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These stories were published Monday, Oct. 28, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 213
Jo Stuart
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Meeting drew a full house of investors with Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
Villalobos turnout fills room and then some
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A meeting for Villalobos investors attracted about 500 persons to a downtown hotel Sunday where they heard requests for patience.

The group was United Concerned Citizens, Residents & Friends of Costa Rica, one of at least four such groups set up after Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho closed his investment office Oct. 14. The turnout was heavily North American, as was the Villalobos clientele.

Attendee Charles Zeller of the moving firm ABC Mundanzas expressed the group’s mood:

"What can be done so it continues as it was?" 

"As it was" was a system that for more than 20 years allowed many foreign residents and visitors here to collect on their investments up to 3 percent a month, frequently paid in cash in manila envelopes.

This system came to a halt July 4 when investigators raided the Villalobos offices in the Mall San Pedro and froze some 50 bank accounts here. Interest payments continued for two months, but then Oct. 14 Villalobos closed his office and adopted a low profile.

The investor group said it was planning a media blitz to tell the Costa Rican general public of the possible negative financial impact of a continued freeze on the Villalobos operation. They also are considering a march Nov. 7.

One speaker estimated that spinoff from the Villalobos investment firm contributed $500 million a year to Costa Rica’s gross national product.

One member of the steering committee, who identified herself as Susan, told the crowd: "Villalobos is not our enemy. We are on the same side." Her comments were met with prolonged applause, as were other pro-Villalobos sentiments.

Many members of the group were shy about using their last names or having their photographs printed. That may be because many investors never paid Costa Rican taxes on their interest and many U.S. investors never paid required taxes to United States officials.

The rooms at the Aurola Holiday Inn overflowed into the hall. About 420 seats had been set up inside, and the organizers’ estimate of 500 attendees was reasonable.

A member of the steering committee who identified himself as Arturo said two investors already had committed suicide because they did not have enough money. However, he could not provide details when contacted afterwards. Suicide, however, is a common theme among older investors who have all their cash tied up with Villalobos. The group Sunday created a support committee to deal with distraught investors.

Others expressed concern about losing apartments, missing mortgage payments and maintaining Costa Rican domestic employees.

The organization also passed the hat and collected nearly $7,000 from the crowd. This money will be used to put on the media campaign and also to hire a public relations-lobbying firm to make personal contact with national deputies, organizers said.

The investors are seeking to carry their case to President Abel Pacheco and other high-ranking members of the executive and legislative branches in the hopes these people can intercede with judicial officials and prevent the confiscation of the Villalobos accounts.

The crowd was tickled when one organizer, John Manners, suggested that Villalobos be made commissioner of banking for Costa Rica.  "No, president," others shouted.

Jorge Gutiérrez, Partido Libertario candidate for mayor of Santa Ana and a merchant there, announced his support at the meeting. He urged investors to call on local government officials to press their case.

Many investors were suspicious of a report in an English-language weekly that encouraged investors to divulge personal information and to file a claim with prosecutors. One audience member called this a trap to trick investors into providing information damaging to Villalobos.

Most also were opposed to legal action that has been proposed by other groups. "If one of us goes and files suit . . . we are all entangled,"

Letters about Villalobos

said Susan. Investors fear legal action will tie up the money for years.

To emphasize the disdain for lawyers, John Moore, a retired pharmacist from Florida said he lost $10,000 in a bank failure when he first arrived here. Some seven years later he only got back $1,600, and much of the money was grabbed by lawyers, he said.

He is a member of the International Baptist Church of which Villalobos also is a member. He said that Villalobos intends to pay his investors back interest and to reopen his investment firm when legal authorities let him. He said he based his beliefs on an e-mail received from Villalobos.

In the meantime, Villalobos is prepared to pay basic expenses for his investors until he sets up a new office, Moore said.

That statement was met with applause by the crowd.

Moore said that hiring lawyers would impede these plans. The main problem now is that if Villalobos opens up a local bank account to make payments, officials will freeze it also, he said.

Moore also said that his original agreement with Villalobos was that the pair would split 50-50 income generated by his investment. Since Villalobos pays about 36 percent per year, that would mean he is earning about 72 percent a year on the estimated $1 billion or more in total investments.

"Anybody who  thinks this is a 20-year ponzi scheme is stupid," yelled one audience member, referring to a scam in which interest payments are made for a time from new investments.

Some investors expressed discomfort at the revelation that the frozen Villalobos accounts in Costa Rica contain just $6 million. If that is all the money that is available for distribution each investor would get a pittance, said one speaker.

They also expressed discomfort that the Villalobos investigation has changed from a probe of money laundering to one of banking violations. Some speakers suggested that the Costa Rican banking establishment was behind the investigation. Actually, two investigations are being conducted. One is headed by Walter Espinoza of the drug section of the office of the fiscal or public prosecutor. A second is being done by members of the Sección de delitos economicos y financieros of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The original raid came on a request from Canada that the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house be searched for information connecting it with six Canadians who now face money laundering and drug smuggling allegations there. Osvaldo Villalobos owns the Ofinter firm. Luis Enrique Villalobos, his brother, operates from adjacent offices at the Ofinter Mall San Pedro location. Why his offices were included in the search never has been made clear, but the possibility exists that the same Canadians who transferred $380,000 via Ofinter also made deposits to accounts with Enrique Villalobos.

Confiscation laws in Costa Rica and in other countries, principally the United States, would enable authorities to seize the Villalobos assets if even a small amount of tainted money is found there. The media blitz and public relations campaign is mainly to prevent this outcome.

A court hearing on continuing the freeze is set for Nov. 26. Most of the investors seemed willing to wait that long before taking legal action against Villalobos.

The group established a telephone number at an answering service: (506) 282-1681 and a Web page. 

Meanwhile, also Sunday lawyer Gregory Kearney Lawson announced that he is forming a group of investors in an effort to obtain principal and interest form Villalobos.

Another individual, Fernán González Nieto, placed an advertisement in La Nación Sunday announcing a meeting of investors for the Costa Rica Tennis club in Sabana Sur for Tuesday at 9 a.m.

They join Investment Recovery Center, a group of various professionals, and at least one other group not yet clearly identified, that seek various ways of getting their clients’ money returned.

A.M. Costa Rica’s first Halloween story contest

Since Halloween is not really celebrated in Costa Rica, we thought we would help to get everybody into the spirit.
We are looking for your original horror stories of 1,000 words or less.

Sure, you can scare the bejeezus out of a group of boy scouts around a campfire, but can you frighten our readers?

The stories will be judged by the A.M. editor and staff on the basis of their originality and spook-factor. Extra points will be awarded to stories related to Costa Rica.

The scariest will be published in our Oct. 31 edition, and the winner will receive $25. The deadline for submissions is Tomorrow by midnight. Send your spooky stories to editor@amcostarica.com

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Canadian shot as he defended himself, says friend
By Bryan Kay
of A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Canadian shot in Heredia last Tuesday morning may have been killed because he tried to defend himself, according to the friend who was with him when the incident occurred.

The friend said Friday that Bradley Michael Whipple had “action” with the assailants, and “moved his arms” when they approached him. The incident occurred on Calle 7, between Avenidas 6 and 8. This area is also known as Radial Pirro. 

The friend, a Costa Rican male, also said that Whipple said something in Spanish to their assailants, but he can’t remember what. He said he thought it was because Whipple was scared and didn’t have experience of this type of situation. The friend said: “I think he wanted to defend himself.”

The friend, who feared being identified, wasn’t hurt in the incident. On the contrary, the friend said he recognized the danger because he had a similar experience six months ago.

Similarly, Alfredo Jimenez, a watch commander at the ambulance depot in Heredia, said that his colleague, who attended the scene of the incident, told him that Whipple may have tried to defend  himself, but the friend didn’t.

When the paramedics arrived, Whipple was already dead, said Jimenez. And according to Wilberth Charpentier, assistant director in Heredia for Fuerza Pública, the paramedics didn’t realize that Whipple had been the victim of a gunshot wound. It wasn’t until he arrived in the hospital, said Charpentier, where doctors tended to the body, that the wound — on the back of the body — was discovered.

Fuerza Pública officials in Heredia said that the

A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay
José Silva is cab driver looking at the spot where Canadian fought back.

area where Whipple was killed is known for lots of fighting. They said they always receive calls. In Heredia, said Lt. Jaime Acuña, there are around 20 murders per year.

A fellow English teacher at the university where Whipple worked expressed her shock at learning of his death. The woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that Whipple’s life was “a terrible, tragic loss” and that “everyone feels so sorry.”

She said: “ It’s strange his life ended this way, because I bet he’d never had a fight in his life before.”

The woman, who described herself as quite close to Whipple, said that the teachers at the university are planning a memorial, “hopefully next Saturday.” She added that a church in the Fatima neighborhood of Heredia is dedicating its regular Sunday Mass, at 6 p.m., to Whipple.

Senator’s death
reverberates here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Democrats Abroad in Costa Rica were surprised by the death Friday of Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, a fellow Democrat. 

Wellstone was the candidate to whom the organization decided to donate money for his re-election campaign for Senate. Jerry Karl, co-president of the Democrats Abroad, said the group sent $150.

The Democrats chose Wellstone because his convictions made him worthy of support, according to Karl. He said Wellstone represented democratic values and always fought for the common man. 

Karl called the 58-year-old senator’s death a "shock." Wellstone was killed in a plane crash while campaigning in Minnesota. The day was snowy and freezing rain was falling. The senator’s wife and daughter also were killed. 

Karl said Wellstone was a profile in courage during these troubling and confusing times. He noted the senator’s unpopular stand against war with Iraq as an example of the senator’s strength behind his convictions.

No stand-in for the senator has been announced. Democrats Abroad most likely will discuss the death when they meet at 11 a.m. today in the Gran Hotel Costa Rica.

Leftist candidate wins
presidency in Brazil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazil's leftist presidential candidate Luis Inacio da Silva has won a landslide victory that gives Latin America's biggest country its first working-class leader. 

Mr. da Silva, who is widely known as Lula, was elected Sunday in a runoff election with 61 percent of the vote. His government-backed rival, Jose Serra, took 39 percent and conceded defeat. 

Minutes after the last polls closed, thousands of da Silva supporters massed in the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, jubilantly waving the red flag of his Workers' Party. 

In a victory speech, President-elect da Silva said he will be the president of all Brazilians. The president-elect also urged business leaders, unionists and other Brazilians to help build a more just society. 

Mr. da Silva's victory represents a major shift in Latin America, by bringing to power a left-wing president for the first time since the early 1960's. 

World leaders and financial markets have closely tracked the election for its impact on investment and trade negotiations in the Americas and with Europe. Mr. da Silva says he will respect international commitments and maintain anti-inflationary policies. 

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush congratulates the winner of the election and looks forward to working productively with Brazil. 

President-elect da Silva campaigned on a platform of social reforms in a country marked by deep divisions between rich and poor. He pledges to revive the economy and enact more social programs to reduce poverty. 

Mr. da Silva was making his fourth run for the presidency. In contrast to his previous campaigns, Mr. da Silva moderated his leftist views and moved himself and his Workers' Party toward the political center. 

Summit ends with
pledge against terror

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LOS CABOS, Mexico — The nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have concluded their summit with pledges to cooperate more closely in the fight against terrorism.

The meeting also provided an opportunity for President George W. Bush to advance his efforts to disarm Iraq and persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

In the final statement from this summit, read by Vicente Fox, Mexican president, the leaders of the 21 Pacific Rim nations pledged themselves to reduce trade barriers, streamline commerce and work together against terrorism. In regard to the latter, the statement made reference to the deadly bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines in the days before the meeting began.

"We condemn in the strongest terms recent terrorist acts in the APEC region, and reaffirm our determination to enhance cooperation in countering and responding to terrorism," Fox said. 

In private meetings here, President Bush discussed both the North Korea nuclear weapons program and the possible use of force against Iraq. Although members at the summit backed him in calling on North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program, there were no firm commitments on the issue of Iraq. 

United Nations Security Council permanent members Russia and France have opposed the U.S.-proposed resolution that would authorize the use of force, if Iraq fails to comply with weapons inspections. Vladimir Putin, Russian president, was to have been here for this meeting, but he cancelled his trip, because of the hostage-taking incident last week at a Moscow theater.

Summit leaders backed a U.S. proposal called Secure Trade in the APEC Region to protect key transport, finance and information systems from terrorists. Among the components of the trade proposal are strict security measures at seaports and airports to prevent terrorists from concealing weapons or other dangerous materials in legitimate shipments.

The leaders also agreed to work together to choke off terrorist financing and to enhance Internet security.

One of the specific actions to be taken under the U.S.-proposal is the forwarding of passenger lists for all boats and planes leaving one Pacific Rim nation bound for another. The plan also includes the eventual installation of special scanning devices to check cargo shipments, before they leave a port.

In order to attack terrorist financing, the member nations agreed to improve monitoring of non-profit organizations and informal banking networks that have sometimes been used by terrorists.

Security at this summit was tight. Some 3,000 Mexican soldiers and police officers were posted around the area for the event, and Mexican navy ships could be seen in the waters off the coast. 

Hundreds of business leaders from the member nations were also on hand for this meeting, and voiced support for these security measures.

The business chiefs say economic development and trade cannot expand, unless there is a secure environment for commerce. However, some business representatives expressed concern that vital trade issues have now taken a back seat, as the forum concentrates on the issue of terrorism.

Rebels killed in fight
with Colombian forces 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOSCONIA, Colombia — Colombian officials say 19 leftist rebels have been killed in fighting with the army in the northern section of the country. 

An army spokesman said the rebels were members of the National Liberation Army. The fighting occurred in the town of Bosconia, which is located about 335 miles north of Bogota. 

Colombia is involved in a civil war that has killed about 200,000 people over nearly four decades. The war pits leftist rebels against right-wing paramilitary groups and the government.

Tension still rising
in Venezuelan square

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

CARACAS, Venenzuela — More than 72 hours after declaring a campaign of what they term "legitimate disobedience" against the government of Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president, a group of senior military officers is still defying the authorities in a square here. They are surrounded by thousands of civilian supporters. Chavez appears to be losing patience with the rebels.

When the rebel officers first made their pronouncement Tuesday, President Chavez remained silent. Vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel described the dissident generals and admirals as "clowns" and said they represented no one in the armed forces. But the demonstrators in the plaza have not faded away. And dozens of officers, along with key figures from the civilian opposition, have visited the square to offer solidarity. 

Chavez now says the government is obliged to act against what he calls "fascists and coup-plotters", adding that the people too, must act. This last phrase has many in the opposition worried: they feel it may foreshadow violence by some of the armed civilian radicals who support the president. 

The officers, none of whom commands troops, argue that Chavez, though an elected president, is seeking to impose a leftist revolution the majority of Venezuelans reject.

They say he has eliminated the checks and balances of a normal democracy by concentrating power in his own hands. And they are invoking a clause Chavez himself inserted in the new, 1999 constitution. It enshrines the right to rebel against an undemocratic regime. 

The civilian opposition, which is fearful of being seen as favoring a military coup, has nonetheless mostly lined up behind the generals. The civilians have agreed that the way forward is for the president to call early elections or an immediate referendum on his presidency, both of which he has rejected. 

The stalemate could lead to violence. However, no units of the armed forces have yet declared themselves in revolt, and there is an external audience to consider. On Sunday, Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, is due to arrive here. Gaviria is trying to get the government and opposition to sit down to talks, and neither side wants to be seen as responsible for violence. 

On the other hand, the government would rather the plaza were empty when the organization’s delegation arrives. And the opposition wants to see it full. For the opposition, Venezuela is ungovernable with Chavez in power. The president's argument is that chaos would ensue if he were forced from office. 

The stakes are high, and the next few days may prove crucial for the resolution of the country's political crisis.

Bush, Fox discuss 
realities of immigration

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

LOS CABOS, Mexico — President George W. Bush said he and Mexican President Vicente Fox seek to deal with the issue of Mexicans who migrate to the United States in search of work "in a way that recognizes reality, and in a way that treats the Mexican citizens who are in the United States with respect."

In a joint photo opportunity with Fox here Friday, Bush said the long-term solution for the migration issue is to find a way to encourage commerce "on both sides of the border, so people can find jobs here in Mexico, for starters."

At the same time, he said, "we've got to recognize that wage differentials are going to cause people to want to come to the United States."

Bush noted that economic pressures have also generated migration within Mexico.

"On the (U.S.-Mexican) border, wage differential is narrowing, so the migration pressure tends to come from interior of Mexico and the south of Mexico," he said. He added that he and Fox have discussed in the past "how best to develop industry together in the midst of Mexico, in the south of Mexico, so that people are more likely to find work at home."

North Korea and Iraq were two other issues Presidents Bush and Fox discussed during their meeting.

Free trade agenda set 
for Quito meetings

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Trade ministers from the Western Hemisphere's 34 democracies will pursue a number of objectives when they meet in Quito, Ecuador, on Friday to continue their work in creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas, says a U.S. trade official.

In a background briefing Friday, the trade official said that the seventh meeting of the region's trade ministers within the context of the trade agreement process will be "very significant" in shaping the course of future negotiations aimed at creating the largest free-trade area in the world by January 2005.

First among the key objectives the trade official identified for the upcoming ministerial is the advancement of market-access discussions that will establish timetables for eliminating tariffs on agricultural and industrial goods, services and investment.

He indicated that government procurement commitments will also be addressed in efforts to establish the path to free trade in the Americas. These market-access discussions began on May 15, and are about to enter a key phase of specific, concrete bargaining during which offers and counter-offers will be exchanged.

The trade official said that another important objective of the Quito ministerial will be to intensify work on the draft text of the free trade agreement.

He noted that the United States will encourage continued transparency in the development of the final text of the trade accord by seeking to make the revised version of the negotiating text available to the public — as was done following the previous ministerial in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2001.

Beyond access to the negotiating text of the accord, public participation in the negotiations will also be an important element of the ministerial, according to the trade official. A civil society and business forum will be held in Quito immediately prior to the ministerial. In these forums, the hemispheric business community and civil society groups will discuss their respective priorities and will then have an opportunity to submit their recommendations to the ministers.

In its role as co-chair of the process, the United States will propose that the free trade ministerial in 2003 be held in Miami, Fla. with the 2004 trade ministers meeting to be held in Brazil, the trade official said. 

México calculates losses
after the destructive rain

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

Residents along Mexico's central Pacific coast are cleaning up Saturday after one of the worst storms in decades. 

Hurricane Kenna caused millions of dollars in damage as it roared ashore late Friday with winds up to 140 mph. The fierce winds and rain damaged homes and businesses, destroyed fishing boats, uprooted trees, closed roads, and knocked out electrical power, telephones, and water supplies. 

The Mexican coastal town of San Blas appeared hardest hit. Officials said most homes in San Blas were destroyed or badly damaged. Extensive damage also was reported at the popular beach resort of Puerto Vallarta. 

Mexican officials say no deaths were reported in the hurricane, which dissipated quickly after moving inland. 

U.S., Dominican Republic
work on trade issues

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and the Dominican Republic discussed ways to bolster their bilateral economic ties at a Trade and Investment Council meeting Thursday, according to a press release issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The press release said that the two countries also pledged to work together to advance trade and economic development — regionally through the Free Trade Area of the Americas talks and globally in ongoing World Trade Organization negotiations.

"The Dominican Republic is our largest trading partner in the Caribbean region and an important voice in the FTAA and global trade negotiations," Robert Zoellick, U.S. trade representative, said. "I am encouraged by the direction [in which] President Hipolito Mejia is taking Dominican trade policy. We both seek to expand trade liberalization, spur economic development, and extend hope, opportunity and prosperity throughout the region."

Zoellick met with Mejia in July 2002 to discuss ways to make progress in bilateral economic relations through the Trade and Investment Council. Trade officials at the meeting agreed to meet again in the spring of 2003 to assess progress and continue talks, the press release said.

Long judicial vacation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial plans a long Christmas break, from Dec. 23 to Jan. 10, according to an announcement Friday. However, key agencies like the Judicial Investigating Organization will remain open, the announcement said.

Two buses bump on pista

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Alajuela-bound buses colliided Sunday afternoon in heavy rain on the General Cañas Autopista, and five persons went to the hospital with injuries. Both buses were headed the same way, and one rearended the other.
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Tourists shop for something to bring home

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
José Manuel Fallas displays some Costa Rican 1970 10-colon notes. 
Collectors have a place to meet at the museum
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents have a chance the last Saturday of every month to change, buy or sell coins, bills or stamps from all over the world and especially Costa Rica. 

The Museo de Numismatica of the Banco Central de Costa Rica under the Plaza de la Cultura, Avenida Central, Calle 5, has offered a collectors market for eight years.  Originally the trade, buy, sell or swap meet was at tha Correo Central in San José, but now it is below the plaza in the lobby of the museums. A collector doesn’t need permission, they just need to show up at the correct time.

Saturday there was a mix of collectors and tourists 
in two rooms of the museums, which is known by 

the name of the biggest collection, the Museo del Oro. But the facility boasts a complete look at coins and paper money of Costa Rica.

Jorge Murillo collector and president of the Nusmimatic Assocation, explained the history existing bills and coins. Everytime the event is staged, more people of all the ages show up.

For the people who don't know the value of their coins or bills, a guide is available that lists the average world price for a particular example of money.

A visitor, who is admitted to the lobby for free, can find antique bills, stamps and even an example of the new hobby of collecting telephone cards. The meet goes from 10 a.m to 1 p.m.

More Villalobos letters
Steer clear from lawyers, reader says

Since you did a great job on giving full coverage of a lot of aspects and angles, regarding the "Enrique Villalobos Case," there is still something very important, I do miss at this point of the "Situation."

By now about everybody of the about 6,000 Investors are scared to death, not knowing what to do, except of maybe praying or listening to the wrong advice of lawyer being in for the big buck, telling them the "First come first serve” story!

Since you guys have established proven contact with Enrique Villalobos at least by email, it is time, that you let him know, that he should take action through his LAWYERS and set up a Meeting with his creditors and not leave this to maybe unqualified "GROUPS," whatever names they might give themselves.

There is a lot of damage to be done, if people act in panic, being afraid to loose everything and so on, probably doing all the wrong moves, making things even worth!

There is a Meeting coming up at 10 a.m. on Sunday at the Holiday Inn and as I read yesterday in the La Nacion, a guy, Fernan Gonzalez Nieto, whoever that is, and what reasons he has to call in for a meeting at the Costa Rica Tennis Club on Tuesday the 29th at 9.a.m. using already words to bring fear into anybody involved.

There should be a Villalobos Home Page instead, updated constantly by his LAWYERS to keep all of us well informed, so we don’t have to wonder around thinking about what to do and being totally held in the DARK, having problems to sleep!

I think that’s not too much to ask from Enrique Villalobos to permanently inform his creditors with the latest developments of the case and give us some peace of mind!

Wolfgang Hilbich
San Jose

History of business,
Costa Rican style

Twenty four years ago and it's Costa Rica in the late '70s. It's a Republic with a progressive program to educate the kids. Elections are held every 5 years, it's getting better. The main sticking point for those trying to introduce new businesses, expand existing ones or develop tourism was the availability of money!

The banks are national and reluctant to lend venture capital for even the most astute of plans, unless you’re a cafe baron! Making deposits or withdrawals can take the length of long lines, "in god we trust, all others pay cash," your telephone bill? . . . cash, no cheques. There are no cash machines, credit cards, no computers, only hand written transactions. The "café barons" have no trouble, they don't need the money!

In fact, the "barons" run the country, one could say “own” Costa Rica! They consider themselves very progressive, even modern, almost! The government is faced with an increasingly vocal public; the main complaint is, of course, money.

Costa Rica is 250 years old, finally "discovered" by the scientific community; the scientists are knocked out with the number of birds, frogs, denizens of the rain forest. The tourism industry is 'pushed' to handle all the interest in the beauty of Costa Rica and the rain forest.

With the wave of tourism the government steps in and announces a new department of tourism, ICT, Instituto Costarisence de Turismo, a bust, too many chiefs not enough Indians, in the world of advertising they don't know what they're doing.

The tourists flock to CR despite ICT, they go back home and spread the word, oh yeah, " I heard of a great way to make some money . . ." The entrepreneurs with the glitter of business gold in their eyes, descend on Costa Rica.

In their bag of tricks are all the franchises that are popular in Estados Unidos, the parent companies will not finance anything in Latin America, cash up front will get it done, doncha know!

The situation is pregnant, a new kind of business is called for, loaning start up capital, cash for inventory, key money, doing what the banks should do, but won't. Costa Rica elects a different kind of President, Oscar Arias Sanchez, he opens CR to foreign banks, tourism with an attitude, business as it's done state side and the banks are furious.

Enter the Villalobos brothers, they pay four percent per month on investments, unheard of, they grow! Suddenly 'gringos' start to become a residency fact. The government is hard pressed to keep up with the new technology the gringos bring to the table! The demand for those things that Americans and Canadians take for granted under whelms the CR government, but they've got the message!

There's no turning back! As the investments grow, so do the bros, the interest rate on investments drop to 3 percent, no problem. There's a new investment available, 2.8% on long term. The change is easily understood, the accounting problems are enormous and complicated, the bros hire more people, and more, and ... Ahead of the government, Villalobos installs computers to keep track of everything, good move.

It is reliably reported that there are 10,000 investors! The 'Bros' are now a Costa Rican institution, rich Ticos are paying attention and the numbers keep growing. Canucks and Americans living at home send money to friends, the interest is paid into their accounts back home, happy happy. 

Little old ladies in Toronto, Regina, Vancouver, New York, Anaheim, Miami, Billings, etc! Accusations of 'money laundering' keep popping up, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho denies everything, his bank accounts are frozen and the IOJ* lookup his yazzoo for evidence that isn't there, he's clean. The rumors have a life of their own, now the accusations include 'drug peddling', again they freeze all and everything and take a good look at his books, check his [noun deleted], there's nothing.

Investors flock to put their money to work.  *The (IOJ) oh ee hota, Costa Rica’s version of the FBI, keep an eye on Villalobos, he continues to say nothing, in fact, the only thing he does is issue notices to his investors spelling out whatever he's facing, good or bad!

The years pile up and so the numbers of investors, 'the Bros' and employees say nothing! Pay days are the last and first week of the month, you can see the whole expat community in those two weeks, old friends, new friends, find out who's playing around with whom, who's divorced, dead, getting married, having a baby, a heart attack, you name it, you can have it!

For years “the bros” worried about those expat that were in CR to party. Year in, year out, one could tell when payday hit, the “putas” of San Jose would get ready for “payday,” the bar at the Del Rey would overflow with drunk "gringos" bent on losing the money to “putas” or at the gambling tables, a new industry sprang up, catering to the "big spender". 

The worrisome problem for the bros was the gringo proclivity to shoot off their mouths! The bros issued warnings that they would no longer welcome girl[puta]friends, don't come drunk, don't bring your extended family, be discreet. Those who failed to take heed will be separated from the bros, their money returned, go elsewhere! A few stupid unbelievers found themselves in that unenviable position . . . and they were gone. Talk was much subdued, investors circumspect, the bros became synonymous with “loose lips, sinks ships.” Point made.

Gerry Caunter
San Rapheal

Advice to investors:
Don’t take legal action

Please think before you act.  If you want any hope of getting your money back from your investment, absolutely do not start any legal action now.  If you have started legal action stop it now. The papers are full of groups of you and lawyers advertising that they can help you get your money back.

The only ones that are going to get rich with this is the lawyers and the Costa Rican government. The Costa Rican government can pay off their national debt with your money and the lawyers can retire to the U.S.A. and live their life in great style on your money.

The amount of legal action against Villalobos that is already in the papers will in fact tie your money up in the courts of Costa Rica for the next ten years. If you are a part of any one of these legal actions stop it now.

If you are a part of a legal action, it will also make all of your private financial information public domain making it available to your home government for tax purposes.

At the end of ten years Villalobos will have been forced to spend most of your money on defending himself. What little he has left will go to your lawyers and the Costa Rican government.

The smart lawyers are telling you that you will pay nothing up front and they will work on contingency. No matter how much you trust your lawyer or your group that you are in, think before you continue legal action.

You still will be left with nothing after ten years.  Instead of legal action, put as much pressure as you can on the government of Costa Rica to release his funds and give him a chance to pay his debts.

Villalobos has been allowed to operate his business for over 25 years legally here in Costa Rica.  He has been an honorable man and his never been proven to do anything illegal and has never stolen a penny from his investors.  Write letters to the government, push others to do the same. 

Talk to business people you know that are dependent on foreign residents and tourist to make a living get them to pressure the government. Let the government know that this is going to crush the Costa Rican economy. 

This is millions of dollars a year to their economy that they will lose when we are forced to leave when we have no income here from Villalobos. You have one chance and only one chance to get your money back and that is if Villalobos is cleared and out of legal action! 

The more legal action, the more time, and the less money you are ever going to see.  If the Costa Rican government is pressured into releasing Villalobos accounts and he is allowed to go back to business and he does not pay his debts then and only then is it time to take legal action against him in the courts of Costa Rica.

Your one hope is that legal action is not going to be necessary!!  Villalobos has not lied to a one of you in over 25 years what makes you think he is going to start now, unless you force him out of business with legal actions.

Danny Emmet Phillips
San Pedro


Open letter to
President Pacheco

I am a retired business consultant that came to Costa Rica in November 1999 for a two-week vacation. I fell in love with the country and the people.

Until this week I have never considered leaving now I fear I must! Yes, I understood the risk of making Senor Villalobos the personal loan that I made with him.  Yes, I understood that the Costa Rican government had allowed him to do business legally for over 25 years.

I am one investor of average size with Senor Villalobos (the brothers).  I receive $3,500 a month in interest payments from him on $120,000 invested with him and I spend this money in Costa Rica. If Villalobos has 6,289 investors as stated and I average the following income to Costa Rica would result directly from Villalobos to Costa Rica:

$3500 per month times 12 months equals $42,000 per year per investor.

6,289 investors times $42,000 equals $264,138,000 per year spent mostly in Costa Rica (over two hundred sixty four million dollars first year cash flow)

$264,138,000 times 7 equals $1,848,966,000 ripple effect to the Costa Rican economy (close to two billion dollars) ripple effect is defined as: when a dollar enters the economy it passes from the receiver to business and on to other businesses seven times before it leaves the economy. 

I, like most of Villalobos investors, depend on this income to live in Costa Rica. If the government forces him out of business I must leave Costa Rica.  Most of his investors face the same situation.

On behalf of myself, the other foreign residents and the future of my adopted country of Costa Rica, I plead with you, President Pacheco and the other government officials to think before you force this man out of business.

Costa Rica has allowed Villalobos to do business for over 25 years without a reported incident of Villalobos doing anything illegal or ever stealing a dollar from any of his investors.

Costa Rica government officials over the past 10 years have done a wonderful job of attracting and keeping foreign citizens to both vacation and live here in paradise. By forcing Villalobos out of business Costa Rica will lose all this hard work. 

September 27th, in the Tico Times there was a special Nicaragua supplement. The entire supplement was devoted to detailing the beauty of Nicaragua and how cooperative the Nicaragua government has become.

No waiting for government services etc. etc. etc. August 26th they appointed Irene Arevalo as minister of tourism. She outlined three priorities: promoting, investment, developing tourism, and working with small business.

Until now, exactly what Costa Rica has been doing great at for the last 10 years. Please do not allow my government (the U.S.A.) or any foreign government to pressure you into making a terrible decision for Costa Rica. 

If you only loss half the Villalobos foreign investors living here in Costa Rica what will that do to every business in Costa Rica that depends on us to survive. This one action to force Villalobos out of business will in fact cause close to a two billion dollar loss to the economy of Costa Rica.

Ask yourself only two questions: Can Costa Rica survive your actions? Can the Costa Rican economy stand to lose half of their foreign citizens living in paradise?

I have talked to many people that have not received interest payments since August. They are gone already, many more will follow. This news is spreading worldwide, few foreigners will come to a country with a collapsing economy.

Unless you can prove this man has done something illegal you should release this man’s bank accounts and allow him a chance to pay his debts.  If he does not, then we can take legal action against him in the courts.  Villalobos has been an honorable man and tremendous benefit to the economy for many years. This one man is the future of foreign citizens living in Costa Rica.

Danny Emmet Phillips
San Pedro

Reader supplies
reality check

Thanks for your excellent coverage of the Brothers and the impact on thousands of lives.

Time For A Reality Check.

In the understandable emotion of this issue, three points have been ignored:

ONE: What Sr. Villalobos was doing is illegal. Good or bad, it is illegal. The Costa Rican law allows unreported interest-bearing loans only between close family or friends, and those must be infrequent. Otherwise, lending must be reported and regulated by SUGEF. That's the law.

Sr. Villalobos was paying frequent (monthly) interest to more than 6,000 clients, most of whom had never met him.  That's a business. In fact, most letters openly refer to his "business" or the "businessman," Sr. Villalobos. This is clearly outside the law.

People living as guests in Costa Rica should honor the laws of their host country.  The authorities are only enforcing the law of the land. No one is outside the law. Not Sr. Villalobos. Not foreign investors who were participating in a program, which was outside the law. Sr. Villalobos could be a saint for all I know, but this is a matter of the law.  It's been broken.

TWO: Huge, uncontrolled flows of cash provide opportunities for drug money or funding for terrorism to do great harm. (I do NOT imply these funds were so used) But in the dangerous world we live in, huge cash flows MUST be regulated. And that is the new global reality that brought this long-standing activity to an end.

THREE: There's another "law," which says the higher the return, the greater the risk. That is a law, which will be obeyed, even if a country's laws are ignored.

I truly hope this is resolved to everyone's benefit. But a little reality is called for.

Again, thanks for your excellent coverage

Jack Evans

Investor questions
Canada’s role

Thank heavens for your newspaper . . . we are “PT’s” or Permanent Travelers living on 3 continents, one of them happens to be lovely Central America, more precisely, heavenly, Dominicalito on the Pacific.

Sadly, we only came across "the brothers" a few years ago but had wonderful - efficient ? business-like dealings with them, with the odd religious comment, to various continents. I wish I had known of them earlier.

For those scoffing at the current problems of Don Villalobos I wonder if they had any funds in any of the so called Blue Chips companies, I wonder how much their shares are now worth and I wonder how much bonus their CEO's are walking away with. 

Living far away we find it incredulous that Canada has something to do with this, don't they have enough triads to look after in Vancouver? 

Thank heavens we are not yet desperate about the stoppage of payments. But if this Court Case drags on, we may be. The fact that OUR MONEY is being frozen is an insult, what right have the "Canadian officials" to do so? 

Living in planes, I don't know how to be represented? I would like to back Mr. J. Duke Mosely, his letter of the 22nd of October. Why don't you tell us what it is that would best serve all of our interests?

Please keep the messages and news coming: We depend upon you!

Good luck. 

Flora Torrance, Les Clausonnes
South of France

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