San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Former Gold Panners Camp Out in San José

MORE than 100 former oreros – goldpanners and miners – who were evictedfrom Corcovado and Piedras Blancasnational parks in the southern Pacificregion are camping out in front of the CasaPresidencial in San José to pressure thegovernment to pay reparations they saythey are due.Government officials, however, saythey are not sure all of them are eligiblefor payment and blame the nation’salready-strained budget for not makingpayments that are owed.The oreros have been camped undermakeshift plastic tents outside thePresident’s offices in Zapote, the easternsuburb of San José, since mid-September.They say they are prepared to stayuntil they are promised payment, and areasking for ¢3.5 million ($7,800) each asindemnification for their eviction from theprotected areas in the mid-1980s.“CONSIDERING the passage of theyears we think it’s a small amount, but wewould be satisfied with it,” said formergold miner Tomás Vásquez, leader of thegroup camped in San José, which he saidrepresents approximately 840 formeroreros and family members.Meeting their demand could be alengthy process. Allan Flores, vice-ministerof the Environment and EnergyMinistry (MINAE), wrote a letter to thelegal representative of the group thatdetailed the legal twists and turns thatwould lead to a check for the amount theoreros want.In essence, it would entail a change inthe national budget, he wrote. “In thatsense, I must inform you that neither thecurrent budget nor the bill for the 2005budget contains resources… for the paymentof the claims made by those you represent.”Rather, a payment of that sort requiresa special law that must be approved in theLegislative Assembly, he wrote.A bill is in the works that would authorizethe government to make payments tosome of the claimants, but details are stillin dispute.The version MINAE proposed, whichthe gold miners would like to change, callsfor the payment of ¢2 million ($4,450) toeach of 141 miners who were included intwo government surveys that verified theyare due indemnification payments.In response, Miguel Hernández, lawyerrepresenting the 840, submitted a substitutebill last week that requests indemnificationpayments of ¢3 million ($6,665) for eachorero who has not received money whowas included in a census, those who werenot included in the censuses but wereincluded in other studies, and those whoreceived only a partial payment.The amount of ¢2 million was agreedto five years ago, Hernández said, whenthe colón’s average exchange rate to thedollar was ¢286.50 (at press time it wasapproximately ¢450) and ¢2 million wasworth $6,980.LAST month, Hernández sent Congressmembers a copy of a report by internationalinvestigators commissioned bythe government in the mid-1980s thatfound between 800-2,200 oreros and familymembers in the park – an average of1,400, the report states.Government officials said in pastnegotiations they would pay more than141 people. In June, a separate group offormer miners in Puerto Jiménez, on theOsa Peninsula in the Southern Zone,threatened to invade Corcovado NationalPark if they are not paid (TT, July 16).Government officials later agreed toforge the bill that is now in dispute, andpromised “about 1,030 people, total, willbe paid,” according to then Vice-Ministerof the Presidency Randal Quirós, who lastweek was appointed new Minister ofPublic Works and Transportation. Hereplaced Ovidio Pacheco, who resignedlast week (TT, Oct. 29)Vásquez and the other miners are waitingfor the passage of the bill, he said, andwould like legislators to prioritize it overother pending legislation.“IT depends on the good faith of thelegislators to put this bill first,” he said.Vice-Minister Flores, like other officialsbefore him who have tried to tacklethis issue, must ensure those whodemand reparations are, in fact, who theysay they are.Vásquez said he doesn’t vouch foreveryone in his group, rather, that is thegovernment’s job.The government is already compensatingthose it deemed within their rights toreceive compensation for loss of land orloss of livelihood when evicted from theprotected areas.MINAE’s records show the governmenthas paid ¢628.8 million (roughly$4.6 million using a 1992 averageexchange rate) to claimants (TT, July 16).GUILLERMO Arce, legal advisor toMINAE, told The Tico Times theConstitutional Chamber of the SupremeCourt (Sala IV) ordered the ministry topay a total of ¢6 billion ($13.3 million) toformer owners of land within the twonational parks.MINAE has ¢1 billion ($2.2 million)of the money owed the former propertyowners, he said, and will have to makepayments later as it receives the funds.However, he said, “The oreros werenot property owners within the parks.They occupied them.“The number of people asking formoney is increasing. Obviously we wantto pay those who have the right to it. Allan(Flores) told them of the good faithMINAE has to work with them. ObviouslyMINAE wants to comply with the law –you can’t give a pot of money to everyCosta Rican – we don’t have it in the budget.That’s what we want them to understand.This is what is happening, there isno duplicity – it is simply reality.”THOSE camped along the highwayoutside the Casa Presidencial have beenliving in San José for more than a monthnow “with the help of God and good people,”Vásquez said. They have receiveddonations from passersby, sympathizersand several labor unions.This is not the first time some of themhave come to San José to demand indemnification.In the 18 years since their eviction,separate groups of miners have stageddemonstrations to pressure officials to cutchecks. The last occurred three years agowhen a group of 55 people camped on thesteps of the Metropolitan Cathedral indowntown San José to demand theirmoney (TT, Aug. 31, 2001).

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