Caribbean residents seeking to overturn negative court ruling

Members of the southern Caribbean came together Tuesday to support Ley 18.207, which recognizes the property rights of the inhabitants of the region by shrinking the size of a national wildlife refuge.

The Sala IV declared the proposed law unconstitutional Friday. Opponents of the decision said the court did so with only listening to the side of interest groups in San José. Now it’s time to hear their story, they said.

“This is not an environmental issue, it’s a social issue,” said Enrique Joseph Jackson, president of a Talamanca development organzation.

The bill traces the history of Afro-Caribbean residents beginning with their 19th century colonization in the coastal towns of Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, Punta Uva, Manzanillo and Punta Mona. The settlers came as fishermen and farmers bringing with them seeds and knowledge, the document says.

In 1978, the idea was proposed to develop the land and create a wildlife refuge. In 1985, according to Decree No. 16614-MAG, the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo. was declared.
All this was done without consultation of those who lived in the region.

The court decree also is filled with inconsistencies that include naming the town of Manzanillo as part of the refuge but later excluding it along with Gandoca, Mata de Limón, San Miguel and Puerto Viejo, said proponents of the bill. Later, in article five, all these excluded areas are listed in a certification program and called part of the refuge, the proponents said.

The proposed law would give the rights to all the inhabited lands back to the people.

“The object of the bill is to recognize the legitimate rights of the community Afro-descendant and the coastal towns of the south Caribbean, which have been ignored up to the moment, plunging these populations and territories and their management organizations and development into complete helplessness and paralysis because of the legal uncertainty resulting from such disrespect,” says the opening statement of the law.

According to Joseph, this law would keep the government from controlling their businesses and properties and the people would no longer have to live in fear.

“That would mean legal security for us,” he said.

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