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(506) 223-1327     Published Monday, Aug. 14, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 160       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Rentista category up in the air
Immigration rules clouded by temporary law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new immigration law has gone into effect, and those who are seeking residency and the experts who help them are confused.

One problem for expats is that the law is ambiguous on the financial requirements for rentistas. In the past a rentista could show a foreign income of $1,000 a month to qualify. Frequently this was nothing more than $60,000 placed in a foreign or local bank account.

The new law seems to require $60,000 for the primary applicant and $60,000 more for a spouse. For each minor child, an applicant would have to show $30,000 more.

The immigration law actually got passed and went into effect with two sections that conflict on this point.  But no one seems anxious to remedy this problem.

The Arias administration said that it wanted to delay the new law going into effect. It even proposed a one line change that would have delayed the effective date until December 2007. But the executive branch took six weeks to submit this small change to the legislature, and lawmakers took their time in reviewing it.

Now that change seems to be moot. It seems unlikely that the legislature can change the effective date when the law already has gone into effect.  What is needed now is a new bill to make the changes the Arias administration wants.

The changes would be extensive because Fernando Berrocal, the security minister who oversees immigration, said he does not have the resources to enforce the law. The new law creates penalties for those who employee and harbor illegal aliens. It also criminalizes for the first time human trafficking.

The missteps by the administration and a compliant legislature raise the question of whether the Arias administration let the law go into effect even as officials claimed they opposed it.

The foreign minister, Bruno Stagno, told Nicaraguan officials the law would not go into effect. That irked lawmakers who are jealous of their rights.

Óscar Arias Sánchez calls the law draconian, but a careful reading shows that the law is not unlike similar laws of many countries.

The Arias administration, however, has hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans living illegally here, mostly in poor conditions. This is a simmering danger for public safety, and occasional riots do take place in the slums. The Roman Catholic Church opposes the new law, too, because church leaders believe the law could bring problems for shelters and church houses used mainly by illegal Nicaraguans.

Security officials have said their first concern is rooting out corruption in the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. Corruption is widespread. That was seen Thursday when law officers detained a man believed to be a leader of a Colombian rebel group. He gained residency in what appears to be a fake marriage. And he got his papers in a month, an astoundingly short time for the slow-moving immigration department.
A wave of apparent fake marriages to Chinese and Cubans is under investigation by officials, and some current and former immigration employees are at the center of the probe.

If the assessment of Berrocal is correct, the current administration does not have the resources needed to enforce immigration rules at all. Thousands of persons are living here illegally, and not just Nicaraguan agricultural workers.

David Carruthers, the former BetonSports sportsbook manager imprisoned in the United States, appears to have been working here illegally on a tourism visa.

When police raided the home of another sportsbook operator, they found foreigners with guns. They were identified by Calvin Ayres, operator of, as actors hired to play bodyguards in a film. The men were quietly ushered out of the country. Now, according to sources at, they are back in the country again working as armed bodyguards. 

In another case, Escazú investment adviser Mark Boswell, doing business under the name of Rex Howard, openly brags on his Web site that he has been  conducting business here for five years while holding just a tourism visa.

Others are not so open, but are what are called perpetual tourists, getting their passport stamped with an exit and entrance visa every 90 days. The status of perpetual tourist is cloudy, but if someone is working on a tourism visa, they are violating the law, old or new.

The new immigration law that the government says it cannot enforce makes that clear. Still,
immigration has been lacking in response when illegal situations are pointed out. In one case, expats were involved in a court case with a businessman here who has just a tourism visa. They asked immigration officials to detain the man but said they were told that the agency has limited staff.

Nicaragua's foreign minister, Norman Caldera, was very clear in a Managua press conference Saturday when he said Costa Rica has assured him that there would be no enforcement of the new law with regard to his citizens. He also said that he was told the legislature would either change or abolish the new law.

Mario Zamora, director general of Costa Rican immigration, was in the border town of Peñas Blanca over the weekend meeting with the Nicaraguan immigration director, Fausto Carcabelos. They were said to be discussing a possible system that would allow easier border crossings for nationals of both countries.

There has been no change under the new law of the requirements for pensionado. Still required is proof of a pension income of at least $600 a month, spouse included.

Still, there has been no disclosure of the internal regulations that accompany a new law. It would seem that much of the work of the immigration department is frozen now without clear regulations to guide workers.

And no one knows what changes in the new law might actually be made after proposals experience hearings, discussions and amendments in the Asamblea Legislativa.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 160

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Unusual violent weekend
results in six murders

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An unusually violent weekend began about 4:30 a.m. Friday in Jacó when a 44-year-old Israeli national was cut down by hit men on a motorcycle.

The dead man was Eitan Noy Naftali, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. As the gunmen shot Naftali as he was getting out of a taxi, Marck Allen Fritts, the owner of the apartments where the victim lived and a U.S. citizen, arrived on the scene.

The gunmen shot him in both legs then fled, said investigators.

Naftali has just finished two months preventative detention while he was being investigated in the kidnapping of a businessman. The kidnapping was believed related to a debt.

Another act of violence played out at the Megasuper in Alajuela where 45-year-old guard, Mario Espinoza Ugalde, was cut down with two bullets from robbers about 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Saturday afternoon a farmer in Alajuelita found the bound body of Karla Segura Flores, a 32-year-old nurse at Hospital San Juan de Dios. The woman, who was pregnant, failed to return home Friday night, her family said. She suffered multiple knife wounds.

Three persons died Sunday. In Bananito de Limón a 22-year-old man with the last name of Morris died early Sunday in what appears to be an argument. A suspect was held.

In San Carlos, gunmen ambushed a bar operator early Sunday as he arrived home with the evening's income. He was Rafael Rojas Ugalde, 51.

Around noon Sunday Carlos Nazario, 44, died from knife wounds in the chest in a low-income area of Tibás. Held was his companion of four years, a woman with the last name of López, said officials.

Meanwhile in Paraíso near Cartago, investigators are trying to determine why Fuerza Pública officer José Cordero Álvarez, 44, died. He was found near the Río Páez Sunday after having vanished Friday. He suffered a bullet wound. Officials are trying to determine if his death was a murder or a suicide.

Our readers' oipinion
Passenger profiling cited
as best security method

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

From the perspective of a former law-enforcement officer, the current security concerns and general situation appears utterly dismaying.  If present trends continue, strip searches of all airline passengers will soon follow.  Although this is said in partial jest, and with some contempt for present security methods and policies, past experience with the "police mentality" points to any possibility. 

One of my early observations as a young policeman was to note the propensity of the police, (and military!), to exaggerate the danger in everything.  Why?  I believe the motivation derives from what might be characterized as the  "heroic, or warrior complex," a desire to be seen in a grander, more unique framework of ordinary existence. 

Perhaps, and even stronger reason is a desire to exert more power over people and situations and justify the extension of their powers.  The latter is something all elitist organizations attempt to do.

It is this elitist reality which creates the police "them & us" mentality, and separates us from a common, shared humanity. This attitude has become a grave problem in American policing, with the widespread violence we see today as one of the results.

Unfortunately, the public has been stampeded by unjustifiable fears, and now has become not only victimized, but inured to widespread police abuses.  

I've tried to present a brief framework to demonstrate some of the thinking behind present airline security methods and policies.  What is needed is not more searches, or more expensive technology, and restrictions, but a more realistic, and practical approach.  This can be accomplished simply by implementing PROFILING, together with selective searches.   The threats are not from children, the aged, or ordinary travelers, but almost exclusively confined to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean physical types.

Now, it is up to the electronic and print media to change things. In silence, or by design, they supported and contributed to the escalating hysteria driving the present, unworkable policies.

H. Franz
Wichita, Kansas

He questions accuracy
of economic analysis

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
You published a guest editorial Thursday which forecasts a very gloomy future for the real estate market in Costa Rica.  At the end of the editorial, there was reference to another analysis by the same man. Those who took the time to read the analysis published in April, 2003, would have realized that the real estate predictions he made more than three years ago were dead wrong.
One could pick his current predictions apart, but why bother?  The 2003, analysis, set his credibility standard.  My question to you is:  After the 2003, forecast, why would you give him the opportunity to publish as "guest editor"?
Phil Deming 

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 160

A phrase that is a tribute to our own mother
Madre, solo hay una.

Tomorrow, Aug. 15th, is Mothers’ Day in Costa Rica. This holiday brings to my mind some sayings involving the word madre or “mother.” One would think there might be many nice ones, but at least two of those I came up with are not particularly flattering, for example; sos la pura madre.  Literally translated this means “you are the pure mother.”

Now that sounds innocuous enough on the face of it, but what is being implied here is that the person this remark is directed at is really the source of all calamity and unhappiness. It is often used when scolding a child or recalcitrant adult.

¡Que madre! is another expression one hears when something goes wrong, or someone does something wrong. Literally, of course, it means “what a mother,” and it is considerably more offensive than the previous saying. One might employ this dicho as a sort of expletive when one bangs one’s finger while hammering a nail into the wall to hang a picture from. It’s actually a sort of euphemism to take the place of several other expletives that are probably best left unprinted here. You’ll often hear this one with the ‘a’ in madre receiving special emphasis and drawn out sort of like ¡que maaaadre!

The last expression I want to mention is the one that forms the topic of today’s column, and it is the one I like by far the best. Madre, solo hay una translates as “mother, there’s only one,” and it is meant to honor to our mothers.

 It’s not uncommon in Costa Rica for father’s to have more than one family, while, in most cases, a child remains with its mother. She is the one who nurtures and protects us while we are growing up.

I have a couple of short little stories to illustrate how to use or not to use madre solo hay una.

One particular Mothers’ Day some of my mom’s co-workers dropped in for a social call. My twin brother was there, and asked if he could help her entertain her friends. So, she asked him if he would prepare and serve some soft drinks whereupon he announced, “Mother, there’s only one.”

All the ladies smiled and cooed what a wonderful son my mother had to say such a sweet thing to her on Mothers’ Day.

Then my brother repeated himself, only this time he added something to the sentence: “Mother there’s only one coke,” he said. This became a family joke, so in our family we had to change the expression around a bit so it went: Madre, solo una hay. It 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

means the same thing, but with this word order it’s impossible to tack anything on the end.
In Latin America our mothers are at the very center of family life.  Madre, solo hay una, demonstrates to children how dear their mother’s are to them and how important it is not to disappoint them by misbehaving in school or in later life.  It also teaches us to honor and protect our mothers because, after all, we only have one.

Once, as a young child, I cut my finger very badly, and my twin brother tried to heal it, but rather than getting better the cut got worse and became infected. So, I ended up having to go to the Clinica Biblica, where my mother worked as a nurse.

The doctor had to clean the wound and he told me it would hurt. Indeed it did! I screamed and cried until my mother appeared in the doorway in her nurse’s uniform. She soothed me and told me to be a brave soldier.

Of course, I always wanted to please my mother, so I did the best I could not to cry out any more. Over the next few weeks the wound began gradually to heal. But in the back of my mind I kept telling myself “Madre, solo hay una,” and that would help me not to cry when she needed to clean the wound and prepare fresh bandages. My mother was teaching me to be strong and have courage, a lesson that would serve me well in later life.

Today I look at my finger and am reminded of my mother and how hard she worked so her children could have an education and a good life. But I am also reminded of her love and care. I remember that woman with love and respect, and yes, even a little fear. She was one of a kind. Madre, solo hay una.

This is an encore version of Daniel Soto's Mother's Day 2004 column. It is one of our favorites.

The curious case of letters said to be from Villalobos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When the dwindling Enrique Villalobos fan club starts to get restless, another letter arrives, supposedly from the fugitive investor himself.

This has been a repeated event much touted on those Web site that continue to keep faith with Luis Enrique Villalobos.

Curiously, the letters seem to reflect whatever point of view is being promoted on the Web sites or by members of the United Concerned Citizens and Residents. That was the group that hired a former Pacheco administration justice minister and paid him about $140,000 with limited results to show for it.

The basic problem is the impossibility of being able to verify a communication that is supposed to have come from someone on the run and has passed through many hands.

The latest missive told the faithful that they would be repaid their investment with interest. Considering that Villalobos had nearly $1 billion on the books when he closed down his high-interest lending operation in 2002, the total amount due his creditors, at the 2.7 to 3 percent monthly interest he offered, is several billion now.

But the faithful, who accept such letters at face value, believe that Villalobos himself is keeping faith with them and working aggressively to protect their investments.

For many new residents of Costa Rica, the phrases "The Brothers." "Savings Unlimited," "Principal Financial" and others have little meaning. They are surprised to learn that nearly the entire expat community was supported by one or more of these high interest operations that went sour within a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks tightened the international flow of money drastically.

In fact there is a whole new generation of investment advisers and high-interest operations that have taken their place and find their unwary customers among those who have not been through the Villalobos mill.

Oswaldo Villalobos, the other half of The Brothers, is
supposed to go on trial next year on allegations of
fraud, money laundering and illegal banking. He chose not to run. He was identified with the money exchange houses that were operated under the name Ofinter S.A. A Judicial Investigating Organization report claims he was also a principal in the high-interest scheme that was run out of a back office in Mall San Pedro.

The Web sites and letters have sought to convince those who have filed charges in the case to withdraw them. The rationale is that if everyone withdraws the charges, the prosecutors will have no case and Luis Enrique Villalobos will return to distribute the money he has been safeguarding for the faithful.

The problem is that this promise of restitution and repayment rests entirely on the letters of dubious origin.

Jan. 2, 2003, this newspaper published the text of an e-mail letter from Luis Enrique Villalobos. The newspaper reported that the message came from Mauricio Fonseca Alvarez, who identified himself in a later telephone call as a confidential assistant to Oswaldo Villalobos. Fonseca said that he obtained the statement from lawyers for Villalobos.

That was the last message that this newspaper said was likely from Villalobos.

At that time Villalobos said: "I am engaged with my creditors, and I will try to resolve their problem, always when it is possible. In case I die, or I go to prison, due a behavior which is not a crime, as I have indicated to the Superintendent of Financial Entities, nobody will recover anything."

No creditor has reported that he has been in contact with Villalobos, despite what the e-mail said.

The latest letter that the faithful attributed to Villalobos was greeted mostly with yawns. It appeared to be the case of excessive cries of "Wolf."

John Manners, the most visible of the individuals in the United Concerned Citizens and Residents, said  "I would never publish the letter to all our members if I did not know for sure that it is from LEV," using the acronym for Luis Enrique Villalobos.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 160

New photos of Fidel turn up in Cuban newspaper
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Cuban newspaper has published the first photos of Cuban President Fidel Castro since the announcement July 31 that he underwent surgery for intestinal bleeding, and his younger brother, Raúl, appeared in public for the first time since assuming temporary leadership. Both developments coincided with Fidel Castro's 80th birthday.

A message from Castro accompanied the photographs in the Juventud Rebelde newspaper.

He is quoted as saying he feels very happy, and calls for Cubans to be optimistic about his health.

But he also says they should be ready to face any adverse news. He did not elaborate, but says his recovery will take time, and that there are still risks.

The photographs show the Communist leader in a red-and-white striped athletic jacket. In two of the pictures, he is on the telephone, and in another he is holding up Saturday's tribute to him published by the Communist Party Granma newspaper. The fourth photograph is a close-up.

Official celebrations for Castro's birthday have been postponed at his request, until December second, the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez arrived in Cuba to visit Castro and celebrate the birthday with his ally and fellow critic of the United States.

Chávez was greeted at the airport by Raúl Castro. It was the first time Raul was seen in public since he assumed temporary power, due to his brother's health, two weeks ago.

Cuban officials say Fidel Castro, who seized power in 1959, is recovering well. The United States said Friday that more may be happening on the island than what Havana is saying.

The State Department's senior official for Latin America, Thomas Shannon, told reporters Friday in Washington he believes the developments in Cuba may indicate that Castro is suffering serious health problems, and political change may be occurring.

Juventud Rebelde
Although a graphic artist of average skills could have faked the photo of Fidel Castro with a current newspaper, this probably is a post-surgery shot.

"Authoritarian regimes are like helicopters, they are 'single fail-point' mechanisms," said Thomas Shannon. "When a rotor comes off a helicopter, it crashes. When a supreme leader disappears from an authoritarian regime, the authoritarian regime flounders. It does not have the direction it requires. And I think that is what we're seeing at this moment."

Cuban officials have not released details of Castro's condition. Castro said in an earlier statement that information about his health must be guarded as a state secret, due to what he described as U.S. threats.

Venezuelan opposition figure Ortega flees prison, official says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan officials say union leader Carlos Ortega has escaped from a prison where he had been serving a sentence of nearly 16 years for his role in a general strike against President Hugo Chávez.

Attorney-General Isaias Rodriguez told state television in a telephone interview Sunday that Ortega escaped from the Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas. Rodriguez said three jailed military officers appear to have fled as well.

Last December, Ortega was convicted on charges of
instigating a civil rebellion in connection with his role in the strike, which began in December 2002 and ended in early 2003.

The strike crippled Venezuela's key oil industry but failed to topple President Chavez.

In 2003, Ortega fled Venezuela for Costa Rica, where he was granted political asylum.

Ortega returned to Venezuela the following year to join opposition efforts to oust Chávez, who was facing a recall referendum. Ortega was arrested in early 2005. 

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