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These stories were published Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 225
Jo Stuart
About us

Workmen clean up after a day’s work on the steps of the Teatro Nacional. Acetone hung heavy in the air Tuesday after some fiberglass work had been completed to create a rain forest motif.
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Andres Castillo and Rosa Martinez attend La Ardellita Christmas store just 125 meters south of the Teatro Nacional on Avenida 3. 
Christmas is bursting forth early in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the change in the season, San José is taking on more of a Christmas look. 

Workmen are about halfway in their work to create a manger scene, called Portal de Belén in Spanish, on the front steps of the Teatro Nacional.

Meanwhile, little stores full of ornaments and Christmas lights are springing up all over town.

The manger scene this year will have a rainforest motif, in keeping with Costa Rica’s emphasis on conservation and nature, according to William Monge, the architect in charge of the work at the theater.

Workmen are creating a fiberglass and rock base. For the Holy Family workmen have prepared a stable area that seems as if it were carved from a giant tree. The posts of the theater entrance have been wrapped in canvas and fitted with branches that will eventually resemble trees.

All of this will come together by Dec. 3, the night designated for the inauguration of the manger scene. That event will be accompanied with music and stage shows, as has been the custom in the past. In fact, the downtown will be alive with musical groups from that night until Christmas, Dec. 25. Church and state are decidedly not separate in Costa Rica.

The big Christmas fair, Festejos Populares, kicks off Dec. 21 at the fairgrounds in Zapote and runs until Jan. 5. But there is uncertainty if the popular Tico Christmas tradition of 

frolicking with fighting bulls will continue.

The event is internationally popular, and much of the Western hemisphere watches on television as Ticos and a few Ticas risk their necks by getting in the same arena with a rangy bull. Sometimes as many as 200 participants are in the arena. And sometimes they go for a short, sharp ride on the horns.

The bull is not harmed, but television reporters frequently interview the unsuccessful bullfighters as the Cruz Roja carries them to a waiting ambulance. One young man was immortalized when a local newspaper photographer captured him prone on the sawdust with a 2,000-pound bull doing a Texas two-step on his back.

This year an environmental group has appealed to the Sala IV constitutional court that the management of the bull fighting arena has insufficient provisions for garbage disposal. So the future of the bull fights are up to the judges. The arena itself needs a lot of repairs, too, with increasingly less time to make them.

Some members of the festival committee have suggested holding the bull fighting in the town of Palmares if the court rules against such activity in Zapote.

Another yuletide tradition, the tope, the horse parade, will begin at noon Dec. 26 and move from the foot of Paseo Colón along Avenida 2 to Plaza González Víquez.

The next day the traditional Christmas carnival will follow the same route and kick off at the same time.

Two robbers stick up Escazú man in broad daylight
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two armed men on a motorcycle held up a North American on a public street in Escazú in a bold daytime robbery Tuesday afternoon, but police quickly grabbed two suspects.

A spokesman for the Fuerza Pública said that the victim, identified as José Bru was on foot near his home in San Rafael de Excazú when the two men approached on a red motorcycle.  One of the men displayed a 9-mm. pistol, 

threatened Bru and took some of his belongings. Then the men fled.

A short time later a police patrol in Alma de Mallorca came upon two men with a motorcycle that did not have a license plate. They took the pair into custody. The suspects were identified by the last names and ages of Villalobos, 35, and Miranda, 30.

Police said they confiscated a 9-mm. pistol and three illegal expanding bullets.

We announce our photo contest for readers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Friday’s newspaper clearly shows that some A.M. Costa Rica readers are talented with the camera.

Johnny Mauricio’s photo of Arenal at daybreak is a stunner. Doug Gesler took a great shot of the ball dancing before the net during a women’s soccer match in Seattle. 

With so much talent, it seems appropriate to announce an A.M. Costa Rica photo contest. Rules will be posted later this week, but we have established five categories: Deadline news, scenic, wildlife, sports and people.

The photo must be taken by the person who submits it, and they must agree to give A.M. Costa Rica one-time use of the photo for publication here. The photo must be taken within the borders of Costa Rica between Nov. 11 and the contest deadline.

The photos must be submitted digitally, and only one entry will be allowed per person in each category. A.M. Costa Rica staffers or interns are not allowed to compete.

A team of judges will be assembled by Saray Ramírez Vindas of the newspaper staff. The deadline is April 15, and $100 prizes will be awarded to winners in each category.

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Impact of Villalobos default still hard to estimate
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tomorrow marks one month since Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho declined to pay his creditors interest and closed up his office instead. The businessman, whose whereabouts are unknown, is now two months in arrears in paying interest.

The short-term effect of the financial crisis has hit the entertainment and dining industries hardest, but some forced sales of real estate have been reported, and some of his creditors report it is only a matter of time before they sell their dream house.

The crisis here is unique because those affected are primarily North American and the economy in which they live is not shared by many Costa Ricans. In addition, the affected group is not evenly distributed around the country.

With perhaps 70 percent of the foreign residents and frequent visitors affected by the default, economic repercussions would seem to follow the distribution of this population, as any waiter at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica could tell you.

Populations centers of foreign residents along the Pacific Coast and in the Central Valley would seem to be the most vulnerable: Puerto Jiménez, Dominical, Quepos-Manuel Antonio, Jacó, the Pacific beach communities, plus La Fortuna, Grecia, certain sections of Alejuela and Heredia as well as the upscale real estate developments near San José. One group of investors is located near San Isidro de General.

Despite claims of economic catastrophe by supporters of Villalobos, the distribution of investors seems to be so spread out as to make repercussions local events rather than one of national proportions.

Perhaps half or more of the Villalobos monthly interest payments of from 2.8 to 3 percent were rolled over by his 6,300 creditors. That was money that never really entered the local economy. Still with just 1,000 smaller creditors routinely spending their monthly interest, the flow into the local economies could have been from $3 to $5 million.

One meeting of creditors in San José drew about 500 persons. Villalobos required an initial investment of $10,000 but many persons are on the books for much more.

At the very least, the tourism market is losing those North Americans who would come to Costa Rica once or twice a year, collect their interest and spend it here on luxury vacations.

More Villalobos letters

Another curious aspect of this financial crisis is the continual stream of new residents arriving in Costa Rica untouched by the situation. These new arrivals represent a willing market and new capital for those who might seek to sell their real estate. New arrivals can only help moderate the impact of the default.

Some supporters of Villalobos pointed out in several creditor meetings that a number of North American owned businesses were subsidized, in part, by the monthly interest. The default will force these owners to either conduct their operations more efficiently and profitably or to eliminate them.

Little understood in this crisis is the multiplier effect of the interest paid to creditors. Many creditors have creditors of their own who may or may not be getting paid.

Without solid numbers of the type that might be found in a spreadsheet program owned by Villalobos, any assessment of the impact of the crisis is of the bootstrap variety. Even the traditional low period of economic activity in the tourism market in September and October serves to mask the real effect of the default.

In a few weeks, Costa Ricans will be getting their traditional 13th month’s pay for the Christmas season. This, too, will distort any assessments of the impact of the crisis.

Yet, eventually, accurate numbers will be available to assess the impact. These questions remain:

Are the funds involved $1 billion or closer to $3 billion? Only $6 million seems to be in bank accounts here.

How much interest was rolled over each month and how much actually entered the local economy?

How much was taken out of Costa Rica each month?

And what was the effect on the other end? How did the people who owed money to Villalobos respond to the crisis? If he was a businessman as he has said he was, there must be severe restrictions in certain capital markets because he suspended operations.

From such questions books are written, and Ph.D.s are awarded for answers.

Dogs died of distemper, vet finds during clinic
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When young pups turned up sick and dying some people in the town of Londres near Quepos suspected poison, but when half a dozen puppies in a litter of newborn cocker spaniels died, people realized there was an epidemic. 

Elena Ross of the dog-caring Samantha Foundation lost a dog during the scare. She thought the sickness was parvovirus, and, indeed, the symptoms were similar: vomiting, passing blood, lethargy and other signs.

Mrs. Ross with the help of veterinarian Louis Fernando Chitival rushed to organize a clinic Monday for the dog-owners of Londres to vaccinate their dogs against numerous health threats.

Chitival diagnosed the epidemic not as parvovirus but distemper. Distemper is similar to parvovirus as both affect the digestive system, both are very lethal, and both attack puppies more than adults. 

Distemper is an airborne virus that can infect dogs over miles from the source. During the clinic, Chitival administered over 40 

vaccinations to nearly 20 dogs. The doctor immunized the dogs from distemper, rabies, parvovirus and other risks.

The doctor made house calls to people who were too old to bring their dogs through the dirt and wooded passages to town.

Chivital treated two goats and a horse, both during house calls, for unrelated illnesses. How was the person supposed to get a sick goat into town? Or a horse?

The doctor said the epidemic should be under control after at least a dozen dogs died. But he will be back on Dec. 4 to administer to the town’s dog-health needs, which means more vaccines and consultations.

Also, he will spay and neuter dogs at a low cost. Mrs. Ross said that she hopes her fund-raising can help pay for the Dec. 4 clinic. 

Mrs. Ross said street dogs, by definition ownerless, will be rounded up on that day to face the doctor, like it or not.

People who are interested in helping the project can contact Ms. Ross at 779-1123. 

Pope issues appeal
for kidnapped bishop

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ROME, Italy — Pope John Paul II has appealed to Colombian kidnappers to release a bishop who was snatched Monday from a rural highway. Authorities believe Marxist rebels are behind the abduction. 

Two gunmen in civilian clothes kidnapped Bishop Jorge Enrique Jiménez on Monday morning. They also kidnapped a local priest, who was traveling with the bishop to a rustic town tucked into the Andean mountains north of here.

Bishop Jiménez served as president of an important Catholic policy-making board, the Latin American bishops conference, with influence throughout the region. He is the highest-ranking cleric to be kidnapped in Colombia, where abductions are rampant.

No one claimed responsibility for the incident, but the military immediately pointed a finger at the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The Marxist guerrilla group helps fund its insurgency with hefty ransom payments, and it has kidnapped lower-ranking church officials before. The Colombian army sent troops and helicopters to search the mountains north of the capital.

In a telegram to the head of Colombia's bishops conference, the pope said he would pray for those responsible to free the bishop and abandon all forms of violence. Cardinal Pedro Rubiano, the archbishop of Bogotá, has threatened the kidnappers with excommunication.

The United States has joined the religious leaders in condemning the kidnapping.

Richard Boucher, State Department spokesman, said the United States deplores what it termed a "kidnapping campaign" by illegal armed groups against Colombian religious and government figures. 

Boucher said the campaign by terrorists included the assassination last March of the Archbishop of Cali, Isaias Duarte Cancino, and the killing by the leftwing guerrillas last month of a parish priest in Colombia's northern Sucre province.

In another development, the State Department reacted uncritically to the decision by embattled Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to extend emergency powers for another 90 days. 

Boucher said the initial 90 day period of the "state of internal disturbance" was handled with what he termed "full respect for Colombia’s constitution and the rule of law" and he cited a promise by Uribe that the extension would be no different.

The United States has strongly supported Uribe, who took office in August, and his government's struggle against the insurgents, far-right paramilitaries, and drug gangs.

Wizard of finance sees
Mexico, Chile doing well

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Alan Greenspan, U.S. Central Bank chairman, says while some Latin American countries are suffering from severe economic problems, Mexico and Chile remain "relatively insulated" because of sound economic policies. 

Greenspan made his comments Tuesday to a global economic development conference sponsored by the Bank of Mexico. He said Mexico's vulnerability appears to have declined markedly and the country is now viewed as a "safe haven" within the region. 

Greenspan said the strength of exports has contributed to the ongoing transformation of Mexico's economy.

Central American food
disturbed by weather

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, DC — Adolfo Franco, the assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has expressed concern about the food shortages in the Central American region. 

Franco said that the development agency is closely monitoring weather conditions and crop production in Central American countries. The agency is also analyzing the feasibility of a food security early warning system, which will help the countries of the region cope with future emergencies and target families most at risk. 

As of Sept. 30, 2002, severe corn crop losses in the first planting cycle of this year were apparent in an area running north-south between central Honduras and down into northwestern Nicaragua. 

"Given the erratic and unevenly distributed rainfall throughout this area in 2001, this year's band of drought will likely aggravate an already difficult situation in a poor and chronically food insecure region," said Franco.

The development agency said it will provide significant new assistance in accelerating the needed structural changes in the agriculture sector in Central America with its new Opportunity Alliance program. 

Whales still protected
despite Japanese plea

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SANTIAGO, Chile — The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has voted to reject proposals put forward by Japan to resume commercial trade in two species of whales.

The Japanese proposals would have allowed the resumption of commercial trade in northern hemisphere populations of minke whales and the western North Pacific population of Bryde's whales.

The proposals would have allowed trade in whales for the first time since 1986.

Overwhelming U.N. vote
against Cuba embargo 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK — The United Nations General Assembly Tuesday overwhelmingly called for an end to the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba that was imposed more than 40 years ago. 

The United States, Israel and the Marshall Islands cast dissenting votes as 173 countries voted in favor.

Many governments described the U.S. embargo as out of step with the times. The Russians called it a relic of the Cold War and urged Washington to move toward dialogue with Cuba. 

The Europeans objected to U.S. penalties on companies in third countries doing business with Cuba, saying the embargo is a bilateral issue between the United States and Cuba and should not be imposed on others. 

A U.S. representative noted the recent easing of commercial restrictions on Cuba, including the sale of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba over the past year. At the same time, the Bush administration signaled there would be no significant change in U.S. policy as long as Fidel Castro continues denying his people basic human rights and repressing dissent. 

This was the 11th General Assembly resolution since 1992 calling for an end to the U.S. embargo. Assembly resolutions, unlike those of the Security Council, are not binding, but they are considered an important barometer of world opinion.

Powell to set out 
on trek to Canada 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will undertake a one-day trip to Ottawa, Canada, on Thursday for the purpose of consulting on a broad range of issues of mutual concern with one of the United States’ closest allies and best friends. 

Secretary Powell will meet with his counterpart, Foreign Minister William Graham, and attend a luncheon hosted by the Foreign Minister and attended by other Canadian officials.
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More letters on the Villalobos situation
He says we are publishing rumors

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am sick and tired of hearing conjecture by investors, the Costa Rican government, and by AM Costa Rica. In fact, a recently titled article in A.M. Costa Rica was, "Rumor, rumor, whose got the rumor?"  Is A.M. Costa Rica trying to become another National Enquirer type of tabloid? Quit reporting hearsay, gossip, and fabrications and stick to the facts.

The true journalism reports hard facts, and those facts are: No one knows how much was invested. No one knows how many clients there are. No one has been charged. No accusations of wrongdoing have been made. No investors have been identified unless they chose to reveal themselves.

The Costa Rican government has frozen all accounts and has put Don Enrique out of business. AM Costa Rica Web site hits have more than doubled by reporting speculation, rumor, and lies.

A.M. Costa Rica and the Costa Rican government keep stating that there are $1 billion dollars. Have you ever thought about how much money that really is? If interest were paid (at 2.8%), that would equate to 28 million dollars monthly! Investors have been to the offices and collected their money. Did the offices, security, and the people that you dealt with appear to be able protect and handle $28 million dollars per month (and there would have had to been more than $28 million on hand at any given time)? When the raid was made on the office facilities, how much money was found?

To expound further, let us also assume there were 6,000 investors (which I doubt). Even if every one of the 6,000 investors had put up $100,000 dollars, we would only have $600 million dollars. That is just over half the amount that the government and A.M. Costa Rica is reporting. Are we then to assume that Don Enrique has "fleeced" over 6,000 people for an average of well over $160,000 (6,000 x $160,00= $960 million) dollars each, for the last 20 some odd years! 

This is ludicrous. This kind of thinking stirs up the investors and causes them to make irresponsible decisions. I am positive that it is this type of rational that has forced Don Enrique to be silent; in hopes that levelheaded thinking will prevail.

The real questions at hand are: Why does the government keep inflating the number of dollars involved? When will the government release the accounts? Why would Don Enrique ever want to be in this business again? Why does A.M. Costa Rica also inflate or speculate the amount of money involved? Wait, I know the answer to that one, because it generates money.

If people truly have committed suicide over this, then the government and A.M. Costa Rica have a hand in it, due to their poor judgment and irresponsible reporting.

I doubt you have the courage to print this letter, but I submit it to you in hopes that you might.

John Stevenson
Los Angles, Calif.
Response to Shuman

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

Mr. Shuman mockingly criticizes the Ticos for having no money to invest. Well now, Mr. Shuman, feel free to mockingly criticize a lot of North Americans as they are also having trouble making ends meet. 

Without the money they were paid from the Brothers each month, many will also do without the little extra's in life, just as you stated Ticos have to do.

You blame the Tico government for this mess, when in fact it is all coming from the U.S. governments, tsk, tsk, "war on drugs", the U.S. wants.. . . the U.S. gets . . . period. 

I once had a contract to do some work at Walla Walla Penitentiary in the State of Washington. Upon my arrival the fears I had of my workers being a little nervous and intimidated were quickly laid to rest. I never in my wildest dreams thought my state would imprison only innocent people and not only were they "all" innocent, they were "all" Christians. 

I had absolutely no reason not to believe them, they all "acted" like they were. 

Kayo Lesser 
San Ramom de Tres Rios


Our article was ‘shameful’

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Today's article "Recovering cash assets is a difficult chore at best,"  put together by your staff, is one of those great pieces of journalistic work that students of journalism are cautioned about. 

As professionals, some will resort to this technique of keeping a topic alive when there is really nothing to report. The method is well-known, one twists some "facts" enough and spins away. The story reads well researched, but it does not in the least serve investors, some of them already fearful enough with huge existential fears. 

But no one should at this point believe that Enrique Villalobos is such a "corrupt statesman", who has taken money to some of the countries that still allow utter privacy in banking, so he can keep it for himself. That is so out of character that your headline story is shameful.

And what a farce it is! Yes, save us from this kind of yellowish journalism. Your Web site is growing, so what is your motivation? You are not even invested with Villalobos, so why the attempt to play Devil's advocate?

A fair focus should stay within these sets of facts: The Villalobos firm did no harm to anyone, but for 25 years conducted a very successful business based on their ability to make good on 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 form of entertainment down to fishing boats, taxi drivers and even street vendors. 

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

Then, one day, the Canadian police claimed that one of the Villalobos brothers exchanged $380.000 in drug money. The Costa Rican police "helped" eagerly in the investigation, because there was government interest for some time to understand the investments, and, may be, to ascertain who was invested. 

Not to overlook the human factor, that here was an opportunity to work on a high-profile case. So the firm was raided, and documents taken, although the money-changing seem to have chanced at Enrique's brother's firm. What the judiciary conveniently forgot was to close the other bank accounts of the alleged Canadian drug dealers that they maintain at major banks in Costa Rica, Canada and elsewhere. It is Villalobos they were after, make no mistake.

 Each investor knew that he or she was making a personal loan to Enrique Villalobos, and by doing so, agreed to the terms. Who, in their right mind, would want to destroy such a company, when nothing illegal was done?

Villalobos invested the personal loans and paid his business "friends" regularly — even after his assets were frozen — until he found out that the investigation was extending beyond his capacity to pay. His major accounts were frozen as well. He also found out that the investigators were going to raid again since they had not found anything illegal up to that time. 

The police in Costa Rica has shared information with the US Feds. That is where the hold-up is going to be, and Villalobos acted correctly in closing shop until his hands are untied and he can operate again, albeit in a different form. 

The laws after 9/11 have been changed to give governments unprecedented power to confiscate funds, in accordance to the premise, that all money that investors do not declare is potentially money for terrorists. But every child knows that suicide-willing terrorists have no problem whatsoever to move money around the planet at will. 

The conservative agenda wants it that our personal freedoms become more and more curtailed, because they want more and more power. They just want ultimate power. The U.S. right now has weapons in place to accomplish absolute world domination. The only total control that is missing is over the world-wide citizenry. The power to know what each is doing, where each is, and to accumulate as much computer data that make each life totally transparent, if only first through so-called paper trails.

The Iridium network is in place. All we need is a personal identity card that will function as identity card to enter countries, states and buildings, that seconds as a credit card, that contains the individual's DNA code, as well as medical information and contains a chip that makes a person traceable world-wide — due to the perfection of the Iridium network. 

Now here is a real important story: Motorola got in the early 80s the idea to launch some 90 low-altitude satellites. They got them in position on time to embark on worldwide cellular phone service. However, they never pushed this service nor produced sufficient numbers of actual worldwide cellular telephones, and the project declared bankruptcy. There are class-action suits in court now that claim that the company never really tried to make the telephone service viable. 

Promptly, and without fanfare, the U.S. government with a little help from such "friends" as China and Saudi Arabia, took over the network that has unheard off potential in transfer rates of data, sufficient let it be said here, to keep literally track of billions of people. If we believe that we are merely dealing with some Costa Rican bureaucrats from one of the world's most inefficient and slowest judiciaries, we do not see the whole picture. This is NOT another conspiracy theory. This is reality. Go to the Internet and check for yourself.

The facts bear out, a terrible disaster, like the despicable WTC attack, is used to grab more control and take away more and more personal freedoms, such as the freedom to invest where and with whom and under what conditions in accordance to ones own needs and desires.

To sum up: As long as the other bank accounts of the alleged Canandian drug dealers are not equally frozen and researched and investigated, the focus is clearly on the Villalobos operation, and not on actually finding drug money.

As long there are no charges filed against Villalobos, refrain from making unjust innuendos that make investors more jittery, who are already suffering under a very slow investigation, because five months is a real long time, especially when your income has been cut off.

At this moment there is not much that can be reported, so simply say that. Do not succumb to the temptation to create news, as you did in this unfortunate piece of journalistic cunning. In all fairness to the great job you have been doing, this is the first such piece and it is my strong feeling that it should be the last. Keep up your good work, Jay!

Carl Franklin 
Fortuna, Costa Rica

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