The Environment Ministry’s Environmental Technical Secretariat (SETENA) has ordered the immediate suspension of all work at a pineapple farming project in the southern Pacific region until the developer complies with various requirements. The decision came after protesters earlier this week in San José criticized the government for issuing permits to the controversial Del Monte project.
The ministry indicated in a news release on Thursday that SETENA’s Council issued the order on Wednesday, following a recommendation from Minister Édgar Gutiérrez.
Gutiérrez submitted his request after evaluating the results of an on-the-ground inspection conducted by officials from the ministry, SETENA, the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), and the National Museum.
Experts found that the project lands are too close to protected areas, including the Térraba Sierpe wetland and four archaeological sites that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared as World Heritage.
The ruling orders the developer —PINDECO, a local subsidiary of Del Monte— to suspend any actions that affect grasslands, forests, rice fields or trees, as well as the construction of any type of infrastructure.
Council members said it is imperative that staff of SINAC’s Osa Conservation Area clearly mark all wetland areas inside the property before any kind of work resumes.
“The developer then will procede to place clear boundaries following guidelines from SINAC and the Osa Conservation Area,” the ruling reads.
The document also prohibits the company from growing pineapple within any wetland area and demands that the developer refrain from conducting any soil movement or land preparation “until experts from the National Museum confirm the need for further archaeological evaluations at other sites within the property.”
The agency granted National Museum officials a one-month deadline to respond and make all necessary recommendations regarding the evaluations.
The Osa Peninsula region is world-famous for their stone spheres and other pre-Columbian artifacts. The area intended to be used for pineapple farming does not contain any World Heritage territories, but there are at least nine sites within the property where National Museum experts have found archaeological artifacts.
SETENA urged the company to move forward with the environmental permit requirements of appointing an environmental officer and presenting a prevention and protection plan. The plan must address the protection of all nearby wetlands and any other water source prone to pollution through farming activities.
Del Monte’s Legal and Corporate Relations Director for Colombia, Ecuador, Central America and Brazil, Luis Gómez, told the daily La Nación on Wednesday that SETENA’s ruling surprised the company but that it will be respectful of the law.
Gómez said the company is not considering work on any wetland or archaeological areas.
“A company like Del Monte would never think about violating legal principles,” he said, denying that Del Monte has any plans to grow pineapples inside wetlands or disrespect the boundaries of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Environmental groups demonstrated Monday in downtown San José and in front of the Environment Ministry against the farming permits granted to PINDECO.
Pineapple production in Costa Rica has been broadly criticized for years following public reports of cases of public health problems linked to contamination of soil and water by chemical substances used in farms.
Farming companies also have been taken to court for alleged abusive labor practices and land ownership disputes.