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These stories were published Friday, Nov. 22, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 232
Jo Stuart
About us
Investors meet prosecutor for information
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five investors met with the prosecutor investigating Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho Thursday and came away with some good news and some bad news.

A spokesman said the good news is that the prosecutor said that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is not interested in the case and that the investigation has not developed a solid case against the San José businessman.

The bad news is that the prosecutor said that investigators cannot locate much of the money loaned to Villalobos and that an estimated 405 investors are pursuing fraud cases against the man.

J. Duke Moseley was one of five investors designed to meet with Walter Espinoza Espinoza at the Tribunales de Justicia in San José Thursday afternoon. Some 15 investors showed up for the scheduled meeting, but only a handful were allowed to talk with Espinoza.

All are members of United Concerned Citizens, Residents & Friends of Costa Rica, a group that formed after Villalobos said that he was closing his investment office Oct. 14 and was not going to continue to pay the interest owed to his investors.

Perhaps the biggest revelation from Moseley was that Espinoza said that he offered Villalobos a deal at an early stage of the investigation: all charges would be dropped if Villalobos came up with a solid plan to repay the money owed to his investors. Villalobos and his lawyers did not respond to the offer, Moseley said he was told.

The meeting was not described as hostile, although Moseley said he felt Espinoza was trying to pump the five for information as much as the five were pumping him. At one point, one of the investors, a Costa Rican woman, fell to her knees crying, he said.

Here were some of the other developments he reported:

• Espinoza appeared unhappy with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service because it did not respond to a request to freeze funds associated with Villalobos and deposited in the United States. Now that money, some $8 million, has vanished from the bank accounts.

• Villalobos, the individual, has little assets, just about $5,000 deposited in a Banco Nacional account. He has little other assets and does not own stock in any of the companies associated with him and neither does his family.

• Investigators are unable to find any clear evidence of money laundering or other types of drug-related crimes.

• The prosecutor is pressing a case of illegal 

banking and of fraud, based on the belief that the investors’ money has been put in hiding.

• The prosecutor believes that Villalobos had about $600 million in investor money, most of which cannot now be located.

• Espinoza will not single out individual investors for prosecution, perhaps on tax charges, because he cannot discriminate under the law. And officials do not have the resources to bring charges against all who may have violated Costa Rica tax laws.

• During the two-year investigation of Villalobos, undercover agents were sent to his place of business at Mall San Pedro in an effort to deposit money with him. In each case, Villalobos refused the deposits because the individuals did not have a reference from another investor, something the businessman required.

• The prosecutor thinks that the investors have been scammed out of their money.

• Major financial centers of Liechtenstein, Spain, France, Panamá, the Caribbean and the United States have been searched without locating the bulk of the Villalobos money. And there is no paper trail.

• The investigation soon will come under the direction of the Superintendencía General de Entidades Financieras.

• The largest known depositor with Villalobos gave him $6 million.

• No matter what happens, Costa Rica will not profit by a single cent.

Moseley said that he came away from the meeting with the impression that Espinoza was trying to do his job, perhaps with few resources. The man has just two auditors to look into the Villalobos books.

Nearly everyone associated with the case believes that a freeze of the Villalobos bank accounts here in Costa Rica will be continued beyond the Nov. 26 date.

Meeting put off

Meanwhile, the United Concerned Citizens has put off a meeting scheduled for Sunday where investors could discuss the case. A member of the board said the meeting was put off because there was not enough new material to discuss.

Costa Rican officials have been investigating Villalobos and his brother Osvaldo for some time, but a Canadian case helped them decide to raid the operation and several homes July 4. 

Canadian police officials said that some $380,000 had been deposited by a Canadian drug figure into the Villalobos operation.

Do I appreciate my good friend 24-7? Absolutely!
I have been having problems with my computer. I started getting these messages that my online program was 95 percent filled. That quickly moved to 99 percent before I could figure out what this all meant. 

I had a mental image of my little computer getting red and swelling up like those people in the commercials for anti-gas pills. I knew I had to do something. I erased everything in sight, and nothing changed. Then a friend explained I had to empty my wastebasket. The upshot was I lost all my mail, and I have not been able to respond to some readers. 

So, if the person who asked about an assisted living facility would write me again, I will give him what information I have. And if the person who sent the article about the new anti-Semitism would resend it (but not as an attachment which I seem unable to either save or open), I will read it. And if anyone else has not heard from me and expected to, please write again.

Now that I have taken care of admitting my ignorance, I will proceed. I once worked for a company whose advertising manager would invent a word and use it, then watch (or better, listen) as the word was picked up by others. He told me it was a way of judging his influence over people. President Bush has shown his influence by the number of people who are now using the word "terror" instead of the more appropriate word, "terrorism." I’ve been told he had trouble pronouncing "terrorism." Maybe he did it on purpose so that he can wage a war against everything that scares us, even the bogeyman in the closet. 

Now I am waiting for his entire administration to start pronouncing "nuclear" as "nucular," which he seems to prefer. There are other words that, although not invented, get used and picked up until they become meaningless. Like what, you ask? Well, let’s take "appreciate," another Bushism. He appreciates everybody for everything for showing up or doing anything. It’s as if his Mother never taught him to say a simple "Thank you." 

Another word is "absolutely." Bush didn’t start this, but now everybody on TV when 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

asked a question, doesn’t say, simply, "Yes." Or even "right," or "I’d be happy to." They respond with "Absolutely!" Like "Will you show us how this works?" "Absolutely," responds the guest. This positive extreme is wearing me out. 

Then there are two overused phrases that seem to have emerged since 9-11. One is "twenty-four seven." I had to think about that the first time I heard it. Ah, yes, the firemen were working 24-7 to clean up the terrible mess on 9-11. Some company is working 24-7 to improve its product. The government, of course, is doing everything 24-7. To my mind, the only thing we do twenty-four hours a day seven days a week is stay alive. 

At first it was impressive as an exaggerated expression for emphasis. Now it is as commonplace as "forty hours a week." And finally we have the phrase "My good friend." This is used mostly by politicians as they refer to another politician (usually of a different party) with whom they are about to disagree. 

Come on, guys, a friend is somebody special, a good friend even more so, and you are insulting those words. Nobody believes you. It does remind me of the phrase "my great and good friend" that Frank Sinatra use to use as a euphemism for the lady he was currently sleeping with. For some reason I like that one, maybe because nothing better has come along.

Remember the movie "Mary Poppins" and "Supercalifrajalisticexpialidocious?" That was not in the book, I am sure, because if it were I would have used it every chance I got. I was kind of an obnoxious know-it-all kid. 

Anyway, we have a great substitute for that word. If someone asks you how things are, answer simply, "Pura vida!" It says it all.

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Illegal logging continues despite transport edict
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Recent evidence of illegal lumbering practices is an indication that the problem persists in this country, according to the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación.

The most recent arrest was made Monday when Fuerza Publica offficers pulled over the driver of a truck carrying 500 pieces of illegal wood. The arrest was made at 11 p.m. near La Fortuna.

In June, President Abel Pacheco moved against deforestation by making a decree to crack down on illegal lumbering operations. The measure was a reaction to a report that 34 percent of commercial wood in Costa Rica comes from protected forests.

The regulations were designed to prevent trees, some which are endangered, growing in protected areas from being pillaged. The new decree mandated that tree logs only be transported in Costa Rica from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The decree also set up fixed and mobile points of control run by the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía and the Ministerio de Governación, Policía y Seguridad Publica to check up on the lumber transports.

Under the regulations, loggers are required to affix an orange tag to each log. The tag contains a six-digit number that must coincide with the 

numbers on a certificate in the truck driver’s possession.

Truckers caught moving the lumber at night or without permission are stopped while police officials conduct a three-day investigation of the wood’s origin.

Officials of the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación say many violations go unnoticed because the regulations are unclear. Carlos Varela, an engineer for the conservation group, and a number of environmental professionals are creating a commission to simplify the laws.

"There are many contradictions in the decree making it powerless in light of illegal deforestation," said Varela. The commission hopes to make changes to the decree within the next eight months.

According to the environmental ministry, there are about 10 illegal lumber violations per month. Most of the logging infractions are midnight lumber runners.

But not all offenders of the day-transportation rule are part of illegal lumbering operations. 

There are several reasons why truckers prefer to transport lumber at night, according to a logging source. For one, there is far less traffic. Cooler nights are easier on truck engines already encumbered by heavy loads. Also, some of the truck drivers are tree farm workers by day.

Latkes, matzo and a spin of the driedel all available in Pavas
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For Jews in Costa Rica it is coming down to Hanukkah crunch time. Zero hour is approaching, and like rabid holiday celebrators, it is time to buy the gifts and prepare the feast.

The most important bit of advice for people preparing a Hanukkah meal and have yet to give it any thought, is do not panic. There is a neighborhood store that can provide all Hanukkah necessities, Pita Rica in Pavas.

This kosher delicatessen, with a bakery a few stores down, sells menorahs, Hanukkah candles, dreidels and Hanukkah chocolates.

Pnina and Moshe Aharoni, the owners, will make potato latkes from a generations-old recipe. The recipe descends from Eastern Europe, was refined in Israel and is now the blueprint for their Costa Rican latkes.

The Israeli couple only makes latkes one time of year, and that day is fast approaching. In other words: "Eat them up while you still can." 

Latkes are the traditional fare during the Festival of Lights, the other name for Hanukkah. Latkes are potato pancakes cooked in oil. The oil is significant because over 2,000 years ago, upon restoring their temple from the pillage of the Syrians, the Israelites had only enough oil to light the eternal flame for one day. 

The oil lasted eight days, and that is the miracle of Hanukkah. Jews light candles for eight days to celebrate their liberation and the rededication of the temple. Hanukkah means rededication in Hebrew. 

Another traditional food for Hanukkah is sufganiyot, a jelly doughnut. The Aharonis predict they will have to make thousands of these pastries for the upcoming holiday.

No Hanukkah is complete without the game of chance, the dreidel game. A dreidel is a four-sided top marked on each side by a Hebrew letter: gimel, hey, shin and nun. 

If you spin a "gimel," then take the whole pot of chocolates. If you spin a "hey," then take half. Spin a "shin," and you have to add a chocolate to the pot. And for a "nun" nothing happens.
If you get yourself some latkes, be sure to get some fixings like applesauce or sour cream.

Pita Rica is located across the street from the Shell station in Pavas. If the Aharonis latkes are like their falafel, then you are in for delicious cuisine.

Falafel is a Mediterranean delicacy, popular in Israel, made of fried chickpeas, doused in humus and served in a tomato and lettuce stuffed pita. 

Pita Rica makes fresh the pitas and the chickpea filling. You can also find traditional kosher foods like blintzes, chalah bread, smoked salmon, stuffed cabbage and matzo. 

The first night of Hanukkah is Friday, Nov. 29.

A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane 
Traditional menorah and a tiny dreidel
Europe urged to avoid
blocking food imports

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Grant Aldonas, undersecretary of commerce, is pressing the European Union to make clear that its members will not block agricultural imports from those developing countries that accept bio-engineered food as aid.

He said that, unless the Europeans assure their former African colonies they will have continued market access even if they accept U.S. genetically modified grain to prevent mass starvation, "people are going to die."

Aldonas made the remarks in a teleconference with reporters from Geneva Thursday, a day before he was scheduled to meet with union trade officials in Brussels.

Some African countries where starvation looms have refused offers of U.S. food aid after non-governmental organizations made claims that accepting the food would prompt union retaliation, he indicated.

While European Commission officials have publicly encouraged countries to accept food aid containing genetically modified organisms rather than starve, he said, they have not responded to these scare tactics.

"It's more the lack of a credible response to the continued allegations about [modified organisms], even when they knew the science didn't support those claims, that has left the field open to an awful lot of people with an awful lot of scare tactics," Aldonas said.

The union should clearly rebut those tactics, he said.

"There's an immediate problem with a humanitarian need, and that problem has to be solved first," Aldonas said. "We'll get to the market-access issues" for U.S. exports to the EU later, he said.

Aldonas also made remarks about steel trade. Two days earlier the Bush administration had requested proposals for another round of exclusions from the higher U.S. tariffs on steel imports imposed in March under Section 201 of U.S. trade law.

While Aldonas did not rule out more exclusions, he said earlier rounds had probably excluded most eligible products not being supplied by U.S. manufacturers.

He set low expectations for quick agreement in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development negotiations aimed at eliminating the trade-distorting practices that foster a glut in the global steel supply.

Human traffickers
jailed for 10 years

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Three men convicted on human trafficking charges in Florida will serve jail sentences of 10 years or more, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday. 

Found guilty after a four-week trial in June, the three fruit contractors will be imprisoned for conspiring to hold workers in involuntary servitude, harboring undocumented workers and interfering with interstate commerce by extortion and using firearms in the commission of a felony.

"Today's sentencing demonstrates that human trafficking will not be tolerated in the United States," said Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd, Jr., in a department release. "Those who target and enslave the vulnerable will face stiff penalties."

Evidence presented at the trial established that the defendants had operated a business supplying farm labor to large agricultural growers, while keeping the workers in involuntary servitude. 

The defendants lured the victims, most of them undocumented workers, from Arizona to Florida, and they forbade them from leaving until they had paid off a $1,000 debt for transportation.

Internet needs better
crisis tactics, says council

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Internet sustained minimal damage when terrorists attacked New York City's World Trade Center in September 2001 even though the attack occurred at one of the world's greatest hubs for information traffic. 

A study issued by the National Research Council Wednesday offers that conclusion at the same time that it reveals Internet vulnerabilities in crisis situations and suggests ways to ameliorate those in case of future attacks.

"The terrorist attacks provoked a national emergency during which we could see how the nation and the world use the Internet in a crisis," said Craig Partridge, chair of the council committee that wrote the report, and chief scientist at BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

"Overall, the Internet displayed not only its resilience on September 11, but also its role as a resource," said Partridge in a council release.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, quick fixes of equipment and networks were mounted to correct the Internet disruption that occurred in New York and surrounding areas, the study found. 

Those problems do suggest that Internet service providers and users need to develop better contingency plans for possible outages in the future.

Federal Reserve expects
economy to stabilize

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The chances of a serious deflation occurring in the U.S. economy are "extremely" small, a Federal Reserve governor says.

In remarks Thursday to the National Economists Club, Governor Ben Bernanke, who took office in August, said that in the foreseeable future the United States is unlikely to experience a general decline in prices because the U.S. government and central bank are committed to preventing it and the U.S. economy has proven to be resilient and stable.

But in case deflation actually occurred, Bernanke said, a range of policy instruments that the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, could use against it is sufficient to ensure that it would be "mild and brief."

Bernanke defined deflation as "price declines so widespread that broad-based indexes of prices, such as the consumer price index, register ongoing declines," stemming from a dramatic drop in aggregate demand. He said it causes recession, financial stress and rise in unemployment.

While the Federal Reserve has traditionally cut short-term interest rates to stimulate demand, he said, its options go well beyond this policy.

Even if the key nominal interest rate — the federal funds rate — reaches zero or near zero, a central bank, acting alone or in cooperation with the government, retains "considerable" power to expand demand and economic activity, Bernanke said.

Preferably, he said, the Federal Reserve should try to prevent deflation by setting its target for inflation above zero, ensuring financial stability in the economy and acting more "preemptively and aggressively" when inflation is already low.

However, when deflation has already occurred and the overnight federal funds rate fallen to zero, the Federal Reserve could reduce the value of the dollar in terms of goods and services, and thus raise the prices of those goods and services, by injecting more money into the economic system.

Embassy ball Nov. 30

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The St. Andrew’s Night Ball being held by the British Embassy is to take place Nov. 30, not Nov. 23 as incorrectly stated on flyers that had been circulated. The event is taking place to commemorate Scotland’s national day, St. Andrew’s Day.

Venezuela braces as
general strike looms

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The opposition has agreed to call a general strike to force President Hugo Chavez to hold a referendum on his rule. Opposition leader Antonio Ledezma says details of when the strike will start will be announced later Thursday.

Chavez has repeatedly refused to step down or hold an immediate referendum on his rule. A similar work stoppage in April led to a coup against the former paratrooper during which he was out of power for two days.

The opposition claims Chavez has mismanaged the economy and incited violence with what it calls his divisive class rhetoric. However, Chavez says his administration seeks to distribute Venezuela's oil wealth to the poor. 

Democrats will hear
ousted Justice minister

Special  to A.M. Costa Rica

Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica will have as their guest speaker José Miguel Villalobos, former minister of Justice of Costa Rica, at a scheduled monthly meeting Monday.

Also at the meeting will be Ian McVain from Mesoamerica to speak of the group’s work in various countries of Central America. 

The meeting will be held at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica with a business meeting at 11a.m., a buffet lunch at noon and speaker at 12:45 p.m. 

For information and required lunch reservations (3.000 colones for members and 3.500 colones for guests) please contact Dorothy Sagel at 249-1856 or Jerry Karl at 232-7048. All in the community are welcome for the buffet lunch, and speaker.

Cruz Roja given gear
to help in searches

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo made a donation of rescue clothing valued at around 2 million colons ($5,400) to the Cruz Roja Thursday, according to a Cruz Roja release.

The donation included 21 rescue jackets, helmets, whistles and bags. They will be used in the rescue of tourists who encounter difficulties when visiting the sea, lagoons and rivers in the national territory.

The summer season is a busy time for the Cruz Roja or Red Cross. There is a greater level of tourists in the country at this time of year, and the agency is called upon more frequently in emergencies, particularly with tourists, said Miguel Carmona Jiménez, the organization’s president.

Car inspection station
allowed to reopen

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte will allow an inspection station at El Coyol in Alajuela to open today.

Officials closed the station, operated by Riteve S y C, because of evidence that people could get certificates of inspection even though the vehicle had not been looked at.

Riteve fired at least five employees in a shakeup at the station. Officials said they believed that the tainted inspection certificates could be had for 45,000 colons, about $120.

Emergency declared
in wake of explosion

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIOBAMBA, Ecuador — A state of emergency has been declared here as rescuers search for survivors of Wednesday's munitions depot explosion that killed at least seven people and injured 140 others. 

President Gustavo Noboa took the action Thursday as he visited the Galapagos army brigade headquarters to assess the damage. 

Noboa says the trouble started when a grenade detonated during an ammunition inspection. The blast triggered a 20-minute chain of explosions and a large fire that spread to a nearby facility. 

Houses and buildings spread over eight blocks at the base were damaged as a result of the explosions. Several streets in the area were covered with broken glass and metal fragments. 

The blasts also knocked out telephone service and power, hampering overnight rescue efforts. The incident comes as Ecuador prepares for Sunday's runoff presidential election. 

News reports say elections in the city 170 kilometers south of Quito have been postponed until December first to give residents time to repair their homes.
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