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These stories were published Thursday, Dec. 19, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 251
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Let's find these guys!
Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
Louis Milanes
We post a reward for information on the two
No one has heard from Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho since Oct. 18. He has been in hiding.

Louis Milanes vanished along with other executives of his Savings Unlimited the weekend of Nov. 23.

Also unaccounted for is the estimated $1 billion that investors left in the care of Villalobos and the estimated $260 million that was in the care of Milanes.

Both men are objects of international police searches. Each must be considered innocent until proven guilty. But each should be in Costa Rica to answer allegations about their defunct investment businesses.

Toward that end, A.M. Costa Rica today pledges $500 for information leading to the detention anywhere in the world of either Villalobos or Milanes. This is a minimal reward, but the owners of A.M. Costa Rica hope that others will join in pledging sums that will bring the search to a quick resolution.

Any information should be given to the relevant police agencies, not to A.M. Costa Rica.

In the case of money posted by A.M. Costa Rica, the decision of the editor will be final on the disposition of the reward.  At present, there are no other financial incentives for individuals to supply police with information. Costa Rica does not usually post such rewards.

Some say that the investment firm owners have fled to distant corners of the world. Some say that Villalobos is in Romania, the native country of his wife. A.M. Costa Rica has readers in 89 countries of the world, including Romania. Readers are encouraged to use the copy function of their Internet browser to duplicate the photos above that were supplied by a police agency.

Readers also are free to link any Internet pages specifically to today’s edition for the purpose of distributing the photos of the two. 

Some readers will question the publication of the photo of Villalobos adjacent to that of Milanes. Many investors in the Villalobos high-interest firm believe that Villalobos legitimately is in hiding to avoid over-aggressive prosecutors here. Nevertheless, the law is the law.

In addition, some former investors are suffering serious financial, physical and mental problems here in Costa Rica and elsewhere because Villalobos cut off interest payments in September. The time has run out on giving him the benefit of the doubt because some of his investors are near death, in part because of his actions. 

Let’s bring them home for the holidays.
 

-Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica
Life after Villalobos presents some challenges
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What do investors do now that their life savings have vanished and their income is cut off.

Some are returning to their home countries to seek the help of relatives and friends. Others have entered the local Costa Rican job market with some success.

However, some believe that they are either too old or too unskilled to compete here. And others are unwilling to accept a reasonable Costa Rican salary instead of the thousands in cash they were getting every month from the Villalobos investment firm or from Savings Unlimited. Both paid between 2.8 and 4 percent per month.

Costa Rica law forbids persons here as tourists or with pensionado or rentista immigration status from working. These laws are widely ignored, and Costa Rica’s flourishing sportsbook industry thrives on illegal North 
American workers. Many young North 
American English teachers are working illegally on tourist visas. 

Even more Villalobos letters
BELOW!

However, as more foreign residents choose to enter the job market, the backlash from displaced Costa Ricans probably will spur immigration officials into a crackdown. So would-be foreign workers better have their papers in order.

Costa Rica does permit foreign residents to own their own corporation. So foreigners with pensionado or rentista immigration status can operate their own business, be it something involved with the Internet, a store, a restaurant or a consulting firm. Frequently, a foreigner without a work permit will perform a job and then ask for payment to his or her corporation. That is stretching the law but allows the foreigner to take a covert salary in the form of corporate earnings.

We are happy to publicize the stories of investors who are coping. We begin one such story today.

BELOW!
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My husband, Dennis Gilbride needs immediate triple bypass open heart surgery. Our doctor expects to be able to perform this life-saving surgery at the end of this week, probably Saturday. Dennis has a rare blood type (O negative) and the doctor said that if people will donate blood early this week, he can probably trade whatever blood is donated for the type that my husband needs. A lot of blood is needed for this surgery. Please help to save my husband’s life. It does not matter what your blood type is. Please donate blood early this week at the Clinica Biblica blood bank between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., and tell the staff when you donate that you’re donating blood for "Dennis Gilbride who is Dr. Elliott Garita’s patient." Thank you, and God bless you. 

This talented investor is turning to the world of art
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gina Vela is one of those investors who have been cut off from their monthly income. She is not whining or betting on longshots. She has a plan to boost her cash flow, and her plan involves art.

Mrs. Vela is a Costa Rican-American who returned to the land of her birth in 1995. She brought her husband Thomas, who had worked as a ship’s captain in California.

Her hobby of painting has gained urgency since the Villalobos investment firm went out of business.

She threw herself into oil painting when she arrived, took a few university classes and filled up their La Trinidad de Moravia home with her paintings. She might never have thought of the commercial side of art had she and her husband not lost their cash investment.

But now she is anxious to tackle the market both here and in the United States. She has an unusual style that can be primitive, surrealistic or impressionistic. She takes from the current news and also from her childhood.

One painting of a family asleep in the same bed is a childhood memory when her Tico father brought the family to California in 1960 where he worked on the tuna fleet. She has eight brothers and sisters.

Another painting shows a woman with an iguana seated on her head. That reminded Mrs. Vela of her childhood years near Orotina where she ate plates of alleged "chicken" that really was iguana. She loved the critters and was shaken when she asked for a chicken wing only to find that this chicken didn’t have wings.

Other paintings blend the current news. Princess Diana appears as a topless mermaid. The best description is powerful, colorful and textured.

Although Mrs. Vela says that she does not remember the incidents, a childhood friend said that she used to win school art contests. One of her works was selected as one of 12 the University of 

Family sleeping scene from life
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Mrs. Vela with copies of her works

Costa Rica sent to an exhibition this year for el Dia de la Mujer. And she once won 1,000 colons in an art contest.

Her biggest fans are her three children who live in the United States. One, Ray, the youngest, appears as Jesus Christ in one of her more representational paintings.

Now the plan is to learn something about marketing art and begin creating works that will be of interest to tourists and collectors. She expects to have a local show in January.

Mrs. Vela can be reached at ginavela7@hotmail.com


Childhood and commercial art inspired this


 
Media is a player in Venezuelan anti-Chavez push
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Amid daily anti-government protests and an opposition-led national strike, Venezuela is enduring a running battle between the government and the country's news media. 

Turn on a television in Caracas, and you will be bombarded with public service-style announcements by groups opposed to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

One advertisement commands people to take to the streets en masse to block roads, highways and entire neighborhoods. The goal is to bring Caracas to a standstill in support of a 17-day opposition-led national strike. The message ends with a direct call for President Chavez' ouster.

At night, Venezuela's privately-owned all-news channel, Globovision, reviews the protests of the day with a distinctly pro-opposition edge. "Venezuela's democratic society has achieved yet another victory in its campaign to demand the exit of Mr. Chavez," said one announcer. "The opposition successfully clogged the streets and, despite the synchronized mobilization of pro-Chavez elements, majority opposition forces managed to avoid violence," another announcer reported.

Nowhere does the program mention that, on that particular day, rock and bottle hurling protesters squared off with police who responded with tear gas.

The anti-government tilt to the news has not gone unnoticed by President Chavez, who recently denounced the country's private television stations. Chavez listed the stations, including Globovision, and accused them of conspiring against the government. Blasting them as shameless liars, he said the stations and their owners are attempting to destabilize the country and undermine the rule of law.

Globovision President Guillermo Zuloaga scoffs at the accusation. "The president considers us his enemy," he said. "But we are not his enemy. We are showing the people what is happening in Venezuela. President Chavez' real enemy is the 

people who, armed with information, are aware of what transpires in the country."

Zuloaga said if war has been declared between the government and the news media, then it was the government that fired the first shot. He points out that pro-Chavez forces have ransacked television stations, beaten reporters and destroyed their vehicles, what he describes as a vicious campaign to silence dissent.

Guillermo Zuloaga admits that the vast majority of the people Globovision puts on the air belong to the opposition. But, he says, his station is open to President Chavez or anyone else from the government. He adds that it has been more than a year since the leftist leader granted an interview to the domestic news media.

Observers say part of the problem stems from President Chavez' background as a one-time military officer. "The attitude of the military is, 'I order and you obey,'" said Adolfo Herrera, director of communications at Venezuela's Central University in Caracas. He says President Chavez wants to control what is said about him, and that this is a public relations problem for his administration.

A leading pro-government deputy in Venezuela's legislature, Tarek William-Saab, says, in the final analysis, both sides are to blame for the stand-off between Chavez and the news media.

"The media must report the news with objectivity, while the government must accept criticisms when they arise," he said. "But, that ideal arrangement does not exist today in Venezuela." He said the news media is choosing sides and that this must end for the good of the country.

William-Saab acknowledges that abuses have been committed against news organizations but denies that President Chavez orchestrated the attacks.

For his part, Globovision President Zuloaga says his reporters are acting as patriots. "We are not playing political games. We want a prosperous, democratic Venezuela with a vision for the future where children can grow and better themselves," he said. "This is the battle and it will be fought until it is won."


 
Photo courtesy of the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública
Cocaine packet hidden in shoe sole

Another traveler held
in airport drug bust

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They were not wooden shoes, but the young Dutch woman did have shoes that were not typical, according to anti-drug police.

They arrested the women, identified by the last name of Keltoum because they said she had 2.5 kilos of cocaine in the soles of the shoes. That’s 5.5 pounds.

Policía de Control de Drogas arrested the 20-year-old woman at Juan Santamaría Airport when she arrived on a flight from Panamá.  She was scheduled to depart on a flight to Zurich, Switzerland, with a stopover in Amsterdam, Holland.

Four women’s shoes in the luggage of the traveler had soles that had been hollowed out to accommmodate packets of the substance police said was cocaine. The shoes were the type with very thick soles.

Police noted that she is the sixth Dutch citizen to be grabbed on drug charges at the airport this year. Police did not say what led them to target the woman or to search the shoes.

New U.N. torture vote
has bigger margin

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is considering the passage Wednesday of an anti-torture protocol by the United Nations as a national triumph.

Roberto Tovar, the chancellor or foreign minister, said the action was "a resounding diplomatic triumph for Costa Rica that signifies a giant step in favor of humanity."

The measure passed the U.N. General Assembly with 85 percent of the nations in favor. This was about 15 percent higher than when the measure first reached the floor Nov. 7.

A release from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto said that work by Costa Rican diplomats at the United Nations caused some nations that had rejected the measure, such as Cuba, to simply abstain for the second round of votes. While the United States voted against the measure, Israel changed its position and voted in favor, the ministry said.

No bull, health officials say

Health officials announced Wednesday that the Zapote bull ring is too unsafe to permit the traditional bull romp there this Christmas season. They cited technical legal reasons, too.

The typically Tico bull activities still might be held but elsewhere and not at the grounds of the big Zapote Christmas festival.

 

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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U.S. trade deficit lower, in part due to dock strike
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. trade deficit fell in October to $35 billion, down from the revised figure of $37 billion for September, reflecting a greater drop in imports than in exports, the Department of Commerce reported.

Exports decreased to $82 billion in October from $82.8 billion the previous month, while imports fell to $117 billion from $119.9 billion, according to figures released Wednesday. The drop in imports was due in part to labor disputes that slowed work and temporarily shut down U.S. ports along the west coast, according to trade analysts quoted in news reports.

Comprising the overall deficit were a deficit in goods of $39.4 billion and a surplus in services of $4.4 billion.

While overall U.S. imports fell in October, imports of energy products rose to $10.4 billion from $9.1 billion in September, reflecting a rise in both volume and price.

The goods deficit with China decreased from $10.3 billion in September to $9.5 billion in October, but remained the largest U.S. deficit with any single country. Exports to China decreased $100 million to $1.9 billion while imports from that country,

mostly household goods and apparel, fell $900 million to $11.4 billion.

The U.S. goods deficit with Mexico increased from $3 billion to $3.5 billion, and the goods deficit with Western Europe jumped from $7 billion to $8.7 billion, the Commerce Department reported.

Other large deficits were reported with Taiwan, $1.1 billion; Canada, $4.3 billion; Germany, $3.4 billion; South Korea, $1.1 billion; and Italy, $1.2 billion.

Latin economy worse

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Latin America's economy shrank 0.5 percent overall in 2002, mostly because of Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela. The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reported that per capita GDP in the region was almost a negative 2 percent.

The commission estimates seven million more people are living in poverty because of the mostly stagnant economies in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the report estimates the region's GDP could recover and rise just more than two percent in 2003. 


 
More Villalobos letters
She says the blame
rests with government

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

WHO IS TO BLAME?

This is an excellent question and we should not forget the answer. 

Is it Louis Enrique Villalobos. I don’t think so. Guilty or not of laundering money, he is not to blame for this crisis. 

Is it us so called "greedy investors?" I don’t think we are greedy, and this crisis is not our fault

Could it possibly be the government of Costa Rica. Yeh, this is the party that organized the raid and the freeze. What government efficiency they had. 

Ilse Cogen 
Guadalajara, Mexico

 
 
 

A sharp reply
from Mr. Hobbs

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Perhaps the most interesting point regarding Mr. Eldrell of Tenino, Washington, castigating my letter to AM Costa Rica, is the stark out-and-out lack of moral decency and turpitude he exhibits. At the end of the day his premise is a simple one:

Its OK to knowingly participate, and be a conspirator in a fraud, and criminal enterprise, in this case a ponzi scheme, as long as you profit from it. Even if you know it is at the expense of others.

Charming.

Thank you, Mr. Eldrell. I believe you made my previous point about greed and stupidity in my prior letter most eloquently.

And no, neither I, nor the firm I work for, invested in Enron because we do have morals and ethics, something appalling lacking in Mr. Eldrell. We never recommended that anyone else invest in Enron. In fact, quite to the contrary. Four years ago we issued a report saying that we felt that Enron had misstated their earnings. We were one of the first.

By the way, Mr. Eldrell, three questions. Did you report this passive-income windfall to the IRS? Did you put anyone else into the Brothers? And, how's that doublewide working out for you?

Time to go brush your tooth now.

Charles Hobbs 
New York, N.Y.
Nash took interest,
this reader claims

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your statement in today’s news shows how ridiculous the reporting of this story has gotten. I should have written sometime ago.

You stated that "Nash's only crime seemed to have been in letting his $189,000 investment compound to about $1.5 million." That is the figure arrived at by Mr. Nash's son, an attorney, and a Costa Rican attorney who sat with computers in hand calculating exponentially how much his investment would be worth and salivating how much they could get out of the investment. The $1.5 million figure that has been assumed by them also assumes that nothing was ever withdrawn from the account at any time.

My wife and I lived in Costa Rica for five years and knew Mr. Keith Nash quite well. He participated in home Bible studies with us. I recall how he often tried to persuade me to go on the raw vegetable diet that he was on. I believe that this diet was a factor in his being hospitalized.

Mr. Nash did, in fact, draw interest. I was not privy to any amounts, but Mr. Nash was very generous.

After moving back to the U.S., my wife and I returned to CR for a visit. We went with Rev. Richard Steel and several others to visit Keith in a nursing home. (I have videos of this visit). A representative of Villalobos delivered a check to the nursing home to cover his expenses and gave Keith money for his personal use. In the time that we knew him, Keith never ever mentioned his son. Interesting that his son should appear and try to get his money?????

Bill and Lois Quick

Suit against government
will bring IRS here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

One letter writer made the following quote with respect to the Villalobos case and suing the government of Costa Rica for a billion dollars. 

"The Costa Rican people will pay for this expense like they did in the Banco Anglo fiasco, and just maybe they will wake up from this deep sleep of ¨pura vida¨ and pay more attention to their national honor.".

Sadly most people forget when someone sues McDonalds and wins 12 million dollars for spilt coffee that someone has to pay. That someone is not McDonalds, it is the customers. 

Would anyone really want the Ticos to have to pay for "The Brothers" debacle? Where I live they get paid at best a few dollars per hour. A tiny percentage ever had the privilege of "The Brothers" investors who have/had beautiful homes, nice cars, plenty of travel and entertainment dollars and an enviable lifestyle. Few Ticos around here could ever afford to eat in the restaurants here catering to tourists and foreigners. For most, what is paid for a nice dinner-for-two in a local tourist establishment is at least a week’s salary, if not two. 

I understand the anger that leads to thinking of "an eye for an eye.". I have friends who have lost almost their entire life savings with the Brothers, and I empathize with the terrible tragedy, but really, should Ticos pay for that? I think it would be highly unfair to make them pay and that is exactly what suing the government MIGHT do, it MIGHT make them pay.

The bigger possibility is that making a huge lawsuit will definitely be a direct invitation to the IRS. If anyone wins a large suit against the government here you can bet the IRS will be standing in line to collect those back tax dollars. Twenty years ago I got behind with the IRS to the tune of 6 grand. It had become 30 grand within three years based on fines and interest. So basically you will win money from one government that you will likely in turn pay to another one. I hope a billion dollars will cover your tax debts, because the way their penalty and interest system works has a striking similarity to "The Brothers." The money compounds at amazing rates, and your debt grows like the rainforest in the rainy season. 

Frankly, owing the IRS money is not a pleasant experience. They demanded that I pay half of my monthly salary to them, which at the time was about 500 dollars after taxes. I slept on the floor on a mattress for several years to pay them back. I also had a 7-year lien as does every tax debtor which made it impossible to get credit for 7 YEARS. Those who have already lost so much will simply lose it all over again. 

I just hope everyone knows what the possible outcome is for suits against the government. Because any major win will more likely end up in the hands of the US government than in yours. So basically the Ticos/foreigners/tourists/retirees will pay the taxes to pay the lawsuit and in the end every dollar will end up in the IRS coffers. You can bet on it! The US has massive debts as well, and they aren't going to let a billion dollars just slip out of their hands. 

I think wise people consider the outcome of their actions. This is one possible scenario which I think is highly likely. Should the Costa Rican government raise money to pay a lawsuit settlement that will all end up in the IRS anyway? 

There are no easy answers to any of this. But remember that Uncle Sam in the form of John Poindexter is in charge of spying on Americans now. He is familiar with Central America as he was convicted for various crimes related to the Iran Contra affair. He knows how things work here and will surely share his information with the IRS to fill the U.S. coffers. 

It is always best to seriously consider the outcome of your actions. 

I hope that everyone lands on their feet and my heartfelt sympathy goes to those who have lost money in the tragedy of the Villalobos Brothers. 

Robbie Felix 
Quepos-Manuel Antonio
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