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These stories were published Friday, June 13, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 116
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Costa Rica may bar importation of older cars
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transportation and environment ministries want to keep vehicles older than five years from entering the country. Officials have prepared the outline of a decree that will be presented to President Abel Pacheco for his approval.

The restriction on importing older cars has been a topic of conversation for weeks among taxi drivers and some North American business owners.

However, Eugenia López, a spokesperson for the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte, confirmed her ministry’s role in the proposal Thursday. She said that in addition to the Minsterio de Ambiente y Energía the country’s tax collecting ministry, Hacienda, also was involved in planning.

The decree would solve some of the country’s problems, she said, listing environmental concerns over exhaust from older cars and also traffic accidents caused by faulty older vehicles.

The final decree has not yet been written and probably will not be prepared for Pacheco’s signature for several more months, she said.

Costa Rica is becoming a garbage can and a 

dumping ground for old cars, she said, and the idea of the decree is to protect the country.

The government has instituted a rigorous vehicle inspection program, and many owners of older cars are having trouble getting their vehicles approved.

The decree also would have financial implications for the government. Duty is assessed on cars when they are imported. The duty may be as much as 80 to 90 percent of their estimated value, but there are many variables, including age.

Many vehicles, mostly those for agricultural work and public transportation, are not subject to duty. Other vehicles and self-propelled equipment enter Costa Rica to be leased, and the owners avoid duty payments by removing them at the end of the lease term. 

If the decree was in force now, only vehicles made in 1999 and later could be imported.

Taxi drivers generally oppose the measure because they fear they will not be able to afford newer vehicles. 

If the decree is signed, older vehicles already in the country probably would get a boost in their resale price.


 
A simple lesson for future presidents who lie
The debate is raging, not only in the United States, but also around the world, even here in Costa Rica. "Where are the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was supposed to have aimed at us? Is it important that they be found? Did the U.S. president and his administration lie? Does it matter? 

There is another debate raging. It’s about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s autobiography, "Living History." Do we really believe her version of her reaction to learning her husband had lied about his sexual dalliance with Monica Whoneedsnolastname. How could she be the last to know when everyone else knew? Every single anchor who has reported on Sen. Clinton’s book has read the same quote — how she "gulped for air" when Bill told her he had lied. My first inclination is to say to all these people (and evidently the panting public) is get a life, or better yet, get your own sex life. But it has been said many times, a lying President has a great effect, not only on the people of a country, but other aspects, too. Even while he is denying he lied.

Like the economy. Look what happened to the economy under Clinton. Yeah. And crime and the morals of our young people. Well, so crime dropped considerably under Clinton and so did teenage pregnancies (but we know why, don’t we?) As to the world opinion of our president, there was no doubt in many peoples’ minds that Bill Clinton had not only lost the respect of other countries for himself, but for our whole country. Just ask leaders like Nelson Mandela and Tony Blair and the French! 

Ah, the French. Their own president had both his wife and his mistress at his funeral, so what do they know about morality? We will overlook the fact that the Catholic bishop of Costa Rica came out in Clinton’s defense. So here we are, with a new man in the White House, a man who has brought morality and respect to the office of President. A man who "says what he means and means what he says." 

But now there is some question about the meaning of some of the statements he used to convince Congress and the American people that war was the only way to stop Saddam Hussein from using his weapons of mass destruction against us. On Oct. 5, 2002, President Bush said in his radio address: "We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have." 

In a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio Oct. 7, 2002, he said, "The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past. Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." 

Now, he may be telling the truth. Our troops are still looking for those sites and those weapons. But things don’t look good. If Saddam Hussein had these weapons and no compunction about using them (as we were told), why didn’t he use them when he was attacked? With their backs against the wall, better men than he would have done so to protect their lives and their power — or go down taking as great a toll as possible.

The administration is insisting that the intelligence they received was accurate and good (in spite of the clumsily forged report about importing uranium from Africa on which they based some of their statements, and about which most of the interviewers I watched were too polite to ask). 

It is too bad that the intelligence about Saddam’s ability to defend his country with conventional weapons was not as good. We might not have had to pulverize Iraq’s infrastructure, and the Iraqi people would still have electricity. The cost in lives should also be mentioned, for although the news has not dwelled upon the number of Iraqis who have died as a result of our war to free them, there have been thousands. We all know the cost in lives in our own military. 

Now the question is what effect so far have President Bush’s denials had upon the economy, morality, crime in the United States and the opinion of the rest of the world towards our president and us? And that brings us to the lesson to be learned for American presidents-to-come. 

The lesson is this: You can lie about anything but sex, even if it leads us into war and death and destruction, even if the economy is in the dumps, crime has gone up, and the rest of the world scorns you, the majority of the Americans will forgive you. But lie about your sex life, and you are forever branded. 

I wonder, when First Lady Laura Bush writes her memoirs, if anyone will be all that interested in her reaction if her husband tells her he has lied about the reason for attacking Iraq. 

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Regulatory agency distances itself from The Vault
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras is trying to distance itself from The Vault S.A. and has posted a statement on its Web site that says it has nothing to do with the investment firm.

Roy Taylor, operator of the firm, said that employees from the superintendencia have reviewed the firm’s operations and given him a list of rules he must follow to stay on the correct side of the law.

That’s one reason Taylor gave for ending monthly interest payments to his investor clients and reverting to a quarterly or annual dividend system. In the past he paid 3 to 4 percent a month to investors.

However, the superintendencia said "The Vault S.A. is not authorized to carry out financial intermediation businesses and is therefore not subject to SUGEF supervision and monitoring."

The Web statement said that "The Vault S.A., through one of its partners known as Roy Taylor, claims that one of The Vault’s priorities has been to satisfy government regulations and that, in spite of not being a bank, its business has been satisfactorily reviewed by SUGEF, in addition to having open communications with SUGEVAL - the securities supervisor." Then it disputed that.

In December Taylor showed reporters persons examining his records at a Vault office and said they were from the superintendencia.

The notice was posted in both English and Spanish on the agency’s Web site.  The agency also said that it maintained a running list of those banks and other regulated institutions it supervises and also has available the balance sheets and other financial information of such firms. It pubishes its lists of regulated firms each month.

The superintendencia also cautioned investors against dealing with non-licensed firms: "Any investors handing money over to non-authorized or non-supervised individuals or companies will assume the risk of becoming a victim of fraud or losing their entire investment. Fraud crime can be reported to the Public Prosecutor's Office."

There is no indication why the financial regulatory agency posted the notice. However, it did note that The Vault said in a newspaper ad that it has not requested any operation license from the superintendencia or the La Superintendencia General de Valores, the agency that supervises the securities market.

The Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras received a lot of criticism because it allowed Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and his brother Oswaldo to operate so long as an informal high-interest investment company. However, the agency said several months ago that since the so-called Brothers investment operation was not licensed, it did not have any authority to investigate it.

Financial intermediation is accepting money from one source and lending it out to another entity or individual.

Arizona investigator on trail of Enrique Villalobos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Arizona private investigator has set up office in San José with the avowed purpose of finding Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and getting money back for investors in the failed high-interest scheme.

The investigator, James B. Peck, himself a Villalobos investor, also has offered a reward of from $5,000 to $50,000 for information to Villalobos’ whereabouts. He said in a telephone interview Thursday that he thought he would be able to find the fugitive financier quickly.

Although he was non-committal on many of the details of his "Operation Recovery Task Force," he pointed out the goal was not to bring Villalobos to justice but simply to get him to pay off the investments of those who foot the bill for the search. He said he would accept investors until he has about $25 million in Villalobos debt represented. He said that was probably a reasonable amount that Villalobos might be able to pay.

Peck’s idea has been mentioned in the past, but the announcement of the task force represents the official start of the search. However, he said he already has been working for more than a month with some success.

The task force has its own Web site: www.operation-recovery.net.

Peck characterized himself as more of a collection agency. The Web site said that those investors who participate will pay 5 percent of the amount owed them by Villalobos up front and an addition 15 percent of whatever funds are recovered.

"We intend him no harm, either physical or mental," said Peck of Villalobos. However, he did note that the former financier is 63 and might be in failing health. This makes the search more urgent, he said.

Peck, himself 57, bristled at the suggestion that he was joining a line of persons who have been exploiting investors with hopes of getting their money back. He said his record of more than 20 years in the investigating business speaks for itself. He also is a 10-year visitor to Costa Rica with friends among the local North American community.

A.M. Costa Rica offered a reward for Villalobos for four months, but a number of investors ridiculed the $500 amount as paltry. That offer was withdrawn. However, Gregory Kearney, a lawyer with some investors as clients, also is offering a reward, perhaps as much as $1,500, with the same goal: Find Villalobos and coax him to negotiate.

Villalobos dropped out of public view Oct. 14 when he closed his high-interest borrowing operation at Mall San Pedro. He is being sought internationally to face fraud and money laundering allegations. His brother, Oswaldo, is in custody in San José.


 
 
Animal spaying project
plans meeting in Jacó

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The McKee Project,  a non-profit organization for the humane control of overpopulation of cats and dogs in Latin America,  is coming to Jacó, and residents are invited to an introductory meeting Saturday at 3 p.m. 

The organization advocates spaying and neutering pets to avoid unwanted reproduction.

The meeting will be hosted by the Marriott Hotel, Los Sueños, Herradura.  For more information those interested can call: 643-4012 or visit the Vet Clinic in Jacó in front of Economy Rent-a-Car 
 

Illegal stills found
and liquor seized

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend will be a dull one in the countryside.

Fuerza Pública officers have confiscated 250 gallons of bootlegged liquor and destroyed three illegal stills.

The raid took place in Caserío del Salvador, District of Piedades Sur, in the canton of San Ramón de Alajuela. The operation was a joint one among the police delegations of San Ramón, Palmares, Poás, Carrillo, Grecia and Alajuela.

Police said they were investigating three suspects.

Pension reform leads
to protests in Brazil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — At least 30,000 government workers have rallied here to voice their opposition to planned pension reforms. 

The demonstrators braved intense heat Wednesday as they marched in the capital to stop the government from cutting their benefits.  This was the first mass protest against President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who took office January first. 

Popularly known as Lula, President da Silva says pension reform is necessary to save substantial amounts of government money.  The former labor leader also wants to raise the retirement age and levy a tax on the pensions of retired public workers. The change could affect as many as four million people. 

But, some members of the president's Workers Party oppose pension reform. They claim the overhaul is designed to satisfy the giant corporations and banks as well as the International Monetary Fund.

The president took office pledging to honor Brazil's financial commitments, keep inflation low and maintain fiscal stability. He also said his administration will work with the International Monetary Fund to stabilize Brazil's finances.

Castro leads parade
to protest EU’s cuts

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — President Fidel Castro has led hundreds of thousands of marchers past the Spanish Embassy here to protest a European Union decision to reduce ties with the island. 

President Castro wore his traditional military uniform Thursday as he led the flag-waving marchers past the diplomatic mission in Havana's old colonial district. 

On the other side of town, Castro's brother and designated successor, Defense Minister Raul Castro, led a similar rally past the Italian Embassy. Protesters shouted "down with fascism" during the rallies, which state-run television broadcast live. 

In response, the Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome summoned Cuban ambassador Maria de los Angeles Florez Prida to express indignation.  There was no immediate reaction from Spain. 

The EU decided to end high-level visits to Cuba, reduce cultural exchanges, and court the country's opposition because of concerns over human rights. EU-Cuba relations have been strained over Havana's recent execution of three convicted ferry hijackers and prosecution of 75 pro-democracy dissidents. 

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Illegal Mayan objects to be returned to Guatemala
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. government has announced that a collection of illegally-imported Mayan artifacts— items that survived the Sept. 2001 terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center in New York — will be returned to Guatemala.

U.S. officials announced that a settlement had been reached with the two people who had brought the artifacts into the United States from Guatemala in 1998. That same year, the U.S. Customs Service seized the artifacts after determining they had been removed from Guatemala illegally. The artifacts were then stored in a vault at Customs' office inside the World Trade Center complex.

Still intact after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, the artifacts from Guatemala's Peten lowlands and southern coast near the town of La Democracia were later moved for safekeeping to a warehouse in Miami, Fla. The collection of pottery and figurines, dating from between 500 A.D. and 1200 A.D., had been found months after the attack in New York by crews sifting through the rubble of the destroyed 6 World Trade Center building.

The sparsely populated, tropical rain-forests of the Peten lowlands were a center of Mayan civilization, and looters and smugglers make a living out of illegally seizing artifacts from that region, said a spokesman for the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington.

"It's very hard to control the looting of all these Mayan sites," the spokesman said, adding that the 

United States is the principal market for such artifacts.

The 26 pre-Columbian stone and ceramic pieces had a value of $165,000, U.S. officials said. The U.S. Customs Service said the two people who took the collection from Guatemala, Patrick McSween and Judith Ganeles, did not have official permission from the Guatemalan government to do so.

The Customs Service seized the artifacts as the cultural patrimony  of Guatemala. The Guatemalan government, which has an agreement with the United States on import restrictions of pre-Columbian cultural property, requested the return of the artifacts. 

"Pre-Columbian" refers to the Americas before their discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

The Guatemalan Embassy spokesman said his country values the agreement in force with the United States to protect Guatemala's cultural patrimony. The two countries extended that agreement in September 2002.

A 1970 international convention allows the United States to impose import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological or ethnological material, the pillage of which "places a nation's cultural patrimony in jeopardy."

The ultimate goal of this convention of the U. N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization is to reduce the incentive for pillage, "which causes an irretrievable loss of information about our universal heritage." 


 
Rich story of chocolate featured at N.Y. museum
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The delicious story of chocolate is the subject of an intriguing exhibit opening at the American Museum of Natural History Saturday. The exhibit, which will run to Sept. 7, explores the ecology, history, economics and worldwide allure of chocolate.

The exhibit — as rich as the subject itself — traces the history of chocolate beginning more than 2,000 years ago in the tropical rain forests of Central and South America where cacao trees first grew through its popularity in Europe in the 17th century to the production techniques and holiday candy molds of the 20th century.

While the first use of the cacao seeds and chocolate is associated with the ancient Maya of Mexico and Central America, today Africa is now the source of more than half the world's cacao. Mexico, where cacao may have been first domesticated, provides only 1.5 percent. Fifteen of the leading per-capita chocolate-consuming countries are in Europe.

Today chocolate is used for everything from courting a sweetheart to relieving stress, Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History, said at a preview of the exhibit June 10. "It is an indulgence, a passion, an obsession."

To the Aztec, chocolate was a luxury, a spicy drink for warriors and nobility, used in rituals and ceremonies. They also used cacao seeds as currency. The Spanish, searching for gold in the New World, instead found cacao and its spicy drink which they brought back to Spain where sugar was added. But the Spanish kept their sweet chocolate drink a secret for almost 100 years before it was revealed and the drink's fame spread through Europe. In 1657 the first English chocolate house opened and by 1930 nearly 40,000 different kinds of chocolate were sold in the United States. In 1982 chocolate went into space on the U.S. space shuttle Columbia.

The exhibit, with its chocolate-colored walls, begins with a reproduction of a lush tropical rainforest with a life-like replica of a cacao tree complete with seedpods. Other panels discuss how the cacao tree is grown under the shade of larger canopy trees and the tiny flies and birds found in the rainforest are part of the complex ecosystem that support its healthy growth.

The exhibit features more than 200 objects, including pre-Colombian ceramics and ritual objects, European silver and porcelain chocolate services, 19th and 20th Century coca tins and 

advertisements, botanical specimens, and agricultural tools.

Different sections of the exhibit trace the earliest evidence of chocolate consumption with lavishly designed vessels used to serve chocolate drinks in the ancient Maya and Aztec cultures to its introduction into Spain and eventually into the rest of Europe where it was enjoyed by the nobility.

Slave labor was used on sugar and cacao plantations to meet the growing demand for chocolate. A copy of a letter written by William Cadbury protesting the poor working conditions on plantations is also part of the display.

The section "Cacao Growers" examines the daily work of cacao growers all over the world. Machetes, a net bag for collecting pods, woven baskets for gathering loose seeds, and manta mats for drying them show visitors how modern farmers harvest, prepare, and ship their crops.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is a 7-foot-long coffin in the shape of a cacao pod attached to a 3-foot high tree trunk made for a wealthy Ghanaian cacao farmer.

Visitors also can test their knowledge of chocolate data: The country which grows the most cocoa annually? Ivory Coast. The citizens of which country consume the most chocolate per capita? Switzerland.

And what would an exhibit on chocolate be without a taste? Chocolate tastings conducted by more than a dozen bakeries and chocolatiers in New York City will be held most weekends.


 
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