Protesters block gay tourists in Costa Rica

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NEW YORK -- In the fourth incident of its kind this year, a group of gay and lesbian tourists from the U.S. was the target of anti-gay sentiment in a foreign country.

This time, anti-gay protesters in Costa Rica's Guanacaste region organized a roadblock that prevented the movement of two gay and lesbian tour groups booked by Los Angeles-based Atlantis Events. The demonstrations prevented one group of about 300 clients from leaving the Blue Bay Village Papagayo Resort on Oct. 24, and delayed the arrival of another 150 who were waiting at Liberia airport for a transfer to the hotel.

Atlantis Events president Rich Campbell said national police in riot gear were called in to break up the protest, which was organized by a local priest and a politician who want the Costa Rican government to ban gay tours. "We reject this type of enterprise. These are not the kinds of tourists that our country needs," Oscar Barrantes, the priest who helped organize the protest, told the local media.

Campbell said the protests lasted nearly 16 hours and, once the roadblock was cleared, buses loaded with his clients made their way slowly past as many as 300 angry demonstrators, many of them waving sticks and clubs. Campbell said none of his clients was injured, but he blamed the local police for doing little to control the crowd, even though the demonstrators' plans were reported by the local press a day earlier.

"If you're going to be in the tourism business, you have to protect all of your tourists. You can't pick and choose," Campbell said by telephone from the Costa Rica resort, where the second tour group's vacation was proceeding without incident. "Despite everything, I really believe that what happened was the actions of a handful of Costa Ricans and does not reflect the views of the entire country," said Campbell, who noted that Costa Rica has a reputation as a gay-friendly country.

Officially, Costa Rica officials have yet to respond to the incident, although Aida Fishman, president of the Ministry of Tourism, offered to send letters of apology to Atlantis Events' clients, Campbell said. Fishman did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, a consortium of travel agencies and suppliers that cater to gays and lesbians, condemned the incident and threatened a travel boycott by its members.

Atlantis is the same company that chartered Norwegian Cruise Line's Leeward for a gay cruise that was denied docking permission by the Cayman Islands on Feb. 1. Then, when the Leeward arrived in Belize, which replaced the Cayman Islands on the itinerary, the ship was met by a crowd of about 50 anti-gay protesters.

In April, a group called Save the Bahamas protested the arrival of a cruise ship in Nassau chartered by another gay firm, Olivia Cruises and Resorts.

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