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Cholera Epidemic Hurting Peru’s Economy

February 23, 1991

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ The cholera epidemic that has killed about 125 people will cost Peru hundreds of millions of dollars this year in lost tourism and canceled export orders, government officials and businessmen said Friday.

Cruise ships are avoiding Peru’s ports. Tourists by the thousands have canceled visits. Outgoing shipments of frozen fish are stuck in ports all along Peru’s coast.

The lost revenues will further strain an economy already reeling from an increasingly bloody and chaotic guerrilla war and weak markets for Peru’s main exports.

″This is really a terrible situation,″ Eduardo McBride, of the Peruvian Exporters Association ADEX, said Friday. ″Every million dollars lost is critical for Peru. We miss every lost cent.″

To reassure travelers and purchasers of Peruvian products, the government launched a huge public relations campaign through its embassies and consulates.

Diplomats tell travel agents not one tourist has come down with cholera, a claim supported by Health Ministry figures and international health experts.

Most of 25,000 reported cases are among the poor living in filthy urban neighborhoods or shantytowns.

Buyers are told there is no proof so far that cholera has infected fish populations off Peru’s coast. Fruits with skins and vegetables that are cooked pose no threat, they say.

Despite reassurances, tourists and buyers remain wary.

″Tourism has been affected horribly,″ said Marina Wilson, spokeswoman for an association of private tourist agents. ″In February, practically every single reservation by foreign tour operators was canceled.″

She said tourism was already suffering from a U.S. State Department warning to avoid travel to Peru until the Gulf War ends.

Leftist guerrillas have bombed U.S. and European targets since the war began Jan. 17.

In 1988, 360,000 tourists came to Peru. Most went into the Andean mountains to visit ruins of the Incan civilization destroyed by Spanish invaders in the 16th century.

By 1990 the number of tourists fell to 288,000.

This year, cholera and the Gulf War will probably cut tourism by at least 50 percent, said Carlos Letts, spokesman for the National Chamber of Tourism.

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