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These stories were published Thursday, Dec. 26, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 255
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Talk about being home in time for Christmas!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ellyn Gilbride got her husband back for Christmas. He’s a little sore and a little short of breath. The 18-inch scar dominates the center of his chest. 

But husband Dennis came home Christmas Eve and on the way to recovery.

"Home" is kind of a subjective term. The Gilbrides are the investors who lost all their money when the Villalobos operation and Savings Unlimited went under. Their home is a Bello Horizonte condominium loaned to them by friends.

Shortly after learning their financial world had crumbled, Dennis, 58, found out that he needed a triple bypass operation. Physicians completed the procedure successfully Saturday at Clinica Biblica. The couple’s situation resulted in an outpouring of support by A.M. Costa Rica readers.

Mrs. Gilbride went public Dec. 17 to tell the English-speaking community here that her husband needed blood. He is rare O negative, but other blood types were welcome. Mrs. Gilbride said on Christmas that although the exact total was not available, about 18 pints of blood were donated to help her husband.

"Something wonderful happened as a result of this ordeal, she said.  "Dennis and I both have been amazed at the kindness we've been shown by all kinds of people that we didn't even know.  Strangers have spent their time and energy trying to help us.  They have donated their blood and called to wish us well.  I've never known people like this.  The whole experience has reaffirmed our faith in humanity."

Dennis is a former truck driver in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. The couple said they would be returning to the United States in about a month. 

They have only the money they were able to raise by selling the furniture they acquired in their year in Costa Rica. They have no idea of what they will do to earn money in the States.

"But Dennis is alive and that's what really matters, said Mrs. Gilbride.  "I'm optimistic about our future."

Mrs. Gilbride on Tuesday sent an e-mail, which reads in part:

"We would really like to thank the people who were so kind and generous to donate blood.  One lady even called the hospital today to see how we were. She said that she read about us on A.M. Costa Rica and that her husband and friend donated blood.  I was at loose ends when she called because Dennis was having a problem coughing (which is 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Mr. and Mrs. Gilbride

very painful) and I didn't ask her name, but I hope she knows how grateful we are.

"Would it be possible in your story to express our thanks to a couple of people?  There are really no words to express our gratitude to Dr. Elliott Garita.  He's not only a wonderful cardiac surgeon, he's a very fine human being.  Dr. Garita went to bat repeatedly for us against INS [Instituto Nacional de Seguros], eventually winning approval for the surgery.  He got us all kinds of discounts at the hospital and managed to find some sample drugs for Dennis because he knows our financial situation.  Dr. Garita gave my husband a second chance at life, and we can never repay his kindness and generosity.

"We would also like to thank Anabelle Zumbado of the ARCR [Association of Residents of Costa Rica].  When we told Anabelle of the pressing need for the surgery, INS' refusal to cover the procedure, and our frustration at our inability to get anyone at the public hospital to even consider it, Anabelle started calling people and eventually found Dr. Garita.  She talked to Dr. Garita and told him of our situation, and was responsible for putting us together with him.  Without Anabelle, we never would have found Dr. Garita and we are so very grateful."

The Gilbrides also expressed thanks to Russ and Amineh Whaley, who let them use the condominium, a physician, Dr. Palma, who was in critical care, and the nurses and staff of Clinica Biblica.

Tope highlights what has been tough holiday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The traditional tope horse parade steps off today at noon with a scheduled route east along Paseo Colón to Avenida 2. The annual post-Christmas event will attract some 2,000 horses and horse-related vehicles. Riders and their mounts will compete for prizes and have a chance to display their gear.

Meanwhile, motorists will compete for ways to get into the downtown because traffic will be constricted by road closings.

The same holds true for Friday when the annual post-Christmas carnival will take to the streets.

Both events will draw hundreds of thousands to the parade route, perhaps everyone left in town who has not already gone to the beach for Christmas

Officials are hoping that the last few days of the Christmas holiday are not as grim as the first seven hours when a total of seven persons died violently and three others were seriously hurt, according to the Cruz Roja.

Between 6 p.m. Christmas Eve and 1 a.m. Christmas Day two pedestrians died when they were hit by vehicles. Two more died in vehicle collisions. One person died in a fire. Another was gunned down and one person’s death is under investigation.

The Red Cross organization provides ambulance and emergency service all over 

Costa Rica. Officials there provided this chronology:

About 6:37 p.m. Tuesday in Matina near Limón one Geovanny Monestel Fajardo, 24, suffered a stab wound in the stomach. He was in serious condition.

In Guácimo a motorcycle and a trailer collided about 6:53 p.m. and the driver of the motorcycle, identified as Johnny Solano, 28, died and his companion, Ivannia Campos, went to the Hospital de Guápiles in serious condition.

At 8:18 p.m. in Palmar Norte in southern Costa Rica Franklin Mora Badilla, 37, died after being hit by a vehicle.

At 8:51 p.m. in Hatillo in south San José María Diaz Cuadra, 55, died after being struck by a truck while crossing a highway.

At 11:14 p.m. a man identified as Benito López Bustos, 52, died in Guácima in the spot where he was shot.

At 11:34 p.m. in San Pablo de Heredia a man identified as Stanley Rodríguez Rodríguez, 28, died from reasons that still are being investigated.

At 11:52 p.m. in San Antonio de Belén Luis Martínez died after his bicycle struck a pole.

Just 40 minutes after midnight Christmas Day, Red Cross workers recovered the body of an unidentified man who died during a fire in Cieneguita in Limón.

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'Rings II' moves along with bloody encounters
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Evil heads go flying in battle after battle in the second part of "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy, "The Two Towers." 

Peter Jackson directs the movie with a purist’s eye for the J.R.R. Tolkien novels. Without having read the novels, a viewer would find it hard to pick up on all the subtleties that Jackson works into his adaptation.

Made clear though is the heroic struggle and heavy burden of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood.) Frodo continues on his path to destroy the ring that haunts him. His companion is Sam (Sean Astin), who would follow his leader anywhere even into the heart of evil Mount Doom. Along the way the two hobbits befriend an unexpected ally, Gollum who shows them the way on their fateful errand.

Gollum, a computer generated actor, is a convincing tortured soul. He plays out internal dialogues that are frightening in their darkness.

Still amassing a hefty death toll of bad guys are the three warriors: Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom.) These three seem to survive any battle, and the dwarf, in particular, fights with such glee as he chops away while counting the dead aloud.

The noble Ents play a big part in this edition of the story of the ring. The Ents are tree beings threatened by the too-evil Saruman (Christopher Lee) who uses their bark to fuel the fire of his war machine. Environmentalists will greatly sympathize with the ancient creatures.

Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen) returns from his presumed death to carry on the fight against Sauron the evil. The wizard is stronger than ever 


 

as he helps Aragorn and his men defend the besieged lands of Rohan.

Jackson has done well in giving a structure to this middle part of a story that doesn’t really begin or end. The movie represents a transition to what is to be the real climax during the third film. But despite the hardships presented in the flow of the story, there is enough substance to leave the audience satisfied but needing more.

U.S. ratifies U.N. measure against child trafficking
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. _The United States has become a party to a United Nations protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The instruments of ratification were delivered at the United Nations Monday after approval from the U.S. Senate and President Bush.

A related State Department press release described the protocol as "a giant step forward in our efforts to combat trafficking for forced commercial sexual exploitation."  This protocol seeks to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation.

The State Department said it does not know how many millions of children in the world are victimized in the multi-billion dollar commercial sex trade, since most of this criminal activity is hidden. However, said the department, estimates suggest that 1 million children are currently trafficked for coerced sexual exploitation or labor. 

These exploited children are at increased risk of violence, drug abuse, and disease including HIV/AIDS, said the State Department, adding that online stalkers, international pornography rings and sex tourism are increasing in a world where such problems are becoming more globalized.

The State Department outlined two previous actions to protect children:

— International Labor Organization Convention 182, adopted in 1999 and ratified by the U.S. in 

2000, provides that state parties shall take  immediate and effective measures to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labor, including child prostitution and pornography.

— The "Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children," supplementing the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, was adopted by the United Nations in November 2000 and signed by the United States in December 2000, at the first opportunity to do so.

The current document, The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on May 25, 2000, and came into force January 18. Some 105 countries have signed, and 42 (now including the U.S.) have ratified it.

According to the State Department, this protocol is the first instrument of international law to define these terms. 

— It protects children up to age 18 by treating the actions of exploiters as criminal acts which merit serious punishment. 

— It calls for states to provide victims with counseling and rehabilitation. 

— It promotes international law enforcement cooperation with provisions covering such diverse issues as jurisdiction and extradition, mutual legal assistance, and asset confiscation. 


 
 
Quepos residents
shocked by rapes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of Quepos are shocked by the apparent gang rape of two women there about 3 a.m. Sunday morning near a local bar.

No information has been available from the traditional police agencies due to the holidays, but informal reports say that up to 10 teens confronted the two women, a U.S. citizen and a Colombian citizen, near the popular Mar y Sombra bar.

Most of the male participants in the crime are believed to be underage youngsters. And the victims are believed to have left the country. Both facts probably will hamper any judicial action.

Ferry in service
on Río Tempisque

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tempisque ferry is back in business. A report from the Pacific Coast said that the ferry that takes passengers and vehicles to the Nicoya Peninsula was out of service for a time.

This is the annual rush hour, and many travelers take the ferry to reach the Pacific beaches on the peninsula. The alternate route, through Liberia, adds hours to the travel time for places such as Nosara and Sámara.

The ferry soon will be out of business as a new bridge over the Río Tempisque is opened. The bridge was supposed to be opened by the Christmas rush this year, but technical problems delayed the use of the bridge.

Study shows Americas 
to see rise in disease 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Non-communicable, often preventable diseases are expected to become ever-increasing health problems in the Americas in the decades to come, according to a study from the Pan American Health Organization.

The health organization report "Public Health Response to Chronic Diseases" finds that diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer cause 44 percent of deaths in the region. Risk factors such as high cholesterol, obesity, inactivity and smoking are all behaviors that can bring on non-communicable diseases, and they are all behaviors that can be changed with proper education and public health initiatives.

The health organization is working with individual nations' health systems to develop greater capacity in preventive care programs that can encourage healthier lifestyles and stop the onset of disease. The Washington-based affiliate of the World Health Organization is also advocating a regionally integrated approach to disease prevention and surveillance.

Mexican judge denies
bail for Gloria Trevi

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CHIHUAHUA, México — A judge has denied Mexican pop singer Gloria Trevi's request for bail and ordered her to remain in prison pending her trial on charges of rape, kidnapping and corruption of minors. 

Ms. Trevi, who has been called Mexico's Madonna, was extradited from Brazil Saturday. She is being held in a maximum security prison in this border city about 1,200 kilometers (720 miles) northwest of Mexico City. 

The singer is accused of participating, along with her ex-husband and manager, in recruiting young girls for live-in musical training that allegedly included sexual abuse of the girls. 

Ms. Trevi, her manager and a back-up singer were arrested in Rio de Janeiro in January 2000.  Ms. Trevi fought extradition to her homeland for three years. Last month she requested to return to Mexico, saying she wanted a chance to defend herself. 

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The holiday season is a grim one in Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — This is a somber Christmas in Venezuela, where people are enduring shortages of fuel, food and other goods amid a struggle between the government and the country's opposition. 

Joana, 8, sits with her little brother, Martin, in a Caracas plaza while her parents search for last-minute Christmas items from street vendors nearby. She says something feels wrong this holiday season. Joana says, there are not many signs of Christmas, at least where I live. She says, almost no one has put up anything pretty in their homes. 


Queen Elizabeth reflects
on bittersweet year

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON, England — In her traditional Christmas message to the nation, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II reflected on her bittersweet memories of 2002. It was a year filled with festivities marking her half-century on the throne. But it was also a year which saw the death of the queen's mother and sister.

For the British monarchy, the past 12 months have represented the best of times and the worst of times.

In her annual Christmas broadcast, Queen Elizabeth spoke of her feelings of personal loss with the death of her mother and her sister, Princess Margaret.

But this sadness, she said was tempered by the tributes paid to her as she toured Britain, participating in the numerous events marking her 50 years on the throne.

In the taped broadcast from Buckingham Palace, the queen said it was her faith that got her through the sometimes difficult year. "Like others of you who draw inspiration from your own faith, I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel. Fortified by this, and the support you have given throughout the last 12 months which has meant so much to me, I look forward to the new year, to facing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and to continuing to serve you to the very best of my ability each and every day. A happy Christmas to you all," she said. 

While the queen did not elaborate on what she saw as the specific challenges ahead, many in Britain are concerned about what will happen in Iraq. And mindful of this, the religious leaders here have all spoken about the subject in their Christmas messages.

The head of the Church of England, the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and the leading Catholic here, the archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, both prayed for a peaceful solution to the international community's dispute with Iraq.

Walk the streets of Caracas, and you would hardly know it is Christmas. The city is virtually devoid of the sights, sounds and smells people associate with this time of year. One has to look far and wide to find decorations of any kind. Few people wear smiles on their faces, and the only Christmas music this reporter has heard in more than a week has come from an overhead audio system in a hotel lobby.

At Caracas' Basilica of Santa Teresa, church-goer Veruska Zorrilla says it is not hard to figure out what is wrong. Ms. Zorrilla says, the problem is Venezuela's political situation. "I do not sense any Christmas spirit, especially not on the streets," she said. Off to one side of the basilica, Ms. Zorrilla lights a candle and places it among scores of others. "I lit a yellow candle, because for me that color represents light," said Ms. Zorrilla. She said she wanted to give thanks for the fact that, despite the situation in Venezuela, her family and loved ones are all together. She said she hopes that, next year, Christmas will be different, more like the ones of years past.

Across Venezuela, people are feeling the effects of an opposition-led national strike designed to force President Hugo Chavez' ouster. The work stoppage has virtually shut down oil production, crippling transit and commerce.

Monday, the opposition rejected a government call for a holiday truce, saying there can be no Christmas so long as Chavez remains in power. In a televised message to the nation Tuesday, the president expressed hope for a spirit of peace during the holidays. But fireworks street vendor Mercedes Escobar says there is no peace or happiness to be found in Venezuela. She says the people are not in a celebratory mood, and her wares are not selling. Ms. Escobar says this Christmas is not like others. She says everyone you see on the streets is tense. But, she says, we have to be united, not divided.

At the basilica, Veruska Zorrilla gazes at the candle she has just lit. She says she has one wish for the holidays. Ms. Zorrilla says, that things get better in Venezuela, and that everything that is happening on the political front does not have bad consequences for the country. "I fear next year will be a difficult one for us, and we will have challenges to meet," she said.

For her part, 8-year-old Joana says she knows exactly what she wants for Christmas: peace, happiness and love for her family. 
 

Police officer dies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bus hit and ran over a Fuerza Pública officer on his day off late Monday the victim was Avilio Camacho Calderón, 37.  Investigators said the man was hit, knocked down and then run over by the rear wheels of the bus in San Miguel de Desamparados.

The bus driver was identified as Luis Angel Montiel Nuñes, and the bus was on the San José-San Miguel Higuito.


 
 
More letters on Villalobos
Why can’t someone
do the same thing?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

When I met with the management at Savings Unlimited (SU), they told me they provided short-term loans secured by real estate. Large construction companies benefited from quickly available capital to cover costs until they could collect payment. For this service SU charged 6% to 8% monthly and so could afford to pay investors 3.5% monthly. 

They also claimed to be involved in the casino business and stated that was even more profitable than the loans. While discussing "The Brothers" (VB) with a third party, it was said they offered a check-cashing service, bonded exports and bought receivables from companies that wanted to get greenbacks quickly. 

This person mentioned that VB earned 6% per month on each investor's money and therefore could offer 3% to their clients. 

My question is this: Why can’t a legitimate company set up shop in Costa Rica using the above tactics and create a "win-win" investment program? 

Paul Moore 
Hilo, Hawaii 
Reader suggests
anatomical changes

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

After reading William Oliver's letter, about how we, the greedy and shameful investor's should go to the mirror to find the blame. As he so elegantly put it (BULL SHIT). 

He seemed elated about our plight and we should have lost our money. What kind of mental midget is he? Is his hat size and IQ equal? 

I would like to see Mr. Oliver's ball's fall off. If he has any. It bothers me to make a statement like that, it almost brings me down to his mentality, but if he is capable of reading this, I do want him to understand. I would like to enlighten this pompous individual about a few things. 

Most of us (greedy, shameful investor's) of whom he is happy lost our investment, are on a fixed income, just enough to get by on. With our investment our lives were made a little easier and better. Thanks to the Villalobos brothers. 

Yes, I said "thanks to the Villalobos brothers!" I want all the Mr. Pompous Righteous Know-it-all Olivers to know we paid for our ticket to ride this train, and the last thing we need to board (after the fact) are people like you. So we well point, say and do what we want and stand tall enough to look in the mirror. So you can kiss my greedy shameful ass, sir. 

R.E. Masek 
Sacramento Calif. 
After 23 years
you would be rich

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have read many letters from people who say we were fools for investing with DON ENRIQUE . So I looked up the definition of the word " FOOL". And here is the definition I found : 

a) Noun. Fool; One who is deficient in judgment, sense, or understanding. One who acts unwisely on a given occasion. 

Background:

If 23 years ago, you would have deposited with LUIS ENRIQUE VILLALOBOS CAMACHO the sum of 100,000.00 U.S. and let it compound for the full 23 years, you would have around 100 million dollars. 

Now ask yourself, who is the fool? Seems to me it would make you a genius. Many people got back their money many times over. The problem is that we were not prepared, for this reason we are all FOOLS. 

All of my money was going into my M.D./PhD. degree, I have studied "WE ARE NOT REALLY SURE HOW THE VILLALOBOS made their money, nor managed to pay such a high rate of return for such an extended period of time." 

Now isn't that the foolish thing you ever heard? But , I, on the other hand, still maintain my I.Q. level intact as does countless other investors. Its my Bank ACCOUNT that has suffered. 

J. Duke Moseley 
Costa Rica 

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho

Our reward offer is $500

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books. 

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession.

Both operations catered to North Americans. Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos is the subject of an international arrest warrant. Milanes is not yet named in such a document, although a case has been opened against him in Costa Rica. Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.


Louis Milanes








 


 
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