Keeping It Honest In Costa Rica

The Nairi Awari Indigenous community in Limón, Costa Rica. EZEQUIEL BECERRA / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

We are proud of the country we call home, and where our work us based. But even as I celebrate it from time to time, I never mistake it for perfect. There is always more work to be done. Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always, for the details we need to know:

Lauded as Green Model, Costa Rica Faces Unrest in Its Forests

Indigenous park ranger Osvaldo Martinez tours the Nairi Awari indigenous community in Limon, Costa Rica on November 9, 2021. – The indigenous people of this community are payed for caring for the environment, as part of a program awarded by the British royalty. (Photo by Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP) (Photo by EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP via Getty Images)

Costa Rica has won international acclaim for its initiatives to restore its forests. But those successes are now jeopardized by conflicts over the government’s failure to return traditional lands to the Indigenous people who are regarded as the best forest stewards.

Costa Rica has a green halo. In recent decades, the small Central American nation has transformed itself from a notorious hotspot for deforestation into a beacon of reforestation that is the envy of the world. Many of its more than 12,000 species of plants, 1,200 butterflies, 800 birds, and 650 mammals, reptiles, and amphibians have gone from bust to boom, and eco-tourists are savoring the spectacle.

But some outsider observers are now asking if the success can be sustained without a similar breakthrough in restoring the land rights of its dispossessed Indigenous communities, the ultimate custodians of the forests.

Opinion makers from Jeff Bezos to Leonardo DiCaprio to Britain’s green-minded royal heir Prince William have lined up to praise the country’s environmental credentials. “Costa Rica has been a pioneer in the protection of peace and nature and sets an example for the region and for the world,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, making the country the UN’s Champion of the Earth in 2019.

But the apparent green paradise hides a dark side. Almost invisible to the outside world, a long-running conflict over the land rights of the country’s forest-dwelling Indigenous communities threatens to undermine this re-greening and is turning its pacific forests into battlegrounds.

For almost half a century, Costa Rica has had laws requiring the state to take back Indigenous territories grabbed by ranchers decades before and return them to their traditional owners. But theory and practice have proved very different. Political and legal stasis have left the Indigenous Law enacted in 1977 largely unimplemented…

Read the whole article here.

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