After months of heated public debate and controversy regarding the placement and occupation of several storage containers in the Guiones area, The Voice of Nosara exclusively interviewed the two people representing both opposing sides of the story: Bobbi Johnson and Richmond Phipps.
On the surface, one might conclude that the two have much in common; both are originally from the United States, over 55 years old, permanent residents, bilingual, strong, powerful women who base their argument on environmental preservation.
However, the situation this article aims to portray seems to have these two local celebrities at irreconcilable odds.
Richmond Phipps first came to Costa Rica in 1967, and worked for American Proyect founder Alan Hutchinson as the general manager of the Nosara Project from 1969-1972.
VON: “How did you come to acquire the land on which the containers are now located?”
Phipps: “Alan Hutchinson sold a farm of 229+ hectares to Dick Amack in 1976, and I bought the same land from Amack in 1988. Since 1976 there have been no segregations out of that farm.”
VON: “How is it that other private parties have come to believe that the land in question is legally theirs?”
Phipps: “They paid money for a piece of paper…they may own land, but they don’t own that land. They may have duly registered titles, but not to that land… They have been defrauded”
VON: “When and why did you initially place the containers on the property?”
Phipps: “On December 28th 2009 I received a call that some [unidentified] people were clearing out the land in front of La [Gilded] Iguana with a backhoe. We installed the first container on January 1st 2010…to put a stop once and for all to people coming in a claiming land that isn’t theirs [and] to protect my land. Under the Forestry Law 7575 I have certain obligations [to meet on the land in question], which I couldn’t comply with because of people on the land…the containers are a method of controlling movement in and out of the area in order to comply with my obligations to the forestry law.”
VON: “Who are the people occupying the property now, and what is in the containers?”
Phipps: “Workers and security personnel, people hired to maintain and protect the land. The containers serve as housing accommodations for them, they were the fastest and most efficient means to occupy and oversee the property.”
VON: “Is it true that the men occupying the containers are armed? If so, why?”
Phipps: “Only the security personnel have gun. We have the right to hire a security company to prevent any violent problems. They (Esparza S.A. from Puntarenas) were hired because our workers have been the victims of many violent threats. We do not want violence, but we will respond to violence with violence…[Furthermore I’d like to add that] the workers are humble people who are just doing their job, if someone has something to say, why not look for the heads [of the operation]. We’ll show anybody anything they want to see – we’re totally open to answering reasonable questions under reasonable circumstances, and it’s all available via public document.”
Bobbi Johnson has been on the Board of the Nosara Civic Association for the last 15 years. This Association is one of the opposing parties against Richmond Phipps.
VON: “What is the current situation involving the land in question?”
Johnson: “In 2004 [Phipps] filed 17 criminal charges [including] collusion, fraud and usurpation and she put liens on 45 privately owned properties. In 2008 she lost her last appeal in this case, and 6 months later the judge ordered all liens removed from the National Registry records. So now the titles are all free and clear, and they are still in the National Registry in the individual’s names.”
VON: “So that land is legally titled to the people who purchased it, and these containers are on these people’s land, is that right?”
Johnson: “Correct. What she’s done as her claim for her guys thinking that it’s her property is she had a new ‘plano’ made, which is a plat map, which includes 210 hectares in 2009, but a ‘plano’ is not proof of ownership. I could go make the same ‘plano’ today and have it registered with the National Registro in my name, on top of hers. It doesn’t prove that I own it, it just means that I have a plat map of this property.”
VON: “Who sold this land to these people, if it wasn’t her?”
Johnson: “Probably Jim Rodigen, who used to work with her.”
VON: “How many land owners are affected by this controversy?”
Johnson: “[There are] about 20 lots [affected], 2 of which are the Civic Association’s.”
VON: “Where the containers are placed, are there people living on that land other than them, or is it privately owned and just vacant at the time being?”
Johnson: “It’s vacant. Previously [in 2004] when she did all of this she was including properties that had existing homes on it, this time she’s leaving those out.”
VON: “Are the private owners of the land here now?”
Johnson: “Most of them aren’t here… and the attorneys are saying it’s going to be $1,500-$2,000 per lot for the process, so the attorneys are going to be the only people who ever win, as always.”
VON: “Has anyone made a report against Phipps since the containers were placed?”
Johnson: “Oh yeah… I have the power of attorney for 4 lots and I filed a criminal charge of usurpation against her with the Fiscal in Nicoya. The President of the [Civic] Association did the same for the 2 lots. And then I went back and filed another complaint for ICE installing electricity on private property that the owners didn’t order.”
VON: “And has anything happened since then?”
Johnson: “Nope…it’ll take years. And in the meantime she’s going to get squatter rights, if nothing else.”