Tourism and poverty overlook the ocean in Costa Rica:

At the end of a street lined with luxury hotels, a dozen zinc and wooden houses go unnoticed by tourists in the seaside resort of Jaco, Costa Rica. Both sides are bathed by the same sea, but not by the same luck. For three months, Americans, Canadians and Europeans have been filling the streets of this Pacific city, two years after a pandemic that hit tourism, the economic engine of this Central American country.

“On social media, everywhere I heard that a lot of people are coming here now. I was in the United States before and a lot of people are coming from there to Mexico and then to Costa Rica and that’s why I wanted to explore,” says German tourist Jessica Friesen, 27, before setting sail.

Jacó has surf-optimal waves and Instagram-perfect orange sunsets. Some visitors prefer to ride on sand. A mountain range inhabited by monkeys and macaws surrounds the city, while the crocodiles of the Tárcoles River travel comfortably.

Although it is one of the cities with the highest human development index in Costa Rica, prosperity does not reach everyone in this country where 23% of its 5 million inhabitants are poor. A dilemma that will have to be resolved by whoever will be elected president in the April 3 election.

Bringing Costa Rica’s Graveyard to Life

Eliecer Morales is 82 years old and one of the first inhabitants of Jacó, a town created in 1965. He participated in the construction and growth of the resort, including the luxury beach hotels that are its neighbors. “Jacó was about four small houses. And now to see him as he is, it’s nice. But life becomes more difficult. For those who are poor like me, who live in the shadows, with my small pension and the fishing I do,” he says.

After being the victim of an accident and losing his job, he could no longer afford to pay rent. 22 years ago he asked permission from the municipality and settled on the land of the old cemetery of Jacó, in a marshy area surrounded by mangroves, and built his house with zinc sheets, among crosses and tombstones.

“You have to be more afraid of the living than of the dead,” he says. One of his children, who died at the age of 3, was already buried there. The constant flooding of the Quebrada Bonita River, which flows into the Pacific, almost at the doorstep of his house, has washed away several graves. Eliecer planted banana trees and avocado trees. His wife, six of his eight children and his grandchildren are settled there. There are 35 people.

He survives from fishing, selling part of his catch to tourists, and a pension equivalent to 200 dollars. He’s used to his routine and doesn’t want to leave the place, which has electricity. His children have different jobs around town and this, he says, gives him peace of mind.

But he hopes a new government will improve housing for the people, including his own. “This [president] the one who leaves has done nothing (…) The one who comes, may he help the poor more, a small house, what we need the most”, she says.

Housing in Costa Rica

Jacó is located in the canton of Garabito, whose mayor is Tobías Murillo. He’s managed to keep the beaches open to local tourism despite the pandemic, so his city’s economy doesn’t collapse. He says the economic problems are not due to the lack of work, but because Jacó has become an expensive resort.

“There are people who work in banks, state entities, large hotels. The problem is that Jacó is expensive” and their money is not enough for the rent, says Murillo. The mayor believes that the new government should eliminate bureaucratic obstacles for social housing.

Costa Rica and stability

Jeniffer Hascall is American and owner for seven years, with her husband, of Croc’s Hotel and Casino, the most luxurious of Jacó. The pandemic forced it to reduce its workforce from 280 to 105 workers. Their supplies, from fruits to fish, they try to buy from local suppliers. They hope that everything will soon “return to normal” and that there will be more investment.

“Costa Rica is one of the most stable countries in Central America. I think foreign investors are comfortable putting their money here,” says Hascall. Eliecer says the hotels next to his house “are good neighbors” and that the more tourism, the better for the city.

Instead, he hopes it will be the new government that cares about the poor. “I wish there was a good president who helps everyone. Costa Rica needs help,” he says.

by Moises AVILA

About Matthew Berkey

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