Hydropower Capital: Costa Rica and the Rio Pacuare During Times of Free Trade and Regional Integration
AuthorPerry, Denielle Marie
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In response to neoliberal economic pressures since the late 1980s, protectionist policies of Central American countries have been reworked into an agenda that promotes free trade and regional integration. The Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP) are complimentary trade and infrastructure integration initiatives that exemplify this neoliberal shift. Hemispheric concerns over climate change and energy security have translated into increased demand for "renewable" resources, moving the construction of new hydropower facilities to the forefront of planning for a regionally-integrated electricity system. In Costa Rica hydrological resources are considered to be the country's greatest natural resource. The country's "hydropower capital" has been regulated by the state for over half a century; however, new legislature is increasingly liberalizing private entry into the sector. Coupled with provisions of the CAFTA treaty, these new laws complicate the decision-making arena for development versus conservation.Through an investigation of proposed development on the Río Pacuare this study provides a political economic and political geographical analysis of both the environment in which hydropower project development decisions are being made and the emergence of resistance movements. For over two decades opposition has kept the state-run electric company's Pacuare dam development plans at bay. Nonetheless, realignments of national and regional political economic forces give rise to new pressures to pursue hydropower projects on the Río Pacuare. This thesis considers the historic circumstances, regional impetus and national pressures in the energy sector that influence proposed hydropower development on the river. Additionally, countervailing pressures to protect the cultures and environment of the Pacuare are examined. Further initiatives to both develop and resist hydropower are considered as a reflection of political geographic conditions in which international, regional, national and local scales are linked.