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|The following letters
came in via e-mail Friday in response to a letter and an article that day
about the continuing situation with Ofinter S.A. and the lending operation
known as The Brothers, run by Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho and brother
Many more letters came in, but a number of authors said that their comments were confidential, and others changed their mind and wrote later on the weekend asking that their letter not be used with or without names.
Considering the deep interest in this topic, we have used letters even when the authors asked that their names be kept out of the paper or when a name did not accompany the letter but we were confident of the source.
No topic in the last year has generated more public interest than the July 4 raids on the Ofinter money exchange locations in response to a Canadian request as part of a drug trafficking investigation in Canada.
We have made normal editing changes to correct spelling and syntax, and we also eliminated a few phrases that we thought were defamatory.
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I enjoy your publication and view it often on the Internet. But I was disturbed by your decision to carry a letter in today's edition [July 12] which could only be described as "rubbing salt into the wound" of many people who may have made a "bad" decision.
I think everyone is well aware of the points made in the letter. I agree with many of the points made by Mr. Shaw, but your decision to carry his "I Told You So" letter was cruel and uncalled for.
It is a difficult and troubling time for everyone involved. You have a right to print and publish whatever content you want, but the tone of his letter was very insensitive.
I don't think your publication should be used as a vehicle for kicking people when they are down. The article which preceded his letter was well written and informative. The space for his letter could have been better used on just about anything else. Just thought I'd let you know how I feel.
TimTim asked that his last name not be used "because of the extremely high emotions involved in this situation."
Loan business called illegal
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I agree completely with Simon Shaw. From what I've read, Ofinter legally was nothing more than a money exchange place. The investment part of that company is totally illegal.
That is why they don't even mention that part of their "business" in the published ads. This reminds me so much of the horrible experience many Peruvians had with Carlos Manrique's CLAE organization in the 90's in Peru. Tens of thousands of Peruvian people invested ALL their money in CLAE for incredibly high returns. They lost all of it, and Manrique ended up in jail.
Ed BalarezoMost investors
are honest retirees
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
What makes you think that all North Americans are not reporting their investment income to IRS?? This drug ring is Canadian, and the police were Canadian. I did not read FBI, CIA or IRS in your reporting.
As Costa Rica is planning to tax the income of the retired suckers that migrated to Costa Rica for affordable living and later then had the retirement program snatched away, it is more likely the Costa Rica government that wants the client list. The Tico Times editor was way out of line on her attacks. Is she Canadian?? I think most of the investors are honest retirees that could not make it in the U.S.A. The government of the U.S.A. does very little to help it's aging people lead a decent life. Our government spends tax dollars enriching politicians and supporting "poor countries" like Costa Rica.
Many people would much rather have retired in their own country but were driven out by economics. Many have a country but no home to go to if they go back, so they continue to live in substandard housing behind bars. They are robbed and overcharged as a part of everyday life, even at the banks!! I don't see Costa Rica doing anything about the corruption and crime, do you? What I see is a non-existent retirement program and a new [law] let's rob them some more with taxes.
So where do the U.S retirees go on their big $300 to $1,200 a month social security incomes? What is the current cost of medical care, drugs to keep their bodies alive, rent or real estate tax and insurance, or assisted living in the U.S.A?? The social security income would hardly cover taxi fares to the grocery store. The social structure of the U.S.A. forgets the aged and wants to raise the age for retirement. The money paid to social security for retirement is not in the social security fund, so where is it?? Where are the employees of Enron and the growing list of dishonest company's going to retire now that the nest egg is gone?
I enjoy your honest reporting on conditions in Costa Rica and Central America. Why don't you take a closer look at some real estate cheats, [specific names omitted] to name just a few of crooks that lie about the safety, beauty, and cost of living aimed at the future retiree. And while we are fighting drugs and drug dealers, why does our county continue to feel sorry for drug users. A drunk driver (one drink in some states) is treated much worse by our courts than a crack head.
Fighting drugs requires a national law that punishes drug users and hangs the dealers. A law that breaks through the case law crap. There are so many case laws no one knows what the law is anymore.
I personally think jailing the lawyer that gets repeat offenders off (by pulling questionable case laws based on the previous ruling of some stupid judge that was probably asleep when hearing the case) would be a good start.
Looking for drug money? Try your local bank in anywhere U.S.A. Looking for terrorist money? Check out the oil companies and oil-producing countries. Why do oil companies buy out all new inventions that would greatly reduce the need for oil? Who owns most of the oil company stock, or did before insider selling?
Who would you recommend the investors should trust with what is left, if anything, of their little nest egg? Banks could pay a lot more interest but why should they? Ran a balance on your credit card lately? Did they claim that your check didn't arrive until a day after the due date and yet cleared the next day? That will cost you $29 and an additional $29 late charge on the late charge if you happened to go on vacation thinking you had paid the balance in full. The world is full of cheats and liars. Robbing the little guy is a honored profession and if your good at it you can run for political office.
If they are looking for drug money held by Villalobos why are they freezing the legal assets. Take the $300K, and let life go on until there is proof of more wrongdoing. If drug money is the goal, then the legal funds investor should be paid out and given an opportunity to leave a country that [is] invoking taxation without representation.
I'm one person that truly believes Mr. Villalobos is being targeted by an [adjectives deleted] editor that hopes to slide out of a law suit against her. She was doing business in a country that recognizes slander of a person’s good name is illegal. It's a good law. Ask the poor security guard that the U.S. press tried and convicted or the accused child molesters that ticked off a spoiled preschooler. Responsible reporting is a good thing. Using the press for a personal revenge or opinion is a dangerous practice that destroys lives. It takes a lifetime of good deeds to have a good name, and it can be destroyed with the stroke of a pen. It is equivalent of murder to the victim.
Sharon JohnsonReporting fuels the flames
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Yes, you should be reporting what is happening with Ofinter S.A. (The Brothers). Unfortunately the reporting is fueling the flames that the Brothers have been and are doing something illegal instead of the Costa Rican bureaucracy acting in their normal high-handed, arrogant and completely nonsensical panic mode. How do these people get jobs in the first place? It certainly isn't due to intellect or commonsense!
The Brothers have been doing business for many years, and they continue to make interest payments and, if requested, return investors’ monies in full. The fact that x number of bank accounts have been frozen is nothing to do with the brothers. It is simply that there is some evidence that the monies in those accounts has been tainted; maybe this evidence will turn out to be nothing, but, in any case, that is a Costa Rican government issue and action and separate from The Brothers business which has been run on the up-and-up for a long time now.
To all those 'investors' who are going around town tearing their hair out and/or e-mailing 'friends' in other countries to spread the 'word,' I say 'Get a life and grow up!' In the U.S., many hundreds of thousands of people have invested their life savings in the stock market; many of those have made small (and sometimes large) fortunes but just as many have stayed in too long and have lost money. Anytime you invest money in something that gets a large return, there is always risk; that's why the return is large.
The rule of investing is simple; only invest money that you can afford to lose! If you invest money that you cannot afford to lose AND you put it all in one place, then you are asking for trouble.
|Remember that you made the decision
to 'place the bet' as that is what it is. I, personally, have no doubt
that The Brothers will continue to operate in the way that they have always
done as long as their customers remain calm and stop panicking. People
who have had their money with the Brothers for more than a three years
have already got all of their original investment returned; all the rest
is gravy and sometimes gravy gets spilled!
Yes, you may publish this letter in full and put my name to it.
Michael RochardCommercial lenders
Lourdes de Montes de Oca
are very necessary
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
The letter you published today [July 12] is from someone who is terribly misinformed. The Brothers are but one "commercial lender" out of scores (if not hundreds) in Latin America. They provide a very necessary financial role in the economies of the area. Of all of these lenders, the "Brothers" have the best reputation for honesty, reliability and integrity. They have been in business for more than 20 years and have never missed an interest/dividend or principal payment to their investors.
The majority of businesses in Latin America need to use U.S. dollars to replenish their inventories. For international transactions, U.S. dollars are the only medium of exchange for rapid transactions. Dollars don’t suffer severe inflation and devaluation like other currencies. Since any commodity is scarcer the farther one travels from the source, there is a need for lenders to provide U.S. dollars to businesses with a minimum of hassles. They lend U.S. dollars to businesses for that purpose on a one day’s notice.
The government-owned national banks are bureaucracies and take months to actually provide the money needed for small businesses to operate. For national banks, dollar loans are scarce and are reserved for only their largest customers like fuel distributors and large agri-businesses.
Imagine you are a car dealer and you need to buy 25 new cars to replace your inventory. Toyota or Ford will not manufacture the cars until they are paid in U.S. dollars. So you go to a "commercial lender" and borrow part or all of the money and send it to the car manufacturer. Depending on your financial stability, you pay 5-12% per month until the loan is repaid. That sounds like a lot of money but it is small when compared to shipping costs, insurance and import duties. As in any business these costs are added to the price when the products are sold.
Imagine you are coffee plantation owner and must harvest your crop and are short of cash. Without the harvest you will have no cash. You borrow the cash to pay your seasonal harvest workers and sell your crop to repay the loan and recapture your expenses. Without a timely loan you will go out of business.
Commercial interest rates such as these are a common expense in any small or medium foreign business that must compete for dollars to conduct international trade. If these lenders were to stop their service, it would plunge the economies of emerging nations into chaos.
Remember, these lenders have been doing this for decades and not one of their customers is forced to borrow from them. They fill a need that no one else is willing to fill. North Americans are so provincial regarding foreign interest rates. It costs 50 percent per year for a partial car loan in some Latin American countries. An American restaurateur might pay 1.5 percent to redeem a MasterCard bill in the U.S. .but it costs 10-15 percent in Latin America. Naturally, the letter writer is skeptical about matters that he doesn’t know about.
You may reprint this letter.
El Norte AmericanoPlease keep my name and email address confidential. [this letter was transmitted via a third party.]
Other banks take illegal money
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I have been following with interest your continuing coverage of the Brothers current situation. I do agree that your articles have been more against the Brothers than supporting them. I thought the rule of law was that one was presumed innocent until proven guilty. How many banks in Costa Rica and around the world for that matter have taken deposits that come from illegal money?
If you freeze the Brothers accounts for that reason, you should freeze the countries’ national bank accounts for the same reason. No one is condoning drugs or money laundering in any way, but the truth is that no financial institution can be positive that all it's deposited funds are clean money.
Enrique Villalobos has been around for 27 years and has never missed an interest payment. He is a very honest man, and those who have money with him certainly feel safer than those who invested in Enron or Worldcom. It appears that there is a lot of jealously because of his success and the honest way he has conducted his business dealings.
I do not feel that it is fair to freeze the accounts when no charges have been laid. It is true that many people depend on their interest payments to live on, and most of that money is in turn spent in Costa Rica and that has the multiplying effect throughout the economy. This will put an additional strain on the economy, which is already in trouble, not to speak of the personal hardship this will cause for many innocent investors.
I read the readers response in the July 12th. edition. There are numerous companies that are doing the same type of business as the Brothers. The main reason the Brothers are so well known is because of their unblemished record and impeccable reputation. You have been accused of being negative towards the Brothers, and the one letter you printed supports that position. It would be nice to see a letter printed that represents the other side.
Jim GrayThe Brothers walk their talk
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I read your readers letter regarding the Brothers blame game and found it humorous. At first I thought Mr. Shaw was referring to the Enron, Anderson, Worldcom, Quest, ad infinitum fiascoes in the States. I can't even begin to count the lawsuits and congressional hearings stirred up as a consequence of investors blaming the "government" for their greed-ridden decisions to help blow up the Wall Street bubble.
Nobody was complaining about multi-million dollar bonuses as long as they were getting theirs. Now, its who do we blame? Basically this is only one of many human flaws where people tend to want to place responsibility on others when the going gets tough, nothing exclusive to Costa Rica and/or the Brothers.
From my own experiences I can attest that the Brothers walk their talk and do what they say they are going to do; and with little or no paperwork or attorney fees. Is it a bad thing to take someone's Social Security check and pay them an additional 3 percent a month on it?
Is it a bad thing to pump up Costa Rica's economy by luring outside investors to plunk their dollars in the Brothers?
Mr. Shaw's contention that the investors are tax dodgers may have some merit, but his time (and the IRS) would be better spent focusing on corporate America. How about the guy who lived in NYC and has his million dollar paintings delivered to Rhode Island to avoid the taxes?
As for money laundering, when I stopped laughing about it, I started listing the major financial institutions that "launder" money; not just the Swiss banks, and how I haven't met a banker yet that would ask if the money was "tainted" before taking a deposit.
If the Brothers go down as some would enjoy seeing, it will be a sad day for many in Costa Rica. Less homes and cars will be bought. Less domesticas will be hired. Less restaurants will be visited. Less street guards will get a few colons. Less gringos will be retiring here.
Good for Costa Rica? Go figure!
Johann WagenerHe says 10 percent is the limit
San Isidro de Heredia
Dear A.M. Costa Rica
There are many rules in investing, but one of them you should always remember: If someone offer you more than 10 percent return you should run away.
There is no way to guarantee such return [phrase omitted].
If you do not like to believe, then you are taking the risk, and when the pyramid will fall, you will loose your investment.
A regular real estate investor will be VERY happy with 12-20 percent and it is involve risk, as any investment does. A market investor is looking for 10-15 percent and that will make him rich! The money in compounding with 15 percent and you actually double your money in less then 7 years.
Only with hard work, search and smart decisions. NEVER give your money
to anyone but a bank and expect to get your money back (Yes and be careful
with the bank, too). Do not be greedy : 5-8 percent today is great, more
than 10 percent, RUN AWAY.
|Bystander fires rifle
as Chirac comes near
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
PARIS, France —A young neo-Nazi fired a rifleshot during France's Bastille Day parade just as President Jacques Chirac drove by in an open-topped vehicle, according to police. The gunman was quickly subdued and led away by police.
Police have identified the gunman as 25-year-old Maxime Brunerie. They say he belongs to neo-Nazi and hooligan groups. French television reports he is a member of a far-right student movement and has links to skinhead groups. One television channel (France 2) reports Mr. Brunerie has a history of emotional problems.
The gunman was standing in the crowd at Paris' Arc de Triomphe when he pulled a .22 caliber rifle out of a guitar case and, according to eyewitnesses, fired one shot before being overpowered by police and led away.
A junior government minister, Patrick Devedjian, says Brunerie tried to commit suicide by turning the gun on himself as police wrestled him to the ground. Devedjian calls the incident an assassination attempt.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BOGOTA, Colombia — A Colombian newspaper editor has been gunned down and his body left by the side of a highway in northeastern Colombia.
Authorities said Mario Prada Diaz was found dead Friday near the town of Sabana de Torres, 310 kilometers northeast of here. They also said the 44-year-old Mr. Prada had been shot four times.
There was no immediate word on suspects, but officials said leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries are active in the area and have targeted journalists in the past. Prada was the fifth journalist killed in Colombia this year.
Last month, gunmen in northwestern Colombia shot dead Efrain Varela, a journalist targeted by both the rebels and paramilitaries. Investigators also said there were no known threats against Mr. Prada, who ran a monthly newspaper, Horizonte Sabanero. Local officials said the newspaper did not get involved in political debates.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
LA PAZ, Bolivia — Bolivian political parties are refusing to form alliances, ensuring the candidate who won the most votes in the first round of presidential elections, a free market advocate, will become president. This means an anti-U.S., coca farmers' leader will remain in the opposition.
With his announcement on national television on Friday that he won't support either of the two candidates remaining in the presidential race, former President Jaime Paz Zamora paved the way for another former president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, to take office next month.
Under Bolivia's constitution, since no candidate won close to 50 percent of the vote, newly-elected lawmakers are to vote for the new president Aug. 3. But without a foreseeable majority for either candidate, the top vote-getter in the general election, Sanchez de Lozada, is virtually ensured of taking office as mandated.
Second-place finisher Evo Morales, a coca-chewing Aymara Indian, is refusing to court any other parties.
Morales says coalition-building would compromise the will of the people.
His positions include halting U.S. backed efforts to end coca growing in
Bolivia, which he says deepen the poverty of his supporters.
|Costa Rican envoy
gets praise at OAS
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ambassador Hernán R. Castro wrapped up his duties as Costa Rica's permanent representative to the Organization of American States on Thursday and lauded the organization's commitment to democratic systems and respect for fundamental freedoms.
In his final address to the Permanent Council, the ambassador noted how Costa Rica's foreign policy is based on the promotion and observance of democratic principles, human rights defense and strengthening peace. "The OAS is a natural forum in which to engage an international policy that benefits human beings while serving the wellbeing of people, precisely on the basis of these three fundamental values," he declared.
Reviewing his four years at the OAS, Ambassador Castro noted Costa Rica's visionary initiatives to strengthen the inter-American human rights system, adding, "We have seen our initiative for an Inter-American Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities take shape."
He said the OAS "allows us to witness and participate in the various debates on political crises or threats to democracy in sister nations," and praised the secretary general and the assistant secretary general for "their important efforts to help diffuse conflicts and tensions through a promising course of action."
The Permanent Council's chairman, U.S. Ambassador Roger Noriega, joined
Assistant Secretary General Luigi Einaudi and member state ambassadors
in lauding Ambassador Castro's contribution to the inter-American agenda.
Cuba gets apples
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba has received its first shipment of U.S.-grown apples in more than four decades, as U.S. farmers and lawmakers push to end U.S. travel and trade restrictions in place since Cuba's Communist revolution.
The 17 tons of red delicious-variety apples arrived in Havana Thursday, shipped from the northwestern U.S. state of Washington. Thursday's shipment also included American-grown dried beans and onions.
Cuba began importing food from the United States last November, after
the United States relaxed an embargo on food products in the year 2000.
Since last year, Cuba's food purchases from the United States total more
than $1 million. U.S. law still prevents Cuba from buying food on credit.
U.S. citizen on trial
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A U.S. citizen named Wade Reeves will go on trial this week or next
in San José to face a charge that he tried to smuggle three kilos
of cocaine out of Juan Sanatamaría Airport Feb. 13, 1999. He was
in the company of a Costa Rican with the name Mora Calvo, who also will
face trial, according to the Judicial authorities.
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