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(506) 223-1327         Pubished Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 236                E-mail us
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Inauguration of nativity scene at Teatro Nacional is Saturday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A manger filled with straw has already appeared outside the Teatro Nacional where the city's most anticipated Christmas nativity scene will be inaugurated Saturday.

The culture ministry and the theater administration will kick off Advent with the inauguration of the traditional portal in an evening ceremony attended by Johnny Araya, the mayor of San José, and choral singing groups that will provide the entertainment.

Although the portal used to take a different theme each year, including a unique and elaborate  Fiberglas rainforest scene, for the last few years the new affair has been kept more conservative by the new architect of the nativity scene, William Monge.

Monge, chief of the Departmento de Restauracion y Mantenimiento, said that this is because one of the goals of the portal is to promote the customs and traditions of Costa Rica.
Portals appear all over the country at this time of year, but all other institutions are overshadowed by the efforts of the Teatro Nacional.

However, not everyone shows respect for the tradition, as evidenced by the thieves who made off with the baby Jesus in 2005.

The antique figure was never recovered. Since then a new Messiah has been purchased through donations, and security has been increased.

This year the scene is moving back to its original spot on the right of the entrance to the theatre, rather than being placed on the north side.

The celebrations will go on for two nights, with choral groups from the Universidad de Costa Rica and Academia Carlos Luis Fallas among others singing after the inauguration on Dec. 1, and four more groups including one from the Instituto Nacional de Musica singing on the evening of Dec. 2.

Events will begin at 6 p.m. on both nights.



Uncertainty surrounds details of police camera plan
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Security cameras will only be used as a method of proof rather than to prevent crime, a top police official said as the Fuerza Pública gets ready to spend $18 million installing 3,000 of the devices around the country.

Although the money is already committed to the camera systems, the official, Eric Lacayo, director of operations of the Fuerza Pública, admitted that the project is still "very young" and that the police do not know exactly how many more employees will be needed to make the system work or how much money will be required to hire them.

British reports on the effectiveness of security cameras over the last few years have suggested that the cameras have little effect in deterring crime and do not often inspire a greater sense of safety in citizens.

“The cameras are not going to make the country safer,” said Lacayo in an interview. “It is the people who are watching the cameras and the police who use the cameras as a tool that will make the country safer.”

However, the Fuerza Pública is not yet clear on how many police officers will be needed. Lacayo estimated that each employee will only be able to
watch a maximum of two monitors at once, and then for only up to two hours in one stretch. He did not confirm that this means that thousands of new police workers will need to be employed to monitor the cameras.

“We will have to see how the systems work exactly before we know how many police we are going to hire to watch them. They will not only be in San José, but also at borders and in other towns, and each system may be slightly different.”

Prior to this scheme, only nine cameras have been in operation by the Fuerza Pública in the whole of Costa Rica, all concentrated in the center of San José. A few are set up at events such as the pilgrimage to Cartago and the Palmares festival.

The police are unclear about how many criminals these cameras have helped to catch since their installation.

Currently three people are employed to watch these permanent cameras in a monitoring station.

Lacayo said that the main targets of this project will be delinquents who have a habitual crime pattern stealing objects of low value in central San José.

These criminals rarely get sent to prison as they have stolen something of low value, and there is no proof to show that they are repeat offenders.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 236

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La Fortuna tourism survey
topic of meeting tonight


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

La Fortuna and its tourism business will get a close look in a seminar tonight being put on by the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, which has a branch campus nearby.

The event is titled "Seven errors, seven virtues and seven challenges of business development," said an announcement. The session starts at 6 p.m. The session will be in the Salón Pastoral in the la Fortuna Catholic church.

The analysis will give the results of responses by some 202 tourist firms which were asked how they could increase business and guarantee the sustainability of the company and tourism.

La Fortuna is a major tourist hub because it is the closest town to the Arenal volcano.

Playas del Coco benefit
is Saturday at local casino


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Proyecto de Luz, a Playas del Coco local charity, plans its annual casino night Saturday at the Coco Bay Hotel and Casino starting at 4 p.m.

This fund-raising event is run by the community to improve the lives of children in the area, organizers said.

The $45 admission includes a buffet and drinks, according to an announcement. Some $10,000 in prizes will be given out with a raffle, said the announcement.

The proceeds from the Casino Night will help benefit the annual Christmas party for underprivileged children, elementary school renovations, medical needs for children, beach clean ups, school uniforms, and other uses, said organizers.

Our readers' opinions
He would welcome strike
in telecommunications

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In re: your article dated Nov. 27 “Union leader promises a general strike if treaty bills get OK.” Bring it on.

They are committing monopoly business suicide. I can clearly understand why they are threatened by CAFTA [free trade treaty with the United States] being passed. If they had some sort of work and business ethic, they might not feel threatened by CAFTA. They are unreliable when it comes to providing power to the community, have lousy cell phone coverage, worthless insurance and the customer support system here is non-existent.

I have paid car insurance and filed a claim. It was so long, drawn out and difficult, I decided to just get the car fixed myself. Which I did and never heard from INS again. Except when they want another payment. Phone service is the same. Stand in line for hours as they only have one person semi-working at a time.

They help you after chatting it up with friends and answering 10 personal phone calls. A neighbor has had a cell phone that hasn’t worked for two months, ICE says cell service is spotty there. Yeah? Well, I am sitting next to two others with full signal. CLICK!!!

They are afraid another company will come to Costa Rica and actually provide a service that we will want to support and buy into and they will be out of a job. So, they are threatening to hold the country hostage? Like several months ago when they held rolling blackouts when the government wouldn’t approve a pay raise? It might be a tough time for a bit if they decide to do that. But, we will not forget and will jump the first opportunity to do so.

The management and union leader would be better off if they held customer service classes for their employees and came up with a business plan to figure out how to provide the service that we pay for now.

I am tired of the weekly power outages (Tamarindo) and dealing with ICE in general. Show your true colors and let the country and the world see you, too. There would be hundreds of companies come through here that will blow your service away!!!
Larry Green
Tamarindo

‘Golden Compass' called
promotion of atheism


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I wanted to alert the readers of A.M. Costa Rica to a farce that is being used to influence our children and their beliefs in the form of a children’s movie. “The Golden Compass” is a promotion of atheism with an objective to bash Christianity.

Snopes.com states:  “The Golden Compass, a fantasy film starring Nicole Kidman that is scheduled to be released into theatres on 7 December 2007, has been drawing fire from concerned Christians.  The film is based on ‘Northern Lights’ (released in the U.S. As ‘The Golden Compass’), the first in Phillip Pullmans’ “His Dark Materials” trilogy of children’s books, a series that follows the adventures of a streetwise girl who travels through multiple worlds populated by witches, armor-plated bears, and sinister ecclesiastical assassins to defeat the oppressive forces of a senile God.”

I encourage you to look a little deeper into the world that Mr. Pullman is advertising to your kids before blindly entering the theater with them. This is not the “typical” over concern of fantasy, magic, and witchcraft, even though it might sound like it in today’s popular culture.  Instead, the author, who has described himself as both an agnostic and an atheist, stated in a 2003 interview “My books are about killing God” and in a 2001 interview that he was “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has created a response booklet titled “The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked.”  It is important that all Christians, especially those with children or grandchildren to read the booklet and do your own research.  Arm yourselves with the ammo you’ll need to convince friends and family members that there is nothing innocent about Pullman’s agenda.  His twin goals through this trilogy:  To promote atheism and denigrate Christianity. TO KIDS!  Think for yourself, do your research, and save the precious minds of our kids!

Thank you A.M. Costa Rica for giving the readers a voice.

Christy Stregles
Tyler, Texas

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 236




Oral arguments set for Dec. 18 in Oswaldo Villalobos case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala III high criminal court has set Dec. 18 as the date for oral arguments in the Oswaldo Villalobos case.

The Poder Judicial said Tuesday that the emphasis will be on the arguments of 11 investors in the Villalobos high-interest investment scheme who did not receive money damages in the civil-criminal trial in which Villalobos was convicted of fraud and illegal banking.

The 11 victims are appealing the decision by the Tribunal de Juicio de San José to not include them among those who were awarded restitution.

However, the Poder Judicial said that arguments also will be entertained from the defense and the prosecution. In the statement released by the Poder Judicial press office it did not appear that the defense and the prosecution would be limited to the issue of compensation, although the prosecution has not filed an appeal.

The court session will begin at 8:30 a.m. on the second floor of the building of the Corte Suprema de Justicia in downtown San José.

Villalobos was convicted May 16.  The three-judge panel upgraded one charge against Villalobos from simple fraud to aggravated fraud because of the religious overtones of the Villalobos operation and because a number of the victims lost their life savings, the panel said at the time. He was sentenced to 18 years.

The trial court followed up the conviction the following day by releasing a written version that ran to more than 6,000 words. The Spanish-language document listed investors who would get money and those who would not. Many investors had dropped out of the case because they were promised by Villalobos supporters that by doing so they would expedite the return of Luis Enrique Villalobos, who is a fugitive. He would return and pay off loyal investors, the supporters promised.

Some investors did not receive a money award due to oversights by their lawyers.

The fact that the high criminal court justices are hearing arguments about restitution suggests that the panel will not acquit Villalobos as his dwindling number of supporters hope.

There were 6,289 registered investment accounts, and trial testimony showed that the Villalobos operation was bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars a year from customers seeking the promised 3 percent a month interest. The trial also failed to establish an economic motive for the operation and strongly suggested that the whole setup was a ponzi scheme in which early investors were paid off with money deposited by new clients.

The key point of the trial was to label Oswaldo Villalobos as an equal participant in the money collecting business as his brother. He had been identified in the public mind as the operator of the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house.  
Oswaldo villalobos
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Lawyer whispers in ear of Oswaldo Villalobos on the day the money exchange operator was convicted of aggravated fraud.

Trial testimony showed that much of the money collected by Luis Enrique Villalobos passed though the money exchange house into investment paper.

The operation among the mostly North American clientèle was called "The Brothers" or "The Brothers Villalobos."

Costa Rican judicial officials raided the Mall San Pedro operation on July 4, 2002. Luis Enrique Villalobos occupied an office that was adjacent to the money exchange house. The thrust of the investigation was to seek evidence on a suspected money laundering operation because Canadian drug traffickers had established accounts there. The trial court acquitted Oswaldo Villalobos of money laundering. Had they convicted him, the funds frozen at the time of the raid would have reverted to the Costa Rican government instead of being disbursed to investors.

The Poder Judicial noted that 57 persons testified for the prosecution at the trial and 60 testified for the defense.

The Villalobos Brothers still have defenders who say that they did nothing wrong. They blame the raid by the government for destroying the high-interest operation, and they say that the whole criminal case was a conspiracy by local banks that were jealous of the money being brought in by the Villalobos brothers. However, they, too, are not able to say how the operation generated income to pay 3 per cent a month to investors.


Heredia court orders that woman facing parental kidnapping count be extradited
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Texas woman accused of kidnapping her daughter over 10 years ago, and bringing her to Costa Rica, has been ordered extradited to the United States, according to the Poder Judicial. The woman, Chere Lyn Tomayko, who was wanted by the FBI, remains in prison awaiting processing of paperwork, said the Poder Judicial.

The Tribunal de Heredia held Ms. Tomayko's hearing last week and ordered her to be extradited, and she will remain in prison for an indefinite time until she is deported, according to Frederic Venegas of Poder Judicial. Once she arrives in the United States she will face the charge there, said Venegas.
Ms. Tomayko was wanted on a U.S. federal indictment alleging the parental kidnapping of her daughter Alexandria Camille Cyprian in 1997. 

She was detained in Costa Rica in September.

She had been living in Heredia for some time. Some at the U.S. Embassy officials knew the location of Ms. Tomayko since at least 2002, but did not inform the FBI or the child's father despite the fact she was on the FBI's most wanted list.

In December of 1996, the Tarrant County, Texas, District Court determined that both parents should retain joint custody of their daughter Alexandria. It was also ruled that the daughter would remain in Tarrant County, said the FBI.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 236

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Computer controlled traffic signals go into service in city
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first stage of the so-called intelligent traffic signal system has gone into service with 180 of 325 intersections covered in downtown San José. The idea is to improve the flow of traffic.

The system is under 24-hour control at the Centro de Control de Tránsito in Plaza Gonzales Víquez, The center is connected by fiber optic and other cables and wireless systems with 145 sensors in the intersections. There also are cameras.

Eight engineers in the Dirección de Ingenieria de Transito will work shifts to supervise the system.

The area covered is from Hospital National de Niños to the Museo Nacional and from the Hospital de las Mujeres to the south to Barrio Amón to the north.

Viviana Martín, a vice minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, said that the system soon will be integrated with the 911 system so that emergency vehicles will get the right-of-way at intersections.

Next month the ministry hopes to put 145 more intersections under the system.

The software at the center and the feedback from the sensors will let computers customize the actions of signals and optimize the traffic flow, officials said.

Workers at the center, which was inaugurated Tuesday, said that about three months will be needed to adjust the system to reach their greatest effectiveness.
intelligent traffic signal center
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Marco Fernández Tobias, an engineer at the control center, checks out one of the computer screens that will provide information on traffic flow and problems.

The ministry is planning to set up similar systems in Alajuela centro, Heredia and Cartago.

The downtown system was installed by the Mexican firm of  SEMEX S.A. The project costs $4.6 million.


Colombia's foreign minister says he will not recall envoy in Caracas for now
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and staff reports

The foreign minister in Colombia says the country will not recall its envoy from Venezuela, even though Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has ordered his ambassador home from Bogota in a dispute over efforts by Chavez to free hostages held by Colombian rebels.

Fernando Araujo, the minister, said Tuesday that his government will continue to monitor the situation. Earlier, Venezuela said it had recalled its ambassador to Bogota, Pavel Rondon, in order to "carry out an exhaustive evaluation of bilateral relations."

President Chávez and his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, have exchanged harsh words in recent days, after Uribe dropped Chávez as a mediator in talks to swap prisoners for hostages held by Colombian rebels. Sunday Chávez said he was freezing relations with Colombia's government. He accused President Uribe of "spitting in Venezuela's face" while he, Chávez, was working to get Colombia on the road to peace.

Uribe, in turn, alleged that the Venezuelan leader was not interested in peace but in Colombia becoming the victim of a terrorist government by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the main guerrilla group.

Last week Uribe said he ended mediation by Chávez because the Venezuelan leader violated a pledge not to speak directly with the head of Colombia's armed forces, Gen. Mario Montoya.
Colombia had conditionally offered to permit a meeting between Chavez and the rebel leader if the rebels unilaterally freed a group of hostages and committed to releasing the rest, including three Americans.

The rebels are demanding the release of collegues held in government prisons, in return for freeing 45 hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and the three Americans. She has not been heard from since 2003.

Uribe's anger at Chávez suggests that the discussion with the leader of Colombia's armed forces was not polite conversation. Civilian Latin American leaders always worry about a coup by the military. Chávez, himself, was jailed because he staged an unsuccessful coup while still a military officer.

There also is the strong suspicion in Bogota that Chávez has for a long time been helping the rebels secretly and allowing them to use the border between Colombia and Venezuela to obtain supplies and create safety zones.

Chávez envisions himself as a modern day Simón Bolivar and wants to create a confederation of nations over the same territory that Bolivar called Gran Colombia. Regimes favorable to Chávez exist in Ecuador and Bolivia, but Uribe has been a strong supporter of the United States, a nation that Chávez disparages as a crunbling empire.

The United States has responded to Uribe's support by providing millions in funds and supplies to fight the rebel groups.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 236



Celebrity charity fishing tournament will be at end of March
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The sixth annual Costa Rica classic celebrity fishing tournament, hosted by the Boomer Esiason Foundation, will take place next March 28 and 29.  It is held at Los Sueños Resort on the central Pacific coast.  The  tournament benefits young those suffering from cystic fibrosis by providing them with the latest medicines and promotes awareness for this life-threatening disease.

The celebrity tournament features two- to six-person teams catch-and-release fishing for sailfish and marlin plus gaining additional points for other species in the abundant fishery.  The top team wins paid entries to two more world class tournaments.

Celebrity competitors include Baseball Hall of Famer Wade
 Boggs, two-time Outland Trophy winner Dave Rimington, former Denver Bronco Mark Cooper and former Pittsburgh Steeler captain Gary Dunn.  “The fishing is phenomenal and beyond world class,” said an enthusiastic Mark Cooper.  “The camaraderie of the anglers is fantastic and you feel as if you’re in heaven at this tournament at the Los Suenos Resort.  And it’s all while you’re doing something special for people in need,” said the former National Football League star.  “This is one of those wonderful fishing experiences of a lifetime!” 

This year tournament organizers are hoping to attract more local teams. The registration per angler is $700. 

Teams of anglers can sign up for the celebrity tournament at the Los Sueños Resort Marina by contacting Mike Hill at 212-525-7777 or mikeallenhill@gmail.com.

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