Ecuadoran groups looking to step up anti-mining action

Bnamericas Published: Saturday, January 14, 2023
Ecuadoran groups looking to step up anti-mining action

Ecuadoran indigenous peoples and anti-mining groups are stepping up their threats to halt mining activity with progressively stronger measures and by reinforcing so-called community guards in places where projects are located.

"After intensive debate, we have decided to prepare territorial defenses with measures in every area where mining companies are present, which will be progressive, and in areas subject to militarization and large-scale mining," the leader of the confederation of indigenous nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), Leonidas Iza, said after a lengthy meeting on January 12 with members of his organization and the national anti-mining movement.

Iza's statements, broadcast on Facebook, come in the run up to regional elections on February 5, and in which Pachakutik, the political arm of Conaie, will have its own candidates seeking votes in various areas where there are mining projects.

“It seems that the mining sector is the tennis ball between the government and the indigenous sector, which wants to demonstrate that it rules in the mining territories. It's an eminently electoral movement, they're looking for a presence in areas where Pachakutik is strong," Andrés Ycaza, a lawyer for Ecuador's mining chamber, told BNamericas. 

"It is a priority to put into effect the security zones that the government has spoken about to protect projects," he added.

Last month, public-private partnerships secretary Roberto Salas told BNamericas that Ecuador is preparing a security program with the support of the army and police to establish security zones around various mining assets that are preparing for construction and which have already suffered attacks, invasions or roadblocks to prevent access.

Iza added that the indigenous and anti-mining groups will halt the advance of camps and use of machinery not only in areas with an indigenous presence, but throughout the country, and that they will map out the socio-environmental and legal impacts of mining activities and violations of rights in order to use legal challenges too.

The Conaie leader also demanded that the prior consultation mechanism, which has been agreed must be carried out in communities where mining projects are located, be fully binding.

“There is no place in the world where prior consultation is binding. That's impossible. The constitution itself clearly states that if the communities and the State don't reach an agreement on a development project, the State will handle it according to the law. It doesn't say that the communities will have a veto right,” former deputy mining minister Fernando Benalcázar told BNamericas.

Benalcázar added that the government must remain firm and defend the appropriate use of mineral resources, respecting the environment and the communities for the benefit of the majority of the population, since "Ecuador does not live in an autocracy, as they want to impose an indigenous leader.”

The Mirador copper mine, operated by EcuaCorriente, and Lundin Gold's Fruta del Norte gold mine, are the country's only large mining operations at present, but projected investments of around US$11bn could create new assets in the coming years.

Last year, mining activity in Ecuador, including small-scale operations, produced around US$600mn in tax revenues and exports were estimated to have reached US$2.8bn, according to figures from the energy and mines ministry.

The importance of the industry means that halting mining is an attack on the whole country, claimed Benalcázar.

Inty Arcos, representative of the national anti-mining front, told BNamericas that the actions announced by Iza will be carried out in all areas, citing the Unesco-declared biosphere reserve Chocó Andino as an example, where activists are seeking to hold a popular consultation to stop mining.

Arcos said that the idea of calling a national strike is still being assessed but, for the meantime, monitoring will be carried out in each region where there are mining projects. 

In June of last year, Iza led an 18-day strike against the Lasso government, which cost the country estimated losses of some US$1bn and slowed the progress of some mining developments.

In order to end the widespread protests, the government promised, among other things, not to grant new mining concessions until there was a law for prior consultation in indigenous territories. It also agreed to create a technical committee to review the proposed environmental consultation and not carry out mining activities in protected areas, ancestral territories, in intangible and archaeological zones and in areas designated for protection of water.

Indigenous peoples and environmentalists say that the government has failed to comply with the agreements reached and hold President Guillermo Lasso responsible for any possible impacts of the measures they take against the mining industry.

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