The deaths of two foreign visitors amid a growing crime wave has left Costa Rica fearing for its tourism-dependent economy.
The reputation of the most-visited Central American country took a hit earlier in the month when two female foreign visitors were killed in the span of two days and a third was reportedly raped a week later. The crimes took place near the Tortuguero National Park, where a 31-year-old woman was found dead with strangle marks around her neck, and at El Carmen beach in Santa Teresa, a popular holiday spot on the Pacific coast, where a 25-year-old woman drowned when two men attacked her and a friend.
Murders in Costa Rica have been on the rise since 2012, with a record 603 people killed in 2017. Authorities forecast an even higher number this year.
“We are very worried, the situation we are witnessing is critical,” Tourism Minister Maria Amalia Revelo said. “We’d all like more police, but we all know the government’s fiscal situation.”
Costa Rica’s fiscal deficit is forecast to reach 7.5 percent of GDP next year, the widest in at least three decades. Interest payments are eating up more of the budget every year because of the government’s reliance on short-term debt. And a tax reform aimed at boosting revenue has stalled in Congress.
Nearly 3 million tourists visited the Central American nation last year, roughly half from the U.S. and Canada, bringing $3.9 billion for the economy, the tourism chamber said. Growth in tourist visits started to slow in 2017 as the number of U.S. visitors declined for the first time since 2009.
The government said it will use $4 million from the Costa Rica Tourism Institute to increase police presence in tourist areas, conduct more “mega-operations” to catch criminals attacking travelers and launch a mobile phone application for tourists that contains crime data on areas they plan to visit.