Ocean Resources at Risk?

September 14, 2007

Guillermo Quirós smells a rat in the fine print of the country’s Constitution and the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

According to Quirós, an experienced oceanographer who has spent decades studying Costa Rica’s seas, the country’s enormous, 640,000 square kilometer ocean territory is only partially covered under the country’s 1949 Constitution.

This enormous Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), granted to the country in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1975, connects the country in a giant bear hug with distant Isla del Coco located 533 kilometers off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

“Only 9%, or 58,730 square kilometers, of that area is sovereign, and considered national territory under our Constitution. The rest of it – 91% – is accessible by the United States under the free-trade agreement,” he said.

It’s an alarming thought, Quirós said, because he claims Costa Rica is sitting atop a veritable gold mine of natural resources at the bottom of the sea, chief among them methane reserves that “hold great promise as a source of world energy for the next 250 years.”

He values the reserves at more than $4 billion. According to Quirós, it could all be exploited by the energy-hungry United States if the free-trade agreement is ratified in the Oct. 7 referendum.

“It’s not a problem with the agreement. It’s a problem with our Constitution,” he said. “The text is limited and ignores the greatest natural resources we have in our national territory.”

He said he believes in the importance of the treaty – but not until the country fortifies its own laws and Constitution to defend its territory.

As with every such CAFTA argument, the opposing side disagrees vehemently.

According to Alberto Trejos, former Foreign Trade Minister who helped negotiate the treaty, “Mr. Quirós is an excellent oceanographer but a mediocre lawyer.”

A statement released by the Foreign Trade Ministry (COMEX) implies the oceanographer missed a critical point. It says that the country’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) ruled that the “concept of territory in the treaty is only for commercial purposes between parties.”

Translation, according to COMEX: The national territory is defined in the treaty for “trade” purposes only, but not to allow unlimited or unregulated commercial exploitation of ocean resources within that territory by foreign parties.

“Costa Rica preserves, intact, everything that is sovereign in her ocean territory, including the ability to administrate, conserve, explore and exploit natural resources, live or not, that are found there,” reads the statement.

COMEX insists that the country’s ocean-floor resources remain outside the treaty.

 

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