Costa Rican presidential candidate blasts ecologists, says he would bring mining back

Costa Rican candidate to the 2018 presidential election, Diego Castro. Photo from Castro’s Facebook page.

Presidential candidate for the conservative National Integration Party (PIN in Spanish), Diego Castro, caused controversy in Costa Rica after he called environmentalist groups “eco-terrorists.”

Castro, who has been compared by local media to Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte, as well as accused of right-wing populism, said that if he wins the election, he would not yield to ecologists’ “petty demands” and would allow for the country’s oil and gold reserves to be exploited. “I know who they are, I’ve dealt with them and I’ve stopped them,” he said.

Costa Rica has a moratorium on fossil fuels extraction, which expires in 2021. The legal measure was enacted by former president Laura Chinchilla and ratified by her successor Luis Guillermo Solís. Congress also banned open-pit mining operations.

“We are going to protect and preserve the environment, we are going to rebuild what we have destroyed, but we are going to boost the country’s development and productivity without any kind of fear, as developed countries do,” Castro, who held positions as Minister of Public Safety and Minister of Justice in the 1990s, stated while participating in an agro-industry forum with other four presidential hopefuls.

Interviewed by La Nación -a local newspaper that was also deemed by Castro as “criminal“- spokesperson for environmental organization Neotrópica, Bernardo Aguilar, said that if the PIN candidate plans to cancel the moratorium before its deadline, he would have to face a series of legal challenges linked to the environmental regression such a move would imply. “The two previous administrations agreed that oil extraction is not compatible with the Costa Rican development model,” Aguilar said.

In a similar tone, the president of the Costa Rican Ecologist Federation, Mauricio Álvarez, told Semanario Universidad that Castro’s speech shows he wants to promote an aggressive use of natural resources. “In reality, terrorism is linked to making people drink from aquifers filled with pollutant chemicals. His speech can only spur more violence,” he said.

Elections in Costa Rica are to be held on February 4, 2018. According to The Economist, an unfolding corruption scandal involving two former Social-Christian presidents, combined with fiscal strife and a complex political environment, would probably call for a run-off voting round, which would take place on April 1, 2018.

A recent survey made public by the University of Costa Rica shows that Diego Castro is polling first with 18% of voters’ support, followed by National Liberation Party’s candidate, Antonio Alvarez Desanti, who has the support of 14% of voters.