Agrarian Defense: The Heroic Lawyers of Farmers and Indigenous Communities in Costa Rica

    A demanding team of experts defending Tico farmers

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    For people with low economic resources who have an agrarian or land conflict in Costa Rica the possibility of having a lawyer paid by the State, that will advise them technically and legally in a specialized way, is a welcomed blessing.

    This is the mission of the Agrarian Unit of Public Defense, currently made up of 17 defenders – 1 coordinator and 16 specialist lawyers – who serve the entire country, but are strategically located in the same places where there are agrarian courts.

    Specifically, they are in Liberia, Santa Cruz, Upala, San Carlos, Alajuela center, San Ramón, Puntarenas, Pérez Zeledón, Buenos Aires, Corredores, Limón, Guápiles, Turrialba and San José. This was indicated by Mario Rosales Vargas, coordinator of the Agrarian Unit of Public Defense of the country.

    This “agrarian defense” seeks to give greater access for justice to historically vulnerable populations – such as peasants and indigenous people – who cannot afford a private lawyer. This benefit applies to both the person who files the claim and the defendant.

    This clearly represents a challenge for the system, because it may be that, in the same place, the two parties to a conflict need an agrarian defender. For that, the Agrarian Unit has a support mechanism between offices, as explained by Rosales Vargas:

    The type of processes or procedures these lawyers carry out in favor of the people who need them are:

    1. Reinvindictive: when the person who appears in the Registry as the owner of a land needs to recover it because another person illegally took it away and does not return it.

    2. Usucapión: When a person has more than 10 years of publicly, peacefully occupying land – and also complies with other requirements required by law – he can get the property to pass in his registry name.

    3. When it is sought to cancel repeated titles or avoid their registration, when they derive from possessory information, illegal contracts, etc.

    4. When two occupants, not owners, discuss who has the best right to land or agricultural use.

    5. Easements: Processes to force another person to give way or, on the contrary, when one owns a piece of land and wants to close an existing passage over the property without any rights. There are also cases of water easements that affect crops or other agricultural activities.

    6. When another person causes agricultural or agro-environmental damage with negative economic consequences. For example, fires from agricultural burning or pollution.

    7. Breach of agricultural contracts.

    8. Appeal of revocations of parcels granted by INDER.

    9. Interdiction of possession: When someone is disturbing possession on a piece of land, there may or may not be an intention to strip it.

    10. Interdiction of restitution of boundaries: When a person has illegitimately removed or moved the dividing fences of a land.

    11. Interdiction for restitution of possession: When they try or have taken part of a land from another.

    12. When it is requested that a tree or some construction be felled that is endangering the life of some person on a property.

    13. When a person wants to deed a piece of land in his name that is not registered in the Public Registry, complying with the other requirements of the law.

    14. Succession: The succession (by death) of agrarian assets (farms or parcels) given by the INDER is processed.

    15. Demarcation or marking for which it is needed to delimit the property.

    16. When the person wishes to register his right as an independent land.

    17. Mortgage and pledge monitoring as long as the credit object is agricultural.

    18. Appeal for protection when the objective is the defense of economic or environmental rights related to agricultural productive activities.

    19. Forest, environmental and rural development problems in general.

    Many complex issues

    So many issues, so complex, in the whole country and only 17 lawyers? Yes, in fact, so far this year, these agrarian defenders have processed more than 3,130 cases and served almost 4 thousand people. That is, an average of 250 people and 195 cases per defender.

    This is in addition to the extraordinary promotional work they carry out through on-site visits to the most remote places of the country as long as the people who need them know that there is an “agrarian defense” that can support them in those areas.

    A job that requires technical knowledge, commitment, responsibility, dedication and a fortuitous and real interest in the other person, the one who needs to feel supported by a State of which we are all part.

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