More than 100 protesters turned out Tuesday morning at San José’s Plaza de la Cultura to demonstrate their anger at what they say is a years-long trail of government corruption and collusion between Costa Rican officials – including a judge – and corporate mining interests that have come to be represented by a single word: Crucitas.
First proposed in 1993 by Industrias Infinito, a Costa Rican subsidiary of the Canadian company Infinito Gold Inc., the Las Crucitas gold mine would be a multi-million-dollar open-pit mine in Costa Rica’s Northern Zone near the Nicaraguan border. In 2006, then-president Óscar Arias signed a decree saying the mine was in Costa Rica’s public interest and gave the go-ahead to the project, which was already facing stiff opposition from environmental groups.
Environmentalists claimed the mine would not only destroy almond trees, a nationally protected species and habitat to the endangered green macaw, but would also pose a serious risk of polluting ground water supplies in the area. Since then, the proposal has been batted back and forth between courts and lawyers battling either to halt construction of the mine or to get the ball rolling on gold extraction.
For the protesters, the Crucitas mine is a clear assault on Costa Rica’s environment, democratic institutions and national sovereignty by political elites and foreign corporate profiteers.
“How is it possible that a foreign company, a transnational [corporation], is able to direct this country at its whim, including our institutions, even our judicial power?” said Yolanda Mora, who attended the protest.
In November 2010, after years of back-and-forth legal maneuvering, a Costa Rican court ruled that the concession for the Crucitas mine was illegal, due to incomplete environmental impact studies, effectively shutting down the project. That court also ordered criminal investigations into various government officials including former President Arias and Sonia Espinoza, former director of the Environment Ministry’s National Technical Secretariat.
Compounding the fury and adding impetus to Tuesday’s march, Costa Rican courts have recently opened an investigation into Moisés Fachler, a substitute judge in the previous Crucitas trial who allegedly leaked a draft of a ruling by the Supreme Court’s Civil and Administrative Law Branch to representatives of Industrias Infinito last October. The document would potentially give lawyers for the corporation an unfair advantage in filing appeals against the court’s previous ruling. According to the daily La Nación, Fachler has also been the lawyer of Juan Carlos Obando, Industrias Infinito’s general manager, who is currently serving a prison sentence for corruption charges related to a separate business he ran.
Four lawyers for different environmental and social organizations involved in battling the Crucitas mine joined the march, which left the Plaza de la Cultura in the morning and ended at the steps of the Supreme Court. The procession stopped briefly in front of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress to sing songs and place stickers reading “Mines: No thanks” on the building’s gates.
On the steps of the Supreme Court, lawyers Edgardo Araya, Otto Méndez, Álvaro Sagot and Bernal Gamboa signed a document with demands from environmentalists that they then delivered to the Supreme Court’s Civil and Administrative Law Branch.
The first demand is that Costa Rican courts reject any pending appeals of the November 2010 ruling on the grounds that they could have been prepared using documents obtained illegally from Fachler. Additionally, the document asks that all Costa Rican public institutions including the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry and its National System of Conservation Areas and the Attorney General retract their own pending appeals of the 2010 ruling.
Finally, the document demands sanctions against lawyers and judges linked to Industrias Infinito, and that punishments be “sufficiently forceful to serve as examples.”
Correction: The original article stated an incorrect year for Óscar Arias’s presidency. He signed the mining decree in 2006 not 1996.