San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Phone Threat Forces Park Tour Delay

Clara Padilla, an environmentalist in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, canceled a trip there for lawmakers after she received a threatening phone call.

Padilla had invited lawmakers to Las Baulas National Marine Park last weekend to urge them not to pass bills that would reduce the park’s size, a measure she says would further endanger the leatherback sea turtles.

Then she got this message from an anonymous caller, “Clara, be careful this weekend,” and cancelled the trip.

Padilla, the local director of the U.S.-based advocacy group Leatherback Trust, had planned for the six lawmakers on the Legislative Assembly’s Environment Committee to tour the park and attend talks by local guide groups whose living depends on the park’s health.

A 1995 law leaves the size of the park unclear, and environmentalists and developers have long argued over whether the park should include a 75-meter wide swath of land in addition to the 50-meter public beach zone.

In 2005, the Government Attorney’s Office sided with the environmentalists and ordered the land be expropriated to the park.

After dragging its feet for three years, the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE) received an order in May from the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) to begin the expropriations.

But two bills now before the Environment Committee would redefine the park to exclude the 75-meter strip running along the coast and prevent the expropriation from moving forward.

“It’s an issue of sovereignty. A foundation like Leatherback Trust has no business coming and telling us what to do, when we are one of a few countries with the greatest percentage of protected territory,” said Jorge Eduardo Sánchez, the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) lawmaker who proposed both bills.

He added that the expropriations would cost the government millions of dollars and leave Costa Rica vulnerable to international lawsuits. The ministry values the land at $50 to $800 per square meter, while the mostly foreign landowners are demanding nothing less than $1,200 (TT, May 16) if their land is expropriated.

Biologists say the bills would allow for rampant development and further endanger the sea turtles, whose populations have plummeted 90 percent in the past two decades (TT, April 13, 2007).

“We are deeply worried by these initiatives for scientific, social, economic and environmental reasons,” 10 leading environmentalists wrote in a letter to lawmakers last month.

Padilla, who signed the letter, said she suspected the call came from someone angry about her efforts to protect the park.

“I assume this call was intended to intimidate me, and, in fact, it did,” Padilla wrote in a report filed with the Judicial Investigation Police. Padilla, who also said she received death threats in early 2007, indicated she would likely reschedule the trip.


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