A three law “combo” threatens land rights of Costa Rica´s Caribbean peoples
February 16, 2014
Foro Caribe Sur
In a letter to senators today, more than 201 residents of South Caribbean communities have expressed opposition to the approval of the bills 18.592,18.593 and18.207, arguing that these laws do not solve the land problems of coastal communities.
(For more about the land problems go to http://news.co.cr/proud-caribbean-communities-in-costa-rica-struggle-for-historic-land-rights/24815/)
The residents have called the there laws a "coastal combo" that forms part of a single strategy that threatens coastal communities in the country against being able to remain in their own places where they live and work in harmony with the environment. One of the proposed laws also changes the boundaries of the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge (REGAMA) in a way that has been challenged two times before.
The signatories od the letter argue that these proposed laws have not been consulted villagers and settlers of the Southern Caribbean, except for the 18,207 bill titled " Recognition Act on the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Southern Caribbean " on Refugio Gandoca Manzanillo (REGAMA) in which only one community was consulted even though the project affects other communities.
This law has a misleading title that could create the false idea that it solves the problem of land rights in one community in the Southern Caribbean, when in fact it does not.
The law that affects the REGAMA was approved Thursday February 13 in the first reading the bill,
Alternative proposals that have been raised by residents who oppose the current law proposal, ranging from substantial changes to it to really contemplate the historical rights that do not appear in the law despite its title, to proposals for an entirely different law, consisting of a special law to the area. Also the use of existing laws such as the Organic Environmental Law, among others.
This week the two other laws will be debated. The Declaratory Act of Coastal Urban Area Cities (18,592), which includes the creation of coastal urban areas, subject to approval by regulators coastal plans.
Another is 18,593 bills to regulate the existing buildings in the maritime zone, which is also based on the development of coastal regulatory plans.
According to the letter to the Legislature, the problem of those laws whose titles are also misleading, is that the declaration of "coastal cities” would be granted after the regulation of existing buildings, which means that in the process of prior regulation the government would "clean" the area of settlers and residents or occupants who do not meet the expectations of the plan even though have lived there for up to a century or more and clean it of others who have more recently arrived but have made their lives in the place in accordance to the original population´s style of life.
The law states that if local authorities tell a person or family that they have to improve their home or business in keeping with the tourist requirements set by the regulatory plan and the owner cannot afford to do so, they will lose their home or business without compensation. Then the land can be given in concession to those with money to do so.
Another example is that if a regulatory plan defines a 3 star hotel zone in areas where there are currently simple cabinas, they would have to adapt their facilities or they will loose them without compensation. Again, the properties will be offered for concession to those who can meet the requirements.
The Southern Caribbean is populated by a multicultural mix of people that has historically been impoverished by the discriminatory policies in the country.
With a model like that in the Planes Reguladores, they could not compete wit mega projects, despite having helped make the area precisely what their attraction: environmental protection, the Costa Rican and African cultural wealth " pure life " style of performing.
Regulatory coastal plans end up being a law for concessions that generally do not favor the people. Instead they favor the economic interests of large businesses over the small scale tourism development of peoples ", the Southern Caribbean Forum said in its Statement of July last year.
If approved, one of the laws requires that the municipality develop a Coastal Regulatory Plan within 24 months and the current population would have to comply and failure to do so would be evicted without compensation.
One purpose of proposed law 18,207 in the combo would turn REGAMA coastal area between Manzanillo and Cocles into a concession zone together with the rest of Puerto Viejo and Playa Negra.
As one representative of the Municipal Council said in meeting: “We need to take the coastal lands of Manzanillo out of the Wild life Refuge so that a regulatory plan " really worthwhile". It is worthwhile? For whom? the signatories of the letter are wondering.
Additionally, the concessions offered by bill (18,593 ) are from 5 to 20 years, which does not solve the problems of legal uncertainty for residents and settlers.
The signatories ask of the senators: Which electoral and programmatic interests are making you approve these projects now, since it is clear that those proposed laws not solve the problems of legal uncertainty of our lands?
They also say that whatever the election results, of they approve such laws, they will share with the newly elected administration the burden and responsibility that will eventually create mass evictions.
The letter has the voice of a population that historically chose the path of a simple tourism development and a simple life in keeping with the environment and their own culture, not earning enough to compete with corporate mega tourism projects whose impact on populations is very simple known, for example in Guanacaste.
About the electoral context in which the discussion of the " coastal combo" is given, the letter tells the deputies that "right now the eyes of the coastal towns are on the agenda that was never discussed in the first round: the legal uncertainty of Southland Caribbean and other coastal areas."
They add that "now that agenda manifest in these proposed laws, the stance that deputies take regarding them will becoming a substantial element to define who to vote for in the next round of the elections coming up next April 6th and also how coastal peoples will relate to the next administration.
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Translated form Spanish