A hostile armed takeover in the Southern Zone?

January 13, 2011

A land dispute in Drake Bay on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula that national media claims to have “terrorized” an entire town appears to be a controlled and isolated incident that affected only a few people.

While local papers reported that Drake Bay residents are “full of fear” after a group of “armed” men took over a 40-hectare plot of land, most residents seem to be going about their business.

“People seem pretty apathetic about it,” said Vanessa Larkin, a manager at La Palma Lodge in Drake Bay. “They just think, ‘not my yard, not my house.’”

On Monday morning, a group of at least 12 men donning military fatigues entered the property in Rincón de San Josecito in Drake Bay, porting BB guns – weapons that were originally reported to be assault rifles. According to locals, the property belongs to U.S. citizen Belfoure Brenes.

But Brenes is out of the country and left the property in the hands of his Costa Rican property manager José “Chango” Gomez, who has taken care of the home for several years while Brenes is not around. Gomez was at the home with his two young sons when the men burst in on Sunday.

The group ordered Chango and his sons off the property and the three left unharmed.

“Pincho” Amaya, Chango’s distant cousin, told The Tico Times that there are “pending problems” between the men on the property and Chango.

Pincho said some of the men have been seen walking around town, purchasing food and cigarettes, but he said that the group is “very reserved.”

Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) arrested five of the men who took over the property and  confiscated two BB guns. Authorities will take the five captured men to the prosecutor’s office in Osa, where they will be charged with usurpation and aggression with firearms. OIJ police continue to search for the remaining suspects.

Pincho was never worried.

“I have nothing with them, so I go on with my day,” he said. “People here aren’t afraid. The problem is with Chango and his family, so if you don’t have problems with them, you are fine. It’s not your problem.”

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