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Arias administration under fire for logging in Las Crucitas

October 24, 2008

The weekend did little to calm outraged opponents of an open-pit gold mine near the Nicaraguan border, where the government has authorized the logging of nearly 200 hectares of forest, including endangered species.

A Supreme Court chamber last week ordered the logging suspended and the Chief Prosecutor´s Office began a criminal investigation of President Oscar Arias and his environment minister, Roberto Dobles.

Yesterday morning, protestors converged on the Environment, Energy and Telecommunication Ministry (MINAET) with drums, whistles, signs and bullhorns to protest the mine and the government´s authorization of the logging.

Later that afternoon, Dobles appeared before the Legislative Assembly, at the lawmakers´ request, and faced a barrage of criticism and questions.

On Oct 17, Arias and Dobles issued a decree declaring the mine, called Las Crucitas, “of national convenience.” The decree, however, was suspended three days later by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) after an environmentalist filed an injunction.

Sala IV ruled last month that MINAET cannot authorize the logging of the mountain almond, an endangered tree species that is the principal food source and habitat for the endangered great green macaw.

National law also prohibits changing the land use status of forest to allow logging, except in cases where the government has declared the project of national interest.

Arias and Dobles have said that the prior Sala IV ruling does not apply in this case, and that they were right in declaring the mine in the nation´s interest.

Facing legislators who were at times hostile – Citizen Action Party (PAC) lawmaker Alberto Salóm demanded Dobles´ resignation – the minister deflected environmental concerns saying the mine met the government´s “rigorous” technical and environmental standards.

Dobles also asserted that MINAET studies showed the great green macaw does not nest in the area slated for logging, and that it only “occasionally” passes through for feeding.

Bird experts in Costa Rica have however have told The Tico Times the area is a prime feeding area for the macaw.

Sánchez said the loss of nearly 200 mountain almond trees would seriously affect the animal´s comeback.

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