The History of Osa Peninsula
Corcovado National Park
The Ironic Beginnings
The United Fruit Company
In the 1930’s, things started to change on the Osa and the Osa Peninsula history started a new chapter. The United Fruit Company decided to desert the Atlantic region and to move to the Pacific because of a deterioration of the land near the Caribbean coast.
To the locals, this company was known as el pulpo, the ‘octopus’.
In 1937, the United Fruit Company gained access to the Osa Peninsula on a land swap deal with the Costa Rican Government.
But by 1943, the United Fruit Company determined the Osa was neither accessible nor apt for banana production, and they turned over the land to one of their retiring engineers.
For 14 years the OSA stayed hidden from the outside world.
Puerto Jimenez was an agriculture town of a few hundred and home to the Costa Rican Banana Company, a subsidiary of United Fruit Company, that was exploiting hardwoods and exploring the Pacific lowlands of Central America for precious woods and to increase their plantings of banana and oil palm.
In 1957, a new player arrives...Osa Peninsula History
It was in 1957 that a US company, incorporated as Osa Forest Products (OFP), came knocking. They purchased all 47,513 hectares from the engineer’s window for $450,000 and they were determined to exploit the natural wealth of the Osa Peninsula. Osa Peninsula History enters a new chapter.
In an ironic twist, the on-site manager of Osa Forest Products, Alvin Wright, invited Leslie Holdridge and Joseph Tosi (Tropical Science Centre) to open a field station on OFP property at Rincon to fully understand the value of the land; this was in the 1960s, and this is when things really started to heat up!
Thanks to rising unemployment in other parts of Costa Rica, jobless Ticos started squatting on the OFPʼs property; so now we had three very distinctly different groups showing interest in the uncharted lands of the Osa. The squatters, the OFP and the Scientists. And it is the agendas of these 3 groups that would eventually define the future of the peninsula, and this happened in the oddest of ways.
First, we had the OFP who were determined to exercise their commercial domination. Next, we had over a thousand scientists who gained access to one of the natural wonders of our world; and as one can imagine…provoking a revolutionary shift on The Osa. And then, of course, we had the squatters, who began mapping out their homesteads and clearing the land.
In the early 1970’s the relationship between these 3 distinct (and sometimes hostile) groups, came to a head. Each sought out partnerships to further their hold on The Osa:
1. The Squatters attracted the newly formed Costa Rican Communist Party to fight for their rights.
2. The scientists reached out to Christopher Vaughn who was a Peace Corps volunteer working under Alvaro Ugalde and the newly formed Costa RIca National Parks.
3. The OFP, after firing Al Wright, brought in his aggressive successor, Donald Allen. It was he who forced the TSC field station to shut down permanently, and turned the focus of OFP toward resort development. He used strong-arm tactics to frighten settlers off of the OPF lands.
This was the battle that paved the way to determine who had the legal rights and who had the strength to push their agenda to the top.
In the 1970s...the real battle begins
In 1974 OFP were making plans to cut down the OSA. Their bottom line was to simply make money out of the OSA and it didn’t matter to them if it was through gold dredging in the laguna, forestry, cattle ranching, or by even creating their very own private park.
During that time, in the dry season, the squatters started filing land claims and began clearing the rainforest. To complicate matters there was also a Japanese company, Mitsui, planning to contract the Corcovado forest from OFP and grind it into chips.
And two scientists by the name of Ewel and Pool published a booklet entitled The Corcovado Basin. This book described the Osa and proposed that a large part be conserved as the Corcovado National Park. The Osa Peninsula History embraces conservation.
One year later, during the dry season in 1975, the OFP had lost all control over the squatters. Chris Vaughn wrote…’not one square meter in the Corcovado plain or in the nearby hills was not marked with boundary lines and claimed by an owner’. These were mostly speculators looking to clear land to resell at inflated prices.
Establishing Corcovado National Park...Osa Peninsula History
Alvaro Ugalde of the National Parks System and President Daniel Oduber formed a strong partnership that gave Ugalde the power to act on the president’s behalf, and it is with this power that conservation on the Osa Peninsula came about. Ugalde, who was now known as ‘The President’s Man’, got the banks to stop lending money to the land speculators of the OSA.
By the end of 1975 – OFP knew their lands on the OSA were being considered for expropriation; it is for this reason that they went to the president directly to talk about a land swap. In October, Oduber signed a degree exchanging lands of the OSA Basin for lands of the surrounding Baldios Nacionales. On the same day, he signed a decree established Parque Nacional Corcovado in the Corcovado Basin.
In 1976, Ugalde presented plans for development expansion and the new Park was declared a national emergency due to the number of squatters. It took a year and $1.7 million to remove all the squatters from the park. However, a small number of gold miners remained entrenched.
Corcovado National Park History is Full of Irony
One needs to wonder; what if OFP never invited the scientist to The Osa? And what if they never helped them set up their research station? Where would we be today? The squatters also managed to stall the grinding of the Osa into chips with the help of the Communist Party.
But it was the scientists, who’s passion and love of nature, along with their partnership with Alvaro Ugalde (National Parks System) and Daniel Oduber (The President of Costa Rica), that led the way to the protection of one of the most biologically intense places on our planet…
…Corcovado National Park, a priceless place with an Ironic history.
Osa Peninsula History, Corcovado National Park
The National Parks Service original estimate of $176,000 for setting up the park (mostly to buy out squatters) later rose to at least $1.2 million.
Corcovado National Park (CNP) was the first Costa Rican park justified based on its ecological and scientific merits, without reference to cultural attributes (like Santa Rosa) or recreational benefits (like Manuel Antonio).
The Costa Rican government was somewhat successful at relocating the approximately 300 farmers, along with their livestock, to the eastern side of the peninsula. However, a few gold miners remained entrenched, which the government would later live to regret.