On August 26th, a meeting called “The Future of the Costa Rican Electricity System: Rivers and Communities” was held in Longo Mai, Puntarenas, organized by environmentalists from the Environmental Federation (FECON), Movimiento Ríos Vivos, Coeco Ceiba Amigos de la Tierra, and other organizations, Proyectos Alternativos (Proal) and International Rivers.
The objective? To confront what they consider the onslaught of privatization and denationalization of the Costa Rican electricity model led by the Government and the Executive Presidency of ICE, also promoting multiple bills in the Legislative Assembly.
Luis Monge, member of the Rios Vivos de Costa Rica movement and of the Ecologist Federation (FECON), who participated in the meeting, said that the movement arose to defend the rivers of the southern zone of Costa Rica, They were able to paralyze these projects in addition to saving the rivers, thanks to community organization, alliances between movements, universities, and international organizations, they achieved their goal despite the opposition they faced.
In his opinion, the members of the organizations considered meeting again after the pandemic, which immobilized many movements, “it turns out that now we have a new government, and it has made regressive proposals on environmental, social, education, health, etc… issues. Today there is great concern on our part for the presentation of the 6 bills that tend to modify the electric model of solidarity of this country” expressed Monge.
During the conversation we had with Luis Monge, he pointed out that the Costa Rican model is based on the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, founded in the 1940s, and that it is based on a solidarity model, in the sense that the same model allowed the profits generated in this autonomous public company to be invested in the same network, in the form of reinvestment, “Costa Rica currently has an enviable coverage in the national electricity system that reaches about 99% of the population if I remember correctly, this model is given thanks to the fact that the electricity system is in the hands of the State, that is, that electricity generation and distribution were nationalized, before that, the country had had serious problems in tariff issues, coverage and more, now all that has changed.”
According to Monge, the bill, together with others that had already been passed by previous governments, “what is beginning to happen is to generate an opening in the electricity market towards the private sector and, at this moment, in the Legislative Assembly there is a bill that would allow private companies that are generators, which are few, to export electricity, which would begin to weaken ICE and there is another law to harmonize the Costa Rican electricity model that tends to take powers away from ICE and transfer them to private companies”.
In addition to reconnecting, sharing, and dialoguing again among fellow members of the movement, they took the opportunity to reflect, to invite communities and other organizations, and to consider what actions they would take in response to the various situations.
The sociologist, Osvaldo Durán Castro, who is also an ecologist and member of the Costa Rican Federation for the Conservation of the Environment, reported that the meeting on the electricity system was a follow-up of tasks they have been doing for a long time, to incorporate into the discussion on the Costa Rican electricity model and in general the energy model “the communities and the rights of ecosystems”.
“Throughout Costa Rica’s energy model, people have not been respected, much less taken into consideration, there is a dispute here and that is why we are holding this meeting, to resume the discussions. There is a serious and direct confrontation on the issue of electricity, due to the interests of privatizing it and exporting it to Central America. This has been an electricity generation that has been used as a source of profit for 27 national private companies and, concerning foreign capital, they have benefited with more than 3 billion dollars in a decade”, emphasized Durán Castro.
Mariana Porras, representing Coecoceiba “Amigos de la Tierra por Costa Rica”, made special mention of the efforts of environmental organizations in the country, which are part of FECON, both local, regional, and national, and the concern they maintain today for the various bills that are in parliament aimed at privatization, which, in her opinion, go hand in hand with the denationalization of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute.
“The electricity system must be maintained as a common good; energy production should not be seen as a commodity because that mainly favors companies and disadvantages communities. Our objective is focused on reflecting on the just energy transition that is currently being talked about worldwide, but this just energy transition cannot take place if a series of principles are not complied with, as I said before with the law, which cannot be a commodity, it must be a common good, democratic spaces must be opened, the distribution must prioritize the communities”, he added.
Previously, in the various platforms of environmentalists, they have detailed the bills that the Government of President Chaves Robles has taken up, one of them is the legislative file No. 21,670 “Law for the rescue of the finances of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute and its companies”. This bill, together with 6 others known at different times, is defined as a new “combo” against ICE, because it would put in the hands of the small group of politically appointed directors that make up the ICE Board of Directors, the decision to weaken, reduce, sell and even disappear, if they wish, one of the most important institutions for the collective welfare of Costa Rican society.
Finally, sociologist Osvaldo Durán, said that the project is based on a very elementary expository sequence, according to which “the cost of electricity has been increasing significantly so far in this XXI Century, generating an economic impact on families, businesses, and industries…” (File No. 21,670, p. 2). The text points out that “The decrease in electricity consumption generates a decrease in income, but does not lead to a decrease in costs, since most of ICE’s costs in this area are fixed and must continue to be paid”.