Daniel Gomez was born in 1980 in a humble shack on the beach of Ostional de Santa Cruz. Some time later, the shack became uninhabitable and was abandoned.
Three and a half years ago, Gomez decided to change out the shack for a new home made of concrete and wood, with the hope of living there with his wife and children, who are nine and twelve years old. Before that, they had been living with his mother, whose home is also located in the 200 meters of the maritime-land zone, and thus within the Ostional Refuge.
Making the change cost Gomez in the courts, as authorities from the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) filed a complaint against him for a violation of the forestry law as a result of his building within the Ostional Wildlife Refuge.
“I never thought improving my home was going to bring me so many problems. It took eight years to save the money and it cost me a lot; traveling by bike to work in Nosara, sometimes in the rain, all with the hope of providing a better home for my family, to have them to do this to me in the end,” explained Gomez with anguish.
Many families are in the same situation as Gomez’s due to the 1983 creation of the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, through decree number 7317. At that moment, according to Gomez, the agony started for families who live within the refuge, as they were not allowed to make any improvements to their properties.
The judgement against Gomez was made on November 20 in the Second Judicial Circuit in Santa Cruz, and it was the first time that the judiciary has issued a verdict including demolition and prison for the invasion and seizure of public property.
The verdict, however, is still not definitive as Gomez’s defense filed an appeal. But if the sentence stands, Gomez will be placed under house arrest and the demolition process will proceed.
MINAE States that Residents Understand Order to Not Make Repairs
Nelson Marin, the Tempisque Conservation Area official in charge of the refuge’s administration, said that Ostional residents have been advised as to what the risks are.
“We have informed the community of Ostional that while there is no change to the law we cannot grant construction permits. What’s happened is that some people do these things without asking us and for that reason they expose themselves and involve us,” said Marin.
Marin also added that they are looking to resolve the situation for families who live within the refuge.
In October of 2014, the National System of Conservation Areas (Sinac) presented the General Plan for the Management of the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge, in which it is established that existing communities are in agreement with conservation principles.
“Our interest is not to cause problems but to find a housing solution for these people. We have been working with Guanacastecan legislators on a bill that provides legal security for the residents of Ostional,” said Marin.
The Broad Front legislator Suray Carrillo says that she complained about Gomez’s case in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, November 23, while also pushing for the Ostional bill’s approval.
“I complained about this situation in the plenary [session] and I asked my colleagues to search for a way of approving the Ostional bill soon. In the environmental committee and in various factions there is already consensus and I am promising to request that President Luis Guillermo Solis bring this bill up during an extraordinary session, so that the law can be approved quickly,” said Carrillo.
According to the proposals included in the bill, the refuge would have a mixed system, which means that it will include public lands that could be leased to current residents, and private property, assuming they are compatible with the objectives of conservation and environmental protection.
However, the refuge’s management will be the exclusive responsibility of MINAE, through the Tempisque Conservation Area (ACT), which is the only entity authorized to grant concessions to refuge residents, assuming they fulfill the regulations of the General Management Plan produced by the ACT.
Carrillo believes that the “Ostional Bill” will be approved before year-end or at the beginning of 2016. She says that, once the bill is quickly approved, the process affecting Gomez could be quickly stopped, as the sentence is still not definite.