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.
- BNAmericas, 8 June 2023, ‘El Salvador’s CEPA reports land purchase progress for Pacific international airport’, https://www.bnamericas.com/en/news/el-salvadors-cepa-reports-land-purchase-progress-for-pacific-international-airport
- Morena Uvelí Delgado Alemán, 28 June 2022, ‘Doubts and fears among residents where the new airport will be built in El Salvador’, https://earthjournalism.net/stories/doubts-and-fears-among-residents-where-the-new-airport-will-be-built-in-el-salvador
- Maxwell Radwin, 15 November 2022, ‘Critics cite threats to communities, mangroves from El Salvador airport plans’, Mongabay, https://news.mongabay.com/2022/11/critics-cite-threats-to-communities-mangroves-from-el-salvador-airport-plans/
- Wikipedia, ‘Airport of the Pacific’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airport_of_the_Pacific
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.