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These stories appeared Friday, June 20, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 121
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A.M. Costa Rica photo by Saray Ramírz Vindas

 
A quick,
secure
visit here
Security was tight Thursday as Alvaro Uribe, president of war-torn Colombia paid a one-day visit to Costa Rica. 

But he still had time to gesture to a group at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica and tell them how much he liked Costa Rica and to sign an autograph for a Colombian woman.  He was the guy on whose behalf traffic was snarled beyond belief. 

Our story is HERE!


 
 
We find at least 50 ways to leave your money
Gambling is legal in Costa Rica. Every new hotel seems to have its own casino, and there are at least a half dozen casinos in downtown San José. But they are nothing like the casinos in Las Vegas. I am visiting family and friends in the U.S., and finally I went to Las Vegas. The new Las Vegas. It has been more than 10 years since I was last there with my daughter. We have been planning to return since then, and this week we finally did. 

After the initial jaw dropping reaction to the facades of the various hotels and casinos on the Strip, I had to laugh. They are so outrageous and so much fun! Stay in Las Vegas long enough and you can experience New York City, Venice, Paris, Camelot, the sights of Egypt and ancient Rome just by going from hotel to hotel. 

That isn’t as easy as it sounds. First of all, at this time of the year the temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (It was 112 degrees when we were there, while in San José it was probably a comfortable 75.) Secondly, the streets are wide and the traffic is even worse than San José, so you could be taking your life in your hands. And thirdly, each hotel and casino is so large it would take hours, maybe days, to see all they have to offer. 

In San José, you walk into the lobby of a hotel (as in the case of the Gran Hotel) and there in the lobby is the entire casino. There are lots of slot machines along the walls, two roulette tables that, instead a wheel, have a basket for spinning and dropping numbered ping pong balls. This kind of roulette is aptly called canasta (basket). Then there are tables for various card games. Or you simply enter the front door and find yourself in a room the size of a ballroom (as with the Colonial). It holds a craps table, six or seven card tables and three

A.M. Costa Rica photo
On Las Vegas Boulevard, electric escalators take visitors to pedestrian bridges to bypass dangerous streets.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

roulette tables. It also contains a bar and 
restaurant. Small is beautiful in Costa Rica, even when it comes to casinos. 

Not so in Las Vegas. The gaming rooms can hardly be called rooms. They are the size of a couple of football fields, and the slot machines and other gaming facilities are beyond count. We stayed at the Paris Hotel. The first floor of the hotel is a virtual village. It houses a half a dozen restaurants, the casino, stores of all kinds and cobblestone streets to connect them. It is forever late afternoon inside the Paris because the very high ceiling is a fake sky — a beautiful blue darkening sky with fluffy clouds — the kind of sky I often see over San José.

The Venetian Hotel also has streets but with added piazzas and canals filled with real water and gondoliers. There are frescos and of course, "sidewalk" cafes on the Piazza San Marco. This all was, as they say, Disney World for Adults, and the prices of everything were adult size Disney World. This was a problem for me because I am used to Costa Rican prices. 

Ten dollar minimum bets at the cheapest tables and dollar chips at the roulette wheel. I prefer the 25-cent chips for roulette and the 500-colon tables for card games in San José. I am still stunned at the bill of $41 for breakfast for two, and I won’t even think about the price of dinner at the Venetian. 

In all fairness, the buffet breakfast at the Paris was one of the best I have ever had for $12.95. There are no free meals in Las Vegas, although drinks are free to gamers. In San José, in some of the casinos, not only are the drinks free, but you can get free bocas and on some nights, a free buffet. The big difference of course, are the shows they have in Las Vegas. We weren’t there long enough to enjoy them, but the variety seems as great as the variety of hotels. 

Whether the casino is in Las Vegas or San José, Costa Rica, unless you are indeed very lucky, you walk out with the same empty pockets. But, then as we all say ? "Maybe next time." 

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Agenda was mixture of business and peace pleas
Uribe visit prompts unusual security precautions
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although they denied the security was anything special, Colombian and Costa Rica police officials locked down a half-mile square area of the downtown Thursday afternoon.

The security screen closed off Avenida 2 and caused massive traffic jams while President Alvaro Uribe Vélez of Colombia lunched at the Teatro Nacional.

Later, when he visited with Chancellor Roberto Tovar Faja at Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry in Barrio Amon, traffic again was rerouted and the whole downtown felt the effects during the peak drive time between 5 and 6 p.m.

Despite the security screen, after lunch about 4 p.m. Uribe, in a suit and blue tie, walked from the entrance of the Teatro Nacional to a group of mostly Colombian citizens who had patiently waited near the public telephones alongside the east wall of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica at the edge of the Plaza de la Cultura.

"Viva Colombia," the spectators shouted. A few minutes later, Uribe told a small group of North Americans and employees of the hotel how much he appreciated Costa Rica when he walked by the cafe there.

Colombia is fighting a fierce war with drug-smuggling guerrillas. In fact, there are four distinguishable warring factions in that country in addition to the central government.

One reason Uribe came here was to garner Costa Rican support for attempts to engage the rebel groups, principally the 40-year-old Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC by its initials in Spanish.

And that was the reason for the high security, tighter in fact than a year ago when president Abel Pacheco had his inauguration. When Pacheco attends an event at the Teatro Nacional, he arrives in a single car with a couple of assistants and bodyguards. He speaks with passersby and he walks where he wishes.

Thursday, Avenida 2 was cut off from Parque Central east. The avenue was converted into a temporary parking lot for emergency and support vehicles. Barricades surrounded the entrance to the theater.

Walter Navarro, commander of the Fuerza Pública, said that no threats had been received or any intelligence had been uncovered to suggest that Uribe was in danger. But others suggested that as Colombia begins to push for peace, the rebel 

groups may react. Navarro did say that he fielded 400 police for the security screens.

The visit was a mixture of business and security concerns. Costa Rica announced that it is setting up easier systems for Colombian businessmen to enter the country, and they will be able to secure visas for multiple entries over three years. Costa Rica promised to process the applications in no more than eight days.

There was a similar softening toward Colombian tourists. Costa Rica used to welcome Colombian refugees without restrictions, but more than a year ago it began demanding visas, and the flow of refugees disguised as tourists dropped dramatically.

In his talk at lunch, Uribe mentioned meeting with Colombian refugees working as vendors on the streets of San José. He said they were sad and homesick, just hoping for the war to end there. And he thanks Costa Rica for receiving these refugees.

He praised Costa Rica as one of Colombia’s allies in the front line for the defeat of terrorism.

A declaration put out after the visits covered many points, including environmental concerns.  The communiqué also said that Costa Rica would support Colombia in any international forum in seeking a cease-fire with the rebels. But it repudiated terrorism and narcotrafficking. The document supported an accord reached in Panamá in February urging the search for peace.

The rebel groups earn their money through kidnappings and drug trafficking.

The two presidents agreed to work against organized crime, terrorism, narcotrafficking, and the crimes connected with it, such as kidnapping, trafficking in persons and the shipments of illegal arms and explosives. 

The statement also targeted the illegal use of zones of economic exclusivity, an allusion to the desire by Nicaragua to award oil exploration rights near islands that are Colombian territory in the Caribbean.

In the declaration, Colombia promised to continue to supply Costa Rica with petroleum. The weak prices of coffee on the world market also received a mention, and the document urged U.S. President George Bush to work with the International Coffee Organization. It stopped short of asking the U.S. to rejoin the body.

In  his luncheon address, Pacheco urged movement towards the quick release of hostages held by Colombian rebel groups.


 
Hey, how about asking the other brother, Oswaldo?
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

All the Villalobos creditors are chewing their nails with the hope that Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho returns and pays them the money they loaned him.

Great enterprises have been launched to clear the field for the return of Enrique Villalobos, who faces money laundering and fraud allegations.

The question is why don’t the creditors of the 3 percent borrowing operation ask others in the Villalobos family. A recent audit report by the Judicial Investigating Organization identified Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho and the wife of Luis Enrique Villalobos, Dana Paula Dinculescu, as key players in the unlicensed and unregulated borrowing operation.

We wonder why the creditors do not ask these people for their money.

Enrique Villalobos did run the borrowing operations, and brother Oswaldo was supposed to run the money exchange operation in the hall side of the Mall San Pedro storefront. But the Judicial Investigating Organization audit report identified Oswaldo not Luis Enrique as the principal in a key firm that accepted money from North Americans via a New Orleans bank. It further identified Enrique’s wife and a now gone office manager as the only two people besides the two brothers who were authorized to take money from people who came in without a referral.

The creditors probably know that Oswaldo Villalobos is in Clinica Católica. He was healthy enough to be in court Monday. Enrique’s wife is around also.

Why don’t the creditors ask them for the money 

on the strength of the Judicial Investigating Organization report?

There could be a couple of reasons. They may not like the answer they will get.


An editorial


Or the truth could be that much of the "Waiting for Enrique" is a smokescreen put up by lawyers and others to stall in anticipation of some form of bankruptcy action.

Enrique Villalobos is a fugitive. He may never return. But his brother is here. His wife is here. The audit report says they are full partners. His wife is believed to have similar experience with another firm.

What is to stop them from paying off the creditors? What stops the creditors from even asking? After all, there may be $1 billion involved.

So no presidential pardon of Enrique Villalobos is needed. George Bush need not call in an air strike on Casa Presidential. The U.N. need not send in blue-helmeted bill collectors to San José. All the creditors need to do is go to the telephone, dial Clinic Católica and ask for Oswaldo and their money. 

Or maybe their are too shy.

A reader asks another key question today. In a letter he notes that Enrique Villalobos said he fired his employees when he unexpectedly closed his office Oct. 14. 

The reader asks: "If they were deeply involved in factoring, business loans, real estate loans, or the like, how are they now going to recover these funds?" Another key question.


 
 
Rains endanger
small coffee town

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mother Nature will not be content until Costa Rica is a level plain. And she has been doing her best over the last two days.

Heavy rains had their greatest impact in the small coffee town of Calle Jucó de Orosi where an avalanche of mud, trees, rock and water smashed through the town at dawn.

The nearby Río Granado, swollen by rains, provided much of the water. 

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country lesser floodings were receding because little rain fell Thursday.  The Instituto Metorológico Nacional said that for today morning rains were expected in Guanacaste and afternoon rains in the central part of the country.

That is not good news for the estimated 200 persons evacuated from Calle Jucó yesterday. And the disaster brought memories of the gigantic landslide that covered more than a dozen houses and killed seven persons last year in nearby Orosi, which is east and south of San José.

A small bridge in the center of Calle Jucó became entangled in the debris swept into the area. But the evacuations came because emergency officials fear a much greater slide from the unstable hillsides and river.

Dirty war vet
going to Spain

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — The Mexican government has signed an order agreeing to extradite a former Argentine military official to Spain to face genocide and terrorism charges. 

The government signed the order Wednesday after the Mexican Supreme Court last week cleared the way for the extradition of Ricardo Cavallo. 

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon has sought the extradition of Cavallo to stand trial on charges of human rights atrocities against Spanish-born citizens in Argentina. 

The former military official 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. 

Stabbing mayor
means three months

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Juzgado Penal de Puntarenas Thursday ordered three months of preventative detention for a man accused of attacking a local mayor with a 17-inch knife.

The suspect, Martín García Hampton, 31, is accused of attacking the mayor of Miramar de Puntarenas while the victim sat in his office discussing soccer with a reporter. The suspect had been an inspector for the municipality before he was discharged two weeks ago.

The mayor is Alvaro Jiménez Cruz, 41, and he was hospitalized in serious condition with a knife wound to the stomach.
 
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Military spending cuts urged for Central America
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Central American security institutions must be reformed and regional  governments must cooperate more closely to address 21st-century  threats, says Daniel Fisk, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

He urged cuts in military spending and treaties of friendship among nations.

In remarks Wednesday to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Fisk said that there is a growing consensus in Central America that each state stands to benefit from increased collaboration and cooperation. He pointed out that the region's commitment to integration and liberalization is reflected in the negotiation of a  U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement. 

This emerging consensus in favor of integration and open markets, Fisk concluded, has "given rise to a climate ripe for dramatic progress in reforming and reconfiguring Central American security structures and institutions."

Fisk emphasized that the trade treaty will be a "powerful force for growth and prosperity in the region," ultimately affording Central American  nations the opportunity to devote greater resources to development, education, health care, and other pressing social needs. He said that the Bush Administration's Millennium Challenge Account foreign-aid program will complement the reforms ushered in with open markets and will support good governance.

"One of the hallmarks of good governance," Fisk said, "is the rational allocation of national resources." He acknowledged that regional  military spending has decreased, but argued that "nevertheless, there is no question that the Central American states would benefit from even lower levels of spending and reform of security institutions, including the military."

"The security structures and institutions of Central America were and are largely, if not primarily, organized and equipped to fight  yesterday's wars and confront yesterday's challenges," Fisk said. He 

added that with increased economic integration and the success of peaceful dispute-resolution mechanisms, defending or deterring invasion by a neighboring nation is no longer a logical primary  function for Central America's militaries. Instead, he explained,  "transnational criminal networks of terrorists, narcotics and arms traffickers, and alien smugglers are the enemy today."

He said that in order to address these "truly stateless" enemies and cope with the region's disproportionate number of natural disasters,  "Central American security institutions, including the region's militaries and civilian decision-making structures, must be  transformed into more agile, potent, and well-trained professional entities."

Central American states must also commit themselves to greater cooperation and coordination in combating "those enemies who have successfully exploited the gaps and failures of communication among the region's security organizations," he stressed.

To advance such reforms, Fisk said regional leaders must continue to build upon the existing trust among Central American governments and  security institutions. He said the adoption of a treaty of friendship  and non-aggression by the Central American democracies "would  formalize a regional security relationship that reinforces the  economic framework being pursued through the Central American common  market and CAFTA."

Improving security in Central America while lowering military spending will require the region's security forces to work together, Fisk  predicted. He said that an agreement to restructure the region's security institutions and coordinate their efforts to meet modern  challenges "would be the natural complement" to security  reforms.

Fisk cautioned, however, that regional leaders must also be mindful of domestic political realities and ensure that dislocations ushered in with these reforms do not contribute to instability. The United  States, he said, stands ready to assist Central American nations in  "any way practical" to restructure their forces, coordinate their  efforts, and reduce military spending.


 
 
U.S. turns its free trade attentions to big Brazil
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and Brazil should use their relationship as Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations co-chairs to work on reducing agricultural trade barriers not only in the Western Hemisphere but also in the World Trade Organization, a top U.S. Department of Agriculture official said.

Addressing a meeting Thursday here, Ellen Terpstra, Foreign Agricultural Service administrator, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman would meet today with Brazil's agriculture minister to talk about tariffs, domestic subsidies and other trade issues. That meeting will be on the same day President Bush meets with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva in the White House.

Terpstra said the United States and Brazil, the two largest economies in the Western Hemisphere, have much in common, including interest in expanding their agricultural product export markets and taking advantage of improved technologies that can increase agricultural production.

"We are seeing an unprecedented wave of new technology," such as water-management technologies, information technology, global positioning systems and biotechnology that is resulting in improved or more "precision farming," she said.

Biotechnology promises higher yields, lower input costs, environmental improvements and "entirely new markets for farmers," Terpstra said, as biotech crops are turned into more and more nutritious food, pharmaceuticals, fuels and industrial components.

Most importantly, she said, biotechnology holds promise for helping to reduce worldwide hunger. More than 800 million people around the world are chronically hungry and one in three children is malnourished, Veneman said this week.

Terpstra said the United States and Brazil should 

also look for more opportunities to establish economic growth partnerships, including negotiation of the free trade treaty, which she said would enhance capital flows and trade throughout the hemisphere. Brazil needs more capital investment for technology, she noted.

Terpstra also said the two countries should cooperate in looking for more agricultural trade opportunities. For example, because the two countries produce 77 percent of the world's soybeans, much more than either country can absorb domestically, they must expand their international markets, she said.
 

Brazil’s president meets
with George Bush today

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush meets with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the White House today for talks on relations and regional issues. 

This will be President da Silva's first meeting with President Bush since taking office in January. The two men held a "get-acquainted" session at the White House in December which covered economic and social issues. 

Analysts say today's meeting signals the start of much closer engagement with Brazil's single largest export market. Trade between Brazil and the United States totaled $26 billion last year. 

Brazil's ambassador to Washington, Rubens Barbosa, said the two countries have built strong, open relations in recent years, despite differences over commercial issues and international policy. Brazil opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq. 

During his visit to Washington, President da Silva is scheduled to meet with officials from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the U.S. labor confederation, the AFL-CIO. Da Silva is a former union leader.


 
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