The Multinational Monitor


N E W S   M O N I T O R

Costa Rica

Green alternative

Maricel Sequeira

Latin America's first ecological party was established in Costa Rica in early July, pledging to turn the tide, of environmental destruction that is plaguing this Central American nation.

Only 25 years ago, threequarters of Costa Rica's hills and valleys were wooded. Today, all but a third of the country has been denuded of trees, with cattle ranchers felling timber indiscriminately to create more pasture land. Costa Rica's future is being mortgaged "to satisfy the international hamburger market," laments geologist Alexander Bonilla, who founded the new Costa Rican Ecological Party (PEC).

Bonilla is planning to model his group on Green parties in Europe which have flourished in recent years, especially in West Germany, where the ecologists are now the third largest political force in the country. "The PEC arose as an alternative to traditional political parties, which don't see the ecology as a priority aspect of their platforms," says Bonilla.

Not that the party plans to concentrate exclusively on purely ecological issues: it will be campaigning in local and national elections due in early 1986 with political, social and economic policies too, but from an overall environmentalist viewpoint. "The PEC will be concerned with the problems of housing, poor distribution of wealth and land, but it will orient everything towards development without destruction," says Bonilla.

And, while the party has been created as an ideologically independent group, it is guided above all by the concept of non-violence, much as its European counterparts are. In Central America this commitment to pacifism has special meaning, as wars rage to the north of Costa Rica. "Our party, precisely because of the situation Central America is in, will struggle for non-violence and non-intervention in the area, and against the nuclear arms race," Bonilla says.

Costa Rica is extraordinarily rich in its environment. Lying at a continental crossroads, it acts as a "bridge" between North and South America, and between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. With less than one-hundredth of a percent of the earth's land surface, Costa Rica is home for 3.5 percent of all known reptile and amphibian species, some five percent of mammal types, and nearly ten percent of the world's bird families. "But there has been no political decision to protect these natural resources," argues Bonilla, despite much legislation on the environment. The trouble, he says, is that none of the laws have any real bite, because the penalties they impose on polluters and destroyers of the environment are derisively light.

Bonilla claims he is not just a "back to nature" type, dead set against the use of any modern agricultural inputs. Pesticides have their place, he says. But he opposes Costa Rica's importing chemicals that have been banned elsewhere in the world for health reasons. "Products which can't be used in other countries because they have been found to cause cancer or sterility or genetic defects are used widely here," Bonilla says, pledging to fight the practice.

He is also going to work for more rational lumbering policies, and greater efforts at reforestation. At the rate at which farmers are cutting down trees today, Bonilla points out, there will be no forest left in Costa Rica by the end of the century outside a few national parks. And-while cattle ranchers have expanded their pasture from 18 percent of the country's land area in 1950 to 42 percent now, only 0.8 percent of previously wooded land has been replanted.

Ecologists are concerned by this trend not only because of its environmental impact, but for economic reasons too. Unless the government does something about it, debt-burdened Costa Rica will find itself having to import up to four million cubic meters of timber a year by the year 2000.

It is that sort of link that Bonilla plans to stress in his campaigning: what people do to the environment affects Costa Rica's economic development, and thus its social fabric, and even its democratic system as a whole, Bonilla argues.

"We are not going to form alliances with either the left or the right," he says, as he maps out his party's strategy. "We are going to be ahead of all of them, because our vision stretches beyond the end of the century, to the benefits of future generations." Bonilla is optimistic that Costa Ricans are already aware enough of environmental issues to support his new party. "Just the fact that the PEC exists will force traditional parties to focus on ecological problems, which for us will be a victory in itself," he adds. "With the PEC, whether we win or not, Costa Rica's environmental situation can never be the same. "

Table of Contents