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These stories were published Thursday, May 30, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 106
Jo Stuart
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Tour firms wrestle with the duality of market
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Leading firms in the tourism industry are doing business this week face to face and with personal contact.

But more and more, the firms are relying on the Internet to get them business outside the country.

The companies are caught between the realities of Costa Rica and the technological-savvy First World. With the reaction to terrorist attacks in the United States, the national market has gained greater visibility and importance, not something to be overlooked.

Time after time at EXPOTUR XVIII operators of tourism destinations would volunteer that the national market, Ticos, saved their business after the Sept. 11 attacks. To continue to reach this national market is the trick.

To do that, many of the EXPOTUR exhibitors are sticking around for Saturday and Sunday where a public Feria Nacional de Turismo will be held at the same location, the Herradura Conference Center west of San José.

While many Ticos do not have computers in their homes and are suspicious of making purchases via the Internet, the international network is working its magic. Some hotel operators said they were getting up to 50 percent of their business booked directly through their Internet Web pages. That’s good business because a direct sale eliminates a commission to travel agencies.

Yet most exhibitors seemed pleased with the type of contact possible at a two-day private exhibition where the main purpose is to meet people who will buy your services. Statistics from EXPOTUR’s sponsor, the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo, shows that about 240 companies in tourism-related businesses are trying to reach about 190 registered buyers representing some 142 firms. 

A year ago, some 205 buyers were at EXPOTUR representing 162 firms, employees of the association said.

Most of the exhibiting firms, some 214, are 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
David Gorn, webmaster for Costa Rica Magazine, has two computers working hard at EXPOTUR.
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Did you know you could rent a Harley-Davidson to tour the country? Mónica Peraza, manager of Apartotel María Alexandra in Escazú, shows off her sister company’s EXPOTUR exhibit.

based in Costa Rica, and 62 percent of the buyers are from the United States.

For many, the Internet is a double-edged sword. Airlines are marketing their flights more and more through the Internet. In the United States most major airlines have eliminated the commissions they pay travel agents, forcing the travel agents to ad a service fee paid by the buyer. That, in turn, sent more travelers back to the Internet to buy tickets.

In 2000, airlines here in Costa Rica followed suit by decreasing travel agency commissions to 6 per cent, down from 11 percent in 1999. This reduction was not as strong of a blow to the industry as in the United States. Since most Costa Ricans do not have Internet access. Many travel agents expect that their commissions on airline tickets will be cut even further.

The Internet also is democratic. A small hotel near Arenal Volcano can have a Web presence as dramatic as one of the big hotel chains.

The duality of the tourism market became clear with the launch Wednesday of the Guía de Turismo Rural Comunitario. The 174-page guide was backed heavily by the U.N. Program for Sustainable Human Development and the program’s small grants project. The publishers chose to put the guide on paper for distribution to the national market. The 4 million colon ($11,260) project resulted in 2,000 bilingual Spanish-English guides.

The idea is to showcase 51 tourism enterprises with a social and community connection. The publisher is the Consorcio Cooperative Red Ecoturística Nacional. The goal is to bring more tourists to smaller, community-based programs.

The publishing option was to put the whole book on Web pages for significantly less cost. That would have been great for the international markets. But sponsors wanted to reach Ticos.

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Central America has crisis after crisis, USAID says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Central American coffee crisis is only one of the plagues hitting the region.

The dramatic decline in other international commodity prices such as bananas, palm oil, and citrus plus the recent drought also are leading to reduced employment, food insecurity in poor households, increased incidence of acute malnutrition in some countries, abandonment of farms, and increased migration out of rural areas, including illegal immigration into the United States.

That’s the view of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which says it has poured $200 million into the region in 2001.  Little of the money went to Costa Rica which is well off when compared to its neighbors.

The agency said that rainfall in 2001 was erratic and unevenly distributed throughout the region. Drought conditions through the first planting cycle (May to August 2001) resulted in losses in the corn and bean crops in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and led to transitory food insecurity. The second harvest (February to March) was spotty, with wide variations in production. This aggravated an already difficult situation, since over 52 percent of the population — over 14 million people — are poor and chronically food insecure. 

The glut in the world coffee market has depressed prices dramatically, USAID noted. Coffee prices have declined by 75 percent in the last 18 months due largely to the oversupply created by new production from Southeast Asia, the agency said, adding:

The loss in income for Central American farmers is on the order of $1.5 billion this year alone. Falling prices at the farm (currently less than one-half of normal prices) mean that many farmers, including small-scale producers, cannot earn enough to even cover their production costs. 

Called the "Coffee Hurricane," some estimate that it could take up to five years for prices to recover to previous levels. Many hundreds of thousands of seasonal jobs, and hundreds of thousands of permanent coffee farm jobs, are being lost. As a result, an increasing number of families dependent on the coffee sub-sector will face hunger in coming years. In addition the area faces problems caused by natural disasters, including earthquakes, and economic instability, the agency said.

Costa Rica seems untroubled when compared to a country like El Salvador. The Salvadoran coffee industry is in crisis mode. Last year's crop (2000/2001) was the second lowest in 30 years, constituting a 37 percent reduction from the year before, and the downward trend is expected to continue for this year's harvest (2001/2002). 

The country's coffee board, estimates an 8 percent reduction in this year's crop from last year. Export revenues from this year's harvest are now anticipated at $95 million, 28 percent lower than last year and 73 percent less than the average of the five years preceding the 2000/2001 harvest. 

In total, about 63,000 permanent jobs have been lost. This year's harvest generated 92,000 jobs in contrast to 155,000 in a normal year. This translates to losses in rural incomes of about $55.3 million. 

Carmona in Colombia
with political asylum

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A Venezuelan businessman, who briefly held power following the temporary ouster of President Hugo Chavez in April, is now in Colombia after being granted political asylum. 

Businessman Pedro Carmona arrived in Bogota Wednesday on board a Colombian air force plane that brought him from Caracas. He made no statements at the airport, and was taken away to an undisclosed location by Colombian officials.

The 60-year-old businessman faced rebellion charges in Venezuela for serving as president of a civilian-military regime that briefly held power following the overthrow of President Chavez in April. The regime collapsed after barely 24 hours, when the populist Venezuelan leader was swept back into office following civilian and military protests. Dozens of people were killed during the rioting.

Carmona, who led two successful general strikes against the government, has denied conspiring to overthrow President Chavez. He has said he only accepted the presidency after rebel generals told him the Venezuelan leader had resigned. 

Carmona was under house arrest pending trial when he slipped away last Thursday to take refuge in the Colombian ambassador's residence. Colombia, which has had cool relations with the Chavez government, granted him political asylum over the weekend, and on Monday Chavez agreed to let him leave.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana expressed hope the decision will not affect ties between the two countries. Relations have been strained over allegations that Chavez supports Colombia's leftist rebels — charges the Venezuelan leader denies.

Carmona is expected to stay in Colombia only temporarily. Diplomatic sources say he is planning to move to a third country, perhaps Mexico. 

There is a long tradition in Latin America of granting political asylum to ousted leaders or persecuted politicians. Brazil granted asylum to Paraguay's long-time dictator, Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, in 1989. In 1992, Colombia gave safe haven to Peru's ex-President Alan Garcia who was being prosecuted on corruption charges by then-President Alberto Fujimori.

Police fail to retake
prisoners’ riot site

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

QUITO, Ecuador — Authorities said Tuesday that police had failed to regain control of a prison, where inmates and family members have been protesting a change in sentencing law. 

Police used tear gas in an attempt to quell the protest at the prison near here where some 600 prisoners are incarcerated. But prisoners threw rocks at the security forces, who eventually pulled back. 

The prisoners and about 200 family members and friends began the demonstration on Sunday during visiting hours. 

They are upset about a new law that significantly tightens standards for reducing a prisoner's sentence. The law may result in many inmates serving more jail time than they had expected.

Kennedy’s PT boat
found in Solomons

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The undersea explorer who found the sunken luxury liner, "Titanic," says he has located the wreck of the PT boat commanded by the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy during World War II.

Robert Ballard told the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp., Wednesday, that he found the boat, PT-109, about 400 kilometers northwest of the island capital, Honiara. Ballard said the wreckage of the 24-meter wooden boat is lying on the seabed, and that his crew found it after only a week of searching.

The explorer is working with the U.S. National Geographic Society. He said details of the find will be provided in an upcoming television documentary and magazine article. They are to coincide with next year's 60th anniversary of the sinking of PT-109, on Aug. 2, 1943.

More than 15 years before his campaign for the White House, President Kennedy was a Navy lieutenant, assigned to the command of PT-109 — a patrol torpedo boat on duty near the Solomon Islands. The small boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and sank.

Two men died, but Lt. Kennedy was hailed as a hero for saving other crew members. 

Traveler arrested at airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Italian citizen, Roberto Caruso, 25, had 1.287 kilos (nearly three pounds) of cocaine in his underwear when he was arrested Wednesday as he was about to leave Costa Rica for a flight to Madrid, Spain, and then Milan, Italy, according to drug control police. He had been in the country since May 16, they said.

Gold mining company
praises new law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vannessa Ventures, the company that wants to develop an open pit gold mine near the San Juan River in northern Costa Rica, is praising an action by the national assembly.

The firm said that a new mining code passed on second and final reading redirects the 2 percent royalty on all mining projects to the local development associations around the mines. Vannessa said this as a progressive piece of legislation that positions the benefits to those most affected by mining projects.

Vannessa's subsidiary, Industrias Infinito, S.A., is conducting what the firm calls public awareness programs on how the company's mining proposal will affect the nearby communities and as to the contents of the company's Environmental Impact Study. 

The first public program for the Coopevega community was held at the Crucitas Camp and was attended by a number of residents who showed interest and enthusiasm for the process, according to the firm. Additional presentations are scheduled over the next two weeks for rural communities of Moravia, Chamorro, Llano Verde, Crucitas and Jocote and in the Municipality of San Carlos, said the company.

"The current increase in the gold price to the US $325 range had a very positive two-fold effect with respect to the company's gold resource at Crucitas," the company said.  The projected net profit potential increased by 35 percent over a previous study.

And the estimated 1.943 million ounces of gold has now become economically viable according to a 1999 feasibility study, said the company.

The announcement by Manfred Peschke, president of Vannessa, made no mention of the strong opposition to the project by environmentalists here 
and also in the relevant ministries where Vannessa open pit leaching project is seen as a disaster in the making.

FBI priority focuses
on preventing attacks

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D. C. — The No. 1 priority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has been to prevent additional terrorist attacks against the United States, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday as he announced major new proposals to reorganize the bureau to accomplish this goal.

Speaking at a news conference at FBI headquarters, Mueller said "the events of Sept. 11 marked a turning point for the FBI."

Afterwards, he said, "it became clearer than ever that we had to fundamentally change the way we do our business," if attacks are to be prevented.

The proposals, some of which are subject to approval by Congress, include the creation of a new anti-terrorism division at FBI headquarters and the shifting of about 500 FBI agents from drug and white-collar crime investigations to counter-terrorism efforts.

In addition, the FBI wants to hire 900 new agents by September, many of them slated for anti-terrorism work.

The FBI needs "to develop the capability to anticipate attacks," Mueller said. "We have to develop the capability of looking around corners. And that is the change. That is the shift in focus particularly at headquarters."

"We have to do a better job of collaborating with others," said Mueller. "And as critically important, we have to do a better job managing, analyzing and sharing information. In essence, we need a different approach that puts prevention above all else."

To do this, Mueller said the FBI will increase its sharing of information with the Central Intelligence Agency and revamp its computer system.

Mueller, who was sworn in as FBI Director a week before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, began the reorganization in December, calling then for a massive overhaul of priorities and missions.

However, Mueller made clear that even with the proposed reorganization of the bureau to concentrate on terrorism, it will not neglect its other tasks.

The second FBI priority, after terrorist attack prevention, he said, is to protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage.

Other FBI priorities outlined by Mueller: protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes; combat public corruption at all levels; protect civil rights; combat transnational and national criminal organizations and enterprises; combat major white-collar crime; combat significant violent crime; support federal, state, local and international partners; and, upgrade technology to successfully perform the FBI's mission.

Attorney General John Ashcroft preceded Mueller at the news conference and praised him for his leadership, his integrity and his "passion for reform." 

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