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These stories were published Thursday, July 31, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 150
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Can you believe that this quiet spot is just a few feet from the Asamblea Nacional and the governmental center of San José? It is in Parque Nacional, and  the pond is filled with koi, the fancy Japanese carp. Here a father and two children pause to admire a sprinkler that puts oxygen in the pool.
Committee asked for peek at Pacheco's accounts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislative commission investigating campaign spending has formally agreed to ask President Abel Pacheco to open his campaign-related bank accounts for study.

Pacheco’s political situation eroded this week with the discovery of yet another bank account in his name into which some 79 million colons of campaign funding were deposited.  That’s about $200,000 at the then-exchange rate.

The issue came up a week ago in the Asamblea Nacional when Humberto Arce of the Bloque Patriótico said he had asked Pacheco to reveal the financial transactions related to a bank account owned by Leilable S.A. The firm Leilable S.A. was set up in 1987 by Pacheco and his wife Leila Rodríguez, said Arce. He wanted to know the origin of the deposit of some 1.4 million colons put there March 24, 2002. That was about $4,000 then.

Then Tuesday the former treasurer of the Pacheco campaign, Rodolfo Montero Barquero, told the president by letter that yet another account existed in his name.  The former treasurer took full responsibility and said Pacheco had no knowledge.

Arce and Luis Gerardo Villanueva of Liberación Nacional made the motion Wednesday asking the president to open up all his accounts for legislative inspection. Both are members of the special committee investigating campaign financing. Pacheco appeared before the committee a month ago and told members that he would open up his accounts to their inspection. Now they are holding him to his word even on the new accounts that keep turning up.

Today representatives of the Banco de Costa Rica will appear before the committee. Both Pacheco’s Unidad Social Cristiana and Liberación maintain accounts at that bank.

Three murders in southwestern Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man in Río Rincon on the Osa Peninsula pulled a gun on a neighbor, shot him and killed three youngsters about 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Police mustered their forces, including dogs, to find the man who fled on foot. He was identified as Carlos Corrales Picado, 40, a fisherman, and was said to still be armed.

The wounded man and the youngsters were taken to Puerto Jiménez. The area is in 

southwestern Costa Rica.  The wounded man was identified as Marcelo Solís. Dead was his son, Erick Solís, just three years and 11 months of age, said police.

Two teens, Francisco Mena, 15, and Steven Vargas, 16, also were said to be victims, but the circumstances of their death was unclear.

The area is one of the most dense in Costa Rica. Initial reports had as many as six persons dead, but later police reports confirmed only three deaths.

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Sculptor's works united in show that opens Aug. 5
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Calderón Guardia will feature sculptor Cecilia Paredes in an exposition titled "El jardín de Dafne" which opens Aug. 5.

The artist is celebrating her 15 years in Costa Rica with the exposition in which her works are united.

The exposition runs to Sept. 3 at the Galería Manuel de la Cruz González in the museum, which is in Barrio Escalante in northeast San José not far from the Santa Teresita church.  Admission is free.

The title is based on the myth in which a girl going through the forest feels afraid and asks the gods to convert her into something that is not alive or dead. She becomes a laurel tree.

Part of the exposition includes two six-foot bronze laurel trees with dried leaves on the floor. Also there are a set of bronze feet that the artist considers one of her more expressive works. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Ministerio de Cultura, Deporte y Juventud are seeking proposals for works to be exhibited in its Teatro 1887 at the Centro Nacional de la Cultura. The works are chosen by a committee and are displayed for a month.

There is an Oct. 31 deadline, and the type of art is variable and includes photography. Information is available at 223-3924  and 221-2022.

Bronze feet by Cecile Pareces

Tourist card plan
runs into a snag

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A proposal to continue the practice of allowing some foreigners to enter Costa Rica with so-called tourist cards instead of passports ran into a snag Wednesday at a legislative committee.

Epsy Campbell, a deputy from the Partido Acción Ciudadana, strongly criticized the committee for not having expert advice, particularly on the topic of sexual tourism and exploitation. 

Although most sexual exploitation and prostitution  of children involves Costa Ricans, foreign tourists are more visible and the topic frequently comes up when discussing tourism.

Deputy Campbell said she wanted to hear from the defensor de los habitantes and the executive president of Fundación PANIAMOR, a Costa Rican private, non-profit, organization that works for children’s rights.

The tourist cards are an easy way for U.S. and Canadian citizens to enter the country without the expense of a passport. However, legislation authorizing them has expired, and the tourist cards are being allowed administratively.

The law being discussed by deputies would formalize the situation in the Migración y Extranjería code.

The deputies finally decided to hold a work session with a representative of the Consejo Nacional de Migración and PANIAMOR and the defensor.

Taxi driver dies,
and fugitive found

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone murdered a taxi driver Tuesday night near Quepos on the Pacific coast, and Wednesday morning investigators found a wounded fugitive from Italy nearby.

The strange set of circumstances began to unfold about 10:30 p.m. when the body of Enrique Chávez Barboza, 62, was found near his taxi in a small settlement some 10 kms. or six miles from Quepos.

The area is in a plantation of African palms.

The man was outside the taxi and showed signs of knife wounds to his head. Police said he also had a bullet wound to the head.

There was no sign of robbery because the man carried his belongings in a belt pack, said police. Taxi drivers joined in the search but it was not until about 6:30 a.m. that a briefcase was located about a kilometer from the crime scene by neighbors who called police. Inside were various documents believed belonging to the dead man.

During a routine search of the area, investigators found a wounded man among the palm trees. He was identified by his last name of Roberciu. Police said he was 40 and was the subject of an arrest warrant on a charge of narcotics trafficking in Italy. They said the 40-year-old man has knife wounds on his neck and left leg. He was hospitalized while police attempt to see if there is a connection.

It’s a warm bye-bye
for VW’s beetle

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PUEBLA, México — The last original model of the Volkswagen Beetle has rolled off an assembly line here.

Volkswagen ended production of the Beetle Wednesday because of sluggish demand after making the small vehicle for nearly seven decades. The car, famous for its domed roof and trunk-mounted engine, was an icon of the 1960s counterculture and starred in three popular Walt Disney movies.

Workers at the plant in Mexico adorned the light blue Bug with a Mexican flag made of flowers, and a Mariachi band serenaded the car before it heads to Germany, where it will be placed in the Volkswagen museum.

Volkswagen will continue to manufacture the revamped 1998 model of the Beetle.

Noriega confirmed
for hemisphere job

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate has confirmed Roger Noriega as the State Department's top official for Latin American affairs. 

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says lawmakers confirmed Noriega Tuesday as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. 

Noriega has been serving as ambassador to the Organization of American States. Before his appointment as OAS ambassador, Noriega was an aide to former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican.  It is not clear when the ambassador will assume his new post.
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Canadian journalist's death in Iran called 'murder'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's vice president said Wednesday that a Canadian journalist, who died while in custody here earlier this month, was probably murdered. He was basing his remarks on the results of an investigation ordered by Iran's president.

Iranian Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi Wednesday used the word murder when he said the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was caused by a blow to her head.

The vice president, referring to the results of an investigation ordered by President Mohammad Khatami, said the most likely cause of Ms. Kazemi's murder was a blow to the head that resulted in internal bleeding.

Ms. Kazemi, a 54-year-old Montreal-based photographer, was arrested June 23 while taking pictures of a demonstration outside a prison in Tehran. Three days after her arrest she was taken to a hospital in Tehran where she died July 10.

Initially, Iranian authorities said Ms. Kazemi, who was of Iranian decent, had died as the result of a stroke. 

Later, Iranian commentators speculated the death of the journalist was accidental. But, Iran's health minister, Masoud Pezeshkian, told reporters Wednesday the fracture to Ms. Kazemi's skull could not have been caused by an accident.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari said on Wednesday that the investigating judge in the case has requested that five people who were in contact with Ms. Kazemi before her death, be taken into custody.

Ms. Kazemi's son and the Canadian government had demanded that Iran return Ms. Kazemi's body to Canada. 

Instead, Iranian authorities ordered that the journalist be buried in Iran. The decision outraged Canadian officials who recalled the country's ambassador to Tehran and said they would review Canada-Iran relations. 

U.S. says it has tightened rules for visa interviews
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The U.S. State Department said Wednesday that most applicants for non-immigrant visas now must be interviewed individually by a consular official. 

And the department needs to add staff to get the job done.

The new procedures, effective Friday, are aimed at increasing the security of the United States and creating greater uniformity in the processing of visas at U.S. consulates worldwide, an official said Wednesday.

The visa application process requires that the applicant appear before a consular officer for a personal interview, though some waivers of the interview had been previously allowed. The State Department has revised the categories of applicants who may be eligible for these waivers. In practice the new requirements will mean that more visa applicants will need to schedule interviews, and the visa approval process could take more time than in the past.

"Since September 11, 2001, we've engaged in an ongoing review of the visa process as it relates to the security of our nation," said Stephen A. Edson from the Bureau of Consular Affairs. "In this process we have greatly increased the rate of personal interviews. As a result, many of our posts overseas and our consular offices are already handling an interview workload quite similar to what will be required under the new regulation."

The State Department has added 39 new consular officers to handle the increased workload and will plan to add another 80 in the next year, Edson said.

Under the new regulations, Edson said waivers of the personal interview may be considered for the following categories of applicants: those under 16 or over 60 years of age, employees or officials of foreign governments, persons who have previously applied for a visa and have not violated their nonimmigrant status, and persons for whom national interests warrant consideration of a waiver. 

Edson acknowledged that the new procedures "may cause some delays," but he said the State Department remains committed to maintaining a timely process and does not intend to impede the process for "travelers whose presence we value."

Edson also emphasized the consular officers will be responsive to the needs of students coming into the United States for academic programs or participation in time-sensitive programs.

The new regulations only affect travelers who are currently required to obtain a visa to enter the United States. Twenty-seven nations are identified as "visa waiver nations" under a separate provision in U.S. law. Citizens from these nations, Western Europeans and Japanese among them, are not required to obtain visas because their countries have met a number of specified criteria which make these travelers unlikely candidates to attempt illegal immigration into the United States. 

Edson also emphasized that an approved visa does not ensure that a visitor will gain admission to the country at a U.S. port of entry. An approved visa allows only the attempt to enter. The Department of Homeland Security oversees the actual admission of travelers as they set foot on U.S. soil. Even if a traveler is carrying an approved visa, an immigration officer may deny permission to enter if security concerns are at stake, Edson said. 

Briefing foreign journalists in Washington and others participating via video link from New York and Los Angeles, the consular official said the new procedures change nothing in the application process or in the forms a traveler must complete. 

The increased scrutiny focused on nonimmigrant visa applications since the 2001 terrorist attacks has resulted in a slight overall increase in the number of visa denials, consular officials explained. But the more significant change is in the overall number of applications processed. That has declined from 10 million applications in the fiscal year that ended weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks to 8 million applications in the following fiscal year. The officials said it is impossible to determine whether that decline is due to a harsher global economy, a fear of further terrorism, or changes in U.S. visa approval policies.

We are counting on some funny stories
It's time to tickle that funnybone if you have one
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is a land of contradictions, and contradiction is one of the chief concepts of humor.

So now is a time to gently explore our foibles in the mid-winter humor contest sponsored by A.M. Costa Rica marking the second birthday of our Internet daily newspaper.  (Yes, it is "winter’ in Costa Rica.)

Send your humorous writings for publication to:


Make your fellow readers laugh and win great prizes, such as:

• water skiing at Lake Poas.

• annual subscriptions to A.M. Costa Rica

• sunbathing expeditions to the sand dunes of Quepos

• Whale-watching expeditions at the patio of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica

• A night of guaro excess with the A.M. Costa Rica editor (your treat).

Any money prizes will be paid in post-dated checks.

We expect to have some famous judges. At least we will have judges.


Consider the possibilities:

• The Escazú Witch Project
• Fear and Loathing in Santa Ana
• Waiting for Enrique
• How Would You like to be President for a Day?
• The Attack of the 100-foot-tall ICE
• The Return of the Arias.
• The Taxista Always Rings Twice
• Mr. Smith Goes to Arbitration

But you can do better than that. The important thing is to be funny. You can use satire or straight humor. But you must write about Costa Rica. (George Bush is out. We can’t make this too easy.)

Your stories can be true, but exaggeration is a tool of humor. We will publish the good ones as fiction.

Some people say our readers cannot possibly top what really has been happening in Costa Rica. But we have faith.

Our second birthday is Aug. 15, and that’s the deadline.

Now some folks will be upset with us, thinking that we are picking on them. These are the folks who are humorously challenged. Why should we take the credit for them being so funny? Nevertheless, if you wish to send us hate mail or death threats, please do not clog up the editor’s mailbox like before. Send your hate mail or death threats to:


Let the contest begin.

And now, a report from five years in the future
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, July 31, 2008 — A meeting was held last Sunday morning at the Holiday Inn in downtown San Jose by the United REALLY, REALLY Concerned Citizens and Residents. The meeting was the sixth annual.

Unfortunately, attendance was low, as a visiting, guest speaker at the International Baptist Church announced his sermon topic that Sunday morning was: HE RETURNS. 

Apparently, there was some confusion as to what "he" meant, and the church was packed with disappointed visitors.

Meanwhile, five years on, spottings of Enrique Villabolos have continued, with the latest being in Ploesti, Rumania. Apparently the suspect individual, whose false papers identified him as  Romanescu Ceaucescu Scruyu, escaped in the crowd.

Bounty hunters, including Dawg (rhymes with God) said in Hawaii he was hot on the trail of the culprit and only needed $100,000 up-front from the United REALLY REALLY Concerned Citizens and Residents to nab the culprit.

The URRCCR said forget Dawg. They've got four ex-presidents, and five ex MOPT officials and assorted other ex's on retainers paid with money up-front to get the job done.

On the court-front, one group is suing the Costa Rican government for NOT stopping the Villalobos operation. Another group of "investors"(A/K/A "lenders") are suing Costa Rica FOR stopping the Villalobos operation. One FOR. One for NOT.  "Man, have we got the bases covered, or what?" the spokesman for Sue Their Asses, said.

A government spokesman said they would hold the jackets of both parties while they slugged it out. Meanwhile, both cases are moving ahead full-speed.  The documents supporting both cases were found misplaced in a basement and "will be filed anytime now."

Meanwhile, crowds of North Americans were seen lined up at the new Terra Mall offices of Marc Harris, recently released after four years imprisonment, to "invest" with Harris who promised a 4 percent a month return. An unseemly pushing match occurred as investors fought to give Harris the $20,000 minimum investment.

When asked if they were investing or just loaning money to Harris, two irate investors asked  "what's the #*$&@^ difference?"

When asked why the minimum investment was $20,000 when the Villalobos boys asked only $10,000, Harris looked around nervously and said, " better get it while you can."

"Look at the crowd out there," he said, gesturing to the long lines forming outside his investment office. "Proves what that president said," he said.

Not everyone fell for Harris' deal though. There are some thoughtful, careful investors out there who know a crook when they see one. 

They didn't show up. They were over at the new office of "The Rumanians" going for 5 percent a month.

Say, wait a minute. Didn't that Rumanian look like . . . No. Couldn't be.

Our contributor seems to have an inside view.

U.S. SEC chief cites progress in restoring confidence
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the 12 months since Congress boosted oversight of U.S. corporations in response to a wave of business fraud, the government's securities regulator says progress is being made in winning back tarnished investor confidence. 

William Donaldson, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, says investigations continue concerning the collapse of the energy trading company Enron and the telecommunications giant WorldCom. While declining to say whether the heads of those companies will be prosecuted, Donaldson said the full force of the law is being applied to corporate wrongdoing. 

Donaldson, who was a respected Wall Street investment banker, says the wave of corporate fraud had its origin in the boom times of the mid 1990s, when the Internet revolution gave rise to what was called the new economy. 

Speaking at the National Press Club, Donaldson said the manic rise in dot com stock prices led financial officers to sometimes twist accounting rules and 

make fraudulent claims of increased earnings. 

The collapse of the high-tech bubble three years ago, he said, exposed corporate wrongdoing. "As happened after the crash in 1929, the falling market that began in 2000 led to other revelations. Starting with the Enron story in October 2001, it became apparent that the boom years had been accompanied by a serious erosion in business principles," he said.

The collapse of Houston-based Enron was one of the biggest bankruptcies in U.S. history, costing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of stock market valuation. 

Donaldson suggested that investors will return to the stock market once they are convinced that corporate financial data is reliable. New regulations require chief executive officers to personally certify their companies' financial reports. 

The Securities and Exchange chief says the brokerage business has been hurt by revelations that financial analysts sometimes overstated the prospects of companies that had business relationships with their firms.


Malaria wonder drug linked to mental illness
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered July 9 that patients who are prescribed the anti-malaria drug mefloquine, which is sold by the trade name Lariam, be warned that the drug has been linked to serious mental problems and even reports of suicide. This is a closer look at the controversial drug, which has been a lifesaver for some, yet for others, a prescription for unintended damage. 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Kristi Anderson was a federal criminal investigator when she traveled to South Africa on vacation in 1991. To protect her against malaria, a potentially fatal infection spread by mosquito bites, Ms. Anderson’s doctor prescribed a drug called mefloquine, sold in the United States under the brand name Lariam. 

After the third pill, Ms. Anderson says, she began having constant dizziness, nausea, and panic attacks. "Almost always there was nausea," she remembers, "but sometimes it was a wave of dizziness or vertigo, and then I would start having this feeling of impending doom, I wanted to get out of where I was, I just wanted to get back home or someplace where I felt safe because I was afraid something terrible might happen."

Ms. Anderson says her nausea, anxiety and dizziness were so severe that she ultimately had to quit her job. She moved back to California to live with her parents for a year-and-a-half, until she was well enough to go back to work.

But in 1996, she returned to South Africa, again took Lariam and again became violently ill. Only then did she begin to suspect the drug was the cause. She sought a diagnosis at Stanford University’s California Ear Institute, where tests by the medical director documented injury to the part of the brain that controls balance, the vestibular system.

"He told me from the Lariam patients he had seen and what his tests showed, he believed that Lariam was the cause of my vestibular problems and he thought it was the cause of the earlier problems as well," Ms. Anderson says.

The Roche pharmaceutical company, which makes Lariam, has declined requests for an interview. But in the 14 years since mefloquine was approved for use in the United States, Roche has added increasingly serious warnings of possible adverse effects in the package insert given to doctors. It’s a long list that includes, among other things, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, convulsions, depression, hallucinations, psychotic or paranoid reactions, and anxiety.

The Food and Drug Administration’s latest action orders doctors to give patients a new medication guide warning that "Lariam can rarely cause serious mental problems in some patients" and that those side effects may continue. It also says, "There have been rare reports of suicides," but adds "we do not know if Lariam was responsible."

Last year, Roche settled a lawsuit brought by a woman whose husband committed suicide after taking Lariam. The terms of the settlement were kept secret. More recently, the U.S. Army investigated whether the drug was implicated in 

several murder-suicides at the Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina last summer. Two of four soldiers who killed their wives and then committed suicide had taken Lariam. The Army’s report on the murders called a connection to Lariam unlikely, but did not exclude it.

Malaria is endemic to many parts of Africa and Asia, and kills nearly one million people a year, most of them young children. Others are damaged permanently by the disease. And so despite the new warnings, many tropical health and travel specialists, like physician Martin Wolfe, regard Lariam as an essential drug — and more practical than the alternatives doxycycline or Malarone.

In contrast to those drugs which must be taken daily, Wolfe notes, Lariam is taken only once a week. "We believe the compliance is better with a drug taken once a week than one taken daily," he says. "And since we are protecting against a potentially life-threatening disease, we want to do the very best we can to encourage people to take their medication." 

It’s impossible to pin down the incidence, but some experts say the rate of severe reactions is far higher than the one in 10,000 cited in early research by Roche. A study published in 2001 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases reported "mild to serious" neuropsychiatric adverse effects in 29 percent of travelers on Lariam.

Retired Col. Wilbur Milhous was among the military scientists who developed Lariam at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Medical Research and then licensed the Roche company to make and sell the drug. But as reports of severe side effects emerged, he says the government promised Roche it would continue to back the drug. "There was clearly an unmet medical need which the drug fulfilled," Milhous says. "We were frightened from a U.S. perspective, in terms of national contingencies, what would happen if it were withdrawn?"

The U.S. Army today depends on Lariam, as does the Peace Corps, because of the once-weekly dosing. But as Milhous says, malaria researchers must always be at work on the next generation of new drugs, because the malaria parasite quickly develops resistance. The best weapon against malaria, he says, would be vaccination. 

Last week, tests of a new vaccine began on 2,000 children in Mozambique. Earlier trials found the vaccine, created by the SmithGlaxoKline company, safe and effective in adults, though the effects lasted only two months. Investigators hope it will remain effective longer in children.

As for Kristi Anderson, she says her recent brain scans are normal, and her other symptoms have diminished. But she says she began to heal emotionally only when she read a newspaper story about Lariam. "Reading that article released me from this shame of ‘Kristi, you’re some kind of weak person and you better watch out because you’re going to have a nervous breakdown again sometime, you just better be careful,’" she says. "I realized that’s what made me sick - that’s what happened to me, that’s why I became a different person." 

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