Will Statue Be Left in Peace?

December 17, 2004

SOME call it a rock, but the 300-meter precipicethat rises sharply above the highway winding downto the Valle de El General, in the Southern Zone, ismuch more than an oversized boulder.The natural monument marks the entrance to theregion and is home to the Príncipe de Paz (Prince ofPeace), a 10-meter-tall statue of Christ that hasreached out from its heights to the valley below for aquarter of a century.Residents use the area at the statue’s base – accessibleby a path that winds up the back of the juttingrock – for picnics and family outings.While some residents believe the rock is priceless,the value of its stone could be its downfall, accordingto some concerned community groups.A rock quarry planned there threatens to turnthe landmark, which lies just above the Inter-American Highway 6 kilometers north of SanIsidro de El General, into construction material,residents say.However, a lawyer representing the quarry’s owner, Juan Ramírez, told The Tico Timeshis client is committed to not harming therock and the statue at its peak.The statue, a hollow structure made offiberglass, was placed there in 1979 usingdonations from religious community members,according to Monsignor IgnacioTrejos, who led the initiative for its construction.Costa Rican sculptor Francisco Ulloadesigned the figure, which at the time wasthe tallest statue of Christ in CentralAmerica, Trejos said.“It was during the civil war inNicaragua, and Costa Rica was considered aland of peace, so we decided to put it thereas a symbol of peace – an image that bringspeace to the valley,” he said.THE statue looks out over the vast valley,the gateway to the Southern Zone.“You descend from the clouds of theCerro de la Muerte and everything clearsbefore you, and there is this rock. It makesone feel, ‘We are in Pérez Zeledón. We are inthe Southern Zone. We are home,’” saidEdwin González, president of the Union ofIndependent Farmers in the Southern Zonecanton of Pérez Zeledón.González and other residents said theywill file a complaint with the Prosecutor’sOffice in an effort to halt the project.It might be too late.THE El General Rock Quarry hasobtained all necessary government approvaland could start work any day, according toRamírez’s lawyer, Carlos Vargas.Francisco Castro, general director of theEnvironment and Energy Ministry’sGeology and Mining Department, saidRamírez received a 17-year concession“months ago” to extract stone from the area.He said it was sometime in the middle of theyear, but couldn’t say exactly when.The concession allows for the extractionof 90,000 cubic meters of gravel a year – 1.5million cubic meters total – from a fivehectarearea.Approximately 16 employees will beinvolved in the extraction and processing ofthe rock, which will be sold to the constructionindustry, according to the project’sEnvironmental-Impact Study, which hasbeen approved by SETENA.According to the National Registry,Ramírez is the leaseholder for the land.Vargas said his client has a lease for 25years. The land is divided into several lotswith various owners.OPPONENTS remain concerned.The economic value of the project is insulting if it exacts a toll on the community,said San Isidro Monsignor Guillermo Loría,who, along with the Catholic Church in thearea, supports the fight against the quarry.“They are always approving projectsthat help the community the very least, andthat usually destroy it, particularly the environment,”he said.González agrees.“This is not something you can buy withcolones, this is something that touches all ofour sentiments. We are trying to rescuesomething that belongs to all of us. It isn’towned by anybody,” he said.Vargas said his client has no interest inextracting the rock on which the Cristo dePaz sits. On the contrary, he is committed toimproving public access to the monumentand perhaps constructing a mirador (scenicoutlook) there, Vargas said.The lawyer added that while this is onlya verbal commitment, his client would considersigning a written pledge to save thestatue if a community group in the area presentsa formal proposal.THE Environment Ministry’s Castrosaid he does not believe the quarry concessionincludes the landmark. Requests for furtherinformation were referred to theNational Technical Secretariat of theEnvironment Ministry (SETENA).Representatives from that institution didnot return calls from The Tico Times thisweek or last.San Isidro residents say they have notreceived a response from SETENA addressingtheir complaints, and an overall lack ofinformation has plagued their efforts toaddress the issue, González said. From thebeginning they have been kept in the dark,he alleged.A door-to-door poll by those opposed tothe quarry revealed no residents had beenofficially notified of the project and concessionrequest, he added.This is in violation of requirements foran approved Environmental-Impact Study,opponents say. They also have concernsabout the potential impact on the watersources.CASTRO said all the evidence in hisdepartment “suggests there will be nodamage to any aquifers” and the projectcomplied with all of the requirements ofSETENA to receive its approval before theEnvironment Ministry approved the concession.“We have complied with all laws,”agreed Vargas.The Municipality of Pérez Zeledón didnot return calls from The Tico Times.In addition to the Catholic Church,quarry opponents have received the supportof legislator Rafael Varela of thePatriotic Bloc. Citizen Action Party legislatorGerardo Vargas said Monday he willtry to arrange a meeting between concernedcitizens, SETENA and the CostaRican Federation for the Conservation ofthe Environment (FECON).Opponents aren’t giving up.“This is a fight of all Costa Ricans,because this is something that is part of usall. It is greater than us all,” González said.

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