Or...'The story of an absurd conflict'
By: Andrés Benavente
During 2008 and
2009 the country witnessed an unusual conflict in the Northern coastal area of
The disagreement started 3 years ago when the
growing communities of Playas del Coco and Ocotal requested an improvement to
the water supply. Since the Costa
Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Drainage (known as AyA by their Spanish initials) lacked the necessary resources to improve the capacity of the
current wells and plumbing system, a group of 48 national and foreign investors
offered to finance the construction of a new aqueduct. This would be the first development of
its kind built under the provisions of Article 38 of the Costa Rican Urban
Planning Law, which allows government institutions to use private financing for
projects that are for public use. The law also establishes ways for companies to recover their contributions
aquifer mantle located under the neighboring town of Sardinal is much bigger
and has better capacity to recharge than the insufficient coastal sources, AyA
decided to bring water from this larger source to the distribution tanks on the
this is what AyA routinely does to meet the water needs in many other
communities in the country. If there is no water naturally occurring in a
town, AyA must bring it from the closest
joint cooperation of the institution’s technical and legal team, and the
funding developer’s consultants, a project designed to cover the area’s water
needs for the next 25 years took shape. The solution that was designed took
into consideration the long-term water demand so a new aqueduct would not be
required in just 7 or10 more years. While this reasoning would seem sound and rational in any other area
that was developing at an accelerated rate, in this case, it drew a lot of
cause for the skepticism, however, was not actually the plan, but an underlying
issue: In the process of developing this innovative project, AyA overlooked a
serious variable, the people. In
hindsight, it is obvious to see the costly repercussions this childish omission
time, however, the individual in position of maximum authority of AyA (a name everyone would rather just forget) , decided that there was no need to inform or
involve anyone else, and with the exception of a few very selective meetings,
the project took shape in almost total secrecy.
the communities were neither involved nor informed.
the flame that really ignited the conflict.
defense of AyA, it’s fair to say
that no community owns the water under their feet and that AyA, by law, has the
right to make decisions about it with no need to ask anyone’s permission or
even to inform the communities as to how the water will be distributed.
intuitive, however, that one would want to inform the local community of any
and all immediate plans that are being formed that would directly affect it.
back at the outcome, it is clear that it would have been prudent to have some
more communication with the communities and their people.
information surfaced, skepticism increased. Some of the wording in the project
led to specific loopholes, which fueled controversy.
Those items that were not well defined were the items that
the local Development Associations requested to be reviewed and modified. Plenty
of water would have to run under the bridge before the local association’s
demands were heard.
At the same
time, the citizens of Sardinal were left dumbfounded when they first learned of
the plan, practically by surprise, as the last stages of construction were
occurring, right outside of their town.
townspeople discovered the machines working and large pipes coming from
Sardinal towards the coast, they got riled up.
conflict that could have and should have been easily avoided...played out.
previous closed-mouth attitude of AyA coupled with the
financing of the work led to suspicion among the people of Sardinal, who after
not receiving a clear explanation by AyA, took to the streets in protest.
organized itself and mounted a tough opposition, which went included violent
episodes of aggression against AyA technical personnel and the burning of
machinery. The opponents to the
project finally managed to shut down the work by means of legal appeals.
As the lack
of information continued, the rumors gained more influence and supremacy:
aqueduct is only for the new developments! The rich are taking our water! Something stinks here! Sardinal will have no water for agriculture! Coco locals who build a house will have to buy water from
some of the headlines and captions flying around. These catchphrases were then
irresponsibly reinforced by sensationalist newspapers that found an opportunity
in the conflict to exploit nationalism, class struggle and people’s fear about
the future, key ingredients to selling a lot of papers.
aspect that fueled the controversy was the appearance of leftist leaders that
landed here from other areas to help organize the opposition, the media
coverage, the message and the legal actions.
media coverage, Sardinal jumped to the national scene and became a sort of icon
of social and political struggle.
towns that had traditionally been closely allied, found themselves embroiled in
a mess that very few really understood. Historically, Playas del Coco, Ocotal and Sardinal have been friendly
and interdependent amongst each other. An important part of the economy of the Canton of Carrillo comes from
the tourist and real estate activity of its coastal areas which generate an
abundant number of jobs not only for the people of Sardinal but also for the
people of Artola, La Libertad and San Blas among other surrounding
other hand, without this strong labor force, the blossoming coastal tourism
industry would be in dire need.
aqueduct construction remains at a standstill stopped in the vortex of a legal
and political whirlwind. The expectation of the coastal area to have the water
necessary to continue to grow is already delayed by 3 years and the effects already
are very visible, not only in the Coco and Ocotal, but also in Sardinal.
effects are not limited to the fact that there is currently barely enough
potable water for those on the coast. It’s not just because some neighborhoods have no water during the day
and must make do with only a trickle at night. The present situation goes way beyond such daily concerns,
and is having serious economic and social repercussions in the whole Canton of
El Coco and Ocotal, all the construction projects have been halted because the
Municipality of Carrillo had to rescind the permits since AyA is not providing new water hook
construction and without new investments, the local economy has crashed.
withdrawal of foreign capital has affected not only the real estate industry
but also many small businesses and commercial places. Many of these were barely surviving the international
economic crisis and have now ended up “sinking” as a consequence of the local
The loss of
jobs is notorious at all levels and where before there used to be 10 employees
now one finds only 3 or 4. Many of those who have been left jobless are not only people from El
Coco but also residents of Sardinal, San Blas, La Libertad and Artola.
pace of resolution has left the local economy at a stand still.
solution is in the hands of the judiciary who appears to be waiting for a
political signal to finally free the project.
meantime Playas del Coco has enough water to survive but for confusing reasons
has been denied water for growth.
period of 18 months a new technical study was conducted with a monitoring
committee comprised of all sectors, including the Development
Associations. This committee
established that the aquifer mantle is immense and that it recharges very
well. In the end it was proven
beyond a doubt that the water would be sufficient for everyone for many decades
the citizen’s demands and the results obtained by the monitoring, the project
was modified, the quotas were adjusted and the wording of the escrow was changed based on annotations made by
the attorneys of the Development Associations of Sardinal, Playas del Coco and San
these modifications, these neighborhood associations withdrew their legal
appeals, replacing them with total support for the project and a declaration of
their absolute conformity with the terms under which it will function.
about the project have been clarified. All the myths were unmasked. All the suspicions faded away.
So… Why is
water still not flowing to Carrillo’s coast?
review the facts:
-There is a
NATIONAL LAW to stimulate this type of infrastructure solution and all its
requirements have been fully met (and then some).
been proven that the aquifer mantle has enough water for everybody.
of Sardinal already got a brand new plumbing system paid by the same private
left to complete the project is less than 20%.
resources to finish the project are available.
finished work automatically becomes the property of the A y A.
initial opponents in the communities now support the project and already
withdrew their legal appeals.
been clarified that individuals will not pay the escrow for the right to water
for their new homes. Only new
developers of commercial projects such as condos or hotels who build in the
coming years will pay such fees as compensation to developers for their
investment. The family residences will solicit their water connection directly
to the AyA paying the regular rate that all residential connections pay in the
rest of the country.
UNIVERSAL RIGHT of access to water exists and in the coast of Carrillo this
right has been denied.
repeat the question…What else is there left to do?
nothing... and for the people in the area, this is the most annoying part.
Municipality of Carrillo and the AyA are ready.
thing needed now is that the project be liberated from the political-legal mess
in which it absurdly fell into.
country interested in attracting foreign investments the spectacle being played
out is not attractive at all.
I wonder if
someone in San Jose or in the Presidential House is aware of the terrible image
that this show is portraying? Is no one there paying attention to the situation and the negative image
this is depicting for a country that wants to attract investment?
If you know
Doña Laura, please, take this magazine to her, send her the link to our website
or the virtual magazine, upload this story on your Facebook or Twitter or get
it to her in any other way you know of.
point she needs to be aware that in this corner of Costa Rica there is a black
cloud threatening to dampen the hospitable image of the country.
government, Procomer, Canatur and the ICT are working very hard to attract new
investments to the country a black cloud is hovering over Canton of Carrillo
senselessly erasing such efforts.
This is no longer only an issue of water.
Now this situation has changed into an issue that could potentially
affect the confidence of all future investments throughout the entire country.