Presidential Candidates Talk Leatherbacks

On February 7th citizens of Costa Rica will elect a new president.  This changing of the political guard will dictate the environmental path the country will take for the next 4 years. With Oscar Arias’ (outgoing president) bill 17.383 still on the table, one that would downgrade Leatherback National Park (Parque Nacional Las Baulas) and turn it into a wildlife refuge and develop privately owned lands therin,  it’s evident the new government will inherit – in some form – the burning controversy and corruption surrounding this bill.

On January 12th presidencial candidates Otto Guevara, Laura Chinchilla, Ottón Solís, Rolando Araya, Luis Fishman, and Oscar López gathered for a question and answer session. During the event, they were confronted by the Leave the Leatherbacks in Peace campaign mascot “Baulita” and asked their positions on the bill. Below are the translated comments from the race’s top 3 candidates. Who would you vote for? 

Otton Solís (third in the poles)
We are opposed to the new government sponsored bill that proposes to disintegrate Leatherback Marine Park. Rather, it should be expanded to protect this resource. In environmental matters, we don’t have this kind of ambiguity. We support the environment.   

Laura Chinchilla (leader in the poles)
Regarding baulas, there is already a dialog that’s been started, and we have to confront it with maturity.  The important thing is to effectively negotiate the leatherback’s protection along with the cost inherent to the State from the payment and compensation of certain expropriations.
(Outside after she was asked her position on bill 17.383)
I don’t know every detail; the important thing to note is that any initiative has to guarantee the leatherback’s protection and hopefully at the same time reduce the compensation that Costa Rica would have to pay for the expropriations.

Otto Guevara (second in the poles)
If you look at the law that originally established the park, that law states that Leatherback Marine National Park in a MARINE park. So, this illusion that the State Attorney proclaimed that the park’s limits included the land is a misinterpretation of the law.  It’s also misconstrues the will and intent of the legislators that said that the park’s limits are only out to sea.  The fact is the Costa Rican government does not have 500 million dollars to pay for the expropriations within the 75 meter buffer along the length of Playa Grande.

7 Responses to “Presidential Candidates Talk Leatherbacks”
  1. Does this mean Otton Solis will be the best President in terms of environmental protection?

    • Andy Bystrom says:

      That’s my take on it Nicole. Otton represents the PAC (Citizen’s Action Party). I believe they have the best environmental agenda. I’m not a Costa RIcan citizen, only a resident, so I don’t get a vote. But if I did, I would vote for Otton. However, it’s important for non-profits not to allign themselves too closly with any one political party because while PAC opposes all of the nefarious things that the present administration (PLN) is doing, whose to say that if Otton wins he wont turn on his heels and do the same.

  2. Yes exactly I completely agree! Thats all the bullshit we have to go through here in Canada during our elections. So many empty promises that dont come to light when they are elected! Thanks Andy for your response!

  3. Telesphore says:

    What revealing and mostly depressing quotes!

    Otton is smart, knows what to do, and gave the right answer.

    Mrs Chinchilla may be “firme y honesta” but she doesn’t appear to know much about the bill and worse, seems to go along with it. She should have a chat with her VP candidate Dr. Alfio Piva.

    Guevara’s response seems to indicate compliance with the bill.

    Oh boy! …the turtles are still in trouble!

    • Andy Bystrom says:

      Stephen brings up a great point—–Dr. Alfio Piva, Chinchilla’s would be VP, chaired the Las Baulas Commission which strongly recommended preservation of the park. Chinchilla said she didn’t know all the details of the bill!?!?!?!? She’s the current VP for cripes sake, like heck she doesn’t know all the details. And then there is Otto Guevara who is still living in the past and proclaiming that the park’s limits don’t include the land (even though the State Attorney already ruled that they did). This guy would shoot a leatherback if given the chance!!!!!!

  4. Terry says:

    It seems to me that the population of Leatherbacks has declined dramaticaly without any development?
    I believe they need to stop the long net fishing to help matters , spending $500-800 MILLION dollars to properly compensate legal land owners won’t bring the turtles back but might pay for 3 hospitals and 20-50 schools!!!!

    • Andy Bystrom says:

      How does one come to own land inside a national park? And how can land inside a national park—-lands that are illegal to build on because they are located on top of shallow underground aquifers (Playa Grande) and only suitable for conservation efforts according to Costa Rica’s National Irrigation and Aquifer Management Organization (SENARA) be worth $800 a square meter?

      Exorbitant, inflated property values are the root of the problem.

      We must reach some kind of agreement over the properties “fair” value. Once this is done, national and international NGOs, governments, corporations, and individuals have all shown interest in raising funds for the Costa Rican government to expedite the expropriation process. Costa Rica will not have to pay a half billion dollars—-no way, no how. Furthermore, the Costa Rican Supreme Court has already ordered privately held lands inside Las Baulas to be expropriated. So the sheer greed of a few, whose narrow mindedness confines them to their own individualistic concerns, will not hinder the general consensus.

      Concerning your comments on leatherback mortality rates—sadly, unregulated, commercial, open ocean fishing practices are destroying the Pacific leatherback population. So, what can we do right now to help? We can start by protecting every nesting turtle on the most viable nesting beaches in the eastern tropical Pacific. The technical data shows that in the 70’s and 80’s there was 100% nest poaching on Playa Grande, etc. Under the parks protection that % has been reduced dramatically. So, we know that the national park is doing exactly what it was decreed to do, protect leatherbacks. And unlike revamping international fishing laws, this IS something that Costa Rica can do right now to save sea turtles. And since a leatherback female takes anywhere between 20-30 years to reach sexual maturity, and given the park was established by decree in 1995, we’re on the cusp of seeing if this long term conservation undertaking will work. Is it a good idea to throw all of this away?

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