PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco returned Monday from a two-week trip in Italy and Spain with new firefighting equipment, blessings from the Pope and new opportunities to increase tourism in Costa Rica.
Pacheco and First Lady Leila Rodríguez mixed sightseeing and business meetings, operas and diplomatic visits during their travels, which began March 27 in Italy.
An unpaid debt to Italy from the 1980s left Costa Rica with many missed opportunities for support in the past decades, Pacheco told the press Tuesday after his weekly Cabinet meeting.
Italy loaned Costa Rica $12.9 million in 1983 to build a dry dock in Puntarenas (TT Daily Page, Dec. 5, 2003). The money was turned over to private hands and “somehow it was lost,” Pacheco said. The project sat in judicial limbo for years, during which time the government of Italy asked Costa Rica to repay the loan.
A new commitment to pay the debt means Costa Rica can count on the friendship of Italy in the future, Pacheco said. The President said he would like to forge this friendship on an interpersonal level by bringing more Italians to Costa Rica via a new direct transatlantic flight, for which he lobbied Italian airlines (TT Daily Page, April 1). Airlines are seriously considering such a flight from Rome – either direct to San José or via Santo Domingo, Pacheco said.
ITALY also could help Costa Rica create new opportunities through agro-tourism, which combines agriculture and tourism, the President said.
While in Italy, Pacheco met with members of a 3,000-strong cooperative that not only produces agricultural and industrial products for sale in markets nationwide, but also invites visitors to see how those products are produced.
Italian families visit the cooperative’s farms to learn about where honey comes from, and watch how their milk is retrieved. This could serve as a model for similar projects in Costa Rica, Pacheco said, adding that the cooperative is willing to help bring agro-tourism to the country.
THE agriculture sector in Costa Rica was given a boost when the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) committed donations of $614,000 to help the sector evaluate trade opportunities.
This has taken on increased importance in light of the Central America Free-Trade Agreement with the United States, Pacheco said.
This financing will also work to reduce the felling of trees, which can have deleterious effects on eco-tourism, Pacheco said.
THE spiritual pinnacle of the trip, which coincided with Easter Week, came April 5 when Pacheco met with Pope John Paul II – for approximately 10 minutes.
The Costa Rican President said the Pope “truly loves us,” and said he also met with a number of cardinals, to whom he told Costa Rica dreams of having a cardinal of its own.
While in Italy, Pacheco also met with President Carlo Ciampi, the Vice-President of the Council of Ministers, Gianfranco Fini and other government and business leaders who are interested in increasing tourism relationships with Costa Rica.
IN Spain, Pacheco met with representatives of the public and private sector. In a meeting with Grupo Lezama, which owns the School of Hotel Management in Sevilla, he discussed the possibility of bringing a similar institution to Costa Rica, he said.
Pacheco also met with representatives of Aena, a construction firm and airport operator interested in investing in Costa Rica, particularly in the south Pacific coast, he said.
Spain’s National Park service gave Costa Rica firefighting equipment valued at $172,000 (¢73 million), according to La Nación. The donation is intended to help combat forest fires in Costa Rica’s national parks and protected areas.
“THEY recognize the effort Costa Rica is making toward the protection of our forests,” Pacheco said.
Although Pacheco called on Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, he did not meet with Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodríguez. Pacheco said the soon to-be leader of Spain was resting after his campaign.
During his tour of Spain, Pacheco brought a flower offering to Atocha, where a March 11 terrorist attack killed 191 people and injured more than 1,900, according to the AFP wire service.
Pacheco said the experience was very powerful, and said he was moved by the fact that Spanish children brought and left their toys at the site, “so that the young victims would have something to play with in heaven.”