Costa Rica Libertarians Save Coastal Homes From Government Takeover

A dormant coastal preserve law had the effect of being a nationwide eminent domain seizure of beach homes, parks and firms without compensation. Libertarians rallied opposition –and got a consultative measure passed that ends the takeover while moving towards an eco-zone.

The bulldozers will not be coming to the southern Caribbean – or any other coastal community in Costa Rica for another two years.

A 24-month moratorium passed in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday evening, preventing the destruction of thousands of homes and businesses located in protected areas along the country’s coastlines. The vote passed with 35 diputados voting in favor and four voting against Law 18.440.

Approximately 90 citizens from the Caribbean towns of Puerto Viejo and Manzanilla attended the vote. Outside the assembly, they celebrated the ruling. Some dressed in traditional Afro-Caribbean garb and others beat drums as they cavorted with lawmakers who helped push the bill through congress, including Libertarian legislator Mireya Zamora and National Liberation Party member Carolina Delgado.

“We know that this is not everything,” said Johnny León, whose family has lived in Puerto Viejo since 1904. “It’s the beginning. It’s part of the process that we have to go through. And we have to keep working. But also today we can celebrate a great victory on the part of the southern Caribbean, our pueblo.”

Estimates state 300,000 people are affected by the Maritime Zone Law, which was established in 1977. The largest area of concern is in the southern Caribbean. The law does not affect construction done in the zone before 1977. However, many communities built in the area after the law came into affect. The government never seemed interested in enforcing the act until recently. Coastal residents created an uproar once neighborhoods, including schools and hotels within the zone, faced the possibility of being flattened.

The law defines all land 50 meters from the high-tide line in coastal areas as public land and prohibits construction in that zone. The area from 50 meters to 200 meters is considered restricted, but municipalities are allowed to issue concessions to certain developments.

León said it was a relief that coastal residents could work toward a compromise with the government over the next two years, while no longer worrying about the possibility of demolitions.

Jorge Molina, president of theSouthern Caribbean Tourism Chamber, thanked supporters outside the legislative building. He said the challenge only has begun. Leaders from the Caribbean and other regions affected by the Maritime Zone Law must not waste time. Those communities that have significant populations living within the maritime zone must organize and coordinate solutions with the lawmakers.

He remains optimistic that a solution can be reached before the deadline arrives in 2014.

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