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Costa Rica kick-off

Hello. I’m Alex Leff, GlobalPost’s Costa Rica correspondent, and I’d like to welcome you to my Reporter’s Notebook, where I will be sharing tidbits about life in Costa Rica and backstories from the reporting trail. For a year, I’ve been based in the capital, San José, where I also work as the online editor of www.ticotimes.net. My stories for GlobalPost will span different beats across the country, sometimes tipping over its borders when necessary. Costa Rica is hot right now among travelers and retirees, particularly from North America, but little coverage comes out of this country in the international media. World famous for being a major eco-amigo, to be sure, Costa Rica has made great strides in protecting its rich biodiversity. Environmentalists and scientists, however, warn that overbuilding and climate change — and lack of enforcement of some of the laws meant to protect the environment — threaten some of Costa Rica’s prized habitats and species.

And so, a new year kicks off. Costa Rica rang in 2009 with a mixed bag of hope and a little bit of beef. Despite a slowdown, Costa Rica has weathered the global economic downturn better than some. But, as (bad) luck would have it, some of this country’s industries important for trade with neighbors and the U.S., like textiles, will not likely see big bunches of fruit yet from Costa Rica’s January 1 entry into the CAFTA-DR free trade pact, as long as U.S. recession continues. The tourist sector sure isn’t pleased about Americans--Costa Rica’s No. 1 visitor--holding their purse strings tighter either. Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s top fruit export, bananas took a major blow from November rains that flooded more than a quarter of Costa Rica’s plantations. Check out my story.

Crime's also on the mind. Violent deaths hit a record 1,090 in 2008, most of them from road crashes but close in second came death by guns or knives, according to the Costa Rican Red Cross. A tough new traffic law might bring down the former, but Ticos -- as Costa Ricans are called -- are still waiting for stern crime legislation to come into force they hope would clamp down down on the latter.

Tempting, isn’t it, to say things can only get better this year…

I’m hoping this notebook, which I will update frequently, provides a happy home for readers to tell me and other readers where their interests lie in this beautiful, "tiny but spicy nation," as tenor Plácido Domingo recently said. I’m looking forward to getting to know you.

http://www.globalpost.com/notebook/costa-rica/090105/costa-rica-kick