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These stories were published Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 188
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Why are they in Costa Rica?
Baby case remains an enigma to investigators
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators still do not know what they are dealing with in the case of nine Guatemalan babies they found in a La Uruca home Sunday.

The most sensationalistic explanation is that the children were the pawns in some kind of international child trafficking network, but the line between trafficking and a legal adoption frequently is thin.

The babies range from two weeks to two years. At least one of the adults arrested, a Guatemalan woman, is pregnant and another is the mother of one of the babies, investigators said. In all, five Guatemalans and a Honduran man were arrested. Others with whom police would like to talk are in flight, agents said.

Guatemala has long been a source of babies in the estimated $60 million a year private adoption business. But last March 5 the country became a signatory to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The country eliminated the private adoption and the state asserted control over all adoptions.

Most officials favor state-controlled adoptions because there is protection of infants and certification of their origins. There also frequently is follow-up by social workers.

Guatemala ranks fourth behind China, Russia and South Korea for babies being adopted into the United States.

However, police have not discarded the possibility that some of the woman came here to have a native-born Costa Rica child and the immigration and social welfare protection that provides.

Also arrested was former lawyer and former Banco Anglo manager Carlos Hernán Robles because documents from his firm were found in the house. He told reporters as he was being arrested at his home that he represented a licensed adoption agency in Costa Rica.

He was off to prison Monday night after an appeals court reinstated a sentence stemming from the Banco Anglo failure. He got 25 years for misuse of state funds.

Trafficking in children generally implies stealing or otherwise taking the children without the permission of parents. However, some categorize trafficking when the women give birth to children specifically so that the child will be place for adoption for money.

A police source said Monday that at least four of the children had valid passports. However, 

the source also said that at least five children have been stolen from maternity hospitals in Costa Rica over the last few years. They have never been located.

Guatemala has published strict adoption rules on the Web site of its embassy in the United States. 

However, in that country and also in Costa Rica it would be possible to obtain adoption papers in an illegal way. Both countries also give preference to their own residents in adoption cases.

Although rumors of child trafficking has been current for at least three years, it was a neighbor who called police on the house in La Uruca. The neighbor was upset by the continual crying and what she said she thought was poor treatment of the children that she saw through a window.

Two weeks ago police detained a woman who was taking a young Honduran boy to La Uruca by taxi. The taxi driver became suspicious. Police later said that the pair’s documentation was in order. The woman said she had been paid to bring the boy to Costa Rica and suggested that the child’s mother thought life would be better here. Both arrived by bus.

Investigators in the latest case are checking to see how those arrested or taken into custody Sunday arrived here.

Two outstanding cases involving children also raised the specter of child trafficking.

Jessica Valverde Pineda, 4, vanished near her home in Los Guidos de Desamparados in  February 2002. She left her home walking to a nearby store and has not been seen since.

Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, 3, of San Miguel de Higuito in Desamparados was abducted June 4, 2002, and a taxi driver and a local guard have been convicted in the crime. The pair said they were just deliverymen and said they took the child either to Pavas or La Uruca.

The boy later turned up dead, and speculation centers on the possibility that the abductors killed him when they found out that his father was an agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

However, both children also were considered possible victims of molesters, too.

In the latest case, police here are coordinating with Guatemalan officials to try to locate parents and also find out the correct names of the youngsters.

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Search gets tricky for $30 million from The Vault
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Somewhere, perhaps in Nicaragua or maybe Europe, there may be as much as $30 million placed there by Vault operator Roy Taylor.

But the most active investor trying to find that money has pretty well given up. Kells Faulkner, the investor, said Monday that she is throwing up her hands and leaving it up to Costa Rican prosecutors to find any money that may have been part of Taylor’s operation.

She is convinced, based on a study of the ledgers and books of the Vault Holding Co. that at least $30 million came into Taylor’s hands since 2001. She herself contributed $3 million.

But because Taylor died June 24, hardly any cash assets have been located.

The Vault books show a steady procession of so-called loans and transfers from clients accounts. The books have an account for each client showing initial investment, subsequent investments and interest applied by the Vault. The company paid up to 4 percent a month to some clients. But the money was just paper profits.

In most accounts there are unexplained deductions called transfers or loans, and the destination of that money does not show up in other accounts as credits. The money was simply drained from the accounts.

Ms. Faulkner was one of two Vault investors who filed initial complaints against Taylor that led to police raids on his condo, offices and other holdings June 24. After Taylor shot himself while in police custody that day, Ms. Faulkner began an  aggressive effort to locate cash, in part to help other investors, she said.

But she said Monday that she has hit a brick wall. She said she is certain that Taylor vacuumed money from the Vault and the multitude of other corporations he managed. The question is where. There is not much of a paper trail. Taylor did most of his business in his head.

For nearly all the real estate linked to Taylor there are mortgage liens, including one on the headquarters on the downtown San José pedestrian mall just east of Calle 5.

Ms. Faulkner hired law students and others to conduct extensive searches of the Registro Nacional and other locations seeking Vault assets and assets of other corporations in which Taylor may have had an interest.

Ms. Faulkner said she also is depressed because she and her associate Rodney Strange have become the target of legal allegations. Once such rumor told to a reporter by someone close to other investors claimed that Ms. Faulkner actually was the owner of the Vault and that Taylor was her employee. 

That rumor fails to account for the fact that Taylor and the Vault were in business for several years before Ms. Faulkner arrived on the scene.

Taylor, himself, floated rumors about Ms. Faulkner and Strange in the week to 10 days before the raid on his operation. He told one downtown businessman that Faulkner and Strange had taken over the Vault and had fled town with all the money, the businessman said. This was at the same time that Taylor knew that the two investors were outlining their complaint to judicial investigators.

The interconnections of Taylor’s holdings are complex. And Ms. Faulkner added to the complexity by setting up two free-standing corporations that Taylor quickly incorporated into advertising for the Vault: Filthy McNasty’s and Crocodile Rock, both Jacó watering holes. However, she points out that she is the owner of both those corporations and invested significant sums of her own money to develop them.

One person who will not be searching for the money himself is Carlos Hernán Robles, former manager of Banco Anglo and a friend and adviser to Taylor. 

The Sala Tercera of the Corte Suprema de Justicia late Monday upheld a 25-year prison term levied against him for his role in the Banco Anglo collapse. The court ordered that he be taken in to custody along with other defendants, members of the board of directors of the failed institution.

Robles figured in another case just this Sunday when police began an investigation of his role in the presence of some nine Guatemalan babies here in Costa Rica. He said as he was taken into custody that he was involved with a group of lawyers who were running an adoption service.


 
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Measles are down
and rubella is next

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pan American Health Organization announced Monday the "successful elimination" of measles in the Americas and the beginning of a new effort to rid the region of rubella, also know as German measles.

The announcements, issued in a press release, were made by organization Director Mirta Roses Periago during the opening day of a week-long Washington meeting of hemispheric health ministers.

Dr. Walter Orenstein of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lauded the "remarkable progress" in reducing vaccine-preventable disease in the region. He pledged that the United States is firmly committed to efforts to eliminate rubella in the Americas by 2010. "We are proud to work in close partnership with PAHO on this honorable goal," Orenstein said.

Iranian agent charged
in Canadian’s death

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian intelligence ministry official has been charged in the death of a Canadian photojournalist who died in July as the result of head injuries officials say she sustained while in police custody. 

The judge heading the inquiry into the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi charged an unnamed intelligence ministry official with semi-premeditated murder. 

Ms. Kazemi was arrested in June while taking photographs outside a prison in Tehran. On July 10, she died in a Tehran hospital from head injures that Iranian officials said occurred while she was in custody.

The 54-year-old journalist had undergone 77 hours of interrogation before being rushed to the intensive care unit of an area hospital.

Initially, the prosecutor's office said Ms. Kazemi died of a stroke, but a commission appointed by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to investigate the murder said she died as the result of blows to the head.

The judge also ruled Monday that a second intelligence agent would not face any charges related to the death of the photojournalist. And he ruled that no government organization planned the murder.

Rodríguez to speak
at economic event

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former Costa Rica President Miguel Angel Rodríguez Echeverria will be a main speaker when the U.S. Federal Reserve, commonly referred to as "the Fed," hosts an Oct. 23 and 24 conference in Atlanta, Ga. The purpose of the meeting is to explore the effects of structural reform on economic growth and income distribution in Latin America.

The conference, entitled "Rethinking Structural Reform in Latin America," will examine reforms in governance, institutions, taxes, privatization, and labor conditions, as well as the relationship between reform and macro-economic stability in trade and finance.

In addition to Rodríguez, Inter-American Development Bank President Enrique Iglesias and scholars in economics from the World Bank and universities in the United States, Brazil, and Argentina will speak.

Rodríguez, who left office May 8, 2002,  is teaching in a Washington university, and the visibility can’t hurt his hopes to become the next general seceretary of the organization of American States.

The Fed's reserve bank in Atlanta is co-sponsoring the conference with the Inter-American Development Bank. The Fed, which is the central bank of the United States, consists of 12 reserve banks around the country and a Board of Governors in Washington. The Fed sets U.S. monetary policy, plays an important part in bank supervision and regulation, and operates a nationwide check payments system.

The Fed said in a statement that the process of structural reform in Latin America is "in doubt amid economic crises and waning public support." Reforms have been "uneven, varying across sectors and countries alike," said the Fed, adding that public "discontent" with reform in the region "arises in part from its distributional impact."

Quake rattles
Dominican Republic

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Dominican Republic — A powerful earthquake has rattled the country and damaged buildings. At least 13 people suffered injuries. 

The quake, which had a magnitude of 6.5, struck early Monday near the northern coastal city of Puerto Plata.  Buildings here were damaged. Officials evacuated a hospital that was also damaged. 

Argentina to force
creditors to discount

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The government has asked private creditors to slash most of the $94 billion debt owed to them. 

Economy Minister Robert Lavagna said Monday his government hopes to conclude a deal soon to boost economic growth.  Argentine officials say creditors could choose from four types of bonds. Lavagna says the plan to slash the debt by 75 percent is not negotiable.  Lavagna made the comments in Dubai, where the International Monetary Fund is holding its annual meeting. 

On Saturday, the fund approved a new multi-billion-dollar loan package for the financially troubled country.

He’s added to his record

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police arrested a man with a long police record Monday afternoon after he tried to cash an altered financial document, they said.

The man, identified by his last names of Blanco Núñez, has been arrested 39 times for offenses ranging from fraud to robbery, but he has only been convicted five times, four for robbery and once for fraud, police said.

Rock hits passenger

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Young men threw rocks at an Alajuelita-bound bus in Barrio Cuba about 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Minochka  de los Ángeles Castillo, 21, suffered a fracture when one rock broke through the glass of the window.

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U.S. now airlifts illegal immigrations to safety
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TUCSON, Ariz. — In an effort to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico, the U.S. government is airlifting immigrants captured in remote desert areas of the state of Arizona to less arid border regions of Texas. Then the immigrants are returned to Mexico from there. Border Patrol officials say this policy will reduce deaths in the desert. 

It used to be described as a revolving door. Immigrants captured after crossing the border in southern Arizona were repatriated back to Mexico at a nearby border crossing. Border Patrol agents would often catch those same immigrants again in the coming days. 

Now, the Border Patrol is chartering jet airplanes to fly the captured immigrants hundreds of kilometers away to Texas border crossings. The immigrants can then either try to cross in the relatively safer areas along the Texas border, or they can trek all the way back to the Sonoran desert along the Arizona border. 

The hope of U.S. officials is that many of them will give up, and thereby not put themselves in danger in the hostile desert area. Human Rights groups and migrant activists, however, say this policy just causes more hardship for poor people seeking work in the United States. 

Border Patrol spokesmen in Arizona say the airlift program is both a law enforcement and a humanitarian measure. Every year, dozens of migrants die in the desert area along the border in an area near this Arizona city, because of the intense heat and lack of water. Most have been abandoned on the trail by people smugglers. Border Patrol agent Patricia McGurk in Tucson says airlifting detained immigrants far away keeps them from going back to the people who got them in trouble in the first place. 

"When you take them back into the same area, what they are doing is going right back to the same smugglers who left them out there to die," she said. "We do not want to do that. We want to get them away from the smuggling organizations." 

Agent McGurk says smugglers are making millions of dollars every year by herding people across the border and pointing them north. Some immigrants make it, some are captured and some die. She says the smugglers are even resorting to stimulant drugs, like ephedra, that keep the migrants awake and moving faster over the rough trails. This, she says, has caused even more deaths. 

"The migrants are dying one or two miles into the United States," explained Ms. McGurk. "That is telling us that they are getting pushed so hard by the smugglers that they are just expiring. These pills, obviously, they [the smugglers] give to them [the migrants] to make them go faster, but drugs like ephedra, they dehydrate you." 

In response to this, Agent McGurk says the Border Patrol has increased its rescue and emergency medical capabilities. 

More than 130 immigrants have died so far this year in the Tucson sector. Heat exposure was the cause of death in more than half of those cases. There have been far fewer deaths along the eastern Texas border. Because of this, the Border Patrol views the airlift of immigrants to Texas from Arizona as a humanitarian effort. 

But immigrant advocates see it differently. Jonathan Jones of Proyecto Libertad, a privately funded legal services group in Harlingen, Texas, says U.S. immigration policy is to blame for the dangers immigrants face. 

"Border Patrol wants to couch some of its activity as a sort of humanitarian kind of thing, but it is more public relations than anything else," said Jones. "The fact is that, because of increased enforcement there is increased risk all along the border." 

Jones says stepped up enforcement in safer areas caused immigrants to cross in unsafe sectors. He says flying immigrants hundreds of kilometers from where they started puts an economic, as well as a physical burden on them. He acknowledges that the Border Patrol is only trying to do its job, and he says it is U.S. lawmakers who need to come up with a better system. 

"The disagreement, of course, would be with Congress," he said. "In fact, our enforcement policy just exacerbates a situation, and will not ever make it vanish and go away. 

Jones and other immigration activists favor some form of legalization for migrants seeking work in the United States. This is also favored by the Mexican government. There have been various proposals for a guest worker program, or some form of amnesty. 

But the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington two years ago have increased the calls to secure the borders. With an election year ahead in the United States, most observers see little opportunity for a change.


 
 
Dominican in U.S. sex slavery case gets prison
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. District Court in New Jersey has sentenced a native of the Dominican Republic to 44 months in prison for smuggling female juveniles from Mexico into the United States for the purpose of prostitution.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that the Dominican who was sentenced, Rafael Ruiz, is one of eight defendants being prosecuted in the investigation of a sex-trafficking ring.

The agency said the Mexican juveniles, as well as adult women, were lured into the sex-trafficking ring by false stories of a better life in the United States. The girls and young women were taken to New Jersey, where agents said they were forced into a "brutal life" of prostitution compounded by fear, threats, and physical force.

Of the eight defendants prosecuted in the New Jersey case, six have been arrested and convicted, while two others are fugitives being sought by agents.

The case involves what the U.S. State Department calls a modern-day form of slavery, involving victims who are typically forced, defrauded, or coerced into sexual or labor exploitation. The Department said trafficking in persons is among the fastest-growing criminal activities, both globally and within individual countries, in which every year at least 700,000 people -- mostly women and children -- are trafficked worldwide, including 50,000 persons into the United States.

The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, adopted in October 2000, provides the tools to 

combat trafficking in persons, both worldwide and domestically. The State Department said the Act authorized the establishment of an office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons and a presidential inter-agency task force to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts.

In that regard, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher announced that the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Belize, and Suriname were among 10 countries that the United States said have made "important progress" over the last three months "in the fight to abolish modern-day slavery." The other countries named by Boucher were Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

"In every one of these countries, public officials, including in some cases heads of states, foreign ministers, and other cabinet officials, spoke out on this emerging human rights issue," Boucher said. "These positive actions deserve our recognition and support."

The sentencing of Rafael Ruiz is significant "because it sends a message that those who smuggle humans for the purpose of prostitution will be investigated and penalized vigorously," said Special Agent John Torres. "The rights of these young women were severely violated by Ruiz and the others involved in this heinous act."

Torres added that what happened in New Jersey is a "chilling example of how innocent women can be lured into a life of sexual slavery by false tales of gifts, marriage, and a new life in the United States." The case, he said, shows why the U.S. government works so hard to dismantle smuggling operations that exploit innocent people.


 
Trade pact holds many benefits, Noriega says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The creation of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement could yield considerable economic and political benefits not only for the region but for the entire Western Hemisphere.

That’s the view of Roger Noriega, the U.S. assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

In a speech here, Noriega said the negotiation of the Central American trade treaty, known as CAFTA, "is one of the biggest items on the hemispheric agenda." He said the ongoing trade negotiations are significant not only because they are addressing sensitive subjects such as labor rights and agriculture rules, but also because the agreement holds great potential for the region.

"CAFTA is big also because of the huge potential benefits in both the economic and political spheres for the countries involved and for the hemisphere as a whole," Noriega said.

In view of CAFTA's importance, Noriega said, the Bush Administration has given the negotiations "high priority" and established an ambitious schedule for completing the trade agreement with the five participating Central American nations: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The final round of negotiations will take place in Central America in December.

Noriega said the Bush Administration anticipates negotiating the inclusion of the Dominican Republic in the treaty by early 2004, and the White House hopes to submit the complete agreement for congressional approval by mid-2004.

The assistant secretary of state said that the eventual CAFTA agreement will be "state-of-the-art" and will reflect the latest developments in international trade law. He cited the recently concluded U.S. trade agreements with Chile and Singapore as models for CAFTA. A significant additional element of the CAFTA, he said, will be trade capacity-building.

"We recognize that the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic need assistance — far more than do Singapore and Chile — to fulfill their new obligations under the CAFTA and to fully exploit the opportunities opened up by the agreement," Noriega said.

He said the ultimate goal of the CAFTA will be to open and integrate the seven member economies, but added that he expects the benefits will be broader. "The potential impact of the agreement will likely go far beyond trade, giving a major impulse to economic development and political maturity," he said.

Noriega cited Mexico's experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement  as an example of the indirect, but important, role that trade can play in opening political systems.

Noriega concluded that free trade is a powerful tool for economic and political development, but he cautioned that agreements must be complemented by other appropriate policies. He said business must also adapt in order to succeed in a free-trade environment. Finally, he encouraged the private sector and regional governments to forge partnerships to address the "interlocking challenges of economic growth, political progress and social well-being."

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