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(506) 223-1327              Published Friday, June 15, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 118                E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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San Antonio de Belén fights flood aftermath
Tornado plays havoc with south side of metro area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A true tornado had its way with the south side of San José Thursday afternoon and damaged nearly 500 homes.

The tornado touched down in Hatillo Centro, deroofed houses there and then followed an eastern track through Alajuelita and Sagrada Familia. A section of Barrio Cuba was hit, too.

Unlike the windstorm that damaged homes in a section of Cartago Wednesday, this weather phenomenon was a true tornado with a dark funnel that reached to the low clouds.

Unlike the bruisers that prowl the western and Midwest of the United States, this one was tiny, with a funnel no more than 30 to 40 feet in diameter. Winds were estimated at about 100 mph.

In Hatillo a man in a bus empty of passengers said the funnel nearly tipped the bus over to one side and then the other. Steel and plastic roof parts filled the air. A Channel 7 photographer braved the flying debris to record the tornado taking out a pole-mounted transformer. Some tree limbs were ripped off. And in Barrio Cuba the entire roof was removed from a single-family home.

Some 500 homes were affected and many remain early today without electricity, said the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

The emergency commission president, Daniel Gallardo, declared a red alert for the area, and a command post was set up in Alajuelita Centro. The tornado followed the general route of the circumvalación highway that borders the southern part of the central business district.

The damage from the tornado follows on the heels of yet another disaster caused by flooding. The full extent of the disaster was not known until daylight Thursday when the emergency commission declared a red alert for San Antonio de Belén where flood waters Wednesday reached the roof tops of cars. From 270 to 300 homes were flooded out there as well as some 40 businesses. Officials blamed the rapid construction nearby that
channeled excess water into the ironically named Río Quebrada Seca.

One retaining wall simply collapsed. San Antonio de Belén is west of San José and known as the location for the Hotel Marriott and the Bridgestone Firestone tire plant. They were not damaged.

More than 1,000 persons in residential areas were affected, and many spent the day digging mud from their houses. Some homes were heavily damaged with structural walls destroyed. Some 20 cars were carried distances by the flood, and some ended up atop another vehicle.

Although San Antonio de Belén was hit the hardest, parts of Heredia and Alajuela suffered storm damage.

One elderly man, Julio César Mena, died when he was carried away by a swollen river

The emergency commission set up three shelters in Belén.

The clouds that spawned the tornado and several lesser funnels appeared as a black mass in the west about 4 p.m. Instead of hitting downtown San José, it veered to the south where Hatillo Centro is located.

The rough weather was supposed to come Wednesday when a tropical storm front came through the country. The cyclone Wednesday hit the Manuel de Jesús Jiménez section of the city of Cartago about 4:30 p.m. and ripped metal and plastic sheets off the rooftops. A local youth took spectacular video on the event, and the segment showed up on local television.  However, the Cartago storm was a baby compared to the one Thursday. The unstable weather was predicted for Wednesday but not for Thursday.

Even the finer Costa Rican homes have roofs that are wooden stringers covered with metal or plastic panels about three feet by five feet. When winds get under the panels, they can easily be dislodged.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional predicts afternoon downpours and thunderstorms for today, too.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 118

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anti-treaty protest
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Protestors show a giant copy of the Costa Rican Constitution and wave a union flag before the Corte Suprema building.

Protesters go to Corte Suprema
to push for treaty rejection

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 200 demonstrators showed up in front of the Corte Suprema de Justicia Thursday where the Sala IV constitutional court is deciding the fate of the free trade treaty with the United States.

The demonstrators were against the treaty. José Miguel Corrales, a former lawmaker, said that Costa Rica would lose its sovereignty under the treaty and be subjected to international forces.

The treaty, like most such documents, calls for arbitration of trade issues by an independent panel.

In addition to university students, participants included union members from the Instituto Costarricense de Seguros and members of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, which represents many public workers.

The insurance institute and a number of other state monopolies would have to face competition if the treaty were ratified.

Corrales said he was happy at the prospects of an Oct. 7 referendum where the people will decide the fate of the treaty and not the 57 deputies in the Asamblea Legislativa. He was the principal force in getting the referendum set up.

Corrales brought a petition to the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones for the right to collect citizen signatures for a referendum. When the tribunal granted his request, the executive branch quickly moved to seek a referendum using a section of the law that did not require gathering names on a petition.

If the Sala IV finds constitutional deficiencies in the treaty, the referendum will not be held.

Law enforcement sets up
task force against crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The police agencies have made an  agreement that appears to put Fuerza Pública officers under the direction of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The arrangement has been going on since May but it was outlined Thursday by top law enforcement officials.

The new setup is called the Fuerzas de Trabajo Conjuntas contra la Delinquencia Común y el Crime Organizado. The words seem to mean a multi-agency task force.

Officials said that the priority would be crimes against property, but they include home invasions, robberies of pedestrians as well as car thefts, burglaries and similar crimes.

In a report, the task force said it had made 341 captures during May and the first half of June. It said it had checked out 12,540 persons.

In San José the task force will work with the Policía Municipal. In addition, efforts are planned for the Caribbean and the central Pacific.

The task force is the government's response to a spike in crimes. Agents and police officers have been sweeping the streets of San José for weeks, and this is the formalization of their efforts.

Involved in the session Thursday were Fernando Berrocal, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, and Francisco Dall'Anesse, the nation's chief prosecutor.

Also being involved in the effort are the Policía de Migración, the Policía de Tránsito and the Policía Fiscal or tax police. They will be assisted by employees of the Ministerio de Salud and the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency.

Law enforcement is handicapped by turf wars among the agencies. The Fuerza Pública is supposed to be a preventative force, and the Judicial Investigation Organization is supposed to do what its name implies. When  elements of the Fuerza Pública begin making investigations, the Judicial Investigation Organization frequently scream foul and tries to reclaim its turf. That happened a year ago when a special unit of the Fuerza Pública began making arrests of individuals who had been at large for a long time despite warrants for their arrest.

The effort was successful with many arrests, so the Judicial Investigating Organization prevailed on the chief prosecutor to disband the unit. The way the system is set up now, law enforcement does not have feedback from officers on patrol about possible crimes.

The new structure seeks to do something about that flaw.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 118

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Villalobos judges reacted to pressure put on complainants
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The actions of Villalobos supporters who pressured complainants to withdraw their cases caused the three-judge panel to reaffirm the stiff prison sentence against Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho.

The judges explained in their final written decision why Villalobos got 18 years instead of a lesser penalty.

The judges said that witness Derk Van Dijk, a Villalobos investor, had told them he went to a meeting with supporters of Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho where a lawyer for the group told them and others that the case was a state conspiracy.  Van Dijk was referring to a meeting attended by José Miguel Villalobs Umaña held at the Hotel Aurola Holiday Inn downtown Feb. 2, 2003. The lawyer eventually got in excess of $100,000 from investors.

Van Dijk said later he was invited to the lawyer's house where lawyers made promises that if he withdrew his complaint against the Villalobos brothers he would be paid what he invested, said the court decision. He invested some $93,000, he said in court.

Van Dijk said Villalobos Umaña and other lawyers told him that this promise was guaranteed personally by the word of Luis Enrique Villalobos, said the decision.

The judges noted that witnesses Humberto Carlos Hernández Companioni, Wayne Elmer Swett, Ligia María Garnier Calderón and Thomas Robert Newman referred to a Web page where they got information on the case. The judges noted that this means of communication also was used to persuade and pressure persons who had filed civil and criminal complaints using the fraud that they would regain their money if they withdrew from the case. The Web page also said that it was the Government of Costa Rica that was holding up payment, the judges noted.

The decision said that the intervention of judical agents was opportune, efficient and necessary to restablish the rule of
law. The court was referring to the July 4, 2002, raid on the Ofinter S.A. offices and the Luis Enrique Villalobos borrowing operation adjacent to Ofinter in Mall San Pedro.

Twice in the nearly 1,000 page document the judges praised the actions of the investigators and the drug trafficking fiscal Walter Espinoza. The fiscal or prosecutor has been villified by unhappy investors.

However, the judges in a lengthy section said that the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras deserved a lot of blame for letting the Villalobos operation continue. It ran from at least 1997 collecting money from mostly foreigners and paying up to 3 percent a month interest.

It is not possible to justify the inertia of the supervisory agency that permitted the activities to develop on the second floor of Mall San Pedro, the judges wrote. They said the suervisory agency remained with arms folded.

If anything, the case of Keith Alvin Nash should have gotten them to investigate. said the court. Nash was the elderly man who became deathly ill, and his son arrived in town from Canada seeking to put his father's affairs in order. The case became public knowledge in May 2002. Luis Enrique Villalobos began a propaganda campaign claiming that the younger Nash was after the father's money. The elder Nash eventually filed a civil suit against Villalobos seeking his money, but Luis Enrique fled before the suit could be heard.

Supporters of the Villalobos Brothers frequently cite the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras as an agency that had given high marks to the Mall San Pedro operation. However, what the agency said was that it only was interested in the money exchange business being conducted by Ofinter. The court said there were plenty of ways in the law that the agency could have started a major investigation.

Trying to keep a grip with the sneezing, snorting grippe
The grippe requires great patience.  It seems to have taken over my life and is going to run its own course, no matter what I do.  When I lived alone and got sick, I would simply hide out and wait for it to pass, or I would go see a doctor.  Living in a residence with a nurse on duty 24 hours a day and a doctor who comes twice a week, it is impossible to hide out.  Add to that the helpers who clean and bring meals (if I don’t want to go to the dining room), and I find myself giving daily reports on my well-being — or in this case, the well-being of my grippe. Which seems to be doing better than I am. 

In the course of this I have realized that I shall always be a foreigner — a stranger in a strange land.  Although all conversation is in Spanish, and I am increasing my vocabulary and my grammar is improving, language is more than vocabulary and grammar.  What is that song?  “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it?”  I don’t do it the Costa Rican way.  I have learned to say Gracias, muy amable.  "Thank you, you’re very kind.”  And Con mucho gusto "with great pleasure" when some one thanks me, but that is the extent of my Tico politeness. 

Every morning I am greeted with ¿Amanecé bien?  "Did you wake up well?" — or probably in my case, “in a good mood?”  I never ask anyone that.  Nor do I ask them how they are when I see them for the first time that day.  If I have some business to transact, I seldom ask them how they are first. I get right down to business.   If they have been ill, I will ask how they are, and really want to hear. And I have the bad habit of actually telling people how I feel.  And if I feel fine, I don’t think to thank God.  People standing too close to me when they talk make me uncomfortable. 

Talking on the phone is probably the most difficult for someone speaking another language.  All physical cues are gone.  I learned this last week after my RACSA account was cut off when I cancelled my Amnet account.  Four hours of telephone talk got me nowhere.  So all of you who have tried to contact me, please try again through jostuart@amcostarica.com

Wednesday I had a meeting with some fellow expats, all of whom spoke and understood English.  It was such a relief to be able to laugh at something funny that someone said because I KNEW it was funny and not to cover up my lack of understanding.  My brain didn’t get the least bit tired from interpreting any of the conversation.  Even
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

when more than one person was talking, I could make sense out of it!!

The meeting was the first one of a small group of us interested in forming a co-housing community, that is, developing/building a community of adults where we would be more than just neighbors.  We would make a
commitment to engage in some of the pleasures and essentials of living, together, to work together to make a real, supportive, sustainable and ecological community.  Darrylle, just back from Denmark, was our leader, and he brought with him some stunning pictures of some co-housing arrangements in Denmark. 

There was some discussion about what to call our project to let other interested people contact us for information.  Until a Web site is established, those interested can contact Darrylle at darrystaff@gmail.com. The meeting ended around 4 in the afternoon. 

I no sooner got back to the residence than it was time for supper, and a helper came to ask if I would like it served in my room.  I said I would.  And no sooner was it delivered than the storm that had just begun, zapped the electricity.  After knocking about in the dark for a bit looking for matches and my flashlight, I settled down to a candlelit supper.

It has been out for nearly two hours.  I expect someone will come by and ask me how I am doing.  I’ll try to remember to say, Bien, gracias a Dios.  But I probably won’t.  It is just not a part of me.

Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available at the 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact Jostuart@amcostarica.com

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 118

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Smuggled pre-Columbian artifacts returned to Péru by U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States has returned to Peruvian authorities more than 400 pre-Columbian artifacts stolen in the South American country and smuggled to the United States.

A U.S. customs official announced the return of the 412 historic items Wednesday. She said the artifacts are a thread of a nation rich in cultural heritage. The items were seized two years ago in a smuggling investigation in Florida.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Broward Sheriff's Office officers discovered the artifacts during the execution of three federal search warrants at various South Florida locations.

The artifacts, which include ancient pottery, burial shrouds and gold jewelry, were stolen from Peru and illegally smuggled into the United States.

This is believed to be one of the largest seizures of pre-Columbian artifacts smuggled from Peru into the United States. Among the items recovered were a clay vessel estimated to be 3,500-years-old, a clay statue estimated to be 1,800-years-old and a burial shroud linked to ancient Peruvian royalty.

All of the artifacts were examined and authenticated by Carol Damian, a Florida International University professor, and Ramiro Matos, Peruvian archeologist from the Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC.

"These artifacts are not souvenirs," said Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of Homeland Security. "The items being returned today are a thread of a nation rich in cultural heritage."

"There are few things more worthy of saving than one's history and heritage. The theft of these items robbed an entire nation of a part of its history. It would be like

Peruvian pottery
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement photo
This frog-covered vessel was returned

someone stealing the Declaration of Independence," said Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne.

Agents arrested and charged 66-year-old Italian national Ugo Bagnato. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida handled the prosecution of the case. Bagnato pleaded guilty to the sale and receipt of stolen goods and served 17 months in federal prison.

Chávez says that Fidel Castro is almost ready to resume job
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says Cuban President Fidel Castro has almost fully recovered from last July's intestinal surgery.

Chávez made the remark Wednesday in Cuba's capital, Havana, one day after meeting with the Cuban leader for six hours.

Chávez used baseball analogies to joke that the man he calls
his mentor and friend would again pitch for Cuba. The
Venezuelan leader also said Castro would soon be ready to put on his military uniform again — a symbol of his resuming command.

Chávez spoke after dedicating a statue of a 19th century Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda, who fought for South American independence from Spain. Cuba's acting president, Fidel Castro's younger brother, Raul, accompanied Chávez at the ceremony.

Chavez has professed his admiration for Cuba but denies modeling Venezuela after it.

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