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This stories first were published Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001
Surprising optimism found among savvy tourist operators
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The much-predicted tourism disaster facing Costa Rica seems to be steeped in faulty logic and faulty statistics.

The pessimists are predicting the tourist decline based on numbers relating to the period in September when airplanes simply could not fly due to the effects of terrorism.

A check of strategic tourism locations Wednesday showed surprising optimism and also an inability to separate the normal low-season slump from any effects caused by terrorists or war.


Analysis on the news


Meanwhile, numbers are being thrown around indiscriminately. A wire story in the Mexico City Daily News Friday used faulty math to say that "Central America's tourism industry stands to lose some $200 million due to the international crisis caused by last month's terrorist attacks on the United States. . . ."

The wire story also quoted the Costa Rican tourism minister, Walter Niehaus, who said the industry expects to lose nearly 18 percent of its $1.125 billion revenues this year in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. That's more than $202 million right there, not counting any losses in the other Central American countries.  This shows the flexibility of the numbers being thrown around.

La Nación, the major Spanish-language daily followed up with a Sunday story interviewing recently unemployed workers in tourism-related jobs. The newspaper predicted 18,000 layoffs.

But some unemployment is normal at this time of year, some industry observers say, noting that many hotels actually close down at the end of September and early October for rest and for enforced staff vacations.

One such person is Patty Yaniz of the Guilded Iguana in Playa Guiones near Nosara. She just returned from a two-week vacation, but before she left she did an e-mail survey of her clientel. 

"Most people are going to return," she said, noting that she had suffered a few cancellations at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, but that the cancellations did not appear to be related to terrorism but to personal situations.

On another optimistic note, she reported that the local liquor salesman says his orders are up.

Some other observations from a survey of those in the tourism industry:

QUALITY COUNTS: Long-time businesses with quality locations and services will continue to win 

repeat business and referrals. Johnny-come-lately without adequate marketing plans or name recognition will absorb more than their share of any downturn.

NO ONE CAN PREDICT FUTURE: The actual impact of the Sept. 11 terrorism will not be known until March or April because December and January are the "crunch months" when the money is made.

COULD BE A BENEFIT: Costa Rica and its reputation suggest a safe retreat, which is what stressed U.S. and Canadian citizens are seeking. Business may go up rather than down.

OTHER FACTORS IMPORTANT, TOO: The Limón carnival is suffering from low attendance, but the city faced a garbage strike and financial problems for weeks before the event, and there were fears the event would not take place. 

LINKAGES ARE IMPORTANT: Several owners of top San José hotels are working morning and evening during the last few weeks to pay courtesy calls on airline management and tourist agencies to make sure employees there have up-to-date rates and contact information.

ADVERTISING IS KEY: When downturns come, advertising budgets usually get chopped because the results of advertising are not immediate. But as one hotel owner said: "That's the food on the table in six months."

Costa Rica has launched a tourism campaign through the Tourism Institute and will spend $1.5 million (500 million colons). The problem might be placing the advertising in time for the expenditure to have any effect in the tourism high season. 

Panama, Guatemala and other Central American nations also plan advertising blitzes.

DOWNTURN AS EXCUSE: All that is attributed to economic reverses may not be true. Now is a good time for companies to clean house and use the economy as an excuse. When Continental Airlines terminated a New York-Costa Rica flight, the airline quickly said the reason was traditional low-season bookings and not terrorism. Other companies might not be so candid.

DOWNTURN AS WEAPON: It would not be unknown to see the predicted economic condition used as a weapon in the current presidential campaign that ends Feb. 3. Banana workers and coffee prices already have figured in the campaign. 

DOWNTURN AS CRUTCH: U.S. airlines quickly sought a $1.5 billion bailout from the U.S. federal government, and used the terrorist attack as an excuse for a situation that had its roots elsewhere. It would not be a surprise for institutions here in Costa Rica to do likewise. The government already has empanelled a special commission.


 
Immigrant crackdown probably triggered by criminal activity
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A crackdown at Playas del Coco on the Pacific coast may have been engendered by the drug-dealing, murders and other criminal activity in the area.

A check of other Costa Rican tourist areas Wednesday determined that only the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula and nearby Tamarindo experienced similar immigration sweeps that targets foreigners from Europe, the United States and Canada.

Residents from Dominical to Nosara said they have seen no indication of immigration activity in their towns.

Laura Hahn lives near Coco and is the Guanacaste representative of the association of Residents of Costa Rica. She said that the sweep of foreigners is similar to one that took place two years ago. And she agreed that police officials might have wanted to get rid of undesirable foreign perpetual tourists, those who overstay or periodically renew visas.

The litany of criminal activity in Coco is a long one. However, the beach town of Jacó actually has had more arrests, mostly for cocaine sales. But the crime situation prompted Coco business owners to join together and meet with officials, although they reported little results.

Then from about Oct. 2 the local immigration official led a group of policemen and other agents to systematically check out foreigner in the town 

Because now is the low season, there were fewer tourists in town to be troubled by the immigration sweep, and foreigners who might be illegal were obvious.

One U.S. citizen, who had valid tourist visa, complained that he had been in Coco on vacation only a half hour when he was hailed into the immigration office where he languished for two  hours.

In the last few months there have been murders and at least a dozen drug-related arrests, mostly of foreigners. Some of the drug suspects are young tourist types, although police just arrested three Belgian citizens to be held for extradition to that country. European police claim they were buying tourist businesses with drug proceeds, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

One of the murder victims was the young wife of one of the three men. She was found early last week beaten to death in Coco. Her death came after the immigration sweep.

Mrs. Hahn said that in her capacity with the association she has been helping some illegal foreigners obtain the paperwork they need. Contrary to the description of some witnesses, she said that immigration agents were generally helpful and are giving some technically illegal residents more time to obtain the correct papers. She also said that immigration expedites work permits for foreigners who have special skills needed in the tourism industry, such as bilingual divers. 

Giant Boruca project
draws Indian protests

Resulting reservoir would be
more than 62,000 acres

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A typical Goliath vs. David face-off is shaping up, and the giant is the national electric monopoly.

The little guys are the people, mostly Indians, who live in the vicinity of the Boruca hydro project in the canton de Pérez Zeledón, about 120 kilometers (72 miles) southwest of San José.

The Costa Rican Electrical Institute is finishing up feasibility studies on the dam and reservoir project for a decision in April of next year. Engineers are conducting soil, seismic and design studies.

The Electric Institute has predicted that the project will be generating electricity by 2010. The reservoir will be 25,000 hectares (some 62,000 acres). 

The Indians, meanwhile, have stepped up their public relations against the project and hope they may be able to prevent the international loans Costa Rica needs to do the project. The pricetag is around $1.5 billion.

When completed, the project will generate between 1.2 and 1.5 million kilovolts, more than the whole generating capacity in Costa Rica today.

To do that, the electric institute is going to have to flood at least 10 towns, and residents are protesting, noting that for some of them their ancestors have lived on the land for upwards of 3,000 years.

One group, Asociación de Desarrollo Integral del Territorio Indígena de Rey Curré, said that the electric institute has not dealt with them in good faith. They also claim that much environmental 

An example of the efforts by the residents near the proposed hydro plant to gain support is this Internet-deliverered montage of a march Friday in Rey Curré and a youngster identified as Karol Bejarano of Yimba Cajc.


damage on their land has been caused by the 
administrative failure of public officials during the 30 years that the government has been planning the project.

They have taken to the Internet to bring their case to the public and claim that the government is violating several laws relating to Indians.

Some have accepted the inevitability of the project and are seeking a larger compensation for families that have to move.

Online casinos dodge bullet in U.S. House money-laundering bill
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a bill to disrupt money flows to terrorists after lawmakers dropped a measure that would have prevented credit card payments to Internet casinos.

The House passed the bill, 412-1, to give more authority to the treasury secretary and attorney general to thwart money laundering and the financing of terrorist groups. Now it must be reconciled with the bill passed earlier by the Senate.

The credit card-casino provision could surface again in the meeting to resolve differences between the House and Senate version of the bills.

The Senate wrapped its anti-money laundering bill in an anti-terrorism legislative package. The House separated anti-terrorism and anti-money-laundering legislation.

To become law a final money laundering bill must be passed by both the House and Senate and be signed by the president.

The House bill would prevent corrupt foreign officials from having access to the U.S. financial system and would strengthen bulk cash smuggling laws. 

The dropped provision would have prohibited the use of credit and debit cards for payment at Internet gambling sites. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has linked some such sites, many of 
 

which operate offshore, with terrorists' money laundering. Industry opponents of the provision said it would have put credit card companies in a law-enforcement position and cost them a lot of money to implement.

 The House bill would:

Prohibit foreign financial institutions from establishing or managing accounts in the United States for foreign shell banks those that do not have a physical presence in any country.

Permit enforcement authorities to seize money in an account involving a U.S. and a foreign bank if they suspect the money is linked to criminal activity.

Authorize authorities to monitor underground banking systems, or networks of brokers, that enable individuals to transfer cash from one country to recipients in another country without the funds crossing borders or the transactions recorded. 

Authorize the Treasury secretary or attorney general to subpoena the records of an account maintained in the United States by a foreign bank.

Prohibit non-U.S. persons from entering the United States if the attorney general knows or believes such persons are or have been involved in money laundering.

Increase penalties for counterfeiting domestic and foreign currency, including counterfeiting by analog, digital or electronic image. 

Bush appointee pledges
commitment to hemisphere

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Despite speculation that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington might prevent the United States from addressing important regional issues, U.S. "commitment to this hemisphere is no less today; in many ways, it is [greater]" than before, said Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs.

In his address Tuesday to the Inter-American Press Association General Assembly, Grossman told an audience of journalists, editors and media outlet owners that U.S. citizens are deeply appreciative of "the expressions of support and solidarity we have received from throughout the Americas since Sept. 11," and that although the White House must devote much of its attention to the immediate terrorist threat, President Bush will not be deflected from his efforts to advance democracy and prosperity in the hemisphere.

He said that the Organization of American States (OAS), too, will play a significant role in enhancing the region's economic and physical security. 

The rule of law and freedom of the press are indispensable tools in the arsenal of democracy, Grossman said. He predicted that establishing the rule of law in Colombia will help that country to rid itself of guerrilla warfare and illegal drug syndicates.

Freedom of the press is equally crucial, he indicated. "Over the past decade and a half, as democracy flourished in the region, robust and prosperous newspapers, powerful broadcast industries and new media technologies such as the Internet and satellite broadcasting have developed," and "that is no coincidence," Grossman said.

Freeze on drug assets
maintained by Bush

President Bush says the U.S. federal government will extend a freeze on the assets of Colombian drug traffickers because they continue to pose a threat to U.S. national security. 

In a letter to the U.S. Congress, President Bush said Wednesday narcotics traffickers in Colombia pose an "unusual and extraordinary" threat to the foreign policy and economy of the United States. 

He also says the traffickers cause "unparalleled" violence, corruption and harm in the United States and abroad. 

For those reasons, Mr. Bush says the U.S. government will continue to block traffickers' property and financial interests in the United States for 12 more months, as allowed by the National Emergencies Act. 

The emergency measures were first imposed in 1995 by then President Bill Clinton.
 

Quake hits Virgin islands

An earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale shook the Virgin Islands and was felt in Puerto Rico. The National Earthquake Information Center says the quake occurred Wednesday, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the British Virgin Islands. 

The quake is the second to hit the area in two days. Tuesday, an earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale rattled the same area. 

There were no reports of major damage or injuries in either incident. 

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