for reducing trafficking, as contrasted with the UAE's Tier 3 placement last year.

Benin, Ghana and Morocco also improved their rankings this year, moving from Tier 2 — those countries making "significant efforts" toward compliance — to Tier 1.

Regarding the possibility of sanctions on non-compliant nations, the director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, John Miller, said the law requires the president to make a decision on whether to impose or waive sanctions by Oct. 1.

The report says that it is meant to be a diplomatic tool, "a guide to help focus resources on prosecution, protection and prevention programs and policies." Miller said the three-year history of the 2000 law requiring the report does indicate that nations have been responding to that intent.

A significant finding of the report is that estimates on the number of victims have been scaled back 

considerably from previous years. The 2003 report cites U.S. government estimates that approximately 800,000 to 900,000 people may be trafficked around the world each year. Estimates in previous years set the possible number of victims anywhere from 700,000 to 4 million, though experts readily acknowledge that estimates are unreliable in such covert, underground activities.

The number of victims estimated to be trafficked into the United States annually is between 18,000 and 20,000, down from an estimate of 50,000 in previous years.

Costa Rica fails
to meet standards

Here’s what the report says about Costa Rica:

Costa Rica has internal trafficking and is primarily a destination country for women and children trafficked into prostitution. 

Costa Rica is also a source and transit country for illegal migration, which includes trafficking. Women and girls are trafficked to Costa Rica from Colombia, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Panama, and to a lesser extent, Russia, Philippines, Romania and Bulgaria. The vibrant tourism industry attracts a small but growing percentage of sex tourists primarily from the United States, Canada, and Germany who prey on children. 

The government of Costa Rica does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. However, it is making significant efforts to do so. Costa Rica has continued to improve efforts to investigate and prosecute child sex abusers. There is significant political will to fight trafficking in persons which hopefully will translate into further actions to assist victims and prevent trafficking. 

Prevention: The government implemented some public awareness activities, including a radio campaign on the plight of street children who remain at high risk of being trafficked. In October 2002, the government placed stricter controls on the emigration of minors by requiring an exit document if the child was not traveling with a parent. Programs to raise school attendance and provide vocational opportunities to young women have been carried out but could be expanded. 

Prosecution: The Special Prosecutor on Sex Crimes reported hundreds of investigations launched in 2002, which led to a handful of convictions. The government expanded training of police and government officials on investigation methods and appropriate treatment of victims by the United States [and others]. 

In late 2002, each of the nation’s 10 police districts established delegations of two investigators and two prosecutors to focus solely on sexual exploitation. Several anti-corruption cases are ongoing, some related to migration offenses. Increased prosecutions are expected to follow as training increases. 

Protection: Most victim assistance is provided through well-established non-profit organizations and not through the government. The Child Welfare Ministry has created various community boards to assist in the protection of children. The government should continue plans to provide shelters for child victims of sexual exploitation as well as improve basic services. Medium and long-term care for victims is appropriate and benefits judicial proceedings against traffickers. 

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