Costa Rica & the controversy at Crucitas

Crucitas contains an estimated 1.2 million ounces of gold.

The name “Costa Rica” comes from Christopher Columbus, whose optimism about the material riches he’d find here was quickly ruined by the inhospitable jungle and notable lack of gold.

Maybe he should have searched in Crucitas.

Located in northern Alajuela province near the border with Nicaragua, Crucitas contains an estimated 1.2 million ounces of gold. (Gold currently sells for $1,900 per ounce.)

In the early aughts, Canadian company Infinito Gold hoped to cash in by creating an open-pit gold mine at Crucitas. This was controversial from the start, because Costa Rica had a moratorium on open-pit mining due to its environmental impacts.

President Oscar Arias, however, reversed the ban and declared the Crucitas project of “national interest,” and Infinito Gold soon broke ground on its multi-million dollar project.

After facing significant backlash, Costa Rican courts in 2010 voided Infinito Gold’s authorization, citing environmental concerns. That immediately created two problems:

  1. It made Infinito Gold very, very angry. They filed a request for arbitration before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes seeking nearly $400 million in damages and lost profits.

  2. It created a literal gold rush to northern Costa Rica.

A decade later, the first of those problems has finally been resolved; the World Bank this week ruled Costa Rica does not owe Infinito Gold compensation for canceling the open-pit mine.

But the environmental impacts of the failed Crucitas projects continue to this day.

The gold rush at Crucitas

Since the cancellation of the Infinito Gold project, Costa Rican authorities have battled with illegal miners, whose use of cyanide and mercury causes serious environmental damage at Crucitas.

A 2018 study by the National University (UNA) warned of a “very probable” and “significant” affectation of aquatic ecosystems due to the chemicals used by amateur gold miners.

But illegal mining can be quite profitable. From 2017 to 2018, the Environment Ministry estimates nearly $200 million worth of gold were exported from Crucitas.

In response, Costa Rican police have established a permanent patrol at Crucitas. So far this year, they have detained 58 people for their alleged participation in illegal mining. This has allowed for the “gradual regeneration of the places most deforested” by mining, per the Public Security Ministry.

Thanks to the Infinito project, the presence of 1.2 million ounces of gold in northern Costa Rica is a secret no longer. With that amount of opportunity, people will continue to risk mining at Crucitas in an attempt to strike gold.

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