Beach Towns Tackle Safety Issues
SANTA CRUZ, Guanacaste – Frustrated by thegovernment’s apparent inability to provide safe roadsand communities, businesses in beach towns fromFlamingo to Tamarindo, in the northwestern provinceof Guanacaste, are taking matters into their ownhands.With the high season for tourism under way, businesseshave been scrambling to raise $65,000 to repairarea roads, which in places consist of more potholesthan pavement.Hotels, tour operators and community groupshave so far raised 75% of the needed funds, and roadworkbegan last week.Giancarlo Pucci, executive director of theGuanacaste Chamber of Tourism, said Tuesday he isconfident they will be able to raise all of the necessaryfunds and the repairs will be complete in earlyJanuary.“THE high season is here, and the (tourism) sectorgot so worried, we couldn’t wait any longer. The roads are so bad we had to put up themoney. We are not happy about it, but wewould have had to wait at least six monthsfor the government,” the community leadersaid.Unofficial “pirate” taxi drivers havealso taken the matter into their own hands.In a desperate effort to protect their cars, agroup of five drivers can be found everymorning along the area’s damaged roadswith shovels and a wheelbarrow filling inpotholes.“It is really dangerous out here. Westarted because a fellow taxi driver died inan accident caused by these holes,” JulioLópez said.Drivers passing by the men slow tohand them coins and bills – small donationsto help their effort, which started fourmonths ago. An area restaurant provideslunch every day and another business contributescement to the cause.“What are they waiting for? Someoneelse to die?” López asks of governmentofficials responsible for repairing roads.RESIDENTS in Tamarindo are alsotaking action against what has become anever-ending battle with crime.The Community ImprovementAssociation, a group of citizens and businessowners in Tamarindo and surroundingbeaches, has hired a private security force tobegin patrolling the area next week.Businesses have committed funds tomaintain the five-officer force for one year,according to association president GrietDepypere.The goal of the private force is toreduce area thefts and burglaries – fromhomes to cars to backpacks off the beach,Depypere said.In addition, privately funded lifeguardsbegan servicing Tamarindo last week.TAMARINDO residents haveexpressed frustration with the Municipalityof Santa Cruz – which has jurisdiction in thearea – saying officials have been unable toadequately address infrastructure needs inthe rapidly growing resort community.Government police in the area say theyare limited in their resources, although theforce has more than tripled this year – fromtwo officers to seven (TT, Aug. 6).The reinforced forces have caused adecrease in robberies and car burglaries,according to officer Oscar Rodríguez. Hesaid drug dealing and usage appears tohave increased, however.“The territory we work is very large.But we do the best we can with the fewresources we have,” he said.RESIDENT Bruce McKillican, fromthe United States, told The Tico Times hewas recently offered drugs on a Sundaymorning while walking through town withhis 5- and 8-year-old children. The dealerwas relentless in his pitch and whenMcKillican threatened to contact thepolice, the dealer said he wasn’t worried,because his boss “takes care of the police,”McKillican said.Rodríguez denied any amiable relationshipwith drug dealers. The problem issimpler than that, he said.“The problem is the laws – they arenot strong enough. We bring somebodyin, a dealer, and we call the prosecutor,and he says ‘Take the drugs, fill out aform and let him go.’ It’s the same withthieves,” Rodríguez said. “They knowhow the system works, so they just go outand do it again.”LONGTIME resident Luke Levitt isone of many in the area disgusted by thissystem. The U.S. citizen, who has lived inTamarindo for 10 years, said he recentlyfound a man robbing his home at midday,locked the man in the house and calledpolice. A friend who may have beenrobbed by the same man went to the stationshortly after to identify the suspect, but hehad already been released, Levitt said.“Next time I’m just going to beat himup. The law is worthless here,” he said.Officer Rodríguez said he isn’t convinceda private security force patrollingthe area would help. In addition to lack ofstrong laws, the community’s reputation isworking against it, he said.“I’m afraid Tamarindo is forming a certainkind of drug tourism. People are startingto see it as a drug paradise,” he said.Taxi driver Feliciano Cedeño concurred.“They are getting local kids addictedtoo. And it gets worse every day,”Cedeño said.SANTA Cruz Mayor Pastor Gómezsaid he recognizes the frustration of communitieslacking infrastructure, particularlyin beach areas quickly growing withtourism.However, the mayor is optimistic helpis on the way, as the municipality’s budgetfor 2005 is nearly double that of 2004.The Municipality of Santa Cruz hasgrown from one of the least populated inCosta Rica to one of the most populated,he said.The municipality’s resources did allowit to help repair some of the area’s roads,many of which have been declared dangerousby residents.However, a deal municipal officialshad struck with area businesses and theNational Roadway Council (CONAVI) tofix main highways was declared illegalearlier this month by the ComptrollerGeneral, leaving businesses scrambling foradditional funds.UNDER the deal, the municipalitywould have provided trucks and machineryfor road repairs, the roadway councilwould have provide some materials suchas asphalt, and private businesses wouldhave provided funds for gasoline and labor.However, the comptroller ruled themunicipality is not allowed to get involvedin national roadways, Gómez said.“I am very hurt and disappointed byour system,” Gómez said. “We are talkingabout tourism. We are talking about a hugegenerator of funds, but the (central government)is not doing anything to improvenational roads.”Meanwhile, the Guanacaste Chamberof Tourism will continue to seek privatefunds to finish repairing the roads. If theyare not successful in acquiring the funds,some roads will be repaired with lowerstandards, Pucci said.
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