Dry law goes into effect, sort of, at midnight

Teams of Fuerza Pública officers will be making the rounds of supermarkets, pulperías, hotels and bars this evening to enforce compliance with the nation’s Semana Santa dry law.

Meanwhile, residents all over the country will be preparing clandestine drinking spots to hold neighbors over the drought.

Police officers generally block off or cover displays of alcohol in supermarkets. Sales of wine, beer and other alcohols are prohibited until midnight Friday. Businesses that do the bulk of their business with alcohol, such as bars, will be closed completely around midnight tonight, and officers will paste seals on the doors. At hotels and restaurants, the seals will go on the beer coolers and the cabinets where wine and whiskey are kept.

If anything, the dry law promotes the sale of alcohol because residents know they have to stock up today.

The law is rooted in the Catholic faith which considers Holy Thursday and Good Friday to be days of meditation, fasting and penance.

Tourism operators have been trying for years to have the measure rescinded. Last year they thought they had been successful, but a new law on alcohol was frozen by a Sala IV decision about the distance alcohol vendors should be from schools. The law would give municipalities the right to maintain the dry law or to let it lapse.

The tourism operators note that visitors to Costa Rica generally want to drink alcohol. The Cámera Nacional de Turismo expressed its preoccupation with the court decision when it was announced. The chamber said that the new law would cutdown on the black market in liquor licenses, called patentes here.

Still, local municipalities might choose to continue the ban if the law eventually is passed giving the municipal councils that power.

Anyone who forgot to stock up and craves a drink probably does not have to go far. Illegal bars pop up all over during Semana Santa. In fact, there are many underground bars in Costa Rica, mostly in working class neighborhoods, year around. Bar operators who do not have to pay taxes can sell shots cheaper.

Still there are more available during the times that alcohol sales are banned.

At tourist resorts, hotel and restaurant operators become creative to provide for the needs of tourists. The most basic is selling alcoholic drinks in paper cups. The use of swizzle sticks and little umbrellas is discouraged, but most police officers will not choose to sample what appears to be grape juice. Most officers know what is going on but do not trouble tourism operators.

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