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The former justice minister lived up to his reputation as one who speaks his mind when he told Democrats Abroad that President Abel Pacheco was a clown and a puppet who has been blackmailed by special interests for two or three months. He said the president might resign.
The former minister, José Miguel Villalobos got the axe from Pacheco two weeks ago because the minister strongly opposed a plan to contract with a U.S. firm to build a private prison near Poccocí. At the time, Casa Presidencial sources said he was disruptive.
Villalobos sketched a scenario in which a private U.S. company sells overpriced construction and services to Costa Rica because the firm cannot get work at home.
He gave an elaborate presentation complete with financial figures posted on a dry erase board. The firm he was talking about is Management & Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah.
Villalobos called the 1,200-bed jail stupid, derided the $72 million pricetag and said the proposed $750,000 monthly maintenance cost was excessive.
He was not shy in calling the financial arrangement the product of corruption and said "probably MTC gives money to some people." Bribing public officials is a crime in Costa Rica as it is in the United States even if the officials are overseas.
He also said that a 10.9 percent interest rate for the package offered by the U.S. firm was too expensive for the country and part of an "under-the-table deal."
Villalobos was challenged by a female audience member during a question period. The woman said she had six years of experience in the British
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramirez Vindas
correction industry and told the former minister that maximum security cells, such as the 400 planned in Poccocí are very expensive.
"The reason for the high cost is not that, it is corruption," Villalobos told the woman.
Management & Training has been in the corrections industry since 1987 according to its Web site. It has facilities in other countries as well as the United States.
Villalobos said that Pacheco agrees with his assessment but does not want to end the arrangement that was developed under former President Miguel Angel Rodríguez. Villalobos also ripped the owners of La Nación for favoring the plan because they are involved with financial institutions. La Nación is part of a publicly traded corporation with many hundreds of stockholders.
QUITO, Ecuador — Sunday's election of a left-wing former coup leader as President appears to be more evidence of growing Latin American disenchantment with traditional political parties, and free-market economic policies.
Ecuador now joins Brazil and Venezuela, where populist, leftist, presidents have come to power on promises they would change the current economic model and address the needs of the poor.
Lucio Gutierrez, a former army colonel, soundly defeated his rival, Alvaro Noboa, a former businessman, in Sunday's runoff election. He ran a successful campaign on promises to end corruption and address the needs of the poor.
Gutierrez, who briefly took power in a coup almost three years ago, was backed by leftist parties, labor unions, and indigenous groups opposed to the free market-free trade model advocated by Washington.
An admirer of Hugo Chavez, populist Venezuelan president, Gutierrez now becomes the latest leftwing politician in Latin America to be elected president.
Last month, Brazilians voted overwhelmingly for former trade union leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as president to succeed a center-right government.
Wolf Grabendorff, long-time Latin America analyst, says Gutierrez's victory reflects growing Latin American disenchantment with free market reforms.
"He does have a great deal of popular appeal which has more to do with his way of talking and behaving, than with his politics," he said. "But basically this demonstrates the disenchantment,
|disillusionment of ten years of political
and economic reforms which haven't brought home very much success or better
well-being for many people."
With the exception of countries like Chile and Mexico, the economic reforms advocated by Washington — open markets, privatizations, and fiscal discipline — have not generated the kind of growth and income distribution envisioned by proponents.
Instead, in many countries, poverty has increased and living standards have dropped.
Studies by the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean show that the number of poor people in the region declined from 48 percent of the total population in 1990 to 43 percent in 1997. These were the years when many nations began implementing the free market reforms.
However, the U.N. Commission says the poverty rate has remained about the same since 1997, registering 43 percent last year, or about 214 million people.
Larry Birns of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington says this has caused many voters in Latin America to turn to populists for answers.
"It's this type of statistical [reality] that [has] created a certain sense of disenchantment and disabuse amongst the electorate, and we are seeing a very significant wave of elections taking place that are putting into office people of one sort or another of a populist persuasion," he said.
"If the United States is wise it will take this as a diagnostic that the U.S. has to do something differently to deal with the increasing disappointment in Latin America with the western model and with the U.S. leadership."
|New security department
approved by president
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George W. Bush signed Monday into law newly enacted legislation that establishes a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, and announced he was nominating Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, as secretary of the new department. Ridge currently heads the White House office of homeland security.
The new department, Bush said, will combine 22 existing federal agencies and employ 170,000 workers, the most sweeping federal reorganization since the Defense Department's birth in 1947 during the Truman presidency.
Speaking at a signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Bush said he would nominate Gordon England, the secretary of the navy, as deputy director of the new department, and Asa Hutchinson, former Arkansas representative, as the department's under secretary for border and transportation security. Hutchinson currently heads the Drug Enforcement Administration.
All three nominations are subject to approval by the Senate.
"Dozens of agencies charged with homeland security will now be located within one cabinet department, with the mandate and legal authority to protect our people," Bush said.
"To succeed in their mission, leaders of the new department must change the culture of many diverse agencies, directing all of them toward the principal objective of protecting the American people."
The effort, the president said, "will take time, and focus, and steady resolve. It will also require full support from both the administration and the Congress. Adjustments will be needed along the way. Yet this is pressing business, and the hard work of building a new department begins today."
The new department will analyze intelligence information on terror threats collected by the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and others, and match this intelligence against the nation's vulnerabilities, focus its efforts on cyber-terrorism "and the even worse danger of nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism," said Bush.
It must also help state and local governments "work in concert with the federal government," bring together the agencies responsible for border, coastline and transportation security, and work with state and local officials to prepare first responders for any future terrorist attack that may come, the president said.
Cabinet members, members of Congress, and state and local officials attended the signing ceremony.
El Salvador to host
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A meeting to discuss an anti-terrorism approach for the Americas will be held Jan. 22 to 24 in San Salvador, El Salvador, the Organization of American States has announced.
The meeting in El Salvador will examine in depth the scope of the Inter-American Convention against Terrorism, adopted by the organization’s General Assembly in Barbados in June.
President George W. Bush has called on the U.S. Senate to give its "advice and consent" for ratification of that convention. Bush said in a statement in mid-November that the convention will advance "important U.S. government interests" and enhance the Western Hemisphere's security "by improving regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism."
Improved regional cooperation, Bush said, will include increased exchanges of information, exchanges of experience and training, technical cooperation, and mutual legal assistance.
Luigi Einaudi, the organization’s assistant secretary general, said that ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, countries in the hemisphere have needed to make a "drastic shift" in their collective approach to international terrorism.
In a statement earlier this month, Einaudi said that El Salvador's offer to host the meeting "reaffirms that country's unwavering commitment to combating terrorism and to promoting new legal mechanisms as well as regional cooperation" in the counter-terrorism effort.
Margarita Escobar, El Salvador's ambassador to the organization, called terrorism "a new threat that seriously affects such values as freedom, democracy, protection of human rights, and social development that we in the Americas hold dear."
Escobar said her country views the fight against terrorism as one that cannot be undertaken alone. Rather, she argued: "terrorism is a threat that, as reality bears out, calls for firm cooperation by all organization member states."
Meanwhile, the organization also announced that the government of Norway has made a donation of almost $476,000 to the organization's Comprehensive Mine Action Program in Central America.
The Norwegian contribution will help complete de-mining operations in Honduras before the program moves on to Guatemala, the organization said.
Einuadi said that with this latest donation, he could "actually see the time when the South American continent and the Central American isthmus will be free of landmines."
Besides Norway, the United States and a number of other countries have contributed significant financial support to ridding the Americas of landmines. In addition to helping Guatemala and Honduras, the organization program assists with mine-clearing operations in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Peru.
Bogus cops caught
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Three suspects posing as Fuerza Pública officers were nabbed in Alejuelita late Sunday night. After identifying the men, officers gave chase to their vehicle and eventually located the trio in front of a church downtown.
A search of the vehicle turned up a blue Fuerza Pública shirt, a toy gun and two masks. The men have the last names Salazar Cano, Solís Ledezma and Espinoza Hernández.
|Police station is arson
victim, say reports
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Police received reports Thursday night that a man was trying to set fire to a Fuerza Pública station in Korobo, a town south of Pali de Ipis. Witnesses said the man was wearing a yellow T-shirt and was riding a Kawasaki motorcycle without a helmet, according to the report.
The suspected arsonist, Flores Chavarría, 20, was picked up later that night.
Partial money freeze
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The government here says it is ending a partial freeze on bank withdrawals to give depositors access to their checking and savings accounts.
Roberto Lavagna, economy minister, told reporters Friday that the restrictions will be lifted as of Monday. Lavagna said, however, that restrictions will remain in effect for long-term certificates of deposit.
The Argentine government imposed the banking freeze several months ago to prevent a massive flight of capital out of the financially troubled country. The policy ignited widespread public anger and was opposed by the International Monetary Fund.
Friday's decision was widely seen as a gesture toward the fund in the hope of breathing new life into stalled talks over an emergency loan program.
The fund cut off aid to Argentina last December, citing fiscal irresponsibility. The lending agency has conditioned future aid on Argentina's development of a viable economic plan. Argentina has been in recession for more than four years and has defaulted on $151 billion in public debt.
Powell in Mexico to discuss immigration
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Colin Powell, secretary of state, says President George W. Bush is committed to an immigration accord with the country but that U.S. security issues are taking precedence at this time.
Speaking to business leaders here Monday, Secretary Powell acknowledged that the war on terror had stalled progress on an agreement. Powell expressed hope that in the year ahead, progress will be made on the issue.
Migration reform has been a top priority of Vicente Fox, Mexican president. Last year, Fox and Bush seemed close to a deal that would provide legal status to an estimated three million undocumented Mexicans in the United States.
The Bush administration's priorities shifted following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist strikes in New York and Washington.
Tony Garza, new U.S. ambassador here, spoke recently of a plan to legalize Mexican immigrants who have been in the United States for several years. U.S. officials say there is no point in negotiating an agreement now that Congress is not expected to pass it.
Powell, and a delegation that includes John Ashcroft, U.S. attorney
general, is here to take part in talks focusing on a number of bi-national
issues. They include Mexican complaints about U.S. agricultural subsidies
and Mexico's water debt to the United States. Trade, border security and
drug smuggling are to be discussed also.
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The storm that hammered the Caribbean coast this weekend is gone but has left three massive scars on the road between Puerto Viejo and Limon. It also left residents the daunting task of rebuilding their flooded homes.
The 15 inches of rain that began Saturday afternoon and didn’t let up until Sunday morning, resulted in about five deaths and millions of dollars in property damage. An estimated 800-plus people lost their homes to the storm.
A convoy of dump trucks full of gravel was evidence that reconstruction was underway Sunday. Officials estimate that, due to the severity of the damage, the roads would not be passable by any vehicles until this weekend.
As for the tourists who were temporarily displaced, most seemed back on track Monday. Adopting the early-bird mentality, travelers bum-rushed the Puerto Viejo bus depot in the morning hoping to get the first bus back to San José.
The facts coming from bus drivers and bus depot attendants were inconsistent, and determined travelers were speculating about how treacherous the trip would actually be.
Many people thought they would have to walk 10 kms. to Limón once the bus reached the point where vehicles could not cross.
Buses from Puerto Viejo stopped at the first stretch of destroyed road, in La Cruz de la Bomba, located about halfway between Puerto Viejo and Limón. That is where people got a look at the three gaps in the highway that had trapped them.
After getting off the bus, the Puerto Viejo escapees surveyed the landscape and determined the best place to be was where the muddy river deposits into the ocean. Next, they took off their shoes, rolled up their pant cuffs, and trudged through the muddy water carrying suitcases, surfboards, and rucksacks.
The 2-km. trail led the group through flooded farmland and jungle. Despite muddy feet and tired backs, most seemed happy merely to be moving in the right direction.
A.M.Costa Rica/Christian Burnham
Pickup truck drivers waited on the other side of the damaged patch of road to transport travelers, who they packed in like cattle. Local opportunists made more than a day’s wages hauling their human cargo for 300 colons a person. A truck could hold around 30 people.
The trucks took people to the next departure point, near Limón, where the bus was waiting to go to San José. People were thankful they did not have to walk that part of the journey.
The new bus was overcrowded and many weary occupants sat on the floor during the three-hour ride.
The bus made it to San José by 1:30 p.m., and the people were on their way one day and two hours behind schedule. People living in the damaged areas, with no planes to catch or resort towns to find are left to pick up the pieces.
|Villalobos money is
loans not shares
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
In a speech at the Canadian Association's luncheon recently, the Canadian Ambassador to Costa Rica stressed the importance of the new Canada-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement and the importance of attracting more private investment to Costa Rica from Canada.
She also mentioned the "Brothers" situation and how the Canadian Embassy cannot become involved with matters relating to its citizens' private investments.
It was also mentioned that the office of President Pacheco had been approached expressing the concerns of Canadians who have lent money to Luis Enrique Villalobos. No response had been received to that date.
We have heard that 70 percent of the North American community has extended loans to Villalobos. This is no insignificant number.
Several groups are demanding action from the government of Costa Rica to unfreeze the Villalobos accounts Nov. 26. If that does not happen we feel serious negative consequences could follow.
The following points should be considered:
The funds provided to the "Brothers" by Canadians and others are LOANS, not the purchase of shares in a Corporation or partnership investments. Therefore, the money rightfully belongs to the lenders, not to Villalobos, and not to the Costa Rican government. Much of this money belongs to pensioners residing in Costa Rica who make a considerable impact on the local economy. This money is clean, legal, hard-earned money.
In the case of a bank loan, if the borrower defaults, then the lender has re-course to foreclosure or court proceedings. In this case the borrower DID NOT DEFAULT. His business was forced to close and the Costa Rican government froze lenders’ loans.
There are an estimated 6,000 people, of which 1000 could be Canadians, who have lent money to the "Brothers." For the past 28 years they have run their business with the full knowledge of the Costa Rican government.
During all those years, not once did Enrique Villalobos fail to pay interest to his lenders. That is, until his accounts were frozen.
We understand that the RCMP investigation here into the Canadian drug dealers’ case is now closed, and that the persons are under arrest and the $380,000 involved is frozen. As there are no charges against the balance of the loans they are therefore legitimate funds for which there exists no right to keep them frozen.
Almost 5 months have passed and still no charges have been made against Villalobos by any of the authorities. Meanwhile, due to the actions of the Costa Rican government, NOT Villalobos, many lenders are seriously suffering great hardships and do not know where to turn.
Canadians residing in Costa Rica have paid a lifetime of taxes in Canada and some are still paying withholding taxes on Canadian-generated income. We assume some of these taxes fund government agencies like the Canadian International Development Agency who in turn fund projects here.
Therefore the Canadian government should have a vested interest in protecting its citizens by demanding the Costa Rican government to unfreeze these legitimate funds by Nov. 26 and not to prolong the freeze.
We understand that governments are concerned about being blacklisted as a money laundering country.
The opposite is the case here. The government of Costa Rica had no right to freeze the legitimate funds of Canadians in the first place. Therefore the speedy unfreezing of these legitimate funds would show fiscal responsibility and would earn Costa Rica positive international recognition.
We fear that if there are no positive signs that this injustice is quickly rectified, this problem will deteriorate into a brawl of loose canons from which neither the Costa Rican nor Canadian governments and their fledgling trade relations will emerge unscathed. This counter-productive atmosphere can be prevented by quick action.
We know that a reporter from the Wall Street Journal is in Costa Rica looking into this mess and has already interviewed some members of UCCRFCR and others. Once it hits the Canadian media it would clearly hurt tourism and trade.
We therefore ask that Canadian authorities strongly urge the Government of Costa Rica to immediately unfreeze these unjustly held funds. Then Villalobos would be free to honor his obligations to his lenders and the ball would be in his court.
Martin & Tessa Borner
United Concerned Citizens, Residents and Friends of Costa Rica (UCCRFCR)
|Greedy gringos get
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
As I read your news everyday about Villalobos and feel so sad for all of us that were greedy enough to think that it was going to work. Today I found out that the Savings Unlimited is gone. . . all my unlimited savings. . . unlimited just like many other Villalobos supporters.
What are we going to do, pray for them too? We are greedy and we deserve what we got: my son's savings, my mother’s new apartment and my retirement funds.
Nothing in life is that easy, we gambled and we lost. It is sad, but the reality is that we neglected to probably help the poor people and our own families in order to place our savings with Saint Villalobos. And now Savings Unlimited. But they had a nice office and nice girls: what a nice good man!!!
Savings Unlimited: they just invested money in slot machines. They could not effort to pay us. We understood, we are so nice and we were suckers!!! Big time suckers. . . greedy suckers. Yes we are. . . greedy little suckers.
For some of us, we can continue working and we know we made a mistake. For some other nice people it is total disaster. But we were stupid, let’s admit it. Casinos, slop machines, Saint Luis Villalobos — greed, greed.
Let’s support our friends!! But we were stupid. Yes we were very. . .
A stupid Canadian dreamer
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Mi nombre es Xinia Miranda vivo en Miami, Florida y he seguido su problema muy afondo y solo le quiero desear buena suerte y que Dios le ayude.
Yo de verdad le deseo lo mejor y si las cosas salieran bien que ayude a todas las personas que creyeron en usted y confiaron en sus negosios ya que sus negosios eran limpios y siempre lo seran para mi y mi esposo que tambien gree en usted en este momento el esta delicado de salud por todo esto que ha sucedido con usted ya que el perdio todo su dinero con usted y en este momento el esta bien malito pero de corazon Enrique que Dios nuestro Senor le ayude el martes y que usted y sus negosio puedan continuar.
Como toda una tica que son y que greo en usted que Dios lo Bendiga. Usted esta siempre en mis oraciones.
GOD BLESS YOU Enrique and GOOD LUCK.
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Remember one thing, you started all this with the ‘Nash’ matter. “We are trying to determine the status of investor funds.” BS, you are just stirring the pot. Just another hustler chasing a buck.
Look at all the harm you caused. People do know and are talking about you!
Have a great day,
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