When the five Central American presidents met in Tesoro Beach, El Salvador, in 1989, in a little-noticed accord, they agreed to create a critically needed regional commission on environment and development.
Central America is facing an environmental crisis unparalleled in its history. The magnitude of the crisis is reflected most dramatically in the destruction of the region’s tropical forests. More than 60 percent of Central America’s original forests have been felled, with most of the destruction taking place since 1950; deforestation continues to accelerate and is proceeding at a rate of over 4,000 square kilometers a year. Moreover, the destruction of the region’s steep-sloped, upland forests has triggered soil erosion so severe that it is damaging more than half of all agricultural land, causing farm productivity to decline. Soil erosion is also responsible for the siltation of rivers, downstream potable water, hydroelectric dams, irrigation projects, and the depletion of coastal fisheries.
Pollution is another major factor in the area’s environmental crisis. Pesticides poison thousands of Central American farm-workers annually and have contaminated much of the region’s water table. The water supply is also seriously polluted by unregulated industrial effluents, agricultural residues, and local sewage. In El Salvador, as a result, only one in 10 people has access to safe drinking water, and in Honduras, waterborne diseases account for 12 percent of all fatalities. Unclean water has made enteritis and diarrheal disorders the number one nonmilitary cause of death in the region.
The roots of Central America’s present environmental crisis can be traced to decades of development policies that have favored production for export over production for local needs, and the intensive exploitation of natural resources over the sustainable use of these assets. This pattern of development continues with the active support of local oligarchs with the assistance of multilateral development banks, U.S. government, private banks, and multinational firms.
The environmentally sensitive Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast provides an interesting example. It is under virtual U.S. occupation. More than 750 U.S. soldiers, accompanied by 418 pieces of heavy equipment, relentlessly push their way into Osa. Dressed in camouflage, they go about their work, cutting roads into the peninsula’s previously pristine wilderness.
The U.S. Army is sending combat engineers to Costa Rica for a series of “humanitarian projects.” And the U.S. presence is taking its toll. Flames of deforestation border a freshly graveled road. Behind the fires, cattle graze the leveled land. Logging trucks brim with trunks of trees centuries old.
The emerging reality of Costa Rica is ecocide. It now rivals Brazil for the fastest deforestation rate in the hemisphere. The U.S. military entered the Osa Peninsula in March, 1989, for a project it calls “Roads for Peace.” Using their own ships and aircraft, the U.S. forces enter and leave with no formal inspection of their equipment. The president of the Costa Rican National Assembly, Jose’ Luis Valenciano, asked for an investigation on grounds that the U.S. forces entered the country illegally.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: SALLY ACEVEDO
SOURCE: WORLD POLICY JOURNAL 777 United National Plaza New York, NY 10164-0339, DATE: Fall 1989
TITLE: “CENTRAL AMERICA’S OTHER WAR”
AUTHOR: JOSHUA KARLINER
SOURCE: THE PROGRESSIVE 409 E. Main Street Madison, WI 53703, DATE: August 1989
TITLE: “DEATH OF A SMALL COUNTRY”
AUTHOR: MICHAEL I. NIMAN
COMMENTS: Central America appears to have been dropped from the national media agenda following the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. This, of course, is good news for the Bush administration which can return to business as usual in Central America without press attention. And perhaps this is most evident in Costa Rica where investigative journalist Michael Niman charges that the U.S. media are completely ignoring the U.S. connection to both deforestation and re-militarization in that country. According to Niman, his article “explores only the tip of a very large iceberg. Costa Rica, squeezed towards reckless overdevelopment by the I.M.F. now has the fastest deforestation rate in the hemisphere.” Niman charges that a conspiracy of silence has spared the U.S. State Department from the difficult task of explaining why the militarization of Costa Rica is desirable. Niman also warns that “The situation in Costa Rica has worsened since the recent election of Rafael Angel Calderon. Calderon, the godchild of Somoza and son of the former president who was overthrown in the 1948 revolution (which abolished the military) is a supporter of both U.S. policy and re-militarization of Costa Rica.”