San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Farmers Seek Church’s Help in Land Dispute

APPROXIMATELY 100 NorthernZone campesinos have been camping outat the Metropolitan Cathedral in downtownSan José since Sunday with the hopeof gaining permanent rights to a farm theyhave occupied on and off since 2001.Squatters from El Bambuzal Farm nearRío Frío de Sarapiquí say they were kickedoff land that is rightfully theirs by multinationalbanana exporter Standard FruitCompany, which owns the land.The campesinos are seeking an agrariantrial to determine if they have rights tothe land, according to their legal advisor,Hector Monestel.Because this trial has been delayedrepeatedly, the group came to the capital torequest help from the Catholic Church toarrange a meeting with the president of theSupreme Court of Justice, Luis PaulinoMora, and Attorney General FranciscoDall’Anese, Monestel said.ALTHOUGH that meeting took placeMonday, as of press time the judge in theGuápiles court where the land-rights trialmust take place had not made any indicationas to whether the case will be movedforward, according to Judicial Branchspokeswoman Sandra Castro.“In Costa Rica, there is somethingcalled judge’s independence, so LuisPaulino cannot just call up the judge andtell him to make a decision immediately,”Castro said.The Judicial Branch has no officialcomment regarding the situation, sheadded.A Standard Fruit Company officialsaid they are not aware of any demands foranother trial.The company’s manager of externalrelations and legal matters, Juan Rojas,told The Tico Times the issue was alreadydecided last July by a judge who determinedthe campesinos have no rights to theland.THE only trials pending are those ofsquatters who Standard Fruit Companyhas accused of usurpation, according toRojas.The campesinos attempted to return tothe land on April 22 for the first time sincethe judge’s decision last July.“They have absolutely no authority tobe there,” Rojas said. They were immediatelyremoved, and 75 squatters were takento jail.When they were released on Saturday,a judge placed an injunction order prohibitingthem from getting near the land,Monestel said. On Tuesday, the groupappealed this injunction, and a response isdue today.MORE than 250 farming familiesbegan living and working the land in 2001.The entire property is 10,000 hectares(38.5 square miles), but the part the squattershave occupied is about 800 hectares(about 3 square miles).The campesinos claim the land hasbeen abandoned by Standard FruitCompany for more than 10 years.Rojas, however, says it has been, andstill is, used to grow bamboo that the companyuses to keep its banana trees fromfalling in the wind, hence the property’sname, Bambuzal.In late 2001, police attempted to expelthe squatters but were unsuccessful.Several court battles followed. Authoritiesfirst ruled the squatters could stay, becausethey had resided on the land unchallengedfor more than a year.Later, the verdict was overturned whena judge determined they had not actuallylived there for a full consecutive year.LAST July, the Sarapiquí DistrictCourt ruled again in favor of StandardFruit Company and ordered police toexpel the squatters. A violent confrontationbroke out and one squatter waskilled by officers, who said they wereacting in self-defense after beingattacked with sticks with nails and farmtools, according to the Security Ministry(TT, July 18, 2003).After the violence, police were successfulin expelling the squatters.“They burned their houses and crops,destroyed their things,” Monestel said.“We live off the land, from it, we maintainour families and they have destroyed itall,” Iliana Sánchez, president of theAssociation of Bambuzal Farmers, added.“The transnacionals are going to kill us,they are going to kill this country,” shesaid.ALTHOUGH Standard FruitCompany has had the support of the CostaRican government, the business has alsohired a private security company to policethe area, Rojas said.“This land employs a lot of peoplefrom the area of Río Frío, and the employmentof these people is regularly beinginterrupted by these invasions,” Rojassaid.A compost factory is on the propertyand part of the land is being reforested.The company is also preparing the land togrow experimental plants like guayaba, theincreasingly-popular noni fruit and ornamentalplants that could be profitable withthe approval of the Central America Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with theUnited States, Rojas said.SINCE being removed from the farmin July, the farmers have spent the last ninemonths working odd jobs and living onsurrounding land, several of them told TheTico Times.The Catholic Church in CiudadQuesada has offered them a shelter,Sánchez said. However, they do not planon accepting.“That is too far from our home; wecan’t just leave our home to live in a shelter,”she said. “We are Costa Ricans.”

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