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These stories were published Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 213
Jo Stuart
About us
Popular bar operator killed in his Nicoya hotel
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A popular Nicoya Peninsula hotel owner died when robbers caught him in his home. 

The victim was Percy Lee Wilhelm, known to thousands of expats as Lucky. A spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization said that the man, a U.S. citizen, died from a knife 
Lucky Wilhelm
wound. However, informal sources said the man was beaten and then strangled.

The scene was the Hotel Oasis del Pacifico in Playa Naranjo on the east coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. The hotel is just a few hundred yards from where the ferry from Puntarenas docks. 

Wilhelm ran the hotel with his Singapore-born wife, Aggie. Both were well known in San José. Although the couple obtained the hotel property at least 13 years ago, they were associated with Lucky’s Piano Bar in the Balmoral Hotel for years. The hotel is on the Pedestrian Mall at Calle 7. Friends said it was 

not until seven or eight years ago that the pair moved full time to the Nicoya Peninsula. Wilhelm still held the rights to the popular expat bar, but others manage the facility. The bar still is called Lucky’s Piano Bar, although the piano is gone.

The 39-unit hotel there is moderately priced and is on nearly 12 acres overlooking the water. His wife was working at the hotel when Wilhelm was killed, sources said. She found the body. The door to the home appeared to have been forced. Investigators suspect that robbery was the motive because some household appliances were taken by the murderers.

Friends said that Wilhelm was living his dream. He originally was from Boca Grande. Fla. After retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps, he came here in 1982. He enjoyed fishing in the Gulf of Nicoya, and his hotel has a 260-foot pier and is popular with boat owners. He was in his 70s.
Recently the couple put the hotel up for sale for $3 million, and an associate said they thought they had a sale two months ago. The associate was not sure how the transaction worked out, if at all.

Wilhelm ran the Piano Bar at a time where there only were about four so-called Gringo bars in the downtown. So nearly all tourists here met him at one time or another.

It's more than just a Web page, minister says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister of tourism defended the country’s tourist Web page and said that the successful bidder was one of six finalists who submitted bids between $725,000 and $1.25 million.

The Web page, which is part of an $833,900 package, came under fire last week by a national deputy who questioned the costs.

The minister, Rodrigo A. Castro Fonseca, issued a statement through an aide Monday.

"It is a page that in addition to what was constructed and designed has search engines for reservations, maintenance for four years and, most importantly, has a call center with operators 24 hours a day to make contact much more personal," said the minister.

A reader's letter BELOW!

Castro noted that the Web page was approved during the last administration. However, he said the Web page "is a new marketing tool that I consider imperative and a necessity."

It was Epsy Campbell, a legislative deputy, who wanted to know how the government financial watchdog could permit the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo to spend 300 million colons on a Web page. And she was not too happy that the job went to a foreign company.

The issue came up in the legislature Thursday afternoon.

The contracted company is a U.S. consortium," Ms. Campbell pointed out. "Here there are a great quantity of national companies. Is it not preferable to pick a Costa Rican company for this type of service," she asked.

Ms. Campbell asked how the Contraloría General de la República could have approved such a contract. The deal was the result of public bidding by firms that agreed to meet the 

elaborate specifications of the tourism institute. The bidding closed in Feb. 2002, and the Contraloría had to review the contract before it was finalized. The contract was signed Aug. 7, 2002, so it has been in force for 15 months.

Although Castro characterized the contract as being for four years, Clause 14 of the agreement specifies a term of two years, and a chart showing payments of roughly $25,000 a month covers two years. There were two $110,000 payments at the start of the agreement.

One of Castor’s points is that the contract is for much more than a Web page. Specifically, the company gets $2,000 a month for maintenance, $2,000 a month for hosting, $10,000 a month for operating a call center  and $7,000 for unspecified marketing. The marketing payments increase to $11,500 during the life of the contract.

Castro said that the page received 60,000 visitors in September. As part of the agreement the company must provide detailed statistics and receipts for marketing expenses.

Castro also noted that the Web page will be in four languages. The material is written in English and Spanish now. French and German will be added. The page is www.visitcostarica.com.

The company that won the contract is Soluciones Globales, a consortium of Despegar.com, a major travel agency in Latin America, and Global Bay, Inc., a New Jersey Web developer. Despegar.com has locations in Miami, Fla., and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Web page itself cost $216,000 to design, according to the contract. That was paid to the firm in the first few months.

Although Ms. Campbell was the first lawmaker to question the project, the cost has been a topic of discussion for months among tourism operators who pay taxes that ultimately pay for such projects.

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Reader Letters

He doesn't like idea
of a travel monopoly

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Hi, my name is Patrick, and I am the owner of a travel business specializing in Costa Rica.

I just read with horror your publication about the Web page for the ICT (TOURISM BOARD OF COSTA RICA). How can that be?? $867,000.00 for a web page??!!!!!  It is plain robbery for the Ticos and the taxes paid to the ICT.  HOW CAN  THAT POSSIBLY BE APPROVED ??? 

There are dozens of agencies like mine that spend thousands of dollars to create excellent web pages to promote Costa Rica, in the U.S.A. and worldwise, and these . . . people of ICT spend so much money to promote Costa Rica with just one travel agency????  How about the rest of us in Miami, and New York, and other places where we promote Costa Rica with many, many hours of work and many thousands of dollars ?? 

This is not only stupid, but it is in violation of our rights to freedom of competion. What they are doing is just creating another MONOPOLY, just like the ICE and INS, and they want to put us (the other agencies) out of business!!!  Our company (I don't tell the name for fear of retaliation, and expect you to hold my address from officials) has lost a lot of money in excess of 300 million colons to promote and operate Costa Rica against all the odds and  stupidities from ICT and officials, high prices, and degenerating service quality. And now after so many years ICT goes and signs a Hell-Pact behind closed doors without ever calling the existing travel agencies for a bid, with a MONOPOLY!! 

Can you imagine: only one travel agency getting all the mail and requesitions at the official  ICT WEB page.  This is outrageous and needs to be exposed. We congratulate you on this piece of news but also we request that you make some more noise about this.

Thank you, 
Patrick [last name withheld]
EDITOR’S NOTE: The agreement discussed in a story Friday and another today was reached after a public bidding process.

Immigration rules
are time-consuming

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I read with interest your article re: Migración requiring legal residents to provide documents authenticated by the local consulates. In the last week, our company, Los Angeles-based Residency in Costa Rica, was contacted by three different individuals (now clients) asking us if we could assist them in authenticating birth and marriage certificates, and a bank letter (for a rentista). Of course we can handle those requests. That's exactly how we authenticate each client's documents to be presented as part of their residency application packages. But I couldn't figure out why three separate requests in less than a week about something that nobody had ever asked us before to do. 

Your article provided the answer. The document authentication process is complex and time consuming. Very similar to the way it is described in the article. There are a couple extra complications for individuals wanting to authenticate documents for use in Costa Rica: 

1. Costa Rica is not a signatory country to The Hague Conference for the intensification of documents see http://www.hcch.net/e/conventions/menu12e.html and the list of signatory countries at http://www.hcch.net/e/status/stat12e.html Because of that, some offices of the Secretary of State (SOS) may require additional signatures prior to authenticating a document for use in Costa Rica. 

2. Another potential problem is that people do not always remain in the state where they were born, and must, therefore, deal with multiple secretaries of state and potentially, with multiple Costa Rican consulates. 

Here is a true story of clients whose names shall remain private: the family consists of husband, wife and kids. 

a). Both husband and wife were born in New York, but one was born in Upstate New York and the other in the City of New York. So you must obtain certified birth certificates (BCs) from two different State of New York offices, then have the BCs authenticated by the Secretary of State for the State of New York. Then the Costa Rican Consulate General in the City of New York authenticates the signature of the New York SOS. 

b). The couple was married in Texas. So: you need a certified birth certificate issued by the appropriate county in Texas, then sent to the Texas SOS to authenticate the signature of the local county registrar, finally to the CR consulate in Houston for authentication of the Texas SOS. 

c). One child was born in Texas, repeat b) above 

d). Another child was born in New Mexico. So get BC from appropriate county in New Mexico, send BC to the SOS of New Mexico for authentication of the county registrar's signature, then to the CR consulate in Houston to authenticate the signature of the New Mexico SOS. 

e). The couple needed a document from California. So have the signature on the document notarized by a California notary public, then take the document to the California SOS to authenticate the notary public's signature, and finally to the Costa Rican Consulate General in Los Angeles to authenticate the California SOS signature. 

It's not over yet. Once all the documents reach Costa Rica, each document must then be taken to the Casa Amarilla, where the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores will authenticate the signature of each Costa Rican Consul and charge a very small fee. 

OK, that's the end of the authentication chain. Oh, let us not forget that each SOS will charge a fee ranging from $5 to $20 per document, and the Costa Rican consulate charges $40 per document. And don't forget Fed Ex charges. You really don't want any of these documents getting lost in the mail and having to start all over again! 

Complicated and time-consuming? Yes. Doable? Yes, that's our job — done with lots of patience, care and the help of FedEx. 

Javier Zavaleta 
Residency in Costa Rica 

Editor's Note; The two letters that follow are reponses to "A personal account: An untold Villalobos story"  published Oct. 22.

She gives instructions
on avoiding a ponzi

Red Flags and Songbirds

The red flags you experienced are typical of a Ponzi scheme. There are clear, flashing red lights warning "Ponzi Scheme At Work." They are:

1. The operator depends on the inflow of new money to keep paying out interest. 

2. Anything that threatens the inflow of vital new money is aggressively attacked. Not answered — attacked. (News reports being the major threat.) 

3. A Ponzi scheme depends on what is called in the business, "songbirds." These are lenders (investors is too noble a word) who "sing the praises," tell others, bring others in, build the chain of lenders . . . and join in the attack when one is launched. (Nash father and son, for example.)

4. A Ponzi scheme can stay alive as long as the inflow of new money exceeds the cash paid out.  (Note the deferred interest rolled-over.) This can be two, five, ten, twenty years, or more — as long as the new cash from lenders exceeds the cash paid out.

5. A long-running Ponzi scheme never becomes a closed-ended fund, with a "cap" on new lenders, saying, "no more lenders. This's all we can put out at these high returns."

6. A Ponzi scheme NEVER reveals the mystery-miracle of how they consistently earn enough money to pay such high interest. They CAN'T. Because they DON'T.

When you see any of these red lights, beware, "Ponzi Scheme Ahead."

Sandra [last name withheld]
A Tica businesswoman
Fort Lauderdale, Fla

Villalobos article
does not impress him

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Sorry Mr. Brodell, but I don't understand why you wrote the article today about Enrique Villalobos. All I got from it was you were so smart not to put money with the Brothers. If you are so intelligent and savvy, just tell me that, without involving the Brothers. I will believe it. I don't have many, but I could tell a story about my investment savvy, but I don't have a newspaper. 

Bobby Ruffín
San José
She does not back
free trade agreement

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In looking for information on Costa Rica I came across an article in one of your papers stating that your government is considering signing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

I live in the United States, and I have heard many bad stories of what this agreement does to small countries and communities across the globe. This agreement, in my opinion, is nothing more than globalization of corporate interests. It destroys small business owners and environments worldwide. This benefits no one except large corporations!

While admiring your country I was impressed by the community spirit, the family businesses that have been around for a long time, handcrafting their wears, beautiful artwork, pride in craftmanship, etc. I was impressed by some farmers in your country who practice sustainable, natural agriculture. I admire all of the national parks and your desire to protect the beautiful ecosystems there.

Please urge your citizenship to carefully scrutinize the NAFTA before allowing your government to sign such an agreement. You can find out more information on NAFTA, it's abuses and failures at: www.citizen.org/trade/nafta/index.cfm

I hope your country will not allow NAFTA within your borders. Thank you for listening.

Linda Ciulla
Crestone, Colo.

 Editor’s Note; the reader, of course, refers to the Central American free trade agreement between the United States and five countries here.

Dry season’s coming
despite rainy month

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In Costa Rica, October, one of the two wettest months, comes in like a lion and goes out the same way.

Based on the October rainfall and the general gray, wet afternoons, one would not expect that drier times are just around the corner.

November is supposed to be the month of gradual change. A few dry days are interspersed with wet days until — by the end of the month — the dry season is here.

October shows no such mercy. San José got 1.8 inches of rain Monday afternoon, and the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional continues to warn of an extensive low-pressure system parked over the Caribbean.

Costa Rica is so narrow that the Caribbean weather affects the Pacific coast, too, so the weather report says that all areas of the country will experience an increase in rain in the next day or so.

As usual when there is a prediction of heavy rain, the weather institute also warns about flooding, mudslides and rivers running out of their banks.

Final homeless toll
from fire is 375

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Social services workers say that 375 persons are now without homes as a result of a spectacular blaze Sunday afternoon in La Libertad in Pavas.

Some 45 modest homes were burned up. The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias says it has set up five shelters for at least 216 persons.

Many of the fire victims are people without much financial resources. A high percentage are from Nicaragua.

Involved in the relief effort is the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social, the Cruz Roja, the Fuerza Pública, the Municipalidad de San José and the Ministerio de Salud.

Two bank accounts have been set up for donations. They are 911-8 in the Banco Nacional and 91100-3 in the Banco de Costa Rica.

Relief officials are encouraging donations of clothes but they do not want donations of fresh food. Needed are clothes and shoes for all sexes and ages, officials said.

Law to protect kids
runs into legal trouble

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The proposed Katia y Osvaldo law is meeting resistance from diverse quarters of the Costa Rican political system.

The Comisión de Juventud, Niñez y Adolescencia, which is studying the measure, asked opinions from a number of officials. The purpose of the law would be to establish a data base containing the identifying information of persons convicted of crimes against children.

Carlos Avendaño, chairman of the commission, noted that the law as written is ambiguous, according to the technical services of the legislature. 

A constitutional lawyer, Rubén Hernández, said that there are serious deficiencies in the law and possible constitutional issues.

José Manuel Echandi, the defensor de los habitantes, also expressed reservations.  He noted inconsistencies in the law and a "very confused" proposal.

Even the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública expressed reservations.

In one specific reservation, the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones said that it would have difficulty taking the fingerprints of newborns because the prints are not yet clearly defined. That was one of the provisions of the law to provide a clear identification for every Costa Rican child.  Sometimes fingerprinting can be a risk for babies, the tribunal said in its reply.

The tribunal is the supervising agency for the Registro Civil that issues identifications for Costa Ricans.

Avendaño said his committee will have to make a great effort to rescue the proposed law.

This is the law that developed from petitions that more than a million Costa Ricans signed shortly after the body of a young girl was found beneath the floor of a neighbor in June. The principal suspect in her killing had a prior conviction for a similar crime.

Katia is Katia Vanesa González Juárez, 8, the girl who died July 4 at a neighbor’s home in the San José neighborhood of Quesada Duran. Osvaldo is Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal, then 3, who was kidnapped from his Desamparados home and turned up dead in a river.
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Poverty no reason for maternal deaths, expert says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

New findings by three United Nations agencies show that maternal deaths are disproportionately high in developing countries. 

In the year 2000, the report estimates, nearly 530,000 women died in childbirth. Some 95 percent of these deaths occurred in Africa and Asia, while only 4 percent occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The figure was less than 1 percent in the more developed regions of the world. 

Paul Van Look, director of the Department of Health and Research at the World Health Organization, cited poverty as the underlying cause for these maternal deaths. He also said many health systems in sub-Saharan Africa are in very bad shape. 

"Women, particularly in rural parts of countries, are delivering with traditional birth attendants or family members, or sometimes even alone, and do not have the benefit of having a person with midwifery skills present at the time of delivery, or also during the pre-natal periods to provide ante-natal care," Van Look said. 

The report said much of the death and suffering 

could be avoided, if all women had the assistance of skilled health workers during pregnancy and delivery. He said access to emergency medical care when complications arise is also essential. 

Van Look said poverty is not an excuse for a failure to provide better maternal health care. He said governments must give greater priority to health issues in their national plans and budgets. 

What it takes, he said, is political will. Van Look noted that countries such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Cuba have managed to dramatically reduce the number of maternal deaths, without pouring in large amounts of money. 

"Those are very good examples, where, with political will, with dedication to building a cadre of health workers with the necessary midwifery skills have proved to be very successful. And, in fact, these were the same actions that were taken by countries like Sweden and Norway and the Netherlands back in the beginning of the 20th century," he said. 

The report said the death of a mother during pregnancy or childbirth has dire consequences for the whole family. When the mother dies, it says, the survival chances of the newborn are drastically reduced. It also affects the survival of other children in the family. 

Security takes center stage at hemispheric meeting
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Foreign ministers and other top officials from 34 countries are meeting here for a two-day Special Conference on Security in the Americas. The two-day meeting focuses on threats such as terrorism, drug-trafficking and organized crime, as well as concerns about the effects of severe economic problems and environmental disasters. 

Mexican Ambassador Miguel Ruiz-Cabañas, who is in charge of organizing the event, says each country in the Organization of American States has specific security concerns. But he stressed the importance of an integrated approach to security issues that takes into account the concerns of all, and better prepares the region to face new security threats. 

Ambassador Ruiz-Cabañas says the principal aim of the conference is to consider a draft declaration, which recognizes security as a multi-dimensional issue, rather than the exclusive responsibility of the military. The session began Monday.

The document would identify threats from terrorism, organized crime, corruption and illicit trafficking in drugs and weapons. But the draft also recognizes that, for some countries, the greatest threat may come from natural disasters, disease or the effects of extreme poverty on social stability. 

Among those attending the session is Roberto Tovar Faja, Costa Rica’s foreign minister.

Tony Garza, the U.S. ambassador in Mexico, highlighted the necessity for delegates to tackle the region's pressing economic challenges. 

Other areas of discussion include the possible use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists, illicit trafficking of people, attacks on cyber security, as well as the consequences of an accident involving radioactive material, toxic waste or petroleum. 

Financial ministers
are meeting, too

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Finance ministers and central bank heads from 20 nations are meeting here on the global economy and the fight against terrorism. 

The war in Iraq was a major topic of discussions on Sunday, as the senior financial officials began their meetings at Morelia, in the mountains west of here.

The chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, addressed the gathering in private. In a brief portion of his speech broadcast to journalists, he said the U.S. economy has been greatly influenced by the conflict in Iraq.

A ghost story that makes a lot of sense
By Max Blue

Inspector Bismark Pacheco sat with the four muchachos, Verano, Carlos, Juan, and Macho. He had promised them a story.

They all sat on the ground with their backs against the side of the abandoned house. It was a dark and stormy night. The wind blew clouds in from the west. 

"It happened over by Turrijal, a long, long time ago," Pacheco began. "This old man, living by himself out in the country, his name was Edgardo something or other, I never did find out what his last name was, but anyway, what happened was Edgardo managed to cut off his own head by accident."

Verano slid down a bit and snuggled closer to Carlos sitting next to him. Macho, the toughest of the bunch, squirmed uncomfortable. He didn’t believe in ghosts, but he knew the rules of ghost stories: no interruptions were allowed. 

"He did it with a machete he was using to trim a tree branch," continued Pacheco. "The only way anybody could figure was that Edgardo took a 
swipe at a branch, missed it altogether, and came right around and whacked off his own head. You can imagine what a sight that must have been, but there was no one there to see it. And that turned out to be the problem because, what happened 

Story No. 3

Here is a Halloween story by one of our readers. The story will be judged as part of our Second Annual Halloween Fiction Contest. Input is appreciated.

Story No. 1 is HERE!
Story no. 2 is HERE!

was that old Edgardo just laid by that tree until there was nothing left but his bones. 

And then one day some muchachos came along and found him. But instead of telling anybody, they just ran off with old Edgardo’s skull and left the rest of his bones behind."

"That was a bad thing to do," said Verano.

"It was," Pacheco agreed. "Because now, over by Turrijal, every time the moon is full, you can see the bones of old Edgardo riding around the countryside on his horse, looking for his head."

"Have you seen him?" asked Carlos.

"Well, sure," answered Pacheco. "It's like I said, it happens when the moon is full. It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to go riding around in the dark, would it?"

It's time to send us your most scary story
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Remember those scary stories you heard while clustered around the campfire? And the strange forest sounds that punctuated the shivery tales?

Well let’s pretend your computer is a campfire, and let’s get cranked up for the 2003 annual A.M. Costa Rica Halloween story contest. Send us your fiction and non-fiction tales that are related somehow to Costa Rica. We’ll pick a winner and send the writer $25.

And we’ll publish the Halloween stories at the end of the month. We will try to publish as many as we can.

The stories must be original and relate to Costa Rica and also to Halloween, ghosts, specters, witches, goblins or at least a tingly feeling along the spine.

By submitting the stories, the authors give A.M. Costa Rica the non-exclusive right to publish them. Send your story to 


Our staff example is HERE!

Peru will share in U.S. technology pilot program
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A recently developed U.S. program aimed at bringing the benefits of modern information and communications technology to developing countries will be expanded to Peru and Indonesia.

In a statement, the U.S. Commerce Department said the goal of the program, known as the Digital Freedom Initiative, is to promote economic growth in the developing world by transferring the benefits of the technology to entrepreneurs and small businesses located there.

A pilot program for the initiative was launched in the African country of Senegal in March, with the goal of eventually helping more than 360,000 small businesses in Senegal and more than a half million Senegalese in all. Senegal was chosen because it is considered one of the best-run countries in the developing world. More than 40 computer specialists, called the "Geek Corps," are working as volunteers in Senegal.

President Bush first announced that the digital initiative would be expanded to Peru and Indonesia at the recently concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The Bush Administration has said it plans to expand the initiative to up to 20 more developing countries within the next five years.

In Peru and Indonesia, supporters of the digital program envision a range of possibilities, including placing U.S. private- and public-sector volunteers in small and medium-sized businesses to share information technology expertise, supporting development of a national cyber-security program to facilitate computerization and electronic 

business, and providing easier access to credit for small and medium-sized businesses.

Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said that "we have learned that technology is the fuel that drives entrepreneurship." The initiative, he said, "will help build greater opportunities for growth around the world and provide a platform for U.S. technology companies to engage in promising new markets."

The initiative establishes a public-private partnership led by the Commerce Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, in collaboration with the U.S. State Department, the Peace Corps, and the USA Freedom Corps. Hewlett-Packard, one of the U.S. private companies participating in the initiative, says that only 10 percent of the world's population can afford to buy the company's computer products. Hewlett-Packard says that by making its technology more available, the company can develop future markets in the developing world.

Brazil gets money
to promote telecom

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation has announced the establishment a $150-million support facility to promote information and communication technology partnerships between the U.S. private sector and Brazil.

The facility will allow U.S. firms to obtain loan guaranties and political-risk insurance for information technology projects in Brazil, according to a press release.

Shannon Martin murder trial is delayed until Friday in Golfito
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Shannon Martin murder trial was delayed just a short time before it was to start in Golfito Monday. Instead it will start Friday.

Miss Martin is the University of Kansas senior who died from stab wounds given her by assailants May 13, 2001.

Three persons are facing trial for her death. They are Kattia Cruz Murillo, Luis Alberto Castro Carrillo and Rafael Zumbado Quirós, all residents of the area.

The trial was delayed because one of the lawyers thought that he had a conflict of interest due to legal work he had done before, said a court spokesman. 

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