The prison of San Lucas Island, which operated between 1873 and 1991, housing the most dangerous criminals in Costa Rica, seeks to grow as a tourist destination with its dark history of torture and the natural wealth that surround it.
The island San Lucas, which is 472 acres, is located three kilometers from the coast of Puntarenas, Central Pacific of Costa Rica, and is visited by tourists interested in learning about the history of the prison and the torture and inhumane conditions that the inmates faced.
The site is not yet suitable to receive visitors, so there are projects underway to restore historic buildings that are severely damaged by the passing years.
The general manager of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), Juan Carlos Borbón, told EFE that the government hopes to restore the chapel in no later than year and a half, with an investment of two million dollars.
The captaincy building was restored last year through a Japanese grant, which also includes work in the future such as the reconstruction of the pier, the building of a house for the guards, an environmental education center for tourists, and a sanitation and water treatment plant.
Bourbon noted that with these projects completed and the prison in better condition, San Lucas expects to have a maximum of 800 visitors per day, and thus promote the island as a place of great historical and natural wealth.
Ronald Montero, a guide on the island of San Lucas, explained that the prison began operating under the orders of Dictator Tomás Guardia (1831-1882). First, “political undesirables” were sent and then the country’s most violent criminals.
Each of the seven cells of the prison held up to 70 people who slept on the floor and were allowed only one hour of sunlight a day.
Until 1950, inmates who disobeyed orders were punished in two places, “the hole” and “the iron”. It was common to hear them scream and beg for help, Montero clarified during a tour of the site.
“The hole” said the guide, is a hole two meters deep in the common courtyard, which you enter through a small space barely fitting one person, but underneath is an enclosure nine feet in diameter, where the temperature reached 60 degrees Celsius.
According to Montero, “the iron” was a kind of cell that unruly prisoners were sent to which held a combination of storm water and sewage. Limes were thrown in by guards to prevent odor, which made the space an unbearable chemical cocktail.
The true story of what happened in that prison is written in the novel “The Island of Lonely Men,” published in 1972 by Costa Rican Jose Leon Sanchez, who was imprisoned there from 1950 to 1988.
One of the main attractions of the prison is the hundreds of writings which can be seen on the walls of the cells, as well as pictures with high sexual content, one of ex-futbolista Pele.
Two of the most representative drawings of the prison walls are known as “red bikini girl” and “comfort girl”, two life-size works depicting beautiful women who inmates fantasized about.
According to Montero, the red bikini girl has blood lines with the nurse who treated inmates and was killed by them, but that version has not been proven.
All these stories are part of the tour on the island; it is also possible to walk through the tropical dry forest which is the Wildlife Refuge Isla San Lucas since 2001.
The island has indigenous archaeological sites, huge biodiversity as well as lush beaches where there were interest to build resorts.
That initiative was rejected by the Government in 2003 in order to preserve the nature of the dark past for a country recognized for the protection of human rights.
Source: Costa Rica North