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These stories were published Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 258
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica
Investors going off in different directions 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The most visible organization of Villalobos investors is out of money but still has expanded to accommodate investors in the defunct Savings Unlimited.

Meanwhile, some members who have charted their own routes to recover their investment money have gone off in other directions.

Yet other more radical investors are pressing to bring suit, perhaps in Canada, against President Abel Pacheco because he was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as relating a Bible verse about fools to investors.

A very secretive faction has announced plans to produce an Internet newspaper in Canada that would tell its version of the truth anonymously about the Costa Rica situation.

To some extent, the fragmentation of forces reflects investor frustration with a situation well out of their control. Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho has not been heard from since mid-October. 

He closed his investment operation in Mall San Pedro Oct. 14 and now is considered a fugitive from justice by Costa Rican officials and Interpol, the international police agency. Only some $6 to $7 million of the estimated $1 billion owed by Villalobos has been tracked.

Meanwhile, Louis Milanes, 52, identified as Luis Angel Milanes, has joined Villalobos as one of the international fugitives featured on the Interpol Web site. The former operator of Savings Unlimited is wanted on a fraud charge, said Interpol.

John Manners, one of the leaders of the United Concerned Citizens, Residents & Friends of Costa Rica, said the group will soon expand its steering committee and set up a general meeting as soon as some court action takes place.

He also said that Savings Unlimited is a very different case but investors in that firm also need help and many are the same persons who put money with Villalobos. Milanes closed his Paseo Colón investment office and 
fled the weekend of Nov. 23. He is believed to owe about $260 million.

J. Duke Moseley is the investor who is starting a different Internet discussion group on the topic. United Concerned Citizens has a discussion list on another Costa Rica Web site, but Moseley said he was unhappy with the metaphysics and unrelated material being discussed there.  Plus he said that discussion group soon will shut down due to lack of funds.

He said his list will ask participants to make a clear distinction between rumor and fact. Moseley is known among investors as someone who aggressively checks out facts. He has spent many hours reading the Villalobos case files at the courts. He lost the funds to finish his last year of medical school when Villalobos defaulted Oct. 14. His group will be on Yahoo: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CR_GSG/

Not much is known about those who would press a class action suit against President Pacheco. The idea is to sue Costa Rica officials for being critical of investors. Some sources said that the persons involved tried to get Costa Rica lawyers involved in such a suit, but all declined.

Material posted to the Internet under the "classaction" name say a suit is planned in Canada. The Internet posters have never said how Canada would have jurisdiction in a slander suit when the comment was made in Costa Rica and printed by  a New York newspaper. The individuals also have not explained how they will surmount governmental immunity and the fact that Pacheco was expressing an opinion that probably is not slander or libel on its face. The U.S. courts have held, for example, that the stronger word "sleazebag" is protected opinion and not libel.

Even more secretive are those who are planning an Internet newspaper, Verdad (Spanish for the truth). The organizers will not say who they are and claim in their initial issue that they will be protected against Costa Rican defamation laws because their Internet server would be located elsewhere, probably British Columbia. Everything in the newspaper will be posted without names, they said. They also use a special e-mail account that they believe gives them extra protection from having messages intercepted. This group is critical of existing newspapers.

Some support for a much-vilified man
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The man investors love to hate may have found some support. Michael Gonzalez Espinoza was the front man for Savings Unlimited. Prior to that, he was front man for Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho.

In these capacities he met with investors and physically handled a lot of the cash investors wish they had back. The firm offered to pay interest of up to 4 percent per month.

But Gonzalez is in a bad way, according to John Manners and J. Duke Moseley, who spoke with Gonzalez by telephone Sunday night. The former Savings Unlimited manager is being held in pretrial detention in the San Sebastian reception center.

Gonzales has lost his car, a newer, $40,000 Audi and creditors are after his Sabana Sur house, Manners said. Manners is convinced that Gonzales did nothing wrong and only 

knew as much about the Milanes operation as the investors.

Gonzales also is worried about his wife and 9-month-old child he cannot support while in prison, said Manners.

Most investors were surprised that Gonzales stayed behind when Milanes took a number of his associates when he closed his investment office and fled the weekend of Nov. 23. Gonzalez has little sympathy elsewhere because he was accepting money for the firm from investors right up until the doors closed Nov. 22.

Yet Manners, who once did photography work for Milanes himself several years ago, said he will go to bat for Gonzalez by writing letters and by trying to help him.

Another person in the same prison but in another section is Oswaldo Villalobos, the brother of the fugitive investment operator.

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Holiday weekend is a tough one on life and limb
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Christmas-New year’s holiday is turning out to be a dangerous one. In just six days more than 25 violent deaths have taken place.

Meanwhile, at the Festejos Populares de Fin y Principio de Año in Zapote some 302 persons have been treated by rescue personnel. Of these, 39 went to the hospital, including a man who was stabbed.

Throughout the country some 29 other persons were hospitalized since Christmas eve in serious or worse condition, said rescue workers.

Of the dead, some 13 perished as a result of vehicle accidents. Three persons died as a result of gunfire, and one youngster drowned. Three other deaths are under investigation to determine the cause.

The more recent incidents:

About 5 p.m. Saturday near the Fuente de la Hispanidad in front of Mall San Pedro a still-unidentified man died when his vehicle collided with a wall.

Less than 10 hours later, a pedestrian died on Calle 4 in downtown San José between Avenida 1 and Avenida Principal when struck by a car.

In Aserrí a man identified as Rafael Ángel Fallas Abarca, 35, died when he was shot in the chest about 7:50 p.m. Saturday. Shortly before midnight, Carlos Gradae Amador, 23, was found dead in Pavas under circumstances still under investigation.

In Unión de Osa, Ciudad Cortés, a pickup overturned about 7:30 a.m. Sunday, and Alexander Chávez Umaña died. Three other persons were treated.

A few minutes later in Paraíso de Cartago, a vehicle overturned killing Grevin Contreras Guillén, 13, while two relatives went to the hospital.

In Corredores in the southern part of the country Sunday night, an 8-year-old, Esteban Montezuma went to the hospital when bitten by a poisonous fer-de-lance snake, one of the most common dangerous snakes in Costa Rica.

In Turrúcares de Alajuela, Jeremi Pérez, 7, died when he fell into a small pool called the Pozo de Ensueños about 1 p.m. Monday.

Robbers shot him down
when he ran away

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three robbers, two men and a woman, jumped two Megasuper cashiers about 2:20 a.m. Monday and killed one when he tried to run away.

Investigators said that the two victims had just left a Christmas party organized by the supermarket chain at its Moravia location. Cashier Víctor Rojas Leiva, 21, and his companion, David Arce Madris, 24, were headed to a taxi stand when a red, four-door vehicle pulled up and the three individuals pointed guns at them.

The robbers took a briefcase and other valuables from the two men, but then Rojas tried to run away and headed back to the supermarket, according to investigators. The robbers put their car in gear, took off after him and shot him twice when they came near. He died on the spot, said investigators.

He leaves a wife and a baby at his home in the Urbanización Rosas in Trinidad de Moravia, police said.

Energy mininster upbeat
on resumption of flow

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said Monday the government was winning the battle against a four-week-old general strike that virtually shut down the state-owned oil industry. Meanwhile, street clashes between government and opposition supporters in two cities underlined the risk of serious violence. 

Minister Ramirez, who was speaking at a breakfast with foreign correspondents, was upbeat about the prospects for the country's vital oil industry, despite what he admitted was serious damage done by the strike. The world's fifth biggest exporter of oil has seen its exports slashed in December to a 10th of their normal levels, and motorists are still having to wait in line for hours to fill their tanks.

The minister said he expected domestic gasoline supplies would be back to normal once the El Palito refinery, on the Caribbean coast, comes back on line in about 10 days. By next week, he said, crude oil production would be around 1.2 million barrels a day, or approximately 40 percent of normal. But exports would remain below par for some time yet.

Opposition sources, however, and some independent experts, suggested the minister's version was overly optimistic. Dissident oil company managers continue to insist that the vast majority of workers in the state oil corporation, Petroleos de Venezuela, remain on strike, and that it will be impossible to restart refineries and normalize production without them.

Although there has been less violence on the streets than expected during the strike, tensions remain high as the opposition continues to push for the resignation of leftist President Hugo Chavez. In the western port city of Maracaibo, police had to disperse rival groups of demonstrators with teargas, and similar clashes took place in the capital, Caracas, after a dissident military officer was arrested by the state security police.

The man, Gen. Carlos Alfonzo is one of a large group of officers who have been occupying a Caracas square since October in a peaceful protest against the government. His whereabouts, and the charges against him, were not immediately revealed, though he was reportedly being held at military intelligence headquarters.

Meanwhile, in Washington, a state department spokesman reiterated U.S. concern over possible outbreaks of violence and urged the two sides to reach a peaceful, electoral solution to the crisis.

Ex-president Hoyte
given state funeral

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GEORGETOWN, Guyana — Residents have paid their final respects to former President Desmond Hoyte, 73, who died earlier this month after a suspected heart attack. 

Thousands of mourners endured searing heat Monday as they gathered in a square here to view Hoyte's body. Mourners later filled a courtyard at the parliament building where a state funeral took place. 

Hoyte became Guyana's president in 1985 following the death of President Forbes Burnham. As leader of the People's National Congress, Hoyte was credited with helping Guyana's economy improve. Hoyte served as president until 1992.  He is survived by his wife, Joyce.

Fidel back in public
after leg infection

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Fidel Castro has made his first public appearance in almost two weeks, since a serious leg infection forced him out of the public spotlight.  Wearing his traditional olive green uniform, the 76-year-old leader was shown on state television Sunday greeting people as he walked into a meeting room of the National Library. 

Mr. Castro left a meeting of parliament Dec. 21, explaining in a letter that he was suffering from an infection following an insect bite on his leg. 

The aging leader generates speculation in Cuba and abroad every time he disappears from public view. Details of his health are state secrets.  In June 2001, Castro stunned Cubans when he fainted during a speech under a blazing sun. The episode raised questions about the political future of Cuba after he is gone.

Inmates get a flight
and officials ask why

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PONCE, P.R. — Puerto Rican authorities are searching for five convicts who escaped from a maximum security prison by climbing onto the roof and into a waiting helicopter. Authorities also are looking into why guards did not shoot down the helicopter. 

Police say the men fled Las Cucharas prison in the southern city of Ponce Monday morning during a recreation period. They also say the helicopter pilot flew the inmates to a remote area in the island's central mountains, then used his cellular phone to report the incident.

Authorities say the pilot told them he had been hired to fly a group of people from San Juan to Ponce, but that during the flight he was forced at gunpoint to head to the prison. His name has been withheld for security reasons. 

Officials have described the inmates as "very dangerous," and say the men were serving sentences in excess of 100 years for murder and other crimes. 

Murders down in 2002

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Murders are down in 2002, according to the ministerio de Seguridad Pública. As of Dec. 3 only 201 murders had been reported in the entire country. That compares with 260 murders reported during the entire year 2001, said the ministry.

Rice genome drafted,
U.S. and Japan say

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. officials announced completion of an "advanced draft," or blueprint, of the rice genome in a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dec. 18. Japanese officials issued a similar statement at the same time.

This milestone concludes the second phase of the rice-sequencing effort under the Japanese Rice Genome Program, according to officials of the Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy.

"Decoding the rice genome is an important scientific achievement that can lead to improved nutrition and aid in efforts to eliminate hunger throughout the world," said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. "This scientific partnership between the United States and Japan continues to demonstrate our commitment to advancing research and science."

In addition to Japan and the United States, the effort to map the rice genome's 12 chromosomes includes scientists from China, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, India, Brazil, and France. Other members of the European Union are participating as well.

According to the statement, "Data derived from the project will benefit many research areas because rice shares common sets of genes with most of the world's major economic crops, including corn, wheat, rye, barley, sorghum, sugarcane and millet."

Zoellick to head delegation

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Robert Zoellick, the U.S. Trade representative, will lead the four-person delegation representing the United States at the Jan. 1 inauguration of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as president of Brazil, according to a statement issued Monday by the White House.

Paper will be back Thursday

A.M. Costa Rica will not be published tomorrow. New Year’s Day is one of the three weekdays each year the paper does not appear.

The U.S. Embassy will be closed for normal services today and tomorrow.
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