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These stories were published Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 209
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Immigration puts delinquent expats on notice
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials are beginning to give legal notification to expats that their years-old rentista and pensionado files are inadequate. Those notified have five days to reply.

Involved are the many foreigners who obtained their residency papers through a handful of lawyers who say they had a special agreement with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería is now rejecting that agreement and requiring expats to bring their files up to the legal requirements when they renew their residency status..

Ryan Piercy, manager of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica said that the first official notifications from immigration were carried to his office by affected expats Monday. He expressed concern that some non-Spanish speakers might simply disregard the letter or fail to bring it to their lawyer’s attention within the five-day time period.

The paper is a legal document and should not be ignored, Piercy said. 

Typically, the expat will get the letter when he or she visits the immigration offices in La Uruca with the expectation of picking up a renewed residency carnet. Piercy is involved because lawyers working on contract with the association prepared many residency applications.

Piercy has estimated that hundreds and perhaps more than a thousand expats are involved. Since rentista and pensionado carnets

have to be renewed every two years, immigration officials can eventually review the file of every expat involved.

For those who receive a warning letter from immigration the next step is to appeal the denial of a new carnet, which usually is valid for two years. Piercy said he does not think that immigration officials have the right to invalidate residency status once it has been awarded. He said the ultimate battle could be in the courts.

In an interview Tuesday, Piercy displayed a letter from the tourism institute that told an expat that as of June 1, 2002, all documents presented for residency must be original and verified by a Costa Rican consul. The letter is signed by Lorena Ortiz R., chief of the Departmento de Pensionados of the institute. This suggests that documents presented before that date did not have to be verified by a consul, Piercy said.

The deal that some lawyers had with the tourism institute was that the documents presented for residency could be notarized, usually by the same lawyer who prepared the application. These are the documents that immigration now is contesting.

Piercy said that immigration officials have been less than helpful in trying to resolve the problem.

The bottom line is that to retain these special forms of residency, the persons without documents validated by consuls in their home country will have to arrange for such validation. The cost is $40 a page.

Validating documents is lengthy and specific
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

New and renewing foreign residents of Costa Rica may find some confusion when they try to follow the rules to have their original documents validated by a Costa Rican consul.

Typically such documents are birth certificates, marriage certificates, police clearance letters and letters from banks showing the applicant is financially responsible.

A memo from the Costa Rican consulate in Atlanta, Ga., outlines a lengthy, specific process for validating such documents:

"Since not every document is issued by the secretary of state, it may be necessary to notarize a document first, then get the notary’s signature verified by the clerk of court where 
the notary’s signature is registered, and then

the secretary of state must seal the document issued by the court before it reaches the Costa Rican consulate. This lengthy process is known as ‘chain authentication,’ and is necessary to properly verify the initial signature on a given document."

The memo notes that such verification must be done by the consulate that has jurisdiction over a particular state and is familiar with the officials there.  In other words, consular officials in Atlanta cannot validate a marriage certificate from, perhaps, New York. That must be done at the New York consulate.

However, in one e-mail exchange the New York consulate was not very helpful. When asked specifically for policies on validating documents there, an employee simply directed one writer to the Web pages of the Direccion de Migración and the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores here.

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Slum conditions hit
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Health and police officials cracked down Tuesday on substandard housing in downtown San José. At the same time they grabbed  62 foreigners without valid papers and some 20 persons, including a murder suspect,  being sought for court appearances.

Officials said they found living quarters where animals were sharing the space and the food with children. And they located one small apartment where residents had to walk across a roof to enter.

In all, 44 locations were inspected, including hotels, pensions and rooming houses. The deficiencies in some cases caused the facilities to be less than the minimum to house humans, officials said. They cited bad odor, excessive humidity, bad lighting, lack of emergency exits and bad stairs. Most of the rooms that were cited are in the second floor of buildings where the stairways to reach them are too steep for children and older individuals, officials said.

In some cases, occupants ran the risk of falling six feet or more, officials said.

In other situations there were inadequate sanitary facilities for the number of persons housed there.

Making the inspections and raids were the Fuerza Pública, the Policía Municipal de San José, the Policía Especial de Migración, agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization, investigators for the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia and health inspectors from the Ministerio de Salud.

Of those detained by immigration, 49 were Nicaraguans and eight were from Ecuador. There was one each from Canada, Honduras, Colombia, El Salvador and Greece.

Among the 19 held to face justice was a Nicaraguan with the last names of Vado Aguirre, who faces a homicide charge, officials said.

Since the first of the year, at least 3,700 persons have been detained by officials making similar sweeps, and among them were at least 107 persons with arrest warrants outstanding, a Fuerza Pública spokesperson said.

Legislature to get
laws against terrorism

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch will propose changes in 30 articles of law to install more controls over the financing of terrorist activities, money laundering and recruitment for terrorist activities.

Rogelio Ramos announced this Tuesday at Casa Presidencial. The proposals that will have to be approved by legislators, are the product of a year-long story by a committee made up of representatives from a number of ministries.

Costa Rica is obligated by international agreements to make the changes in its local laws. The proposals would cover recruitment and terrorist activities here even if another country were the target, said a release from the Ministerio de Gobernación,  Policía y Seguridad Pública.,

Specifically the changes are to existing anti-drug laws that contain sections to counter money laundering and illicit associations. The changes would give the country the power to freeze bank accounts if terrorism were suspected.

$5 million offered
to save Americans

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States will be offering in a few weeks a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people involved in the kidnappings of four Americans in Colombia and the murder of one of those captives, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department confirmed Tuesday.

Responding to news reports about the reward, the spokesman said in an interview that the campaign for the reward is still being developed. The spokesman added that the reward will be administered by the State Department Office of Diplomatic Security's "Rewards for Justice" program.

The reward will expand on an existing initiative to assist the Americans being held in Colombia, begun earlier in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, said the spokesman. The reward would include the possibility of a U.S. visa for information leading to the location of the hostages, the spokesman said.

The State Department calls its Rewards for Justice program one of the "most valuable U.S. government assets in the fight against international terrorism," because "thousands of lives have been saved as a direct result" of its work.

Members of a left-wing rebel group in Colombia known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) killed Thomas Janis, the American pilot of a downed aircraft engaged in a counter-drug mission in the Andean country in February. The rebels also took hostage three other Americans who had been aboard the plane.

The U.S. government is "intensifying its efforts to punish the FARC for these crimes and prevent future ones," the State Department said.

Man survives drop
over Niagara Falls

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NIAGARA FALLS, Canada — Canadian authorities say a man has plunged over Niagara Falls without any protective gear and emerged apparently unharmed.  Witnesses say the man seemed calm Monday as he jumped into the water and was carried down the Niagara River toward the 54-meter (175-foot) waterfall. 

After the drop, he swam to shore and climbed onto a rock at the base of Horseshoe Falls.  Police say the unidentified man was taken to a hospital, where he was in stable condition. 

He is reportedly the first person to survive the plunge down the Canadian side of Niagara Falls without any kind of equipment. In 1960, a 7-year-old boy wearing a life preserver survived the fall, after a boating accident. 

More than a dozen daredevils have used barrels or other devices to go over the falls in the past 100 years, and several have lost their lives.  No one has survived a trip down the rockier American side of the falls. 

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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A personal account: An untold Villalobos story
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

There is a story about Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho that has not already been told. And it explains the reason I quickly became suspicious of him and his high-interest borrowing operation.

Shortly after I arrived here in September 2000 on leave from my college to serve as manager of The Tico Times, a former student followed me down. He wanted to learn Spanish and had a lot of spare time.

The student was not here a week before he came to me with a strange tale of a man borrowing money and paying 3 percent a month interest to a mostly North American clientele.

At first I did not believe him. Having been in business, I know that such a yield is not possible over time. My student continued to hang around the older North Americans who used to congregate at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica.

The story of the Villalobos operation at Mall San Pedro was not the most incredible story he recounted to me. But it was right up there.

One day as we were having lunch, he raised the issue of The Brothers investment opportunity and some of his new friends who were involved.

"We ought to look into it," was my off-hand comment. The student took the comment as a stronger statement than I intended. After all, at The Tico Times I had no role in the news department.

My former student must have mentioned our conversation to one of the Villalobos creditors because two days later a nice, young Spanish lawyer came to see me at my office in the newspaper. He was representing Luis Enrique Villalobos, he told me. He told me that Villalobos was very concerned that The Tico Times would do a story on him. The lawyer had photocopies of the May 1995 newspaper accounts of the attempted assassination of Villalobos by gunmen.

But there was more. The lawyer said that Villalobos also thought that the money exchange business and his helicopter business were under-advertised, so the lawyer was offering to buy a quarter-page ad every week for a year, a significant sum of money.

I quickly accepted, and agreed the The Tico Times would seek comments from Villalobos in the event it ever decided to do a story on him. That’s basic journalistic standard operating procedure. I was unaware, as were the news employees of The Tico Times, that the Keith Nash case was brewing behind the scenes.

I mentioned my conversation to Christine Pratt, the newspaper’s lead reporter, and she agreed that she would seek a comment from Villalobos when and if a story was ever done. She would have anyway, and we had no plans for such a story.

I was uncomfortable. As a general manager I had done my job and increased newspaper income. But why was an off-hand comment generating such interest?  Why was my off-hand comment to a student translating into thousands of dollars in advertising income?

The young lawyer spoke some English, and at the time I spoke some Spanish. As he was leaving I said: "You can tell me. What’s the deal?"

He assured me that he had no idea what Villalobos was doing with the money that he collected from North Americans. But he said in English: "All I can tell you is that I don’t have any money there."

That was good enough for me.

I left The Tico Times five months later — before Ms. Pratt bravely published news stories about Keith Nash’s efforts to get his money back. Villalobos sued her, in part because she suggested he was involved in money laundering.

It now turns out that even Costa Rican officials had their suspicions as long ago as 1995. Jack Caine of the Class Action Center just posted to his Web site a letter from the Policía de Control de Drogas, dated Dec. 2, 1996. 

In the letter Alvaro Calvo Olsen, then-acting director of the anti-drug unit and two investigators asked for help from the Superintendencia de Entidades Financieras which oversees banks.

The police called attention to the manner in which Villalobos, his brother Oswaldo Villalobos and their two helicopter companies were involved in borrowing money in a manner that suggested banking operations.

When the Nash case broke in The Tico Times, I was back in Colorado being a professor and applying for early retirement.  But Villalobos showed the public relations savvy that he had demonstrated in minor fashion with the Spanish lawyer. He engaged in a strong public relations effort to discredit Pratt, Nash and his son. Many of his creditors assisted in this effort.

Enrique Villalobos is now a fugitive. His brother is in custody. Nobody has said publicly what he was doing with the estimated $1 billion of creditor money in his charge.

But I am pretty sure that the list of Villalobos creditors does not contain the name of the nice Spanish lawyer. 


 
Pope designates 31 new Roman Catholic cardinals
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VATICAN CITY —  Pope John Paul II appointed 31 new cardinals during Mass at the Vatican Tuesday. The group of cardinals elects new popes. One new cardinal's name will remain secret. 

It was the ninth consistory of Pope John Paul's papacy. The ceremony was held in Saint Peter's Square under cloudy skies.  The pope appeared very tired after a week of events to mark the 25th anniversary of his election to the papacy. 

Friends and family members of the new cardinals as well as many pilgrims and tourists attended the two-hour service. During the Mass, the 83-year-old pope managed to utter just a few words. 

Pope John Paul did not himself read out the list of the names of the newly installed cardinals. And for the second time in just three days, he did not read the homily in a major celebration. 

The Vatican's secretary of state, Angelo Sodano read out the pope's message. The scarlet of a cardinal's robes evokes the color of blood and 

recalls the heroism of the martyrs, he said. The pope also said the new cardinals, from 22 different countries, reflect the multiplicity of the races and the cultures that characterize Christian people. 

The name of one of the 31 new cardinals was kept secret, an option normally used to protect a cardinal from possible hostile reaction in an anti-Vatican environment. 

Under Pope John Paul, the College of Cardinals has become more international and less Italian. But Europe retains the biggest bloc, followed by Latin America. 

The latest additions raised the number in the College of Cardinals to 194, but of these, only 135 are under 80 years of age and therefore eligible to vote for a successor to the pope. 

Due to the pope's failing health, many observers feel this was the pope's last chance to ensure his conservative stamp remains imprinted on the church. All but five of the existing cardinals have been appointed by Pope John Paul, making it likely that any immediate successors to the papacy will have his same views. 


 
World Bank report supports eco-friendly coffee
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A  new report on coffee, released last week by the World Bank, strongly supports the small farmer and what is being called sustainable coffee or eco-friendly coffee.

A new report is a study of 12 major markets. The report calls for environmental and social standards, improved governance structures, better communication channels, and price premiums for the coffee market to provide help to nearly a million coffee farmers, particularly small operators affected by the dramatic drop of international coffee prices.

"The coffee world has changed dramatically in the last decade and a half," said the report’s primary author, Daniele Giovannucci, World Bank senior consultant and market expert. "There is no doubt that at the beginning of the 21st century much of the world coffee economy is suffering. The striking emergence of dynamic market segments firmly place the coffee industry at the forefront in developing innovative responses that are relevant to the difficulties of rural development and trade in developing countries."

The share of sustainable coffees in each of the 11 most important European coffee markets is small, ranging from a low of 0.3 percent to 3.4 percent. Their 2002 market share in Japan is approximately 1.2 percent. 

Due to the small amount, average sales growth for sustainable coffees in recent years has easily been five times greater than that of conventional coffees in most of these major markets. By 2004, the major European sustainable coffee markets are conservatively expected to grow by about 55 to 65 percent from their 1999 level. In Japan, the recent interest in eco-friendly coffees on the part of some of the major roasters and large retailers could rapidly increase the availability of such coffees, the report said.

The report documents the fundamental features of the main sustainable coffee available today, as well as the state of their current markets. It calls for stricter guidelines and policies on what can be labeled organic, fair trade, and shade grown — collectively known as sustainable coffees — and says that this segment of the coffee market is growing significantly but is also in need of policy guidance to ensure that producers continue to benefit. 

Although coffees certified to these sustainability standards are not a universal panacea, they represent an increasingly important trend and are being adopted by consumer giants like Procter & Gamble, Ahold, and Starbucks, said the report.

"We are now witnessing the striking emergence of dynamic agricultural markets for differentiated products that were only tiny niche opportunities just a few years ago," said Martin Raine, 

agriculture and rural development sector leader in the World Bank’s Latin America and Caribbean Region. "Today, markets for organic, eco-friendly, and fair trade products are measured in the hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars, and are among the fastest-growing segments of the food industry."

According to Panos Varangis, lead economist in the agriculture and rural development department, "Coffee is arguably one of the world’s most important cash crops and is vital to the livelihood of more than 25 million small coffee farmers. Sustainable coffees can provide such benefits as improved natural resource management; fewer agrochemicals used in production, which decreases costs and health risks; and increased use of rural labor, which provides more jobs for those in desperate need."

The market for these coffees is small — less than 2 percent of consumption in developed markets, on average — but in 2002 sales of all coffees making credible sustainability claims were in excess of 1.1 million bags and growing. At the same time, it is the smaller farmers who tend to benefit much more from sustainable coffee market segments. Sustainable coffees around the world have already made significant headway toward improving the living conditions of almost a million farming households in the Southern Hemisphere.

What is unique about some of these products is that they are produced and marketed in sustainable ways and can provide even some of the world’s poorest farmers with significantly better opportunities, said the report.

After petroleum, coffee is one of the world’s most important commodities. This single crop represents more than 20 percent of export earnings for nine developing countries. It accounts for more than half of all export earnings in four countries. Approximately 25 million farmers depend on coffee incomes.

"This study shows both the need and opportunity for developing an international platform for defining sustainability in the coffee sector based on clarity, transparency, and . . . collaboration," Ms. Giovannucci added.

The report is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind, and examines the characteristics and trends of the sustainable coffee markets in 11 European markets. They are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Japan. This report follows on the heels of an earlier similar report that Ms. Giovannucci wrote which surveyed the North American market.

The study was published by the World Bank, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the International Coffee Organization, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.


 
 
Experts expect that SARS will make a comeback
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — Public health officials from around the world are meeting here to prepare for a possible return of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The experts say the world is better prepared for a new outbreak of the disease, but they point out that there is still a lot to learn about the virus and how it spreads.

The Geneva meeting has brought together dozens of specialists in a variety of health fields for two weeks to determine how to improve diagnosis, treatment, and containment of SARS.

World Health Organization figures show that the respiratory ailment infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 between last November and July. The vast majority of cases occurred in southern China, where the disease originated, and Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, and Canada.

In a telephone news briefing Tuesday from Geneva, Dr. Joseph Sung of the Chinese University of Hong Kong said most experts expect a return of SARS.

"A majority of the people in the group believes that there is a fair amount of chance that SARS will come back. But many countries have already implemented their precautionary measures," he said. "So, personally, I believe that if SARS ever comes back, it won't be such a massive outbreak as we had in the spring. But high vigilance should be kept."

Between now and Nov. 1, Dr. Sung and the other experts will decide what leading questions about SARS still need answering. Subgroups will focus on research priorities, laboratory issues, treatment methods, and prospects for vaccine development. One of the conference organizers is John MacKenzie, the head of the World Health Organization's laboratory group.

"We've been very successful in controlling the epidemic and finding the factors we needed to control the epidemic toward the end," he said. "Now we need to address ourselves to what might happen in the future. So the whole purpose of this meeting was to start to put together a list of major issues that we need to find more information about."

Among the key areas of interest are developing a standard diagnostic test for SARS to avoid 
confusing it with influenza or pneumonia, when to quarantine patients, and how to conduct clinical trials to identify the best cure. Dr. Sung says investigators must also determine how the coronavirus that causes SARS first infected people in China. An animal source is suspected, but how can the particular animal be identified?

"This is not an easy task because wild animals are difficult to follow. But we also realize that we have to follow animals on the farm as well as domestic animals," he said. "The other very useful surveillance is to monitor the animal handlers in the market and see whether there is any change in their disease pattern. I think this will be a very important research tool to early diagnose whether there will be a second outbreak coming."

Another topic at the Geneva meeting is how to keep laboratory samples of SARS out of the reach of bioterrorists. MacKenzie says the experts must suggest standards for choosing which laboratories hold strains of the virus.

"In terms of the biosafety, there should be some national process whereby laboratories have to get permission to either work with or hold the virus," he said. 

The Geneva meetings follow a recent World Health Organization report summarizing what public health experts have learned about SARS. The main conclusions are that the main route of transmission is not through the air, but by direct contact among people; that SARS rarely infects children; and that health care workers are at special risk.

Another finding useful for choosing treatment and containment options is that the risk of transmission is greatest around the 10th day of illness and disappears 10 days after fever ends.

Dr. John Nicoll of Britain's Health Protection Agency says such knowledge has provided the Geneva conference participants with some confidence that SARS can be contained again. 

"But there was no sense of overconfidence and we had no idea whether SARS will reappear," he said. "We felt we just need to make sure we were prepared."


 
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