San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Isla San Lucas History, Environment Inspire

By Monserrat Beckford Alvarado

From 1873 to 1991, Isla San Lucas, at the southern end of the Gulf of Nicoya off the central Pacific coast, was a penal island for some of the worst criminals in Costa Rica. It was founded by dictator Tomás Guardia and is known as the prison where national author José León Sánchez wrote his book, “La Isla de los Hombres Solos” (“The Island of Lonely Men,” TT, June 5, 2005).

Some people may recognize Isla San Lucas’ historical background, but they really don’t know anything until they’ve experienced reading Sánchez’s book. He explains things that only prisoners of the island could know. He tells us that a group of about 60 men were forced to share small rooms. He tries to explain how difficult it was to live under those conditions; a clear example was how when an inmate died, they didn’t report his death in order to keep his portion of food. Imagine having to live in these conditions.

It was in one of those horrible, chaotic rooms in which Sánchez sat down and started to write his book. Years after he was released from prison, he finished writing his book, but it wasn’t published until 1987.

My high school recently took a trip to this island, and we got to dig deeper into what being on this island meant. It made us interpret life in prison in a way we had never seen before. Knowing how the prisoners were constantly beaten and mistreated is something that you simply cannot ignore.

Sánchez was lucky; he was able to finish his sentence and be released, but many of his inmates died of hunger or torture. Although the background history is very important, I would like to mention the current environmental influence in San Lucas. This brings me back to the main purpose of our school trip. We visited San Lucas with the purpose of cleaning the beach. To our surprise it was quite clean. The garbage found mostly got there overseas from beaches nearby. The beach has a Bandera Azul (Blue Flag), meaning that it is clean, but it is our job to improve the environmental concept of this island.

I invite you to visit the island. Take a small walk to observe the wonderful ecological surroundings. I assure you it will inspire you to make a difference and help improve Costa Rica’s ecological development.

Costa Rican Monserrat Beckford Alvarado, 17, is a student at Santa Cecilia bilingual high school in San Francisco de Heredia. 

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