Costa Rica 'cult' facing deportation, Canadian man safely leaves group
Group leader 'Nature Boy' says he was roughed up by police during arrest
An alleged cult in Costa Rica may have met its end, after local police detained the group following a traffic stop and held 11 of them for deportation.
The group, dubbed Melanation by its leader Eligio Bishop, has a large online following and follows a back-to-nature philosophy promoted through social media.
Most of the members were living in Costa Rica illegally, according to Alex Raposo, a Toronto man who joined the group three weeks ago.
"Everything on the car was expired — all the paperwork, the licence plate. So [police] impounded the vehicle," Raposo said. "Along with that, I think six people had expired passports. They overstayed in the country for a long time."
Bishop is among the members who say they are being deported. Raposo has a valid travel visa and was released soon after being detained.
Known to his followers as Nature Boy, Bishop made news last March when a 21-year-old woman from Newfoundland and Labrador quietly left home to join him.
Kayla Reid was listed as a missing person by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, until she showed up in a live stream on Facebook from Costa Rica.
Her mother expressed concerns to CBC News, saying Bishop had taken advantage of her daughter's mental illness and that her daughter had joined a cult.
On March 20, Bishop told CBC News that Reid was free to go at any time. He did not deny being a cult leader, but said he also believes all countries and corporations are cults.
The next day, he gave Reid a plane ticket to Florida, where a family member picked her up and brought her home.
While Reid expressed a desire to go back to the group, Raposo said he wants nothing to do with Eligio Bishop anymore.
"He wants to be the big man who stood up for something," Raposo said. "He wants to live free without a passport in nature. But you can't do that."
Detention turns rocky, police get rough
The group was detained near Puerto Limón, the sixth-largest city in Costa Rica, after being stopped at a police checkpoint.
When it was discovered they were in the country illegally, the group members were told to wait for a bus to come and take them to see immigration officials, Raposo said.
When the bus took them to the police station, Bishop told the group to stay put.
A video shows police trying to forcibly remove them from the bus. Bishop is heard repeating "I love you" to an officer as he attempted to pull him out of his seat.
In subsequent videos, some members of the group said they were charged with resisting arrest. Bishop and one other man showed off cuts and bruises to followers during a Facebook live from the police station.
Raposo was allowed to leave the entire time, but felt obligated to stay with the group he considered his family.
Seeing things from different light
Raposo said he now sees the struggle as being futile, but at the time he felt he had to follow Bishop's commands.
After a few days away from the group, Raposo said he feels "awakened."
"[Bishop] created a situation out of nothing," Raposo said of the detaining.
"Just because you're against the system and you don't like paperwork, doesn't mean you can do what he did."
No traveller from North America is permitted to stay longer than 90 days in Costa Rica without a visa.
Raposo said he now feels differently about the man he once revered as Nature Boy.
"He's just manipulative. He knows how to use his words very well ... I'm not going to say he controlled me, but it's just I fell for it."
Travelled to Costa Rica to change lifestyle
Displeased with life in Toronto, Raposo became one of the nearly 37,000 people following Bishop on YouTube and Facebook.
A strong believer in a lifestyle closer to nature, Raposo went to Costa Rica and joined Melanation.
Three people close to Raposo reached out to CBC News before he left and expressed concerns he was joining a cult.
Two former members of the group have said they were asked to turn over their cash upon joining the group, and said Bishop gets donations from his followers online.
Making a change is not going against a system that is still here.- Alex Raposo
One member, who left the group last winter, accused Bishop of manipulating his followers into staying with him, adding he is motivated by controlling people's lives.
The former member also labelled the group as a cult.
Raposo said he does not feel like he joined a cult, but did feel manipulated and misled by Bishop before moving to Costa Rica. Upon arriving at the group's headquarters, he realized they were not living a back-to-nature lifestyle at all.
"[Bishop] was still paying rent for a house," Raposo said. "He was still buying materialistic things."
Still, the former personal trainer said he has no regrets and was thankful for Bishop encouraging him to leave a modern lifestyle behind.
Raposo said he will stay in Costa Rica for now, and keep pursuing a life closer to nature — but he will do it legally.
"I just want to send a message of peace and love," he said.
"It's time to make a change ourselves. But making a change is not going against a system that is still here, because you pay consequences for it if you try to be a smartass."