A.M. Costa Rica

Your daily English-language 
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 20, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 186
Jo Stuart
About us
Charges finally filed
against Oswaldo Villalobos
Bruce Harris sex scandal 
continues to shock
Casa Canada dumps the Canadian Flag over veto of visa 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There has to be a lot of anger for Casa Canada to strike the Canadian Flag. But that is exactly what the investment and real estate group has done in a dispute with the government of Canada over a visa for a valued employee.

The firm replaced the Canadian Flag with the flag of the United Nations over its building on Calle 40 that houses, among others, the Association of Residents of Costa Rica.

In addition Dan Walker, the head of Casa Canada Group, and his son, Ryan Piercy, executive director of the association, are quitting their positions as wardens for the embassy. The volunteer job involves helping to maintain contact with Canadian citizens in geographic districts, mainly in case of emergencies. Walker said he would change the name of his firm if it were not so well known.

The problem stems from an effort by Walker to invite the firm’s general manager, Monika Trejos, to Canada as a reward for excellent performance. She filed for the visa with a number of supporting documents, but the Canadian visa section in Guatemala City, which handles requests from here, rejected it.  Visa Officer Allison Cordett sent a form letter with the box checked next to "You have not shown that you have a valid reason to visit Canada."

Walker accompanied an appeal with a list of well-known Canadians who would vouch for him. Piercy’s wife works at the Canadian Embassy here. Canada’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration has tightened up visas for Costa Ricans because a number of Ticos have sought political asylum there as a ploy to stay in the country.

It is not just Ms. Trejos. Piercy has a short list of Costa Rican business people and spouses who have been denied visas.

A.M. Costa Rica 
Costa Rican and United Nations flags — but not Canadian— fly over Casa Canada. 

Jordanians with false passports caught here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Jordanians on their way to Canada for unspecified purposes were tripped up at Juan Santamaría Airport Sunday by immigration, police and security officials.

The pair were accused of traveling on false passports. Marco Badilla, director general of Migración y Extranjería said the pair left their home country Sept. 5 and traveled to Spain, Cuba and then to Guatemala where they purchased the false documents.

Officials said the pair were tripped up because the false documents were not of the best quality even though they paid $1,000.

Badilla identified the two as Ismail Mohamad A. Nassar and Fawaz Ne Meh Mousa Laabawi. With

the false passports, the pair were trying to pass as citizens of France and Belgium, said officials.

Badilla said that the pair were very anxious to travel to Canada and they tried to bribe police at the airport with a considerable amount of cash to avoid arrest.

The pair were not charged here. Instead they were sent to el Salvador where the investigation will be continued.

The pair raised more than normal suspicions because, as Badilla said, they traveled all over Central America in an effort to go to Canada.

Migración agents and officers of the Policía Aeroportuaria participated in the detentions. Also involved was the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad Nacional, the security agency.


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President in New York
to give U.N. speech

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco will be speaking at the United Nations Tuesday as the 59th general assembly gets under way.

The UN General Assembly’s annual general debate is to be attended by some 100 Heads of State or government, said the United Nations.

Among other speakers will be U.S. President George Bush.

Wednesday Pacheco will be in Washington at the swearing in of former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez as secretary general of the Organization of American States.

Pacheco is being accompanied by his wife, first lady Leila Rodríguez de Pacheco, and Roberto Tovar Faja, minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Tica bowler again
seeking world title

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SINGAPORE — Marie Ramirez of Costa Rica, third place women’s finisher last year, will be competing again this year in the 2004 AMF Bowling World Cup, starting Dec. 5 here.

Ms.  Ramírez will join bowlers from 98 countries competing for titles in men’s and women’s divisions.

Afghanistan will send a bowler for the first time, the tourney announced. Afghani bowler Atiq Sikander is entered in the men’s
division of this, the 40th annual competition.

Response from a reader

CBS was after president
despite the evidence

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Hmmmmm… Let’s see now…  What do we have here? 

Seems that CBS and their ultra-liberal hit man, Mr. Rather, attacked President Bush, using forged and faked documents to "prove their point," then they denied that the documents were forgeries when the Truth began to emerge, then they admitted that maybe the documents were forgeries after all, then finally they showered us with the ultimate insult, an insistence that the network’s charges were valid even if the documents were blatant phonies.

Sr. Rather has had it in for the Bushs for years.  Remember his famous on-air skirmish with Papa Bush during the 1992 campaign?

Of course, this is the same Dan Rather who pretended to be a Mooj fighter crossing the Kyber Pass into Soviet-held Afghanistan over 20 years ago during his "Gunga Dan" phase…

I don’t know how it was in the States, but down here, the Gringos who are Democrats were dancing in the streets when the "document story" first saw the light of day on 60 Minutes II.  Some of the die-hards are still dancing to CBS’s latest tune.

What’s with CBS?  Apparently, the truth has taken a backseat in their intensity to broadcast any dirt on our president that comes their way.  Apparently, the defeat of the president in the upcoming election through the election of Senator Kerry is much more important to them.  To Hell with reputation!  To Hell with the public’s perception of 60 Minutes as a valid source of truthful results obtained through their investigative reporting. 

Mark my words.  Before this is over, CBS will admit they made a mistake.  However, don’t bet on Dan making this admission on behalf of the Network.  He’ll be off somewhere in the world, resurrecting his "Gunga Dan" persona for our entertainment…

For more on this story and a comment on the Kerry people's attack on the president regarding the expiration of the assault weapons law, see this  article by Brit Hume. 

Jim Edwards 
Alajuela Province
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Harris case gobbled up by Spanish-language press
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican tabloid sensational press took after Bruce Harris without mercy Saturday:

"Cayo Harris en Orgía con Jovencito," shrilled el Diario Extra as its main story. A rough translation is that Harris was fired after an orgy with a young man.

To that newspaper, Harris is the man who "stained the name of Costa Rica" by insisting that the country was a child sex destination.

La Nación was a bit more subdued: "Bruce Harris en escándalo sexual en Honduras."

The full implications of what Harris characterized as his resignation from Casa Alianza only became known Friday when Covenant House, the parent organization, said that he was fired for having a sexual encounter with a 19-year-old man in a Tegucigalpa, Honduras, motel.

Harris, 50, sent out his own e-mail message Thursday saying that he had resigned because he was tired of working as Latin American director for the child welfare organization. Attempts to find out the real reason for the abrupt and surprising announcement were not successful until Friday. A story here early Friday did not mention the sex allegations. A later update did.

Harris has exchanged brief e-mails with Spanish-language reporters, but he has not contacted A.M. Costa Rica, which has disagreed with him in the past on the extent of sexual tourism in Costa Rica.

Harris always was feisty and a hard-driver when the topic was child sex abuse. He has appeared on a number of television shows in Europe and North America stressing that theme. He was an adviser on the topic during the first months of the Abel Pacheco presidency, although he had not been seen lately at Casa Presidencial.

Harris supported a computer system now in place that would keep track of sexual predator tourists who could then be kept out of Central American nations.

A.M. Costa Rica always said that far more child sex abuse takes place among Costa Ricans than is generated by tourists. Casa Alianza seemed to eventually agree. 

Last week the organization said that it has filed 252 complaints, including 130 alleging commercial sexual exploitation of children. Some 82 complaints allege the abandonment of a child, and 29 say that adults were using children to transport or distribute, drugs. There was no mention of North Americans as suspects.

To some Costa Ricans in the judicial field, Harris’ predicament might disrupt efforts to combat paid child sex. He was the most visible individual. Casa Alianza is expected to continue its efforts to investigate and file complaints in sex crimes involving children.

A report from Honduras said that the youth with whom Harris is alleged to have had sex is a former client of Casa Alianza in that country. The youth lived at shelter run by the charity.

Harris insisted in his e-mail to La Nación that he was unaware of this connection when he picked the youth up on the street in July. The youth eventually told all to Casa Alianza officials there.

The case is under investigation by Honduran authorities, although Harris, again in his e-mail to La Nación, said he did not break any law by engaging the youth for sex.

In addition to child sexual abuse, Casa Alianza fights homelessness for children and other forms of exploitation, including child labor. In Honduras, the organization has complained bitterly about extra-official killings of street children by individuals presumed to be police.

Reader says that our Friday story was biased in favor of Harris
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Shouldn't the A.M. Costa Rica staff write with some more objectivity, especially when reporting about particularly sensitive news? 

Your story about "Sir" Bruce Harris, which run on 17 September, shall remain in my book as a classic of biased journalism.  There you admit that Mr. Harris is quite a controversial person and that opinions about him greatly vary.  Immediately thereafter, however, the A.M. Costa Rica staff sides with him.  Let me quote you: "Others detested him because they were involved in exploiting minors" - totally unnecessary phrase. Do you have evidence to back this claim of yours?  If so, why was it not included in the article? 

Shouldn't some decent people have the right to disagree with Mr. Harris and not being pointed fingers at?

Then you go on to beautify the case a "politically connected" [sic] Guatemalan adoptions attorney filed against Mr. Harris. What if that "politically connected" attorney is actually right?  (By the way, 
as you correctly stated, the case is still not over, as 

it currently is under appeal, and Covenant House's considerable PR and cash support to defend Mr. Harris is highly unlikely in the future to say the least).

To your dismay, and this is the point I wanted to make, the same day you publish your embellished note Harris accepts that the resignation you had reported about had nothing to do with his own free will, but was the result of Covenant House's discovery that he was paying a minor, formerly under protection from Covenant House in Honduras, to have sex with him. Had your reporting been more professional and less biased, you would not be in the uncomfortable position of having run such a positive note on a confessed minor abuser.

G. Romino
San Jose, Costa Rica
EDITOR’S NOTE: The full paragraph that the reader objected to read: "Although applauded by many, some expats thought that Harris overemphasized the role of foreign tourists in child exploitation. Some thought he was a publicity hound. Others detested him because they were involved in exploiting minors." Not everyone who 
disagreed with Harris, including A.M. Costa Rica, exploits children. 

The chip off the old block is a splinter here
De tal palo tal astilla 

Like the tree, so is the splinter. This is the Costa Rican equivalent of the English expression "like father, like son." This brings to mind another expression of similar meaning: Hijo de tigre sale pintado meaning the tiger shares his father’s stripes. These expressions provide a way of explaining a person’s (usually a man’s) characteristics and forms of behavior by linking them to his father.

I remember when I was a kid that my aunt used those expressions to refer to one of my friends. Since I didn’t quite get the meaning, I asked my mother what her sister was getting at. She replied that my aunt was only trying to draw a comparison between my friend and his father. Then I went to my friend and asked him who his father was. He told me he did not know. That put an end to my inquiry. I liked my friend and didn’t want to offend him. 

When you’re 8 years old, you don’t care much about such things, except when grown-ups start repeating such expressions in front of you and natural curiosity makes you want to know what’s going on. My assumption at the time was that my friend’s father was either a traveling salesman or simply from another planet. 

In any case I didn’t care. He was my friend and that was all that mattered. Then I came home once from school and my aunt was there again. I told my mother that Pablo was having problems at school because his two girlfriends where fighting over him. My aunt immediately gave my mom a knowing glance and said: Tal palo tal astilla. I shrugged, but my Mother saw the question marks in my eyes. 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

"What your aunt is trying to say," she explained, "is that Pablo’s father also had more then one girlfriend, and it has caused him a lot of trouble. She thinks that your friend Pablo will turn out to be like his father."  "Oh!" I said. "No, not Pablo. He’s a good person." My mother immediately corrected me, saying that Pablo’s father was also a good person.

The following year my older brother brought my nephew and niece to stay with us for a while. One day Pablo came over to play with us. He told me that my nephew and niece were his half brother and half sister. I said there was no way that could be. They are my brother’s kids. 

I won’t go into the rest of this saga here, but to make a long story short I can only say that if the stripes on the tiger were to represent each child, then my brother must look more like a black panther. I’m still counting his children.

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Charges finally leveled against Oswaldo Villalobos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio Público, the nation’s prosecutorial arm, has filed four charges, including one of money laundering, against Oswaldo Villalobos.

The money laundering allegation caused concern among Villalobos creditors because, if proved, the charge could lead to confiscation of funds all over the world.

Oswaldo and his brother, Luis Enrique, for years ran a high interest borrowing business that took money from thousands of  North Americans. Oswaldo is jailed, but his brother still is an international fugitive.

A spokesman for the judicial branch gave summaries of the charges Friday. They include:

* fraud, believed to be sparked by some 600 complaints filed by unhappy creditors who want their money back;

o illegal financial intermediation, which is believed to be operating as a lending institution without registration or authority;

 o authorizing illegal acts; and

o money laundering, or "legitimación de capitales," as it is called in Spanish.  The charge specifically cites a section of the anti-drug laws for this charge.

Oswaldo was jailed in November 2002 after his brother vanished. He was allowed to be detained in house arrest until February when he was again placed in prison. His preventative detention was due to expire Sept. 27 unless charges were filed or an extension granted.

Oswaldo ran the Ofinter money exchange houses, including one located in Mall San Pedro. To the rear of that operation, his brother accepted money and paid interest up to 3 percent a month. The high interest attracted many North Americans to Costa Rica.

The Judicial Investigating Organization has filed a report that says both Oswaldo and his brother, as well as others, were directly involved in the operation of the unregulated borrowing operation.

Although the Villalobos refused to tell creditors what they would do with the money, subsequent revelations suggest that they were involved in exchanging Colombian pesos for dollars.

One element that prosecutors will use in an attempt to prove fraud is that the brothers made a series of purchases of blue-chip securities that were paying a return well under what creditors were getting. 

Two creditor groups are active in trying to recover some of the estimated $1 billion that vanished when Luis Enrique Villalobos closed his doors Oct. 14, 2002.

One is the United Concerned Citizens and Residents of Costa Rica. This group believes that the Villalobos are being prosecuted unjustly by a vengeful government. This group has urged that charges be filed so that the Villalobos allegations could be aired in court. They expect the Villalobos to win in court, return and pay them the money owed.

This is the group that has hired lawyer José Miguel Villalobos Umaña to try to hobble the prosecution. Lawyer Villalobos, who has declared for presidency under the banner of a political party he is forming, has not posted a report to the group’s Web page since June. The group has paid him about $129,000 of a $300,000 fee.

A statement on the Web page this weekend basically said that the United and Concerned Citizens were waiting to see a summary of the allegations against Oswaldo. The text of the charges runs hundreds of pages.

A second group of creditors have sought the help of a Canadian law firm with the goal of bringing Costa Rica into international arbitration over the loss of their investment capital. Their forum would be the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

A criminal conviction against Oswaldo would be a major plus for Costa Rica in its efforts to avoid international arbitration. In addition, the creditors are fighting among themselves, and the law firm has had to send out a new contract because it appears that only Canadian citizens can spearhead an arbitration case due to existing treaty intricacies.

Although the money laundering allegation is based in anti-drug law, the prosecutor does not have to show a connection with drugs. At least a handful of North Americans placed money gained illegally into the control of Villalobos. One creditor, for example, was arrested on an unrelated fraud charge in the United States.

The investigation of the Villalobos had been under way since at least 2000. The Ofinter and lending offices were raided July 4, 2002, after Costa Rican officials got a request from Canadian authorities.

The Canadians were seeking information on Henri Bertrand St. Onge, who had brought money here from elsewhere. St. Onge died of natural causes before the raid, but associates were arrested, including his wife.

Villalobos supporters, including the lawyer Villalobos, have said repeatedly that the Canadian associates of St. Onge never have been convicted or never have been convicted of money laundering. That is technically correct. The Canadians pleaded guilty to more serious charges.

For example, one, Richard Rivers, 41, of Gatineau, Quebec, pleaded guilty June 17, 2003, to conspiracy to import nearly 600 kilograms of cocaine in return for a 131/2-year sentence.

Expect more downpours later in the afternoon today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacific coast and the Central Valley will be hit again today by late afternoon downpours. 

Sections of the country reeled under the heavy rain Saturday and some evacuations were made.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Panamá torrential rains Friday triggered flooding and mudslides that left at least 10 people dead and a dozen others missing. Hundreds of homes in Panamá City were reported damaged by the floods and thousands of capital area residents were left homeless. Authorities set 

up several sites for people to donate food, clothing and other supplies.

The hardest hit sections of Costa Rica were San Ramón and Palmares in Alajuela and Paraíso de Cartago. Families were evacuated in each area.

In San Ramón, the Río Grande overflowed and destroyed at least one home Saturday. Heavy rains all day Friday soaked the landscape setting up the areas for damage on Saturday.

Sunday was generally clear with minimal afternoon showers in the Central Valley

Jo Stuart
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