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These stories were published Thursday, Aug. 7, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 155
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The perils of being unwary
Please don't leave common sense on the plane
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The death of two tourists in downtown San José illustrate some of the dangers visitors face when they take advantage of the freedoms Costa Rica offers.

Meanwhile, the Viper Lady (who may be a man) has returned to the streets near the Teatro Nacional.


A report from the trenches

The presence of alcohol, drugs and friendly ladies creates what amounts to an adult Disneyland. But errors in judgment can be costly.

Streetcorner vendors offer what they claim to be Viagra. Who knows what is in those little blue, bootlegged pills? Others market alleged drugs.

Other helpful folks will take you where you can purchase more drugs or explore other vices.

The results are not in yet on what happened to the two tourists, one who jumped from the fourth floor of the Hotel Del Rey and the other who died in the Hotel Presidente. But the possible causes of their demise are typical downtown dangers.

Early July 15 Robert Valdis went through the window of a fourth-floor hotel window at the Del Rey, Avenida 1 at Calle 9. The U.S. citizen had trashed a hotel room rented to someone else before taking the plunge. At the very least, excessive alcohol is the blame because no normal person would do that.

Robert Cox, 57, died July 25 in his room at the Hotel Presidente. Before his death, he was a victim of a robbery somewhere other than the hotel. Investigators still are trying to determine if the robbery had anything to do with the death, although the body bore marks from the attack.

Thousands of tourists visit the downtown each year, but the luck of the draw did not favor Mr. Valdis or Mr. Cox.

Long-time residents speculate on how someone could die in the downtown. Not the least of the concerns is an overdose of what passes for Viagra. The drug is taken by men to enhance sexual performance, and some visitors believe they must prove something to the legions of prostitutes who work in the downtown. 

A man on the street corner collars tourists and offers them something that looks like Viagra. Some bar operators sell the little blue pills under the counter. Some tourists wash down the pills with a gulp of beer as they embark on a night on the town.

None of these activities are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or good sense.

Street hustlers speak English and are quick to promise prettier girls, cheaper drinks and a better atmosphere — if a tourist would just accompany them. They are working on commission. The well-known hustlers are not robbers. But they do take tourists to places where tourists should not go. And then the hustler leaves, putting the tourist at the mercy of others.

"It’s a wonder to me that we don’t have more problems," said one downtown bar operator. He noted that hotels like the Presidente and the Del Rey keep good track of the comings and goings of visitors to guests’ hotel rooms.  A prostitute 


leaving the hotel at 3 a.m. after visiting the room of a guest is detained until the hotel staff contacts the guest by telephone to verify that there are no problems.

But as the economy tightens, more problems may come.

Police officials have little patience with tourists who are robbed while buying drugs:

In fact, most of the robberies of tourists are not reported. The basic rule for a pleasant downtown vist is to never walk alone. Groups of three or more are preferred. And the wise tourist does not become so drunk that he or she is a helpless victim just looking for a robber.

A little red light should go on in the head of every tourist as he or she steps out of the protecting umbrella of hotels and casinos. Particularly at night. At such times a very expensive taxi still is pretty cheap.

The Viper Lady has a long history here. Those who have met her argue if she is a woman or he is a man. She dresses like an upscale office worker. And she is glad to see you.

Her birthday is tomorrow, and she is lonely, and she would like your company. The last guy who fell for that pitch lost more than $1,000.

Usually she picks up single, male tourists in the vicinity of the Teatro Nacional, although she has been known to work in Jacó and Tamarindo.

"She" is an editorial simplification because she may be a he, and she may be a they. The best guess of police officials is that the Viper Lady represents a Venezuelan band of robbers.

Her frumpy, 40ish appearance appeals to some frumpy, 60ish tourists.

In her pocket is a vial of knockout drops, perhaps the infamous date-rape drug.

She/he/they is/are not about to rape anything except a tourist’s online bank account.

Expats have reported seeing the Viper Lady on the streets of San José for the last four months. She/he/they is/are back after at least a year’s vacation. For some reason, police are unable to collar her/him/them.

Meanwhile, hotel operators would appreciate it if tourists took a few more precautions. They would prefer no more publicity.

Then there are the legal pitfalls. A major error in judgment for a tourist would be in involving himself with an underage prostitute. Prostitution is legal here, but the legal age is 18.  Given the current official concern for youngsters, a foreign tourist caught with an underage prostitute would win the lead role in an Inquisition-like socio-psychodrama with a 25-year term.

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Principal Financial is object of official complaints
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A reader reports that judicial officials have at least three complaints against Michael Forrest and Principal Financial, a high-interest operation.

A Canadian investor said Wednesday that he was the third to file a complaint. He came from Canada to file the paperwork.

According to investors, the firm went missing in March from its offices in the Centro Colón.

The most visible representative of the firm here was a Canadian named Michael Forrest. One investor said that Principal changed its name to Montefiore shortly before closing its doors.

The firm is believed operated by Jerry LaTulippe, a 59-year-old Palm Beach, Fla., resident. Principal Financial also maintained an office in the Torre Las Mercedes further east on Paseo Colón.

The firm promised a return of 4 percent per month, one investor said.

Forrest, who has a home here, contacted A.M. Costa Rica about a month ago and said that he was in Florida working with LaTulippe to generate money to pay investors. The firm is believed to have less than 150 investors, and the amount of money they gave Forrest and his associates is not known.

The company joins a long list of other high-interest firms that have run into financial difficulties in the last year. The most visible was The Brothers, operated by Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho. They closed their doors last Oct 21 with some $1 billion in investor money on their books. Enrique is a fugitive, and Oswaldo is in Cinica Catolica under judicial order.

Savings Unlimited, operated by Louis Milianes, closed its doors the weekend of Nov. 22. Milanes is a fugitive, too. The loss to investors here is about $240 million.

Vinir Corporation S.A., operated the Casa de Cambio Vinir, which closed up Sept. 4. The firm was located in the Trejos Monte Alegre shopping center at the north end of Escazú. The owner is Vinizio Esquivel, who is believed to be in Nicaragua.  This firm cashed Social Security checks for U.S. citizens, but it also paid a high interest on certain deposits. The firm has been the subject of money laundering allegations.

The Vault, another high-profile, high-interest firm closed up as a result of a police raid downtown June 24. At the same time the principal, Roy Taylor, shot himself fatally while he was being held in police custody.

The Green Fund, another high-interest operation, has defaulted on payments to investors but operator Tom Jafek said he has not given up trying to generate the money to pay his debts.

Another once-high flying financier, Marc Harris, is in custody in Miami. He left Panamá for Nicaragua where he was arrested June 10 in Managua and immediately taken to the United States for trial.

Harris, a defrocked Florida accountant, faces a multitude of charges, including money laundering. He was a frequent visitor to Costa Rica and charged up to $500 apiece for tickets to financial seminars. He was involved in helping U.S. firms avoid taxes by reinvoicing their products with offshore corporations.

Arthur VanDesande is the criminal investigator for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service responsible for overall case management in the Harris matter. He is at the Miami, Fla., field office. He said he is seeking the names and contact information of victims and clients of Harris’ corporations. His phone number is (305) 982-5235.

The Internal Revenue Service is the U.S. tax collector. Officials believe that much of what Harris did to save taxes for U.S. firms will not stand up to official scrutiny.


 
Quick police action
stops market robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers were outnumbered by police Wednesday night at a grocery in Sabana Sur. 

Three heavily armed men held up the AM/PM store on the Old Escazú Road in Sabana Sur and stripped shoppers of their valuables. The trio fired guns that attracted the attention of persons outside the store. They called police.

Fuerza Pública officers, who have their headquarters only a few blocks away, surrounded the store even as the robbery was in progress. Officers shot one robber. A second fell into police hands, and a third was captured as he tried to run away.

A woman shopper suffered a bullet wound to the arm.  She left the scene in an ambulance.

The supermarket is just south of Parque La Sabana.

Brazilian pension plan
sparks public protests

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — Brazilian lawmakers have passed a controversial pension reform bill, triggering violent protests by tens of thousands of public sector workers. 

Rock-throwing demonstrators clashed with riot police in front of Congress Wednesday after the Chamber of Deputies approved the unpopular measure by a wide margin. 

Brazilian media reports said at least four protesters and two police officers were injured as rocks shattered windows inside Congress. Some demonstrators carried an effigy of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and put it in a coffin.  Others called the leftist president a traitor for pushing the measure through Congress. The overhaul is designed to cut benefits, raise the retirement age of public workers and tax their pensions. 

President da Silva's administration said the reform is crucial to save South America's largest country billions of dollars.  Some members of the president's Workers Party have been quoted as saying the overhaul is aimed at satisfying giant corporations, banks and the International Monetary Fund. 

The president took office in January pledging to honor Brazil's financial commitments, keep inflation low and maintain fiscal stability. He said his administration will work with the IMF to stabilize Brazil's finances. 

Chavez reported
replacing oil chief

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Government sources in Venezuela say President Hugo Chavez is going to replace the head of the state oil company with one of his closest allies. 

The sources, who asked not to be named, said Wednesday that Chavez will replace current Petroleos de Venezuela President Ali Rodriguez with Diosdado Cabello as early as Sunday. 

Cabello is currently the country's infrastructure minister and has served as vice president and interior minister as well. He is one of Chavez's most trusted political friends. 

The Venezuelan government is restructuring the oil company after thousands of employees staged a strike in December and January. The strike, meant to force President Chavez out of office, crippled the country's economy. 
 
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Arcelio Hernández Mussio, Lic.

Attorney at Law & Notary Public
Real Estate Transactions
Litigation

Memberships: Costa Rican Chamber of Real Estate Brokers
Colegio de Abogados (CR Bar Association)
Association of Official Translators & Interpreters
Asociación Italiana del Mutuo Socorro

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www.forovial.com                 San Jose, Costa Rica
Cell: 365-3088
Fax:  259-7197



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Twin Towers pollution may have affected unborn 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new study shows that air pollution from the September 11, 2001 collapse of New York City's World Trade Center had an impact on pregnant women and their unborn babies. 

According to the study, a number of pregnant women who were exposed to smoke and dust from the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center attacks had smaller babies than other women who were not nearby.

Dr. Gertrud Berkowitz is the author of the study and a lead researcher at New York's Mount Sinai School for Medicine. For the past two years, she has been investigating the short- and long-term effects the attacks had on pregnant women. 

"These women were more likely to have a baby who was small for gestational age — that means small for the length of the pregnancy in comparison to a control group who were not present in lower Manhattan at that time," she explained. "There could be some long-term effects, 

both in terms of body size, and possibly in terms of mental development." 

Initially, U.S. government and New York City health officials said there was no reason to worry about the air quality in the days immediately following the attacks around Ground Zero. However, there are a number of long-term studies underway to monitor the health of those who were exposed to the dust and smoke at the site.

Dr. Berkowitz believes that air pollution was the most likely cause of differences in babies' weights.

"There was some underestimate of what the levels of air pollution actually were like, particularly in the first couple of days," she said.

The new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association followed 182 mothers who were in or near the wreckage while they were pregnant. About 15 of those women who were exposed to toxins found in debris during and after the attacks had babies whose birth weights were less than they should have been. 


 
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:

editor@amcostarica.com

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:

threats@amcostaric.com

Let the contest begin.


 
When the Central Valley met Mother Nature
In 1963, Jack Kennedy, preoccupied by the threat of Cuba to the United States, came down to Costa Rica to meet with his Central American counterparts. 

It was a busy few days of meetings, gala banquets and shows with the general public in attendance, lining the streets to get a chance to glimpse at the youngest American president.

His visit gave a lot of pleasant memories to a Tico public that deeply cried when the sirens went off in November to let us know he had been shot. 

But in the euphoria of his visit, one of our landmarks was ignored.  And during that year, the next and 1965, we had gray snow in San José.  We went to work covering ourselves and we carefully dusted our work space at least once every half hour as we would get a thin film of grit from Lady Irazú’s bounty. 

People had to get up on the roofs and shovel down as much ash as they were able and municipal trucks would go by picking up the piles left on the curbside.  Totally reminiscent of winter in the States with the snowplows working every day.

Considering the resulting Martian landscape around Irazú, rumors were rife about a Hollywood producer being interested in filming a flick featuring the ever popular John Wayne.  Rumors were fast and furious until a reporter accosted Mr. Wayne and asked him if it were true that he would be coming to luxuriate in the country considered the Central American Switzerland. 

Using his little but accurate knowledge of Spanish, Mr. Wayne replied that not while it was considered "La Sucia Centroamericana."

A rememberance from Lucia Wrestler in Bloomington, Ind.

213 policemen are in the middle of school probe
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In  order to be a policeman in Costa Rica, a candidate has to have passed what amounted to the first half of high school here that is called novento año.

Investigators began looking into the paperwork of some 213 policemen when it appeared that officers from San José and Cartago had attended and passed that grade level at a night school in Limón.

They began investigating harder when the records of the school showed that only about 30 students enrolled in the school, Liceo Nocturno de Limón, in the last two years.

Officials at the school made it easy because they had a file with photocopies of all 213 cédulas or identifications from the policemen in the same 
folder. It appears that none of them actually attended classes and simply paid between 20,000 

and 45,000 colons to get the appropriate paperwork. That’s from about $50 to $112.

Officials are flabbergasted because falsifying an official document is a crime.  All the policemen involved got good grades, between 80 and 100, according to the records.

There is no secret that in certain schools under certain circumstances students can buy good grades. What is unusual about this case is the number of police who were involved.

The Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública is facing the prospect of discharging some 213 policemen at a time when there is a push to crack down on crime.

Even more upsetting is the fact that one of the persons involved, Xinia Gamboa, is the sister of a national deputy, Carmen Gamboa, said officials.

The director of the school is Cira Díaz, officials said.

Iceland on the spot over its decision to kill whales
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States expressed disappointment Wednesday over Iceland's decision to resume whaling for what Icelandic authorities say will be for scientific purposes. The State Department says the move will likely trigger a review of possible U.S. trade sanctions against Iceland. 

In response to complaints from conservation groups and others, Iceland greatly reduced the scope of its whaling program from what it had initially contemplated earlier this year. 

But Wednesday's announcement that Iceland would harvest more than 30 Minke whales for scientific research in the next two months none-the-less drew an expression of extreme disappointment from the United States, and a warning of possible U.S. sanctions. 

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States had urged Iceland in numerous venues in recent months to refrain from starting the program. 

Reeker said that while whaling for nominal scientific purposes is allowed under the International Whaling Convention, the killing of whales is not necessary for research, and he raised the prospect of sanctions under a provision of a 1967 U.S. law, the Fisherman's Protective Act. 

"While Iceland's program is technically legal under the whaling convention, the United States believes that the lethal research on whales they propose is 

not necessary, and the needed scientific data can be obtained by other well-established non-lethal means," Reeker said. "And the taking of whales will likely trigger a review of Iceland's lethal scientific whaling program for possible certification under the Pelly Amendment, which provides for a range of U.S. responses, including trade sanctions for activities violating international conservation agreements."

The Pelly Amendment cited by Reeker authorizes the president to bar the importation of products from countries engaged in ocean fishing or hunting programs that reduce the effectiveness of international endangered-species accords. 

In recent years, the United States has also threatened sanctions against Japan for similar whale hunts for self-described scientific purposes, but penalties have been waived in favor of negotiations to reduce the Japanese whale harvest. 

The planned whale harvest by Iceland would be its first in 14 years, and was defended by the country's fisheries minister, Arni Mathiesen, as an "undisputed right" of all member countries of the International Whaling Commission. 

He said it is just as legal as whaling now conducted by other countries including Japan, Norway and the United States, a reference to the limited hunt by native people in the Arctic region of Alaska. 

The decision drew domestic criticism from the Icelandic tourist industry, which warned that environmentally-minded visitors would cancel trips to the North Atlantic island country.

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