Environmentalists reject blame for post-Crucitas ills

Some 22 environmental organizations has issued a statement in which they decline to take responsibility for the collapse of the Las Crucitas open pit gold mine and the looming $1 billion arbitration demand.

The statement, released Tuesday under the banner of the Federación Costarricense para la Conservación del Ambiente said the real culprits in the poverty and difficult situations of residents in the northern zone are the central government and the municipality.

The environmentalists were replying to a La Nación news article that appeared Wednesday.

After a court annulled the concession granted to the Infinito Gold Ltda. of Calgary, Canada. A.M. Costa Rica published similar articles and letters critical of the position embraced by the environmentalists.

“Had the Las Crucitas project proceeded as originally planned, 2014 would have seen the commencement of actions necessary to implement a successful winding down of operations. Costa Rica would have by now received millions of dollars in the form of royalties and taxes, local people would be benefiting from employment and the local infrastructure would have received a much-needed cash infusion,” said a reader last month.

The environmentalists’ statement cites an article in the Costa Rican Constitution that says the state will secure the well being of the residents of the country

It is the executive branch and the municipality, respectively, that are directly responsible for the poverty that thousands of forgotten families are suffering and not the organizations or environmentalists that fought against the contaminating project, said the statement. It added that the state was responsible for the economic development and that the environmentalists were responsible for making sure that the development does not destroy the country’s natural and social capital.

The main arguments against the Las Crucitas mine was that digging a pit to extract gold-bearing rock would kill protected trees and that the leach process would free dangerous chemicals into the environment.

Infinito is going to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes seeking to be compensated because it held a valid concession for years and made investments to develop the mine. It will cite conflicting court decisions.

The mine project was backed by the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration, and the project had received several favorable constitutional court decisions, but the Laura Chinchilla administration opposed the project particularly after environmentalists generated  a strong campaign against it.

It was the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo that annulled the concession based on claims of irregularities in the approval process. The court also ordered that Arias and then-environmental minister  Roberto Dobles face criminal action.

Environmentalists have been consistent in their opposition to extractive industries. After a long fight, drilling for oil off the Caribbean coast was halted. Another concession to do exploratory drilling for petroleum on land in the northern zone also is facing government foot dragging.

Meanwhile, news sources elsewhere report that Nicaraguan gold now is the primary export of that country. The report said that production there increased 20 percent in 2013 with exports reaching $435.9 million, which is more than coffee or beef exports.

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