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These stories were published Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 220
Jo Stuart
About us
Red sky at night is a sure sign that the weather is turning away from the rainy season to the more pleasant Tico ‘summer.’ This shot is looking west from the steps of La Solidad Church.
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Los Anonos widening already behind schedule
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Los Anonos Bridge, which links La Sabana and Escazú, is going to reopen three months late, according to Modesto Modrigal Porsas, the foreman in charge of the workers undertaking the upgrade.

Work began on the bridge Aug. 21. The bridge originally was scheduled for completion by Dec. 15 and in time for Christmas, said Javier Chaves Bolaños, minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte, on the day of the closing.

Porsas said Tuesday that he expected his men to complete the work in March. On the other hand, Porsas also said that this would entail a five-month delay.  That would put the completion in mid-May.

At the outset, the estimated cost of the project was ¢172,000,000 or about $470,000.

Upgrades are being carried out to increase the bridge’s lanes from one to two. Porsas said that there are 30 people working on the project. 

Before the closing, traffic on one side had to wait until the bridge was clear from the opposite direction before proceeding.

José Anhl, a taxi driver, said that the closure of the bridge is causing him big problems. He said he now uses the road through Los 

A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay
Barrier blocks entry to worksite.

Anonos, known as Bajo de los Anonos. This road, also single lane, Anhl said, is very dangerous. 

Besides traffic moving in both directions, there are often children playing on the road, while houses are extremely close to the road’s edge. Anhl said that many vehicles are using this road.

However, the ministry suggests other routes, such as the connection with the autopista Próspero Fernández at the north end of Escazú.

A number of the bus services that would normally utilize the bridge are now using Próspero Fernández.

Colombian trio grabbed here for U.S. charges
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three Colombians, presumed members of what the United States has designated a terrorist organization in that country, found themselves in jail Tuesday after being surrounded by police at a hotel in San Antonio de Belén.

The three are believed to be members of the United Self Defense Force, and their visit here was to negotiate an arms deal, officials claimed.

Not many specifies of the arrests are known. The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública scheduled a press conference for Wednesday morning where Rogelio Ramos, the minister, was expected to outline the case against the men. However, it was known that the U.S. enforcement and intelligence agencies sought the captures.

President George Bush has linked the group with drug sales to the United States. The United Self Defense Force is a rightwing militia closely allied with the Colombia military. 

The nature of the arms deal was not known, but the organization took delivery of more than 7,000 AK-47 rifles that were supposed to go to Panamá earlier this year. The boat full of guns ended up being unloaded at a dark beach in Colombia. That scheme is under investigation by the Organization of American States and others.

The events unfolded at the swank Marriott Costa Rica where an overwhelming force of heavily armed police confronted the trio as they left the hotel. The suspects were not armed.

Presumably, U.S. officials will attempt to extradite the trio to the United States for trial. U.S. law allows prosecution of drug suspects who may never have actually set foot in the United States. However, embassy officials here have been less than successful in a series of extradition requests, and it is likely that the case will drag on for a year or more.

Costa Rica is characterized as a playground for drug and arms dealers, so there is no indication why the three arrested Tuesday were singled out.

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Republican hopes were ballooning while . . . 
A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane
. . . the Democrats were more sedate as evening began.
U.S. races do not demonstrate a clear trend there
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Politically connected U.S. citizens in Costa Rica had their stomachs tumbling back and forth Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning as returns from congressional elections in the United States poured from television screens.

Local adherents of both major political parties staked out their turf for victory parties, and it appeared the victories were mixed.

By early morning, numbers clearly showed that the Republicans had maintained a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives with 221 confirmed seats. But in the Senate, control remained up in the air. Republicans with 48 likely seats were leading Democrats with 46 likely seats where 51 seats were needed for control. President George Bush is a Republican.

The Republicans Abroad of Costa Rica celebrated the night watching the results at a party the group held in Escazú. 

Frances Givens, the club’s new president, said she was confident Republicans would do well Tuesday, but also said the most important part of voting is participation.

Dorothy Sagel, co-president of the Democrats, was celebrating with her club Tuesday. She said she is going to be happy Wednesday if the Democrats can at least hold onto the Senate.

Jerry Karl, co-president of the Democrats abroad, said the club members were having fun just getting together to honor Election Day.

Among Democrats a U.S. war with Iraq was an occasional conversation topic. Some analysts had seen the election as a referendum on Bush’s desire to wage war with Iraq. But no anti-Bush trend was obvious. Nor was a pro-war trend apparent. The nation remained closely divided.

In the United States the entire House of Representatives must stand for election every two years. A percentage of the Senate must seek reelection every two years, too. 

An analysis of the news
Straw poll shows Ticos unaware of Villalobos crisis
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When they hear the name "Villalobos," most North Americans react emotionally. Some are angry and others are patient and prayerful. Nearly all have heard of him.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho is the key figure in an unfolding financial crises. 

But when the same word is offered to Costa Ricans, they look blankly or struggle to make some connection with current news. Some respond immediately with a description of José Miguel Villalobos, the former minister of Justicia y Gracia fired by President Abel Pacheco more than a week ago. Others just fish for an acceptable answer.

Reporters quizzed more than a dozen Costa Ricans from all walks of life and in many parts of the Metro area Tuesday. Not a single one could make the connection between Luis Enrique Villalobos and his $1 billion personal loan business.

One reason is the curious avoidance by the Spanish language press of the story and the lack of recent articles on the Villalobos case. Although Villalobos’ every move is hot news for North Americans, one has to go to the specialized financial press here to find a mention since a flurry of stories appeared in the popular Spanish-language press when his operation was raided by police July 4.

Among Costa Ricans, there are a few creditors of Villalobos and there are a few spouses of North Americans who have money with his firm.  A few second-generation Ticos also are creditors. Most creditors are North Americans or Europeans.

And with the Tico knowledge gap so demonstrated by this newspaper’s rump poll Tuesday lies the problem for those would try to generate support for the estimated 6,000-plus creditors among Costa Rican citizens.

At least one group, United Concerned Citizens, Residents & Friends of Costa Rica, plans to embark on a $15,000 promotional campaign to let Costa 

Yet another page 
of Villalobos letters

Ricans know about the impact the Villalobos case many have on the national economy. 

The idea is to generate support and sympathy so that anti-drug and financial investigators will finish up their work quickly and allow the bulk of the Villalobos cash to be returned to the creditors.

Those who did business with Villalobos in the Mall San Pedro office also are worried that Costa Rica and other governments will move to confiscate the money as alleged laundered cash. They hope that Costa Rican public opinion will be on their side to forestall such an event.

Villalobos himself has been lacking in the public relations department. Even at the time of the July 4 raid, nearly all the information came from police here and press releases from Canadian investigators who had arrested six of their countrymen on drug smuggling and money laundering charges. Villalobos allowed police and investigators to frame the scope of the probe and he did not contest their pronouncements.

And the 63-year-old businessman failed to reach out adequately to his creditors, many of whom face a bleak future without the money he holds. He issued several statements, including two to A.M. Costa Rica. And he placed several print ads. But he failed to adopt a serious crisis-management attitude that would placate his creditors and win points with reporters and the Costa Rican public.

Nor did he, a representative or his lawyers attend any of the public meetings creditors held. Now he has remained secluded, perhaps out of the country, for more than two weeks.

Villalobos could have been the lead figure in an effort to win goodwill among Costa Ricans. Without him, the groups of creditors have an uphill battle, the Tuesday rump poll shows.

RACSA is planning an expansion to other countries
By Christian Brunham 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Costa Rican government Internet provider, has decided to expand to other Central American nations. 

The monopoly Internet provider, known as RACSA, plans to install a fiber optic system throughout Central America, starting with Panamá. The company hopes to be operational throughout Panamá by the end of 2003, said Isidro Serrano, general manager of RACSA.

This announcement was made in a press conference Tuesday to report the lowering of service rates for commercial Internet users.

Faced with competition from Insituto Costarricense de Electricidad, or ICE, the Internet-provider has cut its rates from 35 to 39 percent for some commercial services. Residential rates were not touched. The rate change begins Nov. 1.






A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham

RACSA plans to continue to improve upon and add different modes of connection, such as DSL, to improve its service, said Serrano. RACSA is a subsidiary of the ICE. The parent company already has an experimental DSL system in operation in San José.

Residential users most likely use either a dial-up modem to access the Internet by telephone or a modem connected to one of the two television cable providers that then hook into RACSA.

RACSA since its founding has been a monopoly. Only recently has ICE entered into the Internet business. The parent company, ICE, is able to take advantage of the many miles of fiber optic telephone lines that it has installed throughout the Central Valley.

ICE plans to target commercial users, letting RACSA continue to be the Internet source for residential users. The reduction in commercial rates is a step to compete with ICE.

The parent company already has plans for free-standing Internet kiosks that would compete with Internet cafes, which now mostly are customers of RACSA. 

ICE also has systems in place to handle massive Internet loads generated by businesses and corporate headquarters.

RACSA, as a monopoly, frequently has been the target of criticism and jokes. The ICE move also is seen as a way to maintain an Internet monopoly in Costa Rica while at the same time giving the illusion of competition.

RACSA recently made a connection in Limón to the Arcos 1 submarine cable that carries computer transmissions to the United States. This is the second such cable. The Maya 1 had carried the bulk of the load after it replaced an earlier satellite relay.

The extra capacity to direct signals internationally gives RACSA an advantage in making connections with Panamá and the rest of Central America.

Latin coral reefs at mercy
of new ‘bleaching’ wave

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new wave of "bleaching," a scientific phenomenon caused by climate change, is threatening the vitality of coral reefs in Belize, Ecuador, and elsewhere around the world, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

The program said researchers have recorded over 400 cases of bleaching globally in 2002. Coral bleaching occurs when stressful conditions, such as high sea temperatures, cause corals to expel the microscopic algae that live in their tissues. The algae provide essential food energy for corals. Bleached corals are still alive and can recover fully if the stressful conditions are not too severe or prolonged.

The threat of bleaching is being documented by a new global coral reef information system called Reef Base, which contains data on bleaching events dating to 1963. 

Reef Base is working closely with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to match bleaching events with global sea surface temperatures. The goal is to create updated maps displaying bleaching events with the administration’s Index of Temperature Anomalies.

The administration’s Alan Strong said that "we have found a strong correlation" between the agency's index and coral bleaching events and "can often provide real-time predictions of bleaching" around the world.

Reef Base is funded by the International Coral Reef Action Network, a partnership of organizations dedicated to reversing the decline of coral reef ecosystems. Working with that organization is the U.S. Agency for International Development, which announced Sept. 1 that it is forging a new alliance with the United Nations to promote coral reef conservation in Central America.

The alliance will provide assistance to Central American countries to implement the Tulum Declaration, a regional agreement to protect and conserve the biodiversity of the Meso-American Barrier Reef, the second longest barrier reef in the world. 

The Meso-American reef is home to 65 species of stony coral and more than 500 species of fish. More than two million people in the region depend on the reef for ecosystem goods and services, such as fishing and tourism.

Overall, the development agency is helping 30 countries worldwide protect coral reefs. Besides Ecuador and Belize, USAID is helping to halt and reverse the degradation of coral reefs and associated habitats such as coastal mangrove forests in Jamaica, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Survey: Advice sites to be
measured with care

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumers need to navigate cyberspace with caution, according to an international survey released Monday. Two organizations - Consumers International and the U.S.-based Consumer Web Watch - conducted the survey of more than 460 Web sites with the help of online researchers in 13 countries.

Beau Brendler, Consumer Web Watch director said, "Sites advising consumers to make decisions about their health and personal finances are not doing a good enough job of citing sources, disclosing bias or even telling readers where the sites are located and how to reach them."

A Consumers International release highlights some of the findings: about half the sites included in the survey failed to give warnings about the proper use of the information presented, to offer credentials or background on the people dispensing advice on the sites, or to give sources for advice.

Opposition gain public
support; request vote

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACUS, Venezuela — The political opposition here scored an important symbolic victory Monday. Marchers carrying a referendum petition were able to reach the headquarters of the electoral council. A stone throwing, pro-government mob had attempted to stop the petitioners until local police stepped in.

This is the first time in the country’s history that a referendum has been requested by the electorate, and the issue is a divisive one. 

If the referendum question is approved, voters will be asked whether President Hugo Chavez should immediately resign voluntarily.

The president, however, says the referendum is unconstitutional. There are only two ways, he says, to remove him from power before his term ends in 2007, either await a binding recall referendum, which could be held as soon as next August, or amend the constitution to move up the election.

Taking him at his word, the president's hard-core supporters gathered Monday morning outside the headquarters of the electoral authority in the downtown here.

Chanting slogans like "they shall not pass" and "this is a class struggle, poor against rich,” Chavez's supporters prepared to repel the opposition marchers, whose departure point was in the richer eastern half of the city.

Efforts by pro-government figures including the radical mayor here, Freddy Bernal, to persuade the pro-government demonstrators to move away proved fruitless. 

The government was clearly concerned that its supporters were presenting a violent image to the world, just as Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, was arriving here in his latest bid to get negotiations underway.

As the marchers approached, pitched battles broke out between the pro-Chavez demonstrators, who threw rocks and bottles and built burning barricades, and the metropolitan police who used tear gas. A number of people had to be treated for gas inhalation, and several for scrapes and bruises and gunshot wounds. Journalists were reportedly among the injured. 

For almost an hour after the battle began the National Guard, which was protecting the electoral council building, did nothing to disperse the rock throwers.

Once they moved in, however, the streets were rapidly cleared, and the marchers were able to deliver the signatures. The electoral council now has a month to decide whether or not to go ahead with the referendum. If it does not, the opposition has threatened an indefinite general strike to force Chavez out.

Colombians invade
Tico embassy there

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 35 persons, identified as war refugees, occupied the Costa Rican Embassy in Bogota, Colombia Tuesday in an attempt to draw attention to their plight.

A spokesman for the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto in San José said the war refugees were seeking to send petitions to the Colombian government and that the group left voluntarily by late afternoon.

Some 13 petitions of an economic and social character were presented to the Colombian government by Ambassador Melvin Sáenz and his staff, said the ministry.

‘Near-miss’ immigrants 
returned to Haiti

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Nineteen people who failed to reach U.S. soil last week in a mass immigration attempt have been returned to Haiti. 

Seventeen Haitians and two Dominicans arrived here Tuesday. 

They were intercepted last week off the coast of the U.S. state of Florida. The group was among more than 200 Haitians on a crowded ship that went aground off Key Biscayne.

The others rushed to shore and were quickly detained. 

The Haitian-American community has called for the release of the detainees, saying they should be allowed to secure legal representation for their asylum claims in the community.

The community is also protesting U.S. policy that says Cubans who make it to U.S. soil are eligible for U.S. residency. Most Haitians are denied asylum.

Last year, the Bush administration changed the U.S. policy on Haiti refugees. Previously, those with a credible fear of persecution were released into the community while their asylum claims were being processed.

Drug lord granted freedom to remain in jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A jailed drug lord who was ordered freed for good behavior will have to stay in prison to serve a new four-year sentence for bribery. A judge sentenced Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela Tuesday, days after a different judge ordered him and his brother, Gilberto, freed early. 

The Rodriguez brothers were leaders of the former Cali cocaine cartel. They were captured in 1995 and later sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for trafficking cocaine to the United States. Their pending release from a maximum security prison caught the government of President Alvaro Uribe off-guard. 

Last week, Uribe blocked the release order, saying he had doubts about its legality.

Uribe has insisted that fighting the drug trade is critical to ending the country’s 38-year-old civil war. The conflict pits leftist rebels against right-wing paramilitaries and the government and has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade alone. 

The United States has spent more than $1 billion in recent years helping Colombia wipe out its coca crop, which is used to make cocaine.

Mexican drought highlights water debate

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY — After experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades for the past few years, the lower Rio Grande Valley, on the border between Mexico and the United States, is now being soaked with record rainfall. 

But the long-awaited rain is unlikely to have much impact on the dispute over water that has developed between the two nations this year.

There is water everywhere in this part of northern Mexico. Fields are flooded, fast-moving currents have cut some roads and thousands of people have taken refuge in special shelters. The rain is expected to continue for at least another couple of days, but forecasters believe it will diminish by the end of the week. 

That would be good news for people on both sides of the border, after three weeks of almost continuous rain. The downpours did little for valley farmers because they came too late in the season. Lake and reservoir levels are up only modestly because much of the rain has run off downstream into the Gulf of Mexico. 

This turn in the weather picture here along the border comes at a time when American officials are threatening to cut the flow of water into the Rio Grande river, in retaliation for Mexico's failure to meet its obligations under a 1944 water-sharing treaty. 

Officials from the U.S. Interior Department say they are considering the possibility of limiting the flow of water from the Colorado River, which enters northwestern Mexico and flows into the Sea of Cortez. Also under consideration is blocking water from the upper Rio Grande from reaching Juarez, just across the river from El Paso, Texas. 

Mexico admits to falling behind, over the past ten years, in its treaty obligation to release water from the Rio Conchos and other rivers that flow into the Rio Grande. 
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More letters on the Villalobos situation
Was it 'too good to be true?'

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My heart goes out to those folks who invested heavily with Villalobos. Most often when people are drawn into pyramid investment schemes, they lose in a big way at some point. It is sad and hurtful to many. Here again the adage, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is" seems to apply.  Instead of berating each other, we should have compassion. 

Ralph H. Antonelli
Antioch, Illinois
Cartoon by reader Tio B 
Ms. Castro's comments wrong by 20 years

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

Ms. Castro, spokesperson for the government, is misleading the public regarding the risk in the Villalobos case. She claims that high returns involve high risk. Please let Ms. Castro know that there was no risk for twenty years and it was not until the government closed the office of Villalobos that anyone was concerned with risk. 

If the risk is because of the government intervention, which it is, then my advice is not to invest one dime in Costa Rica. As far as returns of 2.8% monthly are concerned, does one not realize that profits in the banking system yield much more than this? With a 1% reserve requirement by the Federal Reserve, banks may loan money that is created out of thin air. 

Why is it that banks have the tallest buildings and the plush offices? Their profits are sinful. This is why the banks can and do write off loans to countries in the billions and not feel the effects of their loss. The difference is that Villalobos shares his profits with personal friends from whom he borrows money. No bank will share its profits with its depositors, Villalobos does. 

When people start killing themselves because of the government's intervention into the Villalobos business, and not because of the risk of their investment (twenty-year track record), then and only then will the truth about the Costa Rican government be exposed for what it really is, 'a corrupt bureaucracy.' 

Best regards,

Bill Franks
Atlanta, Ga.

Villalobos simply knows how to make money

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I had heard of the man, I have met the man, I had dialogue with him. When he had a problem he personally called his lenders to assure them that their investment was safe and that he needed time to sort through the problems facing him. 

More often than not, when a foreigner stumbles upon the knowledge of Villalobos and his business, they are suspicious to think how can a business pay such a high return. Often, they think that there must be some illegal activity  going on to facilitate the ability to offer such returns. Others think it must be a pyramid or a ponzi scam. Lets examine all of  the above. 

To a foreigner 2.8 to 3 percent a month return seems unreal, but ask a Tico and most Central or South Americans: this is normal and even a bit on the low side. 

Should it be a pyramid or ponzi scam, I offer my congratulations to Villalobos for managing the most effective scam in the history of mankind, perhaps since Rasputin. If true he has surely exceeded all others of modern day by 4 fold. 

Drugs or money laundering: The man has been doing business in excess of 20 years, how  can anyone continue in such a manner for so long year after year without being discovered, caught and sent to jail. 

Should this be the case, perhaps the governmental agencies of Canada, the United States and Costa Rica should have their hands slapped (for that is all that happens to governmental and religious wrong doers these days), and hang their heads in shame for permitting something so terrible to go on for so long. . .

So what does Mr. Villalobos do and how does he do it? The answer is that he knows how to make money. He borrows money  from people and businesses, reinvests it in a variety of ventures and pays his lenders a good return for its use. 

Sounds much like a bank, although banks pay a low rate of return, have a high overhead, sometimes bad debts and often provide you with the frustration of poor service and long lines. . .

Villalobos has been able to grow his business over his 20-year plus history to a considerable size, at least by Costa Rican standards, and now it would seem large enough to be included in the noteworthy category to the Canada and the United  States governments. 

Undoubtedly, there have been, and currently are, many eyes focused on and anticipating the use of this  capital and any information they can get their hands on. 

Whether it is a collaborative effort on the part of the Canadian, Costa Rican and United States governments or political influence by the powerful foreign governments pressuring Costa Rica, they want their information and the capital of Villalobos and his lenders. . .

Monies such as the wire transfer sent by the Canadian drug dealers obviously unknown to Villalobos, as to the nature of their profession, should have been stopped before its transfer to Costa Rica. These funds and these funds only should be held in trust by the Costa Rican Court pending the outcome of the trial in Canada.

Various motivations that could be in the works: who/m is behind this and will likely benefit: any country involved in drug enforcement; any county involved in trying to pick up on unreported income; local and regional banks; the Costa Rican government. . .

A word of advise to the Costa Rican government and informed, educated Ticos: As if the situation with terrorism is not bad enough on a world wide level, on the home front here in Costa Rica (the supposed pristine jewel of the world) there is an out of control immigration and trash problem, polluted rivers, contaminated drinking water and growing crime and violent crime rate, which your government is not even remotely in control of. . .

To worsen matters economically, should you continue with this rambunctious alliance with your Canadian and U.S. collaborators to dismember the ongoing concern of Villalobos, it will have an adverse affect on your fragile economy. 

Continuing the freeze of these accounts and the potential ultimate seizure of these assets, which are in a large part principal and interest assets of his lenders, the a majority of whom are residents and  regular tourists. 

These people and businesses attribute to a substantial part of your economy in the form of tourism, foreign investment, and the regular purchases of goods and services. This will for the most part evaporate entirely. Residents will up and leave because they are tired of what the system has delivered them or leave for financial reasons. . .  

Douglas Myers

Reader: Investments will be confiscated

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As a print subscriber to the Tico Times and a long time reader of this web site, I had to write to you about some of the events happening in Costa Rica. I have read your unslanted Web site since it was first published and have enjoyed it. 

Your extensive coverage of the government's handling of the Villalobos controversy, plans to balance the country's deficit with taxes on Social Security income of expats and the increasing crime statistics has changed my mind about the country. 

Many of the readers who have taken time to write are of the opinion that the government is corrupt and will confiscate the money in the frozen Villalobos bank accounts. I think that is exactly what will happen, and if it does, Costa Rica will be shown to be just another third world banana republic.

The government has promoted eco-tourism and La Pura Vida, and now they are making sure a lot of the pensionados and rentistas will have to return home.  Word of mouth will spread about what has happened just like it spread what a marvelous place Costa Rica was. Costa Rica is killing the proverbial "Golden Goose." 

My wife and I have been to Costa Rica six times in the last 18 months and were looking forward to retiring and expatriating to somewhere in the Central Valley. Even with the exorbitant taxes on vehicles and everything else except the very basics of existence, we knew we could cope. Now, the government is going to impose a "temporary" tax package.

All US. citizens know that when a government imposes a tax, it doesn't voluntarily rescind that tax … ever.  In the U.S. there are still taxes in  place that were imposed to pay for wars fought in the 1800's. 

Our consideration of Costa Rica as a retirement destination is at an end and we won't return.  I believe that Panama is potentially where we will make our home, and to that end, our first exploration trip is planned for the first quarter of 2003. 

Those who are not invested in Costa Rica yet, should look at Panama as a possible destination. Panama is much more tax and import duty friendly to expatriates, and the currency is the U.S. dollar, not the ever shrinking Colon. Check out Panama on the web. 

Thanks for a great everyday newspaper. You're doing a great service for a lot of potential expats and expats that are already in Costa Rica. 

Dan Baber
Plano, TX



Banks make high interest, they just don't share it

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am sorry to see that some mail is critical of the Brothers and their investors.  The main concern seems to be on how they make such a high income and where the money is. 

There are many banks and financial institutions making the same kind of money, the difference is that they keep it for themselves.  Enrique Villalobos chose to pass it on to his friends because they did have the courage to trust him with their investments. Yes, high income means high risk, but the risk diminishes as the length (25 years) of the operation increases. Regardless it does not authorize governments to keep it locked up indefinitely. Governments are here to protect their citizens and inhabitants and not to ruin their lives.

The Brothers did no harm to anyone, but for 25 years conducted a very successful business based on their ability to make good their promises.  The monies they paid out profited everyone from local banks to real estate agents, home rentals, car rentals, hotels, casinos, restaurants, tour and travel agencies, merchants of all kinds, all forms of entertainment down to fishing boats, taxi drivers and even street vendors. 

Many of the tourists came here to spend their earned interest. Many expats started families living off the interest and countless Costa Ricans also invested their savings to enable them to have a somewhat easier life.

Who, in their right mind, would want to destroy this chain, when nothing against it was said or done for the last 25 years. Credit cards charge up to 40 percent here for late payment. I never heard any official complaining about that. Good currency exchange brokers can earn from 6 to 8 percent a month. There are short-term inter bank loans in parts of the world that pay up to 10 percent per month, day loans at 1 percent and short-term commercial loans up to 6 percent. There are also mutual funds making over 50 percent a year on their investments. These are confidential matters well known in the financial world.

We should be proud that the Brothers passed on these interest payments to their investor-friends and thus allowed us to live out our lives with some dignity rather than force us to scramble to make ends meet in a country where things are getting more expensive every day.

Poverty and unemployment have increased this year by a small percentage. If this is allowed to last any longer, the year 2003 will see a severe economic downturn as the consequences of the freeze trickles down, soon to be felt by everyone in Costa Rica.

John Manners

Reader says unfreezing won't provide normalcy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have for several weeks been watching the happenings surrounding the closing of Villalobos. I have attended meetings and listened to many of my friends espouse the virtues of Villalobos. I am taken aback by the passivity of everyone who may lose all of his or her money. 

Do we know the truth? You didn’t know what your money was used for before, why all of a sudden does everyone think that once the money has been released by the government everything is going back to normal.

I for one have taken action. I have positively moved forward without jeopardizing Villalobos’ position. By contacting one of the most reputable criminal attorneys in Costa Rica, and listening to what he says the Costa Rican laws are while taking legal constructive action within the Costa Rican legal system, I have given myself a good chance of recovering my funds. 

You folks who don’t know what to do, contact Ewald Acuna. His number is 221-0320, give yourself a chance. Check him out, I did. Then listen to the man. You will find a lot more answers to what is happening than you read in the newspapers or on the Internet.  But do it fast, there is not much time left.

Please help yourself!

Jim Hamilton

Wise guys: Keep your naysay letters!

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

There is no security on earth there is only opportunity!! I am reading all the letters on the Internet. . . What's for sure, the Villalobos investors really don't need these letters from all these wise guys helping us to understand that it wasn't a good idea to put all our money in one basket. 

I am one of the wise guys. . . my investment was diversified: Villalobos, undisclosed; Enron, bankrupt; WorldCom, bankrupt; Global Crossing, last  0.01 cents; Kmart, chapter 11; CMGI, down 99 percent; Safeguard Scientifics, Inc., down 98 percent; VRTL, down 98 percent; Vented Corp, down 98 percent; Linux Software Corp, down 98 percent. . . What do you think about my accomplishment "good or not?" 

Your comment I guess: you invested in the wrong companies, you should have investigated these entities and asked them "what are you doing with my money?” 

I also invested in AEGON a Dutch insurer, who lost $300 million with ENRON. "How dumb" and unfortunate for me, the share lost 75 percent and is a blue chip on the AXE. I am invested in ABN-AMRO, a Dutch Bank and a blue chip on the AEX, who lost about $1.5 billion in WorldCom. . . and again I am unfortunate to share the loss 65 percent!

On top of this I have invested in Real Estate, I own a house in a pretty good location. For one year I have tried to sell this house, I pay the guards, property tax, electricity, telephone and gardener. What an incredible investment? 

What's up with you people out there, you are only there to give us bad comments and more of a hard time. Forget it, don't interfere with wise comments. I (we) know we were all dummies, and all others are the very bright guys, but I guess your comments aren't that bright either. Think about it, I am fed up with your "after hour" wise and so intelligent comments. We do not need you’re "putting us down comments." I guess you guys don’t even live in Costa Rica, so how can you judge who is paying, who should pay taxes and who didn't and who did?

We pay taxes every day, buying food for our kids, mascots, gasoline . . . in the restaurant and in the bars. We make donation for the locals, nothing is a give away in Costa Rica. We pay high taxes on all imported goods and I guess we are a big part of what keeps this economy alive. Who else is doing it?? 

Most of us bring our own money to live here anyway, or to do business here . . . I can go on and on and on, but you will only get it if you really live here and pay taxes. Thank you very much, we got the message, only nobody asked for it — and certainly not me. 

R. Eiterer

Costa Rica will suffer negative consequences

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have trusted Villalobos and his staff for years.  I have put honest (after tax) dollars in his care. He is a GREAT man who is being maligned erroneously. 

I was told that the Costa Rican Government was a legal and compassionate Government. I remember seeing a spokesperson on TV state: "We do not have a military and therefore are able to put those  funds towards Schooling and Hospitals." What a great concept. 

Where does the Costa Rica government figure they can just grab all these peoples’ monies. . . No trial just grab. Maybe the people will be looking for a new president — how greedy and stupid.  This is going to impact Costa Rica in a very negative way, unfortunately more and more as time goes on. 

Even if all the money is given back to Villalobos, the damage is done. The smooth operation that was running is now and forever damaged.  And you people there in Costa Rica who are not enraged and who do nothing to get Villalobos back on track — and SOON — will forever remember that you could have, and never did.  Are you one of them?? Not only for myself and so many of my friends who have put honest money behind Villalobos AND the respectable and honest Costa Rican government, but of all the other good people who will lose their homes and much more. 

I would be ashamed if I was apart of this. What if some poor person commits suicide over this? I am glad I will not have that on my conscious.    I herby charge you — yes you — the person reading this: you have the obligation to do what  you can to reverse this injustice as fast as possible.  This is not an injustice to some large corporation or bad drug entity. This is a most grievous act against humans (humanity if you will). 

Are you just reading these words or are you really feeling them?? Think of the number of people that are scared stiff. Really scared, lying in bed at night trying to sleep and there guts churning, sweating, puking. 

If you think I am trying to be dramatic, shame on you I am not. Thank your lucky stars you are not one of us. I would not say this is in relation to the Holocaust — by no means — but there just doesn't seem to be a word to cover the horror and the depth of this. I ask you to look inside yourself and if you agree with what you have just read then please do what you can as soon as you can. God bless you for helping.  

Richard Gahn

P.S. Villalobos, if you read this, I believe that the majority of your clients are like myself, who have  only the highest respect for you. We have you in our prayers.

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