San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Court ruling returns land to Keköldi indigenous group

An administrative court in Goicecoechea last week ordered the government to seize thousands of hectares of land occupied by non-indigenous people in the Keköldi Indigenous Reserve in Talamanca, near the popular Caribbean beach destination of Puerto Viejo, and return it to the indigenous Bribrís, the daily La Nación reported.

Judges ruled that the Agricultural Development Institute (IDA) and the National Commission on Indigenous Affairs must expropriate or relocate non-indigenous people that currently live on the land.

The legal representative of IDA, Maribelle Aguilar, told La Nación that she would appeal the ruling. Danilo Chaverri, a lawyer for the indigenous group, described the ruling as “historic.”

The Keköldi reserve was created by a presidential decree in 1977, following the passage of the Indigenous Law, but underwent government modifications in 1997 and 2001.

The law says that land and property on indigenous reserves can only be traded amongst indigenous people. All transactions occurring before the law was implemented in 1977 are void.

“This is the first time a court told the state that the entire reservation must be in possession of the indigenous people, and the state must begin the process of expropriation and eviction,” Chaverri told La Nación.

Cynthia Abarca, president of the Administrative Contention Court, which ruled on the case, told La Nación that “the obligation to recover land in indigenous territories that are not being occupied by indigenous people” is sanctioned by international agreements such as Convention No. 169 of the International Labor Organization.

“The lands have a special meaning for indigenous groups because they are places they consider sacred,” Chaverri told the news agency EFE.

Chaverri told EFE that he has submitted two similar complaints seeking the recovery of land in Cabécar and Bajó Chirripó, both in Limón province, but they have not yet been resolved. The indigenous in Keköldi are currently awaiting a ruling from the court in a bid to reclaim Playa Cocles on the Caribbean coast.

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