1500 Years Later
During the pre-Columbian era, the territory currently known as Talamanca was inhabited by the groups of indigenous people called Tariarcas, Terbis, and Terrebes (Terrabas). The first two groups were living in the coast, while Terraba’s people were living in High Talamanca. After, they were displaced by the Bribri and Cabecar; who came from the north of South America (CATIE-UICN, 1994). After the pre-Columbian era, the indigenous people successfully resisted to the intents of invasion of the indigenous Miskitos, the conquerors and the Spanish settlers, of displacement promoted by the expansion of banana plantations in the turn of the century, and most recently, of integration policies of the centralist governments.
The first foreigners who were able to establish themselves in Talamanca successfully were the afro-Caribbean blacks, who established coastal communities in the early 1800s, and who have been living in harmony with the indigenous inhabitants of the region.
The Bribri-Cabecar economy, until the beginning of the 20th Century, was based on subsistence agriculture, fishing, and hunting-and-gathering in the forest. Their agriculture consisted mainly of corn, ayote, cocoa, peach-palm, manioc, beans and tubers. During the colonization period, bananas, sugarcane and rice were incorporated in their agriculture. The annual crops were cultivated in a rotation system with the crops in the plots around their dwellings. They are harvested once or twice a year and then rested for 10 years. In this system, small amounts of corn, ayote, beans, and tubers can be harvested every month, thus, allowing the small producers to have a balanced diet.
In the case of the afro-Caribbean, these were devoted to fishing and gathering, and eventually to agriculture (cocoa and coconut), incorporating some elements of the indigenous production system. With the arrival of the European descendants, pastor agriculture, along with cattle-raising and slash-and-burn agriculture is introduced in the country, which has been damaging for Talamanca’s ecology.
The way of life and the social structure of the indigenous people were affected, first with the entry of the Spanish, second with the banana companies in the beginning of the 20th Century, and then by the process of neo-colonization imposed by the rest of the country in the recent years. Therefore, the traditional subsistence patterns or forms of cultivating the land in Talamanca have suffered significant changes. The apparent changes have invoked a reflection by the local people on the direction of the future of their society.
Upon the transfer of lands from indigenous people to banana companies, a part of the population were displaced into the interiors of the mountain range, while others ended working for the company, which provoked the replacement of the communal economy of subsistence with an individual economy with work unit remuneration for goods acquisition.
All these conflicts in the past were motivated by the control of the territory of the region. Today, conflicts are caused by the control over natural resources. First with bananas, then with cocoa, plantains, lumbers, and now, with mines. In the same way arrived the oil exploration, repeated very recently by RECOPE which also entailed the destruction of the environment and new pressures for the nature. Such exploitations of the natural resources also brought electricity, highway, environmental degradation, immigration, and the population growth of both the indigenous and non-indigenous populations, producing impacts very difficult to measure, but easily identifiable.
With the abandonment of the banana companies in the 1940s, people returned to the low lands and the banana was replaced by the mono-culture of the cocoa. This crop, which was traditionally cultivated for subsistence, ceremonies, or popular festivities, became a commercial product as the principal income generating product in the economy of the region, peaking in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the mid-40's, the development of the lumber resources in the coastal zone was initiated by a Cuban company for exportation purposes. Currently, many of these secondary forests in the coast have been recovered by the means of natural regeneration. Nevertheless, the situation is no longer the same, since the forest development is changing the use of the soil from forest to agriculture, with all its negative consequences.
With the arrival of the cocoa disease called Monilia in 1978, the agriculture of the zone was seriously affected, collapsing the flourishing local economy. Productive properties were converted into properties without production and many properties were totally abandoned. With the assault of the Monilia, the danger of depending only on a single crop was revealed in the area.
Until the mid-late 1980's, the wood from the trees which was giving shade to the cacao tree and the forests were converted into a transient alternative to the crisis. At the same time, the community of Talamanca became another time dependent on another mono-culture, plantains, which were booming in the national and international market.
Civil wars at the Central American level, environmental and economic crisis, and the arrival of populations from other areas such as Guanacaste and Puriscal and also the abandonment of the Banana Company in the south area, provoked uprooted people who migrated to Talamanca, increasing the social tension between the new and old residents.
In 1985, the pilot experiment of land entitlement of 11,000 Ha in the Gandoca- Manzanillo zone, sponsored by ANAI and WWF, catalyzed and accelerated the process of regional entitlement of the Banana River Project of 300,000 Ha, IDA - IDB project of 1989, a process that helped to conciliate the rights in conflict, helping to create stable social conditions in a long run.
Nevertheless, for a part of the population, mainly the refugees from the neighboring Central American countries who were still in process of adapting to the new culture, finding solutions to their serious economic and social conditions were very difficult. As a response to the needs of this segment of the Talamancan population, APPTA in 1994 subscribed an agreement with ASCODI-DIGEPARE- BANCOOP, to grant credits to both the local population (indigenous and non-indigenous) and refugees who have suffered the uprooting, through the creation of productive options that serve as economic alternatives for their development.
The annual cultures as corn, rice, beans, increased their area of cultivation until 1986, when they began to decrease in cultivated area and importance as a consequence of the expansion of plantain plantations.
The neo - expansion of banana companies in the 1980's increased the impacts at environmental and social levels. The banana company returned to buy the most fertile lands at an accelerated level, provoking deforestation, indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals, use of technology unfriendly to the environment, and inappropriate work conditions.
In the 1980s the economic, social and environmental crises was aggravated by the presence of the Monilia, the fall of cocoa prices to less than half of their previous values, the end of the geographical isolation, the state abandonment, the soil erosion, the loss of natural resources, and few work opportunities for an increasingly growing population.
The economic recession provoked by the Monilia of cocoa induced the abandonment of many cocoa farms, some of which were cleared permanently and substituted with other crops and extensive cattle-raising. Those who were living in the flooded lands in the low parts of the canton were making a transition from cocoa to banana, which was the new and most important commercial mono-cultural crop in addition to plantains in the area.
During this period, ANAI was the only NGO in the zone that was responding to the problems of health, education and facilities.
For the 1990s, the crisis further aggravated in some aspects, new issues emerged, and some of the previous issued also persisted:
- With the expansion of banana companies at the beginning of 1990s, and with the expansion of the massive tourism (large beach tourist developments), provoked even more migration towards the region, mainly for economic reasons.
- The increase in the number of organizations and institutions working in the zone generated certain institutional complexity (lack of coordination and conciliation between groups and sectors).
- The constant threat of external mega-projects that put the natural resources of the region in danger (banana companies, development of coal and of other minerals, trans-talamanca highway, oil docks, oil exploration, massive tourism, hydroelectric dams).
- Gradual loss in the biodiversity and indiscriminate mining and destruction of forest, scenic, and wildlife resources promoted by groups with strong economic interest, which were favored by a series of political protectionists, ended up limiting the access to the resources by the local producers.
- Absence of a global vision at regional and communal levels toward the DS.
- Grass-root groups with a greater need of political expression and self-management.
- Increasing unemployment rate. In the coast and some sectors of the Low Talamanca, the displacement of an agricultural economy toward a service economy in tourism, and remuneration economy with banana companies.
- Local interest has been awaken by two types of tourism: 1) the massive, as a source of income for both qualified and non-qualified laborers, which do not require any type of local investment; and 2) by the naturalist adventure tourism, as a method of participating in a more active way, integrating the plots and their resources, history, and culture, to assure other sources of income for family economy.
- Substantial changes in the patterns of tenure of the land, mainly in the coast; and reduction in the average size of the plot in the face of increasing number of the total population and progressing urban development of the zone.
- The problems and consequences caused by the trafficking and production of drugs became more apparent and its consequences on the young population no longer are problems confined only to large cities.
- Environmental pollution and the problems of waste management.