Vannessa Ventures Drops Defamation Charges Against Costa Rican Environmentalist

On October 11, 2006, at 8:30 in the morning – minutes before the hearing was to begin – Industrias Infinito, the Costa Rican subsidiary of Calgary-based Vannessa Ventures, dropped its lawsuit against Marco Tulio Araya for defamation and damages. The company also agreed to reimburse Araya, a journalist by profession and head of communications for the Northern Front of Opposition to Mining in Costa Rica, $1000 US for his costs.

The company had met with Araya several months earlier to negotiate an out-of-court settlement but he had refused because the company had insisted that he acknowledge that he had caused harm to the company’s image. Araya had simply reported on statements made by community members at a public meeting to the effect that open-pit gold mining is environmentally dangerous, especially in a sensitive environment.

Araya stated before the court that he is convinced that open-pit mining operations are highly contaminative, and that he will maintain his position until it is shown that mining is harmless to the environment. Costa Rican judges Luis Fernando Calderón, Francisco Bolaños and Antonio Barrantes supervised the signing of the settlement and announced the dismissal of the case against Araya.

The company’s concession, in the northern Costa Rican district of Crucitas, has been the cause of much conflict since the 1990s. Placer Dome dropped plans to develop the mine in 1997 in the face of overwhelming community opposition.

Vannessa acquired the property from Lyon Lake Mines in 2000. The project is only a few kilometres from the Río San Juan and the Nicaraguan border, and would affect communities and businesses in Nicaragua as well. Any impacts on the Río San Juan would affect the international “Si-a-Paz” (“Yes to Peace”) park established between the two countries.

Despite a Costa Rican law banning open pit gold mining, Vannessa/Infinito has been using every means available to convince farmers, ranchers, and ecotourism operators that large-scale mining, with its inevitable water contamination social and economic impacts, is compatible with their rural way of life. The company succeeded in getting its environmental impact statement approved by Costa Rican authorities when it submitted it unamended a second time, but the approval was negated within weeks by injunctions filed by Araya’s group.

Antonio Ruiz, director of the Nicaraguan environmental organization Fundación del Río and member of the anti-mining action network of the Río San Juan Watershed, has been following this case closely. He said, "For us, this is a partial victory, for the fact that the mining company has backed off on their charges; however, we interpret this as a change of tactics on the part of the company, from confrontation to a more friendly strategy which will attempt to mitigate the damages through the management of their public image.” For the Nicaraguan environmentalist this indicates that “the company was not going to be able to disprove the facts that Araya had stated, that the mining project is highly contaminating”.