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Vinicio Esquivel, operator of Vinir S.A., another failed money exchange house, came before a Costa Rican legislative investigated committee Thursday to talk about his role in the Abel Pacheco campaign.
Esquivel became the first person to testify before the committee under oath, although he declined to answer questions about his other businesses.
Deputies on the committee were anxious to ask Esquivel about his relationship with Marc Harris, the one-time boy wonder of Central American finance who has been extradited to the United States in mid-June to face tax evasion charges. Harris and Esquivel spent some time together in Managua.
Esquivel operated the Casa de Cambio Vinir in the Trejos Monte Alegre shopping center at the north end of Escazú. It was here that legislators found that foreign checks made out to figures in the Pacheco campaign had been cashed. That was before Vinir opted for bankruptcy in September.
Esquivel told legislators Thursday that it was Rina Contreras, then-president of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, who set up the agreement with Vinir. He also said that she asked and he declined to forgo the usual 1 percent commission on cashing checks. She eventually emerged as minister to the Presidencia in the first year of the Pacheco administration.
Esquivel said he did not choose to forgo his commission because money exchange and check cashing are his business and he already had made donations to the political party via a $5,000 payment for raffle tickets and $1,500 for a campaign dinner.
Th businessman said he asked no questions as to the origin of the money that passed through his hands because he understood that the political party would stand behind any bad checks.
|The only person who brought him checks
was Rodolfo Montero, said Esquivel. This is a key point in the investigation
because Montero, campaign treasurer for Pacheco, has tried to distance
himself from the political contributions, some of which were not reported
as the law requires.
Esquivel said that the campaign used his services because they could avoid lines at a bank. That was the same reason a lot of North Americans availed themselves of Vinir’s services.
However, when it was in business, the company seems to have exceeded its charter as a money exchange house. U.S. citizens found they could have their Social Security checks deposited in Vinir’s account in Miami and receive immediate payment here at the Escazú office.
Vinir also was in the business of cashing large business checks. One complaint filed against the company was that it failed to pay off on a $50,000 check which it cashed.
The complaint says that Vinir collected the money from the account of a North American businessman but never remitted the money to him.
In addition, Vinir seems to have been involved in borrowing money from individuals and paying them interest. However, customers said the rate was at the level usually paid by banks and not in the high-interest range of other storefront operations that also have failed in the last year.
When the company announced it was quitting business, those who had money deposited with the firm were caught short.
Marc Harris was a frequent visitor to San José while he was running his financial empire in Panamá. It is not known if he was associated with Vinir at that time.
Harris is charged with helping companies and individuals duck U.S. income tax with offshore manipulations.
a Philadelphia, Pa.,-based reader
History is always the best teacher in the worlds of politics and war.
And we do not have to go back as far as Panama's School of the Americas
and the U.S. Congress banning of training for Latin American police in
1974 to predict what might happen to the peaceful country of Costa Rica
if the U.S. is allowed to establish the International Law Enforcement Academy
The latest example can be found at the new Law Enforcement Academy in Hungary, where the U.S. plans to train 28,000 novice Iraqi police recruits to support the existing 31,000 police already recruited from the former Hussein regime's police units.
As the veterans among us know, 28,000 paramilitary personnel is more than full division force, and training such numbers is a massive effort. How many 9-mm. pistols would be needed in Costa Rica to train a force this large? (150,000 are on order for the Iraqi Police.)
The U.S. promises that the ILEA in Costa Rica will be used to train only Latin American police. We
|should ask what countries would be
sending forces to be trained and how many will be sent. Will they include
a new Colombian Police designed to replace the Colombian Army, as the Iraqi
police are designed to replace the U.S. armed forces in Iraq? How many
will be from the next country embroiled in revolution and counter-revolution,
and whose regimes will be supported by police forces trained in Costa Rica?
But Hungary could be the worst case scenario. Other U.S. funded ILEAs are not as massive as the Hungarian Academy on the site of the same former Soviet military base where Iraqi soldiers had been trained to fight alongside our forces against Hussein. Only a few thousand regional police receive training in each of the other academies across Eastern Europe in places such as Serbia and Bulgaria.
None of us can predict what the intentions of the U.S. and Costa Rican administrations are until we see them in action. Meanwhile, we must ask why Costa Rica needs to be the site for paramilitary training of foreign police officers, no matter what size of the academy might grow to become.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From time to time A.M. Costa Rica will publish in the newspages reader comments that bear on current events in Costa Rica and elsewhere.
|Two more cases involve
girls and older men
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A man tried to snatch a 14-year-old girl from a street in Santo Domingo de Heredia Thursday morning but fled when the girl fought back and adults came to her aid.
Hours later the suspect was arrested in a store in Heredia. He had left his vehicle behind near the bread store where the girl had been shopping.
Meanwhile in Sarapiquí a 25-year-old man faces investigation for having a romance with a 12-year-old girl and taking her away against the will of her parents.
The attempted kidnapping in Santo Domingo de Heredia took place around 6 a.m. when the girl was leaving a bread store to return to her home. Police said her assailant grabbed her and tried to put her in a waiting car.
Later police said they found toys and children’s books in the car, which was abandoned at the crime scene.
The man was identified by the surname Páez. Police said he was 25 and a salesman.
The attempted kidnapping and Sarapiquí cases come at a time of heightened awareness toward the abuse of children caused by several high-profile murders of girls with older men as suspects.
Police identified the suspect in the Sarapiquí case as a 25-year-old man with the last names of Báez Paguagua. Police were alerted when the girl did not return home from school Wednesday. The girl’s mother told police she had prohibited her daughter from seeing Báez, said police.
Fuerza Pública officers arrested the man early Thursday in San Bosco de Santa Bárbara de Heredia after an intensive search. The girl was found in the home of a family member of Báez in Sarapiquí, police said.
Officials pointed out that anyone having relations with a child between 12 and 15 years is liable for a two-year jail term. Although there is no proof yet that the man and girl were sexually intimate, mere taking of a child against the will of a parent merits a two-year jail term, and that is the penalty that the legislature is likely to increase.
RACSA says English
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Guess who finally has a Web page in English. Why it is Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Internet company better known as RACSA.
The company made this announcement Thursday in the name of its general manager, Isidro Serrano, an engineer. The company said the new pages are part of a modernizing project.
For years, RACSA has had a link to a non-existent English section on its home page. However, the page always showed up as being "under construction."
Now there is, more or less, an English section to the Web page. However, the link on the English page to a newsletter written by Serrano only comes up in Spanish.
The company also has established pages with frequently asked questions and also a system to send telegrams through its Web page.
There also are some interesting maps that show the cable hookups that take internet signals from Costa Rica to a hub in the United States, plus a map of a Central American backbone.
The firm also offers some advice on filters and how to fight pornography on the Internet.
U.S. says it busted up
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has announced the disruption of a major Mexican-based organization trafficking in marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine, using Atlanta, Georgia, as its primary distribution point.
In a news conference Thursday in Atlanta, U.S. Attorney Bill Duffey said 24 people have been indicted so far in the ongoing case, many of whom are Mexican nationals residing in the United States illegally. He said the defendants stored illicit drugs in Atlanta and distributed them to a number of other U.S. states.
Under what was dubbed "Operation Enigma," U.S. authorities seized $3.3 million in cash, about 11,340 kilograms of marijuana, 262 kilos of cocaine, and 18.1 kilos of methamphetamine. He said a number of U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are working with Georgia state authorities on the case.
Operation Enigma targeted a transportation and distribution cell that reported to drug kingpins located within the Mexican states of Michoacan and Jalisco, Duffey said.
U.S. agency rejects
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Export-Import Bank of the United States has rejected a request for a $200 million loan guarantee to support U.S. exports for a controversial natural gas development project in Peru.
In a news release Thursday, Export-Import Bank Chairman Phillip Merrill said that the decision concerning the Camisea natural gas project in the Peruvian jungle is "situation specific" and that the bank's overall interest in energy projects has not diminished.
Environmental groups oppose the project, which they say threatens pristine rain forest and local native populations, according to news reports. The Peruvian government has said indigenous groups would not be negatively affected by the project.
A report commissioned by the bank to evaluate Camisea's environmental impact said, however, that the project is likely to create serious environmental problems and does not comply with the bank's own environmental guidelines.
Loan guarantees for over $200 million have been requested by a U.S. company, Hunt Oil, which is involved in the $2 billion project along with two Argentinean companies, Pluspetrol and Techint.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — An international food research body says protective trade policies and farm subsidies in developed nations are harmful to the economies of poor nations.
The study by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute says trade protectionism and farm subsidies applied by developed countries cost developing nations nearly $24 billion a year in lost agricultural and agro-industrial income.
The report, released here this week, says trade policies in industrialized nations cause Latin America and Caribbean countries to lose about $8.3 billion in annual income from agriculture. Asia suffers annual loses of about $6.6 billion, while sub-Saharan Africa loses nearly $2 billion a year.
The report further says protective policies in industrialized nations have a harmful impact on world trade, resulting in the displacement of more than $40 billion in net annual agricultural exports from poor nations.
A report co-author is Eugenio Diaz-Bonilla, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
"When production is subsidized and protected in industrialized countries that means you are displacing production some place else and usually the weaker players are the ones getting displaced," he said. "An additional ton of sugar in the European Union, or an additional ton of cotton in the United States or a ton of rice in Japan may as
|well mean less sugar in Guatemala,
less cotton in Benin or less rice in Thailand."
Diaz-Bonilla also noted that small-scale farmers in developing countries have a hard time competing against subsidized products that are dumped in their local markets. He said the elimination of trade-distorting policies in industrialized nations would triple developing nations' agricultural incomes.
The report further notes that trade and subsidy policies of the European Union cause more than half of the displaced exports. It says European Union policies have greater impact on African countries because of regional trade relationships and colonial ties, while U.S. and Canadian policies greatly affect the economies of Mexico and Colombia.
Diaz-Bonilla says the report also blames developing nations for not investing enough in agriculture, roads, rural infrastructure, and land reform.
"Of course, developing countries also need to do a lot of additional work on their part to invest in the agriculture sector, to make sure that they invest in human capital, to have good governance," said Diaz-Bonilla.
The International Food Policy Research Institute used a computer model of the world economy to estimate immediate damage to poor nations by simulating the elimination of rich countries' current agricultural trade policies.
World Trade Organization ministers are to meet next month in Cancun, Mexico, where reforming agricultural trade is likely to top the agenda.
LIMA Peru — Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission says nearly 70,000 people were killed in two decades of political violence involving state security forces and leftist guerrillas.
The figure more than doubles previous estimates and is contained in a new, nine-volume report presented by the commission to President Alejandro Toledo Thursday. The commission's long-awaited document follows a two-year investigation which involved interviews with 17,000 people.
The new report concludes that more than half of all deaths in the conflict were caused by the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas, which launched its anti-government insurgency in May 1980.
The report also blames government security forces for one third of the deaths in the conflict, which raged from 1980 to 2000. The study attributed 17 percent of the deaths to government-backed militias. A smaller Marxist guerrilla group known
|as the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary
Movement was blamed for about 2 percent of the deaths.
Earlier, commission president Salomon Lerner Febres described the violence as a shameful part of Peru's past. He had previously said no one will ever know just how many people disappeared in the conflict.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, welcomed the report. Amnesty calls it an important step toward truth and justice in Peru after two decades of internal armed conflict.
In the 1980s and 90s, the government carried out a counter-insurgency campaign against the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru which succeeded in almost eliminating them.
However, some remnants of the rebel groups continue to operate in the Peruvian jungles.
Supporters of the commission say the report will help bring justice to the victims, while critics complain the perpetrators may never be tried.
LONDON, England — The former Iranian ambassador to Argentina is to appear today in a London court in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The arrest has sparked an intense war of words between officials in Buenos Aires, London, and Tehran. But some people question whether the arrest will advance the nine-year investigation.
Hadi Soleimanpour, Iran's former ambassador to Argentina, was detained Aug. 21 in northern England, where he was studying at a local university on a student visa.
His arrest was a result of a warrant issued by Argentine judge Juan José Galeano, who has been investigating the attack on the Argentina Israeli Mutual Association since it occurred in 1994.
The car bomb that exploded at the association’s headquarters in Buenos Aires killed 85 people and injured hundreds. More than nine years later no one has been held responsible.
Laura Ginsberg's husband José died in the bombing, leaving her to raise their two young children alone. Since the attack, Ms. Ginsberg has fought hard to bring the perpetrators of the blast to justice. But she says that the arrest of the former Iranian ambassador is not a significant breakthrough in an investigation that has been ineffective from the start.
"This man, Soleimanpour, is in the investigation since the beginning, his name appeared in the case since the beginning of the investigation and it is hard to believe that now Galeano could gather all the information to arrest him," she said.
But apparently sufficient evidence does exist, as Judge Galeano has issued arrest warrants for a dozen Iranian officials who were in Argentina at the time of the explosion.
Police in Brussels detained Iranian diplomat Saied Baghban in connection with the case, but released him after several hours of questioning because he has diplomatic immunity.
|So far, Soleimanpour is the only
Iranian in police custody, but his arrest and possible extradition to Argentina
has sparked a bitter debate between British, Iranian, and Argentine leaders.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami threatened "strong action" against Britain
if Soleimanpour is not released.
The United States and Israel have long suspected Iran of being behind the attack, a charge that Iran has repeatedly denied.
It is the diplomatic dispute that the association lawyers are paying close attention to. Attorney Miguel Bronfman says Tehran could influence the British extradition case:
"Yes, we are afraid of that. In these cases, this is not just a judicial case, it is a political case. Well, Iran is a strong state in the international scene and . . . . Well, I think that apart from the judicial steps, Great Britain will pay attention to Iran's requests."
American journalist Joe Goldman agrees. He has written extensively on the case and says pressure from Iranian officials, coupled with claims that Judge Galeano has destroyed files and bribed witnesses will make the extradition of Hadi Soleimanpour and other Iranians difficult.
"I think Soleimanpour is somebody who might know something, though, about what happened, and is somebody who might prove to be a very interesting witness," said Goldman. "Unfortunately, due to the really reprehensible conduct of this judge, I think any kind of an extradition request is going to be denied."
For Laura Ginsberg, this is a harsh reality that will continue to prolong her search for the truth. "This is part of a political maneuver where the need to have an international responsibility [for] the crime is the first priority here in Argentina," she said.
While leaders in Tehran, London, and Buenos Aires debate the political and legal issues in this highly sensitive case, Argentine investigators will continue to press for the arrest and extradition of Iranian officials in connection with the worst act of terrorism in the country's history.
The controversy in the southern American state of Alabama over the placement of a stone monument depicting the Ten Commandments has triggered an impassioned debate over one of the core principles of American democracy — the separation of religion and government.
Some see the display of the Biblical symbol in a public courthouse as a violation of American law. The monument's defenders view the struggle to remove it as a rejection of God.
Alabama's highest judicial official, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, says he has an obligation to uphold God's law above the laws of man. Chief Justice Moore is a Christian, and he believes the Biblical Ten Commandments are the cornerstone of America's legal heritage.
"The acknowledgement of Almighty God is the basis for our justice system. It is the source of our law. It is the foundation of our country," he said.
That's why Chief Justice Moore refused to move a large stone monument to the Ten Commandments when a U.S. district judge ordered him to do so in August. Judge Moore placed the monument in Alabama's Supreme Court building two years ago, but a group of attorneys filed a lawsuit to remove it from public view.
Steven Glassroth says he sued because the monument is offensive. "It offended me because it is an act of intolerance," he said. "It's allowing one person to proclaim that the State of Alabama is of one faith, when in reality, we have many people of many different faiths and people who don't have faith. We all come together in a mosaic that is representative of us all."
The United States is a nation of religious diversity. To ensure no faith is elevated above another, the United States Constitution prohibits the government from interfering with or promoting religious practices.
University of Alabama law professor Bryan Fair says the law also gives all residents, no matter what faith they believe, an equal opportunity to participate in society and live freely. He says as Alabama's Chief Justice, Roy Moore is a representative of state government and cannot impose his personal religious beliefs on the state's residents.
"Privately, Chief Justice Moore and others might believe whatever they want," he said. "But in
|terms of the government, all American
citizens have to stand relative to the government in the same position.
It's what the law of the nation is."
However, those who wanted to keep the Ten Commandments on public display in the Alabama Supreme Court building say the monument's removal is an assault on God.
"This isn't a one-sided issue," said Rev. Rob Schenck, who works with the National Clergy Council, an organization which has helped organize protest rallies in Montgomery. "There are tens of thousands of people in this state and across the United States who feel very strongly that the Commandments should remain here in this building."
Christianity is America's largest religion, with about 77 percent of the population practicing the faith. Some Christians believe the government is unfairly targeting them by removing Christian references from the public square. They say the wishes of the many are being sacrificed for the benefit of the few.
Sue Waldrop supports the Ten Commandments monument. She says she is not interfering with those who disagree with her, and her views should be shown the same respect.
"So if I'm not offending them, and I'm going to let them live how they want to, then why not leave me alone, too?," she asks.
But law professor Fair says those who support Chief Justice Roy Moore's battle should try to imagine a different situation. What if another chief justice, who held very different religious views from the majority of Alabama residents, installed his or her own religious symbol in the state Supreme Court building?
"If they could understand that, and their feelings of rejection and marginalization, then Christians ought to be able to understand why the installation of this monument might be offensive to other American citizens in Alabama or elsewhere," he said.
Professor Fair says the law does not discriminate against Christians or any other faith. Instead, he says it protects the private beliefs of all Americans while preventing public authority figures from establishing or promoting an official religion. But, the debate will continue. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has promised to take the issue to the United States Supreme Court for a final decision on the matter.
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