Costa Ricais a small (51,000 sq. km.) developing country situated on the isthmus between North and South America, between Panama and Nicaragua. It is recognised for the abolition of its army in 1948. One of its Presidents, Oscar Arias, won the Nobel Peace prize for mediation in the Nicaraguan conflict in 1988, and it has become the centre for many peace-orientated organisations and meetings. It has also preserved much of its natural environment, and one of its major incomes is now through ecological tourism.
Costa Ricahas been considered to be a “tropical paradise”, and as a good example for other Central American countries of the way to go about sustainable development. However, unfortunately, corruption and the influence of the drug cartels are causing a serious degradation of its previously privileged position. Our Foundations are hoping that one result of our activities may be to promote local employment which will help to mitigate these negative effects.
San Isidrodel General is a small town in the south of the country, the county of Pérez Zeledón which has about 200,000 inhabitants. In this region, due to a successful agrarian reform programme in 1970-1985, land was redistributed and titled. The region consists of hilly countryside populated by small farmers, who 20 years ago lived an almost idyllic existence, with sufficient but not excessive levels of material satisfaction. However, these farmers are now facing much greater economic difficulties due to subsidised imports of rice, maize and beans, and wildly oscillating international prices of pineapples, coffee and bananas, which are Costa Rica’s main export products
The town of San Isidro del General is situated 3 hours (135 km) south of San José across the “Cerro de la Muerte” on the Pan-American highway, and a 4 hour drive from the Panamanian border. This mountain range, with its endemic flora and fauna, rises to over 3000 m. above sea level. The region is characterised by gushing mountain streams, rocky terrain, combined with primary forests and abundant wildlife. The Pacific Ocean is a half hour drive to the west.
The whole of the southern Pacific region of Costa Rica is known as the “Región Brunca”. It is one of the most impoverished regions of Costa Rica. The southern part of this region is known as the “South-South”.
HISTORY OF THE “SOUTH SOUTH”
In the 1950’s the Costa Rican Banana Company started operations in the area between Golfito, Palmar and the farms known as The Cotos, as far as the Panamanian border. As the plantations were established, many workers came to the region, but subsequently the need for manual labour decreased. The excess manual labour began to colonise other non-banana producing areas, and created a strong pressure on the land. For this reason the first territorial conflicts began, especially in Coto Sur, in la Vaca and La Vaquita, the Peninsula of Osa and the agricultural reserves of the United Fruit Company. The government department known at that time as ITCO and known today as IDA, made a large investment in the purchase and expropriation of land in order to create small farms by a process of “titulación” (legalised possession of the land). This originated the strong small farmers’ tradition in the region. The government developed a programme of introduction of technology and alternative products for small farmers. The Chinese Mission (Taiwan) and the International Labour Organization were involved in this process. Marco was the Regional Director of this project (1978-1980), during the time of the government of Rodrigo Carazo Odio. Teodoro Quirós Castro, who is one of the founding directors of our Foundation Fudesemillas, was the Executive President of ITCO at that time.
THE COOPERATIVE MOVEMENT IN THE SOUTH-SOUTH
Many problems were generated by the leaving of the United Fruit Company, which was due, in part, to the unrest and conflict that prevailed at that time, and in part to the fact that the operations had become unprofitable. One of the solutions to these problems was for the workers to organise and form co-operatives. Costa Rica has a strong co-operative movement. In many cases there have been failures but two of the co-operatives formed in Laurel, which was where the ITCO project had its main headquarters in the region, and where Marco lived and worked for two years, were Coopeagropal and Coopetrabasur.
These two cooperatives were established in the 80’s and, although have struggled through many difficulties, are now successful businesses giving a livelihood to the families of ex-banana workers of the United Fruit Company. They produce cooking oil, fat and margarine from oil palm and Fair Trade bananas, which are exported to Europe. They have built schools, roads, bridges, and health centres.
|MARCO USED TO FLY IN THIS OLD HELICOPTER TO MAKE MAPS OF THE REGION IN 1978 WHEN HE WORKED FOR ITCO, THE GOVERMENT AGENCY IN CHARGE OF LAND REFORM. THE HELICOPTER CAN STILL BE SEEN IN RINCON WHERE THE ITCO HEADQUARTERS FOR THE OSA PENINSULA USED TO BE.|