Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Costa Rica Property Double Whammy

article from April 24, 2012
By Jamie Douglas

In May 1974, I moved down to the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in Dominical, at the mouth of the Barú River. It was summer still, the river was low and I was able to rent the only house within miles. Soon, the “Hey Gringo, you wanna buy my finca?” doorknockers came. I had become friendly with a few of the locals, and they all warned me not to buy in Dominical because the government had already advised them not to build anything within 50 meters of the high-tide line, and the next 150 meters would be considered public property, as well.

I could have bought all the land from the mouth of the Barú all the way south to Crazy Norman’s house for US$35,000 – a steal! Then the law was published. In most cases, beachfront properties are untitled because the ownership and possession of the shoreline is governed by the Ley Sobre la Zona Maritima Terrestre (Maritime Zone Law), which restricts the possession and ownership of beachfront properties. By law, the first 200 meters of beachfront starting at the high-tide markers is owned by the government. Of the 200 meters, the first 50 are deemed public zones and nobody may possess or control that area. On the remaining 150 meters, the government, through the local municipality, will lease the land by way of concessions to private individuals. Since virtually all of Dominical is located in the 200-meter range, I would have been entangled with various departments in Costa Rica for the next two lifetimes. Good thing I didn’t get involved, as multiple murders have been committed over the property both north and south of the Barú.

I had the money, but not the inclination. I did not go to Costa Rica to buy a finca. I was a nomad with no fixed destination, and it was the jungle and photography that had me by the tail. After about a year or so, I moved on to Panama (That was another adventure!) and then the Big Inheritance came, and another and another and another, and I was able to keep exploring the planet. Meanwhile, the civil war raged in Nicaragua and El Salvador, making Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala into US surrogate states.

Eventually, thousands of gringos moved to the area south of Limón on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and flooded the Pacific side with their surf resorts and yoga retreats, and naturally, Latin America’s least popular president is ready to cash in on all the gullible foreigners who listened to the “don’t worry about it” sales pitches.

So now, suddenly, comes the second slam of this double whammy. A few weeks ago, the Costa Rican government decreed that all of the land that had been granted to the aborigines, and was never to be sold to whites, not even Costa Rican whites, was to be returned to its original owners. Reaching back for decades, this decree is creating quite a bit of panic among all the people who bought land on the BriBri and the Talamanca, along with some of those Ticos who sold their jungle paradise for a few dollars or euros. There is an attorney general who, if she doesn’t get assassinated, will give all that land back to the indigenous people. It does not matter that they are the very ones who sold the land. All of the titles to indigenous lands are communally owned. I knew about those laws when I did a documentary in 1975 in the Boruca area. The cacique (chief) informed me in no uncertain terms that not a millimeter of their land could ever be sold to a non-Indian. Too bad they did not include all the natural resources.

So all those foreigners along the coastlines – Pacific and Atlantic – are likely in for quite an expensive fight. Costa Rica has become a more developed nation that does not need to sell its fincas anymore. They have an INTEL Microchip factory, one of which has powered this computer flawlessly for the past two and a half years.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza

[Image of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica via Wikipedia]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.