The early morning of Tuesday, February 18 brought commotion to the coastal community of Playa Potrero in Santa Cruz, with the intervention of officials from the Public Force and the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA – Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados). The officials invaded the Asada’s (water management committee) communal aqueduct, taking off locks and replacing them with others.
In addition, the officials arrested and detained Jose David Ugarte, a resident who, upon hearing the arrival of the authorities, tried to find out what was happening.
“I woke up and left my bed around 4 a.m. and took a machete as a precaution; when I got closer I was surrounded by six police officers who told me I couldn’t be there. They forced me to put down my machete, and when I did so they hit me, handcuffed me, put me in their patrol car and took me to the court [in Santa Cruz],” Ugarte explained.
Ugarte was freed later that same day, at 9 a.m. Regardless, he stated that he would file a complaint against the Public Force for the excessive use of force and for harassment and intimidation.
Francisco Cordero, the regional boss of the Public Force who was present during the operation, explained that they were intervening in the Asada due to an order issued by the Constitutional Court. Fifty officials were involved, who were transported in three vehicles and three mobile units.
Nevertheless, Cordero explained that in the case of Ugarte, they never abused their authority; instead they used their police sticks as a means of protection, as Ugarte tried to use his weapon against the officials. “We have proof and witnesses for what happened,” he assured.
Cordero stated that in these cases it is best to use the greatest number of officials possible, due to the fact that on previous occasions, when the police have intervened with fewer officers, there have been problems. “It’s better to have too many than too few,” he said.
For his part, Leonel Duarte, president of the Asada, described the act as, “…disproportionate [and] abusive; this is persecution and a means of pressure for groups of area hotel owners who want to take control of the community’s water.”
Duarte explained that the appeal for support, presented to the Constitutional Court, was made last year by a foreigner who lives in the area, due to repeated interruptions to water service during the dry season.
In addition, Duarte indicated that on February 7 a different group of officials had come to the Asada’s office and carried off documents and other things.
Regarding this situation, Duarte said he feels “hurt” and is waiting to receive communication from authorities at AyA to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
Además, Duarte dijo que mantendrán vigilias periódicas en el acueducto y no descartó intervenir el pozo en caso de que el servicio falle o una emergencia.
Moreover, Duarte said that they will maintain periodic watches over the aqueduct. He did not rule out seizing the well in the case of emergency or if service breaks down.
During the day on February 18, Ronal Vargas, Deputy Elect for Guanacaste from the Broad Front (Frente Amplio), was also present, backing up and supporting members of the community.