San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Commerce, Tourism Suffer

THE roadblocks that paralyzed the country for twodays this week affected almost every area of commerceand tourism, causing million-dollar losses throughoutCosta Rica and Nicaragua.Crates of fresh fish rotted, cut flowers wilted andshipments of bananas and pineapples were in danger ofgoing bad while waiting for protesting truck drivers tolift their blockade of the country’s main highways, seaports and border crossings.The blockade cost Costa Rican exporters an estimated$33.4 million in losses, according to theChamber of Exporters (CADEXCO).Nicaraguan exporters who depend on Costa Rica’sports to ship their products also reported losses estimatedin millions before shipping resumed Wednesdaymorning after police cleared most of the roads.ON Monday and Tuesday, semi-trucks blockadedthe Caribbean ports of Moín and Limón and the CentralPacific port of Caldera, as well as Costa Rica’s mainborder crossings with Nicaragua and Panama.Hundreds of trucks carrying export goods to beshipped from the country’s ports were parked along thecountry’s roads, unable to deliver their cargo.Monday and Tuesday, 400,000 crates of exportpineapples valued at $2.1 million could not be shipped as planned, according to Abel Chávez, presidentof the Chamber of Pineapple producers.On Tuesday, exporters expressed concernabout their losses and potential lossesand said they hoped foreign cargo shipsin charge of picking up their productswould extend their stay in the country toaccommodate for the delays.Exporters asked representatives of theAtlantic Port Authority (JAPDEVA) to tryto convince the captains of the cargo shipsto wait until the blockades were lifted,Chavés said. Some of the ships stayed.“WE’VE been asking the truck driversto understand our situation,” Chávezsaid Wednesday morning. “We understandtheir position. However, they needto understand that actions like the onesthey have taken put at risk what theydepend on to make a living.”According to Diana Guzmán, presidentof the Chamber of Banana Growers,120 containers, each with 1,000 crates ofbananas, were left stranded on the SanJosé-Limón highway after the Caribbeanports were blocked. Of these containers,at least 15 had to be thrown out. The restwere shipped Wednesday morning shortlyafter the police cleared the roads.Banana exporters lost between $3-4million because of the blockade, sheadded.EXPORTERS of melons, tubers, cutflowers and ornamental plants in theNorthern Zone also reported heavy losses.Early in the week, as many as 25,000kilos of fresh tilapia and other fish wentto waste, according to Costa Rica-basedinternational logistics firm Cormar.“The situation is seriously hurting ourclients,” explained Eduardo Di Palma,vice-president for the southern region ofCormar, on Tuesday.“The truck drivers know the country’sroads well. Costa Ricans have the right toorganize protests. However, this isn’t avalid form of protest since it infringes onthe rights of Costa Ricans and causesgreat harm to the economy,” he said.THE country’s free zone businessparks were also affected. Companies wereunable to send crucial export shipmentsand had to cancel plans to send merchandiseby land to other Central Americancountries.Some factories were unable to operateat full force because their employees wereunable to get to work because of theclosed roads.On Monday and Tuesday, 5-10% ofCosta Rican workers were unable to get totheir workplaces, according to the Unionof Private Sector Chambers andAssociations (UCCAEP).“The situation is having effects on aninternational level,” said Timothy Scott,executive director of the Costa RicanAssociation of Free-Zone Businesses(AZOFRAS), on Wednesday.“Companies are starting to lose theirtrust in the country. This is a negativepoint in efforts to attract foreign investment,”he said. “We’re very worried andhope the situation will be resolved peacefullythrough dialogue.”The effects of the protests rippledthroughout the economy. Supply shortagescaused many industries and textilefactories to temporarily close their doors.Several stores had shortages and reporteddrops in sales, according to UCCAEP.UCCAEP and several business andexporters chambers on Wednesdayapplauded the government’s tough stanceagainst the truckers.SOME Nicaraguan exports also werestopped dead in their tracks.Nicaragua does not have any accessibleport on the Caribbean, so all cargomust be trucked north to Honduras orsouth to Costa Rica’s Caribbean ports forexport to Europe and the eastern coast ofthe United States.“The losses are big, probably in themillions,” said Elio Sevillas, spokesmanfor Nicaragua’s Ministry of Transport andInfrastructure. Sevillas told The TicoTimes he could not offer an early estimateof loses, but noted that an average of 500-1,000 heavy cargo trucks cross the PeñasBlancas border crossing between CostaRica and Nicaragua each day.“This has been terrible for us,” saidEstela Rodríguez, operations coordinatorfor the Managua-based trucking companyTransportes Unionistas CentroamericanosS.A. (TUCSA).“We have a truck full of oats that hasbeen stuck at Peñas Blancas sinceMonday, and the client in Costa Ricakeeps calling to find out what happened tohis shipment,” she said on Tuesday.Other TUCSA trucks were stuck onthe Costa Rican side. Rodriguez estimatedTUCSA will lose anywhere from $300-500 per truck, including expenses foradditional meals for drivers stuck on theroad.TOURISM also was affected.The National Chamber of Tourism(CANATUR) criticized the protestingtruckers, saying their actions harmed thecountry’s production, its internationalimage and citizens that in one way oranother were affected.Efraín Roldán, acting president ofCANATUR, said the truckers’ strike tarnishedthe reputation the country hasworked so hard to develop among tourists.Many foreign tourists were unable toget to the airport to return to their countriesMonday and Tuesday and some wereforced to walk for long stretches carryingtheir luggage, he said.Jeff Ruzicka, manager of TamarindoVistas Villas in Playa Tamarindo, in thenorthwestern province of Guanacaste, said,“Clients that had checked out and couldn’tget to San Jose are upset.”“I had two sets of guests come backlast night. I had a guy last night in San Joséthat we were supposed to transport toArenal and he’s still in San José,” he saidWednesday.Despite the blockades, flights at thecountry’s main international airports continuedas usual this week, according to theCivil Aviation Authority.Yesterday, schools, government agenciesand businesses were inconveniencedby continued protests and work stoppagesby employees of the Costa RicanElectricity Institute (ICE), about 5,000public hospital workers and some teachers.(Tico Times Nicaragua correspondentTim Rogers and Tamarindo communitycorrespondent Ellen Zoe Golden contributedto this article.)

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