Families of Rafting Victims Demand Accountability

(by Alejandro Zúñiga, special to ClickAss Marketing)

Relatives of tourists from the United States who died in an Oct. 20, 2018 rafting accident along the Naranjo River are warning others against visiting Costa Rica.

The families of Jorge Caso and Ernesto Sierra — two of the men who perished — are attending travel fairs and have appeared on television calling the Costa Rican government “irresponsible” for failing to ensure tourist safety, according to crhoy.com.

Caso, Sierra and two friends, Andres Denis and Sergio Lorenzo, did not survive the whitewater rafting expedition they had booked with Quepoa Expeditions as part of bachelor-party festivities. According to a GoFundMe page created by other members of the group, the company’s guides had okayed the tour, but all three rafts capsized “within five minutes of being in the river.”

A Costa Rican who worked for Quepoa Expeditions also died in the accident. At the time, the Naranjo River was swollen due to heavy rains.

Now, the victims’ families are spreading a message that “in Costa Rica, tourism means death” and blaming the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) for failing to enact or properly enforce security measures for adventure-tourism companies.

“It was not an accident,” said Marilyn Rodríguez, Caso’s mother, per crhoy. “Accidents can happen at any time, but this was something that could have been avoided.”

The parents said they were told ICT is an entity focused on promoting Costa Rica’s image as a tourism destination and that safety regulations were largely voluntary.

“We will not allow them to continue promoting killer and fraudulent tourism that they advertise around the world,” said Margarita Estrada, Sierra’s mother.

Appearing on Univisión, Javier Caso, Jorge’s father, wore a shirt that read, in bright red, “Tourism in Costa Rica = DEATH” and “irresponsible government.”

ICT’s regulations say “the tourist provider or the person in charge of an adventure tourism activity must suspend the activity when situations arise that put in risk the security of the participants.” However, Costa Rican officials have for years noted a lack of enforcement of the standards.

Following the October accident, Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ) searched Quepoa Expedition’s administrative offices. The tour agency’s website and Facebook pages both no longer exist.

Additionally, the Costa Rica Sports Association for Adventure and Paddling conducted a mass certification initiative in November and December 2018, during which they certified 178 guides to international standards. The effort was supported by ICT.

But that came too late for the victims and their families, who voiced their commitment to warn potential tourists about perceived lapses in safety in Costa Rica.

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