Costa Rica Says No to U.S. Oil Company
WASHINGTON, DC (May 13, 2002) -- Late last week Costa Rican environmentalists celebrated a major victory when their government killed plans to open the country's coast to oil exploration. In an eleventh-hour decision, Minister of Environment Elizabeth Odio rejected an appeal by a Harken Energy subsidiary to allow drilling along the southern Caribbean coast of Talamanca because the project would harm fragile coral reef systems and protected marine areas. The decision, made a day before the newly elected government of President Abel Pacheco took office, upheld an earlier unanimous ruling by a government technical committee rejecting the project.
The ruling was the culmination of a two-year campaign by a coalition of indigenous villages, nature-based tour operators, clergy and community groups. Coalition lawsuits delayed plans for the project, while marches, protests and public hearings in the coastal city of Limon and the capital San José kept pressure on the government and attracted international support. The company lobbying for the right to drill, Harken Costa Rica Holdings, is co-owned by MKJ-Xplorations and Harken Energy, a Houston-based oil and gas company with ties to President George W. Bush.
"The people of Costa Rica have won an important victory today," said Jacob Scherr, director of the International Program at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "Costa Ricans are asserting their right to decide their own future, despite what large multinational companies may want." NRDC attracted international attention to the campaign as part of its BioGems project. Activists from across the Americas sent tens of thousands of messages from NRDC's BioGems website (www.savebiogems.org) to Harken Energy and Costa Rican officials over the last 12 months to voice their opposition to the offshore project.
The drilling proposal was a central issue in Costa Rica's recent presidential campaign. The winner, Abel Pachecho, came out squarely against the project. In his inauguration speech, he declared a new era of "peace with the environment," vowing to draft an environmental section for the country's constitution, and specifically rejected oil exploration and mining as a major component of the country's economy. "We will compete without destroying nature," he said, "because...our rich biodiversity will always be a great wealth and we will preserve it."
In declaring "peace with nature," Pachecho is continuing a Costa Rican tradition of making unconventional decisions. Costa Ricans take pride in being the only Central American nation without an army, and has been one of the most peaceful and economically successful countries in the region. NRDC's Scherr compared the Costa Rican decision to the recent vote in the U.S. Senate to reject drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "It's the right choice, and if a small country like Costa Rica can do it and prosper, so can we," he said. "At some point we have to decide to protect nature over the interests of the big oil companies."
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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