Daily, some 1,000 Nicaraguans apply
for admission to Costa Rica at the Tico consulate in Managua.
Most of them had been working in Costa Rica, but went home for Christmas and
New Year and are now trying to return and, in order to do so, must secure a
The Costa Rican Consul in Managua, Gerardo Zuniga, confirmed that the
applications for visas have trebled, from 200 to 300 daily to the current
1,000 or more.
On the other hand, Immigration authorities are keeping an eye on the border
passes between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, since it is expected that thousands
of illegal immigrants who also went home for the seasons will try to get
back by illegal means.
Costa Rican Authorities are Pleased with 2003
Costa Rica's travel industry appears to be putting
past hard years behind after closing the year 2003
with an 8 percent increase, a couple of percentage
points above the previous 6 percent estimate.
Tourism Minister Rodrigo Castro said that nearly
half the total of visitors coming to the country
hail from the United States for a double-digits
growth in 2003, while the number of European
tourists rose by 17 percent.
According to Mr. Castro, the good numbers stem from
the implementation since early last year of a
comprehensive tourism development plan that intends
to notch a 6.6 percent annual average growth over
the next ten years. A considerable chunk of the
results is owed to the strategy of drawing more
flights to the country, as many as 65 over the past
In the same breath, the overshoot of travelers has
egged on foreign investors to pour money into Costa
Rica's hotel industry.
That same all-embracing plan also includes the
building of some 19,000 hotel rooms over the next
decade, a move bound to generate 50,000 new
full-time jobs in the business, Mr. Castro pointed
As to hoteliers complaints over heavy taxation, Mr.
Castro explained their grumbling is completely
groundless, chiefly taking into account that the
country averaged a 55 percent occupancy rate. That
proves taxes are not shooing travelers away, he
Though the figures put up in 2003 give enough
reasons for celebration within the sector, Mr.
Castro believes this year could close with even
In achieving that goal, the Costa Rican Tourism
Institute (ICT) has started building a huge
international conference center bankrolled by Taiwan
- and is embarked on improving infrastructure at the
country's two major seaports, one on the Pacific
coast and the other on the Caribbean.
The exports of medical supplies
remain in an upward trend.
According to analysts, during the first nine months last year they increased
by 34 percent, as compared to the same period in 2002.
Baxter and Abbot are among the corporations with plants in Costa Rica that
account for a large chunk of these exports, but other firms are likely to
join them soon, according to Tomas Duenas, chairman of the Costa Rican
Coalition for Development Initiatives.
FTA with the Caribbean
The chances of Costa Rican farm products to enter the Caribbean markets free
of duty will become effective as of next month, when a free trade agreement
(FTA) is to be signed by Costa Rica and the Caribbean Commonwealth (CARICOM).
The FTA will be fully effective in the largest Caribbean economies: Trinidad
& Tobago, Suriname, Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados. With the other CARICOM
nations - such as Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Monserrat, Saint
Vincent and the Grenadines -, the agreement will be only partial.
Smuggling Figure Used Aliases
A central figure in an international adoption scandal involving baby
smuggling has as many as seven Social Security numbers, and perhaps 20
different names, child welfare officials say.
Rolf Levy, a one-time Miami man who is now an international fugitive, was
allowed to arrange the adoption of infants and children throughout South and
Central America - under the authority of a licensed Florida adoption agency.
He was listed as a ''foreign program coordinator'' and ''adoption
consultant,'' for International Adoption Resource in Coral Springs.
The investigation involves authorities in Florida, Costa Rica, Guatemala and
Colombia. The Florida Attorney General's Office has subpoenaed records from
the agency. Administrators with the state Department of Children & Families
are concerned that the adoption agency, which was relicensed by DCF in
January 2003, gave Levy authority that he may have used to smuggle babies
''There are too many red flags not to be concerned about his relationship
with IAR, and the fact that IAR should have known some of this information
prior to his employment,'' said Jack Moss, DCF's district administrator in
''This is not like hiring a retail salesperson or clerical worker,'' Moss
added. ``There are special obligations required in dealing with children.''
Michael B. Cohen, a Fort Lauderdale attorney representing the adoption
agency, said Levy was not an employee of International Adoption Resource,
but more like an independent contractor.
Rebecca Thurmond, the agency's executive director, had no way of knowing all
the details of Levy's background, and certainly would have not involved him
in the agency's business had she known he had done anything wrong, said
Cohen, a former state and federal prosecutor.
''If this guy Levy was a bad [guy], my client did not know anything about
it,'' Cohen said.
Acting on a tip, Costa Rican police in September 2003 raided a house in a
middle-class neighborhood of San Jose. They found nine Guatemalan babies,
the youngest two months old, allegedly brought to Costa Rica by a
child-trafficking ring. Authorities said the babies were to be put up for
adoption by foreign nationals.
A month later, Thurmond submitted an application to DCF's Fort Lauderdale
office to be relicensed as an adoption agency. In the application, Rolf Levy
is listed under ''staff'' as an adoption consultant and program coordinator.
The Herald obtained the application Thursday from DCF.
A staff directory Thurmond provided to DCF listed a Social Security number
for Levy that, records show, belongs to a Mission Viejo, Calif., teacher
named Kenneth McBee. ''I never had signs that it had been used improperly,''
McBee told The Herald. ``I haven't gotten any bills I didn't ask for. But
this is all strange to me.''
The adoption agency hired Levy in June; he applied for a job in April,
records show. A mandatory FBI criminal background check reported no arrest
record, said DCF senior attorney Deborah Guller.
The application shows the agency reported a total income of $1.1 million for
the one-year period ending Sept. 30, 2003.
The application was still pending when, last month, the Costa Rican
government -- which has said it wishes to steer clear of the baby-smuggling
scandals that have plagued nearby Guatemala -- issued an international
arrest order for Levy, alleging he smuggled children bound for adoptive
homes in America.
The arrest order, which has been given to the international police agency
Interpol, also states that Levy -- identified as ''Rolf Salomon Levy
Berger,'' is wanted by the Colombian government for his involvement in
''kidnapping and trafficking in children as well as homicide for lack of
medical attention of one of the children that he offered for sale,'' in
DCF suspended the adoption agency's license Dec. 5, in a letter that said
IAR had lied about its connections with another suspected child smuggler,
Costa Rican attorney Carlos Robles, who was acting as an intermediary for
the agency. Robles was jailed in September by Costa Rican authorities on
suspicion of child trafficking.
National Assembly elects new President
The National Assembly of Nicaragua
held a special meeting on Thursday to form a new Board of Directors, and the
Liberal Constitutionalist Party was proclaimed the winner.
Two legislators in the majority liberal party, Carlos Noguera and Wilfredo
Navarro, were elected as the Assembly's president and the first
The Board of Directors consists of seven members. The result ofthe
Thursday's meeting was that the liberal party got three seats, an alliance
formed by elements in the liberal party and the conservative party got
three, and a third party, Camino Cristiano Nicaraguense, got the last seat.
The 38 legislators of the nation's main opposition Sandinist National
Liberation Front (SNLF) quit the meeting soon after it opened, protesting
that American officials were manipulating the election behind scenes, former
First Vice-President Rene Nunez, who is an SNLF member, claimed.
New President Noguera denied reports of American involvement. He told a news
conference after the meeting that US ambassador to Nicaragua Barbara Moore
had facilitated the negotiations among the democratic parties.
describes Powell's remarks as impertinent
United States Secretary of State
Colin Powell's remarks on Venezuela's referendum are "impertinent,"
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Rangel said on Friday.
Powell indicated on Thursday that there will be a referendum vote against
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez if signatures are approved to activate the
Rangel referred to the issue on his arrival at Caracas Hilton Hotel, where
Bloque Cambio representatives, who back the government, met to analyze
priority issues of the legislative agenda for this year.
Asked by the press whether Powell's remarks were an intervention in the
internal affairs of Venezuela, Rangel said: "It is an impertinency.
"Powell says a very interesting thing -- if the signatures are gathered
there will be a revocation referendum. Obviously yes. Anyway, it is not up
to Mister Powell, the US State Department or the United States, but (to) the
National Electoral Council of Venezuela to decide."
The revocation referendum is the third try by Chavez opponents to oust him,
after a failed coup in 2002 and a two-month general strike ending in
February 2003 which crippled crude exports of Venezuela, the fifth largest
oil exporter in the world.
The opposition needs to gather the signatures of 20 percent of Venezuela's
almost 12 million registered voters to request the revocation referendum.
The result of the referendum can decide whether Chavez will remain in office