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(506) 2223-1327       Published Monday, Aug. 11, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 158       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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What a day!

Sunday was a dynamite day: Sunny and no rain in San José. That's unusual for this season. So it was a good day for Ronald Montero Garcia to take his 2-year-old son,  Andres Josue Montero Jiménez, to the Parque Bolívar zoo to see the resident lions.
at the lion cage
A.M. Costa Rica/Melissa Hinkley

Villalobos creditors may have to wait up to 10 years
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Victims in the Villalobos case may have to wait up to 10 years to see any money, said a court spokeswoman.

And those who do get money may only receive a small portion, said the spokeswoman, Andrea Marín Mena.

Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos, commonly known as “the brothers,” were the operators of a high-interest borrowing business which a trial court later ruled a ponzi scheme that ran for years in the San Pedro Mall.  The men closed the offices in October 2002 and left their mostly North American investors in the lurch. The brothers may have had as much as $1 billion in investor money on the books when they closed the operation.

A court sentenced Oswaldo to 18 years in prison for fraud and illegal banking in May. Luis Enrique had fled the country and remains a fugitive. In the same decision, the court awarded money to those who had pressed claims.

In order to see their money all the successful litigates must file a claim or document declaring who they are and what they were awarded in the trial, said Ms. Marín. Plaintiffs who worked with private lawyers must have a private lawyer file their claim, she said. Those who were represented by the state do not need to personally file a claim as the Ministerio Público will automatically do it for them, said Ms. Marín.

The time limit by law to file a claim in this sort of case is 10 years, said Maria Isabel Hernández Guzmán, another court spokeswoman.

That means if every single successful litigate files a claim except for just one person, the tribunal must wait 10 years before dividing up the money. If the judges however, divide the victims of the fraud into groups, individuals in each group may begin to receive money once everyone in their group has filed a claim, said Ms. Hernández.

There is no way to know if the judges will divide the plaintiffs into groups or how those groups will be divided, added Ms. Hernández.
Victims of the fraud who are outside of Costa Rica and were represented privately in the case must contact their lawyer in Costa Rica to file a claim for them, said Ms. Marín. Signatures and other details for those outside of the country must be done through a Costa Rican consulate or embassy, said Ms. Hernández.

If an individual has lost contact with his or her private lawyer, they may use another private lawyer to represent them and file their claim to the court. The privately represented individual may not, however, seek public representation, said the spokeswomen. Likewise individuals who were represented by public prosecutors may not seek private representation, said Ms. Marín.

As for the amount of money victims receive, it will likely be just a percentage of the reward stated in the court decision, said Ms. Marín. Authorities were able to freeze some of the Villalobos accounts, said Ms. Marín, but the court will not
publicly release the amount of money in those accounts. Cases like these are usually complicated, because there may also be properties that must be valued and sold, said Ms. Hernández. Unformal reports are that some $7 million has been frozen.

The court spokeswoman emphasized that the only people who will receive money are the victims of the fraud who were represented in the court case and those of whom were granted sums by the tribunal. Investors who were not represented in the case cannot claim any money nor can the victims whose cases were thrown out or not awarded any money.

Successful litigates who were represented publicly may call Defensa Civil de la Victima at (506) 2295-3402 with questions. Those who were represented privately must speak with their lawyers. After victims of the fraud have filed their claims, they must simply wait, said Ms. Marín.

As for the Luis Ángel Milanes Tamayo case, victims are still organizing and filing their formal complaints for the upcoming trial or a possible settlement. The number of plaintiffs has risen above 500, according to unofficial reports. Milanes also ran a high-interest operation and fled the country. But he returned recently promising to neogtiate a settlement.

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Panamá president decrees
stronger frontier agency

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of Panamá has issued a handful of decrees that critics say threatens civil liberties and creates a frontier agency with military discipline, according to The Panama News.

The president, Martín Torrijos Espino, also created a national intelligence and security service that is being called a reborn secret police.

The decrees also seem to allow a single magistrate of the nation's supreme court to lift the constitutional liberties of individuals in a secret decision.

Another decree seems to criminalize street protests.

The decrees were promulgated July 29, and there already have been two small protests against them. The presidential action was instigated by rising crime and the desire to crack down on drug smugglers and money laundering.

The military intelligence agency and the secret police apparatuses were smashed in the December 1989 U.S. invasion and which by popular consensus and the votes of two successive legislatures constitutionally abolished the military in 1994, said The Panama News.

Of the frontier force, the newspaper said in its current edition that the agency "will get wide-ranging powers, from environmental regulation enforcement to catching illegal immigrants to waging war against Colombians or Costa Ricans, on or near the nation's borders — or for that matter wherever the president assigns it."

Torrijos issued the decrees at a time when the legislature is not in session. It begins meeting again Sept.1.

Even some supporters of Torrijos are concerned by the concentration of power created by the decrees, said The Panama News. From 1968 to 1989 Panamanians endured a dictatorship culminating in the rule of Manuel Noriega, who was removed by U.S. forces. He rose to power through the military intelligence services.

Sala IV does not order
homosexual prison visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has rejected a request from a former prisoner that he be allowed to visit his boyfriend in prison.

The former prisoner, identified by the Poder Judicial by the last names of Chávez Godínez brought the constitutional court action against Gerardo Rodríguez Echeverría, prison director, and others.

Chávez said in his appeal that he began a relationship with the unidentified boyfriend while he was spending six years in prison. He was awarded conditional liberty and continued the relationship by making Sunday visits to the prison. He said prison officials arbitrarily halted his visits and complained that he was being discriminated against because of his sexual preference.

Intruder kills woman, 53,
and then shoots himself

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man forced his way into a home, shot and killed one woman and seriously injured the other.  Shortly after, he shot himself in the head, the Judicial Investigating Agency said.  

The victim, Karen Meneses Bravo, a 53-year-old Nicaraguan woman, was at home with her 26-year-old daughter, Lucrecia Meneses Murillo, when the woman's ex-boyfriend forced his way into their house at the low-income settlement La Carpio in la Uruca, a western suburb of San Jose, at 5 a.m. Friday. 

The man, Arturo Tinoco Ramírez, shot Ms. Meneses Bravo in her left ear and then shot Ms. Meneses Murillo in her stomach, agents said.  Tinoco continued with his rampage and shot himself in the head. 

Ms. Meneses Bravo and Tinoco were both found dead at the site and Ms. Meneses Murillo was taken to the hospital where she was in critical condition.

The motives behind the crime are uncertain, but relationship problems are suspected.  The bodies of the man and the woman went to the morgue where autopsies were to be performed. 

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U.S. man, 70, blames embassy for prolonging prison stay
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. man said he's trapped in prison because the U.S. Embassy won't give him a document he needs to prove he's paying child support.

The man, Francis Vokoun who spent his 70th birthday in prison, said that his Costa Rican wife is not being truthful to the judge about the child support payments. All he needs to get out of jail, he said, is proof of payment from the U.S. Embassy.

Vokoun receives a Social Security check from the United States every month and that check is sent to the U.S. Embassy. But only Vokoun's wife has access to the information regarding the child support payments, said an embassy spokeswoman.

Vokoun needs to file a subpoena to get the information, stated the spokeswoman in an e-mail. She also cited the federal Privacy Act.

“The problem is that, although Mr. Vokoun is the wage earner, he is NOT the beneficiary or the 'representative payee' of those benefits (ironically, his wife, who is the custodial parent, is the representative payee).  Simply stated, his kids' benefits do not 'belong' to him, and the SSA cannot give him any information about those payments without authorization from the representative payee.  Mr. Vokoun's only option for obtaining this information is to have the Costa Rican court issue a subpoena (in Spanish, a citación) to the Social Security Administration asking for a 'verification of benefit.'"  The subpoena can be served through the Federal Benefits Unit in Costa Rica, the spokesperson said.

Vokoun's lawyer, Sara Arias Soto, said Sunday that the embassy employee was giving false information. Ms. Arias said she has spoken repeatedly with embassy employees who tell her they will look into her questions and get back to her but never do. “I always had a different impression of the embassy until now,” said Ms. Arias. “How can they
help a Tica but allow one of their own citizens be shut in jail?” Ms. Arias also emphasized the fact that Vokoun is a senior citizen.

Vokoun said he believed to file a subpoena would be extremely difficult and that six years ago the judge, contacted the embassy in an attempt to get the information but no one had given it to her.

Vokoun said the judge he had in Escazú has thrown many other men into prison for not paying their child support simply on the mother's statements. Ms. Arias made similar allegations. Two other men at the prison, La Reforma, talked to A.M. Costa Rica by telephone making similar allegations about the same judge, Zianny Calderón Torres. Both of the men said they paid their child support and that the judge threw them in jail based on the testimonies' of their wives. Both of the men who are Costa Rican said they had been thrown in jail nearly a dozen times each.

In Costa Rica, fathers who do not pay child support are usually sentenced to prison until they pay. Vokoun said many of the men there told him they owe less than $40.

Vokoun believes he will be released Wednesday after six months. The U.S. Embassy spokesperson said he was sentenced nine months. Meanwhile, Vokoun said he must share one of three cold showers with 200 men and sleep on a 3-inch foam mattress. The prison is invested with rats and cockroaches, said Vokoun. “It's a chamber of horrors,” said the 70-year old, who also said someone steals his blood pressure medicine and sells it to other prisoners.

Vokoun said now he prefers to buy the pills from the prison drug dealer rather than obtain them the legal way.

According to Vokoun's former lawyer, Jorge Calvo Cascante, Vokoun's wife is now renting out Vokoun's property in Escazú and living somewhere else. “When Francis first came to Costa Rica, his wife had him sign over the house and all his property into her name,” said Calvo. Vokoun had a large fish farm and a beautiful house in Escazú, according to friends.

Minister seeks a coordinated effort against crack networks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security ministry has embarked on what it calls an intense effort to break up the networks that supply crack to users.

The plan is being executed in the ministry headed by  Janina Del Vecchio, who said last week that some 200,000 Costa Ricans are users. She said the goal was to organize a coordinated effort against the demand, production, trafficking, and money laundering. She said that the Fuerza Pública, the Policía de Control de Drogas and the Judicial Investigating Organization are involved in the initiative.

The Fuerza Pública reported over the weekend one arrest related to crack.  It was Friday in Sardinal de Carrillo,  Guanacaste, where a 28-year-old man with the last names of  Chamorro Rodríguez was detained with what police said were 31 crack rocks on his person.

Ms. del Vecchio said that crack appeared in Costa Rica in 1991 when some 171 crack rocks were confiscated. Since then the production and use of the cocaine product has increased exponentially. In 2007 more than 106,000 crack
rocks or cocaine crystals were confiscated, she said.

Even during the pilgrimage to Cartago Aug. 1 police confiscated cocaine and 77 crack rocks, she noted.

Costa Rica has been swamped by cocaine, in part because of stricter enforcement at the U.S. borders and because Colombian drug traffickers usually pay their bills here in cocaine. The drug can easily be converted to crack rocks that are smoked by users.

Ms. del Vecchio noted that the stimulation from the drug fumes quickly lessens and a user has to have more and more rocks. This leads to criminality, she said.

The drug is directly related to an increase in thefts, murders, gang membership, suicides and ruptured families, she said.

She said that calls from citizens to the 176 anti-drug line would be put into a data base to determine the areas of the country that would get priority in the anti-crack campaign.
Meanwhile police will be concentrating on the public areas where crack is sold, such as parks, said the ministry.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 11, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 158

Charity fish taco in Playa Jacó called the world's largest
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Bubba's tacos in Playa Jacó produced a 36-foot-long fish taco Saturday in a benefit for reef conservation. Owner Jerry Hallstrom said he believed the fish taco was the largest ever made.

The grilled mahi mahi fish taco included cheese, cole slaw and tomatoes with jalapeños, purple onions, lime wedges and hot sauce on the side. 

Bubba’s has been cranking out fish tacos in Costa Rica for more than three years. This year the business asked customers to help sponsor the "World's Largest Fish Taco" with a minimum $5 donation. 

All of the money raised will go to establish a reef conservation project for the local high school and junior high school science classes, said Hallstrom.  The local Jacó schools will work with on the reef project, he said.

The Worlds Largest Fish Tacos event will be documented and submitted to Guinness Book of world records, Hallstrom said. 
fish taco
Photo by Jerry Hallstrom
Fish taco employee applies some cheese to creation.

Anyone who would like more information or would like to help sponsor part of the Worlds Largest Fish Taco to benefit reef conservation can contact Bubba at 2643-2898 in Costa Rica or send an e-mail to

Majority of voters in Bolivia support Morales in referendum
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

Evo Morales of Bolivia survived a recall election Sunday and gained an estimated 63 percent of the vote, according to the government's Agencia Boliviana de Información.

Three of eight regional governments did lose their jobs, although one, Manfred Reyes Villa, of the department of  Cochabamba said he would not step down because the recall vote was illegal.

Morales is the first Indian president of the predominately Indian country, and he has embarked on a controversial program of providing free land for landless peasants.

The election results are unofficial and comprise reports from mostly urban areas. The Corte Nacional Electoral had not issued any reports.

The vote was called in part to help resolve a political stalemate between Morales and opposition leaders, who oppose the president's reform plans.

More than four million Bolivians were eligible to cast ballots. A defeat for Morales would force him to call new presidential elections.

Morales was hoping for strong support to boost his reform efforts, including a new draft constitution that aims to empower the nation's poor indigenous minority. Most of the governors competing in the vote are openly critical of the president's reforms, especially attempts to increase taxes on natural gas and oil industries in eastern Bolivia. Four departments passed autonomy measures this year in an effort to demand greater political and fiscal power from the central government.
Evo Morales with crowd
Bolivian Ministerio de Presidencia/José Luis Quintana
Bolivian President Evo Morales waves to supporters after his election victory Sunday.

Tin miners and anti-government groups led violent protests in the days leading up to the vote. But no disruptions were reported during the voting.

After polling stations began closing late Sunday, Morales said he was pleased that the voting was peaceful. Morales said he wanted to express his admiration for Bolivian voters, who helped conduct a successful vote, despite provocations from some anti-government groups.

The president accused some opposition groups of trying to interfere with the election schedule and of trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the nation's electoral procedures.

He said observers from the Organization of American States and other groups were monitoring the vote to guard against potential problems.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


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hurricane activity
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graphic

U.S. weather agency predicts
more active storm season

Special to A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Atlantic hurricane season might be more active than had been predicted.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has increased the likelihood of an above-normal hurricane season and has raised the total number of named storms and hurricanes that may form. Forecasters attribute this adjustment to atmospheric and oceanic conditions across the Atlantic Basin that favor storm development combined with the strong early season activity.

The agency now projects an 85 percent probability of an above-normal season — up from 65 percent in May. The updated outlook includes a 67 percent chance of 14 to 18 named storms, of which seven to 10 are expected to become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. These ranges encompass the entire season, which ends Nov. 30, and include the five storms that have formed thus far.

Although Costa Rica is never hit directly by hurricanes, the Atlantic and Pacific storm systems can cause significant damage by bringing downpours to the country.

In May, the agency outlook called for 12 to 16 named storms, including six to nine hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes. An average Atlantic hurricane season has 11 named storms, including six hurricanes.

“Leading indicators for an above-normal season during 2008 include the continuing multi-decadal signal — atmospheric and oceanic conditions that have spawned increased hurricane activity since 1995 — and the lingering effects of La Niña,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the agency's Climate Prediction Center.

Another indicator favoring an above-normal hurricane season is a very active July, the third most active since 1886. Even so, there is still a 10 percent chance of a near normal season and a five percent chance of a below normal season.

Five named storms have formed already this season. Tropical Storm Arthur affected the Yucatan Peninsula in late May and early June. Bertha was a major hurricane and the longest-lived July storm (July 3-20) on record. Tropical Storm Cristobal skirted the North Carolina coastline. Dolly made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane at South Padre Island, Texas on July 25. And on Aug. 5, Tropical Storm Edouard struck the upper Texas coast.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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