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These stories were published Thursday, May 5, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 88
Jo Stuart
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Wisconsin pair dumped into Pacific near Quepos and drown
By Saray Ramírez Vindas 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Wisconsin couple died in the Pacific Ocean south of Quepos Wednesday when a boat dumped them into the sea.

They were identified as David Mahnka, 63, and his wife Karol Joyce Mahnka, 61, according to the Judicial Investigation Organization in Quepos and an employee at the morgue in the Hospital de Quepos. Both were called tourists.

The mishap took place about 11:30 a.m. near the mouth of the Río Savegre, some 15 miles south of Quepos in the Central Pacific.

Investigators said that the couple, a crew member and a boat captain were aboard a launch that somehow rolled sharply. The couple and the crew member were dumped into the ocean.

There was no mention if the tourists were wearing life vests.

The crew member was identified by the 

Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas as Jonathan Mackeros González.

The crew member reported that he was able to assist the woman to shore, some 200 meters away, about 650 feet. He said he left her on the beach and returned to find the man floating lifeless in the sea. He said he was exhausted.

However, when rescue workers attempted to locate the woman she no longer was on the beach but in the ocean.

Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas also identified the couple as Karol and David Mitchell, but Costa Rican law enforcement typically uses the middle name of North Americans because that is the main surname here.

The coast guard report also said the couple were aboard the sports fishing boat, Fly Fisher. The captain was not identified by either agency.

The coast guard said it sent a launch to the scene of the accident and that they were assisted by the boat Bendición.

Villalobos decision may be made by the end of current month
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An April 19 mini-hearing for the benefit of a single North American investor is one of the reasons a decision in the Oswaldo Villalobos case is delayed.

However, a decision on whether Villalobos, one of the two "Brothers," will go to trial on fraud, money laundering and conspiracy allegations probably will come before the end of the month, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial.

Villalobos was the subject of a month-long preliminary hearing with nearly 400 persons listed as victims of the Brothers’ investment business. The case has generated mountains of paperwork that a judge must sift through.

The alternative to binding Villalobos over for trial would be to set him free. He now is in house arrest. He also faces an allegation of illegal banking.

Those bringing individual charges against Villalobos, as is permitted in criminal cases here, are far fewer than the estimated 6,400 persons or entities that placed money into the high-interest borrowing operation.

Luis Enrique Villalobos is the brother most closely identified with the business, which paid up to 3 percent interest on borrowed money each month. He is a fugitive.

Oswaldo Villalobos was mainly identified with the money exchange business run adjacent to the high-interest operation. However, a report by the Judicial Investigating Organization said that he had management power similar to his brother.

The brothers shut down both businesses in October 2002 after police and the Poder Judicial conducted a raid July 4 of that year.

The borrowing operation may have had as much as $1 billion on its books.

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Brazil loses AID loan 
due to prostitution views 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASÍLIA, Brazil — This country has rejected some $40 million in U.S. funds for fighting AIDS because of a guideline that requires officials to publicly condemn prostitution. 

Brazil is thought to be the first country to reject U.S. AIDS funds because of the ideological guidelines that accompany them.

Officials say that condemning prostitution would damage their efforts to protect sex workers from contracting and spreading the disease. The head of Brazil's HIV-AIDS program also says the requirement infringes on the country's right to structure its own health policies.

U.S. officials say Brazil has the right to reject the funds and pursue their own policies.

Brazil's AIDS program has been praised by health groups for its effectiveness in curbing the spread of the sexually transmitted disease. 

In 2003, Washington required organizations that receive funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development to adopt policies opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.

Searchers seek robbers
in Pococí vicinity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents are on the trail of robbers in the mountains near Pococí. Those sought are believed to be the robbers who preyed on motorists in the Pococí-Guápiles area.

Two agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization pursued the pair after they held up a delivery truck Tuesday. The pursuit ended in a confrontation and an agent with the last name of Reyes took five bullets in the body. The robbers stole the car used by the agents but ran it off the road within a few miles.

Police are out in force in an area where residents said they saw the men.

Although the robbers near Guápiles had the same techniques as a gang of robbers near Playa Garza and Nosara on the pacific coast, police did not believe there was a connection.

Fire destroys homes
in area east of San José

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire leveled four two-story frame homes in Barrio Pinto Wednesday night and gutted a fifth.

One individual was hurt but the extent of the injuries was not known.

Firemen got the alarm about 9:30, but the blaze had a headstart and water to fight it was in short supply.

The area is east of San José.

Court finds for Verizon
in telephone book fight

(This story is in error. Please see 
correction published May 6, 2006)
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has found for the publisher of the country’s telephone directory and against the Institution Costarricense de Electricidad in a dispute over the completeness of the publication.

The publisher is Verizon Information Services-Costa Rica, and the guides have been published this year in regional editions.

The institute, the telecommunications monopoly, was applying contractual sanctions against Verizon, in part because people complained that every listing in the country was not in every book. Plus they had to make directory assistance calls for numbers not in the book.

The Poder Judicial announced the decision Wednesday. 

Serious crimes on rise
in Guatemala, U.S. says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. State Department says crime is on the rise in Guatemala and that there is little investigation or convictions.

The agency issued a reminder to U.S. citizens over what is said was this continuing serious security situation.

Crimes range from holding up inter-city buses to stealing backpacks in the tourist districts, said the reminder. Gangs were blamed for much of the criminal activity.

"Criminals in Guatemala are extremely opportunistic," said the announcement. "All travelers should remain vigilant and take appropriate measures to limit risk and losses. Assailants often respond violently if they perceive resistance from their victims."

The announcement said that "although fewer highway robberies have been reported recently, violent criminal activity on the highways in Guatemala continues and tourists, among others, have been targeted. Buses of all categories, tour vans and private vehicles have been stopped, with drivers and passengers robbed, sometimes violently. Armed robbers have intercepted vehicles on main roads in broad daylight. Highway bandits have committed rape in the commission of robberies."

Some elements of the police might be involved in the crimes, said the announcement. 

Promerica is target

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four men with guns stuck up the Plaza Izkatzu branch of Banco Promerica Wednesday morning and made off with 2 million colons, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. The amount in dollars is about $4,250

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Pacheco's state of nation talk gets very mixed reviews
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco continues to come under strong criticism for the quality and coverage of his state of the nation address Sunday.

The president must live on another planet because he is not on track with the reality in which Costa Ricans live every day, said Emilia María Rodríguez, an independent member of the Asamblea Legislativa. She spoke Tuesday, the second day that the nature of the Pacheco talk was a debate topic there.

Members of Pacheco’s Partido Unidad Social Cristiana generally supported him.

Tuesday the Spanish language daily La Nación devoted its editorial to what it called Pacheco’s "informe evasivo" or evasive report.

"The president’s report showed lack of knowledge of the national reality and lack of a vision of the future," said the newspaper.

The editorial claimed that Pacheco has not lived up to his constitutional responsibility because he did not explain his vision of the country for the last year he will be in office.

In a news story Monday, the same newspaper noted that the president said nothing about the cost of living for citizens or the poor state of the nation’s roads.

A.M. Costa Rica noted that he gave scant mention to the proposed free trade treaty with the United States, which is probably the major political issue of the year.

Monday, legislators allocated nearly 45 minutes just for discussing the talk.

Luis Gerardo Villanueva of the Partido Liberación Nacional lamented the fact that there were no sanctions when the president does not give a good report.

Ruth Montoya of the Partido Acción Ciudadana said that

the statistics cited by Pacheco in his talk were divorced 
from reality.  Pacheco has been known to uncritically accept statistics that show his administration is doing a good job and overlook those that do not.

Pacheco cited gains in education, health, housing, culture, environment, economy, tourism, agriculture and international commerce.

What perhaps irked deputies the most was the perception that Pacheco was trying to tell them what to do. He strongly urged them to pass the proposed new tax plan.

Then Prensa Libre, another Spanish-language daily, ran a headline that said "Pacheco demanda cumplir deberes a diputados" or Pacheco demands that the deputies do their duty.

Rodolfo Delgado of Pacheco’s own party said Wednesday that some legislators did not like the headline and did not like Pacheco calling upon them to approve so-called urgent projects.

Liberation Deputy Guido Vega went so far as to say the bad public management, meaning Pacheco’s, is another form of corruption.

Ronaldo Alfaro of the Movimiento Libertario said that Pacheco wants the lawmakers to approve the new tax plan without saying how the new money generated would be spent and how the new taxes would benefit citizens. He said the government looked on the new tax plan as salvation.

Deputies were predisposed to be critical of Pacheco. They were hours late in electing officers for the coming year when they convened Sunday, May 1. Pacheco was supposed to speak in the afternoon. He did not speak until after 7 p.m. 

Some lawmakers put forth the idea this week that reorganization of the legislature should take place one day and the president should speak the following day. That idea may become a formal proposal.

Tiny hike in fuel tax approved by regulator as Sala IV enters fray
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government has been granted a 3 percent increase in the tax it levies on gasoline and other petroleum fuels.

This is a routine action that usually is sought every three months by the Ministerio de Hacienda, the budget ministry.

However, this is the tax that is supposed to be going to keep roads and highways in repair, and the government has been diverting the funds. The Sala IV said Wednesday that the funds should be used for the purpose specified in the law. But whether the government will seek a rehearing is uncertain.

Roads all over the country are in disrepair.

The increase in the tax is small, just 4 colons on a liter of super gasoline and 3 colons on a liter of regular. Super will now sell for 424 colons a liter, some 90 U.S. 

cents. Kerosene went up 1 colon to 330 per liter.

Tax on a liter of super gasoline will be 129 colons, some 27.4 cents. One U.S. gallon contains about 3.79 liters. 

The increases were authorized by the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, which announced the increase Wednesday. The hike will become official and collectable when the order is published in the La Gazeta newspaper.

An increase in the price of liquid petroleum gas also was approved due to an increase in the price at the plant. The increase is less than one colon per liter.

An 86-liter (22.7 gallon) cylinder of liquid gas will cost 26,701 retail, some $56.81.

Although the slight tax increase is routine, it came at a bad time. Fuel prices are at record highs and a price increase of nearly 40 colons a liter went into effect Friday at midnight.

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Tony Blair has his job on the line in elections today
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

British voters go to the polls today.

Tony Blair, the leader of Britain's center-left Labour Party, has been prime minister for eight years. He, like former U.S. president Bill Clinton, has taken his party from the left closer to positions in the political center.  His main opponent, Michael Howard, the leader of the opposition Conservative or Tory Party, has a problem because there is now little to differentiate between the Labour and Conservative parties, says Joanna Spear, the director of the U.S. Foreign Policy Institute at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

"One of the problems for the British voter, as they actually look at the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives, there's not actually that much difference between policies," she said. "So they've been trying to differentiate themselves, and the Conservatives have done it a bit by talking more about immigration, cracking down on immigration."

But Dr. Spear says Conservatives have failed to make this issue decisive because Labour also says immigration reform is needed.  Many voters opposed Tony Blair's decision to join the U.S. in the war against Iraq.  The Conservative Party supported it.  That's where the third party in these elections stands to gain ground.  The Liberal Democratic Party, led by Charles Kennedy, strongly opposed the war.  They, along with many in the British voting public, say Prime Minister Blair lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which have never been found, to justify British participation in the Iraq war.

Dr. Spear says the Liberal Democrats will gain some parliamentary seats because of this anti-war stance, which may force the victor, presumably Tony Blair, to form coalitions to get legislation passed. Much of that legislation, like the campaign, will primarily focus on domestic issues, such as education, the national health service and the economy.

Daniel Hamilton, the director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of 
Advanced International Studies in Washington says, "Most issues are domestic.  The British economy has been doing relatively well, compared to most of Europe.  As I say, I think there's a general consensus that Gordon Brown has steered the British economy well."

Gordon Brown is Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, and it is widely believed Tony Blair will step aside in his third term, to make way for Brown to lead the Labour Party.

Hamilton says, "This election is as much about Gordon Brown, in some ways, as it is about Tony Blair.  He has, Gordon Brown has really had almost autonomous control over the British economy, which has recorded good success over the last number of years.  So, it's a dual campaign, in terms of the Labour Party."

The international community will be watching this election, largely because of Britain's very close relationship with the U.S., says Dr. Spear.  She says, "For the British it is a very special relationship.  It enables them to play major role international diplomacy, and to quote Sir Douglas Hurd, a well known Conservative British politician, 'punch above our weight in the international system.'"

Daniel Hamilton says Britain is not the superpower or empire it once was, but it is a very powerful European country, in part due to its relationship with the U.S.

"The best way you could have influence with a super power like America, is to be so close and aligned with their policies that when you're embracing the American president, you might actually be able to whisper a little advice in his ear . . .," said Hamilton.

Hamilton adds later this year, Britain will take over the chairmanships of both the European Union and the Group of Eight, the world's major industrial nations plus Russia.  So, the new British prime minister will have added influence outside his own country. 

Caribbean nations warned by World Bank to change their eonomic ways
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The nations of the Caribbean are at a "development crossroads" and must do more to compete better in the global economy if they are to accelerate current growth levels or even maintain past growth, says the World Bank.

The bank said in a new report that if the Caribbean region improves productivity and competitiveness, it can reposition itself as an emerging trading bloc for goods and services.

The region is a major trading partner for Costa Rica.

But without such action, the region risks increased "economic marginalization and erosion of many of the social gains of the last three decades," according to the report, titled "A Time to Choose: Caribbean Development in the 21st Century."

The report said the Caribbean bloc needs to move beyond decades of reliance on traditional markets and trade preferences "to swiftly adapt and diversify into new sources of growth, exploiting its natural advantages of location, environment, political stability, and democratic traditions."

Tourism, one of the Caribbean's key sectors, is under increasing pressure from emerging markets elsewhere, the report said. The Caribbean community's market share of international tourist arrivals dropped from 0.91 percent in the 1990s to 0.69 percent in 2002. But the report is optimistic about prospects for the region to diversify its traditional tourism product, such as providing opportunities for ecotourism among environmentally conscious travelers and more upscale, diversified resorts catering to affluent North American tourists.

The report recommends that Caribbean nations work together to negotiate an orderly dismantling of trade preferences in return for increased technical and financial support, arguing that such preferences, combined with subsidies, have yielded less than optimal results for the region.

Caroline Anstey, the World Bank's country director for the Caribbean, said in an April 28 statement that "now is the time to choose a new development path in the Caribbean to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

She added that "innovation and adaptability will be key [to] moving forward, but so too will be political will and the commitment to collectively leverage regional benefits. There are some exceptional examples of both domestic entrepreneurship and domestic-international partnerships cited in the report, so we know it can be done. What this study proposes is a menu of options to open the door and then invite the private sector in."

The World Bank report cautions that the Caribbean region faces a number of challenges, such as an increase in youth unemployment and a drop in productivity, that are contributing to stagnant or declining economic activity.

Without remedial action, the report states, per capita growth is expected to reach only 2.3 percent for 2001-2010, compared to 4.3 percent in the 1970s. Caribbean governments also will have to address debt levels that have grown from a regional average of 67 percent in 1997 to 96 percent in 2003, against a backdrop of declining aid from the international community.

The Caribbean nations have negotiated a free trade agreement with Costa Rica that is awaiting legislative approval.

Jo Stuart
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