Last week I joined some La Carpio neighbors in a protest against a water treatment plant that’s being installed right at the entrance to their community, less than a kilometer away from their homes.
- Watch a video with images and sounds from the protest
Two computer technicians were scheduled to come into the office to help last Thursday, but they called the day before saying it would be difficult to get in because of a strike the next morning that would block the only entrance (for vehicles) in and out of La Carpio. I called my host family to see what they knew about the strike, and they gave me a few more details they’d gotten from a community meeting organizing the strike. Because I sympathize with La Carpio’s struggle against the high level of environmental contaminants that are dumped into their community, and because I was glad to participate in a protest against something that seems such a clear disregard for people’s health and dignity, I joined them Thursday morning to support the community in their protest.
The “waste treatment plant”, more accurately described by residents as a “craphole” and other similar terms, is only one of the many forms of environmental violence implemented against the La Carpio community. The most infamous is the garbage dump that was built in 2000 by EBI, a Canadian-owned company, which boasts the sanitary treatment of 1200 tons of garbage per day. The “sanitary treatment” of the material waste is disputed not just by La Carpio residents less than a kilometer from its dumping grounds, but by neighboring elite in expensive homes on properties across the valley. Strike one is the garbage dump, causing high incidences of hepatitis and diarrhea. Strike two are the quarries in the valleys on either side of the community, which pump dust into the air causing any number of respiratory problems. Strike three would be the waste plant, but not if La Carpio can strike first.
The people who spend the most amount of time in La Carpio, that being the women and kids who often spend the entire day there, are the ones who suffer the most. The family I lived with suffered from all the above problems, as I described in this blog post and others.
It recently came to light (through government correspondence made public through Wikileaks) that in contrast to Costa Rica’s “green” image it promotes, less than 5% of its blackwater is treated before reaching the ocean. The river that dumps the contaminated water from the central valley (Río Tárcoles) is the most polluted in Central America. The beaches in this area are favorites for foreign tourists because they are the closest en route from the capital city. There is a HUGE need, then, for water treatment of the polluted rivers (both for environmental protection and for tourist money). It is interesting to me, then, that the waste treatment plant is being placed where it is, on a river branch before the union of three different rivers. A water treatment plant is essential; it’s a just a clear case of environmental injustice to place it in an impoverished community that has already unwillingly received the full brunt of metropolitan contamination – it’s garbage, its symbolic rejection, and now its wastewater. To quote Costa Rican sociologist Carlos Sandoval Garcia: “both in the material domain – garbage and residual water – as well as in the human domain – Nicaraguans and poverty – La Carpio is a site and signifier of abjection” (Narrating Lived Experience in a Binational Community in Costa Rica, 2009:156).
The above video shows some photographs and audio clips from the protest. If you don’t follow the Spanish, most of what is said, or written on the signs, is mentioned above. The main demands are: no water treatment plant [so close to where we live], and instead, build a high school for the community.