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These stories were published Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 223
Jo Stuart
About us
50th anniversary of Korean War Armistice
U.S. 2003 poster
Canadian 2003 poster
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is Veterans Day or Remembrance Day, depending on your land of origin.

Originally the day marked the end of World War I. This year is special because 2003 is the 50th anniversary of the Korean War armistice.

And it is the day we honor veterans who fought and died or fought and lived for their country.

Foreign English-speakers in Costa Rica are mostly from the United States, Canada, the 

United Kingdom or Caribbean Islands that once belonged to the British. They share a special bond that runs from World War I to the present.

Some 54,246 U.S. servicemen and women lost their lives during the Korean War. Some 100,000 Canadians lost their lives in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. There still is no peace treaty, and North Korea is a television talk show item again.

Neither foreign veterans in Costa Rica nor the U.S. Embassy sponsors any service.

Association tries to reverse pensionado ruling
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica is trying administratively and in the courts to have a ruling reversed that put hundreds of foreigners in legal limbo.

That was the word Monday from Ryan Piercy, manager of the association, who posted his thoughts  on an Internet bulletin board.

The problem arose because Lilliana Torres, a lawyer on contract with the association, did not have documents from those foreigners seeking residency authenticated by a Costa Rican consul. Ms. Torres had permission from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo to simply notarize the documents, said Piercy.

"If the consul in your country authenticated your documents, you will not be affected," said Piercy. "If you, like many, had documents authenticated here by an attorney, you may be 

asked by immigration to have those documents authenticated again by a Costa Rican consul."

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería has been reviewing the files that previously were with the tourism institute. Officials there found that the law was not followed to the letter. Piercy has said that the association has a letter from the tourism institute documenting that the less elaborate procedure was permitted.

Meanwhile, immigration officials are refusing to renew identification papers of rentistas and pensionados whose paperwork simply was notarized. Ms. Torres is not the only lawyer involved, but she is the only one associated with Piercy’s organization.

Piercy said that the tourism institute is by law "the only organism in charge of qualifying and approving the right to achieve this condition…" of pensionado or rentista.

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Radio for Peace
seeking court aid

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Radio for Peace International has issued a press release that sounded a lot like an obituary.

The shortwave station, having been evicted from its University for Peace location, said that shortwave is the only source of communication for many people around the world who do not have access to high technology. Now that source has been silenced, the non-profit radio station said.

The release also said that most of its board of directors had resigned but many would continue to work towards wrapping up the final business of the station in its  current location.

"It is with great sadness that we leave behind this project for which so many people worked diligently. . . ," said the release.

Radio for Peace said that it had filed a case in Sala IV constitutional court asking for an injunction against the University for Peace until a civil court has heard the case. The radio station owes the university money.

However, the court might not touch a controversy that involved a United Nations-mandated entity such as the university, the radio station noted.

The radio station has constructed its own building on the university campus, mostly with public donations. The release said that by leaving the station allows the university to take over the structure without any compensation whatsoever.

University officials put chains on the entrance to the station last July and again last week. University officials also cut off utilities.

The university is in Ciudad Colón

Woman on tower
gets herself noticed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman who was unhappy that officials took some of her children balanced herself atop a high tension tower for more than three hours Monday and became a hit on midday television news shows.

The event unfolded in the low-income La Carpio area of La Uruca.

The woman, identified as Patricia Ugaldi, said when she came down that the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia had taken seven of her children.

A number of emergency and rescue personnel answered the call because they thought the woman planned to jump. Firemen climbed the 120-foot tower to engage her in conversation.

Gunman kills two
in rural community

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The small settlement of San Bosco de Upala near the Nicaraguan border was the scene of a double murder early Monday.

Someone confronted a couple headed home from a dance and shot both fatally.

The dead were identified as José David Molina Chávez, 28, and Reyna Vílchez Cantillano, 48. The woman died instantly from a head wound. Molina, shot in the back, made it to a neighbor’s house where he sought aid. He died later after giving police an account of the crime.

The Fuerza Pública said Monday afternoon that officers had detained a 28-year-old man with the last names of Chávez Baltodano for investigation.

The settlement is some 35 kilometers (some 22 miles) from Upala.  Molina and the suspect were known to have had disputes in the past, investigators said.

Mayor and engineer
are election winners

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala —The two front runners in Guatemala's presidential elections will face a runoff in December. With nearly all the votes counted from Sunday's election, former Guatemala City mayor Oscar Berger will run against engineer Alvaro Colom.

Berger is in first place after Sunday's voting. But he did not receive more than 50 percent of the vote, which is required to win outright in the first round of voting. 

Dec. 28 he will face-off against Colom, who came in roughly 10 points behind him. 

Former dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, whose candidacy was the source of much controversy, placed third, and consequently is out of the race. 

Despite widespread concern about possible violence in the days leading up to the elections, Guatemalans went to the polls in record-breaking numbers Sunday. Voting was peaceful, except for a few isolated incidents.

Three tourists cause
big Zurquí search

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three U.S. tourists were presumed missing Monday in the vicinity of the Zurquí Tunnel, but they showed up in the afternoon unaware that they had prompted as full-scale search.

The three were identified by the Fuerza Pública as Nick Inbutt, Ben Scuutesduary and Melissa Chatenbach. They were using kayaks on the Río Patria in the area and had been there since Friday but had only one day’s worth of provisions, officials said.

Some 35 police and rescue workers combed the area.

Licensing hours longer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte will keep the driver’s license bureau open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., the ministry reported.

The idea is to provide better service and eliminate the lines that have been a tradition at the facility. The bureau used to close at 4 p.m.

Orosí is rattled

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake of 2.8 magnitude struck some six kilometers southeast of Orosí Sunday about 8:44 a.m., according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. The quake was blamed on a local fault.

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Villalobos supporters meet with prosecutor
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members of the United Concerned Citizens and Residents of Costa Rica have meet with a prosecutor in an effort to expedite resolution of the cases against Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos.

The members of the group presented the prosecutor, Walter Espinoza, a letter. Said the letter:

"We come to you in a respectful manner and with an understanding of  the difficulty of attending to the many cases before you.  We come to  you as individuals who entrusted our honest and hard earned savings  with Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, a man who consistently earned  our respect and confidence over many years of personal attention to  his creditors.  We also come to you directly representing more than  500 fully participating families, 300 associate families, and many  hundreds more through e-mail and Internet, who are the forgotten and  innocent victims of a case that entered investigation on 4 July,  2002, and continues to this day."

The informal organization’s approach is the reverse of what it has been doing in the past. This is the group that hired José Miguel Villalobos Umaña to ferret out alleged "snakes" in the Costa Rican government who had unjustly targeted the Villalobos brothers.

The group wants to see more action by the prosecutor. It said ". . . we believe it also becomes the responsibility of a good government to 
bring their action to a conclusion expeditiously to mitigate the harm 
any unnecessary delay may cause."

The Villalobos case has been hanging since July 4, 2002, when investigators raided Oswaldo’s money exchange locations and the Mall San Pedro office where Enrique accepted high-interest loans.

Some of the delay is because Enrique Villalobos fled Oct. 14, 2002, and is an international fugitive now.

But the United and Concerned Citizens have not lost faith. The group does not blame the suffering on the Villalobos brothers. Said the letter:

"For it is certain that enough families have 

suffered, but not because of Luis Enrique and Osvaldo Villalobos Camacho's failure, who never withheld access to our property nor delayed in their monthly payments for close to 20 years, but by an investigation that continues 15 months after it began."

The letter added that "We believe that both Luis Enrique and Osvaldo are men of high personal and professional ethical standards."

The United and Concerned Citizens says it believes that Enrique Villalobos will return to pay back the money he owes investors once "once the obstacles to his personal and professional freedom are removed."

The group also is continuing its effort to have Villalobos creditors who filed formal claims of fraud to withdraw those allegations.

The organization formed last February when some 500 creditors met at a downtown hotel. The group is informal because it was never incorporated even thought it raised more than $100,000 from creditors. José Villalobos got $100,000 as the first of several payments with the understanding that he would uncover a plot against the Villalobos brothers within the Costa Rican government.

He is a former minister of Justicia who was let go by President Abel Pacheco. He never reported uncovering any plot, but he has tried to filed third-party cases in support of the detained Oswaldo Villalobos and frustrate the prosecutor’s investigation. Funds have tapered off, and the group reports that it has paid the lawyer $6,500 of his second $100,000 and has some $9,663 in uncleared bank checks.

Espinoza, the nation’s drug prosecutor, successfully asked a judge to declare the case complex so that he could take more time in preparing it. He also has sought help form the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami.

As cases go in Costa Rica, the Villalobos investigation is not excessively delayed. Basic criminal cases may take at least a year to resolve, and suspects may stay in custody for that whole period even if they are subsequently declared innocent. The Villalobos case has over 6,600 creditors who jointly had as much as $1 billion on the Villalobos books when Enrique closed the doors to his office Oct. 14, 2002.

U.S. will crack down on smuggling of humans
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal, state and local law enforcement officials are joining together in an unprecedented initiative to combat human smuggling and the violence it has generated, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said. 

The multi-agency initiative is being led by the department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau. At a news conference Monday in Phoenix, Arizona, the bureau’s acting assistant secretary, Michael J. Garcia, said smugglers have proven themselves to be "ruthless individuals who view human life as nothing more than cargo for profit." In the Phoenix area especially, smuggling-related violence has reached "epidemic proportions," Garcia said.

"We're making a commitment to put an end to this violence," Garcia said. "Never have agencies on so many levels come together and pooled their expertise to deal with this problem."

The new law enforcement offensive has been dubbed "Ice Storm." Of particular concern to the 
 task force will be the increasing use of assault weapons by smugglers. Also important will be "following the money trail" to cripple smuggling organizations' financial infrastructure.

The Immigrations and Customs Bureau, as the largest investigative arm of Homeland Security, will combine immigration, smuggling, and financial investigative powers to attack the criminal rings from a variety of levels.

In addition to the bureau, there are 12 federal, state, and local agencies participating in ICE Storm. Those entities include the U.S. Attorney's Office; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Arizona Attorney General's Office; the Maricopa County Attorney's Office; the Arizona Department of Public Safety; the Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, and Scottsdale Police Departments; and the Maricopa and Pinal County Sheriff's Offices.

President embraces numbers
Results of the poverty survey were not precise
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco and those close to him ought to know that a probability survey provides a general idea of the condition of the entire population.

At least the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos ought to know. 

The president has been coming under fire for his uncritical acceptance of a survey released last week that said that Costa Rican households that are in poverty have diminished from 20.6 percent to 18.5 percent.

Anaysis on the news

Pacheco has been quick to present this report as evidence his 17-month-old administration is doing what it said it would do: reduce poverty. And he has been quick to berate Canal 7 Teletica because reporters there aired news reports that questioned his view.

The president’s literal embracing of the probability survey is not justified. First, the reduction in poverty was mainly the result of slight reductions in the costs of basic foods. Poverty was defined by the ability or lack of ability to purchase selected foods food. 

In his television talk Sunday, Pacheco said that thanks to his administration 21,312 Costa Ricans and 4,541 households have escaped from poverty. Not 21,311 Costa Ricans. Not 21,310 Costa Ricans.

Yet no survey is that precise. Statistical surveys at best are an imperfect look at the world. They paint with a broad brush. 

But there also is a flaw in the interpretation of the method used by the national statistical and census institute. Each probability survey has a margin of error. The margin of error is reduced as the number of persons surveyed is increased.

Political pollsters in the United States can predict an election with slightly more than 1,067 randomly chosen stratified responses. And they admit to a margin of error plus and minus 3 percent.

This margin or error, technically called the confidence interval, becomes smaller as the number of people questions becomes larger. But the change is not linear.  The statistical institute used a bit more than 13,000 interviews, but that number only reduced the error to plus or minus .85 percent, according to an A.M. Costa Rica calculation. That number is a bit less than 1 percent.

The best guess is that the poverty that existed in 2002, based on the survey taken then, was between 21.45 percent of the population and 19.75 percent.

The 2003 survey says that poverty is somewhere between 19.35 percent and 17.65 percent. 

There was almost no discussion by Pacheco that the survey had some flexibility. And to top off the math problems, surveys such as this only give an accurate picture 19 out of 20 times. Officials are dealing with two surveys: 2002 and 2003.

Pacheco has been anxious to show progress. But it would be dangerous to make long-term policy decisions on the strength of surveys that appear to be not as clear-cut as the president would like.

Pacheco says foreign investment will be protected
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco told foreign investors Monday that their money would have the same protection as the funds of Costa Ricans.

"I am able to tell your with complete certainty that the investments that you have in Costa Rica are sheltered by the protection directed by the Constitution and the laws and legitimate and proper administrative norms," said the president.

He was speaking at the opening session of The Business Future of America, a conference put on by the Cámara Costarricense Noreamericana de Comercio, known as Amcham, and the Asociación de Cámaras Americanas de Comercio. Casa Presidencial supplied a text of his talk.

Pacheco said that he and his administration want to raise the levels of human development, reduce poverty and increase the income of persons in the country. But he also said that he wanted to reduce 

the income gap between the wealthy and the poor of Costa Rica.

Pacheco also said no quarter would be given to corruption.  "We don’t permit, we don’t tolerate, we don’t hide any acts of the public officials conducive to collecting from an investor illegal commissions in order to get permits required to work in Costa Rica," said the president.

He invited the gathering of international businessmen to tell him personally if anything like that took place.

Pacheco also mentioned the proposed Central American free trade treaty Costa Rica and four other Latin nationals are negotiating with the United States. He said Costa Rica was determined to negotiate the best possible treaty for itself.

Pacheco said the country needs business people to have confidence and keep investments here and help attract more investments.

Jo Stuart
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