Las Crucitas Mine, Costa Rica

The Crucitas gold mine in northern Costa Rica offers another example of government determination to grant mineral exploration and exploitation concessions in the face of substantial local, national and international opposition, despite the low return to local and national government for the damages that may result from these operations. For nearly two decades the Crucitas mine has been a source of divisions in Costa Rican society and government.

The Crucitas open-cast mine is located in the province of Alajuela 3 miles from Costa Rica’s northern border with Nicaragua. The mine covers an area of 55 hectares, with a depth of approximately 60 meters. It is owned by Canadian mining company, Infinito Gold Ltd, which hoped to extract around 85,000 ounces of gold annually, believing that the mine holds up to 1.2 million ounces of gold.[1] An investment of US$66 million was required to begin the project, which was declared by ex-President Óscar Arias as a project of “public interest.”[2] Infinito Gold predicted that the mine would bring 300 direct jobs and 1,300 indirect jobs to an area with few other sources of employment.[3] Supporters of the project believe that it would bring “economic opportunity to an economically depressed corner of Costa Rica.”[4]

Although the Crucitas project was first proposed in 1993 and agreed in 2000, its construction has not yet been approved by the Costa Rican government.[5] In 2002, then-President Abel Pacheco announced a presidential decree prohibiting open-cast mining, stating that: “we have many reasons for rescinding these [gold mining] contracts, and if they sue us for compensation it will be cheaper than paying for the loss of the country and its environment.”[6] The ban was invalidated, however, in 2008 during Óscar Arias’ Presidency, prompting a new surge in opposition from environmental groups.

The construction of the Crucitas mine would result in the felling of 291 hectares of tropical forest in an area which is home to endangered species such as the great green macaw.[7] Further concerns revolved around the use of cyanide in the extraction process. According to Andrés Soto, a spokesman for Infinito Gold, the whole extraction process would work as “a closed circuit” in which the cyanide would eventually be destroyed without releasing chemicals into the environment.[8] Members of the Association for the Preservation of Wild Flora and Fauna claim that cyanide toxins would be present in airborne dust particles and rain runoff resulting in a decreased quality of air and water in northern Costa Rica.[9]

There have also been concerns from Nicaraguan environmental groups who believe that the chemicals used in the extraction process will pollute the San Juan River which forms a natural border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Jhonny Gutiérrez, mayor of San Carlos near the San Juan River in Nicaragua, believes that they are “surrounded by a system of neoliberal consumption that cares little for the environment and that prefers to turn natural resources into capital.”[10]

In October 2008, the Costa Rican Supreme Court ordered Infinito Gold to suspend all construction activity at the Crucitas mine after local environmental groups called for an injunction. Although construction was temporarily halted, in April 2010 Infinito Gold was granted permission by the Constitutional Court to continue with the construction of the mine. When Laura Chinchilla took office in May 2010, one of her first acts was to announce a ban on all new open-cast mining projects but this had little impact on the Crucitas project, as it had already been approved by previous governments and was not included in the new legislation.

The change in government sparked many environmentalists back into action, and in July 2010 a group of protesters embarked upon a 170 km march from the presidential palace in San José to the Crucitas mine in an attempt to convince the government to put an end to the project.[11] Environmentalists, university groups and local community groups continued to file complaints and petitions to the Costa Rican courts.[12] In November 2011, the Costa Rican Supreme Court’s Civil and Administrative Law Branch annulled the mining concession issued to Industrias Infinito (the Costa Rican subsidiary of Infinito Gold) and dismissed the company’s appeals. In October 2012, the company submitted an appeal for the concession to be re-considered. In April 2013, the company claimed that the ban was in breach of the Canada-Costa Rica bilateral investment treaty and threatened the Costa Rican government with a US$1 billion lawsuit if the dispute could not be settled amicably within six months.[13]

[1] Infinito Gold Ltd. (2008) Company Highlights,
[2] Tania Alvarez (2009) ‘Verde vs. dorado, bosques vs. minería, vida vs…’. Ecoportal,
[3] Ibid.
[4] Mike McDonald (5 July 2010) ‘Environmentalists to Crucitas gold mine: Take a hike’, Tico Times, San José.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Inside Costa Rica (2010) ‘President Chinchilla Signs Decree Banning Open Pit Mining’,
[7] Universidad Para la Paz (2009) Newsflash December 18,
[8] Cited in Mines and Communities (2008) ‘Costa Rica: Fears of environmental impact on the San Juan River’, The Miami Herald,
[9] Mike McDonald (23 April 2010) ‘Crucitas Gets Green Light’, Tico Times, San José.
[10] Cited in Tatiana Rothschuh (2010) ‘Grita de alcaldes a minería en Crucitas’, El Nuevo Diario,
[11] Latin America Press (2010) ‘Costa Rica Government Considers Overturning Gold Mining Decree’, Eurasia Review,
[12] Ibid.
[13] Kerry Hall (2013) ‘Canadian gold company threatens Costa Rica with $1bn lawsuit’,