Monday, May 28, 2012

Who owns the land?

I had a lengthy conversation yesterday afternoon with Blanca and Idalia.  I had been called down to share an early supper of pupusas.  We talked about a lot of different things – trivial and then some not so trivial. 

I’m not sure how the conversation started but we managed to segue into a hot topic.    Idalia mentioned that people from La Geo (the Geo Thermal plant here in Berlín) (and their heavily armed security guards) were measuring and staking out the land around their home.  I asked … isn’t that your family land?  Well, yes it is.  It’s been in the family for a very long time (Blanca’s family and Idalia’s family live next to each other – coffee trees and many types of fruit trees in a well-kept bit of land between and around their respective humble dirt floor homes. 

I didn’t think they were planning to sell – they have lived there all their lives and continually work to maintain their homes nicely. 

La Geo owns LOTS of land: in Alegría and Berlín.  They own a lot of the land in Montañita, a lot of the land in El Recreo.  They own a lot of the land in Los Cañales.  They own land in San Francisco … in Alejandria … Hacienda Nueva …

They keep buying up land and on much of it they dig more wells and run their gigantic tubing between the wells and the main parts of the plant.    Ugly eye-sores but that is the least of the problems they create.

 So I asked … why are they measuring if you don’t want to sell?

Here is the frustrating response:

‘If they want it – they will have it.’

La Geo comes in and offers a nice sum of money for your land.  Lots of people accept it – it is a great temptation to have that kind of money in your hand … unfortunately, when that money is gone – the people  are left with nothing.  Most people don’t think to the future here.  (So says Blanca). 

If you don’t want to sell – they can potentially take your land.  They have the cooperation of the government and an individual has (realistically) no recourse for protest.  They say the top several feet of the land belongs to the individual land owner - but beneath that layer, the land belongs to the government. 

So if La Geo wants your land.  One way or another, it is likely to become theirs. 

And they are sneaky … they buy the land that has a section of road on it.  Therefore the use of the road is determined by La Geo.  Roads are not ‘public’ property.  People may or may not be allowed access to said road - even if it is the only way to get 'from here to there' in your canton.

And there seems to be a land feeding-frenzy lately.  There are at least two new wells that are still in the process of being built in the last few months – these we can see from the main road between Berlín and Mercedes Umaña.  They are huge.  Lots of land is cleared around them.  They are noisy and smell horrible at times.  They construct walls around them and they are heavily guarded.  Lately, there are LOTS of people in the La Geo uniform in Berlín.   They are not from here.  They are imported labor from neighboring countries, but also from Spain and Italy. 

There are minimal (no?) restrictions or consequences for the pollutants they expel in the air, the water or the land.  We drive through a large area between Mercedes Umaña and Berlín, and between Berlín and Alegría where we have to hold our breath.  I couldn’t imagine living within that stench.  Below the plant, children come out of their ‘bath’ with what look like burns or extreme rashes because their bathing water has been contaminated. (These have been officially documented).  Fruit trees stop producing.  Animals are sickly and dying off.   The cancer rate is quite high as well as kidney disease (can we blame La Geo for that?  I honestly don’t know but it would be a logical assumption).

The plant itself and many of the wells and perforations are in the municipality of Alegría … so even any tax revenue generated (if any) does not come to Berlín. Berlín also does not receive the electricity from La Geo - as was one of the original promises when they proposed coming here.

Blanca, Idalia and Cecilia have friends who work at La Geo who know things.  They can’t/won’t say anything … they need their jobs.  And ‘accidents’ happen. 

I wonder how those in control (the owners, executives, big stockholders, etc.) can sleep at night. How can they not know of the negative consequences of their companies?  Honestly. 

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