Dec 13, 2010
Friends of the Earth Costa Rica are celebrating a recent high court ruling that has declared the licence for an open-pit gold mine in the town of Las Crucitas to be invalid.
Friends of the Earth Costa Rica (FoE Costa Rica), environmental organisations and the residents of Las Crucitas, have been campaigning against opening up the northern border region to mining for 17 years.
During that time they have initiated several legal processes, demonstrated outside the mine, marched on parliament and even engaged in hunger strikes.
The region, in the north close to the Nicaraguan border, is rich in biodiversity and home to endangered species of trees and the great green macaw. It was supposedly protected by Costa Rica's strict laws on environmental preservation. However, in 2008 the then president Oscar Arias overruled these laws by declaring that mining in Las Crucitas would be in the national interest. And so opposition to the mine continued.
The open-pit method of mining the company were going to use involves the use of cyanide and is one of the most destructive industrial practices there is. It's considered so dangerous that in May 2010 the European Parliament issued a resolution on the general prohibition of the use of technologies based on cyanide mining.
A breakthrough came when Oscar Arias' presidential term came to an end in early 2010 and the groups in opposition to the mine petitioned the new president Laura Chincilla to repeal the national interest decree.
As a result the case finally returned to court and the national interest decree was declared invalid along with the mining contract. The court also ordered a criminal investigation into the former president and environment minister for having signed off on a decree stating that the open-pit gold mine was in the public’s interest. The court found that since environmental studies were incomplete, Oscar Arias’ signing of the decree was illegal.
Speaking on the verdict Javier Baltodano from FoE Costa Rica said:
"This is a victory for the Earth, for Nature, and as a movement we have always felt the Federation very close to us".
Unfortunately the fight is not completely over as the Canadian mining company has lodged an appeal and may also seek international arbitration.
Javier Baltodano believes the mining company has no case and should leave the country sooner rather than later:
"Former President Oscar Arias was responsible, and he must be the one to blame in the case the mining company files a complaint”, he said, referring to the Free Trade Agreement signed by Costa Rica with Canada which opens the door to these kinds of claims.
"The company is responsible because it continued with the project despite clear regulations against it. They carried on with the support of politicians, and they are the ones that must respond if the company files a complaint, not the Costa Rican State."
Citing various referenda that have taken place over the years, Baltodano said 98 per cent of Costa Ricans oppose these kind of extractive projects. Once the decision becomes final Costa Ricans "will lift the burden off our shoulders" he concluded.