San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

’09 to Test Arias’ Green Coat

Costa Rica greets the New Year at a time when issues of global climate change, forest preservation, water conservation and sustainable management of the ocean’s fisheries have never been more talked about, accessible to the public and important to the planet.

Famed for its misty cloud forests, pristine beaches and wild jungles, Costa Rica is often held up as an international example of the right way to do it when it comes to protecting the environment.

But increasingly, those who work closely with environmental issues here are becoming disillusioned.

Over the last year, the environmental movement has consolidated, thanks to an increasing use of the Internet and a few unifying battles. The distance between environmentalists and President Oscar Arias’ administration has never been wider, however, and this year will further test the president’s touted environmental commitment.

During his campaign, Arias sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of many by going light on his green promises. A presidency in which officials have persistently favored investment over environmental protection has done little to calm those fears.

In 2009, the administration will continue to run up against an unconvinced public and a national press unwilling to give it the benefit of the doubt, as it had during the debate over the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

In the coming weeks, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) may decide on the two most central environmental conflicts: the Sardinal aqueduct, a privately funded project to draw water from a neighboring town to fuel coastal tourism development, and the Las Crucitas open-pit gold mine. Those decisions could sway the tide enough to give Arias some new political capital – or pin him against the rocks, forcing some major reversals on pet projects.

The coming year is also expected to see tourism numbers continue to sag, as they did in December, and investment slow.

A tight national budget may also force Arias to postpone long-term environmental spending in favor of short-term economic rescue programs.



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