martes, 25 de noviembre de 2014

Boat journalism in Southern Caribbean Coast in Costa Rica

María Suárez Toro,
November 25, 2014

When I announced at the International Association of Women in Radio and Televisión (IAWART) that I have "retired" and therefore do "boat journalism”, many of the journalists from other continents and even the ones form Latin America and the Caribbean asked me to write about it.

Retirement is hardly about ceasing to work in what you are passionate about, but mostly about finding new ways to redirect your professional preferences.

That was certainly true during the past two decades and a half when I co created and co directed Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE) until the day I "retired."  One third of a life of international, national and local coverage of women´s perspective on all issues all over the world captured almost all my attention between 1991 – 2010.

Hardly time to fish, except when on vacation. Then I always took off to the Southern Caribbean coast in Costa Rica where I eventually was able to build a house in a piece of  paradise lost in a forest mountain, just 700 meters away from the pristine beach of Playa Chiquita in Puerto Viejo in Limón.

Southern Caribbean in Costa Rica
Foto: unknown source


                                                                    Historical background

The communities of the southern Caribbean, including Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, Manzanillo and Gandoca, were founded and have grown over more than 100 years with very little support from the central Costa Rican government, which left them very isolated. The people have long worked to create their own solutions to needs and problems. They have developed a family based economy that recognized from the beginning the importance of living in harmony with the environment. This vision based on a balanced relationship or coexistence with the rest of nature, was a primary resource of  social, economic and human development.
The first immigrants to the area arrived from Jamaica and areas north and south along the Mesoamerican Coast.  They were fisher families who built their homes along the beach for convenience, but also because this was the only solid land in the area at the time, with the rest being swamps. In the surrounding forests, they cultivated crops of food for their livelihood and to sell, as in the case of cacao production and coconut production.

From that time through today, the Caribbean coastal residents have lived in harmony with the original Bribri and Cabécar indigenous peoples of Talamanca, with whom they have shared many ways of working on the land and sea. Many of the younger generation now have features of both the Afro and indigenous ethnic groups, together with the Chinese that also came as merchants.  

Many other populations migrated to the area four or five decades ago, learning to live “the Caribbean way”. Today, there are people from over 54 nationalities, a multi ethnic and pluri-cultural mix nowhere else to be found in the country.

Paradoxically, this coastal zone, which is the heart of the Southern Caribbean region, is where there is serious land problems today, related to the Maritime Land Zone (ZMT). that 1977 law declared the 200 meters from pleamar (high tide) State owned, where the first 50 meters from pelamar are an inalienable (not transferable) property of the State and the next 150 could be given only in concession.

When the law was first passed and until very recently, this provision was largely ignored in the isolated Caribbean. Furthermore, provisions in the law were made so that people living in those areas could register as “pobladores” (settlers) y “ocupantes” (inhabitants) if they were there at least a decade before the law was passed. But this opportunity was also largely ignored by a people who were used to living in isolation, which led them to ignore or never even hear about the possibility.

The most serious issue today is that the commercial zones of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, and even the emblematic first commerce in Manzanillo, Maxi´s Restaurant, are located in the first 50 meters of the beach. It means that almost every building would have to be demolished if the law is applied in stricto sensus, as has become the recommendation by the Contraloría de la República (Treashury Insprctor´s Office) since 2012. At the time, a two-year moratorium against evictions in Maritime Zone was passed by the previous administration (2010-2014) in order to seek a definite solution that is yet to be found. To date the moratoria has expired and definite solutions are yet to come.

Notably, in the Southern Caribbean, use of the 50 meters by existing facilities in no way precludes the right of access to the beaches, which was the reason for declaring this an inalienable zone: prevent privatization of the shoreline.

Along with the danger of demolition, there is much interest in converting all 200  meters of the coastal zone into a massive tourist area, leading to a large tax increase that may be unaffordable for current residents.  The result could be that entire   families could be displaced and evicted from their homes, creating a serious social, political and economic problem for the state, which must ensure the social welfare of its citizens.
This  panorama has stimulated the organization of a social movement to defend the historic land rights of many inhabitants of the Southern Caribbean in order to preserve the unique culture and sense of community that exists nowhere else in the country. 
This development model that has been construed by the people themselves in the region is characterized largely by a family-based economy based on micro-tourism enterprises combined in many cases with sustainable agriculture and/or fishing or  artisanry.  The model is designed to protect and balance the rights of the people and the environment.

A new set of laws that have not solved any of the issues were proposed between 2011 and 2014 in the midst of the land conflict, proposed by some sectors in the Caribbean cost, including entrepreneurs, dwellers and larger scale tourism developers.

Laws 9221 "Marco para la Declaratoria de Zona Urbana Litoral y su régimen de uso y aprovechamiento territorial" of April 25, 2014, and 
Law  9242 "Regularización de las Construcciones existentes en la Zona Marítimo Terrestre (ZMT) of May 6th, 2014 have come to eliminate the special provisions in the Maritime Zone Law that would have protected the historical dwellers (as explained before).
All dwellers of the 200 meters are deemed "swatters", thus, having to start from scratch so see how they can stay in their places of origin. Despite supposed provisions to opt for concessions, the fact is that the process is subject to the adoption of a Coastal Regulatory Plan that will raise taxes in ways that hardly any historical dweller will be able to pay. 
The 3rd one, Law 223 de Reconocimiento de los Derechos de los Habitantes del Caribe Sur adopted Abril 8, 2014,  in the name of the historical land rights of Caribbean peoples (as is its title), has taken the 200 coastal land out of the Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge (REGAMA), thus placing its residents at the mercy of the policies regarding Maritime Zone Law as explained before.
The laws were rapidly passed by a majority of neoliberal congress men and women, despite requests by other political parties and social organizations to send them for revision by the Constitutional Court.  Today, in 2014, all there of them are being challenged constitutionally but intill there is a resolution, the laws remian in place.
Mainstream media such as La Nación in Costa Rica hailed the new laws as the solution to the historical land rights of local people when in fact no protection for the rights of the poorest are contemplated in the laws. 
 They were hailed internationally also by a blog writer in a in the Hufftington Post as a solution. But even the Contraloría de la República (Treashury Insepctor´s Office) has recognized in an interview in Costa Rica´s main mainstream newspaper La Nación this past December that they were not necessary, as they have now come to solve much. Contrary to the blog´s concern about the probable lack of support then future government at the time when such laws were adopted las 2013, the new administration (2014 - 2018) is supporting holistic alternatives.
                                                            Community social media

The Foro Caribe Sur, a community initiative where I produce community social media that promotes ans supports historical land rights of peoples  created a communicatiuons strategy to breakthrough maionstream media support of corporate neoliberal agenda with the voices of people.

It was created in April, 2013 as a forum to inform, accompany and analyse proposals to deal with land rights, environment and cultural rights in the Southern Caribbean of Costa Rica.

The Foro is supporting a community initiative that calls for a comprehensive law reform so that the Southern Caribbean can eventually have a Special Law that recognized the indivisibility of cultural, historic and environmental rights. It has emerged from the broad coverage and reflexion  of the community in its struggle to find a solution to the insecurity created by fragmented views that place environmental rights against human rights. 

We created a Facebook that very rapidly grew to have over 11,000 "likes" in a community of 5,000 people, which means that the Foro is very connected beyond its local borders through social media.

The Facebook links from a blog Foro Caribe Sur where we have already produced over 230 features about the issues, in the voices of people in the communities. It features all issues addressed form the perspectives of the voices that have hardly been read anywhere else.

It has a  number of 28,045 readings of the features, coming from 121 countries, most of them (62%) from Costa Rica itself. Monthly visits to the blog amount to 1,989.

The objective of the Special Law being dissemnated is to  legally validate the model of life and coexistence that the Caribe Sur communities have constructed historically.

The petition calls on the President of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís (2014-2018), himself the grandson of a Jamaican imigrant, to support this initiative, which he and his cabinet did last 30th of August when he came to the zone, invited by the Foro Caribe Sur to receive the signed petition from the community. 

President Solis and a large part of his cabinet members together with most congressmen and women from the Province of Limón (where the Caribe Sur is from) listened to the people´s proposal and made a commitment to support and work on what he called "special rights". 

Elena Spencer in Puerto Viejo 
reads the statrement to President Solis (organge shirt)
Foto María Suárez Toro

He stated that the Caribe Sur people have a rights to their own form of development and that the tourism models of the Pacific Coast of Ganancaste should not be applied in Limón. Guanacaste is the Pacific coast where larger scale touris develompent failed in every aspect of "development", displacing coastal communities from their land and livelihoods, creating water shortage everywhere and ending up with only a few large hotel chains that "make it" becasue they are chains. Many of the smaller hotels never opened with the result of land and environmental degradation. 

No where else to live in Guanacaste...
Foto Efe-verde


Trials and tribulations of a fishing journalist

My proximity to Costa Rica´s Southern Caribbean coast dates back to 1974 when I fist came to live in Costa Rica and visited the place. Back then and there, in the midst of that Caribbean coastal jungle, I made a pledge that that was the place I would eventually retire.

My proximity to fishing is much older, dating back to when I was seven years old and received my first fishing equipment from my mother and father in Puerto Rico. Back then and there, I dreamt of a life of fishing when I grew old.

Life has its strange ways. First of all, I really never thought I would get old, therefore,  I never expected to retire. And again, I always had such passion for the studies and the professional jobs that I undertook, that retirement was almost unthinkable.  So I never gave it too much thought and went along with life as is for 65 years. 

But life has its strange ways. And when you “sail it” letting the wind take you, the shores where you end up can be the unconscious dreams that were left undreamt for the longest time.

I learned the fishing skills from my parents. Both has many professions, but fishing was always there. My father was a civil engineer, a diving coach and even a wood carver in his later life, but he was always a fisherman in the midst of each of those. My mother was a teacher, a ceramist and in later life became a prolific writer, but in the midst of each, she was a fisher woman. 

From them I also learned that fishermen and women carry with them the most permament (cotidian) hope I have seen in life. Fisher people wake up every day with a new expectation: the best fishing day, the biggest fish, the yummiest one, the best stories told on board, etc. It does not even matter is you did not get it on a given day because there is always tomorrow when you will try again.

                                  From y house, a sady when the ocean was too rough
                                                  Foto María Suárez Toro

Again, life has its strange ways. Expectations, like a nice catch while fishing from a boat, comes about when and where you least expect it.

The same was true for me about “retirement.” Being able to link it to my passion for journalism to retirement came as a surprise.  In less that a few months after I had moved to the Caribbean, I began to be contacted by neighbors and dwelleres that wanted their stories told or wanted me to cover stories of people they knew.  But I was there to fish! Luckily enough, technology allowed me to link both.

With my versatile celular phone I could do almost everything from the boat while wating for the catch.  I remember the first time I felt a big bite on my fishing line while doing a phone intervew. Three hours had passed with no such luck on a pristine sunny calmed day on the vast ocean so I decided it was time to do that postponed  interview I had lined up.

"Hello, this is María the journalist, are you ready for the interview, I am recording on my cell phone."

"Yes, but your line is bad, I hear you well but there is a constant buzz behind, can you hear me?"

I did not explain that it was the motor of the boat, but I should have. "Yes, that is fine. Lets start by you telling me how you started your local business here as a eco tour guide... "

And on went my interviewee, untill she heard my scream on my end: "Sorry, I have to hang up, I will call you  in a few minutes, I hooked a shark!"

After getting it on board and realizing it, because some of us do not keep shark due to extinction of the species, I called my guest back and explained.

"Oh, dear, I was worried you fell asleep in the midde of my story and I woke you from a dream. Did the shark bite anyone?"

"All is fine, finish what you were telling me, why did you come to live here?"

Another time was more catastrophic than that one. I became so excited to get a bite in my fishingline while I was talking to some who was interivewing me, that when I saw the hugh fish jump into air I threw the phone into the air and down it went into the depth of the water.  It took me a long time to reconnect with that one because I lost the phone and with it went the phone book.

But most of the time I do ok in juggling fishing, interviewing and even writing Facebook pieces and posting pictures or raw video. 

My biggest draw back was that when I had to edit video, I could not go fishing because the need to use a computer in order to edit, kept me grounded.

During the IAWART meting this past week in Nicaragua, journalist Valerie Lew from Malasya saved my life as a fishing journalist.  In an interactive wokshop she taught me to use SPLICE, a program where one can edit everything right in the cell phone. Free alt last to do it all from my boat!

Content bulding of a fishing journalist in Costa Rica´s Southern Caribbean

When I arrived to live in the area, fisher men and women asked me to join them in creating and developing a nos profit association. We did, and eventually I also starte producing media with the organization.

Today, as board member of the Assocation of Fisherpeople in the Southern Caribbean I have published features and video productions that present the lives and knowledge of fishermen and women that showcase, as elder fisherwoman Doña Grace Jímenez tells me, that "nature cannto be fulkly tapped into, because it has its secrets in order to protect itself from us, pretty much as the secrets we keep to protect ourselves form being harmed." She believes we have to respect the rest of nature  and that science should  develop humbleness and stop trying to control it all.

A young fisher girl, Romy Hernández, 6 th grader, won a scientific school award in a project to protect lobsters. Daughter of a fisherman, she has broken stereotypes regardign girls in sicencie and in fishing.

One highlight is the coverage of the Association´s successfull campaign to diminsh the populatiuon of a foreign species -  The Lionfish - that came to the Caribbean form the Indo Pacific Ocean.  It is harming all other species because it has no predators in the Atlantic and Caribbean, except for us humans, mainly fisher people.  The use of the nasas (fishing crates) as a strategy has been hishlighted in my video productions.

Another job I have undertaken has been the co creation of the a new magazine in the Southern Caribbean called Wa´ppen Caribe Sur?, a local grassroots magazine born on the 31st of August 2014 during the celebrations of “Black People´s Day” in the country. 

The production in Spanish with a Creole name gives the local community a written voice in order to compliment their own traditional communication in oral language, and most recently though social media. It is produced by Gudy Productions with the communicational support of Foro Caribe Sur. I am acting journalist of the magazine.

Official figures show that only 25% of local people in the Caribe Sur have Internet access. This means that any project that seeks to use Internet alone to provide information will only deepen the digital divide.  While it might target international and national audiences well, making the information available to the local people require the use of other media too.

The first publication came out to the local public and government authorities at the end of the month and was well received. “This is so needed” said Sonia Rodriguez, an Afro Costa Rican young entrepreneur that owns the local librería (bookstore).

The project seeks to provide the communities a platform to express themselves, while providing a place where tourist businesses can disseminate their services by buying adds in it. This type of “encadenamientos” (links) can make the magazine self-sustaining in the long run.  It is being distributed by local activists and placed in the most visited local businesses, the pulperías (grocery stores).



* Declaration by a community initiative signed by 583 members of three generations of founders of Costa Rica´s Southern Caribbean.

**María Suárez Toro is a feminist, journalist and human rights activist in local, national, regional and international arenas. At present she is correspondent in Costa Rica of the Latin American Women´s Feature Service. She is also co-producer of ESCRIBANA, a social media network since 2009.  She also mangaes the blog and facebook of the Foro Caribe Sur community initiative in Costa Rica´s Southern Caribbean and is the main journalist in the community magazine Wh áppen Caribe Sur in the same community. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of communications at the University of Denver in Colorado where she has taught for the last 15 years. She was co director of Feminist International Radio Endeavour between 1991 and 2011. As co-director of FIRE, the first women´s internet radio station, she has covered women’s perspectives on all issues at the global level, including UN Conferences since 1992, ranging from Rio de Janeiro, Vienna, Cairo, Beijing and Durban, and South Africa, to numerous other local, national and international conferences and events. She has written 10 books, nine in Spanish and one in English, that document different experiences and investigative journalism. She has a PHD in Holistric Education from the University of La Salle and a Licenciatura in journalism from the Universidad Federada, both in Costa Rica. Her Masters in Education is from Albany State University.

                                                           Southern Caribbean, 2014