Community, Liberia

Liberia Municipal Council appoints cousin Román Ocampo to the Planning Commission

Esta publicación también está disponible en: Español
Translator: Jana Saldana

The Liberia Municipal Council appointed a first cousin of councilwoman and municipal president María Lourdes Ocampo Fernández as a representative of civil society on the Territorial Planning Commission (Spanish acronym: POT), also known as the zoning plan.

It’s about the engineer Eugenio Román Ocampo, former councilor for the Liberation Party (2010-2014) and son of entrepreneurs and former deputies Luis Román Trigo and Christia María Ocampo Baltodano, who is the aunt of the municipal president.

The commission, which was supposed to be renewed after the change in local government on May 1st, must include seven members: two councilors, three officials from the municipal technical area, and two representatives from civil society.

María Lourdes Ocampo will also be part of the commission representing the municipal council. This means that individuals connected to the Ocampo family will hold two out of the seven positions on this key commission responsible for land use and territorial planning in Liberia.

The Román Ocampo family is involved in a longstanding legal dispute as they claim rights to a plot of land located in the maritime-terrestrial zone of Cabuyal Beach. The matter is set to be decided in a trial scheduled for November.

Eugenio Román Ocampo and lawyer Laura Charpentier Soto were selected to represent civil society on the zoning plan commission from a pool of 29 applicants. Each of the seven council members could choose two names in a secret ballot conducted during the municipal session on Tuesday, June 18th.

With the rules, Román Ocampo and Charpentier Soto received four votes each. Four other candidates received a total of six votes, including the previous member of the commission, academic Christian Golcher. 

The appointment of Román caused discontent and rejection among residents of Liberia, prompting them to file a motion for revocation against the council’s decision on June 25th, with an appeal in subsidy. This means if the council rejects it, it could be escalated to the higher authority, the mayor, and if rejected there too, it could be escalated to the Administrative Contentious Tribunal.

They argue that the selection process did not consider the requirements requested of the applicants, nor did it address the prevalence of an eventual conflict arising from the familial relationship between the municipal president and Román.

The election “does not reflect a democratic and transparent process,” said Damaris Rodríguez, one of the signatories and president of the Association for the Rescue of the Maritime Land Zone (Arezomate) and the Guanacastecan Confraternity.

She expressed that the councilors did not even study the curriculum of each applicant; they only mentioned the names and proceeded with the election without first making a pre-selection based on the qualifications of the different individuals.

Rodríguez also described Román’s election as “aberrant” due to his consanguinity with Ocampo.

Being the first cousin of the municipal president, she should have recused herself from participating in that election,” she said, citing Article 31 of the Municipal Code.

That rule prohibits the mayor and council members from “intervening in the discussion and voting in their case, where they have a direct interest, their spouse or any relative up to the third degree of consanguinity or affinity.” However, the prohibition does not apply to first cousins, as they are in the fourth degree of consanguinity.

The motion was rejected by majority this Thursday, June 28th, because the contested agreement is not yet final. The petitioners indicated they will appeal again once the council confirms the minutes.

The president defends the appointments

The municipal president, María Lourdes Ocampo, stated that since taking office as councilor, she has supported her decisions with “the legal criteria of colleagues in the municipality, at least two people.”

The act of voting for Eugenio (her cousin), legally, is not up for discussion. I am fully authorized to do so. In matters where I am not authorized, I have recused myself, and I will continue to do so,” argued the municipal president.

“What is not transparent? They allege lack of transparency. I would like them to specify what they consider not transparent,” she asserted.

The councilor for the Progressive Liberal Party, Eduardo Alpízar, stated that the councilors simply received a list of 29 names, and each one had to choose according to their affinity or personal criteria.

“There was no directive on what the terms or requirements for selection were,” he emphasized.

Alpízar described it as “unethical” that the municipal president and her cousin Eugenio Román are part of the zoning plan commission, along with councilor Luis Gerardo Corea. He mentioned that Corea has worked for several companies belonging to the Román Ocampo family. “But if we see it from a legal standpoint, it is permitted,” Alpízar clarified.

Eugenio Román and Luis Gerardo Corea also serve as president and vice-president, respectively, on the board of directors of a corporation. 

Stephanie Rojas, a resident of Liberia and one of the signatories of the motion, announced that they will call upon civil society and organized groups to attend the municipality on Tuesday, July 2nd, the day the council convenes. It is expected that on that day, the minutes of the June 18th session, where Román and Charpentier were appointed, will be confirmed.

We will call upon the current municipal council to promote a fair and equitable Territorial Planning Plan for the canton, and to protect and conserve the ‘Golden Coast’ of Guanacaste,” she assured.

In that same session, the former representative of civil society on the zoning plan commission and community leader, Christian Golcher, is scheduled to present a report on his tenure and outline some of the arguments for why the new commission is being questioned.

Mayor María Lourdes Ocampo, in the municipal council session on Tuesday, June 25, when a group of people from Liberia attended to follow up on the appointment of the new regulatory plan commission.

Free Selection

Among the requirements for applying to the commission, the municipality requested candidates to “preferably have the necessary attitudes and academic preparation in matters of territorial planning.” However, when it came time to choose, all candidates were given equal treatment.

Councilor María Lourdes Ocampo defended the capabilities and preparations of the two selected individuals. She stated that despite not being specialists in zoning plans, “they have related careers or projects or experiences related to zoning plans.”

The first appointees were the council members, on May 6th. On that day, the municipal president, supported by her authority to form municipal commissions, appointed herself to the committee. She also appointed the alternate councilor, Luis Gerardo Corea Martínez.

Both also form part of the municipal commission for the maritime-terrestrial zone. This appointment was also questioned by the representative of Arezomate, Damaris Rodríguez, who alleged a “lack of ethics and transparency,” claiming that Corea is aligned with the Román Ocampo businessmen in the dispute over Cabuyal Beach.

In a letter sent to the council, the community leader requested the removal of Corea Martínez, arguing that he “is not suitable and lacks legitimacy” to be on a Maritime-Terrestrial Zone Commission, as his appointment would be counterproductive to the interests of the municipality and the canton of Liberia.

“In the Administrative Contentious lawsuit to recover the maritime-terrestrial zone [Cabuyal case], this gentleman does not support us; he supports the other side. I feel that this has been a little group getting involved to defend private interests rather than those of the Liberian community,” expressed Rodríguez.

The leader’s request was rejected by the council in the session on Tuesday, June 26th, based on a legal committee agreement that found no illegality in the appointment. These minutes were ratified on Thursday, June 27th.

Three of the councilors voted against keeping Corea. Eduardo Alpízar of the PLP was one of them. He stated that he considers the appointment unethical due to the ties the councilor has had with the Román Ocampo family.

The Voice of Guanacaste sought to know Corea’s opinion, but he declined to comment at the moment.

Let me see what is already stated and let the legal committee’s criteria be definitively approved, and I will gladly pass on what the committee says.”

The municipal president argued that she has no involvement in the businesses of relatives who are involved in the dispute over the maritime-terrestrial zone.

“I have nothing to do with any of those things, I have zero percent involvement in any business with them (the Román Ocampo) or anything else,” she asserted.

Cabuyal is also a key part of the draft proposal for the Territorial Ordering Plan (Spanish acronym: POT) of Liberia, as it is part of the 6,000 hectares of the exclusive “Golden Coast” where the municipality plans to promote hotel, commercial, and tourist real estate development.

As revealed by The Voice of Guanacaste on May 17th, the Municipality of Liberia also included the Iguanita Wildlife Refuge among the lands of the Golden Coast. In that opportunity, the municipality stated that this area would be excluded due to its protected status as a wildlife refuge.

This process will be continued by the new planning commission, where first cousins Eugenio Román and Lourdes Ocampo will retain seats. Some residents of Liberia fear that the POT promoted by the municipality will end up favoring the interests of the Román Ocampo family while marginalizing the rest of the population.

The representatives of the technical area of the municipality who will make up the regulatory plan commission were appointed on June 9th. Those officials are:  

  • Renán Zamora Álvarez, coordinator of Urban Development and Control 
  • Hazel Barrantes Sandoval, Municipal Biologist 
  • Keneth Miranda Espinoza, Cadastre manager 

The construction of the Liberia POT was awarded at the end of 2022 to the consulting company Ecoplan SRL. In addition, the municipality hired the Housing and Urban Planning Institute (Spanish acronym: INVU) as a supervisor. 

The project is still in the draft phase which is in the process of socialization among communities, organizations, economic and academic groups, and will be in consultation until the end of July and beginning of August.  

You can consult the diagnostic documents and draft maps on the zoning proposal in this tab on the Municipality website. And if you have questions, observations, recommendations or proposals about the plan, you can send them to the email [email protected]