Despite firebombs and rocks, doomed hotels secured

Police who responded to open up the Caribbean highway Tuesday met firebombs, rocks and burning tires at four locations. The Fuerza Pública said that 10 persons had been arrested.

The protest began Monday night on Ruta 36 and was triggered by expectations of efforts to evict those in residence at two hotels in  Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca. One is the Hotel Las Palmas, operated by Complejo Turístico Punta Uva S.A.  The other is the adjacent Hotel Suerre.

The Hotel Las Palmas, operated by Jan Kalina, has been fighting the government since 1993, and Tuesday was the second time that he was evicted from the premises. The government has alleged substantial environmental damage as well as the fact that the hotel is in the national refuge.

The hotel complex is about three kilometers from Punta Uva. The well-manicured grounds of the hotel included extensive beach. Many improvements had been made by the hotel operator.

Many in the crowds that maintained the blockades are residents of the Caribbean who have property in the maritime zone. Many of the homes there predate the maritime zone law that makes their dwelling illegal. They fear that they will be next with the evictions. But they also were fortified by criminal elements that came from Limón Centro.

The burning tires sent columns of smoke into the air. Police used tear gas. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo said it provided help for tourists who were evicted from the Las Palmas and others in the area who were delayed by the blockades. The institute did not give a number. Traffic was backed up two kilometers, police said.

The tourism institute said it set up tents with bilingual attendants to help tourists.

Blockades were in Hone Creek and near Cahuita, said police.

The Las Palmas case appears to have touched about every court in the land from the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo y Civil de Hacienda to the Sala IV constitutional court.

It was the Sala IV that froze government efforts in October 2005 to evict Kalina and his staff. At that time the then-minister of environment, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, said that the hotel would be turned over to the tourism institute for a national tourism school. The luxurious hotel is some 1,500 square meters of structures.

Kalina was back in the hotel shortly thereafter, and the tourism school idea was not mentioned again. Park rangers occupied the hotel Tuesday. It will be demolished.

The order of eviction that was executed Tuesday was signed Oct. 13, 2009. It survived appeals.

The main concerns were environmental damage done when the hotel was constructed, the illegal cutting of trees, building in the public zone of the maritime strip, building drainage to affect wetlands, blocking ditches and destructions of coral.

In addition to the Fuerza Pública and the Unidad de Intervención Policial riot squad, a number of government agencies were involved, including the Cuerpo de Bomberos. About 140 persons were believed involved in the blockades. Officials were quick to note that the evictions from the hotel had nothing to do with the cases of the long-time residents in the maritime zone in Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. These, too, are complex cases.

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