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Environmental defenders against Gmelina Tree plantations, Costa Rica


As part of a national development program at the end of 1980s local governments from Southern Costa Rica (Golfito and Osa) signed an agreement with Stone Forestal Company a subsidiary of the US-based company Stone Container. The agreement consisted to plant 24 million of gmelina arborea or "Melina trees"  ( raw material for paper production)  across 24, 000 ha of rented farmland along the Southern Pacific Coast. It also included the permission for the building of a shipyard and a seaport to manufacture and export the material to the United States of America.  According to Stone Forestal, around 6000,000 tonnes of splinters would be cut and exported where they would be turned into film paper, newsprints, toilet paper or boxes. 

At that time, the Costa Rican environmental justice organization the Asociación Ecologista Costarricense (AECO) was concerned  on the one side about the renting of the farmland for tree plantations preventing the growing of foodcrops, but also on the other side about the environmental impacts that both tree plantations, the construction of a shipyard and the seaport would have in a very biodiverse and unique ecosystem such as Golfo Dulce.  In early 1990s AECO in hand with local communities and scientists began to gather data about the possible environmental impacts of the project and in 1993 launched the campaign "Salvemos el Golfo Dulce" which attired the attention of international supporters such as Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network.  In 1994 the Greenpeace´s ship visited the Golfo Dulce and the campaign became more popular.

When the incoming president (José María Figueres) arrived in 1994, the  Sala Constitutional declared illegal the permissions given to Stone Forestal and denied the building of the seaport and the shipyard which made the plantation itself nonprofitable for the company. In 1995, only 13,000 ha from the 24.000 planned were planted. 

After the environmental justice victory, on December 6th, 1994 three environmental leaders: María del Mar Cordero, Jaime Bustamante and Oscar Fallas from AECO died in a fire in their home.  The causes of the fire are still unknown and it was declared by the Costa Rican institutions as "an accident". However, environmentalists,  claim that it was provoked and that their dead it is related to their environmental struggle against Stone Forestal. After this episode, another environmental leader from AECO  (David Maradiaga) was found dead in a park, the causes of his death are also unknown.

The struggle against Stone Forestal in Southern Costa Rica represented a landmark victory for the Costa Rican environmental justice movement but also a debt of the CostaRican institutions for not been able to give clear and accurate data about the death (or murder) of four environmental defenders. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Environmental defenders against Gmelina Tree plantations, Costa Rica
Country:Costa Rica
State or province:Puntarenas (Southern Costa Rica)
Location of conflict:Península de Osa
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Ports and airport projects
Specific commodities:Timber
Paper pulp

Project Details and Actors

Project details

According to Stone Forestal the chip mill would have created up to 2,500 jobs, since workers will be needed in the factory and to plant and harvest.

-The project included 24 million "melina trees" across 24,000 hectares (about 60,000 acres) of rented farmland along Costa Rica's Pacific coast.

-The fast-growing trees will be clear-cut in five years - the first crop would be ready in 1996 - then chopped in the chip mill and shipped to Stone plants in the United States, where they could have turned into film paper, newsprint, toilet paper, or boxes.

- Golfo Dulce is one of the most biologically diverse regions in Costa Rica and in the world.

Project area:24,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:3000-5000
Start of the conflict:1990
End of the conflict:1994
Company names or state enterprises:Stone Container Corporation from United States of America - owner
Stone Forestal from United States of America - subsidiaria de Stone Container
Relevant government actors:Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo (TAA); Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ); Sala Constitucional;
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Asociación Ecologista Costarricense (AECO); Coeco-Ceiba- Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica; Federación Conservacionista de Costa Rica (FECON);
Supporters: Greenpeace; Rain Forest Action Network;

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Occupation of buildings/public spaces


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion
Other Environmental impactsStone Forstal was aiming to send 168 trucks back and forth from plantations to the mill every day. The noise and pollution will disturb the wildlife.
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of alternatives:-To continue with the small scale farming
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The struggle against Stone Forestal in Southern Costa Rica represents a victory for the Costa Rican environmental justice as Stone Forestal left the area. It was won at a great human cost.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Evolución Reciente del Ambientalismo en Costa Rica

"Guerreros del Golfo Dulce : industria forestal y conflicto en la Península de Osa, Costa Rica" autora: Heleen van den Hombergh.

Desarrollo Sotenible Centrado en el bienestar humano en Osa y Golfito, Costa Rica. Un análisis diagnóstico social.óstico%20social%20versión%20ES_0.pdf

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites


An Environmental Test Case

Ston Forestal a manos ticas

20 años es mucho: autoridades tienen que rendir cuentas por muerte de ecologistas en 1994

¿Por qué se asesinan ambientalistas en Costa Rica?

Meta information

Contributor:ENVJustice Project
Last update07/10/2018



Activistas ex miembros de AECO

Activistas ex miembros de AECO : Oscar Fallas; María del Mar Cordero; Jaime Bustamante; David Maradiaga.

Rainforest In Reserva Forestal Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica

Contributor: IEDNlab