San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hundreds March against Shantytown Evictions

As the process to evict families from the La Candela shantytown, west of San José, continued this week, hundreds turned out Tuesday for a march to Casa Presidencial on the other side of the capital to ask President Abel Pacheco to stop such evictions from taking place and protect the rights of the Nicaraguan immigrants – and the many Costa Ricans – who live there.

Many La Candela residents continued to believe yesterday would be their last day to vacate the property, which belongs to private, Mexico-based bank Banex. However, government officials insist the eviction will be a gradual, organized process that allows as many of the estimated 900-1,200 families as possible to receive government aid before they move.

“We can’t evict that number of families at one time,” said Juan Carlos Laclé, assistant director of social development for the Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS).He said IMAS is continuing to interview the families who live in the shantytown to determine whether they are eligible for government assistance.

This process should be completed by today, after which the Inter-Institutional Commission on Evictions, which has representatives from IMAS, the Child Welfare Office (PANI), the Public Security Ministry and the Ministry of the Presidency, will meet to determine the next steps. The eviction process will likely take weeks or months, not happen in a single day, Laclé said.

Public Security Minister Rogelio Ramos told The Tico Times he hopes this relatively new strategy of gradual precario evictions – tested out when the precarios Libertad 1 and 2 in Pavas, in western San José, were evicted during a three-month period earlier this year – continues when President-elect Oscar Arias takes office next month. (A precario is a community whose residents do not have a legal land titles.)

“For this precario, we must carry out an order from Sala IV (the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court),” said Alejandro Chang, head of the ministry’s Evictions Department, referring to the justices’ decision in August 2005 to reject the residents’ appeal to stay on the property. “But what the Public Security Ministry wants, understanding the social difficulties of the families there, is a gradual, sensible eviction.”

However, residents of the shantytown seem unaware of this kinder, gentler strategy, believing yesterday would be their last day on the land they’ve illegally inhabited for three to five years, and that authorities including the Immigration police would show up to force them from the property (TT, April 21). La Candela resident Humberto Hernández called The Tico Times from the IMAS offices in Alajuela, where he said the crowds of upset precaristas waiting to speak with officials caused IMAS employees to call the police.

Many landlords said they don’t want former shantytown residents living in their apartments, Hernández said.

“Now they’ll evict us – where are we going to go?” he asked.

Misinformation and misunderstandings appear to be rampant. Hernández said IMAS would only provide money directly to landlords, and others from La Candela said they’d been told only Costa Ricans would receive aid (averaging ¢180,000, or approximately $356, per family). However, Laclé said the institute would give the subsidies directly to heads of families, and that any precarista with legal residency in the country, regardless of his or her nationality, is eligible for help.

Perhaps this divide between officials’ statements about the precario and residents’ perceptions shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the land’s dual identity. To its residents, it’s La Candela, a poor but relatively organized town where businesses from small grocery stores to lunchrooms to tire-repairs shops flourish, and where kids and their parents gather in small groups to watch planes taking off at the adjacent Juan Santamaría International Airport. Government officials, however, won’t use the name La Candela, referring to the lot strictly as “the Banex land.”

Last week, The Tico Times visited the community, where buildings range from tinand-cardboard shacks to cement structures.

Anxiety reigned; any conversation about the eviction quickly attracted a crowd in the dirt, tree-lined streets of the former coffee farm.

They know the land isn’t theirs, the precaristas said. They just want more time to organize the move and minimize the impact on their kids.

“Are we to blame?” one woman said to her friends, standing in a circle near a lot stripped clean after one family fled, fearing authorities.

“Are the kids?” asked Maritza, hoisting two-year-old Alondra onto her hip.

“That’s the problem,” said Evelyn,who has five children and, like many of the other women, is from Nicaragua. “There are 3,000 kids here.” She later cornered a Nicaraguan Embassy employee visiting the community, and asked him why their government isn’t doing more to help, and took careful notes on his responses about how Nicaraguan precaristas could get help to return to their country.

At Tuesday’s protest, the crowd, made up mostly of Nicaraguan immigrants, held signs reading “Ticos and Nicas are brothers,” “We children have the right to educate ourselves,”and “We’re not asking for handouts, just time,” according to wire service ACAN-EFE.

Gustavo Gatica, a representative from the Social Ministry of the Catholic Church, told ACAN-EFE at the march that evictions from shantytowns have affected more than 600 families on four different properties this year alone.

Gatica, like the residents who spoke with The Tico Times, said the government should wait until the school year ends in December to evict La Candela families to prevent children from missing school as their parents find new houses. José Gabriel Román – advisor to the Vice-Minister of Housing, Ramiro Fonseca –said the ministry’s latest statistics show that in Costa Rica, 35,000 families live in 402 shantytowns, classified as groupings of approximately five families and up where housing conditions do not meet basic health requirements. Of those, 70% are in the greater San José area.

President Pacheco, asked on Tuesday to respond to the marchers’ pleas, read a list of statistics showing the amount the government spends on health, education and other services for Nicaraguan immigrants.

“With great pleasure, with great pleasure we help them,” he said.


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