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These stories were published Wednesday, March 12, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 50
Jo Stuart
About us
Lumber road conversions worries Osa residents
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is growing concern over the potential transformation of "lumber roads" into public motor vehicle roads on the Osa Peninsula, and the consequences this would have for the environment.

The Osa Peninsula is notoriously difficult to reach due to its limited land-based access and is still largely undeveloped. However, development in the area is said to be on the rise. 

Lumber roads have been freshly cut back for vehicle usage, possibly causing significant environmental damage, according to Elizabeth Jones, a resident. 

Ms. Jones, 47, a member of several environmental groups and committees in the area, expressed deep concern for the potential problems that could be caused by the conversion of lumber roads — roads designed for short-term use in logging — into higher-traffic public roads.

Currently, Ms. Jones is trying to raise awareness of the potential damage she says could happen should the conversions escalate.

Ms. Jones said the potential for environmental destruction from the roads is great since the existing lumber roads are just temporary creations. She said lumber roads are hazardous, climbing up and down rough landscape. 

 "It’s very unstable land,"  she said. There is potential, she said, for land sliding during or after storms. "Whole hillsides are going to come down," said Ms. Jones.

Ms. Jones said lumber roads would have to be widened if they are to be used as public vehicle roads, which would cause damage to the wildlife, including the loss of monkey bridges and the disruption of seed dispersal. She said biodiversity would also be affected by the changes.

There appears to be laws protecting the 

development of lumber roads, especially in areas designated as national parks. These are the responsibility of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia.

Héctor González, 40, director of environmental foundation Cecropia, said most lumber roads are eventually abandoned and gradually become forest again. But some, he said, are being pinpointed by people who want to develop them again for logging and others for real estate.

He said the use of the roads causes heavy soil erosion, estimating an average 50 tons per hectare per month lost during the rainy season.

González said his foundation’s main goal is to stop deforestation and the environmental damage that accompanies it. He claims the authorities are ill-equipped to monitor and control lumber roads.

The Municipalidad de Osa, which governs the area, could not be reached for comment, while a ministry spokesperson failed to return a call regarding the matter.

Tourism to the area has grown in recent years, while more foreign residents are moving there, attracted by its natural beauty and relatively untouched landscape. 

Growth such as this potentially could trigger greater tourist and residential developments. However, Gonzalez said tourism isn’t the problem but more potential real estate development. He said the tourism providers in the area are small scale and promote their isolation.

Ms. Jones is calling for the more sustainable development to control growth. She said: "Are we going beyond sustainability?"

"It is worth preserving . . . it’s just thoughtless development," she said of the Osa.

The Osa Peninsula is rich in wildlife, comprising about 2.5 percent of the world’s species. It is situated on the country’s south Pacific coast, near the Panamanian frontier.


A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A little tranquility
among the roses

Juan Santamaría, Costa Rica’s war hero, has a great location, surrounded by some spectacular roses. And the garden is open to the public and just a few steps from Avenida Central.

Check out our report 


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U.S. man's killers together go down for 60 years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The two persons who killed and then robbed Roy William Karsh in 2001 have been sentenced to 30 years in prison.

That was the verdict from the Tribunal de Juicio de Goicoechea against a man with the last names of Mora Garita and another with the last names of Chacón Chacón. They were charged with the Costa Rican version of premeditated murder.

Karsh, formerly of Texas, died in his home in Los Faroles de Curridabat. Karsh was found in his home by a neighbor. The murderers took his BMW automobile and some household appliances, money and some other items. 

The autopsy showed that Karsh, 61, was strangled, said investigators, who speculated at the time of the murder that Karsh knew his killer because 

there was no sign of forced entry to the dwelling. The murder happened Aug. 29, 2001. 

Investigators did not take long to find suspects. The home was ransacked, and investigators learned that Karsh's green BMW automobile was missing. 

About 6 p.m. the day of the murder investigators got a tip that the car was in a lot in Barrio Cuba, and they set up a surveillance, said officials at the time.

Subsequent investigation showed that the car had been driven by a young woman who turned out to be the girlfriend of one of the men, investigators said. With that information, investigators began to watch the suspects.

As in similar cases, the murder suspects were known to Karsh and had frequented the home.

Mexico maintains its no-war stance amid pressure
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — One of the non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council that remains uncommitted in regard to a new resolution on Iraq is Mexico, a nation that shares a 3,000-kilometer border (1860 miles) with the United States and sends 85 per cent of its exports there. 

On Tuesday, President Vicente Fox spoke by telephone with various world leaders, including Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who favors the new resolution, and French President Jacques Chirac, who opposes it. 

Fox also received a call from Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who urged his Mexican counterpart to support the resolution to be put before the Security Council by the United States, Britain and Spain.

At the same time, pressure is growing from domestic political groups for Mexico to vote against any resolution that would open the way to a war. Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Rival political figures are also joining the anti-war chorus, warning Fox not to yield to pressure from Washington. 

While relations between the United States and Mexico are generally good, old resentments remain. Many people distrust U.S. motives and are concerned about the possible effects of a war on their country. One source of concern is that thousands of Mexicans are in the U.S. armed forces.

The news media here gave broad coverage to the burial this week of U.S. Army Specialist Rodrigo Gonzalez who died along with three other soldiers

in a helicopter crash during a training exercise in Kuwait on Feb. 25. He was buried in the town of his birth, Sabinas Hidalgo, about 100 kilometers south of the border with Texas.

Some news publications here this past weekend warned that there will be many more such deaths because, they said, the United States is recruiting illegal Mexican immigrants with the promise of granting them citizenship after they complete their tour of duty. 

The U.S. Embassy here in Mexico immediately issued a statement denying the story. According to the statement, only citizens and legal residents of the United States may join the military. The embassy document also countered the claim made in some media here that Hispanics would constitute a large percentage of the soldiers on the front lines in any war. 

The embassy statement noted that 8.7 percent of U.S. military personnel are Hispanic, while the most recent census shows that Hispanics make up 12 and one half percent of the U.S. population.

But a war in the Persian Gulf could have other detrimental effects here, especially if the worldwide economy is disrupted. Officials are also taking precautions against possible terrorist attacks.

The navy has increased patrols in the Bay of Campeche region where much of the country's oil industry is located. There have been recent warnings about terrorists targeting oil production facilities worldwide in the event of a war in Iraq. 

The authorities have also stepped up vigilance along its borders to prevent the entry of terrorists attempting to enter the United States through Mexican territory.

Special break given
polluting automobiles

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The automobile inspection people are going to go soft on certain cars that do not have catalytic converters. And that has environmental defenders upset.

A new decree will allow Riteve SyC, to pass some 10,000 vehicles that do not meet the minimum allowable emissions.

A large number of the vehicles involved are believed to be those that the government permitted to enter in the first place even though they did not have the required emissions control devices installed.

Under terms of the decree, cars without catalytic converters that belong to the select group that were imported into the country can pass the emissions test with up to nine times more harmful exhausts than other vehicles.

The alternative would have been a prolonged legal dispute between the government and importers.

The decree is expected to help out any number of owners of dirty cars that could not be brought up to legal standards. The decree also represents the first case of the government backing down on the stiff standards that were established for the inspection monopoly. 

Foreign service test
still available there

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. citizens who would like foreign service jobs can take a test April 12 that will start them enroute for any number of overseas U.S. government jobs.

But they will have to fly to the United States to take the test because the deadline for registering to take the test overseas already has past.

The deadline for taking the test in the United States is Saturday. 

The test is the first step in a number of career paths, including the diplomatic service. Those who pass the test will face a round of interviews.

The Foreign Service Exam will be given only once in 2003. To register information is available at www.careers.state.gov. Information about at www.doscareers.us.

Although the U.S. State Department encourages applications from persons with overseas experience, those with dual citizenship, a foreign spouse or a close relative with foreign citizenship might experience difficulties.

The eligible age ranged to 59.

Cuban attitudes change
on embargo of homeland

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — For decades, Cuban exiles in the south of the state have staunchly backed the longstanding U.S. economic embargo of Cuba as a means of pressing Havana for democratic reform. But recent surveys of exiles show a shift in attitudes.

Cuban exiles have traditionally been viewed as a monolithic group unified in opposition to any dealings with Cuba that might benefit Fidel Castro. 

For years, the Cuban American National Foundation has steadfastly advocated measures to isolate the island both politically and economically in hopes of one day toppling the government in Havana.

But the foundation made headlines earlier this year when its chairman, Jorge Mas Santos, came out in favor of dialogue between exiles and the Castro government.

Mas Santos says the goal is not to boost the aging Cuban leader's grip on power, but rather to influence his top lieutenants, those who will help determine Cuba's future post-Castro.

"Those are people that you have to engage," said Mas Santos. "But there always has to be a precept of our vision for the future of Cuba, that the Cuban people have to decide through free and fair elections."

Last month, two public opinion surveys revealed what appears to be a growing divide within the Cuban exile community in the south of the state.

Both surveys showed that solid majorities of exiles who came to the United States in the 1960s continue to back the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. But among younger exiles, those who fled the island in the 1990s, more than 60 percent support easing travel restrictions and waving limits on the amount of money they can wire to relatives in Cuba. 

Observers say the apparent split among exiles reflects the fact that more recent arrivals tend to have greater ties to relatives still living on the island.

But despite evidence of a shift in attitudes among some exiles, resistance remains formidable to anything that might be construed as "caving in" to Castro.

Three Cuban-American members of Congress, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, remain staunch defenders of the U.S. economic embargo. 

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An accent of purple flowers
A giant rose display just a few feet off boulevard
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just a short walk from the downtown and through a metal gate is the tranquility of a rose garden.

Those who visit the nearby Museo Nacional only need to spend about five minutes walking north to find this hidden display of roses.

But some are a bit shy because the garden is on the grounds of the Asamblea Nacional. That’s the beautiful house on Avenida Central on the hill of La California. It is the national congress and a bit imposing for visitors.

The assembly is a beehive, and one or two tourists will not be intruding if they peek in to admire the roses. They are the handiwork of Celimo Pérez Fernández, who has worked there 13 years and has a story of his own to tell.

This week he was a bit upset that the garden would get some exposure to English-speakers. He would have preferred to wait about two months when the roses will be in full bloom at the start of the rainy season.

Pérez was minding his own garden in Alajuela 14

In full bloom
years ago when a then-deputy admired his abilities 
with flowers. She encouraged him to seek a position on the grounds of the assembly, and he has been there ever since.

Photos by Saray Ramírez Vindas

He is in charge of buying the plants and reproducing them. Many of the roses there are offspring of several original plants. He also builds new gardens.

His efforts provide a quiet place for the harried politicians and their staff. The garden is located so that most workers at the assembly pass by it once or twice a day.

There is no fee to enter the assembly grounds. It is a public building, The gate is on the west side of the boulevard that runs from the court complex past the Museo National and north of Avenida Principal to Parque Nacional. There even is a bus stop nearby on Avenida Principal. The best time to visit is mid-morning.

Roses are considered among the hardest plants to grow, second perhaps only to orchids. And at the assembly they blend in perfectly with the colonial setting with arches and courtyards.

Red-trimmed white roses are typical

Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books.

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.

Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants.  Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.

An invitation to enter our photo contest
The first A.M. Costa Rica photo contest welcomes your submissions and will award a prize of $100 in each of five categories.

The deadline for submission is April 15. The contest was announced in November.

Five categories have been established:

1. DEADLINE NEWS: A news photo that shows a breaking news event, such as, but not only, crime, accidents, fires, arrests.

2. SCENIC: Landscape scenes which may or may not include people as a secondary emphasis.

3. WILDLIFE: Photos that have as their principal subject one or more animals, plants or insects. 

4. SPORTS: A photo related to one of the major or minor sports, team or individual.

5. PEOPLE:  A photo that has as its principal emphasis one or more persons, including individual portraits. 

Deadline is April 15

BASIC RULES: The photo must be taken by the person who submits it, and he or she, as a condition of submission, agrees to give A.M. Costa Rica the right to publish the photo in A.M. Costa Rica. Upon publication, the photo will be covered by A.M. Costa Rica’s copyright, which the newspaper will happily assign back to the contestant upon request. As a condition of submission, the contestant affirms that he or she owns full rights to the photo and that it has never before been published in any professional medium.

The photo must have been taken within the borders or territorial waters of Costa Rica between Nov. 15 and the contest deadline. 

Only one entry per photographer is allowed in each category. Judges reserve the right to place the photo in another category during the selection process.
Employees, shareholders or interns with A.M. Costa Rica may not enter the contest. 

This is an open competition. No distinction will be made between professional and amateur photographers.

A.M. Costa Rica, at its option, will publish photos and information including the name of the photographer, as submissions are made.

The management of A.M. Costa Rica and judges are the final authority on contest rules and submissions.

TECHNICALITIES: The photos must be sent digitally via e-mail to 

editor@amcostarica.com, and the subject line must specify "photo contest." Within the body of the e-mail, the contestant must specify into which category the photo is submitted. The photo should be between 4 and 8 inches in width and contain no less than 72 pixels per inch of density. Each photo should not be larger than 200 k.

The e-mail message must clearly state the name and the circumstances surrounding the taking of the photo and the date the photo was taken. 

The photo should be in jpeg format and sent as an attachment with the file name as the number of the category in which it is being submitted followed by the name of the photographer.

For example, the file name of a photo in the sports category taken by Mr. Jones would be 4jones.jpeg or 4jones.jpg

PRIZES:  A first place winner will be named in each category, and the prize will be $100 paid via Pay Pal, the electronic fund-transfer system.

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