U.N. expert coming to weigh native rights and dam

S. James Anaya

A United Nations expert on the human rights of native peoples is coming to Costa Rica to observe and talk to residents in the vicinity of the Proyecto Hidroeléctrico El Diquís in the southwestern part of the country.

This is where the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad plans a dam and a $2 billion hydro generating project, the biggest in Central America.

The expert, S. James Anaya, is a professor of law at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

He carries the title of U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and
fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples.

The foreign ministry said that the goal of the visit is to develop a process of consultations with the native peoples,who will feel the impact of the project. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad estimates that the project will take 915.59 hectares (some 2,262 acres) of native land. The entire project, involving some 7,363.5 hectares (18,195.6 acres) will displace more than 1,500 persons, but the company says that no one is living permanently on the native lands.

The project has been strongly opposed by some in the native communities. The Térraba, the Boruca, Bribri, Cabécar and Guaymí live in the area.

The project is supposed to produce 560 megawatts. Much of it is supposed to go to the United States.

Although the project has been described as being on the Río Grande de Térraba, the dam would be well up the river from the coast. The reservoir would be entirely within the canton of Buenos Aires. From a map release by the institute, the bulk of the flooding would seem to extend northwest from the communities of Térraba, Florida and Brujo along the channel of the Río General.

A.M. Costa Rica/Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad graphic

The proposed dam would be very close to the point where the Interamerican highway crosses the General. The proposed lake also would seem to be outside the existing Indian reserves, the Reserva Boruca and the Reserva Curré.

The Río Térraba is the source of the stone that ancient residents turned into the enigmatic spheres that are unique to southwestern Costa Rica.

The native peoples are likely to get a sympathetic hearing from Anaya, the grandson of illegal Mexican immigrants. He is a professor of International law and human rights at the university and was named to the United Nations post in 2008.

He has been around the world at places where native peoples are in conflict with the central government.

The United Nations has adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which seeks to define their treatment in culture, education and in other aspects of their relationship with the centers of power.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto said that it had invited Anaya to visit. A release said he would meet with government officials, academics and others involved in native affairs.

As a special rapporteur, Anaya has no real power but that of persuasion. He will make reports, mainly to various United Nations agencies. His findings, however, could provide strong ammunition if native communities seek to challenge the central government and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad in court.

Anaya has served as lawyer for North American native groups when they went to court.

Originally the hydro project would have taken much more land. The electrical institute scaled it back and changed its name from Boruca to El Diquís

Anaya also participated with Costa Rican lawyer Vernor Muñoz Villalobos and four other legal experts to write a criticism of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

The University of Arizona said that Anaya in his capacity as U.N. representative had called for dialogue in Panama over the recent mining controversy, conducted a mission to New Caledonia, examined the condition of the Sami people in the Arctic and raised concerns about the treatment of the Rapa Nui protestors on Easter Island.

Anaya speaks fluent Spanish and is a graduate of Harvard University Law School.

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