The Municipal Council of Perez Zeledón will have to face three considerable obstacles if it insists on building a Municipal Cableway in the Chirripó National Park. The National Park Law, the Organic Environmental Law, and the International Treaties that protect the national parks will eventually overturn this local government agreement, which has less judicial weight than the laws above mentioned. This is the criteria of environmental and conservation organizations, who have issued a public statement on the matter.
The idea is not new at all. It is more the resurrection of a project promoted and abandoned for decades. But this last February 21st, the Municipal Council of Pérez Zeledón agreed to “Declare the Cableway Project to the top pf Cerro Chirripó, of local and public interest, because of the positive impact that can be foreseen for the national and international tourism activity in our area”. Point number 2 in the agreement, is to ask the Government of the Republic to “declare the project of public and national interest”
The Major of Perez Zeledón talked to the media and gave some details about this Cableway Project; it would be eight or nine kilometers long (approximately 4 miles), and it would have between 8 and 9 towers. Costs are estimated in mo less than 20 million USD. But is considered by the Major and the Municipal Council as “a great business because it would increase visitation” according to his own words.
University professor, sociologist and ecologist Osvaldo Durán wrote “there is nothing further from the goals of the National System of Conservation Areas- SINAC (Spanish acronym) and the mission set for the National Park System since its creation and maintenance. Installing infrastructure to stimulate incursions, even if these are controlled, will overload the Chirripó Park, and its buffering zone, which is also vital for ecosystem conservation”.
He then continued: “According to the National Park Law, in its Article 12, it is is prohibited to install stations and infrastructure for a Cableway for profit reasons, as the Municipality desires”. Mr. Durán assures that in order to build this infrastructure, the protected area must be shrunk, and this also needs a special bill in Congress, as is clearly stated in the Organic Environmental Law.
There might also be some international confrontations too, with at least two treaties, because the landscape and the aerial space of the Park will also be affected. The Convention on Biological Diversity states, in its Article 8, and the Convention for the Protection of Flora, Fauna and Scenic Natural Landscapes in American Countries, in its Article III, explicitly ban the exploitation of these areas for commercial purposes.
This last article and these national laws have been a stone in the shoe for many different projects that have tried to exploit resources in National Parks, like hydroelectric and geothermal energy projects, and infrastructure such as roads inside the Parks. They have been promoted and have tried to get approval for decades now.
According to Durán “the most sensitive issue is the pressure to impose the model of the concession of non-essential services, which in reality is nothing more than the privatization of the SINAC and its National Parks. No matter if they are described as road building, electricity, telecommunications, health services, cleaning, laundry, or whatever these activities are: the concession is the path to declare the State as incompetent and let it delegate some services that are considered secondary or complementary, but that in fact, these services are an essential components of the production of services and wealth at a national level”:
The Environmental Federation is calling on the Municipal Council to reconsider their decision. It is also asking the Minister of Environment, and the President, to discard this project if presented to them.
Other Parks with similar threats and policies
Chirripó is not the only National Park with these kinds of conflicts or disputes. The Costa Rica News has learned of multiple irregularities and abuses that are going on in the Corcovado National Park, especially in the Sirena Station. For starters, there was a concession of non-essential services, for food supply. Breakfast cost $20 USD, lunch $25, and dinner is $30 USD. But visitors are not allowed to take any kind of food into the park, even when the tours always keep a zero footprint policy.
Gustavo Gutiérrez, a long time eco-tour guide, gave examples of bad policy in Sirena.- Corcovado:
“They have told us that we can no longer carry the lunch boxes that we have always carried for the tourists. They have cited some scientific studies that were never shown, allegedly because eating outdoors is harmful to the fauna. However, the airport, which is in the middle of the jungle, has a busy schedule of at least 20 trips a day…and I have witnessed how wildlife is being murdered in the airplane field, because of how many planes come and go. There seems to be no balance in policies, management, and decisions. Environmental criteria are not the priority. Profit is the driving force behind these policies”.
Written by Alica Casas