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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 241          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Parque Nacional Corcovado in the Osa
Experts investigate strange animal deaths
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(posted at 4:55 p.m.)

The government of Costa Rica has closed Parque Nacional Corcovado while a team of experts investigate the strange deaths of animals there.

The park is on the Pacific coast of the Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica. It is a treasure house of nature with many species and varieties.

The park has been closed from Monday to at least until Dec. 20. The team of experts are trying to figure out what is killing the creatures, including toucans, monkeys, sloths and macaws.

Animals have been dying since October. Park
 officials attributed the deaths to hunger and thirst, although others in the area do not agree. The animals deaths are believed to have taken place in an area far larger than the park, which is nearly 44,000 hectares, about 110,000 acres.
Some concern has been expressed by local officials that the situation would have an adverse effect on tourism, and there has been no public announcement of the closure. A.M. Costa Rica confirmed the situation with a park office this afternoon and a copy of the closure order was provided to a reporter by FAX.
The park is a wintering spot for birds from the north, so the possibility of a trasmittable virus is on the minds of officials. However, the Ministerio de Salud has not made any comment and the minister could not be found. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas 
is here

The skies are blue and the living is good.

That's the slogan for the recently
arrived dry season, something  a butterfly can appreciate. It's
tough to fly in a downpour!

Costa Ricans call the pleasant dry season "summer," even though the country still is north of the equator. And school kids soon will be off until early February.

Toy prices vary dramatically in ministry study
By Silleny Sanabria Soto
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prices of Christmas toys vary dramatically, and a lot of retail outlets do not have adequate labeling, according to a study by the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio.

Martha Castillo Diaz, vice minister, reported the result of the study Monday.

The study involved sending investigators to 28 stores in  San José, Heredia, Cartago, Alajuela, Pérez Zeledón, Tres Rios and San Ramón. The difference in prices means that consumers have to shop around, said the vice minister. One example was a Barbie Magic Pegasus doll, priced at 15,890 colons in one store and 20,450 in another. That's a difference of 28.7 percent, she said. The difference is about $9.21.

A child computer showed a 19.8 percent difference in price between two stores, the minister said, adding that there are a range of products that have the same function, but that there may be differences in quality. Cars for
children range in price from 6,515 to 39,500
in the study. The colon is about 495 to $1.
The study also tried to determine if labels in the stores complied with the law. One requirement is that the information about the product be given in Spanish.

Ministry investigators found 302 deficiencies in labels, including the failure to provide the name of the maker or importer and the failure to note the recommended age of the child who can use the toy.

The study took place Nov. 25, 26 , 27 and 28.

Nine stores, including in the metropolitan area Toys Heredia and Cemaco Zapote, did not correct the deficiencies and will be reported to the Comisión Nacional de Cosumidor, said the ministry. Other such stores were in San Ramón, Ciudad Quesada, Puntarenas and Pérez Zeledón.

The vice minister advised consumers to keep receipts and guarantees in case of product failure and to call the consumer help line 800-CONSUMO (800-266-7866) in case of doubts or problems.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 241

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10 regional offices
sought for tourism

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourism officials want to set up promotional offices in each of the 10 regions designated in its national development plan.

That was the word from Guillermo Alvarado, who represented the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo before the Comisión con Potestad Legislativa Plena Segunda. He was testifying in favor of two bills. One would create a promotional office in Guanacaste and the other would authorize a similar office in the Provincia de Limón.

The national development plan, created in 2002, runs through 2012, although some legislators said they believe the tourism ministry already has the power to open up regional offices.

The Limón office has a special interest for some lawmakers. In another session a group of legislators joined across party lines to urge more development at the nation's two major ports. The other port is Puntarenas where several lawmakers said tourists who come on cruise ships sometimes do not get off the boat because there is little to do ashore.

They urge the creation of more businesses to provide services and diversion to the cruise ship visitors.

Death toll in Cartago
is three for weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men in Cartago have been arrested in the deaths of their female companions this weekend. 

A construction worker identified by the last name Siles faces an allegation that he stabbed his family after flying into a rage as the couple's relationship ended.  Siles allegedly stabbed his ex-girlfriend, Maribel Calderón Brenes, and the couple's two children, 6-year-old Bridgith Siles Calderón, and 2-year-old Fabian.  The daughter and the mother died and Siles was ordered held for four months pretrial detention.

A 17-year-old girl, Heidy Calderón Cordero, died Saturday night. Investigators said her 18-year-old boyfriend, identified by the last name Navarro, got jealous that she was going to a work Christmas party without him and stabbed her.  The girl's sister said she saw them walking calmly hand in hand approximately three hours before the murder occurred.  Navarro also received four months pretrial detention.

Ag center will award
three doctorate degrees

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza is scheduled to graduate 59 students from 14 countries Friday.  The graduation, which will take place at the center's headquarters in Turrialba, will send students out into the world with expertise in agricultural ecology, tropical forestry, management and conservation of tropical forests and biodiversity and environmental socioeconomics, among others, the center said. 

The center will also award three doctorates in tropical agricultural forestry to specialists from Guatemala, Honduras and Bolivia, the center said. 

“This year, we will also have the honor of recognizing a great teacher and researcher,  Gerardo Budowski,” said Pedro Ferreira Rossi, general director of the center.  Budowski has collected over 300 types of plants and trees for the center, Ferreira added.  Budowski, a Venezuelan, was the first general director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Switzerland. 

The center has conservation and sustainable development projects under way throughout Latin America.  In Costa Rica, the center is working with several government institutions to develop a 200,000 hectare model forest in Cartago province, promoting small grants for environmental management throughout the country and offering technical services for rural development, the center said.  

This class makes more than 1,700 professionals that have graduated from the center, it said. 

Three experts to visit
and mark rights pact

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto has invited three experts to celebrate the anniversary of the country's 1948 Declaración de los Derechos Humanos.  That translates to the human rights declaration.

Noted human rights activist Teresa Aranda, director of the Dirección Nacional de Familia de México, Charlie Hoare, director of the Care organization of the United Kingdom, as well as Dr. Yuri Mantilla, international director of Focus on the Family, are expected to attend the event, scheduled for Dec. 13 at 3 p.m, said the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Ms. Aranda recently organized the Congreso Mundial de Familia in México and occupies one of the most important social welfare positions in the administration of Mexican President Vicente Fox, said the foreign ministry. 

Hoare is a specialist in the anaylsis of the change of family dynamics for several international organizations, said the foreign ministry. 

Mantilla is a specialist in human rights and has ample journalistic and academic experience studying families, said the foreign ministry. 

The event, “Jornada de Estudio Internacional sobre Derechos Humanos y Política Familiar,” is scheduled to take place in the Salón de Excancilleres at the ministry. 

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Third news page

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 241

Villalobos fan is still counting his high interest return
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Villalobos creditor has put up a calculator that lets fellow investors see how big their loan has grown with interest during the 38 months that the high interest operation has been closed.

For example, a creditor who was owed $150,000 the day Luis Enrique Villalobos closed down his Mall San Pedro operation would be owed $428,380.42, according to the calculator. That's a 186 percent increase.

The problem, of course, is in trying to collect the money. No one has heard from the fugitive financier since January 2003 when he sent an e-mail to A.M. Costa Rica.

According to the calculating program, the estimated $1 billion that vanished along with Villalobos would now be worth $2.86 billion.

Who operates the Web site, Villalobosreport.com, is not clear. It is listed only to Enom, Inc., according to an Internet domain data base.  That's probably a play on "anonymous." The individual certainly is one of the diminishing number who expect to get their money back when or if Luis Enrique Villalobos returns to face justice.

That group has never explained clearly why Villalobos cannot distribute money to his followers from wherever he happens to be. Others say that Villalobos operated a ponzi scene and there is little money left.

Villalobos agreed to pay his creditors up to 3 percent per month but he never disclosed what he was doing with the money. Subsequent to his flight, some
creditors said they thought he was exchanging dollars for Colombian pesos.

His brother, Oswaldo, is awaiting trial on fraud and money laundering allegations.

The Villalobos operation supported thousands of expats and creditors in other countries through the monthly cash payments of interest, although many rolled over the monthly stipend to get the high interest payments.

The Web site operator also is urging those who have levied fraud allegations against Villalobos to withdraw them, claiming that "If you currently hold a denuncia against Enrique you will forfeit this entire amount if you do not drop your denuncia."

The effort to get creditors to drop criminal charges is a long-time strategy by supporters of the Villalobos brothers. They claim that once the charges are dropped, the missing Villalobos will return to pay off those who have kept faith.

It also is true that Villalobos could defuse criminal charges if he pays off just those who still have complaints filed against him.

The Web site owner also repeats a fallacy that has been widespread among creditors. They blame President Abel Pacheco for closing down the Villalobos enterprise. They hope that Óscar Arias Sánchez, the Partido Liberación Nacional candidate, will intervene to end the judicial process. Arias is the front runner.

However, the prosecution of the Villalobos is under the control of the judiciary — not the executive branch.

Arrests continue in probe of Heredia carjacking gang
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization in Heredia think they have put a major dent in a car theft ring which has been preying on the residents of San José, Alajuela, Heredia and San Ramón among others, agents said.  The group's primary method of theft was carjacking, agents said.   

In the past four months, agents said they have seized 25 vehicles, 15 motorcycles and arrested 10 persons suspected of involvement with the gang, agents said.  However, agents said they still believe there are members at large.

The agents believe that this band has been operating for a long time.  Recently, their activity has been increasing.  It has been difficult to prove the participation of the persons detained, the agents said.  Though other car-theft gangs exist, this one is believed to be the most prolific.  The monthly car theft average in Heredia has reached 70, the agents said. 

The arrests began Aug. 30 when agents arrested a 41-year-old man during a raid on his house in Santa Bárbara de Heredia.  Agents seized three vehicles then, they said, a Mitsubishi Montero, a Nissan Sentra and a Hilux all of which had been reported stolen.  They also found parts to six more stolen cars, the agents said. 

During a raid on another house in Santa Bárbara Sept. 21, agents arrested a 23-year-old man and seized a
Toyota Hilux and a Toyota Tacoma, both of which had been reported as well during car-jackings, agents said. 

In early November, agents raided a home in Pejibaye de Jiménez where they arrested three brothers, 20, 23, and 25-years-of-age.  The brothers were residents of the southern town but had also rented a home in San Rafael de Heredia, agents said.  In that home, the investigators found a large amount of blank keys to different types of vehicles as well as several devices used for automobile break-ins, they said.

In addition, the agents said they found a Hyundai that had been reported stolen through a carjacking, a Honda which had been used in various robberies and two motorcycles, the agents said.  Monday, agents said they arrested a fourth 25-year-old man who was suspected of being involved in the theft of the various vehicles found at the three brothers' house, agents said.  He was also detained in Santa Rafael.    

In Santa Bárbara agents arrested a 22-year-old and a 30-year-old man Oct. 26 who the agents said were trying to carjack a motorcycle and finally, Nov. 28, agents arrested a 23-year-old man who had fled to Alajuela during a raid on another house in Santa Bárbara.  In the Alajuela home, agents said they found two more stolen cars as well, as four motorcycles that had been reported stolen from Heredia and Alajuela.

Agents suspect that there are more members of the alleged gang.   

Free Internet café set up in a couple of tents in Parque Nacional
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The municipality went into the Internet café business Monday. San José officials and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad opened what they called the first wireless Internet café inside a pair of tents at Parque Nacional.

The café is a promotional stunt that will be there only until Dec. 15, and technically officials may be correct. The venture may be the only completely wireless Internet café, although a number of similar commercial establishments, including cafes, hotels and bagle shops have wireless services for customers who bring their own computers.
The municipal Internet café is only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., considerably less operating time than their commercial counterparts, which stay open all night long or at least until 11 p.m.

And the price is right. The use of the 10 computers is free on a first-come basis. But Monday night there were two municipal police officers detained to keep an eye on the tents, the coffee machine and the tables. Workers removed the computers for safekeeping over night.

Officials say that they might set the café up again after the Christmas holidays either in the same park or elsewhere in the city.

A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 241

Chimpanzee Lady's food route leads to a better world
"Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating"
by Jane Goodall (Warner Books).

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In her book, Jane Goodall mixes new research with her past experience studying chimpanzees in Tanzania. Written with Gary McAvoy and Gail Hudson, the book looks at how food consumed by people in the western world affects their health, the global environment and animal welfare.

Jane Goodall says her work as the self-described "Chimpanzee Lady" helped inspire her new book. Starting in the mid 1980s, she became increasingly concerned that chimpanzees were being hunted and sold for food. That led her to the broader conclusion that many of the problems facing Africa result from what she calls "unsustainable" lifestyles — some exported from developing countries. In "Harvest for Hope," she writes that much of the food people in those industrialized nations eat is unhealthy, and that their eating habits pose a three-fold threat.

"One is the environment," Dr. Goodall explains. "Huge areas of fertile forest are being cut down to provide grazing for cattle. As people are getting more prosperous they're demanding more meat. Secondly, what we eat affects animal welfare. And third, the effect of our food on human health -- you've only got to think of the obesity epidemic, all the allergies produced by the pollution of food from agricultural chemicals."

Jane Goodall also explores in her book what she sees as the potential hazards of genetically engineered crops like corn, or maize, altered by seed companies to produce their own natural pesticides. She urges readers to shop at local farmers' markets whenever possible, and to buy foods that have been grown organically. And for those who don't want to adopt a vegetarian diet, she encourages reduced meat consumption, with an emphasis on free range meats, those derived from animals that were not constantly confined indoors as they were raised:

"A heavy meat-eating diet is something to be avoided. It's not good for us to eat lots and lots of meat anyway, but also if we're buying these factory-farm animals, they've got residual antibiotics, and they've got hormones in them. And for me, knowing how the animals are treated, the piece of meat on the plate symbolizes fear, pain and death."

"Harvest for Hope" also includes profiles of people leading the crusade to change the way people eat today. These include John Mackey, who founded the Whole Foods grocery chain. "He's trying to recompense the workers in developing countries that produce the food he's importing and make sure they do well," the author says. "He's using organic food as much as possible. He's got an entire staff devoted to
insuring that any of the meat products that come in are humanely raised. He's done a huge amount to change the way people think."

But organic and free range do not always mean more humane, says Philip Lobo. He is the communications director of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, a coalition of livestock producers and others who make their living raising food animals. Lobo notes that access to the outdoors also means access to predators and disease. And he says today's agribusinesses work actively to promote animal welfare. "The reality is that modern agriculture today carefully monitors things like air flow through a barn and water delivered to the animals, so each animal can get the levels of water, of nutrition, of light that will help it lead the least stressful life possible."

Lobo also disputes the idea that today's agribusinesses are threatening natural habitats. He points out that crop yields per acre have risen dramatically in recent decades. "Biotechnology has made that gain possible. That has allowed farmers to be productive on fewer acres, and they threaten fewer acres of forest and other endangered land."

As for Jane Goodall's assertion that much of the food eaten in the western world is unhealthy, Lobo said he believes that is contradicted by the fact that people are living longer today. If he and Dr. Goodall agree on any point, it is the need to stay informed about what is eaten. She is working to change eating habits through the Jane Goodall Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, which has launched a program for young people called Roots and Shoots.

"We're going to be giving them ideas for how they can grow their own food," Dr. Goodall explains. "I was with a group of children in Austin -- they come from a very poor part of the city -- and the principal of this elementary school has got the kids to change a little piece of the school yard into a garden. They grow their food and they all become chefs, standing up and telling you why their favorite foods are broccoli and spinach. It's wonderful."

While she finds encouraging signs in these new programs, Dr. Goodall says she also continues to draw on the lessons she learned in Africa. "First of all, the waste in our societies. We buy far more food than we can eat. So you learn when you're out in the developing world people can eat far less. They seem healthier and stronger, and out in the countryside anyway, they're not eating all the chemical pesticides and fertilizers, because they can't afford them. So the food is healthy, and the water stays healthy."

Jane Goodall ends her book noting that individual changes in food consumption can have a huge impact, on both politics and corporate policy. She says mindful eating begins with an understanding of where food came from, and ends with a better world.

U.S. health chief says flu epidemic could kill 2 million persons there
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Public health and emergency preparedness officials from across the United States gathered in Washington Monday to begin coordinating a national response to a possible influenza pandemic. The Bush administration has issued a list of planning activities that U.S. states and cities should consider to be ready if a pandemic emerges from the H5N1 bird flu virus or another virus.

The meeting was convened by Michael Leavitt, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary. He told the assembly that a rapidly spreading global flu pandemic could infect more than 90 million Americans in four months, hospitalize 10 million, and kill nearly two million.

"Pandemics happen. It is a fact of biology. When it comes to a pandemic, we are overdue and underprepared," he said.

The U.S. official in charge of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, told the meeting that the need for preparation is the key lesson of the recent hurricanes that devastated a large part of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast. The Bush administration, and his agency in particular, were heavily criticized for not being prepared for the storms. Chertoff says that the hurricanes were limited in their territorial scope, but that health pandemics affect entire nations by cutting sharply into the manpower needed to keep them operating.

"We recognize because of the wide scope of the consequences that can ensue from a pandemic that we have to draw upon a very wide spectrum of expertise and capabilities within the federal government and within our state and local first responder and public health communities. More than ever, partnership and collaboration are going to be critical," said Chertoff.

The U.S. government took its first major step in developing a pandemic flu plan with President George
Bush's request to Congress last month for more than $7 billion to better detect outbreaks at home and abroad and expand domestic production of flu vaccines and antiviral medicines. Each agency of the national government is writing its individual plan to confront a pandemic, to be coordinated by the Homeland Security Department.

Health Secretary Leavitt says state and local governments and the private sector should do the same. He is calling for each of the 50 U.S. states to hold its own pandemic planning summit within the next several months to link private and public resources and to educate politicians and the public about the importance of the issue.

"We have to maintain the level of urgency that is apparent right now," said Leavitt.

As a guide to planning, Mr. Leavitt's Health and Human Services Department has issued a checklist of activities that state and local officials can undertake, such as assigning responsibilities for specific tasks, linking the animal and human health sectors, procuring vaccines and medicines, and testing the readiness of health care facilities to cope with a surge of sick and dying patients. The department is also preparing voluntary checklists for schools, businesses, families, and individuals.

President Bush's special assistant for biological defense policy, Rajeev Vankayya, said government agencies must determine how they will maintain essential functions and staffing if a flu pandemic hits.

"The good news is that we're doing this now in the federal government," said Vankayya.  "But this same activity needs to be replicated at every level of government. It needs to be replicated in communities."

Health Secretary Leavitt says a broad national program to respond to a flu pandemic would also help prepare to cope with other public health threats.

Jo Stuart
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