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These stories were published Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 217
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Museo Nacional honors Birdman of Costa Rica
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dr. Alexander Frank Skutch died last May 12, just eight days short of his 100th birthday. Although born in Baltimore, Maryland, his love of nature and his passion for ornithology led him to his place of rest, a secluded farm in southern Costa Rica. 

Skutch’s contribution to the study of Central America’s tropical birds was and continues to be outstanding. He is the subject of an exhibition at the Museo Nacional.

"You want someone like that to be eternal. But I wasn’t sad when he passed away. He had accomplished so much in his hundred years," said Julio E. Sanchez.  Sanchez is the curator of birds at the Museo Nacional of Costa Rica and was a friend of Skutch for more than 20 years.



"Do birds enjoy singing and hearing their own voices as they appear most convincingly to do when they tirelessly repeat melodious songs, improvise and mimic? Do they feel affection for their young they so faithfully attend?  Do their cries when their broods are threatened or lost express genuine feeling?"
"Ant Birds and Oven Birds" 1996 
Dr.Alexander F. Skutch


Sanchez became familiar with Skutch through his published studies on birds. His lecturer in ornithology at the University of Costa Rica, Gary Stiles, took him to Skutch’s farm on a field trip. "It was then that our friendship developed" said Sanchez 

 "When I first met Alexander, I thought, what an angry looking man! He looked so military. But then he looked up and his face changed, he said hello with a big smile. He was a very humble man," said Sanchez

 "He was an outstanding person with exceptional intelligence. He made an amazing contribution to the study and understanding of neo-tropical birds," said Sanchez. 

Skutch produced 35 books and more than 200 articles, many of which are unpublished and remain in his farm, Los Cusingos, San Isidrio El General. Skutch bought the farm in 1941. "He loved it there. He went to live with the birds and submersed himself in the study of their habitats, mating and rearing habits," said Sanchez. 

He loved all birds but disliked those that were predatory.  "The only exception to this rule was a bird called the Laughing Falcon," said Sanchez. "It survived only on snakes, and snakes killed so many of the birds and nestlings that Alexander studied."

He lived at Los Cusingos for several years on his own, until he met his wife Pamela Lankester. Mrs. Skutch was born in Cartago to English parents. "She, too, was a very kind and gentle woman. I do recall that Pamela liked going to 

A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Julio E. Sanchez admires a photo of Alexander F. Skutch, which is part of the new permanent museum exhibit.

the city a lot. I remember that we made a cake for her birthday and had a small party. She was very happy," said Sanchez. 

Sanchez spoke of a difficult time when he was asked by members of the Tropical Science Center to go and talk to Skutch. "He was getting old, and my employers wanted to know his intentions for the farm. It was a terrible thing," said Sanchez. "I worried about how to approach the subject." 

Skutch asked Sanchez to accompany him to an interview in San Isidrio. "All the way I played out what I could say in my mind," said Sanchez. ". . .  And then like Alexander knew what I was thinking, he said to me, ‘You know, Julio, I’m getting old, and I want to donate the farm to the Tropical Science Center.’"

 Sanchez said "Of course from a scientific point of view we all wanted Alexander to be with us forever. . . . Alexander should be seen as an example to us all. He lived on his farm surrounded by nature. He used only what he needed." 

The permanent exhibition at the Museo Nacional is uncomplicated and effective. "This exhibition is simple and humble. It shows us how much Alexander cared for the birds he studied," Sanchez said.

Pictures taken by several professional nature photographers are accompanied by Skutch’s detailed descriptions of the birds that he studied in Costa Rica. A sequence of photos shows the life of a bird. Other photos include that of the Lineated Woodpecker, a bird that Skutch wanted to be reincarnated as. 

The exhibition also houses Skutch’s desk and typewriter which he used to write his work. Upon the desk lies one of his many hand-written journals. In it he talks about his farm and how happy he is there. The exhibition also shows a device that Skutch invented. He attached a mirror on the end of a long stick so he could observe nestlings without disturbing them. 

 
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Career diplomat gets
post at hemispheric body

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has appointed a career diplomat as ambassador to the Organization of American States.

He is Javier Sancho Bonilla, a man with 30 years of service with the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Sancho is the director general of external politics at the ministry and coordinator of the Iberoamerican Summit and the Río Group.  He was ambassador to Brazil in 1994 to 2001 and in Korea from 1987 to 1990.

Sancho, who will take over in January, fills a vacancy created Thursday when Rina Contreras resigned. She was a political appointee.
 

Solís case is back
on legislature’s agenda

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional has blocked out this morning and Thursday morning as a time for the deputies to consider together the case of Alex Solís, the embattled contralor general de la República.

Lawmakers almost never meet in the morning as a full legislative session. 

Several reports are due on Solís, who is an appointee of the legislature, who got the watchdog job June 7 and almost immediately questions were raised about his fitness. The job involves oversight on all government contracts and expenditures.

Solís admitted on television that he had signed the names of family members to real estate documents and then verified them in his capacity as a notary.  Neighbors in Perez Zeledon where he operated a business also said that he loaned money at high rates to people who were trying to enter the United States illegally.

The Solís scandal became well-known because his brother, Ottón, is the leader of the Partido Acción Ciudadana and a potential presidential candidate.

About the same time a scandal over the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social began to dominate the news, and the Solís scandal took a backseat, except in congress where various committee were investigating the case.

Our readers write

How does neutrality
really work here?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Perhaps someone can explain to me how Costa Rica’s declared foreign policy of "neutrality" works. 

Excluding applications of a scientific nature, any dictionary of reasonable size will provide definitions like: "Neither one nor the other," "Not taking sides in a quarrel," "Not participating in armed or ideological conflicts of others," "Indifferent" and others. 

When a nation is coming up with a foreign policy that is right for it, a multiplicity of factors comes into play. So what is the mix that goes into the pot for Costa Rica when coming up with its foreign policy? When it comes to the economic factor, should it be unqualifiedly aligned with the country that provides the butter for the bread? 

Of course, there are limits, but it makes no sense to be directly at cross currents with its generous and democratic friends like the U.S. and Taiwan. Haven’t seen many bridges over the rivers in Costa Rica paid for by Communist China. Seems to me that the only helicopters flying mercy missions into the Talamanca Indian reservation are U.S. military ones. 

Should outspoken defense of democracy and human rights be part of it? Costa Rica rightfully waves its own democratic and human rights flag in international forums, but fails to be the vociferous high principled critic of those countries that aren’t. When was the last time Costa Rica really blasted Cuba, North Korea or Red China for imprisoning proponents of free speech? I can’t remember either. That’s OK, supposedly that’s what neutrality is all about. 

It was under the presidency of Luis Alberto Monge (1982-1986) when Central America was convulsing with civil wars that the policy of "being neutral" was officially adopted. Perhaps not a bad move given the circumstances. 

Fast forwarding to recent times, President Pacheco, in a gesture of solidarity with his benefactor and friend to the north, does not oppose Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Certainly not a war monger, Pacheco included the invasion as part of his support in the fight against terrorism, saying something to effect that "as saddening as it may be, it was better to have the blood of Iraqi children spilled than the blood of Costa Rican children spilled in a terrorist act in this country".  Anybody care to argue with that point of view? Boy, did that statement get Pacheco into trouble with the Costa Rican "neutrality" purists! 

This past week and for the 13th consecutive year, Cuba sponsored a resolution in the United Nations calling for an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. The non-binding resolution was passed 179 to 4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau opposed) with one abstaining vote. 

Costa Rica’s vote was not the abstaining one. Interesting, no? Where was the manifest policy of "being neutral"? Are Costa Rica’s economic interests being hurt with the embargo? I don’t think so. Lifting the embargo will hasten a democracy in Cuba? There’s no evidence of that theory. 

Bringing with them the concepts of freedom and democracy, thousands of Europeans tourists visiting the island has proven to have zero effect with democratizing Cuba; in fact it is worse now. Ask the recently jailed Cuban dissidents. 

To be consistent with its proclaimed foreign policy, Costa Rica should have joined Micronesia with an abstention vote, but it didn’t. Let’s hear from you, you "neutrality" purists? Will someone please explain just what being neutral means as a foreign policy position? 

Walter Fila
Ciudad Colón
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Mrs. Louise Sahrad, formerly of Florida, helps arrange the stall of Nancy Trinidad, who will be offering painted crafts carved from wood this morning. Mrs. Sahrad retired from Florida with her husband Paul. They have been in Costa Rica for one year.
A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Newcomers have their big event this morning in Sabana Norte
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An event especially for newcomers to Costa Rica is being held this morning at Casa de España, Sabana Norte. It's the annual sale.

Mrs. Roni Brantly, co-president of Newcomers Club said "This event is an opportunity for people to get together from the English-speaking community here in Costa Rica. It’s a great place to get advice from people and make contacts."

The event will feature stalls that sell hand-made garments, quilts, jewelry, crafts, books and cakes. Local businesses will participate, with Americans, 

Canadians and British also taking part. UNICEF and the Humanitarian Fund have stalls, too.

Mrs. Brantly comes from California. Her husband Ned Brantly relocated for work. They decided that they wanted to retire here, and that’s when Mrs. Brantly became involved in the Newcomers Club. "I think of it as a service to the community, it is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to help expats and alike enjoy their retirement in Costa Rica." 

The event is from 9:30 a.m. to noon  at La Casa de España, located in Sabana Norte (del ICE 100m este, 175 norte). 


 
Uruguay takes a leftward step in electing Vazquez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — The country has elected its first leftist president, Tabare Vazquez, who joins a growing list of left-leaning leaders in South America.

Final results from Sunday's balloting give Vazquez just over 50 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off. 

With the Vazquez victory, Uruguay will join Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela as South American countries with left or left-leaning governments.

The U.S. State Department Monday congratulated Vazquez on his victory, as did Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

The new Uruguayan leader is an oncologist and former mayor of this capital.  He will serve a five-year term beginning March 1. 

Vazquez's closest competitor, Jorge Larranaga, 

conceded defeat late Sunday, after exit polls indicated Vazquez had over 50 percent of the vote.

Vazquez's Broad Front coalition — including socialists, Communists, Social Democrats and a popular former guerrilla group, Tupamaros — also appeared to be heading for big gains in both houses of Congress.

Uruguay's shift to the left comes at the expense of the country's traditional Colorado and National parties, which many voters blamed for recent years of economic crisis, as well as decades of corruption. 

If the predicted election results are confirmed, they would mark the Colorado and National parties' first electoral defeat. Apart from relatively brief periods of military rule, the two traditional parties have alternated in power ever since Uruguay gained its independence from Spain in the early 19th century.

Regional elections also were held in Venezuela Sunday. Preliminary results indicate supporters of left-leaning President Hugo Chavez won all but two of 23 governorships.


 
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