Amigos de los Monos

Amigos de los Monos Partners with the Vigilance Committees of Natural Resources (COVIRENA)

Amigos de los Monos is working closely with the local group of COVIRENAs (Vigilance Committees of Natural Resources).  COVIRENA is a subset of MINAE (Ministry of Environment and Energy).  This organization mobilizes volunteers from the local communities to enforce the environmental protection laws.  The Río Coco and Río Caña Blanca communities are represented by a group of twelve individuals, comprised of eight men to patrol the forest and four women to prepare meals for the guards. The name they have chosen for themselves is “ngäbe münchi ngubuaga,” which is their native language for “the indigenous protect the spider monkey.”

Katie Mann with guide and guard Benido Miranda

Katie Mann with guide and volunteer forest-guard Benido Miranda in front of his traditional home.

Currently this group is waiting for the appropriate paperwork to process, which will afford them the authority to enforce the laws that prevent illegal activity, such as hunting, extraction of wood, and pollution of the watersheds. These two areas are crucial for protection efforts, not only because they harbor the remaining spider monkeys, but also because they are highly vulnerable to exploitation by non-indigenous outsiders. Río Coco is a mere six km from Punta Banco, allowing easy entrance from the north. Additionally, Río Caña Blanca borders Panama, offering easy access by Panamanians from the east.  A major problem in this area is that there is no police presence and no form of communication. As a result, illegal extraction by outsiders has carried on without consequences.  The extraction of wildlife for  “hobby” hunting excursions not only threatens the wildlife, but it depletes the resources that the indigenous people have the legal right to use for subsistence. 

Additionally, wood is illegally cut and sold to outsiders.  Sadly, this activity is not wholly driven by necessity, but partially driven by the influx of international property owners who have the luxury of purchasing property and building a new home in Costa Rica. However, the climate is due to change once the COVIRENAs become active. Unarmed, the vigilantes will work in groups to confront people engaging in illegal activity. 

Amigos de los Monos is currently waiting to hear the results of two grants that will provide capitol to support the COVIRENAs in their noble efforts.  In order to introduce the grant procedure to the group, as a training exercise, a workshop was held where the group learned the realities and complexities of completing grant applications.  Together the group decided that if the monies were received they would go towards supplying food for workdays, communication and field equipment training for conflict resolution, data collection techniques and computer literacy. It is hopeful that by providing the appropriate training, the COVIRENAs will acquire the appropriate skills to manage the project with increased autonomy to ensure project sustainability.  Additionally, it is anticipated that these skills will transfer to other aspects of life for the community members who are increasingly integrating themselves with the non-indigenous society.

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