Lawmakers agree on revised text that will protect coastal dwellers

Costa Rica’s legislature unanimously advanced a proposal intended to protect coastal communities in Costa Rica. The action Thursday night was to approve a committee draft of a substitute text designs to avoid technical constitutional pitfalls.

Lawmakers will resume next week with an initial debate and vote on the proposal, No. 18.148, titled Ley de Territorios Costeros Comunitarios, meaning “law of community coastal territories.”

In creating specially regulated areas on certain parts of Costa Rica’s coast, the law aims to help protect the rights of the poorer populations who have lived there for years. The proposal commonly referred to as Tecocos from its title in Spanish suggests that coastal citizens are being marginalized and evicted from their homes because of geographic conflicts with the country’s maritime zone law passed in 1977.

The proposal says that those most positively affected will be small-scale farmers, fishermen and those in local tourism or other small businesses. It should also create wider access to public services, education, and housing credits.

Partido de Acción Ciudadana and Frente Amplio legislators met in the Asamblea Legislativa Thursday afternoon before the proposed draft was put up for vote to discuss its importance.

Laura Garro Sánchez of Acción Ciudadana called the current situation an assault on human rights that affects thousands of families in coastal areas. She said supporters have long tried to rally representatives from outside parties to increase support and vote totals.

“We have made every effort so that representatives from Liberación Nacional, Unidad Social Cristiana, and Movimiento Libertario understand the urgency and need to pass this initiative,” Ms. Garro said. Last year Liberación Nacional representatives rejected Tecocos, claiming a portion of it as unconstitutional because it violated the maritime zone law. The old version also said it would benefit the environment without presenting any substantial data or goals.

Ronal Vargas Araya from Frente Amplio said he received a call on Thursday morning from a Liberación Nacional legislator wanting more information on the proposal. Before they went in to vote, Vargas was optimistic that Tecocos would pass and said he knew of a few Liberación Nacional representatives who had promised him they would vote in favor of the law.

Another longtime supporter of the proposal is Carlos Hernández Álvarez, who is a Puntarenas representative for Frente Amplio. The legislator was adamant that fellow lawmakers jump aboard in support of a bill that he said could help these marginalized people.

“There is no more time,” Hernández said. “We need to pass this today.”

Hernández said the law includes 65 communities throughout the country that are directly affected. Some notable areas include Tárcoles, Montezuma, Dominical, Tortuguero, and Playa Matapalo.

The proposal states that these communities will be given cultural recognition and special protection. It also promises to ensure the legal security of the populations contained within these territories, protecting them from evictions due to the maritime zone law.

Ms. Garro said that this issue that has raged for nearly six years needs to be resolved in favor of these residents of poor communities being driven from their homes.

“There are no excuses to not pass this initiative,” she said. “The constitutional defects have been corrected. Today we must give a clear message to the communities that are exposed to eviction, the loss of their homes and the negation of their right to develop.”

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