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Locals Concerned About Marina in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo Marina Project
Disputes over a marina in Puerto Viejo continue.

At the end of a dusty Caribbean coast road lies Puerto Viejo, arguably the favorite tourist destination in Limón province. Swaddled in Caribbean culture and offering a laid-back lifestyle, Puerto Viejo is truly a step into a different kind of Costa Rica. However, for the last several months, plans for a new marina in Puerto Viejo have been underway, a move that has some welcoming development and others worried about the environmental and other repercussions of the marina’s construction.

One of the Talamanca region’s most prominent indigenous groups, the Bribrí, numbering between 10,000 and 13,000, live in this region. Many speak little or no Spanish or English, communicating in their native Bribri. Like their language preferences, the Bribri are set apart from the area’s other residents, mostly living a traditional lifestyle without modern conveniences.

The Bribri represent a very important slice of Costa Rican history, but some fear that the marina’s construction could endanger their culture and way of life. Currently, many national and international tourists Travel to Costa Rica’s Talamanca region in order to visit the Bribri, participate in their culture, and learn about their history. According to Timoteo Jackson, a native Bribri leader, the new Puerto Viejo marina stands to threaten this tourism.

Jackson believes that the Puerto Viejo marina will draw a different kind of tourist to the region, one that is wealthy and interested in the marina only. They won’t be interested in the Bribri or rural tourism and, believes Jackson, this new tourist and marina development will discourage nature loves and rural tourists from visiting the Bribri at all. In addition, he believes that the marina will welcome an influx of drugs to an area already teeming with drug problems.

Fears around the Puerto Viejo Marina expand beyond the area’s indigenous culture, into the Caribbean culture that has been built and nourished over the years. Though the marina is private, some fear that it will be just the beginning of regional development and a huge construction boom. Though good for the local economy, such development could be bad for the culture, luring in enough money to change the town’s dynamic and long-standing relaxed, Caribbean way of life.

Manuel León, president of the Puerto Viejo Integral Development Association, understands the concerns of both the Bribri and the people of Puerto Viejo, and has challenged the marina’s developers to detail how the marina will benefit the area’s residents. Though the developers have promised that there would be more jobs available, León says that few locals would actually benefit from the marina’s construction – will there be improved infrastructure, a new hospital, educational improvements?

Willis Rankin, president of the Talamanca Association for Ecotourism and Conservation, agrees with León. He says that there will certainly be both environmental and economic repercussions, and believes that there will be cultural effects, as well. Though the marina’s developers want locals to think otherwise, there will be few local jobs created, and residents will be non-participatory in the marina’s ongoing operations.

In order to garner local support, developers for the Puerto Viejo Marina need to be more forthcoming and transparent in their plans for the area. Reaching out to Puerto Viejo’s residents and the neighboring Bribri will go a long way in gaining the trust and confidence of the ones the marina stands to impact most.

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Written by Erin Raub

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