In an election season full of surprise drop-outs, upsets and political blunders, ecological groups have begun to question why hot-button environmental issues have seemingly been swept under the rug.
“We believe that environmental issues have been completely absent from this political campaign,” said Rolando Castro, a member of the board of directors of the Inter-American Association for the Defense of the Environment. “That needs to change.”
Castro is not alone in his concerns. The Environmental Network Alliance (ARA), a coalition of four ecological groups, hosted a candidate forum last Tuesday in hopes of bringing conservation issues to the forefront of the political debate. Only two of the five main presidential candidates attended – José María Villalta of the Broad Front Party and Luís Guillermo Solís of the Citizen Action Party (PAC). The other candidates sent representatives.
The environmental platforms
Following the presentations, a panel of ARA officials analyzed how well the policies would address the country’s environmental problems.
Based on the length and depth of the environmental issues within each candidate’s governmental plans, the ARA panel determined that only Villalta’s and Solís’ environmental platforms were completely rounded out with specific policies.
Former San José Mayor Johnny Araya of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) and Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement Party (ML) both mentioned environmental issues in their government plans but did not elaborate on solutions. Rodolfo Piza of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) has not yet published his government plan.
Johnny Araya: National Liberation Party
Araya sent vice presidential candidate Silvia Lara to the forum in his place. Lara did not give an in-depth report on the PLN’s environmental plans, but instead detailed the party’s belief that businesses should be accountable for their own pollution.
Lara proposed a “report or explain” system, which would request that businesses submit environmental impact reports along with a list of their mitigation efforts. Though Lara said she believed the system should be obligatory, she said the PLN has no plans to make it so.
“If you don’t want to report you don’t have to,” she said, “but you are going to have to file something that explains why you don’t want to file a report.”
According to ARA’s analysis of the candidate’s proposals, Araya’s environmental platform is the least comprehensive of the four candidates with published government plans.
Otto Guevara: Libertarian Movement Party
Libertarian vice presidential candidate Thelmo Vargas used his speaking time in the forum to discuss the relationship between economic development and the environment.
“You cannot use the environment as an excuse to limit commerce,” Vargas said. “The goal is to develop them together.”
Vargas laid out proposals to increase the country’s competitiveness while simultaneously protecting natural resources. The party wants to open the country’s electricity market to private companies both to reduce electricity costs and to encourage renewable energy growth. ML also has a detailed highway construction plan designed to help reduce congestion in San José.
Rodolfo Piza: Social Christian Unity Party
Due to a surprise drop out by PUSC’s original candidate, Piza still does not have an officially published platform, so Gabriela San Román, a PUSC assistant campaign manager, laid out the party’s environmental plans Tuesday for the first time in the campaign.
The party’s primary environmental concern is the preservation of Costa Rica’s protected areas.
“The heart of our green efforts – our parks, our protected areas – are under threat, mostly because of a lack of management,” she said. “It is the Unity’s first priority to protect that which we already have.”
Increased protection, said San Román, can only be accomplished through a complete overhaul of the country’s National System of Protected Areas and an increase in personnel.
Also on the party’s list of priorities are water resource management and an improved recycling program.
Luís Guillermo Solís: Citizen Action Party
Summarizing his party’s comprehensive environmental plan, Solís focused on the issues of water resource management and institutional reform in his speech.
“It is time we recognize that the public institutions that regulate the environment are one of the largest challenges that we face,” he said. “We need to create a more integrated management approach.”
Specifically, Solís wants the public included in environmental management, especially people who live near national parks.
“We have protected areas and that is important,” Solís said, “but there are people who live around those protected areas, who have problems and it is time that those problems are addressed.”
ARA ranked PAC’s environmental plan as one of the most detailed and comprehensive (along with Villalta’s), and noted that his transport and energy-sustainability plans were the most developed out of all the platforms.
José María Villalta: Broad Front Party
The crux of Villalta’s environmental platform includes better management of the environmental laws in existence. Villalta pointed to environmental laws that have passed but continue without regulation. (Villalta recently sat down with The Tico Times to discuss his environmental proposals. Read that story here.)
“Look at the collection of recyclables. There is a law on the books that we have to separate recycling,” he said, “but the municipalities don’t have a plan to manage it so it doesn’t matter. We need to actually plan these things out.”
Villalta has other, more ambitious, environmental plans. As president, the lawmaker promised he would help Costa Rica become the first “trash-free” country in Latin America and start expanding the train system in the Central Valley to alleviate traffic.
His environmental plan also focuses heavily on rural agricultural development with the hope of relieving poverty among the nation’s farmers.