While tensions along the San Juan River remain high and the International Court of Justice has yet to issue its ruling on whether or not it will obligate Nicaragua to remove its military troops from Isla Calero, Costa Rican academic and civil society organizations concerned about the environment are raising awareness about the damage being caused to wetlands in the disputed area.
“Mission: Wetlands Life for All” is an initiative that was launched in Costa Rica on Feb. 2, the same day that the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands, an international treaty that calls for the protection of wetlands, was adopted 40 years ago in Iran.
Last month, Foreign Minister René Castro called upon various organizations to form the project in an effort to rally support against the environmental destruction of wetlands on both sides of the border.
“I felt that by working together with those who attach importance to wetlands in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the world, we would manage to raise awareness of its importance, beyond the conflicts in border areas,” Castro told The Tico Times in an e-mail this week.
The initiative was started by the National Front for the Protection of Wetlands, the University of Costa Rica (UCR) School of Biology, Neotrópica Foundation, the Wild Flora and Fauna Preservation Association (Apreflofas), the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (Pretoma), Poder magazine, actress Rocío Carranza and student federations at the UCR and National University.
Bernardo Aguilar, executive director of Neotrópica Foundation, said the project has two immediate objectives and other long-term ones. The first is to “raise awareness of why this particular resource is important beyond the sovereignty problem.” The campaign plans to achieve this goal by providing information to the public, organizing a series of forums between now and March 11, and hosting a national event in San José on March 11.
The second objective is to “support the request of the precautionary measures by the International Court of Justice at The Hague,” Aguilar said. On Nov. 18, the Costa Rican government filed a request for the world court to grant provisional measures, which included the withdrawal of Nicaraguan troops from Isla Calero, a stop to the construction of a canal across allegedly Costa Rican territory, cessation of the felling of trees and removal of soil and vegetation from the area, a stop to the dumping of sediment in allegedly Costa Rican territory and a suspension of Nicaragua’s dredging program (see story on Page 1).
During the legal arguments that took place in the world court in January, Costa Rica presented a RAMSAR report that concluded that the construction of the canal on the San Juan River is causing environmental damage that will alter the surrounding wildlife habitat (TT, Jan. 4). Nicaragua then requested that RAMSAR visit the site to produce an unbiased report (TT, Jan. 12).
The Wetlands initiative hopes that the new RAMSAR report will complement the previously issued one, Aguilar said, and that there will be a clear technical evaluation of the impact. Additionally, he said they hope that Nicaragua will allow civil society groups to accompany the RAMSAR commission to the site.
“I’m not as optimistic to say maybe they’ll ask Costa Rican civil society organizations to go, but at least if Nicaraguan or international civil society organizations were able to go there during the RAMSAR visit, that would be awesome,” Aguilar said.
The initiative’s third objective is to continue working as a national front for the defense of wetlands. “The idea is to continue working with other issues that are pending regarding other wetlands that are right now being endangered, like the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, the Puntarenas mangroves, and so forth,” he said.
Costa Rican actress and environmental activist Rocío Carranza is lending her voice to the cause. “As an actress and communicator, I feel that I have a duty to be involved in these issues that are happening in this country and in the world,” she told The Tico Times this week.
Carranza explained that the project is focused on an environmental issue, not a political one. “It’s a wetland that belongs to both countries, and nature knows no boundaries,” she said. “We’re also trying to protect the nature that belongs to Nicaragua.” She said that the destruction of wetlands is a socio-environmental issue because the lives of the people who live near them are being affected.
Gino Biamonte, president of Apreflofas, and UCR professor and researcher, and who is also involved in the Wetlands initiative, drew attention to the inextricable link between the environment and its people.
“Wetlands are one of the most fragile ecosystems, which many social groups depend on, because of the fish, water and many other resources,” he said. In light of constant press coverage of the sovereignty dispute, the initiative hopes to elevate the wetlands issue to a national level, Biamonte said.
The press “has given a lot of importance to the political issue,” he said. “[But] the animals and plants that live there aren’t interested in border policies.”
Aguilar, from the Neótropica Foundation, agreed. “We’re looking for this to be resolved outside of that logic of polarization that has been created by the sovereignty dispute,” he said.