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Amid stress and concern, North Americans were lining up this week to receive interest payments from Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, operator of the so-called “brothers” investment operation.
Some changes have been made after Costa Rica officials froze Villalobos accounts July 4. Payments are being made by check or by bank deposit. In the past they were made in cash.
Several investors are happy with the changes. One said he hated lining up the last week of the month or in the first week of the next month to obtain his interest. He said he always was concerned with security and the visibility that lines of North Americans at a local mall might give.
Now this investor is awaiting the first deposit into his local bank account.
Villalobos, a private individual, holds millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, in investments left with him informally by his predominately North American clientele. He continues to pay interest that can come close to 3 percent a month.
As long as the interest kept coming, investors generally were closed-mouthed about the operation that is centered in the San Pedro Mall. Now that Costa Rican authorities are investigating, some are reacting to the stress by talking a bit more freely.
The investors, which may include up to 70 percent of the resident North Americans in Costa Rica, have become conservative in their purchasing and financial planning.
The failure of an Escazú money clearing operations (which had no connection with Villalobos) also put a crimp in some financial sails. That was Vinir Corporation S.A., which operated the Casa de Cambio Vinir. It seems to have failed for traditional business reasons in early September, and investments by North Americans are in limbo.
So most North American residents here are counting their pennies until the future of the Villalobos operation is clear. Some expats have relatively small sums of money invested with the businessman, perhaps as little as $10,000. But due to the high rate of interest, they are able to live in Costa Rica. For some, it is all the money they have.
|Interest rates at local banks are
about 1.5 to 2 percent per year on dollar accounts. Some consumer credit
operations pay 8 percent per year. Villalobos is not alone in paying from
2 to 3 percent a month, but he has been in business here the longest, more
than 20 years.
Costa Rica raided the Villalobos operations July 4 at the same time it raided Ofinter S.A. offices. That company is a money exchange house operated by Osvaldo Villalobos. Canadian authorities made a number of money laundering and drug arrests and reported to Costa Rica that some of the tainted money went through Ofinter.
Why Costa Rica raided Villalobos’ adjacent offices still is unclear because he says he has no connection with his brother’s operation. Some have suggested that authorities simply took advantage of the Canadian information to swoop down on Villalobos, who has avoided licensing and regulatory oversight for years.
Villalobos has an office adjacent to Ofinter in the San Pedro Mall, but officials also raided Ofinter’s office on Calle Central in downtown San José, as well as Osvaldo’s home and the home of Ofinter’s manager. Ofinter is a traditional exchange house swapping dollars for colons and other currencies for a small commission.
Some investors have speculated that Costa Rican authorities are interested in Villalobos as part of the government’s tightening of tax-collection procedures. Most investors admit that they never have paid income tax to Costa Rica on money paid as interest by Villalobos.
The law says they should have paid about 10 percent of the interest earned. But tax collection is irregular in Costa Rica, particularly when there is no paper trail.
The degree of interest in Villalobos can be seen in the weekly search engine reports on A.M. Costa Rica. Terms such as “Villalobos,” “the brothers,” “Ofinter,” “Enrique” and similar always are ranked at the top with search requests in the triple digit.
Villalobos has been gracious in returning telephone calls, but in his most recent interview Sept. 18 he hinted that he soon would have a favorable announcement. None came. He has been expecting authorities to lift the freeze on his local accounts since July 24, but that has not yet happened.
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Ever since the invention of wine, the drink has had an important role over the long years and centuries. The importance of the wine depends on the cultures.
In religion, wine is at the center of Christianity and Judaism. For many reasons, wine, too, has been a symbol of people with money and with good taste. And that is true here.
Wine has been appreciated all over the world. Many families have made a living on the grape plantations and wine production facilities in countries, such as France, Italy, and Spain. New countries like the United States use the Old World technology, root stock and experiences to produce quality, such as the amazingly good Californian wines. Now in Chile producers have a very specific southern region for fine wine production.
In Europe there are important meetings every October and November in the wine producing sections where people from many countries test the season’s production.
Here in Costa Rica that happens every month when fans of good wine meet on the last Sunday of every month to sample the best of the best. The Wine Club has been in existence for about seven years and now has about 74 members.
The group meets every month at a different restaurant where members meet new people from all over the world and from Costa Rica.
A.M. Costa Rica/Christian BurnhamRay Forté of Restaurante Solera pours the champagne.
Sunday the wine sampling took place in the Los
Next month the group will be in Casa Bavaria in Carrizal de Heredia where members will enjoy German wines and beer in addition to a view of the Central valley.
Information about the events and the group is available by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A study by child welfare advocates says there are 1,500 homeless children in San José. In addition, the report says that 3,000 children are being exploited sexually.
The Consejo Gobierno and President Abel Pacheco heard the report Tuesday. Casa Alianza, a non-profit organization, and the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, a government agency, prepared the report.
Rosalía Gil, minister of Niñez y la Adolescencia, represented the Patronato.
The report also determined that 76 percent of the youngsters were addicted to some form of drug. Most report some illness, it said. The bulk of the youngsters are between 15 and 18, although the study found some as young as 9 years, it said. The study is based on 503 children and extrapolated to reach the reported figures.
|The report also said that 147,000
youngsters work in the streets.
The bulk of the homeless children, some 47 percent, were said to be in the barrio of Cristo Rey, which is south of Avenida 20 and the train line to the Pacific in San José.
In response to the report, the government decided to open a shelter in Coronado on property owned by the Ministerio de Salud. The Patronato had two shelters in operation now and will take over operation of the Club de la Paz, a sprawling three-story shelter on Avenida 8 where youngsters held police at bay three months ago. That shelter is now shut.
The Patronato also will open a center for street children who are mothers in Coyol de Alajuela.
In addition to the Patronato shelters, other shelters exist in San José operated by private agencies, some religious. Some receive funds.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A United Nations food agency says 8.6 million Central Americans live in a "drought corridor" where they are exposed to recurring natural disasters and suffer periodic food shortages.
The World Food Program said Sunday a recent survey located the drought corridor as being in parts of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where many of the residents are "extremely poor" and the lands relatively infertile.
The organization said drought-prone lands are characterized by scarce vegetation, limited crop diversification, and subsistence farming. Malnutrition in the area is aggravated by a lack of water and the absence of adequate health and sanitation services.
The survey found that more than 84 percent of the adults in the drought corridor did not finish grammar school and 37 percent are illiterate. Nearly half of all communities do not have a teacher, while 84 percent have no nurse or doctor.
The agency said chronic malnutrition affects 23 percent of all people in El Salvador, 33 percent in Nicaragua, 38 percent in Honduras, and 48 percent in Guatemala. The group said over the past 10 years, conditions have become so bad that families have sold off small farm animals, pulled children from school, and reduced the quality of their diet.
Zoraida Mesa, regional director the World Food Program, said the recurring droughts and other natural disasters "leave poor families with no crops to feed themselves. After years of natural disasters in Central America, many of these families have nothing left to sell, nothing left to cultivate, and nothing left to eat."
Mesa called particular attention to the effect on the young people in the drought areas who commonly face "prolonged and repeated exposure
|to malnutrition. This leads to stunted
physical and intellectual growth, which is extremely difficult to overcome
For its part, the U.S. Agency for International Development is providing bilateral assistance to the Central American countries in the drought zone.
The agency said that its "timely and highly successful responses" to Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Salvadoran earthquakes in 2001, and the lingering drought "underscore the importance of continued disaster prevention and mitigation programs in the region."
In Nicaragua, for instance, USAID programs are providing food aid that promotes maternal and child health activities and income-generation projects.
In Honduras, USAID is providing emergency food assistance to address problems of malnutrition, and supports the country's Ministry of Health for child survival and in controlling diseases and HIV infection.
In El Salvador, USAID supports Salvadoran efforts to deliver basic child and maternal health services in rural areas, where the majority of poor people live.
USAID also assists local communities in El Salvador to improve water and sanitation facilities to reduce diseases, and to improve the functioning of the health system throughout the country.
In Guatemala, USAID helps small farmers and micro-enterprises to improve the incomes and economic status of the rural poor.
Programs help farmers secure access to land, use sustainable agriculture practices, increase competitiveness through business development services, and diversify into specialty coffee and non-traditional exports.
|Powell calls for
souped-up visa process
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of State, has called on the scientific community to develop a system that would insure that the nation’s visa process locks out those seeking entry into the United States with intent to do harm.
In a speech delivered Monday to the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, Powell said the State Department will play an important role with the new Department of Homeland Security in the annual processing of nearly 10 million visa applications at consular offices located around the world.
Powell said a system is needed that would allow a consular officer anywhere in the world to enter a visa applicant’s basic data and have it "bounced against every possible intelligence or law enforcement database that we have … and you get access to what you need to know to make an informed decision."
Powell said it is very important to get this information as correctly and quickly as possible "to make sure that those who (would) bring harm to our shores are kept away from our shores … are not allowed in — don’t get that visa."
At the same time, Powell said, it is important that the United States
remain an open, welcoming society so that people from around the world
can see what America’s diversity is like, and gain an understanding of
what it takes to put in place a system of openness, individual rights and
Weird weather shrinks
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. atmospheric scientists report that the ozone hole over the Antarctic is much smaller than it was the past two years, and split into two separate holes during late September.
The scientists stress that the smaller hole is due to this year’s peculiar weather patterns and may not be an indication that the ozone layer is recovering.
According to a press release, instruments aboard satellites operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate the area of the Antarctic ozone hole to be around 6 million square miles, well below the more than 10 million square miles observed during the past six years for the same time of year.
Researchers say that warmer than normal temperatures this year around the edge of the polar vortex that forms annually in the upper atmosphere over Antarctica are responsible for the smaller ozone loss. The last time the ozone hole was as small as it is this year was in 1988, and that was also due to warm temperatures.
The ozone layer prevents much of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the Earth’s surface. Recognition of the damage to the ozone layer led to international adoption of the Montreal Protocol in 1995 and its amendments banning chlorine-containing chlorofluorocarbons and bromine-containing halons because of their destructive effect on the ozone layer.
Scientists also said that the Southern Hemisphere’s upper atmosphere was unusually disturbed this year, and that the weather patterns were so strong that the ozone hole split into two pieces during late September.
"This is the first time we’ve seen the polar vortex split in September,"
said Craig Long, meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration Climate Prediction Center.
U.S. lays groundwork
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
The NATO Alliance "remains the key to the stability and security of the Euro-Atlantic area," according to the State Department's Marc Grossman, who described the Bush administration's goals for the upcoming summit in Prague Nov. 21 to Nov. 22.
Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs, prefaced his remarks concerning the summit by describing the results of a recent public opinion study conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund.
"On most issues, European and American publics see the world similarly," he said: they believe their countries should play an active role in world affairs, and they have comparable perceptions of friends, allies and threats, and a "strong affinity for each other."
There is support on both sides of the Atlantic for strengthening the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, United Nations and NATO, he added.
And despite differences about issues such as the Kyoto treaty, the International Criminal Court, the death penalty, and defense spending, the poll shows that "our publics desire, demand and require that we take opportunities to work with others when and where we can because we do share values and outlooks across the Atlantic."
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
QUITO, Ecuador — Eleven presidential candidates are campaigning here for votes in the Oct. 20 election, with a runoff vote in November almost a certainty. This election comes at a time of deepening concerns over the economy and tensions along the border with war-plagued Colombia.
Until recent years, Ecuador was a quiet little nation where political issues were all local. But corruption scandals in the 1990's and a military coup two years ago have shaken up the electorate. The spillover of drug and guerrilla violence from neighboring Colombia has also had a deep impact.
What some analysts say could be a de-stabilizing factor for Ecuador is the spillover of violence from Colombia.
Colombia has expelled many criminals into Ecuador, where they have contributed to a rise in assaults and other violent crimes. She says Ecuador has had to send 10,000 soldiers to its northern frontier to deal with rebel incursions as well as the expansion of cocaine-production from Colombia into Ecuador. Flores says Ecuador cannot afford to maintain such a force on the Colombian border indefinitely.
So far, the tension on the Colombian border has not become a big campaign issue, but many Ecuadorian observers believe the border situation will represent a major challenge for whoever does win the election.
Drug gang threats shut
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Stores and schools here shut down Monday, apparently in response to threats by this city's most powerful drug gang. Police have detained 19 people in connection with the threats, which spread panic throughout the city.
Normally busy streets had little traffic Monday, as stores shut down for at least part of the day apparently in response to direct threats, or rumors of threats from drug traffickers. Even upscale neighborhoods in this scenic city were affected, while schools and universities sent their students and teachers home.
Media reports said the shutdown order came from a drug gang linked to Luiz Fernando da Costa, who, despite being jailed, remains the city's most powerful drug lord. According to reports, da Costa's supporters are demanding he receive better treatment in prison.
Authorities deployed thousands of police on Rio's streets to restore calm, and persuade store owners to reopen. Police also made a series of arrests of those suspected of making the threats.
Drug gangs, which control Rio's shantytowns, often order shutdowns of neighborhood stores and schools when a gang member is arrested or killed. But Monday's shutdowns were much more widespread, and affected large parts of the city.
|UN: World scores poorly
in poverty reduction
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
NEW YORK CITY, New York — Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary-general, says the world is falling short in the area of social and economic development, with too many people still living with poverty and disease. Annan released a report on progress toward the goals governments agreed on two-years ago to launch the new millennium.
With so much news focused on Iraq, Secretary-General Annan cautions against neglecting the rest of the world, where hunger, poverty and disease are rampant. He notes well more than one billion people are struggling to survive on less than a dollar a day, without clean water and sanitation, and go to bed hungry every night.
National leaders issued a Millennium Declaration at the United Nations in 2000, agreeing on development goals to be achieved within 15-years. Developing countries committed themselves to human rights and democracy, and ending corruption and waste, while rich countries promised more financial and trade assistance.
Secretary-General Annan, in a new report on the so-called millennium goals, said the world, for the most part, is falling short.
"If we carry on the way we are, most of the pledges are not going to be fulfilled," he stressed. "We are moving too slowly. Unless we can speed things up dramatically, we shall find when we get to 2015 that the words of the Declaration ring hollow."
The U.N. report presents a mixed picture. East Asia, for example, has already halved the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, from 28 percent to 14 percent. South Asia has also recorded some success, but much more modest, while Africa has barely budged.
To give development more momentum, the United Nations is launching what it calls a "Millennium Campaign." It aims to make the goals of social and economic progress better known throughout the world, to try to make sure that something is done.
The head of U.N. development activities, Mark Malloch Brown, said the idea is to spur people to action, to demand their governments do what is right by them.
"These are not U.N. goals. We can not reach them," he said. "They will only be reached if countries take ownership of this, if parliamentarians and trade union and church leaders, civil society, and governments, all demand that these goals are met and force the political process to respond."
Secretary-General Annan has hired former Dutch minister for Development Cooperation, Eveline Herfkens, to help aggressively promote the millennium goals. Herfkens pointed out that the world, rid of all the divisions of the past 50 years, such as the Cold War, is free at last to pursue meaningful changes.
"The best news in decades for the poor has been that finally there is an international consensus about the millennium development goals," she said. "And that all these different actors are rallying around that. The best news for the poor in centuries would be if we actually would implement these goals."
Besides eliminating poverty, governments have pledged to try to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, a disease that is ravaging many of the poorest countries. Another goal is getting all children into schools, especially girls, who are still denied an education in many developing nations.
Costa Rican ambassador
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
Walter Niehaus Bonilla, Costa Rica's ambassador to the Organization of American States, took over as the Permanent Council's new vice chairman.
Grenada assumed the chairmanship of the Organization of American States' Permanent Council Tuesday, with the permanent representative, Ambassador Dennis Antoine, stating he intends to continue implementing the agenda priorities to advance hemispheric development.
Today's hand-over ceremony marked Grenada's fourth time in the rotating Permanent Council chair, since joining the Organization of American States in 1975.
César Gaviria, the organization’s secretary general, will begin
a three-day mission to Caracas, Venezuela, tomorrow. The trip comes
on the heels of a recent mission to that country by representatives from
the OAS, the United Nations Development Program and the Carter Center,
who sought to lay the groundwork for bringing
The Secretary General has been closely following the situation and expressed "extreme concern with the dangerous level of polarization in Venezuelan society." He stressed the urgency of defusing tensions "to avert acts of violence such as those that took place earlier this year."
Gaviria will meet with President Hugo Chávez upon arrival in
Caracas on Wednesday afternoon. During the duration of his stay,
he will also meet with the various opposition representatives grouped under
the so-called Coordinadora Democrática de Venezuela, and other sectors
WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the top of the U.S. trade agenda are competing free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore and pursuing new agreements with Central American countries, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says.
In a statement Tuesday, Zoellick summarized other points in President George Bush's trade agenda, including completion of the Free Trade Area of the Americas and accession to the World Trade Organization for Russia.
Zoellick announced he had sent letters notifying members of Congress of his intent to negotiate the Morocco and Central American agreements and complete the Chile and Singapore agreements.
He said the Bush administration would press for lower trade barriers in agriculture, manufactured goods and services as well as for better protection of copyrights, patents and other intellectual property.
|The administration intends to "aggressively
enforce U.S., global and special trade rules so as to keep our commitment
to America's workers and businesses for fair treatment," Zoellick said.
He said that since taking office the administration had reversed glum international trade prospects in part by shepherding the start of a WTO negotiating round and pushing trade promotion authority, otherwise known as fast track, through Congress.
The bulk of Zoellick's remarks described how trade supports economic expansion and bolsters international security by promoting economic as well as political reforms.
He said developing countries stand to benefit enormously by lowering their own barriers to trade, especially between one another. He described U.S. attempts to promote the benefits of trade in developing countries, including through capacity-building assistance and preferential tariffs.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court is poised to change the face of this country’s legal system when the high court’s fall 2002 term opens on the "First Monday" in October.
The justices will be faced with a full range of cases covering such issues as criminal law, the war on terrorism, free speech, civil rights and business law.
This term begins Oct. 7 and continues until late June or early July 2003. The nine justices will hear cases and deliver opinions during periods of "sittings" and write those opinions and evaluate new petitions during "recesses." Sittings and recesses alternate at two-week intervals.
Court observers who attended a recent Supreme Court preview conference at the College of William and Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia, believe one of the biggest cases on the docket will be Lockyer v. Andrade, involving a prison sentence subsequently determined by an appeals court to be "cruel and unusual punishment."
The petitioner, Leandro Andrade, was convicted of stealing videotapes from a California department store, which generally is a misdemeanor. However, because he had several prior convictions, the case was treated as a felony, and under California’s "Three Strikes and You Are Out" law, he was sentenced to life in prison.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer then asked the Supreme Court to clarify how the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel
|and unusual punishment applies to
the state’s Three Strikes law, which voters approved in 1994. While the
High Court ruling will not affect cases involving violent crimes, it will
be a factor in future minor theft cases.
Concerning the war on terrorism, observers are carefully watching instances of how the government is holding two Americans classified as enemy combatants in military jails without formal charges and without giving them access to attorneys.
While the Bush administration takes the position it is acting properly and legally, some observers believe the dispute is likely to end up before the Supreme Court in a contest between the rights of detainees and the power of the president to detain combatants during a time of hostilities.
Additional First Amendment cases that may come before the Supreme Court but have not yet been accepted include:
• American Library Association v. United States, in which a U.S. District Court ruled the government’s efforts to restrict access to pornography on the Internet — the Children’s Internet Protection Act — is overbroad because the filtering programs required by the law block access to constitutionally protected speech.
• Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in an effort to stop the increasing flow of huge donations into U.S. politics, which is being challenged in a number of federal court cases as unconstitutional First Amendment violations.
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