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These stories were first published Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2002
Jo Stuart
About us
Report on tourism, past and future, scheduled for today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The high tourist season in Costa Rica is flat and not at all what officials expected earlier in the year. The tourist totals for all of last year will not be as rosy as had been predicted. Yet officials will put putting on a happy face.

The reasons for lower tourist spending probably have more to do with layoffs and recession in the United States and Canada rather than the terrorist attacks that took place Sept. 11.

Costa Rica tourism officials are expected to give a report later today on how the country fared in 2001. Tourism was running nearly 9 percent ahead of the 2000 figures in the first six months of the year.  They are expected to issue an upbeat report.

The sharpest hit was in September. A.M. Costa Rica calculated that the country lost about 8,800 airline tourists that month because of the terrorist attacks. The bulk of the airline fleet in the Western Hemisphere was grounded for five days. Only about 38,900 tourists came instead of the 47,700 that had been anticipated that month.

A month later, the Costa Rican tourism minister, Walter Niehaus, said the industry expected to lose nearly 18 percent of its $1.125 billion revenues this year. Reports of layoffs in the tourism industry of up to 18,000 workers began to circulate.

President Miguel Angel Rodríguez created a cabinet-level crisis committee to try to ease the tourist shock. Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks, the Costa Rican government authorized $1.5 million to promote its vital tourism industry.  Porter Novelli International with local offices in Barrio Escalante got the job. This is a communications and marketing firm with offices around the world. 

However, the company split its marketing and promotional activities 50-50 with in-country 
and out-of-country marketing. A number of
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persons in the tourism industry were critical of the quality and slant of the campaign.

The campaign included personal visits by Costa Rican officials and tourist operators to U.S. radio talk shows and other places where the country could be promoted as a tourist destination.

Porter Novelli will be handling the 2002 campaign, too, and those plans will be presented to top tourist operators at 6 p.m. today at the Real Intercontinental Hotel in Escazú. At the same session, tourism officials will present the results for 2001.

Preliminary estimates of high-season tourism show that the U.S. recession has caused major cutbacks in spending by U.S. and Canadian citizens. Some Pacific coast beach resort hotels report occupancy rates as low as 30 percent at a time when 90 percent would be expected.

Other tourism operators say changes have taken place in the way tourists book their vacations. Word of mouth and repeat business still is crucial, but more and more tourists are making destination decisions independently and via the Internet, they said. 

Such direct contacts represent 25 percent of the business this season, up considerably from prior years, one estimated. The independent decisions are made at the expense of tour operators and travel agencies that have been courted by resort operators in the past.

A source at the tourism institute said that in general smaller operators were suffering this season because large resort chains and consortiums of business owners can dominate the international marketing. High season runs through March.

A few tourism operators made it clear that the number of tourists is only one indicator of the health of the industry. The amount of money spent by each tourist also is crucial, and this is the category where recession and layoffs have the most effect, they said. People who fear losing their job might travel, but they will not spend lavishly.

Although some laid-off dot.com workers have come to Costa Rica for rest and relaxation, they are nursing their accumulated capital because they know that finding another job may not be quick or easy.

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Go fly
a kite
You sure could fly a kite Sunday, and just about every Sunday at La Sabana Park where a kite vendor hangs out under a big tree that he decorates with his wares. 

Traditional brisk winds, just like this year, make January a kite-flier’s dream in the Central Valley.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Casa Alianza says it will file charge against government minister
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Alianza said Monday that it was initiating a criminal charge against the minister of finance for not allocating money that was supposed to go to help homeless children.

It was unclear exactly when, if or where the charge was brought. A press release in English at the organization’s Web site said it would file charges Jan. 19, which was Saturday. A press release mailed to newspapers Monday said in Spanish that the charges would be leveled that day.

In any event, Casa Alianza, which is an advocate for children, has been pressing the minister and the government of Miguel Angel Rodríguez to transfer 7 percent of the income taxes collected in the country to the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the government organization that is supposed to help children. Casa Alianza estimated the money involved about $42 million. A 1998 law sets the percentage, and the amount represents back payments for four years.

As the organization noted in its press release, its efforts got a boost March 16 when the Costa Rica 

Constitutional Court ruled in favor of an appeal placed by Bruce Harris, its regional director for Latin America.

The current minister, Alberto Dent, has argued that the economy of the country does not allow so much funding for poor children, said Casa Alianza.

"We first asked the government to respect the law and support poor children and they refused," said Harris. "We then went to the Constitutional Court and they agreed with our position and ordered the minister to pay. He has decided to disobey a court order, which is why we are still pressuring for the government to invest in its children". 

Harris has criticized the government for turning a blind eye to homeless children, and said it suffers from the "ostrich syndrome" where officials ignore the festering social issues affecting children.

A cash crunch at the Patronato caused it to terminate programs for children late last year. The most publicized was the Salvation Army’s centers for children which the military-like religious group had to close.

Flight crews now
should fight back

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Aviation Administration has issued new guidelines for training flight crews in dealing with potential threats, especially hijackings.

Now flight crews are supposed to resist hijackers instead of remaining passive, the agency said.

While the actual training guidelines cannot be made public because of national security concerns, government officials said that they advise crews to treat any passenger disturbance as suspicious, act as a team in a threatening situation and land the airplane as soon as possible when faced with a hijack attempt.

The Transportation Security Administration issued separate plans for the training of airport security screeners.

The Aviation Security Act passed by Congress in November mandates a minimum of 50 hours of classroom training, 60 hours of on-the-job training, and an examination for screeners. They must be U.S. citizens, be able to communicate clearly in English and have a high school education or equivalent work experience.

Key elements of "premium-quality, intense and measurable" training include screening of people, baggage and cargo; stress management and conflict resolution; and professional interactions with passengers, said officials.

The government has also announced that it is seeking help from the private sector in recruiting, assessing and training airport screeners and law enforcement officers.

Under the law, more than 30,000 screeners must be deployed at the 429 U.S. airports by Nov. 19.

Menem accounts
hold $10 million

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — A top Swiss prosecutor says two frozen Swiss bank accounts linked to former Argentine President Carlos Menem contain about $10 million. 

Last October, a Geneva judge said he had blocked two bank accounts including one held by Menem's ex-wife, Zulema and daughter, but declined to reveal the sums. 

The chief prosecutor of Geneva Canton, Bernard Bertossa, says the accounts had been frozen in a probe into Argentine allegations that Menem led a group selling illegal arms to Croatia and Ecuador. The Swiss criminal probe was requested by Argentine authorities. 

Bertossa says the funds in Switzerland may not be the bulk of the money which may have been diverted. He says Switzerland may seek assistance from other countries to find out where any transferred money went. 

Menem, who ruled Argentina from 1989 to1999, was placed under house arrest in June but was released in November after Argentina's Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors failed to prove he led the conspiracy. 

Menem has said he plans to run again for the presidency in 2003. He has been a critic of President Eduardo Duhalde, who came to power this month amid Argentina's economic collapse. 

Prime minister
quits in Haiti 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti — Bowing to mounting criticism, Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Marie Cherestal, has formally resigned after less than a year in office. 

Cherestal had already notified President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of his resignation in a letter last week. President Aristide publicly accepted Cherestal's decision to step down Monday. 

Opposition politicians say Cherestal is being made the scapegoat for the governing party's alleged incompetence. But there have also been allegations that Cherestal has enriched himself at the government's expense.

Reuters news agency reports Cherestal purchased a $2 million home, although he claimed it was not for himself but to be used as the official prime minister's residence.

Cherestal was selected prime minister by Aristide shortly after he took office for a second term a year ago. But the economy has continued to deteriorate, and political leaders have failed to resolve a dispute over legislative elections 21 months ago that has held up international aid.

Accord with rebels
avoided total war

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

BOGOTA, Colombia — In Colombia, representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have signed an agreement with the government of President Andres Pastrana that sets a timetable for peace negotiations. The last-minute accord prevented what many feared would be an escalation of the 38-year civil conflict. 

Less than four hours before the deadline for an agreement set by President Pastrana was to expire, the rebels and government negotiators announced their timetable and plan for talks. 

The timetable includes a number of target dates for completing discussions of such issues as a cease-fire, kidnappings and other action that harm civilians, and the dismantling of anti-rebel paramilitary groups. The timetable sets April 7 as the deadline for reaching an accord on these issues. 

Speaking to the nation shortly after the agreement was announced, President Pastrana extended the 42,000 square-kilometer safe zone for the rebels until April 10, three days after the cease-fire accord is to be signed. Pastrana told Colombians that he would like to have seen an immediate cease-fire and an end to attacks on civilians, but that he understands that reaching such agreements is a complicated matter that will take time. 

He said that today, Colombians have something they have never had before, and something that will give them more confidence in the peace process — specific dates for reaching accords and guarantees. The Colombian president said what has been accomplished in these talks is an important step toward ending the violence that has plagued his nation. 

Pastrana also hailed the role of the international community in helping the two sides come to agreement, and he noted that the agreement reached Sunday provides for continuing international monitoring of the process. 

The talks, which were held in the rebel safe zone in southern Colombia, came about as a result of efforts made by United Nations envoy James LeMoyne and ambassadors from ten nations supporting the peace process. 

The FARC had broken off negotiations with the government in October, protesting government security measures around the zone and military flights over the territory. On Jan. 12, President Pastrana had given the FARC 48 hours to come up with a new proposal for talks, or, he said, he would abolish the safe zone he had granted them three years earlier as a condition for talks. 

Colombian army units took up positions around the zone and many people here feared a major escalation of the war was imminent. That crisis was averted on Monday when the FARC agreed to immediate talks, and dropped the complaint about government security measures. The resulting agreement on a timetable for talks represents the most significant advance toward peace in Colombia in nearly four decades of war.

Indians kill 
settlers in Peru

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — Dozens of people have been reported killed in Peru's northern Amazon region in a land dispute between settlers and indigenous Aguaruna people. 

Local news media reports say the violence erupted early Thursday when hundreds of Aguarunas raided a settlement in the remote area of Flor de Frontera, near the border with Ecuador. 

Reports from the area say the Aguarunas apparently were trying to expel peasant farmers who had begun settling in the area more than 10 years ago.  Last week, a Peruvian court ruled in favor of the Aguarunas in the land dispute. 

Teachers march
in city Friday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Friday would not be a good day to take Avenida 2 through downtown San José. The teachers, upset by a 200-day school year among other topics, plan a march from the La Merced Park to an undetermined point further east. The march is scheduled for 9 a.m.

School resumes Feb. 7, and the teachers want to make their point before the beginning of the class year.

Capital rattled

An earthquake was felt all over San José about 10:34 p.m. Monday. The tremor was of short duration.


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