Caribbean coast residents again unite to fight beach demolitions

Nine buildings in the Talamanca canton are to be demolished by the end of November. The targeted constructions are homes and hotels that have been in the area for years.

One of the organizations fighting the demolition has claimed some sort of racism, since the owners being evicted are all Afro-Carib descendants. Only two aren’t black, said Pablo Bustamante, president of Asociación de Desarollo Integral de Manzanillo. He said those property owners did purchase their land from locals who were the rightful owners until they sold it.

The landowners are in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. The Contraloría General de la República and the Procuraría General de la República are the agencies that are calling for demolishing the buildings because they claim the constructions are within the 50 meters of maritime public zone. According to the maritime zoning law established in 1977 there should be no constructions within the 50 meters from mean high tide because that is considered public.

But there is a problem with the law, said Abner Alfaro, legal adviser for the Talamanca municipality. He said that when the law was being made, there was no consultation of the land and inhabitants of Limón province, let alone the Talamanca canton. The settlers of this land have been in Costa Rica for more than 100 years and built their homes close to the shore because they were fishermen, and that is how this canton was created, said Alfaro.

And now years later the government has decided to implement the law to the poorest canton of the country, said Alfaro. He said this is a form of racism.

“Because this area is filled with natives and blacks they don’t want to let them develop,” said Alfaro.

He said there are areas on the Pacific side of Costa Rica where
there are buildings that don’t follow the law and are inside the 50 meters and there are no demolition orders. “This is unjust,” said Alfaro.

Last year two of the bigger hotels had destruction orders issued and eviction of the owners with the promise that the buildings were going to be destroyed. But now what used to bring income to the area has become a disturbance as homeless people and druggies have taken over the abandoned buildings, said Alfaro. The Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones didn’t follow through, and no one can enjoy that beach area since it is closed off and dangerous, the lawyer said. And now the government once again has said these homes and businesses are endangering land when in reality they maintain the land instead of destroying it, said Alfaro.

The Municipality of Talamanca is against the demolition, Alfaro said. And according to Talamanca resident, Bustamante, the mayor of Talamanca, Melvin Cordero, has said that if the demolition happens then he will turn in his credentials as an act to protest the destruction.

The people of the affected areas have unified to form one front against the demolition. There are more than 3,000 residents in Talamanca. Bustamante said that they will support the action of the mayor because he is on their side.

“The people won’t allow for any new people to come into the municipality… He is the rightful mayor chosen by the people… Costa Rica isn’t acting its best,” said Bustamante.

He added: “If the government doesn’t understand, then it will explode over here. . . . we will take radical measures.”

The situation has existed for years, and six years ago the legislature passed a measure that would have given Cahuita and Puerto Viejo city status and more control over local development. But that law was appealed successfully in the Sala IV constitutional court even while residents were getting the paperwork together to assert their titles.

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