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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Costa Rica on Track to Shelve Escazu Environmental Agreement

The emblematic Escazú Agreement on environmental protection approved by Latin American countries in 2018, is about to fall into oblivion in Costa Rica, one of its promoters, in the face of the rejection of the government, the majority of Congress and businessmen, who see it as a brake on economic reactivation.

Costa Rica has been a “vanguard country, with positions always in favor of the environment and human rights”, says Nicolás Boeglin, professor of international law at the University of Costa Rica, to AFP.

For this reason, says the academic, it is inexplicable that the Legislative Assembly intends to shelve the agreement, which guarantees access to information on environmental matters, the right of citizen participation in decisions affecting the environment and protection for nature defenders.

Only the six deputies of the Frente Amplio (left) are determined to extend the period of discussion in Congress, but 29 votes are needed. If the deadline, which expires on February 1, is not extended, the Agreement will be shelved.

“Costa Rica is wrong if it does not approve the Escazú Agreement because of the signal it gives. Being a country that has been at the forefront in this matter (…) to throw it overboard would be a very serious mistake”, comments Jonathan Acuña, a member of the parliament of the Front of the Amplist Front, to AFP.

Boeglin estimates that “it seems [that the other deputies] are very much in agreement and very comfortable with the fact that Costa Rica is turning its back internationally on two traditional pillars of its foreign policy: the environment and human rights”.

Little support

Pushed by Costa Rica and Chile, the convention was signed in 2018 by 24 countries after six years of arduous negotiations. It was ratified by 14: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Uruguay.

The Costa Rican delegates christened it the Escazú Agreement, the name of an upper-class municipality of San José where its negotiation was closed, and it was signed in New York in September 2018 in the framework of the UN General Assembly.

“The current scenario indicates that there is little support from the deputies and deputies,” the Ministry of Environment said in a note.

“However, in a country like Costa Rica, where there is a very good protection of human rights, very good protection of the environment and a whole process of validation of the environmental impact of projects […] it will not affect anything if the Escazú Agreement is not approved,” it added.

At the CELAC Summit held this week in Buenos Aires, Chilean President Gabriel Boric urged not to let the Agreement die. 

It’s not on the agenda

The Costa Rican Parliament approved the agreement in February 2020 with 44 votes in favor (out of 57 parliamentarians) and none against. However, a year later the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court annulled the vote for “procedural flaws” and alleged lack of prior consultation with the Judiciary.

“Most of what is contained in the Escazu Agreement, Costa Rica already has in its own legislation, the couple of things that would be new would be a monumental obstacle for any future development project of the country,” according to Liberal Congressman Eli Fienzag.

Other parliamentarians and the president of Costa Rica, Rodrigo Chaves, do not like this Latin American pact either.

“The private sector should be reassured that the Escazú Agreement is not on the government’s agenda […], I do not think it would be beneficial for the country”, said the president after taking office in May 2022.

According to Chaves, if ratified, it would “unjustifiably” delay the economic reactivation after the covid-19 pandemic.

Attacks against businesses

The Costa Rican Union of Chambers and Associations of the Business Sector (Uccaep) supported the president’s words through a letter.

“Said agreement attempts against the legal security of the companies and the economic reactivation”, says the missive.

“When what we need are measures of economic reactivation, this initiative that does not contain a single point to boost production is being promoted,” said Uccaep’s president, José Álvaro Jenkins, in the letter.

But the NGO MarViva, which operates in Latin American tropical Pacific nations, affirms that “contrary to what is argued” by the businessmen, the ratification of the Agreement would be beneficial for Costa Rica’s economy.

“Rather, it is a guarantee in the investment climate, which would facilitate the creation of added value for those productive activities that are developed in accordance with the provisions of the agreement”, says to AFP the manager of Political Advocacy of MarViva, Katherine Arroyo.

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