COSTA RICA

Transnational Gold Mining Threatens Forests, Human Rights -- Help needed

Costa Rica's reputation as a nation which promotes human rights and sustainable development is about to be sorely tested. Almost 30 transnational corporations are in the process of developing projects for gold exploration and exploitation in Costa Rica. Open Pit Cyanide mining, one of the most destructive fruits of human ingenuity, is the preferred extraction technique. The following letter from National Front Against Open Pit Gold Mining (Frente) asks you to write letters to the Cosata Rican government voicing your concerns.

San JosÚ, Costa Rica September, 1997

To all organizations and people of the world who are fighting to build socially just and environmentally healthy societies, to all the friends of Costa Rica.

Dear Friends,

The National Front Against Open Pit Gold Mining (Frente) in Costa Rica is a broad, representative coalition made up of environmental, human rights, campesino, indigenous, student, religious and women's organizations as well as communities that have organized themselves to confront the threat of open pit gold mining projects. We are calling upon you to demonstrate
your solidarity with our struggle in defense of the environment and the right of the local Costa Rican communities to a socially just and environmentally healthy society that meets the long term needs of our country and of our planet.

During the last two years, with the support of thousands of individuals and groups, the organizations that form part of the Frente have devoted their energy towards studying and denouncing one of the largest threats to the well-being of the environment and local communities of our country, this being the arrival of transnational gold mining companies from different parts of the world. These corporations, primarily Canadian, are interested in developing what may be considered one of the most devastating industrial activities from both an environmental and social point of view; Open Pit Cyanide Heap Leaching Gold Mining.

Currently, close to 30 transnational corporations are in the process of developing projects for gold exploration and exploitation in Costa Rica. Included in this list of mining companies are the Canadian corporations PLACER DOME INC. and AMERICAN BARRICK GOLD. These two companies are listed among the six largest gold mining corporations in the world.

In our country, the interests of these transnational corporations are affecting and will affect protected areas of enormous ecological and cultural value as well as their influential areas and buffer zones. The area that has been solicited or granted a concession for open pit gold mining activity comes to approximately 408,000 hectares - 4080 square kilometers- which is equivalent to 8% of our national territory.

Threat to the San Juan River basin

The bi-national basin of the San Juan River - a natural border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua and the most extensive watershed found in Central America - is one of the most threatened areas. Here 250,000 hectares have been asked in concession for exploration. The ecological and cultural richness of this region has stimulated the creation of a network of protected areas including National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Biological Reserves, Forest Reserves, Biological Corridors and important wetland areas on both sides of the border, called the International System of Protected Areas for Peace (SIAPAZ). This area has been declared by the governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua to be the most important initiative in terms of conservation and sustainable development for these countries.

The SIAPAZ area shelters the main remnant of tropical rain forest on the Caribbean side of Central America and is home to unique species, some of which are in danger of extinction as is the case with the manatee, the green macaw and the mountain almond.

The primary corporations interested in opening mines in this region are American Barrick Gold and Placer Dome Inc. It is important to mention that Placer Dome Inc. is seeking to develop a project that will allow them to extract a gold deposit of TWO AND A HALF MILLION OUNCES in a place called "Las Crucitas" just seven kilometers away from the San Juan River on the
Costa Rican side .

Threats to other regions

In the Northern Pacific region of the country, there exists the possibility that a series of open pit mines will also be operated along the Tilaran Mountain Range. Until now, different companies have appplied for concessions in an area of 130,000 hectares This region shelters important species of plants and animals that have stimulated the creation of various protected areas such as the Biological Reserves of Monteverde and Alberto Brenes, the Arenal National Park among others.

The possible impact of mining activity upon the region's water sources will threaten aquatic ecosystems; particularly the equilibrium of the Golf of Nicoya and the estuaries from which thousands of families and small scale fishermen and women live.

In the same vein, the cultural and natural heritage of the Talamanca Mountain Range in the Southern Caribbean side of Costa Rica is in danger as well. The incredible value of this area has motivated not only the creation of important protected areas but also the declaration of this area as a RESERVE OF THE BIOSPHERE AND HERITAGE OF HUMANKIND by UNESCO in 1982.

The Talamanca region constitutes one of the most important forested areas of Central America . In addition, the Talamanca Mountain Range is the territory of the BRIBRI and CABECAR indigenous peoples. They have also organized themselves in order to defend their natural heritage and their cultural identity. In this moment, there are concession for exploration covering an area of 28,000 hectares.

There is an extensive amount of literature and a long list of tragic experiences around the globe with regard to the environmental and social damages produced by open pit cyanide heap leaching gold mining: destruction of biodiversity; soil devastation; transportation and processing of tons of rock; alteration of the landscape; accumulation of huge quantities of waste material and tailings; erosion; sedimentation of rivers; contamination of superficial and ground waters by cyanide and heavy metals; acid mine drainage; de-struction of the local, campesino and indigenous cultures and the social impact that this activity has on men and women.

What You Can Do

For ethical, environmental and social reasons, we, the organizations that form part of the National Front Against Open Pit Gold Mining in Costa Rica, have decided to dedicate all possible efforts to stop the development of this destructive activity that overshadows our country.

For this reason, we are calling for solidarity at the international level to denounce the support provided by the Costa Rica government for the expansion of this type of mining activity. The moment has arrived to halt the development of this activity, as no company has been able to start with exploitation activities, due to the resistance of local communities. Knowing that your actions are crucial to achieve such an objective, we invite you to:

™ Express your utmost concern about the policies of the Ministry of the Environment in Costa Rica that promote open pit cyanide heap leaching mining which are contradictory to Costa Rica's official discourse about environmental protection and sustainable development that it boasts in
international fora.

™ Ask the Ministry of the Environment in Costa Rica to immediately cancel all concessions for the exploration and exploitation of gold that use the open pit cyanide heap leaching technique.

™ Express your support to local communities, their organizations, Churches
and local councils and their decision to openly oppose this type of project
in Costa Rica.

The Dioceses of Tilaran and Limon, the Municipalities of Puntarenas and
San Carlos and the National Campesino and Indigenous Round Tables have officially
expressed their opposition to this activity among others.

 

™ Spread this information to other organizations and media sources in your country. At the international level, Costa Rica has enjoyed recognition as a country which promotes human rights and as a nation that is committed to sustainable development. The current administration has identified sustainability and participation of the local communities in decision making processes as key priorities. However, we are convinced that the decision of this government to promote open pit gold mining in Costa Rica demonstrates the clear contradiction between its discourse and practice with regard to the environment and development, violates the rights of the affected communities and infringes upon Costa Rica┤s international commitment to the topic.

An international denunciation in this direction will be a significant support to the our national struggle to defend life and the survival of our communities and their natural and cultural heritage. We have attached a form letter that can be sent to our President of Republic and Minister of the Environment. We would ask that these letters be sent by fax in order to ensure their visible, quick and effective arrival. The letters can be sent to:

Mr. Jose Maria Figueres
President of the Republic
Costa Rica
Fax: 506-253-9078

Mr. Rene Castro
Minister of the Environment
Costa Rica
Fax: 506-257-0697

Costa Rican Ecologist Association-Friends of the Earth Costa Rica (Member
of the National Front Against Open Pit Gold Mining in Costa Rica) Fax :
506-223-3925
506-233-3013

We would also greatly appreciate it if you could send a copy of the letters you send to the President and the Minister to our coalition at the above fax as well.

We are confident that efforts of worldwide solidarity will once again yield
fruits.

With best regards,

Gabriel Rivas-Ducca
Alison de Lucca
Flor Umana
Freddy Vargas

Costa Rican Ecologist Association-Friends of the Earth Costa Rica ( Member of the National Front Against Open Pit Gold Mining in Costa Rica)

FORM LETTER

Mr. JosÚ Maria Figueres
President of the Republic
Costa Rica
Fax : 506-253-9078

Mr. RenÚ Castro
Minister of the Environment
Costa Rica
Fax : 506-257-0697

Dear Sir:

We have been informed by the National Front Against Open Pit Gold Mining in Costa Rica about the possible development of this activity in your country.

Considering the enormous environmental, social and cultural impact related to open pit cyanide heap leaching gold mining, we would like to express our utmost concern for the possible expansion of this devastating activity in Costa Rica and our deep dismay with the Ministry of the Environment's promotion of such an activity.

We consider your position to be in contradiction with Costa Rica's official discourse to protect the environment and promote sustainable development in Costa Rica. Furthermore, it violates the human rights of the local communities with regard to their participation in decision making processes as are established in Agenda 21.

In an equally respectful fashion and supporting the petition that we have received from the National Front Against Open Pit Gold Mining in Costa Rica and affected communities, we ask you to immediately cancel all concessions for the exploration and exploitation of gold using open pit cyanide heap leaching techniques.

We hope to hear a positive response from you in the near future.

Sincerely,