Mining is a relatively recent phenomenon in Ecuador,

unlike oil extraction, which started as early as 1921. Mining exploitation by big multinational did not start until the beginning of the 21st century, after the decline of oil production. In its search for alternative means to enhance future state revenues, the Correa Government turned its attention towards mining.

El Pangui, Ecuador

Mining in Ecuador

As of 2019, Catapa has established a new partnership with Acción Ecológica in Ecuador. Acción Ecológica is an Ecuadorian NGO that puts the principles of ‘buen vivir’ and ecologism into practice in their fight for social and ecological justice. The organisation has been protesting against the extractivist industry’s private interests and has been giving the affected communities a voice for over 20 years now.

Eventhough oil has been extracted in Ecuador for decades, large scale mining is a relatively recent phenomenon. For a large part, this is related to the policy of former President Rafael Correa, who was in power from 2007 until 2017. Under his rule, the 2008 constitution came into effect. The new constitution was received as very progressive by the general public for various reasons, one of them being its recognition of Ecuador as a plurinational state, and another its promise to develop according to the principles of ‘buen vivir’. These principles are part of a methodology that puts the community first, with special attention for the ecological balance and culture. On top of that, Ecuador is the first country to assign rights to nature. Paradoxically, however, the same constitution points to the extractivist industry as being a strategic economic sector, supervised exclusively by the government. With this nationalist control of raw materials, the state hopes to reinforce Correa’s influence on the notorious companies that are exporting oil, while also trying to stimulate the relatively underdeveloped mining industry.  

Correa’s wish to boost large scale mining has become more than clear. In 2009, a law was voted to create a legal framework for the development of the sector. The law led to fierce anti-mining protests, however. With reason, they feared that the other principles contained in the constitution, such as ‘buen vivir’, the rights of the indigenous population, the protection of the environment and the right to prior permission, would be less protected at the expenses of mining.

Project Mirador

Despite growing protests, in 2012 the government signed a contract with the Chinese mining company EcuaCorriente S.A. for the extraction of copper, gold and silver. The project ‘Mirador’ is a copper project in the pro-mining campaign. The enormous open copper mine is situated in the South-Ecuadorian province Zamora Chinchipe, in the district Tundayme (El Pangui Canton). El Pangui is a part of the Cordillera del Condor, a mountain range with great natural diversity that contains more than 5 million tons of copper, 700 tons of silver and 90 tons of gold. The mine would start working in 2018 and would produce 60 000 tons of copper per day.

The contract did not only establish EcuaCorriente S.A.’s foreseen profits and the income reserved for the Ecuadorian government, but also decided over the future lives of the Shuar and the mestizo farmers living in the area. Their fertile land would be transformed into a giant copper mine, the lush nature would have to make room for roads and infrastructure, and the poisonous waste pond would endanger the rivers and public health. The Ecuadorian government has helped move this process along by granting positive environmental impact assessments and the required licences to the Chinese company. On top of that, the army and police have been ordered to protect the project from ongoing local protest. This became painfully obvious in 2015, when EcuaCorriente S.A.’s guards drove 32 families from their homes with the help from the Ecuadorian police. They were commanded to pack up and leave at dawn, after which the firm’s bulldozers destroyed their houses.

The local protest

The mining projects in the Cordillera del Condor have been characterised by lack of information, participation and consultation with regard to the local population. Add to that the spreading of wrong information about the goals and consequences of the project. EcuaCorriente misinformed locals when it came to the selling of their land: they were told their land would be used for cattle breeding, which is clearly far from the truth.

The local community’s battle against the mining activities has not been without consequences. A defendant of the local people’s rights named José Tendetza experienced the response of the mining firm first hand. Because of his resistance, he was threatened and his crops were burned. His wooden house was lit on fire due to his strong opinions on mining and his defence of land ownership.

Tendetza finally disappeared when he was on his way to a meeting on problems concerning mining. Five days later his body was found on the bank of the river Zamora, by the Chuchumbletza bridge, which is part of the Mirador project’s terrain. Despite the increasing power of the mining sector, the locals keep resisting. They are helped by national NGO’s such as Acción Ecológica, that offer technical, political and legal support, and help to spread the story of Cordillera del Condor.