Among the issues that will sway Costa Rican voters in the upcoming presidential election, environmental concerns appear to have a stronger pull than candidates have taken into consideration in their campaigns.
Though a recent survey conducted for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Costa Rica revealed 73% of eligible voters in the country agree a candidate’s position on environmental issues could determine their vote, the topic has been abandoned during this campaign period, according to analysts.
Instead of focusing on the environment, presidential candidates have chosen to target other topics that weigh on the average Tico, such as the high cost of living and security issues, said Sergio Araya, president of the Political Science and International Relations Professional Association.
Although candidates have laid out environmental plans – some more detailed than others – in their platforms, famed political analyst Rodolfo Cerdas told The Tico Times these are not reliable indicators of how their parties would operate in an eventual administration. “Platforms have become a mere conventionality, they are drafted and then tossed aside,” he told The Tico Times, pointing out that during his campaign in 2002, President Abel Pacheco promised to promote the amendment of a set of “environmental guarantees” to the Constitution (TT, Sept. 20, 2002).
However, the guarantees are collecting dust in the Legislative Assembly.
According to the recent survey, carried out by the U.S.-based firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates for the Nature Conservancy, an international non-governmental conservationist group, Nov. 20-29, 2005, the environmental concerns of Costa Rican voters are such that a majority would support the government if it dedicated more funds to protect it.
A total of 90% of 993 adults interviewed said they would support the use of funds to improve water and air quality, and half of these voters would take on the responsibility through the payment of fees or increased taxes. In a statement from the Nature Conservancy, Costa Rica director Zdenka Piskulich, said judging by the concern voters have expressed about environmental topics, a large chance exists that the next administration could promote an environmental agenda with the support of the public.
“Environmental groups can also assist with specific initiatives with some certainty that their points of view will not be regarded as an expression of isolated interests,” she said.
With the exception of the United Left Coalition, which associates the exploitation of natural resources with the capitalist model from which it seeks to distance itself, most presidential candidates’ platforms coincide in highlighting the most crucial threats to the environment, analyst Araya said.
He listed water pollution, deforestation and waste management as top priorities. However, the platforms lack clarity in explaining what exactly will be done to resolve these problems, Araya said.
Arias Prioritizes Water Issues
To avoid this problem, the National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate, Oscar Arias, ranked first among the country’s three leading candidates, worked backwards on his platform, according to René Castro, the party’s environmental coordinator.
Instead of developing plans to resolve environmental problems listed in the platform if elected, the party decided to make a detailed cost analysis before elaborating the platform, said Castro, who was Environment Minister during Arias’ presidency (1994-98).
Castro said the party decided to prioritize the topic of water conservation and pollution, and dedicated a significant portion of the platform to discussion of this issue.
National Liberation seeks to create a sewage system and water treatment plants for the metropolitan area as a first step, he said. However, the party might not preserve the moratorium on open-pit mining signed by President Pacheco at the beginning of his administration (TT, June 7, 2002).
According to Castro, although Arias would not promote open-pit mining in the country, this is not a priority for the party, which would rather uphold a policy of sustainable development.
As for the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), National Liberation “is very clear that it must go forth,” but it will improve everything it can about the treaty, Castro said in response to whether the party would attempt to renegotiate the much-criticized environmental portion of the treaty.
Solís Focus on Education
Second runner up in the polls is candidate Ottón Solís’ Citizen Action Party (PAC), which is committed to fulfilling the environmental mission laid out in its platform, according to Carlos Quesada, coordinator of PAC’s environmental commission.
Quesada, a specialist in hydraulic resources, said the party will target waste management and pollution problems and focus on sustainable development and environmental education.
“Finanial resources are required (to carry out the plan); much of it depends on how the economy will work,” Quesada said.
He said to curb the country’s waste-management issues, the party would try integrated politics, from new legislation to educational campaigns to improve the way Costa Ricans manage their waste.
As a solution to air-pollution problems, the party proposes “establishing a more efficient public transportation” system, which might include long-term studies and possibly electric trolleys in San José, Quesada said.
The party also proposes to renegotiate the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) to protect Costa Rican resources, especially water, from privatization, he said.
He explained that because PAC considers open-pit mining a great risk to the environment that brings few benefits to the country, the party aims to maintain President Pacheco’s moratorium.
Solís also supports passing of the environmental guarantees bill Pacheco submitted to the Assembly, but would like to review its contents, Quesada explained.
Guevara Would Eliminate SETENA
In his platform, third runner-up Libertarian Movement Party candidate Otto Guevara does not address the issue of environmental threats, and dedicates a mere four paragraphs of his 41-page document to the environment.
According to Franz Tattenbach, president of the Foundation for the Development of the Central Mountainous System (FUNDECOR) and environmental coordinator for the Libertarian Movement, their proposal is short because of its conciseness and simplicity.
In the platform,Guevara pledges to modernize national parks and promote the creation of private protected areas.
He also proposes to eliminate the “obstacle-generating functions” of the Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry (SETENA), an institution whose functions include the approval of developers’ environmental impact studies.
Instead of SETENA, known for its lengthy paperwork and the large amounts of time it spends in evaluating these studies (TT, July 2, 2004), Guevara’s platform suggests establishing clear parameters for developers and applying firm sanctions against those who transgress the law.
Guevara vows to ensure “environmental sustainability be present in different public policies.”
“We will give adequate treatment to waste water, solid waste and the conservation of our flora and fauna on land as well as in the ocean,” his platform says.
The party fully supports CAFTA and considers renegotiation of any of the treaty’s points, including the environment, unnecessary, Tattenbach explained.