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Costa Rica: historic ban on open-pit mining

In November 2010, Costa Rica became the first country in Latin America to ban open-pit metal mining.
open pit mining
An open-pit mine. © I Bair, Dreamstime
Costa Rica’s only open-pit gold mine, in Las Crucitas, had previously been declared a project of “national interest” when it was established on the basis of legal irregularities by then president Oscar Arias, in October 2008 - even though it posed a stark threat to the rich biodiversity in the San Juan river basin. 

Friends of the Earth Costa Rica/COECOCEIBA was part of a national platform of various types of organisations, including environmentalists’ and peasants’ organisations, who worked with local communities in the northern zone of the country. They had been collectively campaigning against opening up the northern region to mining for 17 years. During that time, this big coalition initiated several legal processes, demonstrated outside the mine, marched on parliament, and even engaged in hunger strikes. More than 90 per cent of the population now oppose open-pit mining developments.

In May 2010, the newly elected president of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, signed an executive decree that placed a moratorium on open-pit gold mining in the country. Then, in November 2010, Costa Rica’s legislative assembly, citing environmental concern, reinforced the presidential decree by voting unanimously for the ban on all new open-pit metal mining projects.

Yet the bill did not affect the country’s existing gold mining project in Crucitas until 24 November 2010, when a Costa Rican court finally annulled the mining concession previously granted to mining company Industrias Infinito. Friends of the Earth Costa Rica provided part of the technical support underpinning the charges, and provided an expert witness to testify on the issue of impacts on forests.


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