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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 1, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 217
Jo Stuart
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Canopy Tours
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Villalobos note
Was it coincidence
or something else?

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The assignment was normal enough: find a cemetery and take some photos for the Día de los Difuntos of Day of the Dead.

The night before was a late one. I arrived home to the family compound well past midnight. So by the time I woke up, had made some calls, reviewed some notes and left my home Tuesday, the time nearly was midday.

My plan was to visit the Cemeterio General in Sabana Este. This is one of the older cemeteries in San José and the marble work on some of the family crypts is fantastic.

As my bus passed the Cemeterio de Desamparados I spotted from a distance some activity. There was a burial in progress. I jumped from the bus at the traffic light with the intention of taking photographs of a burial ceremony in progress. What better way to round out the photo story of a cemetery?

I approached a man on the outskirts of the group. "Would it be alright if I took some pictures," I asked him. He said he didn’t know because he was just a family friend. He said I should ask family members and pointed to the center of the cluster of mourners.

As I approached what appeared to be a family group, the faces began to become familiar. I saw a face I knew and asked a woman "Who died?"  She looked at me in a strange way.

From over her shoulder I instantly saw the face of my Uncle Hector. "What are you doing here?" I said to him.

"No, what are you doing here," Hector replied. Then I saw the face of my brother Darwin. And

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A family member, a priest, blesses the casket of Maria Luisa

then faces of other members of my family, among them the faces of my father and mother. She was dressed in black.

I was frightened and confused.

"Your Aunt María Luisa died," said Hector.

Through coincidence or something else I had been drawn to my family’s funeral. At the crypt my grandmother wept softly.

"You came in too late, and we didn’t have a chance to tell you," said my mother. "We thought you had left for work early," she added.

Early that morning, I had been awakened by low voices and sobbing, but I thought I had just had a nightmare. My aunt, Maria Luisa Corrales Arias, died the previous afternoon, and in the custom of Costa Rica, the funeral and burial was the next day. She suffered from cancer.

I have passed the Desamparados cemetery a thousand times. Just once did I jump off the bus, and that was Tuesday.

The bottom of my socks (with apologies to Seinfeld) 
My friend Lillian suggested that I write a column about the bottom of my socks. It all began during a telephone conversation when she asked me how I liked my new tile floor (everybody is asking me). I told her that I loved it. At first I wasn’t sure that I would because instead of the typical foot-square tiles, they had installed foot-and-a-half squares. 

I’d never seen those in a house. In a supermarket, maybe, or a hotel, but not a medium-size apartment. The tiles are light beige marbled with darker shades of rosy brown. (I had a friend who was an interior designer and thus knew the names of many colors, hues and shades of color and she could describe things so vividly. I am sure she saw things differently than I, too.) 

Anyway, I love getting out of bed and walking barefoot on the cool clean tiles. Usually at home I wear white socks. I started doing that when I realized that wearing shoes made my floor dirtier. If I spilled some water on the floor in the kitchen, my shoes turned it into a spot of dirt. My white socks just dried it up. My old tile always seemed to be dirty, and no matter how often I mopped it (mainly just where I walked), the bottom of my socks were black by the end of the day. 

I knew this was not inevitable because when I visit my sister in Florida and my daughter in California, my white socks stay clean for days and never get black like they do here. It was getting to be a chore trying to keep my floors clean. Not to mention that each week I had at least one load of laundry with nothing but white socks with black bottoms.

Then, thanks to my neighbor Hilda, I found a maid. Actually, in Costa Rica, where the concept of equality is very iimportant, household helpers are not called "criadas," which is the word for maid in Spain. They are called simply "empleadas," or employees. So now I have someone to help me keep my new tiles clean. Roxanna is good natured and hard working. She mops the whole apartment, polishes my 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

furniture and cleans out my cupboards, and in the fashion of all empleadas in Costa Rica, never puts anything back where it was. 

Some advice I have gotten regarding household help here is never fix their lunch. I understood vaguely why this was because Lillian sometimes couldn’t go to lunch on Mondays because she had to fix lunch for her maid. So when Hilda told me that part of the deal was to fix Roxanna’s lunch, I feared the worst. Roxanna started working four hours on Thursday mornings, but soon asked if she could come two days a week so now she works three hours on two days.

She can’t eat what I often do, of course (whatever I have in the fridge). I have to make sure she gets some protein, a starch and a vegetable. And she can’t eat the same thing over and over like I sometimes do. On days Roxanna doesn't come, I plan her menu and do the shopping. Then Hilda had to go and tell me that Roxanna was raving about the lunches I prepared for her. I wish she hadn’t. Now I find myself trying to outdo the last lunch. 

So there I am, hard at work in the kitchen fixing lunch while Roxanna is hard at work in the rest of the apartment, mopping and polishing. After she has left I pad around my clean apartment, loving my new tile even more. 

I just can’t understand why it is at the end of the day the bottom of my white socks are still dirty and ready for the laundry. 

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Nancy Sheppard, a tourist from New Mexico, takes a Tarzan swing through the jungle. Watch out for that tree!

The lure of the treetops is a hard one to beat
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nature-lovers are lured to Monteverde for its seemingly boundless expanse of lush vegetation. Even in the low season, the city located south of Lake Arenal, is full of tourists in pursuit of all things green. 

While some traverse the numerous trails that cross through the forested area, some of the more adventurous souls opt for a bird’s eye view. Canopy tours offer a rare opportunity for humankind to soar through the air high above the treetops via zip lines.

That’s where willing participants are attached to wire cables that run between platforms located high in the trees and whiz from one platform to another.

One need only strap on a harness, clip on to the zip line in a seated position and enjoy the ride. Leather gloves are standard issue and play a pivotal role as the brakes. The technique is easy: To stop, just squeeze the cable. The further you lean back, the faster you go.

Such adventure tours are big business in Monteverde and competition among the companies is fierce. While the cozy city maintains

a low profile, the various canopy tour companies in town display loud billboards prominently.

Anyone researching their canopy tour options will likely be inundated with a barrage of superlatives: the best, the most thrilling, the longest, etc.

And yet, the most important aspect doesn’t get much play: Safety. Humans were not built for flight and hence, given the chance, gravity always prevails.

Two canopy tour participants have plummeted to their deaths in the past four years. The most recent was Patricia Baron, a 42-year-old who died in 2000 on a San Lorenzo Canopy Tour in San Ramon.

In June, 1997, a woman from the United States died near La Fortuna. Both accidents were blamed by officials on equipment failures.

When researching canopy tours, adventure seekers should do their homework to make sure the company is reputable.

One good thing to look for is a safety line that connects you to the zip line in case the main pulley gives way. Or you could always just stick to the trails, here on Earth.

Villalobos reported to be in meeting, but where?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, whose whereabouts still is unknown to most of his creditors, was reported to be in a business meeting Thursday.

The report came from a person who identified himself as “Johnson, attorney” in a short e-mail to A.M. Costa Rica.

“Mr. Villalobos is out, in business meeting. He would answer you soon,” said the message.

That is the first comment from Villalobos since a more detailed e-mail Oct. 18. Both messages are believed to have originiated in Guatemala, although with the Internet the location of a computer server and of the individual using it do not have to be nearby.

A.M. Costa Rica asked him to clarify reports that he may return to Costa Rica and reopen his investment business.

Villalobos, who operated the so-called “brothers” investment operation until he suspended it  Oct. 14, may have custody of more than $1 billion in loans from a predominately non-Costa Rican clientele. Only a small amount of money, perhaps $6 to $8 million, has been frozen in accounts here by investigators.

Villalobos paid from 2.8 to 3 per cent interest a month and attracted funds from all over the world. Although until Oct. 14 he was punctual in paying monthly interest — frequently in cash in bulky manila envelopes, he never detailed exactly how he used the money to generate such a high return.

Two probes target Villalobos and his business practices. One, operating under a public prosecutor in the anti-drug and anti-money laundering section of the courts, seeks to determine if any money in his keeping came from such sources. 

A Canadian investigation says that $380,000 in laundered money passed through Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house operated by Osvaldo Villalobos adjacent to Luis Enrique’s office in the San Pedro Mall. Both were raided July 4.

A second investigation, this one by the Sección de delitos economicos y financieros, seeks to determine if Villalobos violated Costa Rican banking laws by failing to register his loan buisiness. 

Villalobos creditors hope that the bank account freeze ends Nov. 26, but the probability exists that the period will be extended.

Meanwhile, the last remaining, well-known high-interest investment organization, Savings 

Unlimited, has opened a new program that promises a return of from 3.25 porcent to 4 per cent per month. 

The organization, frequently referred to as “The Cubans,” maintains an office in Edificio Colón on Paseo Colón.

In an e-mail to clients dated Oct. 15, the firm said that a spinoff company, RTU, would buy 12,000 slot machines for placement at “hotels, bars. . . and other businesses, both nationally and internationally.” 

The company said that the higher investment return would apply only for new investments.

A percentage of the profits would be shared with a crisis center for youngsters, the e-mail said.

While Villalobos never talked much about his type of business, Savings Unlimited always has said that it is involved in aspects of the casino and gambling buisness.
Time for us
to pull together

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The time is here for expats to pull together. There are some sad cases due to the suspension of the Villalobos lending operation.

We, personally, have fielded a couple of suicide threats, and we know of expats so hard off that they cannot pay rent, buy diapers for their babies or even eat. We will not criticise them for at least having the courage to make an investment decision.

We wait in vain for the embassies to do something for their affected countrymen. We wait in vain for any sign that someone, somewhere official recognizes the catastrophic implications of this situation.

We received Thursday the first group of what likely will be a series of real estate ads of persons who must sell their houses because they do not have the money to pay the mortgage or upkeep.

We want to hear about these critical cases. We won’t publish anything without permission, but at least we can get a grip on the scope of the problem and perhaps direct help where it can do some good.

Tell us at editor@amcostarica.com

Free Trade Area 
of Americas under fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — Thousands of people marched here Thursday to protest talks this week on the Free Trade Area for the Americas.

As top hemispheric officials arrive for the talks, authorities deployed more than 5,000 police to patrol key areas including the talk sites. Thousands of Indians also came to the city to join the protest.

Protests are growing as more anti-trade deal demonstrators arrive to voice their anger. Earlier this week police fired tear gas to disperse teenagers near the city's Central University.

Also in the city's north, a few dozen protesters harassed diners entering the McDonald's fast food franchise. Television images showed them burning shirts they had apparently wrested from the restaurant workers.

On Friday, Ministers and Representatives from 34 Western Hemisphere countries are to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas. And some 900 business leaders from those nations will be meeting separately to form proposals they want the trade pact to include. 

If approved, the FTAA deal would create in year 2005 the world's largest free trade block stretching from Alaska in North America to Argentina here on the South American continent, excluding Cuba.

This week's meetings are aimed at hammering out agreements that spell out decreases in tariffs. The talks are co-chaired by the United States and Brazil. Brazil accounts for almost half the economic output here in South America. 

Haitian-Americans take 
fight to Gov. Bush

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — Leaders of the Haitian-American community here are calling for a work stoppage to protest what they say is the unfair treatment of Haitian boat people. 

Haitian-Americans continue to mount spirited demonstrations denouncing the detention of more than 200 Haitians who waded ashore from a wooden freighter near Miami Tuesday.

Niva Joseph says U.S. immigration policy is unfair, and Haitians are suffering. "I am a taxpayer like everybody else," said Niva Joseph."I do not like the idea that they [immigration officials] are treating my people the way that they are being treated. They are not dogs."

Ms. Joseph says the Haitians should not be confined while awaiting immigration hearings that will determine their status. Immigrant advocates say the policy is discriminatory, since most new arrivals from other nations are released. They add that detention makes it far more difficult for an immigrant to secure legal representation when pursuing an asylum claim.

To press their case, leaders of the Haitian-American community are calling for a general strike Tuesday. It is no coincidence that Tuesday is Election Day in the United States; Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the younger brother of President George W. Bush, is in a tight race for re-election.

For two days, Haitian-Americans have hounded the governor at campaign stops, urging him to appeal to his brother on behalf of detained Haitians. Thursday, Jeb Bush responded. "I have talked to my brother; I have talked to[National Security Advisor] Condoleezza Rice; I have talked to the people that are in charge of this policy," said Florida's Governor.

"I do not believe it is appropriate for immigrants to be able to say, 'If we make it to the shore, even though we do not have a well-founded fear of persecution, we will be allowed into the country.'"

The debate surrounding Haitian boat people is gaining attention in Haiti, as well. The government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has seized upon the controversy to call for an end to economic sanctions imposed by the international community. Haitian officials say their countrymen take to the sea — not to flee political repression — but to escape misery deepened by a cut-off of foreign aid.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, has lost nearly a half billion dollars in economic assistance since the country's parliament was shut down nearly four years ago, launching a political stalemate that continues to this day. 

Environmentalists hope 
da Silva defends Amazon

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — Environmentalists here are hoping the newly elected leftist president, Luiz Inacio Lulada Silva, will do more than his predecessor to protect the country's environment. They consider imposing curbs on mahogany trade as a key test for the incoming government. 

Environmental issues did not play a big part in the presidential campaign that led to the victory Sunday of da Silva. However the election of the former labor leader has heartened environmentalists across the country.

In his first official speech after his election, da Silva made a point of highlighting the need to protect the fragile Amazon environment.

"Our government will be a guardian of the Amazon, and of its diversity. Environmental responsibility will be the hallmark for our development programs, especially for that region," he said.

The Amazon region, which makes up about 65 percent of Brazil's territory, is being steadily deforested, especially by illegal logging. In the last 30 years, an estimated 15 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down, an area larger than France.

Chavez still drowning out calls for new elections

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, has rejected opposition calls for an early referendum on his presidency, saying the constitution does not provide for such a vote.

Chavez says the earliest a referendum could be held is next August, halfway through his six-year term. 

Cesar Gaviria, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, says elections are the only way to resolve Venezuela's crisis. Gaviria has been in this oil-rich South American country this week trying to broker a solution. 

Anti-Chavez military officers have appealed for a peaceful revolt against the president, who was briefly forced from office in a coup attempt in April. 

On Monday, opposition forces plan to hand in petitions with a million signatures demanding a vote on whether Chavez should continue as president. 

Speaking in Washington Thursday, the State Department's top official on Latin America, Otto Reich, called on Venezuelans to work out their differences peacefully.

Generals on trial is 
good for the military 

By the A.M. Costa wire services 

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — The defense minister says the trial of two generals accused of drug trafficking strengthens, rather than damages the army's reputation.

The trial has captivated the public because it offers a rare glimpse into the closed world of high-ranking military officers. 

The Mexican military is not known for its openness and has, in the past, been accused of covering up internal problems. But the court martial of Generals Arturo Acosta and Francisco Quiros has been open to the public.

The two men are accused of helping infamous drug lord Amado Carillo Fuentes to smuggle cocaine from South America to the United States during the 1990s. In a separate charge, they are accused of murdering 143 leftist activists and insurgents during the so-called "dirty war" of the 1970s.

World demands and 
Cuba delivers activist

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HOLGUIN, Cuba — The government has released a dissident who was jailed three years ago for demonstrating against government.

The activist, Oscar Elias Biscet, left a prison here Thursday. 

The doctor and human rights advocate was arrested in 1999 after displaying a Cuban flag upside down, a sign of distress, at a news conference ahead of an international summit in Havana. He was protesting the human rights situation here. 

He was charged with insulting a national symbol, public disorder, and instigating delinquency.

During his detention, international organizations, including Amnesty International and the Organization of American States, said the sentence was unjust. 


Food aid en route
to Central America

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire services reports

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The World Food Program announced Thursday the approval of a $66 million food program to help hundreds of thousands of Central Americans suffering from hunger.

The region has been facing droughts and crop failures. Especially vulnerable are the coffee producing sectors of the region.

“Food insecurity triggered by recurring natural disasters has placed families in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in crisis situation,” said Zoraida Mesa, World Food Program’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“This crisis situation continues to prevent the poorest families from escaping poverty and hunger.”

The food program, which currently assists more than 1.5 million people in Central America, has been responding recently to nutritional crises in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua with emergency programs for acutely malnourished children and their families. The new funding would be used to serve an additional 690,000 vulnerable people in the region.

The agency must now raise the $66 million through nations and private contributors. “We are hopeful that traditional donors, non-traditional donors and the general public will be generous in helping us improve the food security of the poorest Central Americans,” Ms. Mesa said.

Regional journalists facing bad consequences

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Press freedom is among the hallmarks of a democratic society, according to the executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. He told an audience here Wednesday that such freedom struggles to exist in parts of Latin America. 

Argentinian-born lawyer Santiago Canton was named to his current post in June 2001. Previously, he served as the Inter-American Commission's first Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. Speaking to the World Press Freedom Committee, an organization here that includes associations throughout the world, he said reporting remains dangerous in the region.

"Freedom of the press continues to face serious challenges in the Americas, including assassinations of journalists and other acts of extreme violence," he said. "In the first two and a half years of this new century, 20 journalists were murdered in the Americas because of their work." 

One of those killed was Brazilian journalist Domingos Savio Brandao, the owner and columnist of a daily newspaper in the central Brazilian city of Cuiaba. In September 2002, he was shot to death in the newspaper's office. Mr. Canton said the killing was probably caused by the journalist's work.

"It is believed that his murder was related to the newspaper's numerous investigations into the existence of gangs involved in undercover gambling and drug trafficking," he said.

Another recent victim was Colombian journalist Flavio Bedoya, who was killed in April of last year. He was a correspondent for the weekly publication Voz, and had received death threats following an article on the alleged collaboration between the Colombian government's security forces and paramilitary groups. 

He says such murders can have a chilling effect on a news organization's attempt to publish or broadcast the truth. 

"Freedom of expression and access to information become particularly important when democracies are still weak, as they are in many parts of the Americas today," Mr. Canton said. 

The colonel is 
ahead in the polls

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

QUITO, Ecuador — A new opinion poll says presidential candidate Lucio Gutierrez has more than twice the support of his opponent leading into the Nov. 24 runoff election. 

The survey published Wednesday says the retired army colonel has at least 50 percent of voter support. His rival, millionaire businessman Alvaro Noboa, trails with 22 percent. The other voters surveyed were undecided. 

Colonel Gutierrez and Noboa were the top two vote getters in the first-round presidential elections on Oct. 20. Neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote to win the election outright. 

Alajuela man dies
from stab wounds

By A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 42-year-old man died Wednesday night in Alejuela, the victim of an aparent murder, said investigators. The man, identified as Alfredo Mora Corrales, suffered from some 10 knife wounds in his throat.

The primary suspect is a man, 39, who engaged in a fight with Mora the previous night, according to Judicial Investigation officials.

Pair face charge
in murder probe

By A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial Investigators detained a man and woman, both 53, from Heredia as suspects of a murder that occurred Oct. 15. The victim was a 42-year-old man, also from Heredia.

Intelligence and criminal analysis led officials to the pair. Personal vengeance is believed to be their motive. The victim, identified as Alvarado, was found on a public road with a large wound to the head. He died later that night in Hospital de Heredia.
Professional Directory
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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Ambassador Butler awards a check
to Douglas Danielson
of the Salvation Army, while Red Cross President Miguel Carmona
waits his turn.

A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay
Charities receive checks from British Embassy
By Bryan Kay
of A.M. Costa Rica staff

Georgina Butler, British ambassador to Costa Rica, handed over checks Thursday to both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The money was raised at an August Golden Jubilee party for Queen Elizabeth II at Ms. Butler’s residence in Escazú.

Ms. Butler presented almost $10,000 raised from the party to Miguel Carmona, president of the Red Cross, and Douglas Danielson, divisional commander for the Salvation Army in Costa Rica, at a presentation at the British Embassy.

Exactly half of the total raised from the party was donated to each charity. Carmona said that the
money the Red Cross received will be used to
further the organization’s work with people who 

are lost in the mountains or at sea. These events often involve tourists and response is very important, he said.

The Salvation Army, Danielson said, will use its donation to develop ongoing social programs, such as a children’s food program and a drug and alcohol program.

The embassy started out with no budget for the event, according to Oriel Willock, second secretary at the embassy. Some of the party’s sponsors provided their services for free. 

Sponsors included Bagelmans, Earth University and Tim Hodgson, who held a ‘Bangers n’ Mash’ stall. 

The party, which around 1,000 people attended, was held Aug. 17th.

More Villalobos Letters
Reader: Villalobos funds estimate is suspicious

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am happy to see some of you are actually trying to make sense of this situation. The claim that Villalobos has $1 billion from investors is highly suspicious. You see that Costa Rica’s economy is $19 billion dollars total. There is no way that one person can hide such a staggering amount of money in this country without it popping up in the national product accounts (GDP, GNP, etc). 

You cannot find this money even in the foreign investment accounts. I mean, has anybody seen Eco-tourism, Intel, Coffee, Bananas, Non-Traditional Crops and The Brothers in the same economic report? Furthermore the total of the 50 accounts currently under OIJ scrutiny is $6 million dollars only. 

So let’s say Villalobos has the rest of the money somewhere else: where? how did he take it out of the country? Is anybody aware of tax withholding laws? If you have a company in Costa Rica and it pays you a dividend, the company is supposed to withhold 25% on the spot. If you go to a bank to buy a CD, the bank withholds taxes right there and there. So he wired the money??? Whom? 

A bank should have raised a flag immediately (maybe not 10 years ago, but now???) What about any US, Canadian or Swiss bank? Shouldn’t they? Maybe this is how the alleged offending $380k was allegedly laundered? I mean, if he took $994 million out of the country, wouldn’t that be so huge a loophole that it would be in the radar of just about any country in the world. And yet we have been told that there are accounts of his frozen elsewhere in the world and that he went into “self-imposed exile” to keep his other accounts from being frozen as well? 

So there are, I think, only 3 possible, and mutually exclusive, scenarios here: 

1. Mr. Villalobos’ investors’ calculations of their impact on the Costa Rican economy are highly speculative and spurious.

2. The money simply is not there, not the $1billion anyway.

3. The Government is right to suspect something really fishy is going on. 

I don’t have any reason to believe Villalobos is a dishonest person. On the contrary, everything I have read about him is good. I haven’t heard anything bad, even from the Government, so maybe no. 3 is not possible. No. 2 would probably put a lot of people under suicide watch (keep it calm folks!), so I am hoping, and actually strongly suspect, that no. 1 is simply not truth. Let me hold on to that one! 

Guillermo Jimenez
Fairfield, Conneticut

Bilingual meetings 
needed in future

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

Thank you very much for the defense groups. Wouldn't you think it could be interesting to make a translation in Spanish in our next meetings for the non-English spoken. 

Francois Brunet

Double standards in Costa Rican business 

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It has become quite clear to me that most of you people/investors are just not thinking properly. 

Some of you will recall my tirades on local Costa Rican Internet groups and remember your words of saying go home if it is so bad here, blah, blah, blah. 

I, like many others I have talked with over the years, spend most of my savings in this country attaining proper licenses, proper and legal set-up of building and set up of a small business. Mine was a restaurant and bar. I was open for only 8 months, (and very successful, packing them in at night). Then the local municipal government came one day 14 months ago and asked me to get out of my building, closed the building and closed my business. 

Now closed 14 months and still fighting the system. For a short understanding one neighbor complaining of noise, I never had a fine, never had any requirements to change anything, and they never had the legal proof (The Health Ministry required sound proofing) to do this act. I am nestled between two other Tico owned bars who are still open and who are quite noisy throughout the night, both signed the neighbors petition to close me, (imagine that!).

I was awarded permits by the municipality, allowed to invest, remodel, employee and spend thousands of dollars. I operated in a commercial area. I never paid chorizo,(maybe the problem). Officials told me that I am gringo and they know gringos are loaded so take my money and get out of town, (their town). 

Yes I even found out, those 4 years before my opening that the municipality had closed this location in the same . . .  manner for the same neighbor complaining. So they knew this was a problem and still awarded me a permit to open and operate.

Yes I am still fighting this, yes its has taken many dollars and much of my health to deal with this but I deserve retribution. I did nothing wrong, I came here, invested, put Tico families to work and was busted as if this were a COMMUNIST society, NOT DEMOCRATIC.

Now, where am I going with this. Yes, you guessed it, it's the same [stuff] that poor brother Enrique is being dealt with. You are Guilty, out of business, and we are jealous your in our town making money. 

The bankers are banding against him, they have lost business, they look bad, they can't provide what he does to depositors and most of all they want his business and his money. The lobby group is to many pumping, Pacheco on a daily basis of their numbers of irate jealousy and Tico buddy syndrome. But Money talks Dr. Abel . . . Walks. Villalobos success speaks load and clear.

In fact you, Dr. Abel, should make lemonade here out of lemons. Fire the deadbeat banking minister and hire Enrique Villalobos to run the countries banking system. Or simply give him a hundred million dollars to invest and get your country out of debt and in what, less than 3 years both of you will be hailed as heroes to the country and gringos will flock here as the economy will be better, better roads, better food, better housing.

OR WE THE GRINGOS. need to say ENOUGH is ENOUGH. Its ENOUGH of the crime, murders, robberies, its ENOUGH of this Government not respecting permits or concessions awarded to multi-million dollar and small businesses, its ENOUGH of the corruption, its ENOUGH of the double price lists and the treatment in double standards, its ENOUGH of poor inadequate services and overpriced products and poor services, its ENOUGH of a poorly run corrupt police force or the Organization of Judicial Investigations who are afraid of the criminals or to arrest the thief living in a tin shack or when they release a killer in prison who threatens to kill the owner of a bar and then arrests the owner of a bar for defending himself, its ENOUGH of a legal system that thrives on mounds of paperwork, time delays, total chaos and bribery 

And I for one am sick of pura vida, which is the first and foremost lie in this country. What is pure life? Hell, bribery, corruption, putting people out of business, not being responsible, not being honorable, not respecting other peoples property?

You want results, you want your money back from brother Enrique, forget the blood sucking, muck up the deal, spend your money and his, lawyers. You have the groups started, take action by pooling our money, place ads in the New York Times and Miami Herald. 

TOUTING: do not come to Costa Rica, Murder is on the rise, Tourists are not safe, bribery is everywhere and MOST OF ALL, companies thinking of expanding to Costa Rica, forget it, they don’t honor their permits, concessions, infrastructure is extremely expensive, labor touted as cheap is a lie, because you have to hire three to do the job of one and then one security guard to protect your total interest as they are born thieves. 

You are guilty until proven innocent. Women can have you thrown in jail for nothing. They believe a woman over the man every time, your guilty, basic human rights are not respected. Roads are poor and getting worse, the country is in debt, the country is now in a tax turmoil, the country is poised ready for follow suit as Argentina, the countries safe/tax haven is eroding everyday, and more.

You fight fire with fire, if your pocketbook is being attacked, attack Costa Rica’s pocket book. But most of you tree huggers, mariposa take the attitude if you don’t like this wonderful country and its wonderful people leave. Ok same back at you, take your lumps with the loss of Villalobos and leave, or . . . stand up and be heard in a method that will make a difference. If you can meekly walk in front of the embassy saying: give peace a chance, you can get tougher and say, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, give Villalobos a chance, his freedom to do business, take responsibility for your lack of notifications of law changes, MAKE MONEY NOT WAR. 

Just maybe we will accomplish much more than the return of our popular investment and lifestyle. We are a major, and I mean major, influx of money to this economy. Do we not get the recognition we rightfully deserve now or should we just leave and let them go back to oxcarts and Pura Vida?

Clifton Lees

Reader recollects old encounter with Brothers

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Two comments on the Villalobos brother’s situation. First, the question that no investor with the Brothers seems to have the courage to ask is: How did the Brothers make the money that supposedly yielded sufficient funds to pay 2.8 percent interest per month? 

I moved to Costa Rica in 1988. In 1989 and 1990 I exchanged dollars for colones with the Villalobos brothers a few times. About the same time I learned enough from friends about the 5 percent per month Villalobos program to be interested in putting some money with the Brothers. 

I no longer recall which brother I met with, but when I asked for some explanation as to how The Brothers operation worked, supporting such payouts, I was rather abruptly and . . . escorted from their San Jose centro office. I doubt that the Costa Rican, Canadian and other governments investigating the Brothers are that concerned about some $300K in drug money having been deposited with the Brothers. 

I suspect the main interest of these governments is: How did the Brothers make sufficient profit to make possible the interest they were paying out? Was the money made illegally? And, what taxes on profits, interest, etc. were not paid by the Brothers and their 6,000+ friends who were paid interest by the Brothers? 

Tom Larson
Investors' self-pity is undeserved

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am writing again in response to all of the letters of the investors and their meetings and self-pity. The Villalobos clan feels that they are the chosen people that make a very high interest rate on their money and do not have to declare their earnings of interest, and now they are in trouble in their personal lives. 

They made the decision to invest, they made the decision to put all their eggs in ONE BASKET, which any smart investor would not do, just because of a situation like this. If you have all your money in one company and it goes under, there is no back-up funds so you are broke. Ask the Enron investors and stockholders. 

The difference is that these people invested their money honestly and PAID TAXES on their gains, and were only allowed to take a very small loss on their taxes. I am sure that at least 90% of the Villalobos investors never paid a dime to their respective governments and not a dime to Costa Rica to help with little things like education, police, fire, roads etc, etc, etc. 

So beside the 3% per month interest they are receiving, on the other end of the spectrum they are not paying tax on their earnings, which would probably be about average 20%, but all the self pity they give themselves for being GREEDY and now broke in a lot of instances is sickening. One of your readers wrote that she was BRAVE enough to invest. That statement is deplorable. BRAVE is a word associated with heroes, not stupid GREEDY investors that are only looking out for themselves. 

Brave is people that lost their lives trying to save people on 9/11 and other such tragic events. I personally invested in a business in Costa Rica with a Tico and ended up losing money, but it was an honest business and we paid taxes when we were making money and a lot less than what the Villalobos clan was making. We were forced out by the overnight-changing laws of Costa Rica, which now I have learned a lesson from. I licked my wounds and moved on, which I suggest all of the Villalobos Clan do. 

Now when all of your respective governments catch up with you and you all have to payback taxes, interest, and penalties, and in some instances maybe jail time- WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD — You are NOT the CHOSEN PEOPLE and have to abide by the laws like the rest of us and pay taxes and take responsibility for your own GREEDY actions. 

Robert W. De Pretis

Time to hear from government, says reader

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Isn't it time the government make a statement of its real timeline and reasons for its "special" treatment of Villalobos, since one of the campaign promises was new honesty and transparency? They didn't need to amputate to fix a hangnail, though it is so Costa Rican! Why use a bandage when an axe is so much more dramatic.

Who is the actual person(s) who said let's go get Villalobos? And what is their story. Or do they just have lunch with the bankers?

On the other hand maybe the real controllers of Costa Rica would love to see a lot of discounted real estate to repossess and a bunch of annoying ex-pats sent packing, so they can run their little fiefdom like they used to.

Where is that sincere looking, fatherly, scholarly man on all those posters we had to look at during the elections for so long? Or is this really about trade agreements and aid from the northern patrons that will end up in someone's pockets?

It is so sad to see the puppet masters in this lovely country just keep on pulling the strings and screwing their citizens and constituents.

It's time to hear from El Presidente and all the representatives that spoke so long and profoundly about clean government during the elections and not about the right hand of the government not knowing what the left hand is doing.

If nothing else, where are the time honored "news leaks" from an un-named, but reliable source? And that goes for where Villalobos is too!

It would REALLY be interesting to see what prominent Costa Ricans may have removed their funds just before the door slammed. Somebody always knows!

Changing a "Merry go Round" to "Pirates of the Caribbean" is such an unattractive political ride change when people's lives are being destroyed by a privileged few with a private agenda.

If the politicos were pursued with the zeal that the Brothers are, nobody would be around to run the country! Nada zip!

Henry Lynch


Investors' logic put into question

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I've been following with some interest all the letters and news about the Villalobos affair. Though I have sympathy for all those who have lost money to Villalobos, and wish them all luck in chasing their money down, I have to wonder, what were they thinking? 

There is risk in any investment. The higher the interest, the higher the risk. Risk means you can lose some or all of your money. Now that's basic high school economics. I learned that when I was 14 years old at a public school. Getting 3 percent a month in interest on relatively tiny amounts of money should set off warning alarms right away. Thirty-six percent a year, and the person taking the investment won't say anything about where the money goes or how he earns the interest? 

Furthermore, if the person taking the investment instead took some capital and kept the money in their own business, that 3 percent a month compounds to 42.58 percent a year. That's doubling your money every 24 months. Why would any business that can make that kind of money for 25 years in a row (and there are very, very few of those in the world, even fewer that are legal) compound interest at 3 percent a month for 25 years? That's 709751.35 percent interest. With an initial investment of $10,000, that's over $70 million. With $100,000, it's over $700 million. Add one more year to that, and it's over a billion. 

If his business can afford to pay you 36 percent annually, how much is HE making off the deal?  Some are complaining that now various governments are going to find out about the money they were making and come after them for it. Well, what did you expect when you lied on your tax returns?  Some are complaining about losing their life savings. What were you thinking putting all your money in one investment? Look at ANY investment book, or talk to any investment advisor, and the No. 1 thing they will tell you is to not put all your money in one place. 

Not only do all of these investors not know where their money is, but they have no idea what it's being used for. Was it used responsibly? Was it used to fund something criminal? I guess when you are being paid 36 percent a year, you don't care what your money is being used for? No matter how you look at it, it should have been obvious from the start that this was a high-risk investment, and that there were no guarantees. 

Mark Hoff

Potential investor waits for Villalobos

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

Congratulations to the staff at A.M. Costa Rica on covering this ongoing problem. I am not an investor, but my wife and I learned about the Brothers a year ago. I have considered investing and as soon as things return to some normality WE WILL INVEST with the Brothers, if they are still around.

The present state of affairs is most unfortunate, but we do not have the end of the story. In most novels the hero is the jerk until the end: think about that.

I invite the investors to separate the issues and focus on the meat of the subject . . . Did he pay on time? Did he keep his promises?

Right now he can't act until the end of the investigation. At that time the question is, did he launder money? If the answer is NO, forget the rest of the story.

Try to not let your thoughts side track you and punish yourself mentally with questions like where is the money? Where is the rest of the money? What did he do with it? Man! You could really torture yourself easily with questions that you could have asked yourself anytime before this all happened. 

The truth is I do not know what my US bank does with my money. I do not know what will happen if all of us that have money in one bank show up at the same time to demand our money. I do not know if any drug dealer, rapist, terrorist, non-tax payer or other improperly acquired money is in my bank. And given the number of banks and number of perpetrators, it is a damn good probability that my U.S. bank has some dirty money.

It just so happens that they are not under investigation, Villalobos is.

Even from my position as a "non-investor" I feel raged at the possibility that two leading countries, the U.S. and Canada, and a leading Central American country like Costa Rica can seem to get their act together and determine if Villalobos did some wrong doing, judge in line with the perpetration and leave the rest of the unaffected people to live their lives in peace.

My investments in the US have taken a serious downslide in the past year and a half and all I can do is wait for the market to come back up. For how long, who knows? I will have to wait, so will millions of others.

At least you can wait until Nov. 26th and then re-think the situation.

With the best of wishes, 

U. N. Mambi
Atlanta, Georgia

Professional spoke with ulterior motives

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

Being in the Tuesday meeting we could have thought that the resume was written by Charles Zeller and wasn't at all the reflection of the majority but simply the way to think from a professional focusing on his own interest. 

Gilbert Jourdan

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