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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 8, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 133
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North American investors hold their breaths
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A number of North Americans who have money invested in Ofinter S.A. expect that the company’s offices will open normally today, despite a raid Thursday as part of a Canadian-Costa Rican anti-drug operation.

Canadian police arrested six persons, but Costa Rican agents raided both the San Pedro Mall and downtown offices of Ofinter as well as the home of one of the owners in San Jerónimo de Moravia and the house of the company accountant in Curridabat Centro. 

In both those visits, agents confiscated documents, according to a release by the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Also raided was a condominium in Mar y Arena in Jacó where agents found "important documents relating the suspects with the exchange house (Ofinter)," said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Ofinter is owned by brothers Enrique and Osvaldo Villalobos, who have staunchly denied in the past that their business was engaged in any illegal activities.

A number of North Americans invest their money in the company because the firm pays astronomical interest, as much as 3 percent a month or about 42 percent compounded annually. The owners have told investors that the money is used in a factoring business.

The high interest and many transactions through the company’s many accounts in commercial banks is what got Costa Rican officials involved as long ago as two years.

The bulk of the Costa Rican news media has been careful not to link the investment firm with the activities of the Canadians who were arrested. Some North Americans who are the beneficiaries of the high interest rate said this weekend that the firm was being unjustly spotlighted for alleged illegal acts committed by investors.

However, Diario Extra, the popular daily newspaper, Saturday quoted Guillermo Hernández, of the Centro de Inteligencia Conjunta Antidrogas, the drug police, as saying that the two brothers were under investigation for receiving money from drug dealers and intermediaries.

A telephone recording at the Ofinter office Sunday made no mention of the brush with police and said that the office would be open from 9:30 a.m. and be closed from 1 to 2 p.m. for a lunch hour. Office telephone numbers are 280-6761 and 280-6716.

The Canadians came to Costa Rica in May 2001 and asked police here to follow suspects. The goal was to identify places visited by the suspects, locate the firms where the members of the group invested money, specifically some $300,000 believed to be the proceeds of drug sales, and to locate any real estate that might be owned here. 

The presumed leader of the group, identified by agents here as St. Onge and believed to be Bertrand Henri St. Onge, 52, owned the condominium in Jacó. He died of cancer here in March.

Six of the arrests were in Canada. Among those arrested was Sandra St. Onge, 47, the widow of Bertrand. Two persons were arrested on Caribbean islands. Canadian police said the police of Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago were involved as well as police on several Caribbean islands.

Canadian police said that nearly 600 kilos of cocaine and 1,000 kilos of marijuana oil were confiscated.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said the condominium in Jacó had a value of about $95,000, not lavish by North American standards. Six locations were raided in Canada at the same time as the Costa Rican raids and that is presumably where the drugs were found. One Costa Rican agent participated in the Canadian operation, investigators here said.

Some North Americans have expressed fears that police managed to obtain a list of investors at the Ofinter firm. 

Although Canadians living abroad do not have to pay Canadian taxes on foreign earnings, U.S. citizens do. Some investors worry that the list of investors might fall into the hands of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

That could be bad news for U.S. citizens who failed to report proceeds of their investments on their U.S. tax return. Failure to do so could be construed as tax evasion, which is a criminal violation under U.S. law.

Anti-terrorism efforts target cash flow from drugs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The financial flow that comes from drug dealing has come under more intense scrutiny by North American police agencies since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. President George Bush lumped drug dealers together with terrorists and said the financial flow generated by drugs must be cut off. Four South American armed groups have been officially designated terrorist organizations by U.S. officials, and all four raise significant funds through drug sales.

They are, according to the U.S. State Department: 

• FARC or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, established in 1964 by the Colombian Communist Party. FARC is Colombia's oldest, largest, most capable and best-equipped Marxist group. 

• The NATIONAL LIBERATION ARMY based in Colombia, this Marxist insurgent group formed in 1965.

• SENDERO LUMINOSO or The Shining Path terror group of Peru is based on founder Abimael Guzman's belief in militant Maoist doctrine. 

• TUPAC AMARU, a Peruvian revolutionary movement formed in 1983 to establish a Marxist regime. 

Other organizations in South America raise substantial sums of cash through drug dealing, but they are on the political right and not official U.S. terrorist groups.

Even before Sept. 11, the U.S. and Canada have been seeking the elimination of havens where persons could invest money without fear of being known. Consequently, efforts at tax collection coincide sometimes with anti-drug efforts.

By Jan. 1 U.S. security dealers will have an affirmative obligation to report what they consider suspicious activities by customers. U.S. and Canadian Banks already have this obligation. And in Costa Rica, banks operate under similar laws. The money exchange house, Ofinter S.A. that was raided Thursday did not have such an obligation because it is not official an investment firm.

Meanwhile, major industrialized countries and international organizations are working to eliminate bank secrecy and such informal organizations all over the world, both to promote tax collection and to ferret out drug dealers and terrorists.

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Young women at the picnic promote a unique, wearable art work. They are Emily McKnight, Elin Vigdis Godmundsdottir, Haley and Holly Hoppe and Helga Godmundsdottir.
A.M. Costa Rica photos
Coco celebates multinationally

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

The first Multinational Independence Celebration took place Saturday near Playas del Coco with a multinational crowd. At least 200 persons attended to play bingo, pitch horseshoes and eat shish kebab and popcorn.

The event was a benefit with funds raised going to two local schools. The event had a low average age with youngsters dominating.

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica sponsored the outing, but a number of local merchants participated.

Laura Hahn, the association’s representative in the Pacific beach town led the group in the national anthems of Costa Rica, Germany, the United States and Canada.
 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
One of the more colorful displays was by Coco-Palms Bar Restaurant Hotel in Playas del Coco with Michael Schulze, Beth MacMillin and Paul Moll.

 
AIDS slashing life expectancies in 51 countries
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BARCELONA, Spain — A new report shows that the global AIDS pandemic will cause a sharp drop in life expectancy in dozens of countries, in some cases declines of almost three decades. The International AIDS Conference here heard that several nations are losing a century of progress in extending the length of life.

A U.S. Census Bureau study released at the conference reveals that nations in every part of the world, 51 in all, are suffering declining life expectancies because of an increasing prevalence of HIV infection.

The impact is in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, but is greatest in sub-Saharan Africa, a region with only 10 percent of the world's population but 70 percent of its HIV infections. 

The author of the U.S. Census report, Karen Stanecki, says some developing countries are avoiding the slide, but most are not. "Currently we have seen success, declines in prevalence only in a few areas," she said. "But in most other countries, prevalence has remained high or is increasing. As a result, in the next 10 to 15 years, we are going to continue to see major impacts on populations."

Seven African countries have life expectancies of less than 40 years. For example, in Botswana, where 39 percent of the adult population is infected with HIV, life expectancy is 39 years. But by 2010, it will be less than 27 years. Without AIDS, it would have been 74 years. The U.S. report predicts a similar outcome for Mozambique, while projections for life expectancies in South Africa, Swaziland, Angola, Lesotho, Namibia and Rwanda range from 33 to just under 37 years.

"By 2010, less than 10 years from now, we project that life expectancies are going to be back to levels that were not seen since the late 19th century for these most severely affected countries," she said.

The U.S. figures also show that life expectancies 

throughout the Caribbean and some Central American nations will drop into the 60s by 2010 when they would otherwise have been in the 70s without AIDS. In Cambodia and Burma, they are predicted to decline to around 60 years old from what would have been in the mid-60s.

Even in countries where the number of new infections is dropping, such as Thailand, Uganda and Senegal, the U.S. report predicts small life expectancy drops.

Ms. Stanecki says another result of the AIDS pandemic is a loss of population in the hardest hit African countries where there are more deaths than births.

"Back in the early 1990s, we never would have suspected that population growth would have turned negative because of AIDS mortality. In less than 10 years, we expect that five countries will be experiencing negative population growth because of AIDS mortality, including South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland," she said.

The U.S. Census study also points out that AIDS is boosting infant mortality rates, again mainly in Africa. This is reversing a decline occurring in the 1980s and early 1990s. Although overall global rates are expected to decline by 2010, there will be more infant deaths than if AIDS had never developed.

The assistant administrator for global health at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Anne Peterson, calls the trends outlined in the study staggering. "What are we going to do so that the projections beyond 2010 do not continue to escalate? This is a call to action to make a difference," she said.

The U.N. AIDS Program says $10 billion is needed to slow the HIV pandemic, but has commitments of less than one-third of that amount from the affected nations, donor countries, and multilateral agencies. 


 
Aliens in military
can become citizens

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush has signed an executive order that permits non-citizens on active duty in the U.S. military's war on terrorism to apply immediately for U.S. citizenship.

The executive order, signed Wednesday, allows up to 15,000 such men and women to apply immediately to become U.S. citizens instead of waiting the normal three years for legal aliens serving in the military and five years for ordinary green card holders.

Under U.S. law, non-citizen lawful permanent residents may serve in the U.S. military.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters Thursday that the order designates a period of military hostilities with a hostile foreign force that began with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon September 11.

"The period will extend indefinitely until the President terminates it by future executive order," Fleischer said. "During the period identified by the executive order, any non-citizen serving on active duty in the U.S. armed services can receive expedited naturalization consideration."

Six Latin nations
irked by system

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Leaders of the four-nation South American trade bloc, Mercosur, wrapped up their one-day summit Friday expressing solidarity with recession-plagued Argentina. They were also critical of the international financial system and its inability to deal with economic crises. The expressions of concern came in a joint communiqué signed by heads of the four Mercosur countries, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and the leaders of the two associate members, Bolivia and Chile.

The six presidents, plus Mexican President Vicente Fox who was invited as a special guest, met here Friday for the 22nd annual Mercosur summit.

In a 17-point declaration, the leaders expressed concern over what the document called the "current behavior" of the international financial and economic systems. They vowed to do everything possible to overcome the economic problems plaguing the region.

Brazil's currency is taking a beating and its risk rating is up sharply because of the markets' concern over the upcoming presidential election and the high level of the country's debt. Argentina is virtually bankrupt, and its economic woes are beginning to affect its neighbors, especially Uruguay.

At a news conference, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso complained about the negative effect of fluctuating financial markets, and said the international financial institutions are not able to cope with the market turbulence.

He said "globalization has unleashed a series of new phenomena and there are no institutional forces capable of dealing with damaging turbulence in financial markets." 

The summit, while expressing solidarity with Argentina, stopped short of endorsing a joint appeal for funds from the international financial institutions. Argentina is appealing to the International Monetary Fund for billions of dollars.

Pinochet resigns
his seat in senate

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has resigned his lifetime Senate seat, three days after he was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial on murder and kidnapping charges that stem from the first days of his military rule in 1973.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz delivered Gen. Pinochet's resignation letter to the Chilean Senate Thursday. He said the 86-year-old former military ruler's declining health no longer makes it possible for him to carry out his duties in the Senate. 

Cardinal Errazuriz said the general's resignation will contribute to what he called social peace and national reconciliation. President Ricardo Lagos echoed those remarks, saying Gen. Pinochet's decision to step down will bring tranquility to all sectors of Chilean society. 

Pinochet became a senator-for-life in 1998 after giving up his post as head of the country's armed forces, a position he held after ending his 17-year dictatorship in 1990.

On Monday, the Chilean Supreme Court ruled the former military ruler was not mentally competent to stand trial. He suffers from dementia, diabetes and other serious health problems.  In Chile, suspects aged 70 and older are required to be tested and interviewed to determine their mental fitness to stand trial. 

Pinochet was to stand trial for allegedly ordering a military operation that targeted leftist dissidents in the days immediately following the violent coup that brought him to power in 1973. The campaign, known as the Caravan of Death, left 75 people dead or missing. 

Analysts say this week's Supreme Court ruling effectively ends any attempts to prosecute Pinochet, who faces more than 200 lawsuits stemming from 17 years of military rule. 

More than three thousand people died or disappeared during the general's dictatorship. 
 

Bulls win a few
in Pamplona run

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The first running of the bulls in Spain's annual Pamplona Festival got off to a dangerous start Sunday, when several people were injured in the mad dash through the town's cobblestone streets.

About two thousand people took part in the hair-raising event. Witnesses say the unusually high number of participants slowed the run to more than seven minutes, more than twice as long as the usual time.

The pack of bulls broke up shortly after leaving the corral at the start of the 825 meter run, when several of the animals slipped and fell on the dew-covered streets.

Red Cross workers say four people were injured with horn wounds, but none of the injuries was reported to be life-threatening.

Thirteen people have been killed in Pamplona bull runs and more than 200 people injured since Spanish authorities began keeping records in 1924.

The animals, which each weigh 1,100 pounds or more (500 kilograms), are let loose every day for eight days to run toward the stadium where they face near-certain death in bullfights that take place during the nine day festival.
 

Trial this week
on land invasion

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Some 54 persons will go on trial in Liberia this week for trying to take over land near Iguanita, also in Guanacaste.

The judicial authorities said that the land involved is owned by Compañía Nimboyure S.A., the Sociedad Monte Galán S.A. and the firm Exporsa S.A., all Liberia. Even though the property was encircled by a wire fence, the individuals moved on to it in September 1999, said officials.

The individuals began to cut trees, erect housing and put in plants without authorization.

Such land invasions are a serious threat to land ownership here because under certain circumstances the invaders quickly acquire residency rights.

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