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The Tourism Industry in Latin America and How It Affects The Environment

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On November 18th, 2015 I attended the LAS 410 Tourism in Latin America Capstone presentations in Upham 116. The event consisted of six students presenting their capstone projects that pertained to tourism in Latin America and the effect it has on the environment and its inhabitants. One of the presenters discussed tourism in Panama and how the current efforts by the Panamanian government to decrease the negative effects of tourism need to be greatly improved. I was unaware of how increased tourism can have such negative consequences on the environment and the residents of the community. For example, in Costa Rica there are many communities that have suffered due to the large increase in tourism. Only a few decades ago a community by the name of Puerto Hermanos had approximately 2,500 tourists a year. Today, they have over 250,000 tourists annually and it is continuing to increase. The locals in the community complain of congestion and noise from planes flying overhead. Local resorts in the area generate much revenue, but Costa Ricans do not see any of the earnings. Most of these gorgeous resorts are owned and operated by foreign investors. During the presentation, we were shown pictures of ten members of a resort executive board. Not even one member was from Costa Rica, in fact, they were all white. Throughout the country, residents who live near national parks and preserved areas are being forced to move away, mostly to the capitol, in order to expand the tourism industry. Within the capitol, living conditions for the average resident are very poor, and overpopulation and crime is widespread with seemingly no end in sight.

Over the course of the semester, we had many class discussions and readings; however, there was one reading in particular that immediately came to mind after attending this event: Lynn Darling’s reading, “Havana at Midnight,” Travelers’ Tales, Cuba. Her reading explains the sex tourism industry in Cuba from the point of view of a prostitute and the hardships that many young women had to face. This relates closely to how increased tourism is affecting the lives of Latin American’s poorly. Each year as more foreigners travel to places such as Puerto Hermanos, there quality of life continues to decrease, similar to the Cuban sex tourism industry. As it became more readily available, more foreigners began to travel to Cuba for the “exotic” women.

While there was no direct relation to revolution in the event I attended, there were many examples of social and cultural change in the presented Latin American countries. Over the course of the semester, we have discussed various topics that have affected Latin America countries. For example, Manifest Destiny, the idea that it is the God-given right of America to expand its territory can be compared to countries in Latin America. At this time, it is my opinion that there are many similarities between what the United States was doing the last century and today. The owners of the resorts, hotels and popular attractions in Costa Rica are foreign investors, particularly from the United States. It is unfortunate that foreign investors in conjunction with increased tourism result in direct hardships on the community in which they vacation. Another example is the “Good Neighbor Policy” that was created March 2nd, 1934. It was designed to end the Platt amendment and create a “two-way” street for trade and relations between the United States and Latin American countries. However, I would be willing to argue that what American investors are currently doing in Costa Rica and other Latin American countries is not very “neighborly”. Costa Rica’s Gross Domestic Product is so dependent on the success of tourism, therefore contributing to the improvement of the average Costa Rican. However, it is also significantly adding to the poor living conditions of the citizens of the country. It is such a difficult situation for Costa Rica; the government wants to increase tourism to support the country and its people, but they are doing it at the expense of the people they are trying to help. Overall, I found the presentations to be very informative as it shed light on topics of which I had no previous knowledge.

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