FOR nearly thirty years, many residentsof the southern Caribbean communitiesof Puerto Viejo and Cahuita have livedwith the unstable reality of not owning theland they live upon. Because the two communities,unlike several other coastaltowns and cities, were not excluded fromthe Maritime Zone Law passed in 1977,people who had not registered their propertybefore the law took effect have beenunable to do so since, meaning that by lawthey have been occupying their land assquatters, even if their families have livedthere for generations.That will soon be changing, however,thanks to a law recently approved by theLegislative Assembly. The law, passed Oct.4, decreed the communities of Cahuita andPuerto Viejo to be cities – a classificationthat excludes them from the MaritimeZone Law, which makes it illegal to ownproperty within 50 meters of the high-tideline and requires having a concession forthe next 150 meters, except in areas classifiedas cities.Since 1977, many people in the twocoastal communities could not registertheir homes or businesses because they fellwithin 200 meters of the shore.THE new decree, which will takeeffect after President Abel Pacheco signsthe law and it is published in the officialgovernment daily La Gaceta, stipulatesthat people within the city limits of PuertoViejo and Cahuita who can prove theyhave been living on their property for atleast 40 years will have one year to registerthat property as their own. If the propertyhas been purchased since the MaritimeZone Law took effect, the new owner mustshow that the seller had been living on theproperty for more than 40 years.According to Edwin Patterson, a lifelongresident of Puerto Viejo and a legislatorfor the Citizen Action Party (PAC) whoworked on the bill, the change in zoningwill bring security to many families in thetwo popular tourist destinations.“The people there were living in a precarioussituation. At any moment, their landcould be taken from them, without compensation,”Patterson told The Tico Times.“What we have done is correct an error.”IN 1915 and 1935, Cahuita and PuertoViejo, respectively, were declared populationquadrants by the LegislativeAssembly, a classification that allowed residentsin the areas to register their propertywith the government. However, accordingto Patterson, between those decrees and1977, many residents did not register theirproperty, most likely because they werenot aware they had to.When the Maritime Zone Law wasapproved, it excluded other coastal communitiessuch as Jacó, Quepos andPuntarenas, on the Central Pacific coast,and Limón, the principal port city on theCaribbean, but not Cahuita or PuertoViejo, Patterson said. This, the legislatoradded, was an error. Residents in the nonexemptareas were given six months afterthe law was published in La Gaceta toregister their property if it fell within theMaritime Zone, but in those days,Patterson said, La Gaceta was not distributedin Puerto Viejo or Cahuita, so peopledid not know.“They had the right to be told, but the(people) affected were never informed,”Patterson said.MANUEL León, President of thePuerto Viejo Integral DevelopmentAssociation and a lifelong resident of thecommunity, told The Tico Times that withthe change, the property his father boughtin 1925 will finally be his.“Now I can say that this is mine. I willhave the title, I can make repairs to thehouse or sell it if I want to, because it ismine,” he said.Leon spoke with The Tico Times as hewas picking up a plaque he had custommadeand planned to post on the CulturalCenter in Puerto Viejo that declaresPatterson a “favorite son” for his work onthe bill.
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