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These stories were published Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 229
Jo Stuart
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Pacheco would restrict political campaigns
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco proposed extensive changes in the election process Monday as well as a public vote to determine just what kind of campaigning political parties can do.

The suggestions came at a forum held to discuss transparency in campaign funding.

Casa Presidencial, in its summary of Pacheco’s comments, stressed the money that could be saved with the president’s plan. But the main thrust is to cut off private financing of political parties, decrease the time available for campaigning and force the media to give free time to election officials who would then distribute it to political parties.

In other words, the state would exercise even more control over campaign expenditures, including the financing.

Pacheco, himself, has been stung by revelations of irregularities in his own presidential campaign and the way he and his top advisers accepted checks from foreign sources, something that is prohibited here.

Pacheco noted in his presentation to the forum, according to Casa Presidential, that he had suggested similar measures when he was a deputy in 1998 to 2002. He said he sought then a reduction in the campaign period to two months, the use of electronic voting and an increase in state funding.

The forum was set up by the Fundación del Servicio Exterior para la Paz y la Democracia.

"What happened in the past campaign is what has happened for some time: the support of the state is not sufficient to finance all of the multimillions in expenses that an electoral campaign in our country entails," Pacheco said. The last campaign cost some 5 billion colons, some $14 million.

The presidential campaign period begins now on Oct. 1, some four months before the vote. Pacheco suggested that the period be just two months.

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Public vote would determine if rallies such as this one for Otton Solís could take place.

Pacheco also said that electronic voting should be expanded to the whole country to cut down on the cost of transporting ballots to a central place for counting. 

Such voting will be used Dec. 1 in the elections for mayors of municipalities, and the probability is that such voting, using ordinary computers, will be expanded by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, the fourth branch of government in change of elections.

Pacheco also said that the idea of former President Oscar Arias should be reconsidered: that the state distribute money to political parties based on the number of votes they receive instead of being based on expenses. Pacheco also said that political parties should be given access to the names of those people who donate to rival political parties.

Pacheco’s final idea was that a public vote should be held to see if citizens want the political parties to continue spending for publicity and public gatherings.

Cutting campaign time and placing more control in the hands of the state would seem to favor established political parties of which Pacehco is a member at the expense of new ones, such as Partido Acción Ciudadana, whose candidate, Otton Solís, finished a strong third in the first round of the last presidential election.

Dramatic chase, rescue frees kidnap victim
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police chased a fleeing car and staged a dramatic rescue of a presumed kidnap victim Monday afternoon in Cipreses de Oreamuno.

The young man regained his liberty without suffering serious injury. Police arrested three suspects. 

The trio may be part of a band of robbers working in the Cartago area, said police.

The drama began in the afternoon when three men in a car believed dressed as police officers grabbed a young man, later identified by the last name of Sánchez in Tierra Blanca de Cartago. The victim is believed to be a businessman but later told police the robbers got only 1,500 colons from him, some $4.

Fuerza Pública officers found out about the crime almost immediately, presumably from a witness. They began a search and encountered the vehicle in the crossing of Pacayas and Cot de Oreamuno, according to an account by police.

The suspects fled in the vehicle to Cipreses with police in pursuit where they surrendered without gunplay.

Police identified the suspects by the last names of Sandí Valverde, 43, Arias Barrantes, 33, and Yamada Salas, 20. The said Sandí got out of prison in August after serving a sentence for robbery.

Inside the car, police said they found a .38-caliber pistol and hats of a type worn by police.

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Official suggests fraud complaint against Villalobos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An official involved with helping investors recover the money they put with Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho is suggesting they might want to file a fraud charge.

An e-mail to an investor obtained by A.M. Costa Rica Monday night carried the name of Jeannette Arias of the Victim Assistance Office of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

She told the investor the manner in which he could let investigators know that he had money with Villalobos. But Ms. Arias also said:

"There is another way to handle this, which is pressing charges against Villalobos for committing fraud against you, for that you would have to come to the country, but it wouldn’t be necessary to hire a lawyer."

The letter, in English, is the first indication that investigators here are preparing a fraud case against Villalobos. Until now, one investigation was being done by a prosecutor in the narcotrafficking section. A second investigation was being conducted in the Sección de delitos economicos y financieros. The second investigation was believed to involve suspicions of money laundering spelled out in a search order executed July 4.

Because the investor was told that it would not be necessary to hire a lawyer, a high probability exists that yet a third investigation — this one considering allegations of fraud — is being handled by the Judicial Investigating Organization.

No one in an official capacity - until now - had used the word "fraud" to describe the Villalobos operation which was known for paying from 2.8 to 3 percent a month to investors who gave him at least $10,000. Many put in much more.

The fact that Villalobos suspended operations Oct. 14 and is presumed to have left the country does not rise to the level of fraud. Nor does the fact that he is two months behind in paying interest to the bulk of his investors. Failing to pay a debt is not a crime in Costa Rica.

A fraud charge would signify that there was suspicion that there was something fundamentally wrong with the investment scheme and/or that Villalobos deliberately misled his investors.

It was not known last night how many investors had received suggestions like this nor what Ms. Arias believes the grounds might be for a fraud case. However, she has been described as intimately acquainted with details of the case even though her principal function is to represent the interest of victims.

Villalobos maintained an office in the Mall San Pedro, and his brother operated the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house. Both were raided July 4. 

At the time, many investors thought the raids were triggered by Canadian investigators who are prosecuting drug cases in that country. However, revelations from the search order, published Friday, showed that Costa Rican officials have been investigating the operation on their own for two years.

Child porn suspects to stand trial today
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A trial of five men who are suspected of running a child pornography ring here is scheduled to begin today.

The suspects were arrested after a nine-month investigation conducted by Casa Alianza, in conjunction with the public prosecutor against sexual crimes and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The men were detained in July 2001.

Casa Alianza reported it has received a series of threats of violence against its staff in relation to the beginning of the trial.

The charges against the accused include aggravated corruption of minors, supplying drugs to minors, aggravated pimping and criminal association, among others, according to Casa Alianza.The accused could receive 15-year jail sentences, if found guilty.

The trial will be held at the Second Circuit Court of Justice in Guadalupe, a San José suburb.

The five are accused of distributing child pornography through the Internet and of being 

part of a pedophile network, according to the child advocacy group.

One suspect, Araya Monge, 32, worked for the state-run University of Costa Rica and is alleged to have produced child pornography in the university on the school’s equipment. The school has since installed security programs on its computer network to prevent future access and distribution of pornography.

The four other suspects are a lawyer by the last name of Marín Rojas, a computer technician by the last name of Salas Vargas and two others, Morales Espinoza and Vargas Carrillo. 

"This is the first time that a pedophile ring has been infiltrated and disbanded in Costa Rica", said Bruce Harris, regional director of Casa Alianza, an organization that defends the rights of children in Latin America and is headquartered in San José.

During the same Internet investigation, Casa Alianza also infiltrated a group of pedophiles, "Paidos," in Chile which resulted in the arrest of seven people, including two U.S. citizens. 

Since then, 15 other pedophile rings have been discovered in Chile, the organization said.

Giuliani not yet in 
Mexico to fight crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Monday was to have been the first day of Rudolph Giuliani's visit to this crime-plagued city under a contract to help authorities here establish law and order. Giuliani, former New York mayor, postponed the trip because of scheduling conflicts, but the controversy over his contract has not abated.

Although he is not here, city officials say Giuliani is being kept informed by people in his advance team who have been here to work with local authorities. Still, details about how the former New York mayor will tackle the runaway crime rate here remain scant.

During a visit to El Paso, Texas, reporters asked Giuliani about his contract. In scenes played on Mexico's Televisa network, Giuliani provided little information about his contract.

"The payment is through a private organization and we will see how much it turns out to be," he said. "I do not know that I can properly answer that question now. It is along-term engagement and it will go on for at least a year."

Giuliani did say, however, that the methods used to reduce crime in New York and other U.S. cities could be applied here. He said it is important to analyze patterns of crime in various parts of the city in order to attack the specific problems of each area.

"Crime is not happening everywhere," he said. "It is happening in certain parts of the cities and different crimes are happening in different places."

Mexicans are intrigued by the prospect of New York's former crime-fighting mayor coming to town, but many remain skeptical about how effective he might be here. There are also many critics of the more than $4 million being paid to Giuliani and his team under a contract with the city.

Most of that money will come from the nation's largest employers group, known as COPARMEX, Confederacion Paternal de la Republica Mexicana, and other wealthy private donors. 

But Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico City police chief, says ordinary citizens are also being asked to contribute. He says that a special bank account is being established so that anyone who wishes to donate money to help pay Giuliani may do so. 

Ebrard has also denied that the former New York Mayor will have his own team of bodyguards with him when he finally does come here to tour the city. Ebrard says eight specially trained Mexico City police officers will accompany Giuliani here.

While Giuliani has been credited with reducing crime in New York by 65 percent during his term in office, critics say the situation here is very different from what Giuliani faced in New York. This city is crowded with some 18 million residents, the majority of whom live in poverty. 

Crime victims also complain about a police force that they describe as both incompetent and corrupt. Human Rights groups also express concern that a crack down on crime might increase what they say is already a well-established tendency of police to abuse suspects until they confess to a crime.

Treasurer optimistic on
Argentina economy

Special to the A.M. Costa Rica 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The economic situation in Argentina appears to be improving despite that country's announcement that it would default on a loan payment to the World Bank, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says.

"If there is any change in Argentina over the past six months ... it is for the positive," O'Neill told reporters Friday. "I don't think things are deteriorating. I think things are stabilizing and mildly improving."

O'Neill made the comments during a briefing as he prepared to embark on a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

"Our position continues, as it has been, to be supportive of the IMF and the Argentines reaching an agreement that will provide for sustainable economic growth in Argentina," he said, "and as quickly as possible putting that country back into a position where its people have an opportunity to grow and be employed again."

Previewing his trip to South Asia, O'Neill said he would examine reconstruction activity in Afghanistan, meet with economic officials in Pakistan and India, and attend a meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers in India.

The G-20 is a group of industrial and major emerging market countries focused on bringing greater stability to the international financial system.

O'Neill said he would tell his G-20 counterparts that the United States is "on the road to recovery and that global prosperity requires that all the economies of the world rekindle growth."

U.S. species negotiator 
pleased with mission

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SANTIAGO, Chile — The head of the U.S. delegation to an international meeting on endangered species is pleased at newly negotiated agreements to protect certain plant and animal species from over harvesting and possible extinction. The 12-day meeting ended Friday.

"We accomplished virtually all of our objectives for the conference," said Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the Interior, the head of the U.S. delegation, in a news release issued at the meeting's close.

U.S. negotiators played a role in winning stronger protections for seahorses, certain species of turtles, and big leaf mahogany trees. 

These species — all threatened by over harvesting — will now be protected by provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora that require that trade be strictly regulated to avoid further depletion.

Delegates from more than 150 nations attended the meeting and also approved a one-time sale of elephant ivory from existing stockpiles held by Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. 

The sale is supposed to be strictly regulated to ensure protection of the species and direct profits to further conservation of elephant herds.

U.S. diplomat praises 
Central America 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK — Central American nations have made progress in the areas of regional integration and professionalizing their armed forces, but must continue working on such issues as law enforcement and corruption, says Richard Brown, U.S. special advisor to the United Nations.

In remarks Thursday before the Fifty-seventh Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Brown said that the United States and Central America are linked by geography, history and migration and added that each of the nations of Central America is of "vital importance" to the United States.

Brown said that Central America has made "significant" progress toward regional integration and noted that economic integration is yielding important benefits for the region. 

The conclusion of a free trade agreement between the United States and Central America should translate into an "enormous positive impact" for the region, Brown said.

The U.S. official applauded the reforms of the region's armed forces, the successful implementation of peace accords in El Salvador and the recent resolution of the Guatemala-Belize border dispute.

Despite this progress, Brown said, "the region still has much work to do."

Brown urged the Central American nations to resolve remaining border disputes and to address impunity and corruption in the region. He also urged the nations "to redouble their efforts in the fight against international criminal organizations and illegal, illicit transfer of arms, drugs and human beings."

Brown concluded his remarks by pledging that the United States would work with the nations of Central America to build on past successes.

Button up the overcoat

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The cold front that has stalled over Central America should break up by midweek, according to weather officials. But the rain and chill here is nothing like the problems elsewhere in Central American and Mexico.

In El Salvador, at least five persons have died of exposure.

In Costa Rica, some rivers are out of their banks causing residential flooding. In addition, many homes are enduring what to people here are frigid temperatures.

Police grab a German
coke courier suspect

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police arrested yet another European at Juan Santamaría Airport Sunday.

The latest suspect is a German woman, 25, with the last name of Marika. Agents arrested her and confiscated what they said was 2.173 kilograms of cocaine in a false bottomed piece of luggage.

The latest suspect arrived from Ecuador to Costa Rica and was leaving for Amsterdam when arrested, agents said.

On Friday agents arrested a man with the last name of Chriswell, 50, and a woman with the name of Iranka Wildbret, 19. They had arrived by the same route but there was no indication that the two cases were related. The persons arrested Friday, both from Holland, carried 1.592 kilograms of cocaine in a double-bottomed piece of luggage, agents said.

Power struggle continues 
over police force

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan National Guard troops have fired tear gas to clear a Caracas highway of hundreds of civilians opposed to Saturday's army takeover of the Caracas police force. 

The troops clashed with the anti-government protesters Monday in a second day of violence between the two sides. Four people were reported injured in the disturbances. 

Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president, ordered the military to take command of the police department, saying the move was necessary to prevent anarchy in the wake of a strike by some officers. The populist president also said the move was temporary, but gave no timetable for when it would end. 

The Chavez government also appointed a new city police chief, although the current chief, Henry Vivas, refuses to step down. 

The trouble comes as anti-government activists prepare for a march Tuesday in the capital. 

Chavez's opponents are calling for a vote by early December on whether the populist leader should voluntarily step down. 

They accuse him of trying to model the oil-producing country on communist-run Cuba and say his economic policies are leading Venezuela toward ruin. The president says the constitution does not permit a referendum on his mandate until August, when he is halfway through his current term. 

The trouble comes as the head of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, mediates peace talks between the Venezuelan government and its opponents. The latest round resumed Monday. 

ICE touts new 
Internet services

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the communications monopoly, exhibited a great deal of hopefulness in its new Internet services by having its machinery sprayed with holy water by a priest.

The blessing occurred at an exposition Monday where the company unveiled a new managerial platform as well as a host of other improvements in service.

Keeping up with the high demand of cellular phones seems to be at the forefront of the company’s expanse. According to ICE data, the number of users of its cellular service increased by 65 percent last year. The company plans to make 156,000 more lines available by the end of this year.

ICE announced a new Internet price of $23 per month for a connection of 128 to 256 KBPS. The company pointed out that the same service is available in the United States and European countries for about $10 more. 

At the same time, ICE outlined plans to expand its services to rural areas throughout the country in order to decrease congestion of servers located in San José.

The company is beginning to compete with its subsidiary, Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. for Internet customers.

Italy donates to 
mine-clearing program

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A contribution of about $250,000 from the Italian government will go toward the Organization of American States’ mine-clearing program in Central America. 

The latest Italian donation, which will benefit the operations in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, is in addition to $100,000 given previously for humanitarian initiatives against anti-personnel land mines.

During a brief ceremony at the organization’s headquarters Friday, Italy’s Ambassador Ferdinando Salleo, permanent observer to the organization, presented to Luigi Einaudi, assistant secretary general of the organization, the gift that is earmarked for the Comprehensive Mine Action Program in Central America. 

Salleo renewed his government’s commitment to the organization and to its increasing role tackling especially difficult issues. 

“My country has taken an active part in the process leading to the Ottawa Convention, recognizing it is one thing to sign agreements but quite another thing to contribute effectively on the ground, to rid the world of these dangerous and inhuman devices.” 

Thanking the government, Einaudi praised Italy’s interest in the organization’s programs and expressing the hope that “we will soon be able to see Central and South America become the world’s first landmine-free zone.” 

Contributions to the Program to date have topped $24 million.
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Containing malaria is the goal of scientists
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 1,000 scientists and health professionals, representing 63 countries, 29 of them African, gathered at the Arusha International Conference Center in Tanzania Sunday for a five-day conference to explore every aspect of malaria research and control.

Malaria is one of Africa's greatest killers and a serious disease in all tropical regions of the world. Research in recent years has also identified the disease as a major factor in inhibiting economic development in Africa, according to the World Health Organization. 

This realization occurs in tandem with another disturbing trend: many strains of malaria are now resistant to drugs long-used to control the disease.

Malaria kills up to three million people a year, 75 percent of the victims are children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. Between 400 and 900 million children under the age of five suffer

malaria related symptoms yearly in Africa. Surviving children often suffer in their development after multiple episodes of malaria infection.

The numbers of malaria infections in children are expected to more than double over the next 20 years without better control and prevention strategies, scientists say.

In addition, there are hundreds of millions of clinical malaria episodes yearly in adults. While the mortality level among adults is not as high as among children, the economic and social burdens are enormous, they say.

With these motivating factors, the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria was formed in the mid-1990s by a consortium of government, international and private institutions to more aggressively pursue treatments and vaccines against the disease. 

The initiative on malaria is sponsoring the Arusha meeting in order to generate discussion about scientific solutions to prevent malaria and reduce its burden.

Villalobos Letters
Investors had faith in the
almighty dollar

Dear A.M. Cost Rica:

I can hardly believe the degree to which greed and desperation are driving so many of your readers to defend the Villalobos brothers.

Not one single investor wasn't uneasy the first time they considered putting money into this mysterious investment fund. Not one of them hasn't wondered how the Brothers could possibly pay 35 percent per year when banks were paying 1.5 percent. Not a single one of them didn't think that the Brothers had to be doing something fishy.

But every single one of them decided that, as he had been routinely paying every other investor they met or heard about for years without being caught (they figured he must be paying chorizo to the right people), and as the potential return was so much greater than anything else they might invest in, they gave their money to this man.

Now they claim he is a "good business man" though they have no idea whatsoever of what he does with their money or just what his business is. All they know is they were paid each month. If this money came from drug trafficking or money laundering or any other illegal activity they, the investors, were prepared to ignore it. Now in their lust to keep the cash flowing in they expect the governments of Costa Rica, Canada, the U.S. and others to ignore it too.

And many of these good people quite readily avoided declaring their incomes and paying
taxes . . .

The fact of the matter is the investors took risks in what most surely thought was something at best “shady.” Now they have been burned. I am truly sorry for many who have lost everything but I seem to recall a lesson about eggs and baskets.

Noel Montagano,
Freeze hurts more than the investors

Dear AM Costa Rica:

I am an American from Massachusetts who has been watching the “Brothers” crisis closely and how it’s being handled by the Costa Rican government. It seems that the wealthiest community in Costa Rica has now virtually been wiped out over night?

It doesn't take brain surgery to see that there will be a big economic impact from this freeze. I'm sure it 's already being felt. Even with an influx of 30 to 50 people moving there per day, it will not, in my opinion, make up for all the hundreds of thousands of dollars that paid for all the goods and services in the country. I wonder if there is anyone in the Costa Rican government who understands this?

People here who have been following the way American investors are being treated have expressed the notion that this may be a trend. My friends, looking for a place to retire in a stable environment, are now rethinking their options. 

They tell me that Costa Rica, once a safe heaven and a place where the philosophy was one of protecting people's rights, are taking a different direction, a direction that will almost surely lead to increased economic instability and ultimately social instability. Could this be true?

It seems utterly illogical to tie up these funds and so detrimental to the Costa Rican economy, I really don't get it? Even if Americans might owe money to the IRS, wouldn't that be an issue that would be taken up here in the United States on an individual basis? Perhaps the Costa Rican government has succumbed to the Bush regimes rules of open records and RICO laws in order to be part of the Free Trade Agreement?

There is one thing I do know and that is destroying the wealthiest community in any country can only hurt things.

Varda Burns,
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