Costa Rica to honor 9/11 victims

September 8, 2011

The world was forever changed when hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania on Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001. 

International airline security is more stringent and probing. Liquids and box-cutters are carry-on taboos, baggage searches by the Transportation Security Administration are expected.

But the memories of horror and mass loss of life are what resonate most 10 years later.

The psychological repercussions have left a larger residual scar. A low-flying plane in a downtown area still causes unease, if not a mental flicker of the images of the planes striking the towers.        

“I was at a press conference on Capitol Hill that morning,” said John Liang, a former Tico Times reporter and managing editor for InsideDefense.com in Washington D.C. “From the windows of the building, we could see plumes of smoke coming up from the Pentagon. I couldn’t really grasp it at the time. It made me think that anything is possible.” 

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. While memorials and ceremonies commemorating the day are scheduled throughout the U.S., the primary event in Costa Rica will be held Sunday at the Sept. 11 Memorial Sculpture in September 11 Park, at the Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center in Sabana Norte, in northwestern San José (see story, Page 4). 

Though local memorial events are sparse,

Sept. 11, 2001 left an indelible mark on Costa Rica, particularly in the economic  sector. The U.S. is Costa Rica’s largest trading partner, foreign investor and source of tourists. When the pace of U.S. travel and commerce dropped after Sept. 11, Costa Rica felt the ripple effect. 

“The events of September 2001 impacted the amount of tourists from September to December 2001,” said Juan Carlos Borbón, general manager of the Costa Rican Tourism Board in an email. “In 2002, overall tourism dropped 1.6 percent. That may not seem like such a significant figure, but with the exception of a 0.4 decrease in 2006, never in the history of national tourism had there been a decrease in the arrival of international tourists.”

Investment and trade markets suffered as well. According to figures provided by the Foreign Trade Ministry, the $5.04 billion in export sales was the lowest total from 1998-2010. The following year wasn’t much better, as export sales only hit $5.2 billion, the second lowest total in the last 13 years. 

During 2001-2002, export sales to North America, Costa Rica’s biggest trading partner, plummeted. Revenues from U.S. export sales finished 2001 at $2.77 billion, the lowest total during the last 13 years. 

“Latin American countries and Costa Rica were affected more economically than in terms of security,” Liang said. “Almost all countries with strong ties to the U.S. economy suffered.”

On a more human level, two Costa Ricans that worked in the World Trade Center both survived the attacks. Pilar Madrigal, then director of international affairs at the Costa Rican Investment Board, was en route to her office when the first plane struck. Karla Pericon, now 34, worked on the 11th floor of One World Trade Center. She described the event for The Tico Times in 2001: “It felt like an earthquake on the 11th floor of One World Trade Center. We ran down the emergency staircase, which was filled with smoke and people coming  from all floors of the building.”

“I don’t know what I am going to do now. I have to see what happens with work because I am not sure if I still have a job,” she wrote. “I don’t want to return to Costa Rica because I am afraid to get on a plane. … I never thought this would happen.”

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