San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mining Town Elections Dig Deep Divisions

MIRAMAR, Puntarenas – The riftbetween residents of the town of Miramar,near the Pacific port city of Puntarenas,was as visible Monday at the local highschool as the Bellavista open-pit gold minecarved into the sides of the Montes de OroMountains in the distance.Clustered on opposite ends of thebleachers at the school’s gym, environmentalistsand mine supporters from theMontes de Oro canton, which includes thetowns of Miramar, San Isidro and LaUnión, elected two community representativesfor the Bellavista Mine MonitoringCommission.To the dismay of environmentalists,who claim the mine is causing environmentaldamage and cyanide pollution, thecommunity reelected former representativesLuis Ángel Jiménez and Carlos LuisCascante, originally elected in April 2004,to the monitoring commission made up ofmembers of the Technical Secretariat ofthe Environment Ministry (SETENA), theMinistry of Public Health, the Montes deOro Municipality and a project developmentrepresentative.Because the controversial mine companydoes not allow representatives of certainecological groups onto the property,such groups had hoped this second election– the result of a lengthy legal battle forgreater community participation in theselection process – would place one or twoenvironmentalists on the commission,which makes monthly inspections of themine.INSTEAD, Jiménez, elected as theMiramar representative, and Cascante,the municipal representative for Montesde Oro, will continue to serve on thecommission, formed by a 2001 decree toensure the mine’s proper functioning,according to Montes de Oro MayorÁlvaro Jiménez. Critics say the two representatives,favored by many who supportthe mine, have shown a pro-mineattitude.The path toward Monday’s electionsbegan in May 2004, when a group of concernedarea residents filed a lawsuit beforethe Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV) against theMontes de Oro Municipality, among otherinstitutions, opposing the alleged exclusionof citizen participation from environmentalmatters.The municipality excluded members ofthe community from participating in thefirst elections for commission representativesheld in April 2004, the citizens’lawyer, Vladimir Sacasa, said in a statementfrom the Gulf of Nicoya Ecologist CommunitiesAssociation (CEUS del Golfo).“I never doubted that the mayor discriminatedand injured the participatoryrights of people with environmental interestsin Montes de Oro,” Sacasa said,adding that Mayor Jiménez only invitednon-governmental organizations to participatein the 2004 elections.JIMÉNEZ says he was acting withinhis rights.“There was no written mechanism thatrequired community participation in theelection,” he said. I selected a group oforganizations to represent the community.”Among the organizations that participatedin last year’s election, Jiménez listedcooperatives, the Miramar Red Cross andhomes for the elderly.On June 7, the Sala IV annulled theprevious election and ordered Jiménez tohold a new electoral assembly within 15days of the notification without “restrictedparticipation and with adequate and sufficientpublicity,” according to a letter fromSala IV judicial assistant Reinier Tossoaddressed to the mayor.In a speech preceding the election, themayor announced that the municipalityhad publicized the event with the distributionof 2,000 flyers and 35 posters throughoutMontes de Oro.“This is an absolutely transparent andobjective procedure,” he announced to thecongregation of voters.AMID hooting and rumors that theBellavista Mine intimidated its employeesto ensure the victory of the pro-mine candidates,the Montes de Oro voters assembledinto two uneven lines to elect the Montes deOro and Miramar representatives.Flora María Blanco, a Miramarhousewife and secretary of the Montes deOro Ecological Association (ASEMORO),formed in September 2004,assured The Tico Times her vote wouldgo to the environment, represented bycandidates and fellow association ASEMOROmembers Roberto Aguilar andJuan Venegas.“They (Bellavista Mine employers)forced the mine employees to bring theirfamilies to vote with threats of being fired.We environmentalists came out of our ownwill,” she said, adding that Montes de Orolacks employment opportunities, but the“damage left behind by the mine has nolimit.”However, mine employee EugenioRojas, 62, denied the mine forced him tovote for Carlos Luis Cascante.“I will vote for him because he supportsthe mine. There’s no other work here.Without the mine I’d be starving to death,”said Rojas, a chemical valve operator.Bellavista Mine administrative managerArnoldo Rudín said the mine wantedproactive representatives in the monitoringcommission, but exerted no influenceon the community’s choice of representatives.“The community, not the mine, choosesthe representative it wants,” Rudín toldThe Tico Times, adding that the mine hadnothing to do with the mayor’s choice ofvoters in last year’s election.MONTES de Oro residents also complainedof the distance the mine has createdbetween them.“The social reaction to the mine hasbeen enormous,” said Miramar residentBlanco. “I used to go to the bank and greeteveryone. Now environmentalists and prominershave cut ties and only one or twohypocrites still greet each other.”The Bellavista Mine, managed byMetales Procesados M.R.W., S.A. – asubsidiary of the Canadian GlencairnGold Company – opened in April 2004. Apermit originally granted by the CostaRican government in 1956 makes themine exempt from a 2002 moratorium onopen-pit mining signed by President AbelPacheco (TT, June 7, 2002).The mine, which began preliminarygold extraction in April and plans to beginfull-scale commercial mining next month,has generated opposition from environmentalists,who protested the mine projectlast November. They criticized the fact thatthe profits it will generate will primarilybenefit those in other countries – Rudínconfirmed that, with the exception of the¢90 million (approximately $187,500) thatwill go toward payroll, the profits of themine company will go to the Canadianinvestors – and the possibility of environmentaldamage (TT, Nov. 26, 2004).Two weeks ago, CEUS accused themine of an alleged cyanide spill, whichthe mine denied (TT, June 24). Cyanide isa toxic substance used to extract goldfrom ore.

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