San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Limonenses Skeptical of Plan

PUERTO LIMÓN – Looking at the dilapidatedtin roofs, streets strewn with garbage and linedwith beggars and street dwellers – often barelyclothed or severely crippled – it can be hard toimagine this Caribbean port town as anything butforgotten.And that is exactly how many citizens of Limónsee their city and their province, though it is home tothe most important commercial port in the country.For decades, Limonenses have been told theircrumbling buildings will be renovated, areaschools will be brought up to standard, new jobswill be created throughout the area, and thegarbage will finally be picked up off the streets. Ithas never happened.RESIDENTS of the province of Limón earn37% less than the national average income, accordingto the Municipality of Limón, and unemploymentin the province, which sits at 7.9%, is 20%higher than the national average.Given statistics such as those, it is perhaps naturalthat many of the more than 66,000 residents in thecity of Limón are skeptical of a proposal by the CostaRican government before the World Bank to renovatethe region once and for all: a $70 million project called “Limón Port City.”The Public Works and TransportMinistry (MOPT) has already invested$50,000 in feasibility studies for the project,while the World Bank has contributed$320,000 and the government of Japan anadditional $335,000.Officials say this is more progress thanwas made in previous proposals to renovatethe city, which essentially remainedproposals. In 1998 and again in 2000,then-President Miguel Ángel Rodríguezpromised to renovate the city and revivethe province’s ailing economy. (TT, May22, 1998, Oct. 20, 2000). The governmentacknowledges these promises were notfulfilled.VICE-MINISTER of TransportLorena López said last week that byMarch 2005 the Limón Port City projectwill be submitted for funding approval tothe World Bank, which she said “hasshown great interest” in the project inaddition to having helped fund the feasibilitystudies.López said approval from the bank isexpected by June 2005, and the projectshould be presented before the LegislativeAssembly by December 2005, after whichshe said work would begin immediately –if the assembly approves the loan.Her announcement came at thePresident’s Cabinet meeting Nov. 9, justdays after the opening of “Caribe,” aCosta Rican film set in the province ofLimón and based on the fight to keep foreignoil interests out of the country (TT,Nov. 12). The film criticizes Costa Rica’scentral government for neglecting theprovince even though the port in Limón iscrucial for the nation’s success in internationaltrade market.She is not the only government officialnow speaking of the project as though itwere a sure thing.“FOR the Limónenses, that they mayhear us: we are moving forward. Theprogress has been somewhat slow, but weare moving forward,” President AbelPacheco said during last week’s CabinetMeeting.Some Limón residents find this hard tobelieve.“That is a dream. Nothing has evercome of it,” said Jacqueline Palian, whoowns a soda that serves typical food and asouvenir shop in Limón.Palian and her husband, José Molina,both said they have heard Limón would berenovated for the past 20 years.“Nothing has ever happened. Onlyblah, bleh, blee, blo, blooh,” she said.They, like others, complain of the trashin the streets, the lack of upkeep in thepark and around the port, and the failinginfrastructure in the city.TRASH is a particularly commoncomplaint, and with reason. At one point,the lack of a valid contract with the companythat collects garbage for the citycaused so much waste to accumulate thatsome cruise ships that normally stop inLimón considered rerouting to Panama, amove that would have had a devastatingeffect on tourism in the region.Jorge Soto, technical chief of theMunicipality of Limón, said Limón PortCity promises to fix those problems,though the exact specifics of the projecthave yet to be defined.Soto is charged with managing the project for the municipality. He saidincreasing tourism and converting Limónfrom a place for passers-by to a tourismdestination would be a main goal of theproject.HE said Limón Port City would bedivided into two main parts: increasingthe port’s capacity and capability and ahefty urban renewal effort.Soto said fixing the city’s poordrainage and blackwater managementwould be the first priority in urban renewal,followed by the restoration of some ofthe city’s unique and historical Afro-English buildings. Additional projectswould include a bicycle lane and therecovery of mangroves near the city.SKEPTICAL residents are waiting tosee it to believe it.“Every time a crisis comes, they putsomething like this in front of people,”said Edison Berry, a Limón carpenter,referring to the government corruptionscandals under investigation, allegedlyinvolving several high-level former officials– including ex-President Rodríguez.“They say it’s a promise? It’s apromise that never happens,” said AlfredKing, a renowned community leadercredited with founding Limón’s annualOctober Carnaval festival in 1949 (TT,Oct. 8).“Take a walk around the city andyou’ll know. In Limón, nothing happens,”said King, who has run a barbershop inthe port city for 60 years.Those who do take a walk around thecity will see wide streets, bordered bytwo-story buildings covered with a miscellanyof rusting signs. The only visiblesign of growth in some areas is the vegetation– vines and palm trees that growover and around buildings, showingLimón’s potential for tropical beauty.BACK at the local governmentoffices, Soto said he is sympathetic to thecitizens’ pessimism, and says he can onlyhope Limón Port City will actually happen.One of the most frustrating thingsabout waiting for Limón’s renovation, hepoints out, is that it is not up to theLimónenses, but to the central governmentand also, in this case, the World Bank.“The problem here hasn’t been a lackof projects, it’s been a lack of funding.There are no internal resources,” Sotosaid, sitting in a musty office in themunicipal building with windows coveredin chipping white paint.“Whether the project will pass is amatter of faith. I hope it will, but I’veseen so many things like this come andgo,” he added. “If the President doesn’tmake it a priority, it could take 15 years.”(Tico Times reporter María GabrielaDíaz contributed to this report.)

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