San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica's Supreme Court tells Talamanca: You can't declare environmentalist expats 'personas non grata' 

Two expats in Costa Rica have won an appeal against the local government of Talamanca, which declared the foreigners “personas non grata” in the Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo for being “environmentalists,” according to a statement from the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or the Sala IV, ruled in favor of two appeals filed by Philippe Vangoidsenhoven, a 49-year-old Belgian man, and Carol Meeds, a 68-year-old U.S. woman from Florida, calling the municipality’s declaration “an intimidatory measure that directly threatens the exercise of their fundamental rights including freedom of expression and ensuring the protection of the environment,” according to the statement.

“I feel relief, overwhelming relief,” Meeds told The Tico Times Tuesday morning.

On March 6, the Talamanca Municipal Council voted unanimously to declare Vangoidsenhoven and Meeds unwelcome in the community. Vangoidsenhoven had filed more than 100 complaints against a variety of public and private individuals for alleged illegal construction and other environmental damage. Meeds supported Vangoidsenhoven’s activism on social media and in opinion columns, but has not made any formal complaints, she said.

A copy of the appeal obtained by The Tico Times said that an April 13 report presented to Sala IV showed that Mayor Melvin Cordero and Municipal Council President Hernán Carlos Cascante acknowledged that their decision to try to expel the expats was related to their views about the management of protected areas in the southern Caribbean.

The Sala IV had previously ruled on April 24 that the canton had violated due process when it declared the two unwelcome.

The appellants told The Tico Times that they believed their support of the Maritime Zone Law, which restricts construction within 200 meters of the coast, could have contributed to the council’s action. Many coastal communities, including Puerto Viejo, have challenged attempts to enforce the 1970s law, claiming that it would strip some families of land they have held for generations along the country’s idyllic beaches.

Legislation to reform the Maritime Zone Law has long been stalled in the Legislative Assembly.

The appellants’ lawyer, former Broad Front Party lawmaker and presidential candidate José María Villalta, said he celebrated the decision. Villalta said a declaration of someone as “non grata” is not regulated in Costa Rican law and constituted an abuse of authority.

“It could be interpreted as a call for the expulsion of someone from the community,” he said. “It’s an act, in my opinion, that’s totally illegal, and now in the view of the court [it’s] unconstitutional.”

Villalta said the decision would have consequences beyond the case of Meeds and Vangoidsenhoven. The lawyer said that the court ruling would set a precedent that protects people from “cruel punishment” regardless of nationality, political beliefs or any other characteristic that threatens their human dignity.

Meeds and Vangoidsenhoven both said they were happy to hear the results, but that repairing their reputations in the community would be difficult. Meeds said she had been afraid to leave her home after being verbally confronted by people in a town better known for laid-back surfing and Bob Marley tunes than expelling foreigners. Vangoidsenhoven said he has been in verbal and physical confrontations with locals because of his complaints.

“Obviously, I’m happy, but it’s not going to change anything,” Vangoidsenhoven said. “People will still call me ‘toad’ when I walk down the street.”

In Costa Rica, calling someone a “sapo,” or toad, is akin to accusing them of sticking their nose in someone else’s business, or, like a toad, having a “big mouth.”

Vangoidsenhoven, who runs a bike rental business in Puerto Viejo, said he had a gun taken away by authorities and did not feel safe without it.

“If I don’t have my gun and go anywhere that’s not my home or work, there’s a 99 percent chance I’ll come back in an ambulance,” he said.

Vangoidsenhoven said he came to Puerto Viejo 14 years ago and fell in love with its remote, wild nature.

“I’m a nature lover, otherwise I would have been gone a long time ago. And that’s why I’m so horrified to see how stuff is going down, how they’re destroying the whole area,” he said. “To go to another place is too late. I can’t start over someplace else.”

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Rodrigo U

ANy criminal nowadays can get off free by pretending to pass as a concerned defender of Mother Earth. You don’t need or even want much development if your life revolves around smoking pot.
So I see their point. One of the main problems in CR is that the legal system defends trouble makers. There are no consequences for frivolous accusations intended to thwart any project, these people feel they are above the law and the whole community pays the price.
How about some serious reporting – investigating>

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I would have to agree that this story merits more in-depth coverage and certainly a less ex-pat-centric focus. As a Costa Rican-American living in the US, I would like to understand more about how these two expats qualify as ‘environmentalists’ exactly, and I would also like to hear more of the other points of view. While I certainly agree that declaring someone officially “persona non grata” based on their views and opinions should be unconstitutional, it seems there is far more at play here than this article leads us to believe. Mr. Vangoidsenhoven should remember that he had a choice- and a rather privileged one at that- in moving to Talamanca to enjoy nature. Those who have lived there for centuries and generations, however, often at a subsistence level, should not have to be displaced from their ancestral lands to sooth his identity as an environmental activist.

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Sophia Dora De Vries

why can´t i respond to someone posting: “already i have seen like this”? sorry, but this is not even english

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There is so much more to this story sadly this media outlet has not bothered to investigate the story
This is not just an issue isolated with the Municipality and certainly nothing to do with environmentalism. The community collected more then 400 signatures that were presented to the Municipality because Mr Vangoidsenhoven is armed with a loaded revolver and has threaten with multiple members in the community with his weapon drawn on multiple occasion both in public spaces as well as while trespassing on private property. These incidents are well documented and available at the court house. It is absolutely unacceptable to have this kind of behavior that one day can and probably will result in somebody hurt be it intentionally or by mistake by his irresponsable and erratic behavior.. Mr Vangoidsenhoven currently awaiting trial for these actions after multiple victims have denounced these incidents. Mrs Meeds along with Mr Vangoidsenhoven have engaged in a defamation campaign both against other members of the community, the community itself along with the Municipal officials in a warped attempt in stumping any socio economic development for the impoverished community. Talamanca ranks as the second poorest county in Costa Rica. I really would like to see Tico Times take time out to make a real investigation into this story to get a more accurate picture of events that lead up to the Municipal action.

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Sophia Dora De Vries

thank you carlos for saying this, guns are never the answer and espècialy in environmental issues i think. if you are dedicated you can put this negative shit attitide energy into something positive and help your goals instead of pissing off a whole community

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Thenewspaper World

Yes, great, I think it is a crucial matter especially I agree with Two expats in Costa Rica. Already I have seen like this.

Costa Rican Newspapers

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