San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Clock Ticking for Residents of La Candela Shantytown

The small lot looks like a hurricane zone. Fragments of plaster and tin, a razed garden, an empty Häagen-Dazs carton, a flattened tin that once held tennis balls. That’s all that remains after one of 1,200 families that live in the La Candela precario, or shantytown, fled their home after learning that the entire town is scheduled for eviction next week, thanks to a judicial order that has left thousands wondering where they will go.

The community is located within view of the runways at Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela,west of San José,  on land that belongs to private, Mexicobased bank Banex, S.A. Residents, known as precaristas, began moving onto the property approximately five years ago, buying property without a title for as much as ¢1 million (approximately $2,000) from residents of the nearby, older Quintero shantytown, named for Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro-Quintero, who was arrested here at his luxurious home in 1985 (TT, April 12, 1985). Precaristas built homes on the grounds where his mansion once stood, and the ruins, including a dramatic stone staircase and the terracotta-colored front wall, form the heart of the town.

According to La Candela residents, people from Quintero noticed the neighboring land was apparently abandoned, divided it into lots and sold it illegally to Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans looking for a place to live.

Those who spoke with The Tico Times on Wednesday admitted they don’t own the land in question. They just hope the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), which ruled in favor of Banex in August – though residents say they weren’t informed until this month – will allow them to stay on the property until the school year ends in December, to cause as little disruption in their children’s education as possible.

Resident Humberto Hernández said community leaders plan to present an appeal to this end before the Sala IV next week, once they receive official notice that they must evict the property within 72 hours.

A walk through La Candela revealed knots of worried people discussing the questions on everyone’s mind. While the Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS) really provide subsidies for the families? Will they find new places to live in an area where, according to residents, landlords say they won’t rent to precaristas or large families? Is it true that Immigration officials will accompany the National Police on April 27, the day scheduled for the eviction, and deport illegal immigrants? Will they find schools for their kids?


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