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editor of A.M. Costa Rica
What has not been mentioned clearly in the Villalobos investigation is the alleged links of the high-interest investment firm to agencies of the United States government.
In fact, some of the investors, patriots, believed they were providing
money for extra-official use by Uncle Sam in order to do certain covert
activities that congressional oversight committees might find inappropriate.
Terrorism only is terrorism when the other guy is doing it. Providing guns, money and intelligence to allies is morally defensible, so it is believed.
Certainly the background of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho did nothing to diminish the beliefs of his investors. The ranks are heavy with former U.S. military personnel, including some with very high levels of clearance. There also are former U.S. embassy employees who sought out the high-interest returns.
Among such company, the average investor could be excused for thinking there might be a connection to U.S. covert work. After all, 3 percent interest per month is nothing to the folks who buy $100 toilet seats by the carload.
Such connections might also explain why it was the government of Canada, rather than the United States, which launched the investigation that led to the current financial nightmare.
Costa Rican officials are right now hard at work using friendly journalists to spread the word that they were on top of the situation all along. La Nación in a story Sunday said that the Villalobos brothers had been under investigation for four years. The article used some previously publicized financial transactions to support this claim.
The reluctance of Costa Rican officials to intervene was, in part, due to the belief that more might be going on at the San Pedro Mall location than met the eye, perhaps in conjunction with friendly nations to the north.
Agencies of the U.S. government, if embassy reports are to be believed, are totally disinterested
|in checking into the Villalobos situation,
and probably even into the failure of Savings Unlimited and financier Louis
Milanes. For some reason, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service that would
follow an aging schoolteacher to the ends of the earth to collect $2 is
not interested in this case and the many U.S. citizens who evaded income
The U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission reported Nov. 20 that there was no information available about any investigation by that agency. The Villalobos firm accepted investment millions from U.S. citizens via a New Orleans bank. That puts the case squarely in the domain of the SEC. Although there may be a secret investigation, Costa Rican officials have lamented the lack of speed with which U.S. officials acted to freeze accounts there. Now the accounts are empty.
Surely the greatest investigative bureaucracy on the face of the earth should be able to follow money transfers, particularly with all the new procedures put into place to thwart terrorism.
Maybe the greatest investigative bureaucracy on the face of the earth really does not want to do that for fear of what might come up.
Friends say that Enrique Villalobos is not shy in mentioning his work for the U.S. government and Lt. Col. Oliver North during the civil war in Nicaragua. And there always was the knowledge that the Villalobos holdings of helicopters grew from a business that was not involved in crop dusting.
What is needed now is an investigation in the United States to determine the involvement, if any, of the various covert agencies and the Internal Revenue Service, in the Villalobos operation.
What is needed is some congressman who thinks more of his constituents at home than he or she does of Washington cocktail parties. And worried investors probably should contact their congressional representatives to press for such an investigation.
Although U.S. investors might be uneasy at having the Internal Revenue Service open an investigation, there is one redeeming possibility:
If the Villalobos brothers were acting as honorable and respected agents of the United States, that government must guarantee any money lost by investors.
Maj. Douglas Danielson, commander of the Costa Rica division of the Salvation Army, says there are now 6,750 children registered with the charity for its annual Angel Tree Program.
Organizers of the program will feed and distribute gifts to poor children at Christmas through parties organized by centers across Costa Rica. Rhode Danielson, Director of Womens Affairs and wife of Douglas, stressed that only very poor children are eligible. The party’s dates differ, depending on the center.
Children enter the program through the general feeding program the charity operates on a daily basis, year round. Every day, says Mrs. Danielson, the charity feeds up to 100 children a day in neighborhoods throughout Costa Rica.
Mrs. Danielson is seeking sponsors for the program. Banco San José is one of the charity’s prominent sponsors. They are providing everything for a party at Centro Juvenil Zurque, a juvenile detention center.
Additionally, a band from Texas is coming to Costa Rica to help raise funds. They will play at the Real Santa Mariá housing development in Heredia Dec. 8. Mrs. Danielson expects to receive donations of somewhere around 200 gifts from the local residents for the program.
Other sponsors include A.M. P.M., Dos Piños, INS, Country Day School and RACSA. Salvation Army
|centers are scattered all over Costa
Rica. Children can register at these and also at non-Salvation Army centers
that are affiliated to the charity.
Elsewhere in the world, the charity is working closely with the United Nations on its World Food Program. In Malawi, Africa, members of the religious group are increasing their drive on famine relief, concentrating on the most vulnerable people, similar to the Angel Tree Program here, which targets only the very poorest children.
Danielson and his wife have been in Costa Rica with the Salvation Army for three and a half years. He came originally to work on the Salvation Army seminary program in Heredia. However, he took over control of national responsibilities June 1.
Previously, Danielson has worked with the charity in Argentina, Chile as well as in his native United States, where he once worked at a posting in Hollywood, Calif.
Danielson’s duties are mainly administrative and pastoral. He visits the Salvation Army churches all over Costa Rica to oversee social programs and often to preach. Mrs. Danielson is the charity’s director of women’s ministry. She is Mexican.
The Salvation Army seminary here is the base for the whole of Central America, in addition to Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela. The charity is an evangelical element of the Christian Church.
To help the Angel Tree Program, contact: 223-4864, or write to: email@example.com.
A.M. Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Readership of A.M. Costa Rica continued its dramatic upward trend during November, propelled, in part, by worldwide interest in the Villalobos case.
The independent statistical program at the newspaper’s server in the United States registered 620,706 hits during the 30 days of November. That is about a 12.3 percent increase.
Other indicators of readership also showed increases. Page views were 197,006 for the month compared to 168,128 in October, which has 31 days. Sessions, a statistic that shows readers who spent a significant amount of time with two or more pages of the newspaper also went up. In November there were 47,129 sessions compared to 41,592 the months before, a 13.3 percent increase.
The Internet newspaper began in August 2001 and has showed significant increases nearly every month. Advertisers also say they have experienced highly satisfactory responses to their commercial messages.
The financial problems of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho were significant in attracting an international audience. The word “Villalobos” shows up several thousand times in the search category for the month. However, the collapse last week of Savings Unlimited, another high-interest investment firm, contributed to the largest single number of daily hits, nearly 40,000 Wednesday.
Organizations agree on
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The World Bank, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and other international donors have agreed to work together to help an initial seven developing countries provide primary education to all their children.
The agreement under the Education For All Fast Track Initiative will benefit nearly four million children in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Mauritania, Nicaragua and Niger, according to a World Bank release Wednesday.
The program, costing an estimated $400 million between 2003 and 2005, will help children unable to attend school or who would otherwise leave school early, the release said.
It also will provide training for new teachers, pay teachers' salaries, build new schools, help education systems respond to HIV/AIDS and put in place other steps to ensure a quality primary education for all children, the release said.
Internet 2 to move medicine to new level
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The practice of medicine will be moving into a new era thanks to Internet 2, the next generation of the world's information network under development by a consortium of more than 200 U.S. universities, private corporations and government agencies.
In a Friday release, the National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, announced plans to demonstrate some of the advances in a Tuesday briefing in Chicago, Illinois, at a meeting of the Radiology Society of North America.
"Internet 2 and the [National Library of Medicine] are taking medical education out of the dark ages by developing the means for physicians to practice or simulate a surgical procedure in a secure environment where mistakes do not adversely affect patients, and by creating the tools to speed vital life-saving information anywhere in the world," said Michael J. Ackerman, the library’s assistant director for High Performance Computing and Communications.
The new technologies will also allow creation of the National Digital Mammography Archive, an information repository that will support the work of radiologists and breast cancer researchers.
47 people die in
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
CARACAS, Venezuela — Forty-seven people have died in a nightclub fire in the downtown here. Eight people were taken to hospitals with moderate-to-severe burns, while 20 others were treated at the scene.
The fire broke out in the La Goajira bar and dance club, located not far from parliament and the presidential palace, in the rundown heart of the old sector of the city. Officials say there were 300-400 people in the basement club at the time.
Rodolfo Briceno, the city’s fire chief, said firefighters were on the scene quickly, but the fire had already taken hold. He said 80 percent of those who died were overcome by dense, toxic smoke.
The smoke spread to two small hotels in the same building, causing considerable panic.
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire. They are looking at the possibility of an electrical short-circuit or a carelessly tossed cigarette. Briceno said the blaze might also have originated in the kitchen.
The number of people in the La Goajira at the time of the incident almost certainly exceeded the legal limit. Firefighters say owners of bars and clubs, not only in the center of the city, but also in the wealthier eastern districts, often ignore the regulations.
This was the second major incident here in just a few weeks. In mid-November, an explosion at an illegal fireworks stall just a few blocks from the Goajira club killed three people and injured many more.
The political crisis currently afflicting the country has led to tensions and acts of violence, but there is no suggestion of any political dimension to the La Goajira fire.
United States cancel
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The United States has revoked the visa of former President Arnoldo Aleman, who faces corruption charges in his country.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman here says U.S. officials acted Friday under a law that seeks to keep money-laundering suspects out of the country.
Prosecutors allege Aleman diverted nearly $100 million in state funds to Panamanian bank accounts controlled by his family. They also say some of the money was funneled to candidates from his Liberal Constitutionalist Party.
The former president also is accused of misappropriating more than $1 million in a deal involving the state-run television station. Aleman denies wrongdoing during his five-year term that ended in January.
Aleman was ousted as speaker of Nicaragua's National Assembly several weeks ago amid the corruption allegations.
As a current member of the Nicaraguan Congress, Aleman enjoys immunity from prosecution. His handpicked successor, President Enrique Bolanos has called on lawmakers to strip the former president of his immunity.
|Rightist forces call
cease-fire in Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BOGOTA, Colombia — Right-wing paramilitaries have declared a unilateral cease-fire to pave the way for peace talks with the government. Citizens hope the proposal will close the door on one of the most violent periods in their country's history.
The paramilitaries posted the 12-point communiqué on their website Friday morning. The group said it would end all hostilities, indefinitely, beginning Sunday.
Known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the organization also said it would hand over its underage fighters to UNICEF. It asked the Catholic Church to oversee immediate peace negotiations with the government.
The government revealed earlier this week that peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo had been meeting secretly with the group’s leaders to discuss the possibility of peace talks.
In their communiqué, the paramilitaries asked authorities to release jailed combatants, and to suspend legal procedures against its negotiators. The United States is asking for the country to extradite the force’s leader Carlos Castano on drug trafficking charges.
Castano has built the force into a 10,000-strong fighting machine to combat leftist rebels in remote areas, where there is little or no state presence. His illegal forces are blamed for some of the worst atrocities in this war-torn country, and the group is on the U.S. State Department's terrorist list.
But lately, internal disputes over drug trafficking profits have caused rifts. Analysts say Castano may not be able to hold the group together much longer, and that he is looking for a way out.
If the government accepts the force’s offer, it could mean less violence in the countryside. It remains to be seen if over-stretched government forces can fill the security vacuum in areas under paramilitary control.
U.N., U.S. concern grows
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and United Nations are expressing concern about growing political turmoil in Venezuela, where anti-government activists are planning a general strike Monday.
Philip Reeker, a State Department spokesman, said Friday that Washington is worried about what he called "provocative and unnecessary actions" that imperil national dialogue.
President Hugo Chavez has urged citizens to ignore the strike. Chavez told his weekly television and radio show Sunday that the strike will be a failure. He called it a plot to destabilize the country and create conditions for another coup attempt.
Reeker also called on the Venezuelan government and opposition to responsibly exercise their democratic rights and authority.
Earlier, Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary general, issued a statement through a spokesperson, calling for restraint. He urged Venezuela's opposing parties to make every effort to resolve their political differences peacefully.
The comments come one day after Venezuela's Supreme Court nullified a National Electoral Council decision that called for a non-binding referendum in February on whether President Hugo Chavez should resign.
The president's opponents want him out of office, saying his policies are leading Venezuela toward ruin and that he is trying to model the nation on Cuba. He refuses to step down and says his adversaries must wait until next August, when he is halfway through his current term, to call a referendum.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BOGOTA, Colombia — Police here have found a cache of weapons at the country's largest public university.
The weapons — grenades and home-made bombs — were discovered at the National University Friday, one week after someone launched mortar rounds from the campus in an apparent attack on the attorney general's office.
Hundreds of police in riot gear guarded entrances to the university as prosecutors and other officers searched for arms and explosives. Classes for the university's 20,000 students have been suspended for a week for security reasons.
Police found a mortar launcher in a field on the university campus on
Nov. 22 after three mortar rounds exploded on a busy street in front of
the attorney general's office, just a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy.
|Not so wild about Harry
The Harry Potter sequel, as expected, is not as exciting or as complex as the first movie. In fact, seeing “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is obligatory to really understand the newest movie.
The newest, which opened Friday in San José, is “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Director Chris Columbus skips a lot of character development to dive right into the action.
Unfortunately, there is little new in the action. The time is Harry’s
second year at Hogwarts, the high school for wizards. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe)
pals up with the same two friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione
Granger (Emma Watson).
Once again there is a great danger enveloping the castle-like school, a danger only Harry and friends can confront.
But first there is the obligatory escape from unmagical stepparents in a flying car that conjures up the specter of Fred MacMurray and flubber in the 1961 “The Absent-minded Professor.”
Then there is the obligatory game of quidditch, hockey on flying broomsticks, and Harry emerges triumphant. Yet without knowledge of the game imparted in “Sorcerer’s Stone,” a viewer would be confused.
The great finale, yet another underground battle against evil, reminds viewers of Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Conan,
Courtesy of Warner Brothers
the Barbarian” (1982), although Radcliffe, 12, as Harry faces a bit of gym time before he can match biceps. After two hours and forty minutes, one might find oneself rooting for evil just to get the movie finished.
Perhaps the problem is that this second Harry movie is written for children, whereas the first movie was complex, multilayered and multigenerational in the same way that Star Trek and Dune are.
The Secret Chamber does have several scenes that will drive the wind out of arachnophobes, a fighting tree that needs no help from environmentalists, and several interesting ghosts.
The scene stealer of the show is Moaning Myrtle (veteran actress Shirley Henderson) whose role as the whimpering ghost in the girl’s bathroom is the best piece of character development in the whole movie.
Yet another ghost, Sir Nicholas, the nearly beheaded, just has a few seconds of screen time even though the part is played by John Cleese, perhaps the best comic actor alive.
The egocentric Professor Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh) is another missed opportunity because there is only cursory development of his narcissistic self.
Of course, “Harry” once again is the continual battle between good and evil, and it carries messages of honor, loyalty and grit to young viewers. It is a simpler version of the book by J. K. Rowling.
For older viewers, it is surely worth the 800 colon ($2.15) senior citizen admission price.
For Warner Brothers, “The Chamber of Secrets” is a warning: get some good action next time or face the curse of the Jedi.
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
World AIDS Day descended on the Plaza de la Cultura Sunday where juvenile members of the Cruz Roja, or Red Cross, were championing improved AIDS education, specifically the use of contraception to avoid the sexual transmission of the disease.
Raul Martinez, 17, who is a juvenile member, spoke of a lack of education in Costa Rica. He then praised the U.S.A. for its superior consensus knowledge on AIDS and HIV.
On AIDS, HIV and sex education in general, Martinez said: “The [old parents], they don’t want to talk about it. The new parents are more [informed].” He also said that in high schools, there is scant information available on the disease.
Martinez cited a problem with the Catholic Church. He said that the church has a problem with contraception because it creates more of an opportunity for people to have sexual relations before marriage. In Catholicism contraception is deplored.
Somewhere in the region of 15 juvenile members staged the educational station at the side of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, facing the plaza. Juvenile members are aged between 8 and 27 years old. The juveniles, who were all volunteers, distributed information, offered advice and showed a video, which depicted the fictitious story of a family destroyed by the virus.
Marco Herrera, 24, who was contacted perusing one of the information stands, said that the Red Cross’ station on the plaza was “very helpful” in AIDS and HIV education.
Sexual transmission is the main means of infection of the disease. In Costa Rica there are around
Photo by Bryan Kay/A.M. Costa RicaVolunteers at the Red Cross booth in the Plaza de la Cultura.
16,000 AIDS and HIV sufferers, said Red Cross volunteers. This year in Latin America the World Health Organization estimates that there is 1.5 million sufferers and worldwide there is an estimated 42 million.
According to the organization, the special theme for this year’s day is “Live and Let Live.” The focus here is on eradicating the stigma attached to the disease.
George W. Bush, president of the United States, said that his administration is dedicated to eliminating AIDS and HIV. He said the administration intends to commit $500 million to the new International Mother and Child HIV Prevention Initiative, $1.3 billion to international efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and $2.9 billion for research on vaccines and treatments.
|Is Mr. Osvaldo Villalobos
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Because there is freedom of speech in Costa Rica, I express my opinion about Mr. Osvaldo Villalobos’ arrest . . . injustice.
1. He belongs to an excellent family who has helped a lot of people and has kept a good reputation over the years.
2. If, in the judicial authority’s opinion, that arrested last Wednesday, November 27, 2002 is based in acts he did against the law, then, the same authorities have to arrest and accuse the owners and big shots who own similar businesses.
3. In a government bank you find out a lot of requirements to open a saving account. There are more if the person is a foreigner. It looks like the bank doesn't want your money. The interest in a saving account is minor compare with the inflation. So, it's like having the money under the mattress. What about the bureaucratic procedures to borrow money from a government bank? At the end, it’s like proving the bank you've enough money, so you don’t need it. Even the service is better and without waiting in line!
4. Mr. Luis Milanes opened a similar business. Oh! He operated his investment business without certain registers or permissions according to the media. How different it is with Ofinter (The Brothers). It has been working legally. Is Mr. Osvaldo Villalobos a scapegoat?
5. . . . . Another case in which I never saw any justice was when some financial places went broke in 1987 and nest years. We still remember. We survived . . .
6. Frozen money without heart and without measuring the consequences. The government department that ordered it, is it supporting the families and people that are broke now?
7. This case has been a negative publicity for Costa Rica. Don't forget
the Internet is a double sharp knife. It's worse than the gossip neighbor.
8. Looks like I can't loan money to anybody because it's against the law nowadays in Costa Rica.
|Not a big Rouchard
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
It seems a real pity that Michael Rouchard doesn't seem to get the concept that “The best revenge is good living.” He no longer lives here, should be reveling in a new life free of this "horrible country" as he seemed to view it.
Instead, he is writing an uninformed piece about how harsh Costa Rican law is from his new home! How sad is that? Makes him really look like a serious malcontent. He didn't like it here, left and is still sitting around stewing somewhere INSTEAD of enjoying life somewhere more to his liking!
We all know that most people would complain exactly the opposite, that the law here is amazingly lax in most cases. Embezzlers have frequently walked out of the country through one border or another, taking the money with them. It is far more common than them actually getting detained, and even more, they often never get to trial, they simply pay bail and walk!
His desire to convince me that I should be concerned about the gross injustice of Costa Rica and Napoleonic Law is laughable at best.
I personally would prefer to see an end to his presence in A.M. Costa Rica.
He seems to be a person who wants nothing more than simply to argue, and to argue in a way that isn't helpful, useful, constructive or even knowledgeable. He doesn't know what he is talking about and has been mostly unable to defend his ideas, which are based on half-truths, personal opinions and hearsay.
Really, Michael, get a life! You should be enjoying your new home so you can write later and brag about how great it is. That would impress me more!
Warm wishes for a happier tomorrow!
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