The Hotel Riu, a recently opened megaresort in Matapalo de Sardinal in Guanacaste, must forfeit important concession land and all structures on it if charges against the hotel hold up in court, according to the Maritime Zone Law.
The law protects from any human tampering the first 50 meters of all coastal land as measured inland from the median high tide line.
Article 65 of the law states that “in any case of penalties imposed due to crimes indicated in this law or with the motive of actions related to the abuse of property in this Maritime Zone Law, if the actor or accomplice were a concessionary party, it will lose its concession … and any structures, improvements or installations that it had on the land.”
The Confraternidad Guanacasteca, a Sardinal-based environmental group, on Nov. 2, 2009 filed an injunction with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) against the hotel. The complaint charges that the Spanish-owned Hotel Riu – which opened on Oct. 30, 2009, with the blessing of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias – uprooted mangrove trees and other plants that were within the 50-meter public zone and covered the area with sand and rocks.
Other Costa Rican laws also prohibit the destruction of mangrove trees.
Documents from the National Geographic Institute (IGN) and Matapalo’s zoning plan demonstrate the existence of the mangrove forests and pinpoint their locations within the 50-meter public zone in 2004, before construction of the hotel began. These IGN drawings were published in La Gaceta, the official government newspaper, on Dec. 6, 2004 (TT Nov. 13, 2009).
An inspection by the Costa Rican National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) regional office in Tempisque in December 2009 confirmed that 6,800 square meters of foliage that once grew inside the 50-meter public zone had been removed. The investigation also revealed that 8,220 square meters of mangroves were eliminated, both inside and outside of the public zone (TT Dec.4, 2009).
The Confraternidad Guanacasteca has photos of the vegetation that was allegedly cut, and eyewitnesses claim to have video of municipal excavation machines and equipment working during the night to cut down trees in the public zone. This evidence has been presented to the Sala IV.
Carrillo citizens formally requested last week before a town council that officials revoke the concessions on the grounds of this evidence and Article 65 of the Maritime Zone Law.
If the charges hold up, the law says the hotel must forfeit everything it has built on concession land, which includes a large pool, a garden and a beach entrance.
Since November 2009, The Tico Times has tried persistently to contact Hotel Riu’s owner, Luis Riu Güell, via phone calls and e-mails to various investment and consulting groups where he is listed as a member. These efforts have been unsuccessful.
In November, Hotel Riu’s lawyer, Roberto Echeverría, told The Tico Times that Riu Hotels is waiting for the case to be called in the Sala IV and that the developer complied with the permits he was given.
A Gated, Guarded Municipality
By mid-week, residents had not received a response from the CarrilloMunicipality. Gadi Amit, president of the environmental group, said that last week’s meeting “accomplished little.”
In the meantime, judicial officials have intervened.
On Feb. 4, officials from the Public Prosecutors Environmental Investigation Office in Santa Cruz and agents from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) raided the CarrilloMunicipality and seized documents regarding the Hotel Riu. Press officials with the Public Ministry said that Carlos Cantillo, the mayor of Carrillo, is under investigation for environmental crimes and abuse of authority.
Authorities suspect that Cantillo knowingly allowed the destruction of the mangroves and the primary vegetation, breaching his duties as a public official according to the ministry.
The Tico Times called the CarrilloMunicipality several times this week and spoke with Cantillo’s secretary to inquire about the issue and seek the mayor’s side of the story. The reporter was transferred to three different departments. Officials in each department said they have “nothing to do with it” or they “don’t talk to reporters.”
The Tico Times called back to request an interview with Cantillo specifically but was told the mayor was unable to come to the phone.
Area residents report similar difficulties with the municipality, which they say is disorganized and non-transparent.
“We request documents from this municipality, but they don’t talk to us,” Amit said. “They don’t fix anything. They only converse with big companies, but never with the people.”