Regional Water Tribunal Announces Verdicts

March 26, 2004

THE Central America Water Tribunal, which held hearings in San José last week to pass ethical judgments on nine water-related cases throughout the region, announced its verdicts late last Friday.

In two of the nine cases, the court did not rule in favor of the parties who brought forth the complaint.

In one Costa Rican case, in which Caribbean-slope residents claimed fumigation of banana plantations had contaminated vegetation and water sources, the court sided with the defendant, the Standard Fruit Company.

The water tribunal said it rejected the complaint “because no existent relationship between Standard Fruit Co. and the Finca Carrandí has been demonstrated. The tribunal recognizes the efforts of the banana industry to minimize impact on the environment,” according to a statement from the tribunal.

THE complaint had been filed by Oscar Iván Pérez, a resident of Larga Distancia (about 20 kilometers west of the Caribbean port town of Limón), and by Marco Machore, a member of the Committee for Vigilance of Natural Resources of Costa Rica’s Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE), according to the tribunal.

Consulted by members of the tribunal during the public hearing last week, the two men “could not present concrete cases of persons affected by the chemicals, nor the precise nature of the products being used,” according to the tribunal.

Although representatives of Standard Fruit Co. did not attend the hearing, they presented a detailed report of the products they use to fumigate bananas in the area and the procedures they use to prevent environmental damage.

IN the case of the El Chaparral Hydroelectric Dam Project in El Salvador, the nine-member panel opted to abstain from a verdict until the results of an environmental impact study surrounding the project is made available, according to the same statement.

If carried out, the project could displace as many as 21,000 people, mostly agricultural workers (TT, March 19).

In the other Costa Rican case brought before the tribunal, involving extraction of water from an aquifer in Guanacaste for use by hotels, the panel ruled government officials were responsible for ensuring no wateruse concession be granted until a more thorough study of the aquifers in the area can be completed and their capacity more adequately determined, according to documents released by the tribunal.

THE tribunal also demanded that the Panamanian government cease transportation of all nuclear waste across the Panama Canal.

Raúl Escoffery of the Panamanian Human Rights Committee, in San José for the tribunal, said the government has yet to conduct studies pertaining to environmental and security risks associated with the shipments.

He also said a simple accident could be devastating if a ship were carrying nuclear waste, potentially resulting in more than 100,000 deaths in the region.

During the 2003 fiscal year, the Panama Canal Authority reported 12 maritime accidents from a total of 13,154 transits (TT, March 19).

In the remaining five cases, the court asked government officials and businesses to take more drastic steps to prevent misuse and contamination of hydrological resources throughout Central America.

The court’s decisions are only ethical recommendations and are not legally binding.

 

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