Price of Paradise in Panama

Sydney Perlotto
May 2, 2014

As part of our human rights course, my group had the opportunity to travel down the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and then to Bocas del Toro, Panama to speak with human rights defenders. In Costa Rica, we stopped in the communities of Cahuita and BriBri. Cahuita is a tranquila town on the Caribbean coast whose residents have co-ownership of the national park with the government. However, gaining co-ownership and management of the park was no easy task. Even to this day, the community has trouble with the government imposing its methods of development on the town and trying to take over the land. The community leader we spoke with emphasized the unique culture of the town and that the best model of development is one that takes this into account.

In BriBri, we spoke with indigenous women leaders who had started a business that provides support for the community and helps to repopulate the endangered iguanas in the area. The BriBri community too has faced much oppression and struggle to maintain ownership over their lands. Even though they were historically distributed throughout Costa Rica, they have been pushed further and further into the mountains over generations.

Finally, during our time in Bocas del Toro we were able to speak with numerous community leaders. Some were Afro-Caribbean or foreigners, but most of our time was spent talking with indigenous Ngobe leaders. Bocas del Toro has been called by some as the new “Caribbean.” While the islands are quite beautiful, the landscape lush, and the water a clear blue, if you look deeper several problems begin to appear. Development  and desire on the island has caused a plight of land-grabbing in which local and indigenous people are forced off their lands. Sometimes the expensive companies promise the local people services in return, such as a new school or electricity, but from speaking with the local leaders none of these promises have ever held true. The communities keep fighting however, and they will keep fighting until their lands, homes, and children have a secure future.

Hasta luego,


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Sydney Perlotto

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hello! My name is Sydney Perlotto, and I am a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park majoring in Global Social Change and Development and minoring in Latin American Studies and International Development and Conflict Management. I am originally from Atlanta, GA but came to UMD because of its proximity to DC (and snow!). You can often find me volunteering around campus, baking tasty treats, or just generally frolicking! After traveling to Chile for a short term study abroad my sophomore year, I have definitely caught the travel bug and hope one day backpack throughout Latin America. Costa Rica is bound to be an adventure of language, culture, and biodiversity - and I have my waterproof hiking boots at the ready!</span></p>

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