San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A Brief History

COSTA Rica passed a mining law in1992 that prohibits prospecting in nationalparks without a permit.The following year, the governmentstopped issuing permits for CorcovadoNational Park, claiming there was no wayto adequately monitor gold panning withinthe Southern Zone protected area (TT,Nov. 11, 1983).Panners continued to mine in andaround the park, eking out a harsh livingand damaging a delicate ecosystem. Thenumbers of panners swelled from a fewdozen in the mid-1970s when the parkwas created to an estimated 2,000 by late1985.The reason for the explosion was acombination of rising gold prices andunemployment among banana workersafter the closure of the vast Golfito-basedUnited Banana Company in 1985. Manyof the laid-off workers decided to try theirhand at panning.The presence of gold panners in thepark was the subject of a wave of publicresentment, culminating in late 1985with a letter-writing campaign aimed atthen-President Luis Alberto Monge andorganized by the privately fundedNational Parks Foundation. According tothe foundation, the President receivedmore than 8,000 letters requesting thepanners’ eviction from CorcovadoNational Park.A court order for the eviction wasissued Jan. 10, 1986.After their eviction from the park, hundredsof panners languished in makeshiftshelters in Golfito, across the gulf fromthe Osa Peninsula where the extensivepark is located, for nearly a year. Many ofthem marched 226 kilometers to SanJosé in mid-1987 and camped downtown,awaiting a decision about the indemnitiesthe government had promised them (TT,May 1, 1987).Since that first march on San José,other groups of panners numbering from50 to several hundred at a time marchedon the capital and camped in front of theCasa Presidencial and in front of the SanJosé Metropolitan Cathedral and theadjacent Central Park. Some reachedagreements with authorities, others didnot (TT, Oct. 9, 1987).Other protests occurred in the 1990swhen government officials took furtheraction to evict delinquent oreros from thepark (TT, Feb. 25, 1994).Park officials went so far as to closethe park to tourism in March 1994 to flushout illegal prospectors after panners andminers using hydraulic equipment werediscovered in the Los Patos area, themountains on the park’s eastern edge(TT, March 18, 1994).Weeks later, a group of 50 pannersset up tents in front of the CasaPresidencial in San José for three daysprotesting the delay in the checks governmentofficials had promised them the yearbefore (TT, April 8, 1994).

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