Police evict tenants and close hotel

Armed officers raided the popular Rocking J’s hostel in Puerto Viejo earlier this week, according to its owner.

The owner, Joseph Korchmaros, known as J to backpackers and locals, said about 40 officers from a variety of organizations – Fuerza Pública, Judicial Investigating Organization, and the Talamanca municipality – entered the hotel Monday without warning.

During the raid in which some officers were carrying assault rifles, Korchmaros said, a judicial agent mentioned to him that they were looking for drugs and illegal workers. They later notified him that the Ministerio de Salud had ordered the raid because of a paperwork issue that Korchmaros said was already resolved.

“I had a thing with the Caja where I already had paid it off, but some paper wasn’t filed correctly,” he said. “There was no reason for them to bring so many police here.”

Rocking J’s is a popular spot in Puerto Viejo for travelers on a budget interested in exploring the laid-back beach town’s well-documented nightlife. Amid the setting of the Caribbean town long perceived as Costa Rica’s international drug hub, the hostel has gained a reputation.

Korchmaros said, however, there would have been no reason for officers to be looking for drugs on his property. “You can’t even smoke a cigarette in here,” he said. Officials ordered all guests to show their passports and later told them to be off the premises by 11 a.m. Tuesday, as the hotel remains closed.

Korchmaros, a U.S. expat originally from Arizona who has owned the hostel for 12 years, said he’s never had problems before with police barging into Rocking J’s.

Popeye O’Brien, who owns The Point sports bar nearby, said his place was closed down Wednesday by two representatives from the Ministerio de Salud. Now at the mercy of the local health office’s timing, O’Brien said the bar’s two-year anniversary is scheduled for today but that party may have to be postponed.

Both business owners are waiting for the local director of Salud to sign off on the papers so their establishments can reopen. Repeated calls to the health office in Talamanca were unanswered Thursday afternoon as were calls to the judicial office in Bribri.

“I’ve got 30 employees and each one of them has kids to feed,” Korchmaros said. “Before this even happened I was already scraping by, but now I’m really scraping.”

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