President Luis Guillermo Solís signed off Friday on a decree to continue a moratorium on petroleum exploration until 2021. He cited grave environmental risks as he did so and basically insured the country’s dependency on foreign petroleum until that date.
The president also declared corn to be an item of cultural heritage but he stopped short of declaring a prohibition against genetically modified corn as many of his supporters would have wanted.
Solís also endorsed geothermal generating projects in Guanacaste and decreed that government agencies should work together to mitigate the expected drought there.
The president also declared plans for wholesale markets in the Choratega and Brunca regions to be in the public interest, an action that advances their construction.
With the petroleum exploration prohibition, Solís extends a similar 2011 action by then-president Laura Chinchilla. The original prohibition came when a U.S. petroleum exploration firm managed to surmount some 12 years of legal challenges. The firm, Mallon Oil Co., has a concession to explore for petroleum in the northern zone but the government will not sign off on the agreement. The prohibition also covers offshore efforts.
The petroleum decree also ordered the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía to issue a decree telling public agencies not to purchase pieces of equipment that are big consumers of electricity.
The decrees were signed in a presidential cabinet meeting in Nicoya Friday. The meeting was in commemoration of the 1824 Anexión del Partido de Nicoya which brought that area into Costa Rica.
The location was an appropriate one to talk about corn because the annual tortilla contest had just finished. The decree notes that there is archaeological evidence of corn being consumed in Guanacaste some 5,000 years ago. The president was joined in the decree by Luis Felipe Arauz, the minister of Agricultura y Ganadería, and Elizabeth Fonseca, the minister of Cultura y Juventud.
The decree addresses the agricultural uses and also the traditions. The culture ministry has published booklets on the cuisine of
Guanacaste, which is heavily based on corn.
There is a movement in the country to prohibit the growing of genetically modified crops. Because corn is pollenated through the air, there is concern that the modified pollen will pollute the existing traditional varieties.
Another decree supported the development of the geothermic plant Pailas II in Guanacaste with some $600 million provided by the Japanese Agency for International Development.
Another decree declared the presence of arsenic in the local water supply of Cañas and Bagaces to be a sanitary emergency. Ms. Chinchilla issued a similar decree.