Your daily English-language news
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Costa Rica will let in U.S. and Canadian citizens who don’t happen to have passports, but getting here is the problem.
A Santa Ana man said he had to help his daughter-in-law and three grandchildren restructure their vacation here because Martinair would not let them board an airplane in Florida without valid U.S. passports.
Costa Rica said it was going to require passports from all visitors by the first of this year, but action on the rule has been delayed. A.M. Costa Rica reported Monday that the ruling had been suspended once again last Friday for six months.
But that did not help Tom Larson, the man who wants to bring relatives here for a six-week visit. He said Thursday that his family has to come up with $65 for each traveler in addition to the normal passport fee in order to get one-day turnaround in Miami on passports.
Costa Rica did notify travel agencies and airlines about suspending the rule, said Marco Badilla, director general of the Dirección de Migración y Extrajería. He said Thursday night that e-mails were sent out and characterized the confusion by airlines as a misunderstanding.
Larson said the airlines, which are responsible to transport individuals refused entry to a country, want something more formal than an e-mail.
Badilla said notices were sent to Costa Rican consulates and the embassies in Canada and the United States. He said messages also went to scheduled airlines.
|The immigration director also said
division’s employees at Juan Santamaría International Airport were fully prepared to issue tourist cards to any U.S. or Canadian citizen who arrived without a passport.
He also said that he had no knowledge of anyone having been sent back to Canada or the United States because they did not bring a passport.
Larson objected to the expense of the passports, particularly since three minors are involved. The daughter-in-law and her children live in southern Georgia and have to spend two nights in Miami to get their passports. But he also objected to the confusion surrounding the Costa Rican rules.
Larson and others noted that countries such as México and some in the Caribbean do not require passports and that these countries are in competition with Costa Rica for tourists.
Larson said that from calling around to travel agents and other airlines he got the impression that other airlines also were refusing to bring individuals who did not have passports.
A U.S. passport cost $85 for an adult and $70 for youngsters under 15, according to the U.S. State Department. And it usually takes up to six weeks for the passport to be processed and delivered. Expedited service is available in three working days, but that costs $60 more for each passport. At a handful of locations, such as Miami, overnight service is available.
In order to obtain a tourist card, any U.S. or Canadian citizen who succeeds in getting here without a passport at least needs something showing nationality, such as a birth certificate, and a photo identification.
Striking teachers may reach agreement with the government just in time to go on vacation July 4.
The teacher unions, government officials and legislators reached a tentative accord Thursday night, and teacher unions will consider the proposal today and tomorrow. If they agree, the teachers will be back in the classrooms Monday.
Despite the fact that the strike cut some 20 to 26 days off the school year for students, no one seems to be talking about eliminating the midterm vacation this year. Students already have been off in most schools for more than four weeks. The vacation starts a week from today.
The agreement with the legislature has two parts. First, the lawmakers agreed to move a proposed law that would change the way pensions are calibrated from 65th place on the legislative agenda to No. 1. Lawmakers also promised to set up a study commission to examine the proposed
|law. The commission would report
its findings within 30 days.
Meanwhile, Manuel Antonio Bolaños, minister of Educación Pública, promised that no teacher would face any reprisals. Ricardo Toledo, minister of the Presidencia and the government’s point man on the strike, also expressed satisfaction.
Teachers staged small protests all over the country Thursday blocking roads and making visible their discontent. In San José they rallied on Avenida Central in front of the Asamblea Nacional. Traffic had to be rerouted.
The teachers passed out flyers called the government liars and purveyors of disinformation. But that was before the accord was reached inside. There still is no exact plan on how to provide the legally mandated 200 days of school for youngsters. However, the legislators have approved some $55 million as payment for extra days that are required because the government only planned for 180 days.
|Credit card thieves
targeted beauty salons
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Agents arrested five women and two men in six raids Thursday in an operation they said busted up a credit-card fraud ring.
Houses were raided in Lotos Dos, Monte Azul in Paso Ancho, in Ciudadela León XXIII and Granadilla de Curridabat, said a spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization.
Investigators said the gang targeted the purses of women getting their hair done at various beauty parlors. A pair of women would enter the salon and somehow grab the wallets from unattended purses and then use the credit cards therein to purchase goods. Some 10 million colons may have been taken, about $25,000.
All those involved were Costa Rican, as were the majority of the victims.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House says President George Bush and his Panamanian counterpart, Mireya Moscoso, have discussed cooperation and stronger trade ties.
Spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday that Bush thanked President Moscoso for her country's law enforcement and security cooperation along the Panama Canal.
Fleischer also said President Bush appreciated Panama's support on so-called "Article 98", which is an agreement not to prosecute Americans before the International Criminal Court without consent. The United States has refused to support the international court, arguing it could be used as a forum for politically-motivated prosecutions against U.S. citizens.
The court is supposed to be established later this year. Bush also congratulated the Latin American country for its 100th anniversary of independence.
Ms. Moscoso has been in Washington since Monday, and has already met with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. She is also scheduled to hold talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick during her visit.
Child custody case
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
HAVANA, Cuba — Cuban officials say two American children taken to Cuba by their father are being held in protective custody until they can be reunited with their mother, who has legal custody of the children.
Cuban authorities detained the father, Anwar Wissa, after locating him and his 8- and 10-year-old children on a yacht where they were staying at a Havana marina.
Authorities say they went to the marina after the childrens' mother, Cornelia Streeter, sent a letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro asking for help to have her children returned.
Ms. Streeter was given custody of the children in a Massachusetts court two years ago after she and Wissa were divorced. However, Wissa is reported to have then taken the children to Egypt without the mother's permission. Both parents are said to be U.S. citizens.
Ms. Streeter is reported to have gone to Egypt in an attempt to get the children, but her former husband fled the country with the young boy and girl. A Cuban government statement says the country will never be used as a refuge for kidnapped children, even if the perpetrator, as in this case, is the father.
The statement said the incident brought back memories of young Cuban Elian Gonzalez, who was taken from the country by his mother to live in the United States three years ago, but was later returned to Cuba to live with his father.
The boy was found floating off the Florida coast in the ruins of a boat after his mother drowned. He then lived with relatives in Miami until the U.S. and Cuban governments arranged to have him returned to Cuba.
The government says Cubans will never forget that when young Elian was kidnapped by his mother, most Americans showed their support that he should be returned to Cuba to live with his father.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
Nicaragua’s deputy foreign affairs minister, Salvador Stadthagen Icaza, Thursday reassured the Organization of American States of his government’s determination to remain firmly committed to democratic governance and the rule of law.
He told the organization’s member state delegations at the Permanent Council that he had come to reiterate to them the unswerving will of President Enrique Bolaños’ government to govern effectively and in accordance with the nation’s political constitution as well as in keeping with the Organization of American States Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
"It is our moral duty to the OAS; it is our moral duty to the hemisphere; and it is our duty and obligation to the people of Nicaragua," Stadthagen Icaza declared.
He said the mandate from the Nicaraguan people to live in democracy should prevail: "We have a transparent government and the international community has renewed confidence in our country, as have Nicaraguans themselves." The Nicaraguan official then went on to detail specific government initiatives to combat terrorism, illegal weapons and corruption and to involve civil society in a process of consultation on candidates for the Supreme Court.
Turning to an organization’s report on the diversion of Nicaraguan weapons to Colombian guerrillas, Stadthagen Icaza said the government has sought to implement its recommendations. He cited the move by the president to set up an inter-institutional commission to follow up on the investigations.
|Pacheco is exercising,
his physician reports
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Poor President Abel Pacheco. They have him on a low-salt diet and he has several types of exercise, including aerobics, according to his physician, Manuel Eduardo Sáenz.
The physician said that Pacheco, who has been resting since Monday afternoon has begun to walk and stretch. His blood pressure remains normal without any indication of cardiovascular problems, the physician said in his daily report.
The physician said that Pacheco is anxious to get back to work.
Art fest in Guadalupe
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
This weekend is a celebration of the 52nd anniversary of the Casa del Artista in Guadalupe.
Special events are planned today, tomorrow and Sunday from 9:30 a.m.
to 7 p.m. Benjamín Gutierrez will give a piano recital tonight and
the works of a number of artists will be on display for the weekend. More
information is available at 234-1233.
|Six of six franchise projects seem to be less than advertised||
A.M. Costa Rica photo
The North American investor who comes to Costa Rica sometimes can make mistakes because the laws are not the same.
That was never more clear than with advertising placed by The Vault Holding Co.
Advertising laws in the United States allow "puffery," that is trumpeting your intangible virtues. Vault owner Roy Taylor did that when he said his firm was the "leading financial adviser in Latin America."
But U.S. law also requires truth when an advertisement talks about facts.
The advertising placed by The Vault is instructive of the way Taylor, who killed himself Tuesday during a police raid, played fast and loose with the facts. As investigators begin the monumental job of sifting through Vault records, the first chore will be to separate fact from fiction.
The nature of the job can be seen by a small review of Taylor’s advertising. The company attracted Canadian and U.S. investors mostly through print advertising in The Tico Times and via Web pages. Taylor once said that he spent $45,000 a year with the English-language weekly.
The print ads occupied two standard tabloid newspaper pages. They were glitzy and made professional use of color, graphics and text.
But, if the Jan. 24, ad that was selected as an example is any guide, there was not much fact there.
The advertising was constructed in-house by Vault employees. In general a newspaper does not have much responsibility to correct or evaluate advertising, although many such businesses have written policies. Newspapers try to avoid defamation in paid advertising, and in many countries there are rules about political advertising.
Seldom, however, is a newspaper faced with the type of ad that is revealed by an examination of the Jan. 24 issue.
Taylor listed six "hot franchises" that the ad said were being marketed by the firm’s Nicaraguan operation, presumably to investors.
The first question is did The Vault have a Nicaraguan operation? That cannot be verified.
However, more is known about the "hot franchises." Here are a list of
the alleged franchises along with what appears to be the facts of the case
based on discussions with two Vault associates.
FRANCHISE: The first listed in the ad was Franchise World Holding Company S.A.
SUMMARY: The firm never did much but it was an idea by Taylor
to market franchises internationally. It may not even have been registered
as a legal corporation. If it was not, it never really existed.
FRANCHISE: Global Water Technologies S.A.
SUMMARY: Kells Faulkner, chief operations officer of The Vault and one of two persons who blew the whistle on Taylor, said this is the name of a company she owns in Florida. She never had any dealings with the firm here, and the only contact with The Vault was the water firm’s letterhead that arrived on a fax or two, she said. In addition, the firm in Florida is incorporated there and is not a sociedad anonima or S.A., the Costa Rica version of a corporation.
FRANCHISE: Shop Americas.com
SUMMARY: The idea of this firm, brought to Taylor by another businessman, was to make it
|easy for Costa Ricans to purchase
goods in the United States and deliver the items here. The Vault worked
a month or six weeks to try to integrate the business but then gave up,
said Ms. Faulkner.
FRANCHISE: Filthy McNasty’s Bar & Bar
SUMMARY: This Jacó bar is a real place, but it is owned
by another corporation, and Faulkner said she owns 65 percent of that.
The business is not involved with The Vault Holding Co., she said.
FRANCHISE: Dirt World
SUMMARY: This was supposed to be a family amusement park "that
shares an appreciation of Mother Earth." No one could provide a location,
and some suggested the project was totally in the mind of Taylor. A logo
of Dirt World adorns the facade of The Vault offices on the pedestrian
boulevard in downtown San José.
FRANCHISE: Crocodile Rock
SUMMARY: This is a real bar in Jacó also owned by a Faulkner
corporation. The business is closed because of electrical problems, said
Faulkner last June 9.
Other advertising placed by Taylor contained blatant misstatements. One was the promotion of Falcon Crest, a condominium project near Naranjo.
For more than a year, The Vault promoted that project and also set up a real estate arm, Condo Kings, to sell the units there. Yet the condos were not being built. Rodney Strange, another investor in The Vault says he loves the location and could not figure out why Taylor was not moving ahead with the project. Now he suspects that Taylor was simply diverting the money for the condos.
Strange and Ms. Faulkner face an uphill battle to figure out what is real and what is not about The Vault.
For example, The Vault Nicaragua Web site said that Vault Holding also owns La Palma restaurant in Barrio Amon. When asked about this, Taylor’s wife, Lilliam Corrales Banquero, said last week that the Web site was in error and that neither The Vault nor her husband ever owned that eating place.
Ms. Faulkner said that despite her title of chief operating officer she did not know a lot about what took place at The Vault. Each active investor worked with what they were interested in. For Ms. Faulkner that meant a lot of time in Jacó with Crocodile Rock and Filthy McNasty’s. She invested $3 million and much of the money went to construct the two nightspots. She also was instrumental in the remodeling of The Vault’s $1.5 million downtown headquarters.
An additional problem is that many of The Vault records seem to be missing. She said she noticed the losses a couple of weeks before the police raid.
That was just before she and Strange contacted investigators last June 6. Since then they have been concerned about their security and have hired many bodyguards.
Ms. Faulkner confirmed Thursday that she and Strange have received death threats over the telephone.
A.M. Costa Rica also published advertising for The Vault Holding Co. from March 4 to June 6, 2002. However, the contact was canceled by mutual agreement June 6.
Taylor died Tuesday while he was in police custody in his headquarters building. That was one of 15 places raided by investigators that day. Although he was in handcuffs, he sought and got permission to use the bathroom where he shot himself in the head with a previously hidden weapon.
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