Court Stops Northern Gold Mine

December 10, 2004

THE Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court(Sala IV) on Wednesday announced it has annulled amining concession in Las Crucitas, a town the NorthernZone near the Nicaraguan border, eliciting relief fromenvironmentalists and opponents to the controversialgold mine.In 2001, then-President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez andthe Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE)granted a concession to the mining company IndustriasInfinito S.A., the Costa Rican subsidiary of the Canadianfirm Vannessa Ventures.According to the Sala IV ruling, the concession violatesArticle 50 of the Constitution, which guaranteesevery person’s right to a healthy and ecologically balancedenvironment.“WE’RE astonished and perplexed by this ruling,given that the Sala IV previously rejected the sameappeal,” Industrias Infinito General Manager JesúsCarvajal told The Tico Times yesterday. “We don’t knowthe reasons behind the ruling.”Carvajal said it is too early to tell if his company,which he said has invested $35 million in the project todate, would pursue further legal action. “While our companyis the party affected by the ruling, the appeal was actually filed against MINAE, not us,” hesaid.“We hope the ministry will ask the SalaIV to review the decision,” he added.THE ruling was prompted by a casefiled in April 2002 by Carlos and DianaMurillo, members of the Front ofOpposition to Northern-Zone Mining.Concession contracts for bothIndustrias Infinito and Río MineralesS.A., a company set to begin another controversialgold mine in Miramar, in thehills above the Pacific port town ofPuntarenas, were both awarded beforePresident Abel Pacheco signed a moratoriumon open-pit mining in June 2002,just after he took office (TT, June 7,2002).Although opponents of the mining projectsargued the concessions should berevoked, the Sala IV sided with IndustriasInfinito in a 2002 ruling, upholding theconcession because it was approved beforethe moratorium (TT, Oct. 25, 2002).An article in the San José daily LaPrensa Libre earlier this year, picked up byNicaraguan journalists, caused panic inthis neighboring country over the potentialenvironmental impact of the proposedmine, as it would sit five kilometers southof the San Juan River, part of which formsthe border between Costa Rica andNicaragua (TT, Sept. 3).Officials in Nicaragua created a commissionto study the controversial projectafter Nicaraguan environmentalists warnedthat the mine could have a possibly devastatingeffect on the San Juan River, usedfor fishing by hundreds of Nicaraguansouthern-zone residents.Nicaragua’s environmental lawyer,Lisandro D’León, warned that if it wasdetermined the mining project would causeirreparable harm to Nicaragua’s environment,the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministrywould employ various internationaltreaties and conventions to halt it.THE TechnicalSecretariat of theE n v i r o n m e n tMinistry (SETENA)had rejected thee n v i r o n m e n t a l -impact study presentedby IndustriasInfinito in 2003, butthe Sala IV orderedSETENA to re-evaluatethe projectbecause of a series ofprocedural oversights.After a public hearing on the gold minein July of this year (TT, July 23) SETENAsaid it was still reviewing informationgathered and had not reached a decision onthe environmental-impact study of the projectwhen the Sala IV made its ruling thisweek.ONE of the primary concerns of environmentalistsand residents is the fact thecompany would use cyanide to extractgold from the ore at the site. Earlier thisyear, Carvajal said the company would beusing tanks for this process to prevent thecyanide from making contact with theenvironment. Later it would be destroyedin a process called Inco-SO2/Air, wherethe cyanide is broken down into 28 elements.The mining company hoped to extractmore than 650,000 ounces of gold duringthe next eight years in operation, accordingto Carvajal.A statement from Industrias Infinitoyesterday said the company had compliedwith all legal procedures to operate inCosta Rica.“The only possible explanation is thatthis is an error or misinterpretation of theactual state of the concession, which wasawarded under the rules and regulations of2001,” the statement said.Operators of the Bellavista mine,meanwhile, plan to begin mining worknext year, as they say they have obtainedall the necessary permits from theExecutive Branch, SETENA and MINAE(TT, Nov. 26).

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