On Tuesday, December 9, Eleodoro Ramirez Lopez, a 47-year-old traditional miner, was killed, allegedly by a private security guard who was protecting the Tres Hermanos mine in Sierra Alta, in the canton of Abangares, Guanacaste.
According to the version of the Public Force in Abangares, Ramirez was shot several times when he and his son, Francisco Ramirez, tried to enter the mine tunnel used by Coopebonanza RL.
The circumstances in which the incident occurred are not yet clear to authorities. However, the Judicial Investigation Organization (OIJ) is making inquiries since the person who fired the shots is still on the run.
To put in context what is happening in Abangares, according to records from the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), it is important to go back to the 1970s, when industrial mining peaked in the country and minerals, especially gold, were being exploited in the sector of Aguacate in Puntarenas and especially in Abangares.
At that time, the traditional miners, also known as coligalleros, were persecuted by the large industrialized mining companies to prevent them from working on the industry’s property. Those who were contracted as laborers were exploited with low wages and intense work days.
In light of this situation, in October of 1982, the Costa Rican Congress approved law number 6797, which put an end to surface mining. However, according to Nicoyan attorney Wilmar Matarrita, in 2011, by an initiative of Legislator Jose Maria Villalta, that same law introduced a clause that established that traditional miners— not industrial miners— would be allowed to exploit gold in Abangares, but only through cooperatives.
Currently there are two properly established cooperatives under which miners can legally perform this work. These cooperatives are Coope Oro and Coope Bonanza. Miners who are not part of either of these cooperatives are known to sucucheros and their activity is illegal.
Now, what happened in Abangares last Tuesday, December 9, according to the version of the Abangares Public Force, has to do with the dispute between miners from Coope Bonanza and Coope Oro over control of the Sierra Alta mine.
Given these facts, some legislators didn’t hesitate to react, including Ronal Vargas from the Broad Front party, who is president of the Human Rights Commission in Congress.
Vargas used the occasion of the International Day of Human Rights on December 10th to denounce what happened before the Legislative Assembly. “The people of Abangares in Guanacaste are in mourning during this commemoration, due to the constant violation of the right to work (the traditional miners are prevented from working), the right to food (there are families who are going hungry), and the vile murder that occurred last night, the sacred right to life,” Vargas said in his speech.
Vargas also said that the mining activity in this canton is exercised without any control, for which he blames certain institutions.
“I denounce Infocoop for refusing to investigate the irregularities of Coopebonanza RL, a company division of outsiders to the canton of Abangares who illegally control the mining business. I make a public complaint to MINAE’s Department of Energy and Mines for not updating concessions, for allowing the company MCC, by means of Coopebonanza RL, to continue to exploit gold even though they don’t have any concessions,” Vargas said.
For his part, the mayor of Abangares, Jorge Calvo, lamented what happened but acknowledged that the case of the mines in Abangares is beyond the jurisdiction of the municipality.
“The issue of concessions is not the jurisdiction of the municipality. This has to be done by the government, but first they should do a study of the situation and in this way provide reliable concessions, but in addition I ask the legislators and Ronal Vargas, what bill have they presented to look for a solution in Abangares?” Calvo said.
Matarrita, the legal advisor for Legislator Vargas, said that the existing law takes these problems into account and only needs enforcement from the competent authorities.
“We have been denouncing what is happening in Abangares and we have asked MINAE to act immediately. MINAE needs to do an inventory of existing mineral deposits, the areas being exploited and the number of traditional miners in the area and ensure that they comply with the existing law,” said Matarrita.
The Voice of Guanacaste tried to contact MINAE’s department of geology and mines as well as Coopebonanza RL but was unable to get statements.
Due to the situation in Abangares, Legislator Vargas has convened a forum for this Saturday, December 20, which will be attended by traditional miners, people from Abangares, legislators, authorities from the Presidential House and from MINAE.