Nicaragua has stepped up pressure on Costa Rica to reverse a decision to allow open-pit gold mining at Las Crucitas, near the San Juan River, which forms the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border.
“(The Ticos) should respect bi-national agreements … to protect the environment,” Nicaraguan Environment and Natural Resources Minister Juana Argeñal told the Nica daily El Nuevo Diario this week.
“Nobody is denying Costa Rica’s sovereignty over its land,” she said, “but (Costa Rica) should be respectful of those conventions because mining activity could cause us serious damage.”
Her remarks were the latest in a tit-fortat between the San José and Managua governments. The Costa Rican Foreign Ministry released a statement June 5 saying it is “unacceptable to be asked to annul a sovereign act of the Costa Rican state.”
“(Las Crucitas) shouldn’t be a reason for concern for Nicaragua,” the ministry said, adding that in Nicaragua there are seven mines in operation, 60 metal mine concessions and 15 foreign companies carrying out mining explorations.
Bellavista Mine, overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya, is the only other open-pit gold mine in Costa Rica, but it was closed after landslides late last year damaged equipment and destroyed a processing plant that had once contained large amounts of cyanide (TT, Jan. 18). Representatives of the mining company at Bellavista began cleaning out the site in expectation of the landslides, and said no harmful chemicals remained when the disaster struck.
After years of court battles and protests, the company Industrias Infinito – a Costa Rican subsidiary of Canadian mining firm Vannessa Ventures – got the official go-ahead in April to dig in Las Crucitas (TT, May 2). The announcement came the same day President Oscar Arias said he would be lifting a six-year ban on open-pit mining decreed by his predecessor, Abel Pacheco.
The decision sparked ire among environmentalists. Arias’ administration claims that new safety requirements, including strict protection of surface and underground water resources, will keep the mine site and surrounding areas unharmed.
Argeñal was out of the country this week, said Nicaraguan Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (MARENA) spokeswoman Vanessa Arriaza, but in an interview with The Nica Times last month, the minister explained her opposition to the project.
“Las Crucitas causes serious harm to our environment,” she said. Argeñal claimed the mine creates a heightened risk of landslides in the area, and chemicals used as part of the gold extraction process would drain into Nicaraguan rivers along the Costa Rican border.
She said recent accords signed by Costa Rica in Rio De Janiero, Cartagena and San Pedro Sula called for bilateral cooperation in managing projects that could have environmental impacts across borders.
Andrés Soto, spokesman for Industrias Infinito, insisted her fears are unfounded.
“Crucitas will operate with a closed treatment plant where the material will pass through six tanks in a closed circuit,” he said. The cyanide is reused, while other contaminated materials are broken down until they are no longer dangerous to the environment, he added.
“The (Nicaraguan) minister does not have all the information to have an informed opinion,” Soto said. “We would be glad to explain all this to the minister.”
Costa Rica’s navigation rights to the San Juan River have been a point of contention between the two countries for more than a decade.