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Jo Stuart
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These stories were published Thursday, Sept. 27, 2001
Four legs 
of economy
now shaky

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's economy stands on four once-sturdy legs. They are bananas, coffee, microchips and tourism.

The banana market has been so bad that plantation operators have been abandoning their holdings and giving them back to the national banks, in part due to changes in importation rules by the European Union.

A.M. Costa Rica photos
Romel Garcia at his stand full of tourist goods.

Coffee continues to set new lows on the world market, in part because Vietnam has become a strong competitor. The price of a quintal (about 101 pounds) of coffee beans tumbled below $50 this week. Growers say that's about half of what it costs to produce the beans.

The country's microchip production is facing a slowdown brought on mostly by the collapse of the dot-com companies in the United States. Surplus computers on the market added to the weaker demand for computer products.

But, Costa Ricans said, we always have tourism. And in the first half of this year tourism to Costa Rica was up nearly 9 percent, said the Costa Rican Tourism Institute. The country was hoping to host a million visitors.

Then terrorists used passenger jets to attack targets in New York and Washington. Those attacks grounded U.S., Canadian and international flights for five days, and it spread fear among would-be travelers. Tourists were trapped here. Other tourists could not come for those five days.

Then when travel resumed, U.S. tourists arrived with tales of being on international flights filled to only 20 percent of capacity. In the United States some passengers refused to board passenger jets if fellow passengers had a Middle Eastern look because the suicide terrorists were from that part of the globe.

Before the attack some hotels reported occupancy in an 80 to 90 percent 

Vendors feeling the brunt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You cannot get much more basic as a tourism industry than the vendors who maintain stands under a rusting corrugated roof between Avenida Principal and Avenida 2 just west of the Plaza of Democracy. 

The site is under the gaze of the Bella Vista Fortress that is now the National Museum.

Dozens of vendors and artisans have worked here since the municipal government dictated that they were too much of a nuisance and too messy to continue their sales in the vicinity of the Plaza of Culture adjacent to the National Theater.

That's where Romel Garcia sells wooden masks and other tourism goods.

What was once a marginal business due to its poor location is now just plan bad. "I'm getting ready to look for a job," said Garcia.

Many of his colleagues would agree, although about four or five tourist had managed to find the stands during a period after lunch Wednesday.

Garcia disagreed with Costa Rican officials who estimate the loss in tourism to be about 36 percent. It's at least 50 percent, he said. Plus, he is not too certain that the scare now affecting airline traffic will not be shared by those who take cruises.

Cruise ships dock in Limón on the Caribbean and at Putarenas on the  Pacific, and their passengers are bused to San José and Moravia to shop in  the tourist markets. "If they take over a plane, they can take a boat," said Garcia of terrorists as he speculated on the thinking of cruise passengers.

The sales earlier this week were mostly due to the influx of Spanish visitors who vacation here during September, he said, although one U.S. citizen was seen stocking up on tourist goods in anticipation of his return to the States Monday. 

range even though August and September are considered low season.
Now they are talking about 50 percent occupancy rates and less. And the cancelations for Christmas and New Year's high season are starting to roll in.

The situation this week was moderated somewhat by an influx of Spanish tourists because there is a vacation period now in that country. Other Europeans are expected for the next four weeks.

Costa Rica has taken action. The minister of tourism, Walter Niehaus Bonilla, has asked tourist businesses,  mostly hotels, to cut their rates 25 percent for Costa Ricans and also for foreign tourists. 

In addition, the country will invest more than 500 million colons ($1.5 million) in promoting the country as a tourist destination internationally. And President Miguel Angel Rodríguez has asked the government of Spain to authorize direct flights so that Spanish tourists do not have to land in the United States.

At the same time the president asked U.S. President George Bush to offer the same concessions to Costa Rican airlines that are being offered to U.S. Flag companies.

Tourist goods are sold here east of San José center.

Lights, camera, action!

You want to play chicken? Well you always could at the Los Anonos bridge. That's the narrow structure over the Rio Tiribi east of Escazú

In the past you were on your own to hurtle your car toward an oncoming vehicle. But today you can do so high tech.  Workmen have installed traffic lights at each end of the bridge.  The theory presumably would be that a driver would stop his car when he saw a red light. Or he would go ahead onto the one-lane-plus bridge if he had a green light.

What a concept!  Except few people are paying attention.

Plus the lights do not last long enough to allow law abiders headed one way to clear the bridge for those going the other direction.  Now you can hurdle your car at an oncoming vehicle with the permission of a traffic light.

Mystery classic
new production
of theater group

Tomorrow The Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica opens Agatha Christie's masterpiece of murder and suspense "Ten Little Indians."

Directed by Ann Antkiw, the play runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Oct. 14.  Curtain time on Friday and Saturday nights is 7:30 p.m., and on Sundays the show is at 2:30 p.m.

There are some fresh faces in the cast along with some seasoned players, the group said, adding that tickets are selling fast and reservations are available at 289-3910. 

The theater is attached to a private home in Bello Horizonte south of the old road to Escazú from La  Sabana. 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Cast members of 'Ten Little Indians' pose for their official photo by Flora Versteeg at the theater in Bello Horizonte at Wednesday night's dress rehersal.
The cast, in order of appearance, is:
Rogers.........................Dal Warkinton
Narracott................Christopher Crane
Mrs. Rogers................ Dorothy Galton
Vera Claythorne..............Lisa DeFuso Philip Lombard.......Joseph Loveday
Anthony Marston.........Daniel Solero
William Blore.................Tim Hawkins
General McKenzie........David Garrett
Emily Brent.............................Jo Stuart
Sir Lawrence Wargrave........................Sidney Glazer
Dr. Armstrong..................Susan Liang
Tico car-theft, fraud ring is being dismantled
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Authorities are cracking down on what they say is a complex web of car thieves, public officials, crooked lawyers, forgers and businessmen.

Investigators arrested nine persons Wednesday and said they were implicated in bringing stolen cars into Costa Rica from the United States and Guatemala. In connivance with crooked lawyers and perhaps public officials the thieves would change the papers of the stolen cars to gain ownership.

In addition, police said the gang engaged in fraud against the National Insurance Institute, the insurance monopoly, by substituting wrecked vehicle frames for insured vehicles. They collected 800 million colons ($2.4 million) that way, according to Lic. Jorge Rojas Vargas, subdirector of the Judicial Investigation Organization.

Those arrested, according to police, are:

o Juan Antonio Rodrígues, 27, owner of Acero ROAC in Alajuela. He was described as the leader of the gang;

o Eddy Alberto Murillo Rodrígues, 28, who was arrested in Santa Ana;

o Carlos Orlando Villalobos Ugalde, 27, described as a lawyer who was arrested in Sarchí;

o Javier Miguel Santibáñez, 40, another lawyer, arrested in Barrio Don Bosco;

o Yasmín Ivonne Herrera Mahomar, 39, another lawyer arrested in La Uruca;

o Alber Santos Soto Otarola, 41, arrested in Esparza;

o Denis Ricardo Hine Centeno, 41, arrested in Pavas; 

o Blanco Rosa Vega Araya, 51, arrested in Esparza, and

o Luis Eduardo Gonzáles Vega, 22, also arrested in Esparza.

According to Rojas, at least 10 more persons are being sought, and the scope of the operation suggests that many more people were involved, including persons who may work at the Registro 

National where the country's ownership records are kept.

When asked how such cases could happen when a car must be inspected and be photographed in order to obtain insurance, Rojas admitted that police also are seeking suspects within the National Insurance Institute as well as technical persons who would certify the numbers and condition of vehicles for registration and insurance.

He said the scope of criminal charges would include fraud, illicit association, tampering with vehicle numbers, preparation of false documents and insurance fraud.

Police seized 13 vehicles when they made the arrests. Many, many more may have been handled by the gang, and many of these might have duplicate ownership papers.

Rojas outlined a complex operation that made money a number of ways. With late-model vehicles stolen in Guatemala and the United States the crooks simply would change the numbers on the suspect vehicle to conform to a vehicle already on the road in Costa Rica. There may be a number of such twins on the road now, each being legitimized by a record in the Registro National.

Other vehicles would be stolen here and the ownership records changed. The job of the lawyers would be to prepare the documents to legitimize the stolen cars.

Sometimes such falsely documented vehicles would be sold in Costa Rica or internationally. 

Sometimes the thieves would simulate a robbery of a vehicle and collect insurance money. The allegedly stolen car would have a new life under different papers.

Rojas said the case began a year ago simply as an investigation of stolen cars. Soon the case grew into one of fraud.

As a result of the ring and their multiple scams to defraud the National Insurance Institute, Rojas said that investigators no longer have faith in the national statistics about stolen cars because the false claims have inflated the numbers.

Tougher U.S. laws urged against money laundering
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON A top U.S. Department of Justice official and a senator from Michigan urged Congress Wednesday to approve tougher laws against money laundering as a necessary tool against terrorism and other forms of international crime.

In Senate testimony, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff noted that the Bush Administration's response to the terrorist attacks against the United States included creation of an interagency group that will investigate the financial activities of the terrorists and their supporters.

He told the Senate Banking Committee that current U.S. money laundering laws are woefully out of date, and urged quick action on a series of legislative changes proposed by the Bush Administration.

These include reforms that would make it illegal for U.S. institutions to launder the proceeds of foreign crimes. "Simply put, we do not want to be a safe haven for the ill-gotten gains of corrupt international bribe-takers or for terrorists who commit violent acts abroad," he said.

"Tightening our money laundering laws will strike a blow against terrorism, because a consensus has emerged that any effective anti-terrorism campaign must include tracking the money supply that funds terrorism and shutting it down," said  Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan.

Of particular concern are so-called "correspondent" accounts arranged by foreign banks of dubious origin, Levin noted. "For example, if a bank in London has a client who wants U.S. dollars available to him or her in the United States, the London bank needs a correspondent relationship with a U.S. bank willing to make those dollars available in the United States," he explained. 

"We found that U.S. banks often perform an inadequate background review of the foreign 

banks seeking to open a correspondent account in the United States."

Chertoff stressed in his testimony that the proposed reforms would target a wide range of international criminal activities. "When we talk about money laundering ... we talk not only about terrorists, but we talk about international organized crime, international drug dealing, international corruption not only because these are bad in themselves, but because, frankly, we can't differentiate between terrorism and organized crime and drug dealing."

Hurricane Juliette
appears to be weaker

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. weather forecasters say Hurricane Juliette is weakening but remains a large and powerful system as it moves northwest along Mexico's Pacific coast.

At last report, the storm was centered about 380 kilometers south of the resort city of Cabo San Lucas, in the Baja California area.

The National Hurricane Center in Florida says the storm is packing winds of up to 195 kilometers per hour and moving at about 16 kilometers per hour.

The center also says conditions in southern Baja California may worsen, with rains triggering mudslides and flash floods. Weather forecasters also say the rainfall is expected to gradually taper off.

Woman was shot in robbery

A woman injured Tuesday afternoon in Rohrmoser was shot by robbers at Cafeteria Berraca, said police. they identified her as Karla María Tardaucia. 

She was injured when two robbers came in, ordered staff and customers to the floor and then shot her. They took about 75,000 colons (about $225).

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