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These stories were published Friday, Aug. 22, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 166
Jo Stuart
About us
Investor detained while filing against officials
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A San José chiropractor who has been bedeviling investigators and judges in the Villalobos case was himself arrested Thursday afternoon.

The man, Dr. Matthew Shirzad, said he was in the process of filing a criminal complaint against officials handling the Villalobos investigation when he was detained, handcuffed and held for several hours.

Shirzad, an investor with Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos, is trying to get explanations in what he believes are discrepancies in how officials accounted for the money that was confiscated when agents raided the investment house July 4, 2002.

He also has a number of procedural concerns in the handling of Villalobos assets that were taken into the control of the officials during the investigation.

The chiropractor said he went to the reception area maintained by the Judicial Investigating Organization and filed the paperwork for an unspecified criminal complaint against officials involved in the case, principally prosecutor Walter Espinoza and Investigating Judge Francisco Sanchez Fallas. 

After filling the appropriate papers and talking to officials at the reception center, Shirzad said he went across the plaza to the Tribunales de Justica building in which Espinoza has an office. He said he was not there to see Espinoza but another prosecutor who would be handling his complaint.

It was on the second floor of that building where four agents arrested him and took him back to the Judicial Investigating Organization building where he was held for several hours.

The charge the chiropractor faces is "menacing," he said, but he added that lawyer José Miguel Villalobos Umaña told him the code section under which he was charged no longer exists.
Shirzad said he was not allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy during the time he was in custody. He is a U.S. citizen.

Shirzad said that he was not causing a disturbance or threatening anyone on the second floor of the Tribunales building when he was arrested. He also said he has to return to court Monday at 1 p.m. and encouraged other investors to show up at the same time. Other investor and investor groups also are urging public participation Monday.

Shirzad has distinguished himself with his single-minded pursuit of information in the Villalobos case. He appears at the courts nearly every day and has irked Espinoza so much that he issued a letter a week ago saying that there were no serious discrepancies in funds.

The Villalobos investment house, located in Mall San Pedro, was perhaps the oldest high-interest operation in Costa Rica when the two brothers closed it up last Oct. 14. Oswaldo Villalobos is in custody, and Luis Enrique Villalobos is a fugitive. The firm may have had $1 billion on its books when it ended operations, and those who gave the firm money have not been paid since September, at least. The interest paid to those who put their money with the firm was in the 3 per cent per month neighborhood.

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Are there any lessons from the power failure?
If you haven’t been spending the week in a rainforest, you will know that a good part of the Eastern United States suffered its worst electricity shutdown in its history. Cities from New York to Michigan were without power for about 29 hours. Cities in Canada were also affected. 

For most people living in Costa Rica this is no big deal. From time to time we manage to operate without electricity or water — or both — for a day or two at a time. There are some areas of the country that as yet do not know what having either running water or electric power is like.

But for a country as digitized and air conditioned as the U.S., this was a big deal — especially in big cities in a heat wave. Unfortunately, one of the first things New York Mayor Bloomberg did was to declare that it was Canada’s fault. This prompted the mayor of (I believe Toronto) to ask, "Have you ever known the United States to accept the blame for anything?" Fortunately, the leaders of both countries got together to discuss the matter before yet another country moved from the "with us" to "against us" category.

Living where I do, in the middle of San Jose, going without electricity or water is a rare occurrence and seldom for more than an hour or two at a time. But I have experienced longer periods in other parts of the country, and I was in New York during the 1965 outage. Every time I experience this deprivation I cannot help but think about what it must be like for people who are going through this for longer periods: What it would be like to live like this for days or weeks at a time. 

Therefore, I expected New Yorkers who were interviewed after the lights went on to mention Iraq, or say words to the effect of "Wow, now I can imagine what it would be like to have no air-conditioning when the weather is 120 degrees when I was 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

struggling with 93 degree temperature." No one did.

Then CNN surprised me even more by actually interviewing some Iraqis to ask them if they had any advice for New Yorkers. One response was translated as "We have been living like this for 30 years and are just happy to be alive." Others found it difficult to believe that a powerful country (no pun intended) like the United States could possibly have a power failure. 

Others said that they couldn’t understand why the U.S. hadn’t fixed THEIR power (many homes in Iraq have had no steady electricity for three months), when even Saddam, after the Gulf War when their power was knocked out, managed to get it back on within a month. 

Meanwhile, over the weekend Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld announced that the army was being changed to meet modern day needs. I am glad to hear this (although I am not quite sure what he means). I thought when President Bush announced that fighting terrorism was "a new kind of war," that the Defense Department would get the message. Perhaps now, our soldiers will be better prepared to fight the guerillas and saboteurs, and now, tragically, for the first time in Iraq — terrorists. 

Which brings us to the little bit of good news. Although the source of the problem for the blackout has not been found (it does, they have discovered, seem to be closer to Cleveland than to Canada), it was not terrorism. However, its very occurence does make me think: With snafus like this, who needs terrorism?

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Effort begins to clean up imperiled neighborhoods
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Barrio Amon in north central San José is a charming area filled with historic houses, balconies and at certain points a panoramic view of Parque Bolivar. There are small restaurants, and during the day the neighborhood is best known as being the area around towering Instituto Nacional de Seguros.

Visitors will find Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry, here, too.

At night the situation changes for the worse, and neighbors have been complaining so much that officials have begun cracking down on the anti-social behavior that takes place there.

Barrio Amon and Barrio Otoya to the east are known as places where robberies happen at night. Because the area hosts at least four leading hotels that cater to tourists, foreigners frequently are the victims. The two neighborhoods are generally north of Avenida 5.

Wednesday officers of the Fuerza Pública and immigration agents staged simultaneous sweeps against massage parlors there and people who hang out in the area.

Thursday, Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, was to meet with residents in a community meeting. With him was supposed to be Johnny Araya, San José mayor. Eduardo Guzmán, chief of the metropolitan area police, also was invited.

The political interest was stimulated by a series of stories in the Spanish-language daily La Nación which reported the neighborhood complaints of street prostitution, drug activities and other chilling incidents that kept the residents inside their houses at night. 

Officials said that the sweeps Wednesday resulted in the detention of seven foreign women and a male U.S. citizen who was in a massage parlor. All face immigration violations.

Shrimp prices 
to take tumble
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It’s time to eat jumbo shrimp — and for Costa Rica.

The United States has forbidden the import of giant shrimp from here because officials there feel that not enough has been done to keep turtles out of the shrimper nets.

Consequently there is some 20,000 pounds a month that is not being exported, so prices are expected to fall. The supermarket price of such shrimp now is about 9,000 colons a kilo or about $10 a pound.

Inspectors for the United States were here in June, officials said.

Fiscal general plans
to retire in October

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial confirmed Thursday that Carlos Arias, 55, the fiscal general, would be retiring Oct. 1.

A statement said that his request was accepted by the Consejo Superior del Poder Judicial.

In his position, Arias was the nation’s top prosecutor, and rumors began to fly that he was being removed from his position because of lack of success in the case of murder radio personality Parmenio Medina Pérez and other unsolved crimes.

However Arias has jumped into the campaign financial scandal and assigned two top prosecutors to begin to assemble information from material being presented to a legislative committee.

Quepos bar raided
in pimping probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A special sex exploitation task force raided a bar in Quepos and arrested two persons there to face pimping charges.

The raid was by the Unidad contra la Explotación Sexual of the Ministerio de Seguirdad Publica and the prosecutors based in Aguirre and Parrita. The bar, about a kilometer from the center of Quepos, is called La Rosa.

There investigators said they found 10 women when they raided about 11 p.m. Wednesday. The women included Costa Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians and Nicaraguans. Those who are here illegally will be deported, a mininstry report said.

Arrested was the presumed administrator and a neighbor who was found inside.

"The crimes listed would cause the accused to face between two and five years of prison for simple prostitution, but if the presence of minors is confirmed, the penalty increases to between four and 10 years in prison,"  said Ana Helena Chacón, vice minister of Seguridad Peublica.

There are many clubs and hotels in the country that cater to the sex trade. But most maintain the fiction that they are not involved in prostitution by simply requiring customers to pay for a room and negotiate separately with the prostitute. But officials are seeking those places that include both fees in the same payment, a definition of pimping.

The current administration has a special interest in ending the prostitution of minors and allegations of that kind of activity is certain to bring an investigation of any sort of establishment.

Special summit set
for México in January

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Special Summit of the Americas, which will bring together presidents and prime ministers of 34 member countries of the Organization of American States, will take place in January in Mexico.

The decision was made by the Mexican government after a process of consultation with the member states.

"The objective of the special summit is to facilitate hemispheric cooperation at the highest levels of government in order to confront the current economic, social and political challenges of the region," said Secretary General César Gaviria of the Organization of American States.

Irene Klinger, executive secretary of the Summits of the Americas Secretariat, noted that approximately one-third of the region’s leaders have taken office since the last Summit of the Americas, held in Quebec City, Canada, in April 2001. "This meeting will provide the first opportunity for them to review hemispheric priorities and renew their shared commitments," she said. 

The Special Summit of the Americas will seek agreements on specific topics and promote a number of multilateral initiatives, as well as national actions, to resolve critical problems affecting the hemisphere. The heads of state and government will meet for one day to exchange ideas and generate proposals on three central issues: economic growth with equity, social development and democratic governance.

U.S. looks to satellite
to bring TV to Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration is launching an initiative aimed at broadcasting government-owned TV Marti into Cuba via satellite to circumvent interference.  The announcement was made Thursday in Miami by Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the U.S.-government affiliated Broadcasting Board of Governors. 

Tomlinson said authorities will soon undertake testing to see if TV Marti can be sent to the Cuban people via satellite.  He said the goal is for anyone with a dish and an ordinary signal receiver to pick up the signal easily. 

Cuba has regularly jammed Radio and Television Marti, the U.S. government-funded broadcasts targeted at the Communist-run island. 

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Malaria is resistent and just waiting for a chance
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Can you name the disease that infects half a billion people at any given moment and kills a child every 30 seconds? You're probably thinking AIDS, tuberculosis, or even dysentery, but the correct answer is malaria. 

This ancient scourge kills well over a million people per year, most are children under the age of 5. 

Some people know this all too well. For 14 years Dr. David Stevens practiced medicine at a small mission hospital in the African bush. During the rainy season mosquitoes would swarm, and his wards would fill with malaria patients.

"I think one of the pictures imprinted in my mind is walking into the man's medical ward one day, and listening to this sound," he recalls. "And as I went to the back of the ward, here's a man who has blackwater fever — severe cerebral malaria — so bad that his chills that he's having are actually moving the bed across the floor. And the sound I heard was the bed scraping as his shakes, actually walked it out, into the middle of the room."

Stevens' battle against malaria turned personal the year his parents came to Kenya for a visit. His father contracted the disease during the trip but didn't show symptoms until he returned home. His family physician missed the diagnosis.

"And he went to the hospital and he said, 'I'm not leaving till you check me for malaria,' and they did and found out that he had a 30 percent parasite rate in his blood. They called the Centers for Disease Control, and they said, 'How old is he?' They said, '65," and they said, 'He's dead. He'll never leave the hospital.'"

Steven's father died a week later. His case is tragic but hardly surprising. Few American doctors have ever seen a case of malaria. The disease was eliminated in the industrialized nations 50 years ago. But as the recent SARS scare has clearly shown, an epidemic is just one patient, just one plane ride away. Few anti-malarial drugs have been developed since World War II, and there are now strains of the disease resistant to every known cure.

"The drugs that were developed just after the war, in particular, chloraquine, sulfadoxin, perimethamin, the parasite has developed resistance to these drugs," points out Robert Ridley, who works in the Tropical Disease Program at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

"We have had some drugs for several years now to treat the disease," he adds. "Going way back to the 17th century, indeed, quinine was identified as a potential cure for the disease. But one of the challenges has been to identify potential new treatments."

 A challenge made more difficult, Ridley explains, 

by malaria's unusually complex pathology.

"The disease is caused by a parasite, which is transmitted through a mosquito bite," he said. "The parasite travels through the blood to the liver, where it replicates, and then having multiplied many, many thousand-fold, it bursts into the blood system, and starts to basically destroy your red blood cells. And that destruction of the red blood cells gives rise to shivers, shakes, and can lead ultimately to death if not treated."

Malaria is a serious problem throughout Southeast and South Central Asia as well as much of South and Central America. But the vast majority of deaths occur in Africa.

"There are well over a million deaths each year caused by the disease. About 90-95 percent of those deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. And about 90-95 percent of those deaths are in young children under 5 years of age. And also pregnant women are particularly susceptible to the disease."

In economic terms malaria costs Africa $12 billion a year in lost revenue. On average, 40 percent of all hospital admissions on the continent are due to malaria. Although that represents a huge potential market, the unlikelihood of any significant return on the investment keeps new drugs from being developed. There's little need for them in the developed nations and Third World patients can't afford the high cost of new medicines.

"I surveyed the major pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. and Europe, asking them about their involvement in tropical disease drug and vaccine development," says Dyann Wirth, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Malaria Initiative.

"With the exception of two companies, in the 1997 survey, and one company in the 2001 survey, most reported little interest, in fact, no interest, in drugs for malaria and other parasitic diseases," she said. "And so, the difficulty is finding a way to discover and develop such drugs through a novel or innovative use of industrial partners or through the public sector."

Happily, Dr. Wirth and her fellow malaria researchers around the world have done just that. They've initiated a level of collaborative effort rarely seen in the extremely competitive field of drug research. The result is a surprising number of original projects, several of which may even lead to a malaria vaccine. It's a development that Dr. Stevens says is long overdue.

"I have some hope that we are making some progress, and I think we are getting smarter about groups coming together and attacking this problem," he emphasizes. "Somebody needs to take the bull by the horns and help people who are terribly suffering because of this illness."

A suffering so pervasive in Africa that 10 children died during the time it took to read this report. 


Abel Pacheco is among those who toast the beginning of the IV Cumbre de Jefes de Estado of the nations of Central America and the Dominican Republic in an official ceremony Thursday in Taiwan.

The host is Chen Shui Bian, the Taiwanese president.

Pacheco returns Saturday.

Photo courtesy of the Embassy of the Republic of China in Costa Rica
U.S. takes individual approach to human trafficking
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. goal is to continue on the road to abolishing and eradicating trafficking in persons by helping one victim at a time, according to a new Justice Department report.

The report, entitled "Assessment of U.S. Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons," says the United States has a significant problem with trafficking in persons, with an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 people trafficked annually into the country. 

An estimated 800,000 to 900,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year — having been bought, sold, transported and held in slavery-like conditions for sex and labor exploitation.

The report emphasizes that the United States is primarily a destination country, with people from other countries being trafficked into the United States. The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 mandates an evaluation of progress made in the areas of U.S. trafficking prevention, prosecution and assistance to victims.

With this in mind, the report released Thursday reviews U.S. legislative and executive branch government activities to improve protections for and assistance to victims trafficked into the United States, to increase successful investigations and prosecutions of traffickers, and to augment international activities to combat trafficking.

"In the United States, our goal is to continue on the road to abolishing and eradicating trafficking in persons by helping one victim at a time, funding one victim assistance organization at a time, investigating and prosecuting one trafficker at a time . . . and encouraging one world community to adhere to the precepts of the U.N. Protocol on trafficking in persons," the report says.

The report's recommendations for improving U.S. anti-trafficking activities include, among others, continuing outreach efforts to inform the public about trafficking, continuing training for federal agents and prosecutors on identifying victims of trafficking and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases, and supporting public-private partnerships in the international arena to integrate at-risk populations into the community and workforce. 

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