The head of President Oscar Arias’ environmental program Peace With Nature has asked the president to declare a moratorium on open-pit mining following recent protests over a mine on the northern border.
This comes eight months after president Arias repealed a ban on open-pit metal mining decreed by former President Abel Pacheco in 2002.
“We urge (Arias) to declare a moratorium on metallic open-pit mining until the mining code is reviewed and updated,” said Pedro León, head of Peace With Nature, in a statement this week.
León declined to comment directly on Las Crucitas – a Canadian-owned open-pit gold mine located a few kilometers from the Río San Juan, the natural border separating Costa Rica from Nicaragua – because of a series of legal challenges under review by the Supreme Court.
In September, Arias issued a presidential decree declaring the Las Crucitas “of national convenience and public interest,” which authorized the mining company to cut nearly 200 hectares of forest, including endangered tree species.
The decree was suspended by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court after opponents filed an injunction, and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal investigation into whether the decree violated national laws.
León said his office drafted a document titled “Environmental Safeguard Policy for Mining in Costa Rica,” provided to the president in May, that said few experiences with metallic mining in the tropics have been positive and noted that Costa Rica’s mining code is “widely recognized” as obsolete.
Costa Rica’s only existing open-pit gold mine, known as Bellavista, collapsed in October 2007 under heavy seasonal rains, destroying a $1 million processing plant, shutting the site down permanently and sparking concerns that cyanide, used to process the gold, could leak into the nearby waterways and the groundwater.
Bellavista, owned by another Canadian firm, Central Sun Mining Inc., had received approval from the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry despite warnings from environmentalists that such a disaster might happen.
In 2002, with barely a month in office, former President Pacheco issued a series of environmental decrees, including the mining ban. At the time, Pacheco said he had declared “peace with nature.”
Arias, who adopted Pacheco’s phrase for his much-touted environmental program, told The Tico Times shortly after taking office that he would however discard two central elements of Pacheco’s peace declaration: a ban on oil exploration and the mining ban.
President Arias was in Asia this week and unavailable for comment on his advisor’s recommendation.