Our lawyer, PMT, who also happens to be the local municipality’s lawyer, was in Limon talking with the DA on our behalf (another story altogether). While there, she got a phone call from E. Cyrus, the local head of MINAE, the Costa Rican Parks Department. “I’m here in Punta Uva and have a small problem. Well… actually it’s a big problem. There is a group of people here making a Carlsberg beer commercial…. When I gave them the okay, I didn’t realize it would be this big.”
“This big” included three good sized generators, three helicopters, and an ocean freighter with containers on deck stacked like sky scrappers. These held all the equipment needed for the 200 (TWO HUNDRED!!!) staff members working on the commercial. Also, the Carlsberg people had cordoned off a kilometer of public beach using police tape (a Big No No) to keep people out. This is why Alan and I were refused our morning walk that I blogged about a couple of days ago.
Apparently Cyrus signed a permit so Carlsberg could use the beach without consulting of the Municipality. The permit simply said “en la playa,” on the beach, not delineating exactly how much beach would be used. And what kind of park steward okays a noise making project like this with three helicopters low-flying overhead 12 hours a day for three days as the monkeys run through the jungle in the opposite direction? (That was a rhetorical question.)
Later that day the Muni, the police, and PMT all went to Punta Uva to confront the beer company. There were words.
Testy Columbian in charge of the project to the gathered officials: “You can’t stop us. You have no right to do that.”
“Oh… no?” said the municipal official, motioning the police to begin to seize the equipment. They loaded up one of the generators and were working on the next when the Columbian relented and suggested that perhaps they should adjourn to the municipality office in Bribri for a discussion.
At the municipal office, the Columbian boss glibly flipped a piece of paper across the conference table toward the president of the Muni, Roly. “Here! We have a signed permit from MINAE.”
Roly, a linebacker-sized black man replete with gold chains and rings on every finger picked up the paper between thumb and index finger, as though it were contaminated, stared at it for a second, then flipped it back toward the film director.
It’s bad when you come to a foreign country and think you have a handle on how to move and shake your way around. There are many things you don’t understand when you do that. I am sure they felt, like Donny Rumsfeld and George Bush, that they would come to this stretch of Costa Rica and be welcomed like conquering heroes, the locals showering them with adoration– if not flowers. Those silly locals would at least stand in awe of such a miraculous event taking place right here in their backyard.
Instead, the Carlsberg people entered a place called paradise by some visitors, but Green Hell by many others of us who actually live here. A place where rancor has become a district-wide pastime, and almost anyone you talk to has some pending legal action against their neighbor.
But there was more they failed to take into account before deciding on this strip of beach to film their beer commercial.
There has been a mud wrestle fight here for the past 20 years about just who would have jurisdiction over this part of the country. The municipality has always maintained they have the right, as they do in the rest of the country, to collect taxes, provide services, issue permits, and generally act like a municipal government. The parks department, MINAE, has argued that they are the best stewards of the land because this is a National Park with “mixed use” designation. I won’t even go into that discussion for the moment because this blog does not have enough megabyte storage space for it. The battle has raged and burned like a peat fire all the way to the Supreme Court.
This year the Municipality of Talamanca finally won.
The formal agreement was signed by Cyrus last week– yes, the same Cyrus who gave the Carlsberg people unilateral rights to close the beach.
So, the Columbian filmmaker probably paid someone (or sometwo) a handy sum to slide this thing through and now faced the municipality and a fine for failing to get the proper permits. Once they realized they had no choice, an agreement was struck. Roly told them that they could pay the multa, fine, and make their little film, but they could not close the beach to the public.
“But this commercial is about a deserted island and there cannot be any footprints.”
“Well, you can see that it is NOT deserted and it is NOT an island. Pay the fine or leave.”
Roly then got up from the table, tucked his paperwork under his arm, and ambled out of the meeting leaving the Carlsberg people speechless.
The secretary for the municipality who is Spanish, petit, and normally quite charming, but who has worked side by side with Roly and has picked up some of his language, said to the filmmakers, “Paga los focking impuestos o no hace su focking pelicula.”
I’ m sure the Columbians felt that their own country might have been a safer bet to make their commercial right about then. They might even have found a deserted island where they would be left in peace.
I have not heard the helicopters today except from afar. I am sure the monkeys, if they are still around, are as happy as I am.
(Nope, I take it back. I was just about to post this when whoop-whoop-whoop, the focking hueys are back.)