Costa Rica: Supreme Court rules against gold mine

In a major victory for Costa Rica’s environmental movement, on Nov. 30 the First Chamber of the country’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s November 2010 decision canceling a concession for an open-pit gold mine in Crucitas de San Carlos near the Nicaraguan border. The Supreme Court’s ruling also nullified Environment and Energy Ministry executive decree 34801, with which former president Oscar Arias Sánchez (1986-1990 and 2006-2010) had declared the mine, owned by the Canadian company Infinito Gold Ltd., a matter of “national interest.” The court told the Public Ministry to “start an investigation to determine whether it is proper to pursue a criminal case against” Arias, former vice president Roberto Dobles Mora and six other former officials.

Infinito Gold, which is based in Calgary, Alberta province, indicated it might go to international bodies to try to get back the $127 million it had invested in the mine, which the company had expected to produce a million ounces of gold.

The court’s call for investigating former president Arias points to several irregularities in the case. Arias’ 2008 decree that the mine was in the national interest let Infinito Gold keep the concession for the project despite serious concerns about its environmental impact. More recently, a draft of the Supreme Court’s final decision in the case disappeared in the middle of November, leading to suspicions that the document was stolen and leaked to Infinito Gold’s legal team. Supreme Court alternate magistrate Moisés Fachler has resigned as a result, and the Public Ministry is investigating.

Activists celebrated the Nov. 30 decision with demonstrations in front of the Supreme Court building in San José. Some 90% of the population reportedly opposed the mine, which had inspired numerous demonstrations and a hunger strike. (El País, Costa Rica, Nov. 30; Adital, Brazil, Dec. 1; Costa Rica Contaminada blog, Dec. 3)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 4.

See our last post on Costa Rica , the mineral cartel, and the struggle in Central America.