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These stories were published Thursday, Nov. 7, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 221
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The dry season is almost here — honest!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The terrific weather of the past three days is not an aberration. Indeed, the dry season is coming.

The official announcement came this week from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. For the Central Valley, the first 15 days of November will be a period of alternating rainy and dry days. But by the third or fourth week of the month, the dry season will be firmly established, the institute said.

The northern section of Guanacaste, including the showcase beaches, already is in the transition stage this week, and by the middle of the month, rain will be infrequent for at least three months more.

In Costa Rica, the dry season arrives from the north, caused by changes in the air currents triggered by the arrival of winter in North America. Guanacaste changes first with the southwestern part of the country, the area of the Osa Peninsula and Golfito, seeing the change last, explained the institute. 

The south Pacific coast will not begin the transitional period until the first week in December and will enter the dry season just before Christmas, according to the prediction of the institute.

As the weather is drying up, the winds will be picking up, noted the institute. The winds have a tendency to encourage rain on the Caribbean  coast and in the northern zone. In both these areas, the months of December, January and February are rainy. Some of this rainy weather usually spills over to the Central Valley.

December, in fact, is predicted to be a little 


 
When does the rain end?
Guanacaste and the north Pacific Second or third week of November
Central Valley Third to fourth week of November
Central Pacific  Third to fourth week of November
Pacific south Third to fourth week of December

more rainy than normal although the period December to February will be below average in rain for the Caribbean coast and the north zone, said the institute. The weather experts attributed this fact to the El Niño climatic condition  that periodically alters the weather.

Thanks to El Niño, the temperatures for the Valley central and the Pacific coast will be slightly warmer than normal, the institute added.

A saint tailor made for the Villalobos crisis
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some creditors of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho are seeking the most powerful possible help.

Forget the politicians. Forget the investigators. Forget the lawyers.  Forget the organized groups.

As a class, the creditors are religious. And many have been praying for a satisfactory end to the financial crisis that has impoverished them.

They urge that twin investigations rapidly come to an end and that their investment money be quickly unfrozen by Costa Rican officials.

What better individual to intercede on their behalf than St. Expedite. Yes, Expedite, like in "Hurry up and deliver this."

There really is such a Roman Catholic saint, and he is considered the patron of prompt solutions and financial success. The saint also likes publicity, and reporters learned of the devotion when a reader contacted the newspaper to place a classified encouraging the saint.

A little research showed that St. Expedite or Expedito or Expeditus ranks right up there with St. Jude in having classifieds placed for him in New Orleans newspapers by grateful supplicants.

.A wave of veneration swept through Brazil recently where petitioners printed small prayer cards bearing the saint’s image. Each recipient of such a card was supposed to have 1,000 more made and distributed. Some say the commercial printers were behind the trend.

The reader, who said he was not even Catholic, said he has been conducting a novena or nine days of prayer to the saint. The Internet is full of appropriate prayers and a surprising quantity of Web pages about the saint. The best seems to be maintained by Franciscan Brothers of the Sacred Heart at St. Francis Friary in Fargo, North Dakota, in the United States. The Franciscans also report they have a bone relic of the saint in their Regina Caeli Chapel. That Web page is here.

Another good summary of the life of the saint can be found here.

Expedite is supposed to have been a Roman soldier martyred by Pagan Romans for his Christianity. He is depicted stepping on a crow that represents procrastination and holding a cross emblazoned with the Latin word for "today."

Saint
Expedite
prefers today (hodie)
to tomorrow (cras)

Several prayers to the saint seem to summarize tightly the problem of the frustrated Villalobos creditors who were blindsided when police officials raised the businessman’s Mall San Pedro operation July 4 and froze his local bank accounts. Villalobos suspended interest payments to his creditors last month. The accounts are frozen until at least Nov. 26.

Here’s an example from the luckymojo Web page:
 


PRAYER TO SAINT EXPEDITE 

I come before you, Saint Expedite, 
To remedy economic problems in my work and my home.
And to ask for your powerful support.

Saint Expedite, protect my income,
That I may obtain sufficient money for necessities,
And tranquillity and joy will reign in my house.
By your grace, Blessed Saint, 
I request and pray that I will achieve my desire. 

(State your petition)

And I will give thanks for your glorious intercession.

(Now promise to give Saint Expedite a specific offering if your desire is granted.)

Amen.
 

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Colombian terror suspects fell for sting, police say
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The arrest of three Colombians here Tuesday was the product of an elaborate sting operation orchestrated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency. 

The men — Carlos Ali Romero Varela, 43, Cesar Lopez, also know as Commandant Napo, and an individual identified as Commandant Emilio — are said to be high-ranking members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. The paramilitary organization, also know as the AUC, was designated by the U.S. secretary of state as a foreign terrorist group in September 2001.

According to the FBI’s allegations, the trio was here to finalize a multi-million dollar cocaine-for- arms deal. Officers of INTERPOL and the Judicial Investigating Organization nabbed the men in the parking lot of the Hotel Marriot Costa Rica in San Antonio de Belén near the Juan Santamaría International airport, officials said.

Why the men picked San José as a meeting spot is unknown. Entry to Costa Rica is not particularly easy for Colombians. It could be that they needed to change identities before entering Colombia. Romero, Lopez and Emilio are said to have possessed falsified visas and passports that were issued in Bogotá. 

At the same time, U.S. agents announced the detention of three alleged al-Qaeda operatives, one a U.S. citizen, in Hong Kong, based on an indictment unsealed in San Diego. This was a separate case also handled by the FBI. The men are alleged to have tried to buy anti-aircraft Stinger missiles in excahnge for hashish and heroin.

In a press conference here Wednesday, Rogelio Ramos, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, outlined the case that crossed the borders of the United States, Panamá, Costa Rica, Colombia and Portugal:

It all started 13 months ago in Houston, Texas. That’s where Uwe Jensen, 66, one of Lopez’s henchmen, introduced his boss, to the wrong man — an undercover FBI agent with a Russian accent. Jensen believed the man had arms connections in Eastern Europe.

A PowerPoint computer slideshow, prepared by the FBI, showcasing a variety of Russian weaponry and ammunition valued at $25 million, was delivered to Romero through a confidential source. Romero, in turn, distributed copies of the presentation to various potential buyers in Colombia.

Through a series of negotiations via telephone calls, e-mail messages and meetings, eventually a deal was stuck: $25 million in cash and cocaine in exchange for five containers Romero believed held the Russian-made weapons.

The containers were believed to carry 9,000 

A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham
Minister Ramos at press conference

assault rifles, including AK-47’s, submachine guns, and sniper rifles, 300 pistols, rocket launchers, grenades, anti-aircraft missiles and some 60 million rounds of ammunition.

In April 2000, Romero and a female weapons inspector met with the undercover agent in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. After viewing the illicit merchandise, Romero and Commandant Napo approved the purchase of the weapons.

This Aug. 22, the men met again with the FBI agent in Panamá City, Panamá. In a videotaped meeting, Commandant Napo negotiated the purchase of $2 millions worth of weapons to arm the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

The undercover agent requested a down payment, and Romero signed over seven petroleum tanks with hidden compartments where 1,460 kilograms of cocaine were hidden. The tanks and drugs later turned up in Portugal and were seized by law enforcement officials. The tanks were owned by a firm named Poseidon, Inc., which is owned and operated by Romero in Houston.

On Oct. 19, Emilio along with Romero again met with the undercover officer in Panamá and agreed the release of $1 million in cash and $1 million in cocaine for the purchase of one container of weapons. 

This is seen to be have been a test-run. Four additional containers would then be delivered upon success of the first shipment.

Uwe Jensen — the man who mistakenly made the initial introductions — was also arrested Tuesday in Houston.

All four men have been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, Attorney General John Ashcroft said. If convicted on all charges, each defendant faces up to life in prison, he said.

U.S. officials will seek to extradite the men.

This plaque presentation is in a place a bit damp
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Georgina Butler, British ambassador to Costa Rica, is poised to render all traditional forms of official ‘ribbon cuttings’ boring, if a Raleigh International event goes ahead as planned Nov. 21.

Where most other diplomats and political types would prefer a pair of scissors, Ms. Butler will swim
Georgina Butler
for the ocean’s floor where she will affix a plaque to mark an artificial coral reef built by Raleigh.

Raleigh International is a British voluntary organization that works with 18 to 25 year olds on community and environmental projects.

This particular project, located in Curú Bay on the Nicoya Peninsula, spanned three expeditions over the

course of this year. Essentially, the plaque signifies a 90-meter section of an artificial coral reef made up of PVC tubing, netting and concrete.

Volunteers, who raise funds to pay for the expenses of their expeditions, came from various countries to work on the reef project.

The reef will be used to gather scientific information that will be key to increasing the diversity of fish in the area, said a release from Raleigh Wednesday.

Furthermore, the creation of the reef will, it is hoped, highlight Curú Bay as a place that should be considered for protected area status, said the 

release from Raleigh. The Raleigh International Web site says that artificial reefs can be used to decrease environmental damage.

Gavin Barker, expedition leader and country director of the current Raleigh International expedition in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, said: "The young people and their staff have worked incredibly hard to make this project a reality. We are sure there will be a great number of benefits for the people of this area, both in terms of tourism and environmental impact."

Ms. Butler commented in a recent interview that she looked forward to the opening. She joked that other people too were looking forward to seeing her do this most unusual kind of opening ceremony.

Barker said: "We are delighted that the ambassador and other guests will be able to come and share the opening with us."

The project received financial support from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A partnership with environmental organization the Institute for Marine and Coastal Resources made the project possible, according to the release.

Raleigh has a number of other projects in Costa Rica. Juliet England, expedition press officer, said that they include the building of an aqueduct to provide Indians with safe water near Buenos Aires de Puntarenas, an eco-tourism development in Isla Chira and a project to make Carara National Park Central America’s first national park to offer access to disabled people.

Raleigh’s volunteers, though principally British, also come from Hong Kong, Australia, Spain and Belize. There are also volunteers from Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Some of the British contingent are from underprivileged backgrounds.


 
Cubans ousted from U.S.
in tit-for-tat retaliation

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is expelling four Cuban diplomats in retaliation for the high-profile case of a former U.S. intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Cuba. 

The State Department says it told Cuban authorities of the decision last Friday and that the diplomats have until Monday to leave the United States. 

The expulsion order affects two diplomats based here. The other two officials are posted at Cuba's mission to the United Nations in New York. 

The United States took action in response to the activities of Ana Belen Montes, a former senior analyst at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. 

Last month, Belen Montes was sentenced to 25 years in prison for spying for the Castro government. Belen Montes has admitted she spied for Cuba for at least 16 years for ideological reasons. 

The State Department did not say whether the diplomats based here played any part in the Belen Montes case or other espionage. 

Officials, however, said the two U.N. envoys were asked to leave for engaging in activities deemed "harmful to the United States" and "outside their official capacity." The diplomatic language implies espionage activities. 

The United States and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations but maintain interest sections in each other's capitals through the Swiss Embassy.

U.S. Coast Guard to
increase vigilance 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Coast Guard says it is stepping up air and sea patrols in response to a possible increase in the flow of illegal immigrants from the Caribbean. 

Coast Guard officials made the announcement Tuesday, telling news sources that efforts would be focused on the Windward Passage, the Old Bahama channel and the Florida Straits. 

Officials made their remarks as the Coast Guard deported 17 Haitians who reached Florida last week on an overcrowded vessel carrying more than 200 of their fellow citizens. Two Dominicans in the group also were repatriated. 

The other Haitians are being detained pending a review of their cases. 

The migrants were detained after sailing into Miami's Key Biscayne. Their plight became a high-profile campaign issue in the final days of Florida's gubernatorial election race partly because their arrival was broadcast live on national television. 

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

Community leaders also have protested what they consider to be a double standard in U.S. immigration policy. Cubans who set foot on American soil are eligible for residency, while most Haitians are denied asylum. 

Last year, the Bush administration changed the American policy on Haitian refugees to discourage a feared mass exodus from the impoverished Caribbean country. Previously, those seeking asylum were released into the community while their petitions were processed.

After volcano settles,
life returns to the city

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — People in and around the city have returned to work, two days after the Reventador Volcano erupted, spewing ash and soot up to 30 centimeters deep across a 20,000 square kilometer area. 

Residents began resuming normal activities Tuesday as rains helped wash away the debris and the volcanic activity subsided. 

On Monday, the government declared a state of emergency around the city and asked the capital's residents to stay indoors to avoid inhaling volcanic dust. 

People who ventured outdoors wore face masks to protect themselves from respiratory trouble and eye irritation. Villages close to the foot of the volcano were evacuated. 

Scientists say that although the volcano is quieter now, it is too soon to say if the worst is over.

Federal Reserve cuts
interest rates 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The policy-setting body of the Federal Reserve, the United States' central bank, decided to lower key interest rates, taking action on rates for the first time in 2002.

The Federal Open Market Committee announced after it met Wednesday that it has reduced the federal funds interest rate — the interest that banks charge each other on overnight loans — by 0.50 percent to 1.25 percent. In six previous meetings in 2002 the committee left interest rates unchanged after cutting the overnight rate 11 times in 2001.

In a related action, the Board of Governors slashed the discount rate — the interest banks are charged when they borrow from the Federal Reserve — by 0.50 percent to 0.75 percent, the committee statement said.

The committee said that an "accommodative" stance of monetary policy, a policy to keep rates low enough to help the economy grow, coupled with "still-robust" productivity growth, is providing significant support to economic activity. 

Economic data, however, have "tended to confirm that greater uncertainty, in part attributable to heightened geopolitical risks, is currently inhibiting spending, production and employment", the committee added.

Some private economists expressed a belief that concerns about a possible war with Iraq and more terrorist attacks might have dampened consumers' willingness to spend and businesses' eagerness to invest and hire, according to news reports.

World Bank aims
to cut pollution

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A carbon fund launched by the World Bank will provide financing for reducing greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time helping to improve soil fertility, crop growth and biodiversity in developing countries.

A Tuesday release says the new $100 million BioCarbon Fund — a public-private partnership — will permit developing country farmers and rural communities to earn income from sequestering or conserving carbon in their agricultural lands and forests.

According to the release, about a fifth of the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases — especially carbon dioxide that is linked to global warming — is derived from land-clearing and other land management practices. Activities to retain the amount of carbon in vegetation or soils, as through reduced tillage, or to increase its absorption from the atmosphere, as through reforestation, make a significant contribution to combating climate change.

Fourteen companies, ranging from utilities to insurance companies, have already indicated their interest in participating in the fund. These potential participants are interested in obtaining emissions reduction credits that they may be able to use to meet regulatory requirements or voluntary commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Kyoto Protocol commits 37 industrialized countries to reduce their overall emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases during the period 2008 to 2012.

"From the perspective of a development bank, carbon sequestration offers the greatest convergence between the carbon emissions reduction market and sustainable development," said Ken Newcombe, the World Bank's senior manager for carbon finance.
 

Brazil to reach out 
for regional partners

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is planning to redirect his country's foreign policy to put more emphasis on regional relations, especially strengthening the southern cone trade area known as Mercosur. 

Advisers to the president-elect say the country will also reach out to foster ties with major powers in Asia, including China. 

Da Silva, a former union leader and metalworker, will be Brazil's first leftist politician to assume the presidency in almost 40 years when he is inaugurated in January.

However, Brazilian foreign policy is not expected to change radically from the direction it has taken for the past eight years under the two-term, center-right government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. 

Luiz Felipe Lampreia, former foreign minister, who held the post for five of those years, says he expects the major tenets of Brazilian foreign policy will continue.

"I think Brazilian foreign policy has had continuity for many, many decades and it stems from the fundamental interests of Brazil," Lampreia said. "Among them is having the best possible relations with our neighbors in our region, and also the establishment of a balanced, respectful and positive relationship with the United States."

However, in some aspects, a da Silva government will shift emphasis. Da Silva has said reviving and strengthening the four-nation South American trade bloc, Mercosur, will be a top priority.

Human rights court
gets more money

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica and the United States co-sponsored a successful measure before the Organization of American States to increase spending on the inter-American human rights system.

The resolution delivers $600,000 to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The resolution passed unanimously by the organization’s permanent council Wednesday, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. 

The court, established here in 1979, is Latin America’s authority on human rights.

Antonio Cançado Trindade, the court’s president, recently presented a report to the organization that said the court was in threat of collapsing. The Brazilian lawyer said the court needs funds to operate more frequently and address more cases.

Roberto Tovar, Costa Rica’s chancellor, said the new funds will positively effect the quality and quickness of the high tribunals resolutions.

Costa Rica contributed $100,000 of the courts $1.3 million budget this year, according to Diaz.

Bogus mortgage 
victims sought

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have renewed their plea for anyone who was victimized by a phony mortgage scam to come forward.

Investigators arrested five men last July 30 to face charges of taking money on the pretense of giving home mortgages. Agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization said Wednesday that the probe is about to conclude and they need any more victims to make themselves known now.

The men worked out of two offices, one on Avenida Central and the other in an office building on Avenida 2.

Investigators allege that the men would offer homebuyers mortgages at 1.5 percent per month for a 10-year-term when, in fact, they had no intention of actually completing the deal. The men are alleged to have milked unwitting customers out of from 50,000 to 3 million colons (about $140 to $8,300) by asking them to pay for a series of experts, appraisers, lawyers, credit reports, honorariums and fees.

Then the men would tell the victims that they loan had been denied due to poor credit, said agents.

Police seek help 
on missing woman


Soraida Berrol Núnez
By A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 24-year-old Costa Rican woman from La Eulalis, a neighborhood of Tres Ríos, has been reported as missing. Her name is Soraida Berrol Núnez. Ms. Berrol was last seen Oct. 13 waiting at the Guápiles bus stop. 

Ms. Berrol has four children, aged 1, 6,7 and 8. Police ask that anyone with information to call 279-6558.

Pair on cycle kill man

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An unidentified man died early Wednesday when two men on a motorcycle drove by him and shot him in the chest. The shooting was at Avenida 7 and Calle 10, according to investigators. The man died in Hospital San Juan de Dios.
 
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