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These stories were published Tuesday, June 14, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 116
Jo Stuart
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'Enrique, please come home!' creditors cry
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A few friends are expressing their concern for the wellbeing of Luis Enrique Villalobos. Although seemingly tongue-in-cheek, the expression of concern is additional evidence of continued frustration among creditors.

A Web site has been constructed in which one or more creditors says:

"Enrique, if you read this: your friends and family are worried about you! We LOVE you!!! PLEASE contact home!!!"

Villalobos, of course, is the operator of the high interest informal bank in which a predominantly North American clientele obtained rates of up to 3 percent a month.

The case has been dragging on since Oct. 14, 2002, when Villalobos closed up his Mall San Pedro office and vanished. He is still missing although a procession of individuals have claimed to know where he is. Most want money to share their secret. Villalobos’ brother Oswaldo is facing a judge’s decision on whether he will face a fraud trial.

In addition to expressing love for Enrique Villalobos, the multilingual Web site also offers a $1,000 reward for information leading to locating him.

In a private e-mail, one creditor involved with the Web site said "The Villalobos should know we aren't going away in the near future. Because, in case the brothers forgot, they owe us a lot of money!"

The creditor said the goal was to have people circulate the address for the Web page in the hopes someone will recognize the fugitive financier.

A well-attended Internet discussion list maintained through Yahoo recently was closed 

Screen shot of Villalobos Web page

down. Absent any new information, the 
discussion list degenerated into personal attacks and polarization between those who believe Villalobos will return and pay what he owes and those who believe they have been scammed.

The Web site also notes that Villalobos may be in the company of his wife, Paula Dinalescu.

The legal case against Enrique Villalobos is stalled because he is not here. Some diehards believe that if Oswaldo Villalobos is absolved of fraud, money laundering and illegal banking, his brother will return. However, A.M. Costa Rica has reported that both men are likely targets of criminal investigations in other countries.

Enrique Villalobos probably had about $1 billion on his books when he closed down. That amount includes interest money rolled over by creditors. There is little probability that the brothers have access to amounts of money that big. The $1 billion likely is a bookkeeping entry.

The attitude of the creditors seems to have changed considerably. When A.M. Costa Rica posted a reward for Villalobos two years ago, many creditors were outraged and some made death threats.

Heavy rain prompts warnings of floodings and landslides
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains hit the Central Valley Monday accompanied by thunder and lightning. Also drenched were portions of the Pacific coast.

The weather bureau blamed a low pressure system in the Caribbean and said that the United States weather services would be sending aircraft into the area this morning to investigate.

The depression is moving to the northwest, and the indirect influence is causing increasing rain.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional issued a warning about flooding and landslides.

The San José area got nearly two inches of rain Monday from a series of storms that lasted on and off all day. Some 46.5 millimeters fell at the weather headquarters in Barrio Aranjuez not far from Hospital Calderón Guardia. That’s 1.83 inches.

The Caribbean coast continued dry. The weather station in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca reported no rain and a steady increase in temperature to 34 degrees at 9 p.m. (some 93 degrees F.)

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 14, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 116

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Our readers write

He appreciated Nosara story

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

Mr. Coto's whining with regard to "negativity" was pathetic.  Really, Mr. Coto, when was the last time a motorbus was pulled over on the side of a Lucerne highway and terrorized by bandits?  These highwaymen may have been responsible for the death of a law enforcement officer who took his position seriously enough to pursue those responsible for this terror.

A.M. Costa Rica is one of the few media outlets printing even a scintilla of the problems occurring in Costa Rica.  For the first time in 12 years, I've elected not to return to an area of the country I've enjoyed for several seasons — due to its leaders continued failure to provide decent infrastructure in the face of overdevelopment, an undervalued, understaffed and sometimes indifferent law enforcement community that refuses to acknowledge statistics that might shame leaders into addressing rather than avoiding these problems facing this beautiful country.

I particularly appreciated A.M. Costa Rica's article about Nosara, because I had planned to take the same road with a family of two mothers and three young children.  Regrettably, one law enforcement officer was shot five times, likely pursuing the hijackers I wanted to avoid.   The level of theft and violence may go on in every city, but I remain thankful that this periodical provides me with information to make an informed decision as to where I and my family travel.

Mike DeCaro
Key Biscayne, Fla.

She was shunned over news

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Being in the tourist industry I feel the tourist has the right to know the dangers of traveling here.  Be it roadside robbers, dengue or other health risks.  I was shunned by the hotels in the area a year ago when I notified the news of a deadly outbreak of leptospirosis.   Doctors "back home" need to know where their patients have been and what health risks to test for.

Roadside robbers affect the tourists, and neighborhood news would be carried in La Nación, for the locals. Across the board our tourist news media tend to promote "blue skies" (like the cruising magazines) and don’t seem to want to expose the risks to traveling abroad. I know it is a delicate balance, but I for one am glad you exposed the gangs in Nosara.

Along those lines, it is a good idea to remind tourists not to walk any of the beaches at night.  It is dangerous and now the police have discovered many youths go to the beach at night to smoke, and the police come looking to confiscate the drugs, or to extort money.

Please don’t use my business name, just list me as a "subscriber," thanks.

She just appreciates the news

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I’ve been reading your e-news for a couple months now.  I think you’re doing a great job of keeping your readers informed, regardless of how the news is perceived.  I haven’t yet read anything that struck me as negative journalism.  I feel sad for the Australian family, of course, and I’m bothered by all the crime perpetrated against tourists, but the U.S.A. doesn’t have a great record when it comes to crime statistics.  Any news reporting includes bad news.  It’s a wonder any tourist considers visiting the U.S. where murder is so rampant. 

I’m reading with great interest the changes to the residency requirements that are being proposed since I hope to retire to Costa Rica in a couple of years. I think it’s great that the Costa Rican government is planning to keep criminals out of the country. Sounds like a wonderful idea to me. 

I don’t know what Jo Stuart wrote that produced so many letters to the editor, but I commend you for printing all viewpoints. It’s interesting to notice how angry people become when their opinion is questioned or contradicted. As a child I remember occasionally watching a television show with my father, one of those political shows where all sorts of topics were discussed. What I mostly remember and still admire is the moderator always ended the show by saying something comparable to: "I may not agree with what you say, but I defend wholeheartedly your right to say it." 

Pura Vida! 

Sarah Nightingale 
North Carolina
Environmental minister
receives global award

Special to A.M. Costa Rica staff

Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, the environment and energy minister of Costa Rica, has received the first annual Global Ocean Conservation Award from six organizations promoting marine conservation.

Rodríguez, 45, was honored on World Ocean Day for his work in the past year advancing the global marine conservation agenda. The six groups presenting the award at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., were Conservation International, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Revolution, and the World Wildlife Fund.

The Global Ocean Conservation Award is to be given annually on World Ocean Day, June 8, to an individual who makes globally significant contributions in ocean use planning, marine conservation communications, ocean governance, coastal zone management, ecosystem restoration, fisheries reform and/or the advancement of ocean science in poorly known ecosystems.

Rodríguez is the first winner. In 2004, he expanded Costa Rica’s Las Baulas national marine park and facilitated the signing of the "San Jose Declaration" by his government, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador that set up multinational management and conservation in the eastern tropical Pacific seascape. The marine corridor includes two World Heritage Sites: the Galapagos Archipelago of Ecuador and Cocos Island of Costa Rica and two proposed sites for World Heritage status.

Rodríguez also provided leadership in the worldwide effort to secure a U.N. moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. The Costa Rican moratorium proposal, as it became known during the U.N. General Assembly, continues to gain support from nations around the world. 

In February, Rodríguez helped gain approval of a new Costa Rican fisheries law that requires all shrimp trawlers to use turtle excluder devices and outlaws the practice of shark finning.

Quake in Chile claims
at least 8 victims

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake killed at least eight people in northern Chile Monday, several Chilean newspapers are reporting.  According to the Oficina Nacional de Emergencia, the quake was a magnitude 7.9 

The epicenter was approximately 70 miles northeast of Iquique near the Bolivian border. According to  El Diario, based in Santiago, preliminary reports listed no deaths but an hour after the quake, the first death was confirmed.  According to La Tercera, five people were killed in a car accident that happened as a result of the quake, and three more died when walls fell in different locations. 

The quake reportedly lasted about 40 to 50 seconds and caused people to panic as fears of a tsunami quickly spread.  But El Diario reported that Jorge Correa Sutil, an official with the secretary of the Interior, said that based on the information from the Oficina Nacional de Emergencia and La Marina, that such a phenomenon was impossible. 

Water, electricity and phone services were all down for various amounts of time.

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U.S. vote on free trade pact is likely to be put off
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The future does not look good for the Central American free trade treaty in the U.S. Congress. Reports from Washington Monday night said that the Bush administration had decided to put off a congressional vote on the trade pact until the late summer or even later.

The decision came as a result of strong criticism from Democrats and also from some members of Bush’s own Republican Party, particularly those from sugar beet-producing states. Additional Central American and Dominican Republic sugar would be permitted to enter the United States under the plan.

Bush hosted wavering congressmen at the White House last week, but most said they were not swayed by the president’s arguments.

The trade pact probably has sufficient votes in the U.S. Senate but is probably about 20 votes shy of passage in the House.

Oscar Arias Sánchez, the former Costa Rican president, was in Washington lobbying for Costa Rican interests last week. He supports the trade pact, and he is a presidential candidate in the 2006 elections.

But Ottón Solís, the likely presidential candidate of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, has lobbied against the pact and told U.S. newspeople this week that approval of the agreement would lead to the breakup of the telecommunications and electrical monopolies in Costa Rica. He saw that as a bad thing. 

Solís also said that Costa Ricans would be flooded with cheap foodstuffs from the United States.

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have ratified the agreement. Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic have not. If the U.S. Congress does not approve the trade pact, there is no agreement.

Unions in the United States generally oppose the pact because they say the agreement does not provide sufficient protection for workers.

Caribbean cruise ships involved in drug smuggling
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An indictment by a Miami federal grand jury lists 10 people facing 19 counts of smuggling and conspiring to smuggle hundreds of pounds of heroin and cocaine into the United States  aboard Caribbean cruise ships from September 1998 through April 2004. 

According to the indictment, a group of Jamaicans led the ring, but the conspiracy included both passengers and employees of cruise ships.  In all, over 20 different vessels were used during the six years the operation took place. 

After a two-year investigation and numerous drug seizures, officials were able to level charges at 45 individuals in addition to the 10 listed in the indictment which was unsealed Friday.  The indictment does not list the nationalities of the individuals charged. 

The ships were based in South Florida and traveled throughout the Caribbean where passengers and crewmen reportedly smuggled heroin, cocaine and crack aboard by strapping the substances around their bodies while they were docked at ports throughout the Caribbean.  There is no word yet on whether the ships stopped in Costa Rica. 

Honduras accepts $215 million aid deal from U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States and Honduras signed a five-year $215 million aid deal Monday under the Bush administration's Millennium Challenge program. Honduras became the second country to secure funding under the program, following Madagascar. 

The Millennium Challenge aid program, which ties U.S. commitments to recipient-country pledges of good governance and transparency, has drawn criticism for its slow start since President George Bush first proposed it in his 2003 state-of-the-union address.

But officials here say the pace of the program will accelerate and that in addition to Monday's agreement with Honduras, aid pacts have been approved and are likely to be signed next month by Nicaragua and Cape Verde.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined Honduran President Ricardo Maduro for the signing ceremony for the newest accord, which aims to increase the productivity and business skills of Honduran farmers and cut the costs of moving their goods to market.

Ms. Rice hailed President Maduro for his leadership in developing his country's Millennium Challenge plan, which she said will produce a long-lasting capacity in Honduras to spur growth and economic opportunity in the farm sector:

After consulting all segments of Honduras society, Honduras wisely decided to use this Millennium Challenge grant to improve the productivity of its farmers," Ms. Rice said. "The grant will also be used to upgrade roads, thus reducing transportation costs 

between farms and manufacturing centers and national, regional and global markets. Better roads will also mean that poor people in rural areas will have greater access to medical and social services, and that their children can get to school.

President Maduro, for his part, stressed the reforms of his country's economy and legal systems, and commitment to battling official corruption, that are among the criteria for Millennium Challenge awards.

Among other things, he said the country's constitution has been amended to eliminate immunity from prosecution for government officials and members of congress, which he said in the past had produced a climate of impunity for the privileged:

President Maduro said despite market reforms, which boosted his country's economic growth to five per cent last year, twice the regional average, most Hondurans have not yet begun to feel positive results from what he termed their bet on democracy.

He said both the Millennium Challenge program and the proposed U.S.-Central American free trade agreement can help deliver those benefits.

Both have been under political fire in Congress. 

Amid resistance, the Bush administration is seeking only $3 billion in the coming fiscal year for Millennium Challenge, well short of the $5 billion envisioned two years ago.

The free trade pact, meanwhile, has drawn heavy resistance from Democrats and some members of the President's own Republican party. 

Latin economies expected to continue growing, development bank says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter-American Development Bank predicts that much of Latin America and the Caribbean will continue to enjoy good economic times in 2005.

In a statement Friday, bank economist Guillermo Calvo predicted economic growth of 4.6 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005, moderating from the region's strongest economic growth in 24 years of 5.7 percent in 2004.

The moderation in Latin American and Caribbean economic growth in 2005 is in keeping with economic trends elsewhere in the world.

Global economic growth was 3.8 percent in 2004, with much of this increase led by the United States and China.

Calvo also forecast a strong performance in 2005 in Latin American stock markets, better employment rates and increased investment.

In a breakdown by country, Calvo cited statistics showing estimated economic growth in 2005 of over 6 

percent in Argentina, 5.5 percent in Chile, 5.3 percent 
in Venezuela, 4.4 percent in Peru, 4 percent in Brazil and Mexico, and about 3.6 percent in Colombia. Central American nations were not included in the report.

Much of the economic boom in Latin America and the Caribbean is due to external factors, Calvo said. He cited international financial and monetary conditions such as the steep drop in international interest rates, depreciation of the U.S. dollar, better terms of trade in the region thanks to higher commodity prices for Latin American exports, and increased capital inflows to emerging markets.

Calvo, the chief economist of the bank’s research department, said Latin America and the Caribbean have become increasingly attractive to international investors. The economist predicted a 10.2 percent increase in investment in the region for 2005.

The improved economy, said Calvo, stemmed partly from the fact that many countries in Latin America have recently carried out rigorous fiscal adjustments, demonstrating that they are "well aware that financial soundness is one of the pillars of any development strategy."

Jo Stuart
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