Public-private partnership seen as solution for crime at parks

A conservation director said that the long-term solution for keeping national parks open and safe for visitors will be a joint effort between both the public and private sectors.

Alejandro Masis, director of conservation in Guanacaste, said he closed off part of a national park because he does not have enough staff to protect visitors from robbers.

He said that the government does not have enough money to provide the staff needed to keep the area open and that private businesses will need to pitch in to keep the local tourism industry thriving.

“These are public places, but they are also places that benefit the private sector by bringing tourists to the area,” said Masis in a telephone interview. “This has to be a joint public-private venture.”

The plan is to close the Santa María sector, one of two sections of the Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja, which straddles the Alajuela-Guanacaste provincial border near Liberia. Data from the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones says that this section of the park draws 5,000 visitors per month.

A.M. Costa Rica reported Wednesday that the closure of this section is because crimes against tourists has dramatically increased recently, according to officials.

Masis echoed this sentiment and added that the park needs more employees to give visitors guided tours, maintain the park and simply to keep an eye on visitors and potential robbers.

“In the past months, the frequency of armed robbery of tourists has increased dramatically and even cases of vandalism to our infrastructure,” he said.

“It’s materially impossible for us to guarantee the minimum level of safety.”

Masis said that he needs 140 employees to reopen this section of the park, and Costa Rica’s cash-strapped government will likely not have the budget to fill these positions any time soon.

“Even if at a governmental level they opened up more positions, we know it’ll never be enough,” said Masis.

Masis also said that the government recently rescinded a measure that allowed parks to secure funding from non-governmental organizations, which has exacerbated the situation.

He said that he is coordinating with the Fuerza Pública in order to get police officers permanently stationed within the park for more security. Additionally, he is meeting with businesses in the area in order to look for solutions on how to keep tourists safe with the impending high season.

Masis said that three non-tourist sections of the park have been closed already in order to concentrate the staff on the most frequently visited area, but this is not enough. He said that this is the first time this park has had to close a tourist destination, but he also said that the nearby Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio has also used this strategy.

“Right now, this is how it is and this is how we have to deal with it,” said Masis.

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