Combatting Vehicle Pollution in Central America

A brief summary compiled by Martin Mowforth

April 2019

In recent months both El Salvador and Costa Rica have begun to take steps towards reducing air pollution from vehicles. As all visitors to the region are well aware, there are many locations and times of day in the region’s cities where and when the air is unbreathable due to excessive vehicle emissions.

Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado has signed decrees to incentivise electric and zero emission vehicles and to promote mobility by other modes of transport. The First Lady, Claudia Dobles, who is leading the initiative, said, “We are incentivising zero-emission technologies with the aim of achieving our goal of decarbonisation whilst at the same time enabling the population to make use of more sustainable and efficient transport.”

The Costa Rican decrees also promote actions such as the provision of shower facilities at work for those who travel to work by bicycle. Bus and train travel are also promoted along with car-sharing, the use of hybrid vehicles and increased recharging locations for electric vehicles.

In El Salvador, the National Council of Environmental Sustainability and Vulnerability (CONASAV by its Spanish initials) has presented a series of reforms to the Land Transport Law. In essence the reforms aim to reduce atmospheric pollution in the country.

After establishing that current levels of air pollution have reached dangerous levels, the CONASAV reforms focus particularly on the reduction of emissions by public transport and allow the police force to confiscate vehicles which exceed specific thresholds of pollutant emissions. The reforms also recommend the replacement of public service vehicles that are over 20 years old and that this new measure should be implemented within three years.

The World Health Organisation has placed El Salvador among the Latin American countries with the highest levels of atmospheric contamination and has associated these levels especially with public transport.

Panamá is also looking for strategies to lower vehicle emissions and the Guatemalan Union of Car Importers is now seeking legislation to lower the age of imported vehicles. In Guatemala more than 2 million vehicles are older than 2008. The Union’s proposals would limit the age of imported cars to 10 years, 15 years for trucks and SUVs and 20 years for commercial vehicles such as tractors. The appropriate legislation, however, is not yet very far up the political agenda in Guatemala, where some of the buses on the streets are over 30 years old. Many of these are imported from the United States and are sometimes referred to as ‘zombie clunkers’ having been modified after import. Often the modifications reduce the effects of safety features.

Far from addressing the dangers of exporting clunkers, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump administration hopes to freeze fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels. The UK also plays a role in the used vehicle market. According to the Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse, 50% of British heavy vehicles reaching end-of-life are reused or resold in other countries after refurbishment.


  • El Economista, 7 November 2018, ‘Costa Rica emite decretos para incentivar uso de vehículos eléctricos’.
  • La Prensa Gráfica, 8 January 2019, ‘Proponen que PNC pueda remitir vehículos por contaminación de aire’.
  • Sebastián Rodríguez, 25 February 2019, ‘Costa Rica launches ‘unprecedented’ push for zero emissions by 2050’, Thomson Reuters Foundation.
  • Martha Pskowski, 24 January 2019, ‘Zombie clunkers: has your local bus been resurrected in Guatemala?’ The Guardian.
  • Fien Van Den Steen, 6 July 2018, ‘Guatemala, the end of using cars until the end?’ Global Fleet.

Transport initiatives in Costa Rica

Despite our efforts to point out that Costa Rica is not as environmentally friendly or as labour friendly as its legislation would suggest,  the Costa Rican government is clearly making some real attempts to move towards its pledge to decarbonise the country. The country’s transport system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, so meeting this goal will not be an easy task, but the following summary indicates some important first steps made towards the goal.

By Martin Mowforth

Rail reactivation

In November 2019, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy together with the Costa Rican Railroad Institute (ICF by its Spanish initials) initiated a feasibility study into the reconstruction of 131 km of railroad between the central province of Alajuela and the Pacific Central province of Puntarenas. Such a rail line could be used to transport passengers and freight.

$550,000 (USD) have been invested in the initiative. Elizabeth Briceño, President of ICF, said: “We are sure that this will contribute to the economic reactivation of the zone and will generate employment.” The funds will be used for the pre-feasibility and feasibility studies, market analyses, risk analysis, environmental studies, and design, administrative and budget evaluations.

The studies are expected to take seven months. The Planning Minister, Pilar Garrido, linked the project entitled ‘Railroad Reactivation to the Pacific’ with other possible rail initiatives such as the ‘Limón Electrified Freight Train (Caribbean Zone)’ with the aim of connecting by rail six of the country’s seven provinces.

Electric cars

The IONIQ model of electric cars has a range of 375 km from one single battery charge which takes up to 54 minutes. In Costa Rica, the model has been marketed for two years and 400 sales have already been achieved. This is a level of acceptance which Jerry Campos, regional manager of Hyundai, says is greater than expectations.

By the end of 2019 Costa Rica had 34 fast charging points for electric cars in operation. They are part of a network of charging stations (called ‘electrolineras’) that the government plans to expand in future years.

Of course we need to remember that not everything about electric vehicles is environmentally friendly or even socially friendly. Nevertheless, it can be said that if Costa Rica manages to change its fleet of vehicles from petrol to electric over the course of the next decade, then there is little doubt that it will be further along the path of phasing out fossil fuels than most other countries in the world. But that’s a big ‘if’.

In February this year, El Salvador also introduced its first completely electric car to the public, again with plans for later expansion. It is being marketed there by Grupo Q which is hoping to sell five units within two months of its introduction. Currently there is only one charging point in El Salvador. At the price of $39,800 (USD) the car is unfortunately out of the range of the vast majority of the country’s population.

Electric buses

More recently (March 2020) the government of Costa Rica has announced a pilot plan to introduce electric buses as one aspect of their plan to decarbonise the country’s economy. Three autobuses have been donated to Costa Rica by the German Cooperation Agency GTZ, and the Costa Rican government has extended the scheme to include a total of 15 electric buses by the end of this year.

Currently the idea is that they will be tested out in different parts of the country, and data will be collected on their serviceability, their usage and their profitability. The eventual aim is to turn the whole public transport fleet in the country over to electric buses. Claudia Dobles, the First Lady of the country, said: “This is a clear signal that the sector wants to modernise and provide an improved service to its users.”

The pilot plan requires the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity to provide the necessary accompanying technical electrical infrastructure. Additionally, the National Learning Institute is to provide training for drivers and mechanics; and a special tariff will be charged for electric bus users.

A group of transport businesses are involved in the plan and each participating business is expected to purchase at least one of the 12 new buses. The transport businesses have been pressuring the government to promote policies for the implementation of bus-only lanes and favourable financial credit lines for green initiatives such as bus renewals and operating costs.

The National Decarbonisation Plan presented by President Carlos Alvarado’s government in February 2019 envisages the elimination of the use of fossil fuels in Costa Rica by the year 2050.

Is rail making a comeback in Central America?

By Martin Mowforth

November 2020

The article listed above this one (from March 2020) discusses recent transport initiatives in Costa Rica which included the reactivation of rail transport. In this article we briefly report on four other rail initiatives, one in Panamá, one in Nicaragua, one in El Salvador and one in Honduras.

In Panamá at the beginning of this year a new line was planned for Panamá’s modern metro system to pass by tunnel under the Panamá Canal instead of by a bridge next to the Bridge of the Americas which was originally foreseen for this link.

In February the HPH Joint Venture Consortium of Hyundai Engineering & Construction and Posco E&C was awarded a $US 2.057bn contract for the design, construction and financing of metro Line 3.

The line is to run between the west of Panamá City and the heart of the city which is east of the canal zone. The tunnel will be divided into two segments for the sake of evacuation in the event of emergencies.

In Nicaragua the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE by its Spanish initials) is considering part-financing the construction of a rail project linking the country’s main airport on the outskirts of Managua, Managua itself, Masaya and Granada. One branch would allow travellers to journey from the airport to the city of Granada without having to pass through Managua.

In discussing the project, the BCIE President Dante Mossi drew attention to the fact that Nicaragua has the best project execution in Central America, highlighting that “the Ministry of Finance has a good planning system, allowing us to make an orderly allocation of all the resources. … We have not had corruption problems in Nicaragua. … It is a country that makes the most correct use of BCIE funds.”

In El Salvador the Office of the Presidential Commission for Strategic Projects and the Autonomous Port Executive Commission (CEPA by its Spanish initials) are currently designing the terms of reference for the bidding for the conduct of pre-feasibility studies and feasibility studies for the construction of a rail line to be known as the Pacific Train.

The aim of this plan is to create efficient rail operations in El Salvador, allowing for both passenger and freight transport.

In Honduras the BCIE is to provide financial support for a feasibility study into the implementation of a freight train project to connect the Isla de Amapala in the department of Valle (in the south of the country) with Puerto Castilla and Puerto Cortés on the Atlantica coast.


  • El Economista, 13.02.20, ‘Línea 3del Metro de Panamá pasará por un túnel bajo el Canal’
  • Informe Pastrán, ‘BCIE financiará ferrocarril en Nicaragua’
  • Rosa María Pastrán, 10.03.20, ‘CEPA abre proceso para estudio de factibilidad de aeropuerto en el oriente de El Salvador’, La Prensa Gráfica, El Salvador
  • Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE / CABEI): 
  • Comisión Ejecutiva Portuaria Autónoma (CEPA):
  • ENCA Newsletter No. 78, ‘Transport Initiatives in Costa Rica’, (p.11).










An airport in eastern El Salvador?

At the beginning of 2020, El Salvador’s Autonomous Port Executive Commission (CEPA by its Spanish initials) sought firms to conduct a feasibility study into the construction of an airport in the east of the country close to the port of La Unión, to be known as the Pacific Airport. Eleven firms were given 300 days to produce their studies and the results of these should be presented in November this year. The decision on which study to accept will be made public in September 2021.

The aim of the plan is to provide air transport connection to the east of the country and for this development to become a pole of economic development for this region of the country.

A marketing study is also seen as an important part of the presentation, to include estimates of the demand by both airlines and by passengers, the commercial demand and possible projections of air traffic in the region. Additionally the study should make recommendations about how the project should be executed, possibly by a public-private partnership.

CEPA President Federico Anliker has explained that four specific sites have been identified for the potential airport. He further outlined two major reasons why an airport is necessary: first, because more than 50 per cent of Salvadorans living in the east of the country have relatives in the United States and this represents a potential demand for air travel; second, an airport will help the east of the country to develop and promote a tourism industry there.


  • Rosa María Pastrán, 10.03.20, ‘CEPA abre proceso para estudio de factibilidad de aeropuerto en el oriente de El Salvador’, La Prensa Gráfica, El Salvador
  • Comisión Ejecutiva Portuaria Autónoma (CEPA):
  • Eddie Galdamez, 09.09.20, ‘The El Salvador Pacific Airport. A Project by Nayib Bukele’, El Salvador Info,


Electric motoring is still not easy in Costa Rica

By Martin Mowforth

Key words: decarbonisation; electric vehicles; EV charging stations.

The first two articles in this section of ‘The Violence of Development’ website (dated April 2019 and March 2020 – section entitled ‘Transport infrastructure developments’ in Chapter 10) reported on the intention of the Costa Rican government, and especially of President Carlos Alvarado and the First Lady, Claudia Dobles, to decarbonise the country. One pillar of their strategy, for which the First Lady is directly responsible, is their efforts to convert the country’s fleet of motor vehicles from oil to electricity.

A report in the Tico Times (an English language online newspaper on Costa Rica) states that the country added 727 new electric vehicles during 2020, giving the country a total of 3,106. 330 of the 727 were purchased by the government and assigned to public institutions.

As the Presidency suggests, Costa Rica is undoubtedly a leader in this field in Central America, and also in Latin America. But the total of 3,106 is only a fraction – less than 0.3% to be a little more precise – of the total motorised vehicles registered in the country.

The intent of the government, however, is shown clearly in the growing number of electric vehicle charging stations which now number around 120 and have a countrywide coverage. The PlugShare website identifies these EV charging stations as shown on the map below.

The intent is important and undeniable, but there is a very long way to go.

Costa Rica’s roads in chaos?

Compiled by Martin Mowforth from a range of sources.

December 2022

As Costa Ricans and frequent visitors to the country already know, the state of Costa Rican highways is far from good. Potholes, diversions and city congestion add a lot to the time and cost of car journeys in the country.

In September [2022] a stretch of the Panamerican Highway near San Ramón was closed for at least three months for emergency repairs, and some say that this is a considerable time under-estimate. The section of the road in need of repair was recently hit by a landslide which swept a bus and several other vehicles off the road causing the deaths of nine people. The road had been re-opened only the day before after an inspection by the Ministry of Public Works (MOPT).

Additionally, journeys on Route 27 from San José southwards along the Pacific coastline towards Panama, are now taking three times longer to complete than they should. Recently, various routes from San José to the Caribbean coast have also been closed because of landslides.

In October, Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves declared a national emergency due to the poor road conditions. Clearly, these difficulties are due in part to the heavy rains and consequent landslides, but as Chaves also made clear, “… the infrastructure in this country is truly deplorable  … This is due to the carelessness and ineptitude of how the country has been administered.”

Various transport specialists have warned travellers to expect considerable delays over the coming weeks and months. The President of the CNE, Alejandro Picado Eduarte, said “We cannot allow the rainy season of 2023 to cause the same conditions as this year and inflict more damage. Above all, we must activate measures to protect life.”

It is reported that the National Emergency Commission (CNE) will issue ‘imminent danger declarations’ due to the appalling infrastructure conditions. The Legislative Assembly is expected to approve a bill for the urgent approval of credit to begin repairs in the dry season. President Chaves has sought $700 million (USD) from an environmental fund of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and will seek further funds as a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

President Chaves is reported as planning the 4-lane widening of Route 32 (the North Ring Road plan) and the Government City project to be finished by the end of his administration in 2026. In the same time period he sees partial completion of the San José – San Ramón road and the San José – Cartago road improvement, along with a new electric train route.

A deep-water port in Bluefields, Nicaragua?

By Martin Mowforth

In November 2022, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) signed a collaboration agreement with the Nicaraguan government’s Transport and Infrastructure Ministry (MTI) to provide funding for a deep-water port project in Bluefields on the country’s Caribbean coast.

Plans for the port were first put forward in 2015 but were followed by several years of delay whilst the search for funding went ahead. CABEI considers that the project will not only integrate well with Nicaragua’s other infrastructure improvements but will also aid the process of Central American economic integration.

Bluefields is the capital of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region and is located at the mouth of the Bluefields River. English is the most commonly spoken language of the town. It is the country’s main Caribbean port and through it are exported hardwood, seafood, shrimp and lobster. In 1984 its harbour was illegally mined by the United States and in 1988 much of the local infrastructure was destroyed by Hurricane Joan.

The proposed port will reduce Nicaragua’s dependence on ports in Honduras and Costa Rica and should lower costs for Nicaraguan exporters. In fact, finance minister Iván Acosta says that the port should help the country to double the value of its exports in five or six years, should attract considerable future investment, and should improve living conditions in the whole southern region. (But it is always worth remembering that politicians’ promises and predictions are seldom realised.)

It hardly needs to be pointed out that at present these statements are predictions rather than reality, but there is no doubt that over the last decade Nicaragua’s efforts to improve the country’s infrastructure have borne fruit and have proved popular with a majority of the populace. It is also worth noting that while CABEI, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have good relations with the Nicaraguan government, regularly praising its financial management and transparency, the government of the United States of America imposes stranglehold economic sanctions on the government of Nicaragua largely because of the latter’s supposedly fraudulent elections. The allegations of electoral fraud originate mainly from the USA which busies itself interfering in other countries’ elections in its attempts to fill the world with governments that will slavishly follow US dictats.


  • Alliance for Global Justice, 17 November 2022, Nicanotes: ‘CABEI to Finance Deep-Water Port in Bluefields’
  • Bnamericas, 17 November 2022, ‘Nicaragua partners with CABEI to advance deep-water port project’
  • MercoPress, 14 March 2022, ‘Nicaragua announces new deep-water port in Bluefields’
  • Radio La Primerisima, 15 November 2022.

Two new airports

Compiled by Martin Mowforth, August 2023

Two new international airports, one in Costa Rica and one in El Salvador, are proposed for Central America. Indeed, work on the construction of the new Salvadoran airport has already begun.


Aeropuerto del Pacífico, El Salvador

In El Salvador, the Airport of the Pacific (Aeropuerto del Pacífico) will be located in Conchagua in the east of the country and will principally serve the city port of La Unión. It will serve as a military base as well as an international public airport. Construction was approved by the Legislative Assembly in April 2022 and land clearance work began in March 2023. Construction costs are estimated to be $500 million (USD) over ten years.

Despite its approval by the Legislative Assembly and its obvious employment potential in the area, the project has not been without its objectors. Ten of the 150 landowners whose property was affected by the airport’s construction refused to sell their land to the government.

According to opposition lawmakers cited by news outlet ‘Estrategia y Negocios’ in April, members of the communities Flor de Mangle in La Unión department and Condadillo in Conchagua department allege that lies and blackmail were used by the Autonomous Port Executive Commission (Comisión Ejecutiva Portuaria Autónoma, CEPA) to push them to relocate. There are also claims that CEPA did not pay a fair price for the land.

Social conflicts and a lack of funding transparency have been issues since the project was announced, without a clear plan on how works will be carried out. Additionally, it is clear that a small area of mangroves will be destroyed in part of the construction area. Whilst it is only a small area (up to 2 hectares), as José Maria Argueta, programme director for the local NGO the Mangrove Association, says, “No matter how small the mangrove area is, it serves as a rest area for migratory birds and a livelihood for communities.” It is also an essential nursery for young fish and crustaceans.

Two non-governmental organisations have also opposed the airport development. Cristosal claims that three of the laws passed to enable development of the airport open the door to possible corruption. The Movement for the Integration of the Struggles of the Ancestral Peoples of El Salvador (MILPA) claims its construction violates the people’s right to private property and degrades the area’s environment.


Costa Rica

A proposed new airport in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica is meeting strong opposition from environmentalists, local affected communities and academics. The site for the airport is close to the Terraba Sierpe National Wetland and to various significant archaeological and cultural sites of interest.

The President, Rodrigo Chaves, and Minister of Tourism have both spoken strongly in favour of the scheme on the grounds that it would stimulate tourism and economic opportunities. A range of organisations and local communities have voiced concerns about the economic implications for local trade compared with the mega-hotels that are likely to be attracted to the region by the scheme.

The environmental organisation Preserve Planet was established in 1995 to campaign for conservation and the protection of nature. It works in countries other than Costa Rica but has several campaigns in Costa Rica. It has strongly criticised the airport plan on the grounds that its negative impacts on the ecosystem outweigh the possible economic and employment benefits. It believes that the airport will promote the growth of mega-hotels which will offer seasonal employment, leaving many workers without work for the rest of the year.

Luis Diego Marín, Preserve Planet’s regional Coordinator, explained that “Costa Rica is a country characterised by attracting a very special type of tourist who seeks to experience nature and biodiversity. We do not want mass tourism because, as we have seen in other places, it has negative consequences.”

Marín also pointed out that one of the major threats from this particular development would be the degradation of one of the most important pristine ecosystems on earth: Corcovado National Park.



  • Ileana Fernandez, 20 March 2023, ‘Preserve Planet Fights Against Costa Rica’s Plans to Build New Airport’, Tico Times, San José.
  • Ileana Fernandez, 16 May 2023, ‘Costa Rica Airport Project in Osa: A Controversial Issue’, Tico Times, San José.
  • Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA), July 2023, ‘Costa Rica’, ENCA, London.

TVOD Editorial note: Clearly, the addition of two new international airports in Central America is unlikely to help in the battle against global warming.

Honduras and Guatemala vie for interoceanic infrastructure investment: Honduras invites investment in a transoceanic railway

By Martin Mowforth

February 2024

Key words: Honduras; tourism; transoceanic railway project; Mundo Maya Organisation.

In January this year (2024), the Honduran Minister of Tourism, Yadira Gómez, attended the 27th Conference of Iberoamerican Tourism Ministers in Spain and invited Spanish investors to participate in the construction of a railway across Honduras to connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

In an interview with the Spanish News Agency, EFE, Gómez described the rail project as an alternative route to the Panama Canal, an increase in internal connectivity within Honduras and as offering tourism growth to communities in the interior of the country. But she also acknowledged that Honduras lacked tourist infrastructure.

The Panama Canal is suffering a restriction in the daily passage of boats due to the climate crisis and the drought, and this planned rail project across Honduras would be presented as another option. “We could ensure the transport of merchandise on a large scale,” said the Minister. She suggested that various countries have expressed an interest, among them the USA, Japan, Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Gómez said that Honduras was also suffering from the effects of climate change with the loss of beaches, especially in the Bay Islands, and the bleaching of coral on parts of the second most important coral reef in the world. She suggested that these problems referred not just to HondurasHHonduras but also to the rest of the region and that through this project she wanted to unite all the Ministers from the neighbouring countries with her own Ministry in Honduras.

Whilst the Minister was in Spain, she also attended the International Tourism Fair, FITUR, where she attempted to attract investors from the tourism sector and to increase the connectivity provided by airlines, especially as Spain is the European country that provides most tourists to Honduras.

She acknowledged that security within the country was an issue for the tourism industry but said that her government was trying to do all it could to combat the problem, such as the creation of specific tourist police.

Gómez said that Honduras was one of five Central American countries which make up part of the Mundo Maya Organisation and explained that her vision was for all five countries to work together to attract tourists and to ease their passage along the Maya route. It is worth noting that since the beginnings of the promotion of the Mundo Maya there have always been questions regarding the degree of involvement of the Mayan people in the promotion of the tourist scheme. The implication of such questions is that the tourism ministries of each of the five countries are promoting a money-making scheme for the tourism industry exploiting the existence of the Mayan culture whilst few of the benefits of the scheme actually find their way to the Maya Indigenous people.


  • EFE, 23 enero 2024, ‘Honduras quiere construir un ferrocarril transoceánico que conecte el Pacífico y el Atlántico: “Es un proyecto de miles de millones”, El Economista.
  • Reuters, 8 July 2023, ‘Honduras probes Chinese interest in investing $20 billion rail line’,
  • Mowforth, M. and Munt, I., 2016, Tourism and Sustainability: Development, Globalisation and New Tourism in the Third World, (4th edition) Routledge, London. (See page 234)


Not to be outdone, Guatemala develops its own interoceanic corridor

Key words: Guatemala; interoceanic transport corridor; Lakshmi Capital.


A Guatemalan interoceanic corridor is a relatively new plan, although the idea first seriously emerged in 1998 when the limitations of the Panama Canal became apparent. In February this year (2024), the Guatemalan Interoceanic Consortium (CIGSA), the Indian company Lakshmi Capital and the Office for Links and Businesses with Latin America (ODEPAL) jointly signed a letter of intent to promote the development of this megaproject.

Valued at $10 billion (USD), the project would include the construction of a multimodal transport system (road, rail and pipeline) covering a strip of land of 372 km in length and 140 meters in width to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

A communiqué issued by the Indian Embassy in Guatemala stated that “the port infrastructures will be connected by two independent systems for the transport of containers and hydrocarbons.” The communiqué added that the developments would include industrial, commercial and service zones.

It is intended that Lakshmi Capital will support the scheme with their technical experience and investment mechanisms and will facilitate the construction, implementation,,management and maintenance of the Corridor.

In the previous December (2023), Lakshmi Capital signed a letter of intent with the Salvadoran Ministry of Public Works to develop a metro system in El Salvador.



Note to readers:

News of these intentions (as described above) means that four countries of Central America – Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala – are now investigating possibilities for the development of interoceanic corridors as ways of competing with the Panama Canal.