President Oscar Arias has ordered yet another analysis of the long-standing dispute between property owners and environmentalists over the boundaries of Las Baulas National Park in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
The dispute, a subject of countless lawsuits and a review by the Government Attorney’s office, stems from a debate over whether the park was intended to be entirely marine, or partly on land.
Environmentalists say that the land fronting the beach – Playa Grande, which ranks as the most important leatherback nesting beach in Central America – must be protected immediately to save the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle.
Local developers maintain that the land is rightfully theirs, and expropriation is illegal (TT, April 13).
According to legislator Maureen Ballestero of the National Liberation Party (PLN), the expropriations should have occurred in 1995, when the park was created, but instead the process was delayed by lawsuits and government foot-dragging, leading to the current crisis.
“The property is now much more expensive and the government doesn’t have the money to pay, and worse, we could see disorganized tourist development because of it,” said Ballestero, adding that it is necessary to act now.
Environmental groups, meanwhile, have mobilized to raise funds, beginning with the recent, well-publicized Great Turtle Race. The race not only raised awareness of the turtles’ plight via major television and news outlets across the world, but also raised more than $250,000 for research and “on-the-ground conservation” at the park, according to Marshall Maher, a spokesman for Conservation International, one of the groups that helped organize the race.