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Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho was optimistic perhaps even bordering on the euphoric Wednesday afternoon.
But he also did not want to say why. He said his lawyers warned him against talking about his business.
The implication, supported by hints given to some of his investors, is that Villalobos is about to announced some positive news relating to his dispute with Costa Rica authorities.
Villalobos returned a telephone call Wednesday afternoon, and gave the impression that his situation was sensitive. "We are working hard," he said, and he and his legal team do not want to do anything or say anything, he said.
Villalobos is the key figure in a private high-interest lending operation that may have as many as 5,000 investors, mostly North Americans. The financial community was shocked when local police raided his offices in San Pedro Mall July 4. The raid also targeted Ofinter S.A., an adjacent money exchange house operated by Osvaldo Villalobo, a brother.
The raid came at the request of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police because several suspects arrested in Canada had ties to Costa Rica, and the presumed leader of the drug and money laundering ring, who
|died here in March, maintained a
condo in Jacó.
Canadian authorities said at least $300,000 of the group's money moved through Costa Rica to Canada. Villalobos has denied having anything to do with the six persons arrested in Canada.
The big problem for Villalobos was that local authorities froze a number of his bank accounts. This presented a problem to him because he pays some of his investors monthly interest in cash. And the interest can approach 3 per cent per month.
In an interview July 18 he said he expected authorities to lift the bank freeze by July 26. But even many of his strongest supporters said privately that he was over-optimistic considering the speed with which justice moves in Costa Rica.
In the interim, Villalobos and several other similar businesses in San José are believed to be requiring more identification from potential investors, and they have stopped making interest payments in cash. Investors now have to take a check or accept a deposit in a bank account, they said.
Ofinter was closed for a few days, but its five money exchanging operations then continued to do business as usual, converting dollars to colons and colons to dollars.
Villalobos, who is known for being religious, was philosophical Wednesday. "We are the ones who fail," he said. "God never fails."
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. — U.S. policy towards the Americas encompasses a wide range of political, economic and social issues, says Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Speaking with reporters Monday at the Foreign Press Center here, Reich described the overall agenda of his recent meetings in the United Nations General Assembly with his counterparts from Latin American countries.
Reich said he spoke with these officials "about the effects of the [terrorist] attacks of Sept. 11," adding: "We also talked about counter narcotics efforts in the hemisphere, [and] emphasized the connection between ... the illicit narcotics trade [with] terrorism and other international crimes."
On the subject of persistent social problems throughout the hemisphere, Reich explained that he and his colleagues "talked about some of the underlying causes of poverty in the region," as well as "the response on the part of the United States to some of these conditions."
Within this context, he stressed the importance of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which the Bush administration believes will serve as a spur to economic development.
In addition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas process, "we highlighted ... [the United States'] ongoing free-trade negotiations with Chile, [and] the [U.S.] initiative with Central America towards a free-trade agreement," Reich said.
Furthermore, "we talked about reinvigorating the hemisphere's security architecture," he noted, "[and we are] looking forward to the Mexico-hosted conference in the year 2003 that will complement the [region's] existing security mechanisms.
|Asked about the possible effects
on Latin America of a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq, Reich said:
"What impact a Middle Eastern conflict would have on the region is very
hard to tell.
"Frankly, it depends on how long it lasts, what amount of damage it does to the international economy, or perhaps it might even help the international economy in the long run by providing more oil. I don't know. That's strictly speculation."
In his reply to a question about whether U.S. military action in Iraq might undermine U.S. aid for anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism efforts in Colombia, he insisted that the United States will continue to strongly support Colombian authorities in their campaign to restore the rule of law within the country's borders.
"Our efforts with Colombia have been pretty consistent," Reich said. "So our strategy towards Colombia is independent of our strategy in the Middle East."
Returning to the theme of economic growth, Reich said that he and other officials discussed the need for "redoubled efforts to combat corruption, which we believe is one of the principal obstacles to economic development in the region."
Also, some Latin American countries "have not properly implemented" free-market policies, he argued.
"There has been too much [state] intervention" in various sectors, "too much cronyism in some cases, too much corruption in many cases," he pointed out.
"And this is one of the reasons why ... the Bush administration is making such a prominent — and, we hope, broad-based and effective — attack on corruption" in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere.
|U.S. received terrorist
tips before Sept. 11
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Congress has released a report revealing that U.S. intelligence agencies received many tips about possible terrorist threats against the United States prior to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The report was released Wednesday at the first public hearing of a joint Congressional committee probing intelligence lapses before last year's attacks.
A key congressional staffer says intelligence agencies had far more reports of terrorist plots using planes as weapons before last year's hijacking attacks than U.S. officials have previously acknowledged.
But Eleanor Hill, staff director for the joint House and Senate Intelligence Committee, said agencies never looked closely at the potential threat of hijacked planes flying into buildings.
"From 1994 to as late as August 2001, the intelligence community had received information indicating that international terrorists had seriously considered the use of airplanes as a means of carrying out terrorist attacks," he said. "While this method of attack had clearly been discussed in terrorist circles, there apparently was little effort by intelligence community analysts to produce any strategic assessment of terrorists using aircraft as weapons."
Hill outlined multiple examples of intelligence information on the possible use by terrorists of airplanes as weapons. But she said none of the reports included any specific information on where, when or how an attack might occur.
Lawmakers were quick to express their concern.
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama is the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Republican. "We now know that our inability to detect and prevent the Sept. 11 attacks was an intelligence failure of unprecedented magnitude," he said.
Committee chairman Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, said the findings are meant to help the panel in its probe.
"These public hearings are part of our search for the truth, not to point fingers of blame, but with the goal of identifying and correcting whatever systemic problems may have prevented our government from detecting and disrupting Al-Qaida's plot," he said.
But those comments brought little comfort to Stephen Push, whose wife was aboard the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
"While I eagerly await the final report of your inquiry, one thing is already clear to me from the news reports about the intelligence failures that led to the attacks: If the intelligence community had been doing its job, my wife, Lisa Raines, would be alive today," he said.
The joint committee, which has held closed hearings into the Sept. 11 attacks since June, has reviewed more than 400,000 pages of documents and conducted some 400 interviews.
Western nations ‘agree
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Because Fidel Castro's government in Cuba is "bankrupt, dictatorial and anachronistic," there is broad agreement among the nations of the Western Hemisphere on the need for democratic reforms within Cuba, said a senior U.S. administration official.
Speaking Tuesday before the National Summit on Cuba, Daniel Fisk, deputy assistant secretary of state, discussed President George Bush's "Initiative for a New Cuba," which aims to facilitate a transition to democracy in the island nation.
Announced in May, the initiative challenges the Castro government to implement political and economic reforms, including the holding off of free and fair elections for the National Assembly and the introduction of measures to open Cuba's state-controlled economy.
The president has pledged to work with the U.S. Congress to ease the U.S. trade embargo and travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba if concrete reforms are undertaken.
Fisk dismissed arguments favoring the alteration of U.S. policy toward Cuba. He noted that advocates of "constructive engagement" overlook the fact that commerce with Canada and the European Union has not changed Castro's behavior.
Fisk added that lifting current restrictions would "benefit the Castro regime at the expense of the Cuban people and the long-term American interests in a free and democratic Cuba."
He also addressed the subject of repression of the most basic freedoms in Cuba by the Castro regime, and said that in addition to the Cuban government's continued hostility toward the United States, "Mr. Castro and his government are actually impeding our efforts to defeat the threat of terrorism."
Beyond its lack of cooperation, "the Castro regime has actively and intentionally worked, through human or electronic means, to distract attention and resources from our ongoing counter-terrorist efforts," Fisk contended. He said the Cuban government has done this in part by intentionally providing false leads on potential terrorist attacks against the United States.
U.S. policymakers must take into account the repressive nature of the Castro regime and the futility of economic engagement under current circumstances, as well as Cuba's continued hostility toward the United States and Castro's efforts to impede the war on terrorism, said Fisk.
ICE workers unhappy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Several hundred employees of the Groupo ICE were supposed to take to the streets today to protest cuts mandated by the president.
The protest will be at Casa Presidencial in Zapote. The employees are from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which is facing an order to cut nearly 10 billion colons from its annual budget. That’s about $27 million.
The workers claim that the cuts will cause layoffs, poor service and slowdowns in the major construction project, such as the Boruca hydro generator and dam in southern Costa Rica.
President Abel Pacheco seemed to back off his demand Wednesday, and
said that there should be about a week cooling-off period to determine
exactly what ICE should do.
|Politics may cost
Spaniards their visas
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BOGOTA, Colombia — The government said it will deport three Spaniards accused of taking part in political activities while in the country on tourist visas.
Colombian officials made the announcement Tuesday, one day after the Spaniards were taken into custody.
Authorities say the three individuals will be expelled because they took part in national protests on Monday against the government's economic austerity program. Authorities say one of the Spaniards will be banned from Colombia for the next five years.
Spanish officials told international news sources that although they respect Colombia's decision, the three citizens in question do not have criminal records.
The decision coincides with a military buildup and increased restrictions on the movement of civilians in parts of Colombia.
Shortly after taking office last month, President Alvaro Uribe declared a state of emergency that allows authorities to restrict the movements of citizens, impose curfews and make arrests without warrants.
The Uribe government is trying to crack down on leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries fighting in the country's 38-year civil war. The conflict claims thousands of lives each year.
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MIAMI, Fla. — A tropical storm that has dumped heavy rains on Jamaica, is expected to head toward western Cuba, where a hurricane watch is in effect. Meteorologists are expected to upgrade Tropical Storm Isidore to hurricane status within 24 hours.
At last report, Isidore was centered 149 miles east of Grand Cayman, moving in a northwesterly direction at 9 mph. Isidore had maximum sustained winds of 59 mph. Tropical storm warnings have been posted for the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.
The National Hurricane Center here said the rains that have been pelting Jamaica are expected to continue Thursday and could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. Emergency workers there are bracing for flash floods.
Forecasters also say another tropical storm, Josephine, poses little threat from its position more than 806 miles northeast of Bermuda.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November.
Cathedral under siege
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Youths are occupying the national cathedral here on the eve of a vote in congress to determine whether Arnoldo Aleman, former president, will stand trial on corruption charges.
The unidentified protesters began their takeover Tuesday. They are reportedly demanding that the Roman Catholic Church take a stand on the allegations facing the former president.
Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of Aleman are preparing for rival protests Thursday amid calls for his ousting from the National Assembly. Aleman is currently president of the legislature.
Some of his opponents have called for two days of round-the-clock demonstrations to pressure a special congressional panel to strip Aleman of his immunity. Aleman denies wrongdoing during his five-year term, which ended in January.
Prosecutors have filed arrest warrants against 11 associates and relatives
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
We had a couple stay at our inn the other night with a hair-raising experience (in chronological order so that you can see the errors they made and avoid making them yourself):
Their plane arrived three hours late, well after dark. The crowd of airport "vultures" included a lowlife that asked where they were going and, foolishly, they said the name of the inn they were staying.
They go to the rental car agency and get their car and head up the highway without calling the inn to reconfirm that they were en route. The hotel had long given up on them, since it was well after 11 p.m. and they hadn’t confirmed their reservations.
They passed the highway turnoff, so they had to make a turnaround. By this time they have the beginnings of a flat tire but somehow didn't notice it (perhaps it was punctured leaving rental car agency).
They arrived just 100 meters before the gate of the hotel entrance and realized that they've been followed and a second car's behind that one and passed their car and pinned them in. At this point, they realized they are about to be robbed and it was at gunpoint.
This couple is from the United States, but one of them is originally from Spain and they both speak Spanish. The muggers included an English-speaking woman who admonished them to cooperate.
The woman started to scream and received a blow to the head from the butt of a gun and the purse with passports, credit cards, and jewelry was wrenched from her hand.
The neighbors and the guard from the hotel arrived at this point and the thieves made a hasty retreat with only one bag.
This was a well-organized criminal activity, and the actual assault took less than a minute so be aware of what you'd do if followed, or pinned in by two cars. The couple realized only after, that their tire was punctured and they figured it happened at the point of departure from the car rental.
They had little desire to stay in Costa Rica after this experience and were debating whether or not to return home. Nor did they have much confidence in getting anything back for their time with the police. It didn’t seem like it was worth the time taken from their short vacation.
Is Costa Rica losing any sleep over the lost tourist dollars because this scam — which has been running for more than 5 years now? What does it take to do a sting and nab these crooks? How are the rental car agencies protecting their clients?
I think the sign they put up in their office isn't enough. Do you think they’d not have a guard pool to patrol their business fronts? Do I have to tell you who these most often hit agencies are? We hear of the "flat tire trick" at least once a month and we’re just one small inn.
I've never been involved in law enforcement but I can think of several preventative measures to keep this from happening and I can think of a sting-type of action that would catch these guys fast.
I'm an innkeeper that wants to assist our guests so that they’d have a nice vacation and I'm frustrated that this same scam keeps on going like the “ever ready battery bunny”.
Costa Rica is killing the golden-egg-laying goose by lack of action. Hello! Wake up! Smell the coffee, Costa Rica!
Johanna Bresnan is owner of Vista Del Valle Plantation Inn located in the Central Valley.
|Here are the proposals that the
Asemblea Nacional is considering now. A committee likely will be appointed
to hear testimony.
All the public or private activities that affect the biochemical and genetic patrimony of the country will be obligated to comply with the rules and principles of effective environmental management with the end of guaranteeing an ecologically sustainable development.
The law will determine the responsibility of the natural persons and
judicial persons [corporations] in environmental matters, including the
criteria of doubt being in favor of the environment.
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