On July 2, 2020 the Aruba Off-Road Foundation (the Foundation) submitted a petition to the Court of First Instance of Aruba for a summary proceeding against the Fundacion Parke Nacional Arikok (FPNA) and the Government of Aruba, in this case represented by the Minister charged with Environmental Affairs (GoA). The demand was to stop the implementation of the Policy Document d.d. May 7, 2020 by FPNA where an effective immediate ban has been introduced on ATVs and UTVs for all the areas under FPNA’s management as well as for the GoA not to approve this Policy Document for the newly appointed 16 nature reserve areas without prior consultation with the Foundation. On Friday, August 14, 2020 the court rejected Aruba Off-Road Foundation’s petition.
It is no secret that the tourism industry of Aruba has been greatly affected by the closing of the borders from mid-March 2020 through July 1, 2020 (for the Caribbean and Europe) and July 10, 2020 (for USA). During this lockdown, members of the Foundation have not been able to generate any income due to the measures imposed by the GoA due to the COVID-19 crisis. As such the survival of the companies, members of the Foundation, and the jobs these companies provide depended greatly on the opening of the borders and the tours to one of the most advertised locations in Aruba; the Arikok National Park. The best-selling tour for the members of the Foundation has been the tour by ATV or UTV to the Natural Pool in Parke Arikok, which for years now already is being aggressively promoted on international markets by the Aruba Tourism Authority. Without the possibility of this tour, the main concern for the Foundation remains the very real threat of having to send family members home without a salary or a job.
While the Foundation understands the Court’s decision to protect the nature reserve areas, the goal of the Foundation has always been to bring about regulation of the use of vehicles such as ATVs and UTVs which would contribute to the preservation of nature reserve areas. The Foundation regrets that the FPNA and the Minister of Environmental Affairs were not willing to work together with the Foundation on this goal that would have benefitted not only companies but also all the hardworking family members who are employed by the members of the Foundation. The Foundation had hoped that the Minister of Environmental Affairs would have acted as an intermediary party to come to a solution for a possible regulated ‘phase-out’ period that would have benefitted all parties, especially considering the amount of jobs that will be lost during a financial crisis such as the one Aruba is experiencing at the moment. Not to mention the economic advantage that has now been given to companies operating Jeep Tours, who can still visit enter the Parke Arikok and visit the Natural Pool.
Many members of the Foundation have not been able to operate since the borders have opened and have spent all their last financial resources in the summary proceedings in the hope that they may still be able to recover from the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis. The Foundation is currently in consultation with its members to assess the possibility of commencing proceedings (‘bodemzaak’). This decision has not yet been made. In the meantime The Foundation will continue to advocate for safety and sustainable practices while trying to reach the GoA in a plea to bring regulation for this market.