San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Priest Assists Evicted

Approximately 40 displaced families from La Candela, evicted just days before President Oscar Arias took office on May 8, 2006, have taken matters into their own hands with help from Catholic priest Luis Gonzalo Mateo, better known as Padre Mateo. He recently told The Tico Times that the group has come close to meeting its goal of raising approximately $20,000 to purchase a plot of land on which to build homes.

The funds have come from donations and a benefit performance of “El Nica” by actor César Meléndez, held at Padre Mateo’s church earlier this year.

La Candela, as the community just off the runways at JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport west of San José was known, once housed 800-1,200 families who’d illegally built homes on land that belongs to banking institution Corporación Banex, a subsidiary of Panama-based Banistmo. On May 5, 2006, police evicted one-third of the families, prompting most of the rest to leave on their own as bulldozers knocked down homes (TT, May 12, 2006).

Though the country’s courts had first ordered the eviction in 2002, promises of delays and abundant misinformation meant that the event took the community by surprise. Many of the families had nowhere to go and now live in conditions inferior to those at La Candela, Mateo said.

The families with whom he works are “very well-organized” and are still working to find land in the Central Valley cities of Alajuela, Heredia or Cartago, he explained.

Once the land is found and purchased, some families will apply for government housing grants; church volunteers are working to help undocumented families get residency papers so they can apply for funds as well, he said.

Padre Mateo also runs a community kitchen in the Triángulo de Solidaridad shantytown near his church, the nearby Iglesia de Ladrillo. Though the kitchen, which feeds more than 300 children every day, has several loyal supporters, including a Pennsylvania resident who learned about the kitchen through a Tico Times article (TT, May 5, 2006), one group of donors from Miami, Florida has chosen to pull out, leaving the kitchen in need of additional support, the priest said.


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