Costa Rica: Will
it be declared free from oil exploration and extraction?
A few weeks ago we visited the Atlantic coast of Costa
Rica --from Limón to Manzanillo-- and we were
really impressed. We are not referring to the scenic
beauties of the area nor to the friendliness of its
local inhabitants that of course we were able to appreciate.
We refer to the threat to open up this beautiful zone
to oil exploration by North American companies, with
the blessing of the government and of the multilateral
Fortunately, the local population has shown itself to
have far more intelligence and long-term vision than
the national government and has carried out a successful
struggle to stop its attempts to sell the country, its
environment and the health of its people to the highest
bidder. It is impressive for visitors to see everywhere
--even in the most unlikely places, such as at the side
of a highway police station-- posters against oil exploration
and extraction (see
photos here). It is equally impressive to observe
the level of awareness and militancy existing among
the local population when talking about the problem.
Of course this is not the fruit of the population’s
farsightedness, but the result of an arduous job carried
out with perseverance by many people and organisations,
recently summarised in a book (in Spanish) with the
suggestive title of "Se vende lindo país"
(Beautiful country for sale). We recommend you to read
Among many other things, we find out here that the hydrocarbon
law --preparing the conditions to launch oil extraction--
was approved as part of the measures to comply with
the provisions of the Structural Adjustment Programme
agreed on in 1993 with the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund. We also learn that the main company interested
in oil extraction is Harken Energy, that "just
happens" to have had the present president of the
United States, George W. Bush as one of its main shareholders.
Mr. Bush still maintains close ties with this company.
The book also describes the possible impacts of oil
extraction --and also those that have already occurred
during the exploration stage-- on the country’s
marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Some experience already
exists on the impacts of oil extraction with regard
to forests and in fact, during the eighties, exploration
was carried out in Talamanca. Marina López, one
of the leaders of the Bribri Women’s Association
says that at first "we did not have very clear
experience so the leaders agreed to the exploration.
But after it was done we realised that the environment
was affected and it was causing the destruction of forests..."
Justa Romero, a member of the same indigenous women’s
organisation adds that "the indigenous peoples
have existed for thousands and thousands of years but
they have always conserved the forests. Many times the
government uses politics, saying ‘conservation!’
but in fact, those who have conserved the land have
been us, the indigenous peoples. You will only find
forests in the indigenous areas..."
It seems incredible that a government such as that of
Costa Rica, which has invested so much in the promotion
of a "green" international image to attract
millions of tourists, is willing to throw the environment
overboard to satisfy the appetite of transnational oil
companies. As Tatiana Lobo says in the introduction
to chapter 5 of the book: "We want to know the
deep mystery behind this tremendous attack on our greatest
wealth: clean and abundant water, dense forests, prodigious
seas, flora and fauna. To sacrifice all this enormous
energy in the twenty-first century for some barrels
of crude oil is more than an inconceivable stupidity:
it is territorial suicide."
According to the latest information, the triumph of
the anti-oil movement is practically ensured, converting
into reality the public manifesto submitted by hundreds
of groups and individuals in September 2000 at the Legislative
Assembly building, which declared "Costa Rica to
be free of all oil exploration and extraction and inviting
our government to become a world example by doing this."
We hope this will be so and that Costa Rica can show
the world --and in particular the industrialised nations--
the oil-free path that we must necessarily follow in
order to ensure the survival of the planet and of those
who live on it.