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President voices support for extending moratorium on maritime zone evictions

September 2, 2014

Residents along the beaches of Puerto Viejo and other parts of the southern Caribbean can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for now. President Luis Guillermo Solís announced support for an extension of a moratorium on a law that would displace coastal residents in the southern Caribbean and other parts of the country, during his trip to the province of Limón on Saturday.

“There is talk about creating a special regime for the Caribbean Zone, but it’s not possible to have this discussion under the threat of displacement for the populations who have been in this region since ancestral times. This government is not going to take arbitrary actions,” Solís said over the weekend in Puerto Viejo.

According to the Maritime Zone Law, the 50 meters from high tide mark is publicly zoned, meaning it belongs to municipalities. The remaining 150 meters is completely restricted, and any type of construction is prohibited. Families who already live within the maritime zone must abide by a municipal zoning plan, obtain a municipal concession and pay a monthly fee. The Comptroller General’s Office previously ordered municipalities to destroy structures found to be in violation of the Maritime Zone Law.

In September 2012, lawmakers passed a bill that established a 24-month moratorium on the land evictions. Solís said that while he supports the extension of the moratorium he did not specify for how long. The president said he hopes the Environment Ministry, lawmakers representing Limón, and coastal community members could come together to establish a “realistic” time frame. The Legislative Assembly would have to approve another bill extending the moratorium.

Solís highlighted that he envisioned the moratorium extending to other coastal communities in Costa Rica. While much of the attention regarding the Maritime Zone Law has focused on the inhabitants of the Caribbean coast, residents on the Pacific coast also are affected. A peaceful protest last March was violently quashed when anti-riot police officers used tear gas to remove dozens of demonstrators protesting in support of the Coastal Community Land Bill from the Inter-American Highway in Chomes, Puntarenas.

A bill that would create an “Urban Coastal Zone” that would halt the land evictions was approved by lawmakers in a first round of voting in March but has since stalled in the Assembly. The bill still requires a second approval, President Solís’ signature and eventual publication in the official government newspaper, La Gaceta, before becoming law.

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