CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin Online
A Costa Rican court has dismissed a controversial lawsuit involving a university professor who criticized the activities of a Canadian mining company.
Calgary-based Infinito Gold sued biology professor Jorge Lobo of the University of Costa Rica for $1 million in damages for allegedly defaming the company in comments he made in a 2011 Spanish-language documentary titled Fool’s Gold.
In the documentary, Lobo warned of the environmental dangers of open-pit mining and referred to widespread allegations that public officials were bribed to secure the permit for the now-closed gold mine at Las Crucitas.
In his defence, Lobo claimed his “statements are based on actual events, or can be deduced or interpreted from the court decision handed down against Infinito in 2010.”
Infinito lost its permit to mine the Crucitas site in 2010 after Costa Rica’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that found irregularities in the approval process.
Because of the questionable activities surrounding the Crucitas case, Costa Rica’s public prosecutor was ordered to investigate several public officials, including the country’s former president, for failing to comply with proper laws and regulations.
After the documentary was aired, Infinito launched legal proceedings against Lobo, his colleague Nicolas Boeglin, a law professor who also spoke in the film, and an environmental lawyer who has led the fight against gold mining at Las Crucitas, for alleged defamatory comments against the firm.
In a further move, Infinito also tried to convince the university to stop Lobo from teaching a seminar centred around the open-pit mining controversy.
According to a letter from the university’s Council, Infinito’s warning of legal action over the course was “part of a strategy of prior censorship that is meant to silence criticism about its activities and interests and to inhibit freedom of expression of those who oppose with arguments and point out the damages done by chemical-using open-pit mining.”
On Oct. 19, the court dismissed the defamation case against Lobo and ordered Infinito to meet the costs of the lawsuit.
Lobo said in a statement that in dismissing the defamation charges the court affirmed the right of academics to speak out on important and controversial issues.
“The court’s finding reaffirms freedom of expression in Costa Rica and curtails efforts that mining transnationals may undertake to limit that freedom,” he said.
Infinito’s move to interfere in academic activities at the University of Costa Rica sparked CAUT to write the mining company urging it to respect academic freedom and freedom of expression.
“We are appalled to see such acts of intimidation against academics carried out by a Canadian-based company and concerned about the message it sends internationally regarding Canadians’ commitment to academic freedom, intellectual inquiry, free expression, and critical debate,” CAUT president Wayne Peters and executive director James Turk said in the Oct. 12 letter addressed to John Morgan and Ciro Casas, the CEOs of Infinito’s Canadian and Costa Rican branches.
CAUT’s letter was delivered as evidence in Lobo’s defense.
“We are pleased the courts in Costa Rica recognized the right of academics to take part in public debate,” Turk said following the ruling.
But the court battle with Infinito isn’t over as the company has suggested it may file an appeal on the decision.
Defamation and civil suits are still pending against Boeglin. His trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 30.