Lawyers and filmmakers hope to document Caribbean woes

The muddled property ownership situation in the southern Caribbean coast has attracted the interest of lawyers, researchers and filmmakers, and they are launching a storytelling project and beginning to collect footage for an interactive documentary, they said.

It’s called The Rich Coast Project, a play on the English translation of Costa Rica.

The participants are aware that the Gandoca Manzanillo national wildlife refuge and the maritime zone law jeopardize the homes of many long-time residents in the area.

The project is timely because there are bills working their way through the legislature that may transform the area. Residents met Friday to discuss these proposals.

The founder of the project is Katherine A. Beck, a Northeastern University School of Law graduate, who also attended Universidad de Costa Rica for a semester where she studied the Caribbean coast land situation, according to the project’s Web site.

The southern Caribbean coast has been largely ignored during most of Costa Rica’s modern history. Many of the residents have Afro-Caribbean roots and lack official titles to their homes and other property. This lifestyle is being challenged by tourism and arriving expats as well as foreign investors.

Ms. Beck and her colleagues said that the project has set up Sunday a crowdsourcing campaign on Indigogo. It seeks $37,000 in donations.

“The effects of unstable land tenure and stunted economic development are pervasive: opportunity for personal advancement is increasingly limited, and many young people must leave their homes and families to pursue education and
employment,” according to the project.

“Homes and businesses have been threatened with demolition orders, and residents have faced criminal charges for pursuing better lives for their families.

“These communities face losing their lands, their culture, and their very history. Conscious of these challenges, residents are working hard to protect their rights and reinforce their cultural traditions while seeking a more balanced approach to the government’s regulation of their natural resources.”

President Laura Chinchilla stopped much of the demolitions temporarily with a presidential decree. But two major hotels already had been destroyed. A law that would have helped residents gain clear title to their properties has been declared unconstitutional.

The project Web site lists Edwin Patterson Bent, a well-known local politician and a lifelong resident of Puerto Viejo, as an adviser. Also listed is Kyle K. Courtney, a Harvard University and  Northeastern University faculty member and a lawyer.
Boston area students will participate in the project with research and by maintaining archives, said the announcement.

Ms. Beck said that the goal of the project is to use creative advocacy to build the case for keeping the local people on their land, showing that not only is it the right and just thing to do, it will also produce better results for the people and the environment.

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