Calgary – More than 4,500 people in Canada, Costa Rica, and around the world are sending a message to Infinito Gold CEO John Morgan during the Canadian mining company’s annual shareholders’ meeting today in Calgary. They are asking that Infinito drop its $1-billion investment lawsuit against Costa Rica under the 1999 Canada-Costa Rica Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA).
Calgary-based Infinito is suing the Costa Rican government for over $1 billion because it rejected the company’s plan to build an open-pit gold mine in a tropical forest. Canadian organizations including MiningWatch Canada, Common Frontiers, Sierra Club Canada, Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (CDHAL), the Council of Canadians, the United Steelworkers (USW), the Polaris Institute, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), have called on Infinito to drop its threat of international arbitration three times already this year, with no response.
MiningWatch Canada spokesperson Jamie Kneen says, “This case is another example of the damage corporations can do using investment protections in free trade and investment agreements to try and override the will of small, eco-conscious nations like Costa Rica. Yet the Canadian government continues to promote the entrenchment of corporate ‘rights’ in new trade and investment treaties like the new agreements with Honduras, China, the EU, and the countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
According to opinion polls, over 75% of Costa Ricans oppose Infinito’s project. In 2011, Costa Rica’s Supreme Court re-affirmed a presidential decree banning open-pit metal mining in the country. The Supreme Court of Costa Rica has denied the company permission to proceed with the open-pit gold mine on three occasions (2010, 2011, and 2013). In fact, Costa Rican authorities have indicated that Infinito owes Costa Rica some $10 million for damage already done to 300 hectares of tropical forest. The company has yet to pay.
Infinito has repeatedly resorted to lawsuits and intimidation to get its way. Last year, Infinito tried (and failed) to get a Supreme Court judge dismissed (who might not be favourable to open-pit mining), and sued two Costa Rican university professors for critical comments about the project (and lost). In 2012, the company even went so far as to threaten the University of Costa Rica (UCR) with a defamation suit if it wasn’t given the right to vet the contents of a fall semester course that was to include critical content about the company’s project. The UCR President quickly reminded the company that it had no jurisdiction in the internal affairs of a Costa Rican university.
Instead of respecting Costa Rica’s democratic and legal decision to reject this project, Infinito is now trying to sue the country in the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), headquartered in Washington, DC. As mining activity analyst Rick Arnold points out, “Cases brought to the corporate-friendly confines of ICSID can often be counted on to bring a bonanza to company coffers while doing serious damage to the public purse, particularly in judgments rendered against small economies such as Costa Rica’s.”
Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians, says, “Canada’s trade and investment deals look more and more like mining profits charters, giving Canadian companies a ‘right’ to profit under any circumstances, no matter the impact of mega-projects on people and the water they need to live.”
As this case demonstrates, Canadian policy needs a drastic overhaul to protect the interests of communities, workers, and the environment, instead of putting the interests of mining investors first.