Environment Proposed for Costa Rican Constitution

By Alejandra Herranz

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, September 20, 2002 (ENS) - President Abel Pacheco is proposing to include environmental guarantees in the Costa Rican constitution. The text sent to the Legislative Assembly Monday establishes the right of the public and of individuals to a healthy environment and sets forth their environmental obligations.

To underline the importance he attaches to this proposal, President Pacheco traveled to Cartago, the city where Costa Rican independence was declared 60 years ago, to sign the document proposing the environmental guarantees.


Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
In a statement today, President Pacheco said his proposal is intended to legalize the fundamental right to a healthy environment. It is needed, he said in a statement, due to "deterioration of the ecosystems, the lack of policies and legal instruments able to protect the environment, and the nonexistence of environmental planning."

The proposed reform sets up the public's right of recourse to the law to defend the new constitutional guarantees.

It also recognizes the right of individuals to have access to justice in case of environmental conflict. In cases of conflict, it provides that the collective interest is above that of the individual or even that of the State.

The Legislative Assembly is expected to take some 10 months to reform the Constitution in a complex process of discussion and analysis.

Provided the reform is approved by the Legislative Assembly, the Constitution would read, "The State guarantees, defends, preserves and maintains a public interest on air, water, subsoil, biological diversity and its components; as well as hydrocarbon, minerals and energy, coastal resources, patrimonial sea, economic exclusive zone and protected areas within the nation."

This same article 76 expresses that the State will regulate the public and private use and exploitation of these resources, so that it is done according to the rules of science and in the public interest.

Proposed article 78 says that "any public or private activity affecting the biochemical and genetic heritage of the country, will be obliged to deal with the law to guarantee a sustainable, ecological development."


Waterfall in Costa Rica (Photo courtesy Costa Rica Tourist Board)
A psychiatrist and television commentator before he was inaugurated on May 8, President Pacheco is a member of the Christian Social Unity Party.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg earlier this month, President Pacheco challenged his colleagues to convert current globalization into a process for human development and justice, with priorities such as the fight against corruption, trade with justice, access to technology, and justice in labor relations and in the relationship of human beings with nature.

A week after he took office, the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment and Energy rejected the environmental impact study of the U.S. based oil company Harken Costa Rican Holdings to drill for oil along the Caribbean coast, citing more than 50 legal and environmental problems.

To mark World Environment Day June 5, the Pacheco administration created a new national park, lowered the boom on illegal logging operations, and placed a moratorium on new open pit gold mines.

Costa Rica is part of the Central America region, which is often shown as a paradise, but is not exempt from environmental and social problems. The region is vulnerable to the natural disasters - mainly hurricanes and floods - which make life miserable for the region's 22 million poor people, some 60 percent of the total Central American population.

The region faces environmental problems, such as deforestation at the rate of 45 hectares (111 acres) per hour in an area where just 35 percent of the original forest cover remains.