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(506) 223-1327               Published Wednesday, July 4, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 131               E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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This July 4th parties are smaller and spread out
From A.M. Costa Rica:

Today is July 4, and for those living under a rock or out hugging trees: DON'T GO TO THE PICNIC.

For the first time in 47 years, the annual expat July 4th picnic will not be held. The American Colony Committee did not give a reason for canceling the event last May, but after 47 years they can be forgiven for being a bit tired.

The only remaining question is how many U.S. citizens and kin will show up at the Cervecería Costa Rica picnic grounds west of San José today expecting the free picnic. From telephone calls earlier this week, many individuals appear to have not gotten the word.

The committee says it hopes to reinstate the picnic next year, but the 2008 event is not a sure thing.

Costa Rica is changing, too, with more of the expat population being part-time dwellers on the Pacific coast. Some 3,500 persons went to the 2006 picnic, and that was just a sampling of the expats in Costa Rica. This is a far cry from the
group that used to gather at the U.S. ambassador's residence to celebrate U.S. Independence Day 40 years ago.
fourth of July

Several bars are staging July 4th events today. Among those are A.M. Costa Rica advertisers Bar Poás in San José and Rock n Roll Pollo and Tex Mex in Santa Ana. Certainly expats will be gathering at the Sportsmen's Lodge in San José, but employees said they knew of no special event.

There are a lot of servicemen and women, agents and police who wish they could be tipping glasses at a Costa Rican bar today. Instead, many are on the invisible front line at home, on the high seas, in Korea, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Iran, on Kwajalein, in Colombia and other dangerous places protecting the western way of life. Some are even offshore looking for drug smugglers.

Remember them in your toasts.
—Jay Brodell

Backers thrilled as Sala IV finds treaty constitutional
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Supporters of the free trade treaty with the United States were thrilled Tuesday when the Sala IV high court voted 5-2 that the document was constitutional.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez went on television Tuesday night to praise the court and said that the decision filled citizens with pride. However, he stopped short of urging a vote for the treaty in the referendum set for Oct. 7.

Instead the president, a strong supporter of the treaty, urged Costa Ricans to just vote during this "historic opportunity" to express their opinion on a major national question.

Administration officials are anxious to get a 40 percent turnout to make the referendum valid. Had the court found constitutional flaws, there would not have been a referendum.

Much of the campaign for and against the treaty was on hold while the Sala IV magistrates considered the constitutionality. The question was put before them in separate requests, one from the Defensoría de los Habitantes and one from opposition lawmakers in the Asamblea Legislativa.
The five magistrates who voted for the treaty are Luis Fernando Solano Carrera, Luis Paulino Mora Mora, Ana Virginia Calzada Miranda, Adrián Vargas Benavides, and Ernesto Jinesta Lobo.

Fernando Cruz Castro and Gilbert Armijo Sancho said the treaty was unconstitutional and cited a long list of what they saw to be problems, according to the decision released by the press office of the Poder Judicial. Their concerns closely paralleled an evaluation by Universidad de Costa Rica experts who issued a report last month.

Their concerns more or less outline the campaign that will heat up opposing the document. Both magistrates said they thought the treaty chapter on telecommunications was unconstitutional.  This is the section that opens Costa Rican wireless operations to private providers. That job is now a state monopoly held by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

They also objected to a clause on the environment, a health section, a section that specified arbitration for investment complaints, the creation of a commission to oversee the treaty, including medicines under intellectual property rights and other sections that would affect the Costa Rican state of rights.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 131

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Pipeline mishap dumps
diesel fuel on highway

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A vehicle hit a fuel pipeline at Villa Bonita de Alajuela Tuesday and caused a rupture that put hundreds of gallons of diesel into the roadway of the Autopista Bernardo Soto.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the spill was some 600 meters long and extended over the four lanes on the highway. This is the main road west of the Juan Santamaría airport.

Workers needed heavy construction machinery to build dikes to keep the fuel from running into the Río Ciruelas..

The mishap took place about 9:30 a.m.

German Marín, director of the Policía de Tránsito asked motorists to take alternate routes.  Also on the scene were the Cuerpo de Bomberos and the  Dirección de Emergencias y Desastres of the ministry.

The pipeline is operated by the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo and moves petroleum products between facilities in Ochomogo in Cartago and one in La Garita.

Teen tourist dies in surf
at Punta Uva on Caribbean

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 15-year-old U.S. tourist died Monday when she was caught in a wave at Punta Uva in Puerto Viejo de Limón.

She was identified as Debora Joy Blackwell from the state of Oklahoma. She was said to be in the area as part of a religious group.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that she was enjoying the surf with friends about 5 p.m. when a wave knocked her down and carried her away.

She was taken to the Clínica de Home Creek but died there.

Campaign seeks to keep kids
attending their high school

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Every year nearly 40,000 Costa Rican students drop out of high school, mainly for economic reasons, low academic success rates, family problems and boredom, among others. 
Some 20,000 more students work while in school, placing them at a higher risk to desert the classroom, according to officials. 

In order to improve this situation, the Ministry de Educación Pública, the United Nations Children's Fund and the Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia have launched the campaign Engánchate al Cole, meaning "stick to high school." The campaign promotes a national movement toward keeping high school students in classes.  The initiative targets students, teachers, families.

The singer/songwriter, Diego Torres, the U.N. agency's goodwill ambassador for Latin America and the Caribbean, joined in the campaign by filming a commercial with students from the Colegio Máximo Quesada in Desamparados.  The spots featuring Torres are being aired during this midyear vacation when many students decide not to return to the classroom.

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Tex Mex for sale
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 131

Rock n Roll Pollo
Puerto Limon Agency

Villalobos victims vs. Costa Rica
Officials do not seem hurried by $200 million arbitration

By Arnoldo Cob Mora
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The international arbitration case against Costa Rica has reached the point where the nation has to select a member of the tribunal that will hear the case.

But Costa Rica officials still are seeking a lawyer with expertise in international arbitrations to advise them.

A lawyer for the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes sent a letter to the minister of Comercio Exterior June 13 outlining the procedure.

The issue is important because Costa Rica has a treaty allowing arbitration with Canada where many of the claimants live. And they want $200 million.

The center is associated with the World Bank, so its arbitration agreements have teeth. The basic claim is that Costa Rica failed to protect investors who ended up losing money in the collapse of what is now being called the Villalobos Ponzi scheme. Luis Enrique Villalobos was not licensed for the kind of high-interest business he ran. A three-judge panel that convicted his brother Oswaldo on allegations of aggravated fraud and illegal banking had harsh words for regulators, who looked the other way for years.

Esteban Agüero, an employee at the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior, said Costa Rica was notified of the case May 10, 2004. He said the government has done nothing with respect to the case.

A commission made up of representatives of his ministry, the Presidencia and relevant agencies eventually will manage the case, he said.
Costa Rica recently had experience with Harken Petroleum, which threatened a $57 billion action at the center.
Eventually the petroleum company agreed to an arbitration supervised by the ministry, according to news clip files.

The petroleum company claims Costa Rica reneged on a contract to do exploration work in the Caribbean. This was a politically sensitive case.

The case of the Villalobos arbitration has not received much press in Costa Rica. Officials seem to be downplaying the issue because the free trade treaty with the United States contains an arbitration clause. A referendum on the treaty might be influenced if voters knew that the Villalobos victims could collect $50 for every man, woman and child in the country.

When Harken announced it would take its complaint against Costa Rica to the arbitration center, then-president Abel Pacheco said that Costa Rica would not participate and would not honor an arbitration decision.

However, with the Canadian treaty in force Costa Rica does not seem to have an option. However, Agüero said that any victims seeking an arbitration victory would have to give up any claim to money awards in the Costa Rican court system. Some victims won judgments at the time Oswaldo Villalobos was convicted.

The victims' case is being handled by the law firm of Cain Lamarre Casgrain Wells in Montreal, Quebec.

The letter from the center said that Costa Rica would pick one member of the tribunal and the claimants would pick one. Then the parties involved would agree on a third person. The case was registered with the center on March 27, according to its Web site.

In a bit more than 63 months, Luis Enrique will be free man
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the fifth anniversary of that raid on the Brothers Villalobos that led to the eventual closing of the high-interest operation and major economic loss for thousands of creditors.

The raid was July 4, 2002, and many expats believe that the date was chosen especially to send a signal to U.S. citizens.

The raid resulted in Villalobos bank accounts being frozen and Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho calling on his customers to invest even more. Many did. They were surprised Oct. 14 of that year when the high-interest operation shut down leaving them holding the bag.

This year a trial court found that the high-interest operation was integrated with the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house and concluded that the investment business was nothing but a Ponzi scheme. Prosecutors estimated the loss to investors at about $400 million. The real loss, including accrued interest, probably is much more.

The trial court sentenced brother Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho to 18 years for aggravated fraud and illegal banking.

Luis Enrique Villalobos has been a fugitive since Oct. 14, 2002. And he has a bit more than 63 months to go to beat the rap.

Under Costa Rican law, the statute of limitation for these crimes is 10 years, according to a legal expert close to the case.

If Luis Enrique had been served with the criminal allegations, the statutes of limitations would have been cut in half, but he was not. He left without being accused. The downside is that if he had been served and fled, the statute of limitations clock would have stopped.

The trial court of brother Oswaldo looked deeply into the high-interest operation and found that there was no economic activity to justify the 3 percent a month that creditors got. Enrique was as much on trial as his brother,
He's counting the days until he beats the system

so if he were to return, he, too, would likely face a long prison term.

He is believed to have accepted the last investments just a few days before closing down. So Luis Enrique Villalobos will be able to return to Costa Rica a free man after Oct. 14, 2012.

The last five years have been a rough road for investors, many of whom came to blame the Costa Rican government for shutting down what proved to be a criminal activity. A series of individuals offered help for a price.

Some creditors still believe that an appeals court will void the Oswaldo Villalobos verdict and that Luis Enrique will return to pay off the faithful. But this group is far smaller than it was five years ago.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 131

Peruvian Penguins were giants some 40 million years ago
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Most people think of penguins as being adapted to the cold of Antarctica. But in 2005, paleontologists found the fossils of two new species near the equator, in Peru.

"When I heard about the finds, I rushed to get a team together and to go down there and work with my Peruvian colleagues," said Julia Clarke, assistant professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State University.

Penguins evolved in places like Antarctica and New Zealand, and, until this recent discovery, scientists thought that they moved closer to the equator only about four to 10 million years ago. But these fossils were found in deposits that were 42 and 36 million years old, which meant that these two species of penguin reached equatorial regions more than 30 million years earlier than previously thought — a complete surprise to Clarke and her paleontologist colleagues.

Clarke was also amazed by the size of one of the species, Icadyptes salasi. This prehistoric penguin would have stood around 5 feet tall, or just over one and a half meters. The fossils also included the skull of the giant penguin, the first that paleontologists had ever found. "The bones of these fossils are so well preserved," Clarke said, "that when the team saw this, this skull, the first skull of a giant penguin, we were just taken aback."

The skull is over a foot long (approximately 30 centimeters), with an extremely long and narrow beak, unlike that of any penguin living today. In fact, the giant penguin and the other new species, Perudyptes devriesi, are only distantly related to the penguins that exist today.
Clarke likes to use the metaphor of a tree, to describe the penguins' evolutionary relationships. She sees all of the penguins that ever lived as branches. "Perudyptes is a branch low to the ground, and Icadyptes, the giant penguin, is somewhere in the middle," the paleontologist explains. "And then, near the top of the tree, you have one little branch, and that little branch represents the penguin diversity we have today."

According to Clarke, these prehistoric penguins are among the oldest that anyone has ever found in South America. They lived at a time when the earth was actually much warmer than it is now. As she describes it, "These penguins are really in the waning days of what we call the 'greenhouse earth' of the Paleogene period." In other words, this peak in penguin species diversity actually occurred during a period of geologic history that was so warm, the earth was lacking in polar ice caps.

So if these ancient penguins thrived under much warmer conditions, does that mean that today's penguins will easily survive global warming? Not so, Clarke warned. "Just because early parts of the penguin family tree did extremely well during these warm periods in earth's history, our new results can't be taken to say that any current global climate change would not negatively impact living penguins."

As she explained, "there's a lot of evidence to suggest that living penguins may be cold-adapted, unlike most of the penguins that preceded them on earth."

Clarke also stresses that the climate is now changing much more quickly than anything prehistoric penguins would have experienced. Her findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Amnesty says that Salvadorian officials fail to investigate political killings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A human-rights group is denouncing El Salvador for failing to investigate a killing of two elderly political activists a year ago on July 2, 2006.

Amnesty International says the murders of Francisco and Juana Manzanares were reminiscent of El Salvador's death squads of the 1980s. The group notes that local organizations fear a resurgence of the violence. The two opposition party activists were found dead in their home.
In a press release, Amnesty said it has not received a response to a letter it sent in March to El Salvador's attorney general asking for details about the investigation. Amnesty urged Salvadoran authorities to live up to their human-rights commitments by protecting the work of political activists.

The Manzanares' son, Francisco, died a decade ago in what investigators believe was a politically motivated killing. Amnesty says the couple's daughter, Marina, who is also a political activist, is still being threatened.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 131

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