ESTERILLOS OESTE, Puntarenas — An invasion of squatters, some with a criminal agenda, has traumatized this small surfing town, where many foreigners live in a gated community that was recently broken into by men who allegedly sexually molested two women and stole computers.
Residents of Villas del Oceano, an upscale housing development just below the hill where squatters are erecting shanties on private land, said that on Nov. 2 men scaled their walls, broke into two homes, fondled a Costa Rican and a U.S. woman and stole two computers. The development is located in Esterillos Oeste, a prime surfing beach between Jacó and Parrita.
Guards fired weapons at the invaders but didn’t hit them as they jumped a wall and escaped in a vehicle.
The incident is only one in a series of break-ins that have occurred in the past two months, since 200 or more squatters moved onto private land on the outskirts of town.
“It’s become a serious problem,” said local business owner and resident Brett Schroeder. “It’s not the local guys doing it. Everyone can see the amount of crimes has gone up recently.”
Parrita Mayor Freddy Garro Arias told The Tico Times that authorities were going to conduct an investigation of the property on Wednesday, but that the local police department had only two police officers available and felt it was unsafe to enter.
“Our police chief here told me that it was too dangerous to enter with so few men,” Garro said. “They could have attacked us. We’re waiting to return next Wednesday to investigate the property.”
Garro said that he’s been in talks with officials from the Public Security Ministry, as well as other institutions across Costa Rica, in attempts to evict the squatters from the land.
According to documents obtained by The Tico Times, there are more than 200 squatters attached to the private land. On Oct. 23, an official complaint was sent to the municipality to have the squatters removed, about a month after they first entered the land. That same day, three inspectors signed off on a document saying they surveyed the land and found people building shacks and cutting vegetation growing on the property.
In a shocking video sent anonymously to The Tico Times, concerned community members are shown asking questions of the Parrita mayor, who is sitting in an SUV, when squatters approach and get aggressive. One man says the community has been accusing them of stealing cattle.
Then a big man wearing a purple backpack angrily approaches the woman filming the video and knocks her phone to the ground.
Another woman pursues the man, saying, “Son of a bitch! Why did you do that?” He says, “They were filming me.” The woman says, “They were not filming you” — which, judging from the video, is true. The man with the backpack appears in the video only after he slapped the phone to the ground.
A brief fight subsequently ensues between the woman confronting the man with the backpack and a woman in his group.
Mayor Garro, distracted by the hostility in the background, says, “Yes, we have the problem that this finca is private, it’s been invaded by squatters, but the municipality yesterday came and notified people. … On Monday, God willing, we’re going to be here … with all the institutions of the canton.”
The person who sent the video asked that it not be posted to avoid jeopardizing the people visible in it.
During a recent visit to Esterillos Oeste, The Tico Times found that the squatter invasion was the talk of the town, but almost nobody was willing to be quoted on the issue out of fear of retaliation. Some who have spoken out against the squatters have received threats.
When a reporter walked up the hill toward the encampment, a man carrying a machete approached him and said, “Are you looking for somebody?”
In addition to the home invasion on Nov. 2, the U.S. Embassy sent a letter to residents warning of an incident a week later:
“The Embassy has been notified that on Sunday, November 8th at approximately 9:30 p.m. several apartments in a building housing several expatriates from the United States and Canada were forcibly entered and burglarized by two armed individuals,” the letter says. “Two assailants, reportedly wearing dark clothes and masks and armed with pistols, entered the residential compound by way of a malfunctioning pedestrian gate.”
In reference to the earlier attack on Oct. 2, the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) said agents in Quepos were investigating an incident in which a U.S. woman was sleeping with her partner when men invaded the house and she ran onto the patio, and two computers were subsequently stolen. The OIJ said it had no information about sexual assaults but indicated that if it did, it would not necessarily release them out of respect for the victims.
The U.S. woman who was fondled while she slept has subsequently moved away, and other residents are reportedly considering leaving because the area is no longer safe.
Garro told The Tico Times that he expects the squatters to be evicted in the next few weeks, or once the municipality is able to gather enough officers.
“It’s a very distressing situation for Esterillos and also the whole canton because robberies have risen and the same people that are doing these crimes are the bad people that have become attached to it,” he said. “They’re damaging things and robbing people.”