International Development, Community and Environment (IDCE)

Date of Award


Degree Type

Research Paper

Degree Name

Master of Arts in International Development and Social Change (IDSC)


International Development, Community and Environment

Chief Instructor

Denise Humphrey-Bebbington, PhD.

Second Reader

Cynthia Caron, Ph.D.


Costa Rica’s state-led model of energy generation based on large-scale investments in hydropower has given the country autonomy in generating its own energy as well as sovereignty over its natural resources. Successive governments have used nationalist and ecological discourses to support the continued expansion of hydropower as the path to economic development. In more recent decades however, a number of factors have been eroding the dominance of the state-led hydropower development model. Some of those elements are the national and international pressures to liberalize and privatize the energy sector, an increasing body of scientific evidence indicating that large-scale hydropower in the tropics may in fact be detrimental to the environment, and an increasing pressure for the energy sector to shift away from large-scale hydropower, in favor of small-scale hydropower and other renewable energy sources.

This research uses El Diquís Hydroelectric Project (EDHP) as case study. This hydroelectric dam is a critical project linked to future energy generation for export and reflects the evolving and highly contested dynamics of hydropower politics in Costa Rica today. It may well serve as a turning point in national energy policy, the future of large-scale infrastructure and hydropower projects, and indigenous rights. This paper shows how EDHP did not serve the national interest based on a complex web of forces and interests at play.



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