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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 8, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 222
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Photo contributed by Johnny Mauricio            
Sunrise reveals a plume of smoke from the cone of Arenal Volcano
Rumor, rumor
whose got the rumor?

By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A haze of rumors and speculation continue to swirl around the Villalobos case. The most persistent story being passed along recently is that a few creditors here have resorted to suicide, panicked by the prospect of economic loss.


Letters . . . BELOW!


This tale has been the topic of much discussion at the local Gringo hangouts in the Zona Rosa. It has also generated a few postings on Costa Rican-themed Internet chat rooms.

According to a Judicial Investigating Organization official, no foreigners have been reported as suicide victims in the past four weeks in San José.

Regardless of its truth, the rumor mill provides insights into human nature and how people come to perceive and cope with the uncertainty of the situation. Rumors also reflects how hungry people are for real information regarding their frozen assets.

Almost all foreign residents contacted downtown Thursday had caught wind of the rumors in some form. The only consistency in the alleged suicide stories is their inconsistencies.

Some seemed to believe that it was one or two individuals while others inflated the figure to six or seven. According to those asked, the suicides often took place in faraway places — typically it was a beach on one of the coasts. One rumor says in Florida.

As the stories went, the distraught men were in ruin as a result of the freeze on their interest payments by the Villalobos operation and ended their own lives.

When asked to provide their source, most attributed it to a friend of a friend. Some recalled seeing it in print somewhere but, when pressed, couldn’t remember which publication.

Others said they had heard about it at meeting of one of the several investor support groups that have been set up.

Also, prevalent are unsupported Enrique-sightings. The businessman is believed to be out of the country and has not made contact with the public in at least two weeks.

Costa Ricans got their first update on the story Thursday night on Channel 7 Teletica when reporters there broke an unusual silence on the case and provided a comprehensive rundown. The station said basically what every foreign knows: That some 6,200 investors are awaiting the end of a judicial investigation into the Villalobos firm that has since suspended operation.

The popular Spanish-language new sources and press have not reported the story since police raided the Villalobos operation July 4. 

The Friday column.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jo Stuart is on vacation this week. The following column is a product of the newspaper staff.

Convention boondoggle?

Costa Rica is thrilled that Taiwan is handing over $25 million to study a possible convention center near Santa Ana.

Visions of a quick boost to the tourism economy flash before official eyes.

Yet the experiences elsewhere show that the convention center never is big enough and the subsequent hotel boom turns into a bust.

The pressure for the convention center comes from the hotel and tourism industry groups. In Costa Rica today, the minister of tourism, Ruben Pacheco, is attuned to such interests.

In most cases, a convention center ends up being a budget item, one that cash-strapped Costa Rica cannot afford. These giant halls almost never pay for themselves or eliminate the debt incurred in building them. The government has to feed the convention center.

They look for easy solutions. They hire professional managers. They seek to hook up with airlines. Sometimes they double the size of the facility to attract mythical giant conventions.

But if a convention center were a great idea, some private company would have built one already.

Only to the people with large tracts of land near the propose site is the center a great idea. And also for the contractors and nearby hotels. 

And the hotels lose their advantage as other companies begin to construct hotels in the vicinity. Then you have the classic overbuilding-and bust-situation.

As Costa Rica considers making a multi-year commitment to a convention center, here are some thoughts:

• Most convention activity is local or regional. Conventions from afar are the gravy, not the meat and potatoes.

• The Internet and high airline fares are reducing the need for convention centers.

• Such centers are great places to pad the government payroll.

• Would you rather go to Vail or Santa Ana? Would you rather go to Manual Antonio or Santa Ana? Conventioneers have that choice.

• Even the best convention center is at the mercy of external forces, including fuel prices reflected in airline fares. 

Jo Stuart will return next week.

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Soccer ball dances before the Costa Rican goal, but it doesn't go in — this time

 
Young Ticas
have trouble
with Team USA
By Doug Gesler
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SEATTLE, Wash. — The USA Women's Gold Cup Soccer team shut out the Costa Rica National Women's team 7 to 0 Wednesday night at Safco Field here. 

The USA team includes many veterans of the 1999 World Cup Championship team. Then walked away with a 7-to-0 victory despite a valiant effort of a much younger and less experienced Costa Rican team.

Costa Rica demonstrated a great defense but had trouble on offence. The team showed skill, but the USA team first scored in the 35th minute and then just worked away at racking up the score.


 
Free press seen as the key to national development
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A new report by the World Bank provides clear evidence to development agencies and governments that a free press can reduce poverty and boost economic development.

The report, which was launched by the World Bank and the World Association of Newspapers at joint press conferences in Paris and Brussels, contains research and scientific analysis which show that the press can spur economic development when its independence, quality and ability to reach a wide audience are guaranteed.

"This is the most serious and substantial contribution we have yet seen to the research, analysis and arguments on the positive role of a free press in economic development and the reduction of poverty," said Timothy Balding, director general of the World Newspaper Association.

"Perhaps for the first time on any scale, this World Bank report goes well beyond the simple argument that access to free information and a free press is a human right, moral and a self-evident good thing, to start proving the case scientifically that a strong, independent and free press is a powerful ally to economic and social development and the reduction of poverty."

"This study comes at a most opportune time, for at least two reasons," he continued. "First, in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks in the United States, freedom of information has too frequently become a casualty of the so-called war against terrorism, with numerous governments taking initiatives to restrict it in the name of national interest.

"In truth, as this World Bank study demonstrates and as the World Association of Newspapers has long argued, a free and unfettered press plays a highly positive role in accelerating economic and social development and thus, by extension, in helping to remove the conditions of poverty, controlled information and the lack of public debate, in which terrorism breeds and prospers. This study puts free information and a strong, independent press back at the centre of the priorities for effective development aid strategies.

"Secondly, this World Bank report, in our view, puts several more nails in the coffin of the idea, propounded by numerous autocratic and repressive governments, that economic and social development is somehow obstructed by the 
existence of a free press or that it is a higher

priority that justifies the postponement of free information and free expression until a satisfactory level of economic development has been achieved," he said.

"The Right to Tell - The Role of the Mass Media in Economic Development" includes 19 chapters from a wide range of authors including Nobel Prize winner and former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz, 'Irrational Exuberance' author Robert Shiller, and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Writers from the developing world also describe the challenges faced by the media in specific countries, including the former Soviet Union, Thailand, Bangladesh, Egypt and Zimbabwe — and illustrate the media's potential as a catalyst for change and growth.

The book provides evidence on media performance and regulations in countries around the world and highlights what type of public policies and economic conditions might hinder or enhance the media in supporting economic development. Contributors explore the role of the media as a watchdog of government and the corporate sector, the media's power to influence markets, its usefulness as a transmitter of new ideas and information, and its ability to give a voice to the poor. They also tackle the potential harm an unethical or irresponsible press can cause and the impact of insult laws and other policies that hamper the operation of a free press. Costa Rica has such a law.

"We are developing the tools to convince governments and politicians and decision-makers around the world that a free and open media is something they need to have for successful economic reform," said Mark Nelson, a Programme Manager for the World Bank Institute and a contributor to the book.

Said Balding: "We hope that these arguments will help raise the importance of press development aid on the agenda of inter-governmental agencies — including the World Bank itself."

For information on obtaining "The Right to Tell — The Role of the Mass Media in Economic Development," readers may write to lkilman@wan.asso.fr.

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 71 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 100 countries, 13 news agencies and nine regional and world-wide press groups.


 
Speilberg laments U.S.
policy on Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — U.S. film director Steven Spielberg has met with members of Cuba's Jewish community here and paid his respects to victims of the Holocaust. 

Spielberg, who is Jewish, donned a yarmulke and visited the city's largest synagogue Wednesday. News sources say Spielberg encouraged Cuba's small Jewish community to keep its traditions and faith.

He later traveled to a Jewish cemetery, where he placed a stone at a memorial to those who died in the Holocaust. 

Spielberg arrived here Monday for a four-day festival featuring eight of his films and to meet young cinematographers. The director also met Cuban President Fidel Castro for dinner and talks that lasted eight hours.

Shortly after arriving in Cuba, Spielberg criticized the four-decade U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. He said it is time to bury old grudges and allow more cultural interaction between U.S. and Cuban citizens. 

U.S. President George Bush has reaffirmed his commitment to keep the embargo in place until Castro's government embraces democratic and economic reforms. 

Chavez to meet his opponents, say officials

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The head of the Organization of American States says Venezuelan government and opposition figures will meet Friday in Caracas for talks on bridging political differences. 

Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the organization, made the announcement Thursday here, where he has been mediating between President Hugo Chavez's government and its opponents. 

The pending talks come just days after Chavez supporters clashed with anti-government activists who delivered more than two million signatures to electoral officials to demand a referendum on his rule. 

Chavez's opponents are calling for a December vote on whether the populist leader should voluntarily step down. They accuse him of trying to install Cuban-style communism and say his economic policies are leading Venezuela toward ruin. 

The electoral council is now verifying signatures to decide whether a vote can be held. Chavez says the constitution does not permit a referendum on his mandate until next August, when he is halfway through his term. 

The president also says the only other way to remove him from power before his term ends in 2007 is to amend the constitution to move up the election. 

Chavez's opponents include more than 100 military officers who have been camped at a plaza in eastern Caracas for more than two weeks. The rebel officers are demanding Chavez's resignation and have called for the public and armed forces to rebel against him. 

The Venezuelan leader was briefly ousted in a failed coup in April. 

U.S. makes customs
agreement with Ecuador

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States signed a customs mutual assistance agreement with Ecuador Wednesday that should assist both the United States and Ecuador in preventing, investigating and reducing customs violations, according to a U.S. Customs Service press release.

The agreement will allow the United States and Ecuador to exchange information and intelligence and provides a basis for greater cooperation and investigation in the areas of commercial fraud, narcotics smuggling and export controls, Customs said.

U.S. Customs Service Commissioner Robert Bonner outlined the importance of the agreement.

"International trade and criminal activity are increasing so rapidly," he said "It is essential for us to establish a network of agreements between customs agencies to share information for facilitating trade and for facilitating law enforcement purposes."

The U.S. Customs Service has signed 51 customs mutual assistance agreements to date.

Wanted drug suspect
captured in Caracas

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

CARACAS, Venezuela — A fugitive on the Federal Bureau of Investigation "Top Ten" fugitive list and the U.S. Customs Service "Most Wanted" fugitive list was captured here on Tuesday, according to a U.S. Customs Service press release.

James Spencer Springette, alleged leader of the violent
Caribbean-based drug smuggling operation, the "Island Boys," was taken into custody by Venezuelan authorities outside Caracas. U.S. Customs, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration officials worked closely with Venezuelan authorities after the arrest to return Springette to the United States, where he appeared before a judge in Georgia.

Springette is wanted "for conspiring to import multi-ton quantities of cocaine" into the United States from Colombia, according to the
Customs press release. The release indicated that he is also allegedto have attempted the murder of a police officer in the British VirginIslands. He was previously captured in Colombia, only to escape and remain a fugitive until Tuesday.

U.S. confronts Venezuelan import limit

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States requested dispute settlement consultations Thursday with Venezuela at the World Trade Organization to that nation's licensing practices which limit annual imports of U.S. agricultural products to $200 million, according to a press release issued by the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

The press release indicated that Venezuela has not established an open, predictable and WTO-consistent system for issuing import licenses. This has severely limited trade in U.S. agricultural goods including corn, dairy products, fruits, poultry and beef.

Robert Zoellick, United States trade representative, said that the United States hopes the WTO consultations will precipitate revisions in Venezuela's import regimes.

"We hope that Venezuela will take our concerns seriously and use the consultations as an opportunity to bring its import regime for agricultural products into full compliance with WTO rules," he said.

Venezuela has 30 days to agree to WTO consultations with the United States. If U.S. concerns are not addressed in the consultations, the United States can request that a WTO dispute settlement panel be established.
 

Human rights neglected
in Guatemala, U.N. says

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — The United Nations says the human rights situation here has deteriorated due to a failure to advance peace accords signed six years ago. 

The U.N. verification mission here says abuses committed by the National Civil Police increased notably during the U.N.'s latest study, a one-year period starting July 2001. 

The mission says during that time Guatemalan officials had a "weak" response to a surge in crime. It also says judges, human rights advocates, and journalists were victims of violence and intimidation. 

The U.N. verification mission says many crimes were committed with impunity, including lynchings in rural areas. It says Guatemala also failed to take decisive action to demilitarize society, as called for in the December 1996 peace accords that ended 36 years of civil war. 

According to Casa Alianza, the city is also plagued by child murders. The child advocacy group reports that a Guatemalan boy was riddled with bullets early Monday morning in Guatemala City.

The 16-year-old boy, Armando Lopez Gonzalez, was shot between four and seven times at close range by one or two as of yet unidentified men. The boy was known to have lived on the streets. Casa Alianza is investigating the crime and speaking with witnesses. 

This is not the first time that Engelberth has suffered extreme forms of violence. In July 1997, a private policeman just about blew the boy's arm off with a 12-gauge shotgun, as he was "bothering customers" as he begged for food outside a restaurant in Guatemala City. The policeman was never prosecuted. 

Casa Alianza also released its monthly round up of murdered in Honduras.

According to information released by Casa Alianza, 47 children and youth under the age of 23 were murdered in October. This makes a total of 1,450 children and youth murdered in Honduras — a country of six million people — since January 1998 when the agency first started collecting statistics.
 

Veterans have day
Monday, Nov. 11

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday is Veteran’s Day, and the U.S. Embassy will be closed. The day honors veterans who have served in U.S. military forces.

The day was proclaims Armistice Day in1926, but in 13 years, Europe was back at war. The United States entered World War II abruptly with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

In 1954, the name was changed to Veteran’s Day to honor the millions who saw service in World War II. The proclamation was by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself an outstanding general.

For a time, the day was among those celebrated on the nearest Monday so that workers would have a three-day weekend. But in 1975 President Gerald Ford signed legislation stating that the day would remain Nov. 11 to commemorate the historical significance of the date. That was the day the shooting stopped in Europe in 1918.

Nearly all World War I veterans are dead now, and World War II servicemen are few. But the day now also honors Korean War veterans, those who saw service in Vietnam and Gulf War veterans.

Also remembered on this day are the many veterans of the gray cold war between the West and the Soviet Bloc. Many warlike activities that took place between 1948 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 are still classified. But soldiers, airmen and sailors gave their lives nevertheless.

An embassy announcement made no mention of any remembrance activities that would be conducted here. 

More cell lines
are made available

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The telephone company is ready to distribute cellular lines to those who have numbers of 450,000 or lower, the company said Thursday.

Those who have registered previously with the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad must call 193 to make an appointment to pay the fees to initiate the service. Afterwards, they may visit one of the authorized telephone dealers to purchase a telephone and have the device programmed with the correct phone number.

Many of those with numbers between 400,000 and 450,000 have been waiting for nearly a year to obtain their cell line.

Flat tire suspects
nabbed in Liberia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

 "Puncture Bandit" suspects were captured by the Fuerza Pública in Liberia Thursday. The band consisted of three men and a woman, all Colombians in their 20s.

The suspects are believed to be the band that had committed a string of robberies using an intricate system of piercing a hole into victim’s car tire, according to police.

The four were caught after the scam was pulled on a would-be victim, a businessman from Cuajiniquil, police allege. Bandits followed the man after he withdrew some 6 million colons from a bank in Liberia.

The businessman then pulled into a gas station to repair a flat tire. There, one of the thieves distracted him, while the others opened up his car door and made off with briefcase containing the money.  Police gave chase, arrested the suspects and recovered the money.

According to Judicial Investigating officials, each member of the squad performed a specific role: One punctured the tire and distracted the victim, one grabbed the money, one drove the getaway car and the girl served as the lookout.

Official assume there are other victims of the bandits’ scam.
 

State of Nation report
concerns deputies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

National lawmakers expressed their distress that poverty has increased in the country.

At least that is the opinion expressed by the "Estado de la Nación," an annual report by academics that seeks to show changes in the national situation.

The report this year said that 23 percent of the population in the country are categorized as poor and that 40 percent of the households lacked at least one necessity.

Bernal Jiménez, leader of the Partido Liberación Nacional in the Asemblea Nacional, said that the distribution of riches in Costa Rica has been regressive and that the rich have gained at the expense of the poor.

Other deputies lamented the impoverished condition of agriculture.

Libertarians unhappy
with Santa Ana mayor

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Deputies from the Partido Movimiento Libertario have denounced what they called chaos in the municipal government of Santa Ana. The lawmakers said the town had no budget controls or financial management procedures.

The deputies also said that the current mayor will not provide information and receives an excessive salary.

The party has a candidate in the Dec. 1 mayoral election. He is Jorge Guitérrez, owner of the Ferretería Leja in that town

The criticism of the municipality by national deputies was seen to be indicative of something more than just party politics.
 

Maritime dispute
subject of meeting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials said that a meeting Thursday has advanced understanding with Nicaragua on a maritime border dispute.

A report from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto said that legal and technical experts met all day at the ministry, Casa Amarilla, and made significant progress. A further session will be in February.

The maritime limits are important because Nicaragua plans to offer oil-drilling concessions in areas of the pacific that Costa Rica claims.
 
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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office: 233-7782 beeper: 233-3333
lucasancho@yahoo.com



Lawyers

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52-11/25/02

The quest for the Great Pizza ends in Escazú hills
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

I ate six pizzas in two days before I was satisfied that I had found a superb pie.

I had travelled from San Pedro to Escazú sampling pizza. I ate pan pizza. I ate brick oven pizza. I ate pizza 
I could not even classify it was so horrible.

The first pizza that impressed me was from Sale E Pepe Pizzerias in San Rafael de Escazú. It was cooked in a brick oven, which I feel is the best way to make pizza in this town.

The brick oven style is thin, which is my favorite because it is most like the pizza you can find in New York, my hometown.

The Pizza Pro

I was about to declare Sale E Pepe’s pizza the best pizza in San Jose, at least according to me, a world-class pizza diner.  Then a stranger asked me if I had ever tried Cerro’s pizza in San Antonio de Escazú.

The stranger insisted that I join him for a pizza there.

At first I thought I was too stuffed to enjoy anymore. But I could not refuse this man’s passion, or desire to take the time from his day just to show me a pizza. 

Into the hills of San Antonio de Escazú we drove. 

The man was right, Cerro’s pizza was the best pizza I tried. I was not hungry, but each bite made me desire more, not as sustenance but as luxury. I had to meet the maker.

I found Virginia "Biky" Birguinia Galeano cleaning her brick oven, and preparing it for another pie load.

She said she loves to make pizza more than any other food. Her love is evident in the outcome. Biky has been making pizza for only three years, but she has learned masterfully.

Until I can find better pizza, if that is even possible, I will always return to Cerro’s across from the church in San Antonio de Escazu.

Have a good pizza tip? Write me: garettsloane@amcostarica.com

More Villalobos Letters
Ticos have no money to invest, says reader

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

Your article regarding the lack of knowledge of the Villalobos business by Ticos is not surprising. How many Ticos do you know that have money enough to invest. The ones who worked for me could barely make ends meet and without the money I paid them each month, they could not afford a car or fuel for the car (forget about the extras in life).

Now, that Villalobos has been closed by the government, these Ticos are out of work. Thanks to their government! 

Maybe, the reason that Villalobos has not been more active in leading a the public relations charge against the government and not more vocal is because he feels that he is innocent and trust in God to resolve the issues by Kingdom principles. He is a Christian and has demonstrated his faith by his behavior in business. 

Most of us who know Villalobos trust that he will pay us very dime he owes. Most who know the government have no faith that the bureaucrats will do the moral and right thing. They are not really concerned with the welfare of the people, but with their own agenda. Your article surely asked the right questions and I hope I have given you a decent response. 

Best regards,

William Shuman


 

 

The whole situation 'stinks;' lack of answers

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I'm a relatively new investor with the Villalobos brothers. I opened an account for $10,000 about 5 months ago, I was about to deposit another $10,000 when the Villalobos' offices were initially raided. Needless to say that gave me cold feet, and after their "change of policies" on interest collection I decided to try and get my capital back as soon as my initial 6 months were over. I was unable to do so for obvious reasons. 

At the moment my biggest question is, where did the money go? I have heard speculation and guesses of how he invested his money and generated profits etc, but to this point I have not heard of even one confirmed transaction. I mean the guy had nearly $1 billion to "lend out and generate profits." Why is it that not one investor knows of at least one concrete transaction Villalobos made? I mean there should be at least one investment about which we could say, yeah Villalobos invested in this company, or built this and made so much out of the deal. 

The whole thing is so secretive it stinks. If indeed he is a savvy businessman, how is it that he won’t even give his investors one clear answer. At the moment we do not know if our money exists, I mean everybody keeps saying, give the guy a break. I have no problem with that if he would at least let us know he is alive and what he is doing. But having faith in a guy that lied to my face when he told me “your interest would be in your account next week," on the Thursday and closed down shop on Monday is something I cannot do. 

If he is for real he should have the [guts] to let us know he is still alive and kicking. I do not mean to say he should have a meeting and face the people he owes millions to — that might be suicidal. . . But at least have the decency to tell us what’s happening. 

Well I hope the situation is resolved promptly. Personally I doubt I will ever see a penny of my $10,000, it’s a loss I do not want to make but my mom always told me “if something is too good to be true it is” I guess I should have listened. At present I would be satisfied to know the truth about the operation. 

Justin R

 
 
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