A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Friday, July 2, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 130
Jo Stuart
About us
We will see you at the big party Saturday!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States marks its 228th birthday Sunday, and expats will picnic a day earlier here at the traditional hot dog and beer festival.

Organizers said they were expecting a big crowd because the Independence Day event this year is on a Saturday instead of a weekday.

The picnic is at the Cervercería Costa Rica recreational facilities west of San José on the Autopista General Cañas. The entrance typically is marked heavily with signs and chartered buses carry attendees from parking areas.

Th event starts at 8 a.m. (Yes, people do show up and start drinking the free beer at 8 a.m.) It runs into noon. U.S. marines will run up the U.S. Flag in a ceremony shortly before the close.

Children of U.S. citizens are welcomed and many games are planned for them. Only U.S. citizens and their immediate families are invited, although more than one girlfriend or boyfriend has been known to get in. U.S. citizens need a passport.

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
The U.S. Embassy reports that it will celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on Monday, so the U.S. Embassy will be closed that day.
When life is a blank slate: an empty inbox
When my incoming mail indicator said I had 1,275 new messages, I began to think something was wrong. When all of the messages said "Administrator — Failed delivery," I knew it. I had not sent out that many messages. I was advised the only way to get out of this predicament was to change my e-mail address. So I did. 

When I went back online to my new address, I discovered no messages, everything was a blank, even, for some reason my address book had been reduced. I was all alone. I felt like I had gone into the Witness Protection Program. A new and unknown address. No friends, no contacts. My saved messages were gone; the e-mails to answer were gone. I am, in a sense, a blank slate. 

And I apologize to those who were expecting an answer from me. I am hoping the Internet police get those spammers and virus spreaders in my lifetime. Meanwhile, I will have to come to grips with my new identity. 

According to Ms Streisand, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. That is a statement that could be debated philosophically, I suppose, but right now I needed people not to mention a bit of luck. So I decided to go to the Canada Day picnic in San Antonio de Belén. 

To get there I took a taxi to the Alajuela bus station, a bus to the Cariari shopping center where I got a taxi to my final destination. A taxi from San Jose would have cost 4,600 colons, according to my taxista. Instead, I paid a total of 1,720 colons and decided to use my savings to buy raffle tickets. Pedregal evidently is a stadium and park. A lovely site (something not unusual in Costa Rica) where a dog show was also in progress. 

I paid my 2,000 entrance fee and mingled among a lot of friendly people (at the risk of stereotyping, Canadians seem to be a warm and friendly lot). And I met a lot of people new to me who have been here as long as I have. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Inside the large building on the lot were all of the raffle prizes. I was very impressed with the number of companies and groups that had given gifts to be raffled. I put my raffle tickets in the various boxes of prizes I liked but did not expect to win. I had already gained some new acquaintances so I knew my luck would not hold.

Rehearsing for the 4th of July picnic the American Colony is sponsoring Saturday, I had a hot dog and a beer for a late breakfast. There was a program of entertainment and Ambassador Louise Leger impressed me with her relaxed friendliness (a ‘typical’ Canadian) and her welcoming speech in three languages. She, like the U.S. ambassador did, will be leaving Costa Rica shortly. My sympathy to them both.

For me, leaving Pedregal was going to be a problem since there were no taxis in the parking lot. So I stood near the exit and accosted people who were leaving and eventually found a kind soul (a friend of a friend) who could drop me off at Saretto’s in Escazú where I could catch a bus. Everyone, it seems, except myself, lives on the west side of San Jose. 

Riding home and trying to remember the names of the people I had recently met, I realized that even moving to another country is like going into a witness protection program. One way or another many ties to your old life are cut, long-standing friends are lost. And, if you want, you can even change your name, and your past. 

But, it is an opportunity to meet new people, and even become a better person, the person you wanted to be, not just someone hiding out from the bad guys — or in some cases, the good guys.

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The front page was changed Saturday afternooon
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 2, and Saturday, July 3, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 130
A July 4th fiesta a day early
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Falling is a near certainty when three-legged contestants take the field.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Posted Saturday, July 3, at 4 p.m.

July 4th came a day early to Costa Rica where a crowd of U.S. citizens — including two U.S. senators — cheered the 228th birthday of the 

United States. The day was for kids, as the three-legged race above shows, although free soda, beer and hot dogs kept the revelers full.

We have full photo coverage for you:


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Solís rejects bid
that he resign

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A defiant Alex Solís gave a press conference Thursday and said he would not resign his new job as contralor general de la República.

He said he had been unjustly accused and insisted that he was due the hearing before a legislative committee that had been set up earlier in the week.

Some 40 deputies voted Wednesday to ask him to resign. Nine opposed the motion.

Solís read a statement at his new Sabana Sur office tower and then left without answering questions by reporters. 

After Solís won election to the nation’s fiscal watchdog job June 14, a question arose about a signature he had authenticated in his capacity as a notary. He then admitted on television that he had signed his brother’s name to a real estate instrument and then authenticated the signature as if it were genuine.

As he was leaving the press conference Thursday evening, reporters shouted a question about the signatures, but Solís did not respond.

In his talk he did not address details of the allegations. He just said he had been accused falsely.

Deputies are about to leave on a two-week vacation, so no action will be taken against Solís for that time. His appointment is for eight years.

Allegations also have been raised about Solís that he has been engaged in bankrolling Costa Ricans who want to be smuggled into the United States as illegal aliens.

Hardware customers
cuffed by bandits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An uncle and nephew are alleged to be the two persons who held up the Ferretería Tomy in Tibás Wednesday night and handcuffed six victims, including two children they found there.

When police arrived they were met by a man who said he was the security guard, but officers said they did not believe him and entered the establishment where they found a younger man and six hostages.

Among those handcuffed were two employees, a 70-year-old man, a 40-year old woman and the two children, 3 and 7, police said.

Both suspects, identified by the last names of Navarro Barquero and Leitón Navarro, were held for investigation.

Police responded to a 911 telephone call and said the suspects had toy guns and knives.

Fishing crew gives
cops bulk cocaine

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials are thrilled that the crew of a sports fishing boat from Sámara turned over 20 kilos (44 pounds) of cocaine that they found floating six miles at sea.

The crew were on the boat Pez Vela.

Two weeks ago crewmen on a fastboat  en route from Colombia dumped packages of presumed cocaine into the sea during a chase by U.S. and Costa Rican marine units.

Two hikers found 20 kilos at Playa Caletas June 24.

Officials said they have recovered 240 of the estimated 280 kilos aboard the fastboat.

Martin murder duo
get longer sentences

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two persons convicted in the brutal murder of U.S. student Shannon Martin have had their prison sentences doubled from 15 years to 30 years each.

The two, Kattia Cruz Murillo and Luis Alberto Castro Carrillo, were convicted in November of simple murder.

The prosecutor, Eric Martínez, argued in an appeal that the crime should be premeditated murder with a higher penalty.

The Sala III appeals court upheld the conviction May 21 and ordered the lower court, the Tribunal de Juicio de Golfito, to reexamine the case. It was the lower court that increased the penalty Thursday afternoon, according to a bulletin from the Poder Judicial.

Miss Martin, a University of Kansas student, died early May 13, 2001, while she walked from a nearby bar to her living quarters. She was in the town to finish a biology thesis before being graduated from the Lawrence, Kans., university. She was stabbed 14 times.

Ambassador says he’s leaving

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jaime Darenblum, Costa Rica’s ambassador to Washington, says he will leave the job Sept. 15 to accept a post under former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, the new secretary general of the Organization of American States.

Fish get vacation, too

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a moratorium on fishing in the Gulf of Nicoya until Aug. 31. The ban went into effect Thursday.

The Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas will be keeping watch. The idea is to give the fish a break so their numbers can recover.

Not so sitting ducks
this time in Heredia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For months a gang of bandits and rapists has been terrorizing the Monte de la Cruz section of Heredia, a popular lovers’ lane.

Despite warnings, a number of couples have been surprised by gunmen. Sometimes they were abducted, and sometimes the women were raped.

The couple the gang confronted about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday were armed agents from the Heredia office of the Judicial Investigating Organization. Several men got out of a car and a gun battle broke out. A suspect with the last name of Martínez was left wounded when the other assailants fled into the mountains.

The man was wounded in the shoulder. Agents managed to confiscate the vehicle involved and several weapons.
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Teachers and others in education gather before the Corte Suprema de Justicia Thursday to pressure the magistrates inside for a favorable decision to their appeals for help.
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Teachers and educators return to demonstrating
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rhetoric and the music was like something out of a revolutionary documentary, but the general mood was sedate as yet another group demonstrated to protect their pensions.

The group, itself, was hardly revolutionary, made up of teachers and professors from higher education. But it was colorful, thanks to union flags and banners.

They gathered in front of the Corte Supreme de Justicia because they are trying to retain what the Pacheco administration contends are highly favorable pensions.

But other issues entered into the debate. Handouts by the Sindicato de Empleados Universitarios de la

 Universidad de Costa Rica also expressed opposition to the proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

The employees union did not like development Plan Puebla Panamá or the war in Iraq. The proposed tax reform plan got criticism as a plan for the rich.

Speaker after speaker said there was a conspiracy afoot to erode the rights of the union members. A sound truck provided the revolutionary music.

The educators said that a year has passed since they suspended strike activities in anticipation of legislative action in their favor. But the laws have been blocked in the legislature.

Policemen stood by, but there were no excesses by those in the well-dressed crowd.

Savings Unlimited creditors are sick of just waiting
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some Savings Unlimited creditors are getting ready to take action to recover their funds. 

The high-interest firm collapsed Nov. 22, 2002, when Luis Milanes fled the county, and the plight of the investors has generally been overshadowed by the more colorful Brothers Villalobos case.

Creditors are known to be unhappy that the casinos Milanes directed continue to run and rake in a profit while local prosecutors take no action to secure their interests.

Milanes had more than 50 corporations here and elsewhere which actually are owners of the casinos, and prosecutors have taken no action to pierce this corporate ownership.

Part of the problem for prosecutors is that Milanes destroyed data associated with his Edificio Colon company when he left town. In the Villalobos case, prosecutors raided the Mall San Pedro operation July 4, 2002, and grabbed boxes of information. Both firms paid around 3 to 3.5 percent interest a month to mostly foreign creditors.

One lawyer, Ewald Acuña Blanco, has gathered some clients but his game plan generally has been to wait for prosecutors to take the lead.

Milanes told creditors that their money would be used in casino activity and used to give his customers tours of the various casinos, including the one in the Europe Hotel, the casino in the Royal Dutch Hotel and the  Casino in the Hotel Morazán. He also said funds build slot machines.

Associates of Milanes have been jailed, but all are out of prison now. They include Michael Gonzales, the office manager of the high interest operation. He said he had nothing to do with Milanes flight and lost money himself.

José Poo was grabbed by unhappy creditors at a Panamá hotel, brought back and spent time in jail. But he has been released. The brother of Milanes, José, says he had no relation with the financial organization.

Milanes is generally credited with taking $200 million but that number may have been the loss to creditors and not the amount the man took with him. Prosecutors say he had opened European bank accounts before he left.

Some creditors were reminded of the lack of activity when one of Milanes’ casinos ran a poker championship last month. He was a big poker fan and reveled in his abilities both as a player and as a tournament organizer.

John Manners, who heads a group identified with creditors of the Villalobos operation, said Thursday that he and lawyer José Miguel Villalobos Umaña were considering looking into the Milanes case. 

Manners said that the lawyer has remarked about the uneven treatment in that one of the Villalobos brothers is in jail but associates of Milanes are "free as birds with business as usual at the casinos." Manners worked briefly in sales for Savings Unlimited. José Villalobos, who is not related to the brothers, is working to get Oswaldo Villalobos out of jail, Luis Enrique Villalobos still is a fugitive.

Other creditors, too, have been talking with other lawyers who have gone so far as to study the prosecutor’s file.

Unlike Villalobos, who had many connections due to his role as a paymaster during the Nicaraguan civil war, creditors wonder how Milanes, a big tall man, can stay out of the public eye wherever he is. Some say the United States, others say Cuba.

Some individuals had money with both investment schemes. 

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Author says that individuals do make a difference
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Writer Kenneth Davis says American history is full of adventure and surprises. The author of the book "Don't Know Much about History" is slowly convincing Americans that the subject isn't boring. 

Davis says he first felt the force of history as a 9-year-old when he visited Gettysburg, Pa., the site of an historic 1863 battle in the American Civil War. Some 50,000 soldiers on the Northern and Southern sides were either killed or wounded there. 

"Standing there in those fields in the summer heat, feeling something extraordinary had happened here, you can't stand in that place and not feel that you're in the midst of something extraordinary and something very deep," he says. "So for me, history was always about the humanity, the people, and not always necessarily the famous people."

He says the great social or political movements often started with ordinary people.

"Whether we're talking about the abolition of slavery, the movement for women to vote, the suffrage movement as it was called, even the temperance movement that prohibited alcohol, the civil rights movement, all these things came from the bottom up, they were grassroots movements, usually that the politicians resisted to the very end and had to be dragged kicking and screaming every inch of the way," he noted.

Davis recounts the stories of such movements in his book, which has now sold 1.5 million copies. He has written similar works on geography, the Bible, and other subjects for both adults and children.

He says one lesson he draws from history is that people can change the country by mobilizing their 

neighbors or by voting. Sometimes, he adds, change comes about through the force of an individual personality.

"Whether it's a Washington and a Thomas Jefferson in the early days of America or a Franklin D. Roosevelt, or a Ronald Reagan, these are people whose personalities and character do absolutely make a difference on their times," he adds.

He says these people were often flawed. Jefferson, for example, was a great champion of liberty and author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. But he was also a slave owner. And two of the country's founding fathers were locked in a bitter feud that proved deadly for one of them.

"200 years ago, on July 11, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr faced off at 10 paces and Burr shoots Hamilton and kills him in a duel," he says. "This was the sitting vice president of America and the former secretary of the treasury of America. Can you imagine today  Dick Cheney challenging Paul O'Neill to a duel because he didn't like his book? That moment speaks to the extraordinary larger-than-life characters who have peopled American history during these 228 years since we became a nation."

While Americans often overlook such episodes, not all the stories they cherish are accurate. For example, the tale is widely told about George Washington cutting down a cherry tree as a youngster, then admitting it to his father, unable to tell a lie. As far as historians know, it never happened. 

But the writer says the real story of the nation is much more interesting than the list of dates and battles taught in schools. He says the story is as engaging as any found in fiction.

Anti-bribe pact has its ups and downs, report says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

In the seven years since agreement was reached on an anti-bribery convention, all 35 signatories have ratified the treaty and adopted legislation that criminalizes the bribery of foreign public officials by persons within their jurisdiction, the U.S. Department of Commerce says.

In a July report to Congress on implementation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's anti-bribery pact, the department also said that South Korea and Sweden have obtained convictions under their new laws and that momentum continues to build for new investigations and prosecutions.

"The United States will continue to advocate for rigorous enforcement of parties' anti-bribery laws," Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said in a news release. "We will continue to show leadership in the fight against global corruption."

The Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions was signed in December 1997 and entered into force in February 1999. It includes all 30 member countries of the organization as well as Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile and Slovenia.

The Commerce Department's annual report was mandated by Congress in the U.S. law implementing the anti-bribery treaty. Commerce's 2004 report, the sixth and final report required by Congress, 

includes reviews of the implementing legislation of Brazil, Chile and Turkey.

All three countries have taken "significant steps" toward meeting their obligations under the convention, but issues of concern remain, the department said.

As examples, the report cited the absence in Brazil of the concept of criminal liability for "legal persons," a term that typically refers to corporations. In Chile, areas of concern include the liability of legal persons, the level of sanctions and jurisdictional issues. Problems in Turkey include areas of corporate liability and the definition of a foreign public official.

Commerce also reported that enforcement of the anti-bribery convention remains uneven. Apart from the United States, South Korea and Sweden, the department said it was unaware of any other country in which a conviction had been obtained for bribery of a foreign public official. Canada, France, Italy and Norway have initiated investigations or legal proceedings in some cases, but many other countries "have been slow to apply enforcement resources to address transnational bribery," the department said.

To illustrate the magnitude of the problem, the department cited U.S. government estimates that between May 1, 2003, and April 30, 2004, the competition for 47 contracts worth $18 billion may have been affected by bribery by foreign firms.

Cuba lets man who opposed Castro travel to Spain for meeting
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuban dissident and former exile Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo has been cleared by the government to attend a conference in Spain of the Socialist Workers Party.

Gutierrez Menoyo Wednesday said the government's decision to allow him to travel to Madrid was a sign of flexibility toward the independent opposition.

Gutierrez Menoyo, who leads the group Cuban Change, Cambio Cubano, is a former Cuban rebel commander. He fought with Fidel Castro's forces to oust dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. But when he led commandos seeking to oust Castro in 1964, he was arrested and jailed for 22 years. 

Gutierrez Menoyo later left for exile in Miami after Spain intervened on his behalf. He returned to Cuba in August 2003.

July 4th
again is
The wind cooperated to display the colors

Can you do it without getting all wet?


U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas shares a few words. Others include U.S. Sen. and Mrs. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama in back row. Uncle Sam (Bill Barbee) and Douglas M. Barnes, chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy are in the front row.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two U.S. senators on a tour of Central America were surprise visitors at Costa Rica’s July 4th celebration Saturday at a recreation area west of San José.

The senators and their wives joined several thousand other U.S. citizens and dependants for the latest in nearly 50 years of Independence Day celebrations here.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Richard C. Shelby were the guests, and they had just arrived Saturday morning. As always, the highlight of the day was the raising of the colors by embassy-based U.S. marines. This year, in honor of the late President Ronald Reagan, the flag flew at half staff. The national anthems of both countries followed.

The event, which was free for U.S. citizens, was put on by the American Colony Committee at Cervercería Costa Rica.

Clown Rayuela (Emanuella Ulloa) at work.
 And the hair goes flying
Foot races can be a drag

Jo Stuart
About us
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