Former Caribe Sur resident bemoans drugs, development

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As I read the story by Connie Foss about the murder in Puerto Viejo of a man who allegedly ran a drug house on a property he took care of, I couldn’t help but feel a genuine twinge of sadness over what has become of the once sleepy, funky, little town at the end of a long dirt road to nowhere that I fell in love with almost a decade and a half ago.

What has happened in and to Puerto Viejo is proof positive that development is a double-edged sword.

To be sure, there are aspects of development that are positive, but there are other aspects of development that are every bit as negative.

There is a bitter irony in the reality that the rapid pace of development that has washed over Puerto Viejo, especially in the last six to seven years, has destroyed many of the things and traits that made el Caribe Sur so special in the first place.

It is also interesting that many of the expats who have been in the area for a decade or more, along with a disproportionately large number of life long locals, are troubled, saddened, and angered by what is being done, largely by expats, to a place that once was, truly, a little piece of paradise — all in the name of “development.”

Nothing exemplifies the negative aspects of development more than the changing nature of crime in the region.

When I arrived in Puerto Viejo nearly 15 years ago there was, to be sure, a crime problem. But it was largely a problem of petty crime, like that which plagues most tourist destinations around the world.

One’s camera would be at great risk of being stolen if one was foolish enough to leave it visible on one’s towel while one went for a dip in the ocean but, hey, that happens at the National Seashore on tony Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Items left in unlocked cars were also likely prey for a thief with sticky fingers. But there was, overall, little violent crime, or crimes that involved firearms.

But that all began to change six or seven years ago as the development of greater PV took off in earnest.

Eight years ago, I wrote a column for another English language news outlet in which I said the escalating whining about the changing nature of the crime in Puerto Viejo was a bit hypocritical if people weren’t also going to get honest about the growing drug problem, the influence the drug traffickers wield in the community, and the fact many businesses, especially restaurant and bar businesses, more than a few of which are owned by expats, enable both the use and sale of drugs in their establishments.

In fact, more than few such establishments see real economic benefits in drugs being widely and affordably available because many tourists looking to party heartily in paradise think is it just pura vida that they can score drugs like cocaine in a beachfront night club for a fraction of what they would  cost in the U.S.

It is all very sad but also all too real.

When I chose not to return to Puerto Viejo for six to eight months for the first time in more than a decade last year, I did so, as I have told many of my friends here in Massachusetts, because I believe the colonization/development that has overwhelmed el Caribe Sur in recent years has, truly, forever changed the place in ways that, overall, are more negative in nature than they are positive.

And coming to that sad conclusion was, indeed, as corny as it may sound, heartbreaking.

Michael Cook
Gloucester, Massachusetts
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