In Costa Rica, pineapples were grown on 42,000 hectares of land in Costa Rica in 2012 and exports of the fruit brought in 780 million dollars.
The communities of Milano, El Cairo, La Francia and Luisiana are located 100 km northeast of the capital, San José, in an agricultural region where transnational corporations grow pineapples on a large scale. For years the four towns have depended on tanker trucks that bring in clean drinking water because the local tap water has been polluted. They can’t use the water from the aquifer because it was contaminated with the pesticide bromacil, used on pineapple plantations. The first evidence of the pollution was discovered in 2003, when the National University’s Regional Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances found traces of pesticides in the local water supply. Studies carried out in 2007 and subsequent years found that the water was unfit for human consumption.
The evidence points to pineapple plantations near the El Cairo aquifer as responsible for the pollution, especially the La Babilonia plantation owned by the Corporación de Desarrollo Agrícola del Monte SA, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Fresh Del Monte. But it is public institutions that have had to cover the cost of access to clean water by the local communities. The public water and sewage utility, AyA, in nearly eight years, has spent over three million dollars distributing water to the four communities. The state has not managed to obtain compensation from pineapple producers for the environmental damage.
The case has gone beyond the borders, reaching the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). On Mar. 20 Briceño and other representatives of the affected communities, and delegates of the Environmental Law and Natural Resources Centre (CEDARENA), asked the IACHR to intervene. The case has also drawn the attention of other international bodies and organisations, like the Water Integrity Network (WIN), which criticised the state’s failure to protect the rights of local residents and the slow, non-transparent reaction by the authorities to the pollution of the water.
Costa Rica frequently receives plaudits from environmentalists for its renewable energy policies and nature conservation schemes. Less attention is paid to the means of paying for it and the short-cuts taken.