Anacristina Rossi: La Loca de Gandoca (The Madwoman of Gandoca)
Gandoca is a wildlife refuge on the coast in Costa Rica, rich in biological diversity, both marine and terrestrial. That it is still a relatively unspoilt wildlife refuge is due, to a great extent, to Anacristina Rossi. This novel is a fictionalisation of her efforts to make sure that it stayed that way. Her alter ego in this book is Daniela Zermat. She tells the story of her arrival after a period abroad and how she worked at a shipping company. One day, her boss, Carlos Manuel, took her out for a drive and, though he was married, told her of his undying love for her. They married and had a family and lived by the Gandoca Wildlife Refuge, the most beautiful place in the world. (This takes only a few pages in the book.) It is at this point that Daniela notices that private owners (the refuge contains some private property) are despoiling the refuge.
The rest of the book concerns, to a certain degree, her marital difficulties – Carlos Manuel had been an alcoholic and relapses – but is mainly about her attempts to stop the urbanisation and development of the refuge. Her initial attempts involved trying to find out what laws actually govern the refuge. What legal authority is responsible for it? She contacts various authorities – the Wildlife Authority, the Parks Authority and various others. Whenever she seems to find out who is responsible, it seems that this responsibility is transferred to another agency. No-one seems to have copies of the laws regulating the refuge. In her investigations, she finds that an Italian company – Ecodólares – is going to build what they call a hotel but is, in fact, a huge urban development, with roads, houses, swimming pools and so on. She also finds that a Frenchwoman is planning to build, next to Daniela’s house, a complex of seventeen cabins, a restaurant and a discotheque, but without any sewerage treatment facilities. The government authorities all maintain that the private owners have a right to do what they want, thanks, in part, to a decision by the Constitutional Court, which ruled (apparently) that the government cannot intervene in private property. With the help of biologists and other sympathisers, she tries to fight this development, even getting to speak to the president and the environment minister, but to no avail. She is threatened, slandered and vilified. She initially gets the help of the locals who have lived there for some time but the developers claim that she is going to cost them money (and that she is also an alcoholic, a junkie and sleeps around). There is even a proposal to create a green Miami in the refuge.
The story of a lone woman, facing her own personal problems, fighting an entrenched bureaucracy, ruthless developers and a system set up to defend the rich and powerful is well told. We get considerable detail of the various Costa Rican government departments and government laws and how they are (or aren’t) used. Daniela/Anacristina is clearly a courageous woman and one we can only admire and she tells her story well and with much passion.
First published in 1991 by Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana
English translation by Edwin Mellen Press in 1986
Translated by Terry J Martin