Mining in Azuay: a David vs. Goliath story

Kim Baert | Ecuador, Ecuador, Ecuador, Report, Mining, Mining, Mines&Territory, Mines&Territory, Mines&Territory, Mining, News, News, News, Report, Report

Mining in Azuay: a David vs. Goliath story

Azuay, a province in the south of Ecuador with Cuenca as its historic and cultural provincial capital, has rapidly developed into an emblematic region in the fight against mining. 

In the canton of Girón, in the province of Azuay, a public consultation (Consulta Popular) was organized on the 24th of March 2019 about the large-scale mining project Loma Larga. An historic event, because it was the first local referendum in Ecuador on a mining activity. 

During the Consulta Popular in Girón, the inhabitants were asked whether they agreed with extracting gold in the Páramo of Kimsacocha, located in the Cajas National Park. A páramo is a fragile ecosystem in the Andes High Mountains that is vital for water supply in the region and in the country. 

The result of the referendum was convincing! 87% of the community preferred water to gold and said “si a la vida, no a la minería”. An important precedent in Ecuador, because after this victory, other provinces tried to follow suit. Imbabura and Carchi, two provinces in the north of Ecuador, recently submitted an application for a Consulta Popular, but unfortunately this has been rejected by the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court. 

Also in terms of political leadership, the importance of the province of Azuay should not be underestimated. In May 2019 the inhabitants elected Yaku Pérez Guartambel as the new prefect. Since then, he has led the autonomous government of the province of Azuay. 

Yaku Pérez is known for his strong statements against the mining sector and his ambition to legally clear the province of Azuay from metal mining, in particular by organizing referendum. Yaku Pérez quickly became a symbolic figure in the country. 

Yaku Pérez at the demonstration in Quito, 16 September 2019 © Iván Castaneira

A constitutional problem 

Following the victory of the referendum in the canton of Girón, Yaku Pérez called for a general referendum on mining activities in the province of Azuay. This question was submitted to the Constitutional Court, but after a hearing on the 17th of September 2019, this request has been rejected. 

Pérez clearly expressed his dissatisfaction with the nature of the hearing. According to him, the President of the Court must hold a public hearing before taking a decision, as is customary in constitutional matters. “We want a public hearing so that we can look the judges in the eye and speak from the heart. To demonstrate in a factual and legal way the need for a public consultation,” according to Pérez.

Demonstration in front of Constitutional Court in Quito, 17 September 2019 © Iván Castaneira

Moreover, there is a conflict of interests within the Court. One of the constitutional judges, Dr. Ramiro Avila Santamaria, was not allowed to take part in the hearing because of earlier statements against extractivism. Other judges, who clearly have ties with the mining sector, were allowed to participate. Judge Carmen Corral is a lawyer at Solines Asociados, a law firm that provides advice and support to mining companies. Another judge, Hilda Nugues, is a member of the mediation committee of the Guayaquil Chamber of Commerce, which has spoken out against the referendum. 

There is clearly a lot of pressure from the national government and the large multinationals. There is great concern about what happened in Girón and fear about the outcome of such referendum at provincial and national level.

'SOMOS AGUA', demonstrators from Azuay in Quito, 16 September 2019 © Iván Castaneira

Campaign against Yaku Pérez 

It was no coincidence that on the same day as the hearing, the pro-mining sector distributed a campaign on Twitter in which they attacked Yaku Pérez. 

They claimed that Pérez would have had mining concessions in the period 1999-2000 because his name was found in the mining register. 

Yaku Pérez disclaimed this argument. At the time, as a lawyer, he would have signed documents for the extraction of sand and stones for construction works in the province. This type of mining also is registered, but it doesn’t concern metal mining.

The battle continues 

Following the negative decision of the Constitutional Court, Pérez announced that he would step up the resistance and open a wider door by organizing a referendum at national level. 

The Ecuadorian Constitution recognizes the Consulta Popular as a legal citizens’ initiative. However, the mining industry and the Ecuadorian government argue that local consultations on mining cannot take place because the natural resources in the subsoil are a matter of national concern. 

'SOMOS AGUA', demonstrators from Azuay in Quito, 16 September 2019 © Iván Castaneira

Moreover, the constitution states that the powers of various policy bodies are not exclusive, but competitive. “You may be the owner of what is in the subsoil, but you have to pass over the soil,” says lawyer Verónica Potes, expert in environmental law and human rights. 

“It’s a battle of David vs. Goliath”, says Yaku Pérez, “There aren’t many of us, but we have the truth, the reason and the legitimacy to our advantage. We continue the resistance and if necessary, we will denounce this issue before the international courts.” 

Mines & Territory, March 2019

Mattijs Vanden Bussche | Colombia, Colombia, Disaster, Disaster, Ecuador, Ecuador, Mining, Mines&Territory, Mines&Territory, Mining, Peru, Peru

MONTHLY ONLINE REVIEW ON EXTRACTIVIST ISSUES IN COLOMBIA

ISSUE 03
March 2019

Collection, summary and edition by Mattijs Vanden Bussche, Sam Packet and Karlijn Van den Broeck

Download Mines & Territory, March 2019 here.

MINES & TERRITORY

March 2019

News comes and goes. With social media as the main outlet for civil society organizations in Colombia to get their stories heard, a story can be famous for a day after which it disappears in the mass information. Mines & Territory aims to register and share these stories for longer than just a viral thread. Mines & Territory collects the most remarkable events that have occurred in the past month regarding extractivist matters in Colombia and summarizes them in English so that the information is accessible to anyone interested and raises awareness internationally to the current eco-socio realities in Colombia.

Organizations ask the UN for intervention to protect the páramo of Santurbán, threatened by mining projects

Civil society organizations sent a letter to Léo Heller, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of drinking water and sanitation in Colombia. They warn the Rapporteur that these fundamental rights are threatened by the plans of executing harmful mining projects in or near the Santurban páramo. Several mining companies have tried for more than 15 years to extract gold from the páramo, a fragile and strategic ecosystem that provides water to millions of people in Colombia. They request the Rapporteur to prepare a specific report on the case, to visit the site, and to raise his voice to urge the Colombian State to protect the ecosystem and to comply with its international obligations in relation to the right to water.


Source: AIDA AMERICAS ‘Organizaciones piden a la ONU intervenir en la protección del páramo de Santurbán, en riesgo por minería’ .

 

ANLA denies appeal environmental license filed by oil multinationals

The environmental licensing authority (ANLA) denied the appeal for reinstatement filed by the companies Conocophillips and Canacol Energy after the environmental license for the fracking pilot projects in the Central Magdalena valley had been rejected in November last year. ANLA argued that the provided information is insufficient to carry out an adequate evaluation which ensures the protection of the environment. The Alliance of Colombia Free of Fracking celebrates this decision as it incorporates precautionary principles and recognizes the requests of grass roots organizations in San Martín, Cesar, which have warned for the possible environmental damage that these projects might bring.


Source: ENLACETELIVISION: ‘ANLA niega pilotos de fracking en el Magdalena Medio’.

 

Anglogold Ashanti drop plans for several mines in Colombia and Argentina to focus on the mines in Quebradona and Gramalote

The South African mining company AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) announced in February that they would sell their share (95%) of the Cerro Vanguardia gold and silver mine in Argentina. They will do the same with one of their branches in Colombia: the Northern Colombia Holdings Limited. AGA says they will receive approximately 4.6 million USD and several additional payments for the sale of the parcels (= gold mining concessions -36,000 hectares- and rights to obtain mining concessions -215,000 hectares) to Royal Road Minerals Limited.

In Argentina, AngloGold already abandoned the Cerro Vanguardia mine in the Santa Cruz province. They left a sore heritage, testifies the Environmental Citizen Assembly (AAC) of Río Gallegos: “The legislation allowed mining companies to leave the ‘open pits’ and their respective dumps uncovered, in state of exploitation, leaving a poor soil with an unknown volume of contaminated aquifer. Social and environmental costs end up way higher than the benefits this mine brought to the region. Neither the social aspect, nor the employees, have ever been a priority. All of a sudden, they have left the aprox. 1,000 workers without an income. In Santa Cruz, AGA never allowed a sustainable development that benefits the population. There have only
been scarce investments compared with the high profitability that the exploited resources provided them.”

Dushnisky, CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, says they have other opportunities which they prefer to invest in. AGA thus shifted its focus to two key projects in Colombia: the Quebradona copper mine in Jericó and the Gramalote gold mine in San Roque, both villages in the department of Antioquia. Felipe Márquez, country CEO of AGA, explains: “The investments of the mining company for 2019 in Gramalote would be about 10 million US$. In Quebradona close to 55 million US$. In Gramalote we have completed the exploration stage and all the technical activities required to advance to the construction and assembly phases. In Quebradona we are finalizing the technical studies of the exploration stage, so our idea is to present the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) with the idea of moving to the construction and assembly phase in 2020. The Plan of Production and performance would allow us to start extracting copper between 2022 and 2024.” (This announcement comes weeks after the mining company was authorized by the Court of Antioquia to carry out activities in the municipality of Jericó Antioquia). The court cancelled the preventive measures that had been introduced by José Andrés Pérez, mayor of Jericó, which restrained the company from continuing any mining activity in the municipality in order to protect the ecological and cultural heritage. (cf. 7. Jericó is awaiting a definite green light to be able to stop mining in their municipality)


Sources: ‘PORTFOLIO ‘AngloGold continúa estudio de factibilidad para proyecto en el país’; EL ESPECTADOR ‘Minera Anglogold Ashanti venderá parte de sus proyectos’; LAREPUBLICA ‘AngloGold empezará a extraer cobre en 2022’; OPI SANTA CRUZ ‘ AngloGold Ashanti abandonó el yacimiento Cerro Vanguardia’; VALORA ‘Minera Anglogold Ashanti vende parte de su cartera en Colombia.

 

The University of Antioquia reinstates the earlier suspended course financed by AngloGold Ashanti

The University of Antioquia reinstated a course funded by the mining multinational AngloGold Ashanti in Jericó despite the fact that the educational institution had committed to suspend the program. The community of Jericó expressed their opposition to the course because, according to them, it would be part of an advertising campaign in favor of the development of ‘La Quebradona’, a metal mining project in the municipality. The course aims to train social leaders in issues of development, self-management and sustainability. The environmental comité of Jericó hopes the University will suspend the course once more. “We hope that the rectory understands that we don’t want this course here in Jericó, that we reject the
activities of the mining company and that we demand that the public university fulfills a social role, taking the side of the communities and helping them to protect the environment, ” explains José Fernando Jaramillo, member of the comité. As a response to the criticism, the University argues that the agreement guarantees that they will preserve their autonomy in the elaboration of the content. However, Jaramillo indicates that with this initiative, AngloGold Ashanti is really looking to (green)wash its image in front of the communities.


Source: CONTAGIORADIO: ‘Anglogold Ashanti pretende lavar imagen de diplomado U de Antioquia’.

 

Indigenous communities of Sierra Nevada declare Environmental Emergency in the region

Since the end of February, the Sierra Nevada, a mountainous region at the Caribbean coastline, has suffered from 10 destructive forest fires. The flames destroyed about 1,000 hectares of the ecosystem. Besides the natural damage, houses, farms, sacred sites, health centers and schools of the indigenous settlements have been destroyed. Due to the long summer, the heat waves and strong winds, the Indigenous communities fear for the safety of other areas of their cultural and natural patrimony. The current situation threatens the balance and harmony of the land as a source of life, as well as cultural heritages of its inhabitants. Therefore the authorities of the pueblo de la Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta declared an environmental and economic emergency in the area and urged the national and regional authorities to intervene immediately and to take the necessary measures of prevention and control.


Sources: JUSTICIA AMBIENTAL COLOMBIA: ‘Los cuatro pueblos indígenas de la Sierra Nevada se pronuncian frente a la crisis ambiental en el corazón del mundo.’

 

Jericó awaits definite green light to stop mining in its municipality

Seven kilometers southeast from the village center of Jericó, you’ll find the Quebradona mining project, owned by South African multinational AngloGold Ashanti. Jericó, a small municipality in Antioquia with around 12 thousand inhabitants, finds its prosperity mostly in agriculture. It therefore comes as no surprise that the local farmer communities did not welcome the mining company with open arms. For the past two years farmer organizations mobilized and campaigned massively against metal mining in their municipality. They argue that this would not only affect their natural resources but also the social frames in the town. They fear that problems such as poverty, crime, social degradation and environmental damage might come along with it.

Fortunately, the people of Jericó have a town council who has their back. Mayor Jorge Pérez Hernández argued that the mine would have devastating effects as 100% of the water sources of Jericó come from the area where the mine would be. In 2017, a first attempt to prohibit mining through a municipal agreement was rejected by the administrative tribunal of Antioquia, arguing that the City Council was not the competent authority to prohibit mining in the municipality. The agreement was based upon section 9 of article 313 of the Constitution, which states the right of municipality councils to take measures for “laying down the necessary norms in order to secure the control, preservation and defense of the ecological and cultural patrimony of the municipality”.

One of the arguments in favour of the mining operations is that the “subsoil belongs to the nation”, and therefore the national government is the only authority who is able to decide on mining matters. However, a study of articles 332 and 334 of the Constitution and Law 685 of 2001 (Code of Mines) states that “the Constitution did not attribute the ownership of the subsoil to the Nation but to the State”, which means that the ownership of the subsoil belongs to all state’s authorities: local, regional and national.

A second municipal agreement, enforced by the mayor at the end of 2018, has not yet been invalidated – nor approved – by the Administrative Tribunal of Antioquia. Meanwhile the work of the company is (supposed to be) suspended. Fernando Jaramillo, leader of the environmental table of Jericó, says it is quite difficult for the Tribunal to make a decision since the State Council approved a similar municipal agreement in the municipality of Urrao, also in southwest of Antioquia, where mining activities are prohibited as to the protect ecological heritage.

The contradictory decision-making between the State Council and the Consitutional Court does not simplify the struggle for municipalities. While the first one protects the competence of territorial entities to prohibit mining in their territories and the validity of popular consultations as a mechanism for citizen participation, the Constitutional Court reinforced the idea that the capacity of municipal consultations is limited, especially when talking about subsoil and exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, whose ownership is national. Jaramillo adds that, in the end, the worst damage that the company has generated so far is a division of the population which turned out in a conflict between those who support the company and those who oppose their activities.


Source: SEMANARURAL: ‘Jericó espera una luz verde definitiva que detenga la minería’.

 

Communities stand up against the construction of dams in Quindío and Antioquia

In Pijao, Quindío, a farmer community sound the alarm bell after researchers entered unannounced their territory to take measurements of a small stream. They said they were taking measures for the construction of a small hydroelectric dam and explained that the area is supposedly “property of the municipality of Pijao”. The mayor clarified that the dam already existed since 1930, and it managed to generate energy for the municipality, explaining that a mud stream had erased the former dam.

Deputy Jorge Hernán Gutiérrez from the Liberal party proposed a debate where the local, departmental and environmental authorities are to report and to be alert of what the national government intends to do in the territory. “And while it is true
that there are rulings of national order that could force the installation of the dam, there are also constitutional rules that protect our rights and compensations for the environmental damage that our territory might suffer.” In the East of Antioquia, various protest marches against the construction of dams took place on March 14th, International action day against hydroelectric dams. “In several municipalities of the department, like Cocorná, with three medium-sized hydroelectric plants, peasant activities and water springs suffer a lot because of the artificial regulation of the natural river streams”, according to Carlos Olaya, environmental defender.


Sources: CRONINCA DEL QUINDIO: ‘Hidroeléctrica en Pijao no es nueva, existía desde 1930’; MI ORIENTE: ‘Municipios del Oriente dijeron “no más hidroeléctricas”.’

 

Gachantiva prohibits mining

Gachantiva (a small town in the Boyacá province) succeeds in the prohibition of mining through a municipal agreement. The government tried to avoid for 5 years that the inhabitants would organize a Consulta Popular. The mine would pose at risk the environmental resources and the water provision of the region.


Source: RCN RADIO: ‘Concejo de Gachantiva Boyaca aporobó proyecto que prohibe la minería.’

 

12th march ‘Por la vida y el agua” en Cauca

At the beginning of March, the 12th march ‘por la vida y el agua’ took place in the region of Cauca. The 350 protesters aimed to reject mining in the region and the damage it causes to the environment, the fauna and the water provision. They furthermore complained about the lack of state provisions to face the rural challenges in the region. They told the multinationals Carboandes and Miranda Gold that they have a month to leave the Macizo Mountain range.


Source: NOTIVISION: ‘Se realizó la XII Marcha por la Vida y Por el Agua en Cauca’.

 

Court rules that Colombian Government has to find a substitute for asbestos

A ruling of the 39th Administrative Court of Bogotá ordered the Government to replace this mineral with less harmful substances, within a period of five years. According to the information provided by the legislator’s office, between 2010 and
2014 the National Institute of Cancerology recorded 1,744 deaths from lung cancer caused by asbestos, and in the last five years the battle against the disease caused the loss of another 285 Colombians affected by mesothelioma. The use of asbestos has been banned in more than 50 countries around the world, including the European Union. The material that is used to make tiles, pipes, ash pads for cars and even uniforms entails enormous health risks, according to the World Health Organization. The judgement is supported by most of the political authorities concerned with the problem. Although in some parts of the country the reactions are less enthusiastic. In Campamento, a small municipality in the north of Antioquia, people still rely on the active asbestos mine which provides the majority of the jobs. Most of its citizens are convinced that the material did not cause any health problems in the town during the past decades. The governor of Antioquia announced that a social plan would be set up in order to prevent the negative effects of the loss of this mine which functions as a source of income for the town.


Sources: EL TIEMPO ‘Campamento, el pueblo que se niega a renunciar al asbesto’; EL NUEVO SIGLO ‘Greenpeace insiste en que Congreso prohíba el asbesto’.

 

27 Congress members ask President Duque to prohibit fracking in Colombia

A group of 27 congress members, most of them belonging to the Green Alliance, sent a letter to President Iván Duque asking to ban the use of fracking for oil exploration. They confronted him with the promises he made during his presidential campaign. “One of your commitments was that there would be no more fracking in Colombia, a decision that you expressed in academic and community centers and in the press, and which you justified by ensuring that the risks of developing these activities were very high in social, geological and environmental matters”, states the letter.

The congressmen condemn the intentions in the recently published National Development Plan which aims for an expansion of the oil and mining industry and the dependence on the fossil fuel industry. They encourage the President to prohibit fracking since it “is a responsible decision”, and they ask him to “honor his word and be in harmony with the concerns of Colombians, especially those who would be directly affected by the possible consequences of this type of projects.”

Ecopetrol, one of the countries largest oil companies, revealed in February their new market strategies for the period 2019 – 2021, where fracking is an option to strengthen their reserves.


Source: RCN RADIO ‘Nuevo llamado de congresistas a Duque para prohibir el fracking’.

 

Minga indígena: indigenous communities block the Panamericana and demand visit of President Duque to obtain guarantees for their rights

Indigenous people in southwestern Colombia have mobilized protests across highways to demand a meeting with President Iván Duque over his government’s failure to implement agreements and respect indigenous land rights.

Indigenous groups in southwestern Colombia have since March 10th mobilized mass protests, known as minga, to demand a meeting with President Iván Duque over his government’s failure to implement agreements made during the previous administration’s historic 2016 peace agreement and recognize community land rights. Protest leaders estimate there were 20,000 people involved in the massive mobilization as of March 27th, including Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, students, and associations of peasant farmers, or campesinos. The Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC) has denounced the crackdown against the minga by the police’s anti-riot squad, known as ESMAD. “This is an attack against the entire dialogue process that has existed up until today within the minga. It is an attack against the security and the life of every person at the camp and surrounding area,” CRIC said. Nelson Lemus, a CRIC council member, told Mongabay that the
protesters wanted Duque to meet with the indigenous organization in Colombia’s department of Cauca —something he has failed to do since taking office in 2018, CRIC said in a press release. “We demand that the government respects the rights of
indigenous and Afro-descendent minorities to conserve our territory, protect our water and strengthen our indigenous economies,” Lemus said. “Our first political objective is that the president comes to indigenous territory to hold a face-to-face meeting with us.”

The protesters have blocked the PanAmerican Highway connecting Colombia to Ecuador, and Duque has refused to travel to Cauca to meet with indigenous organizations unless the roadblock is lifted.“We should be able to come to an understanding through a legal framework,” Duque said in a public address to the country on March 28th. CRIC criticized the president’s declaration, saying his portrayal of the minga as illegal undermines their right to protest and raises fears of violence at the hands of government and right-wing paramilitary groups.

Colombia’s ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negrete, called on the president to sit with the indigenous protesters to end the roadblocks, which are seen as having a negative impact on the nation’s economy. The transportation of basic food supplies
and gasoline has been impacteding southern parts of the country, and the Colombian Red Cross has activated a humanitarian caravan to provide medical supplies and assistance to affected communities in the Cauca.

The demands of the ethnic minorities participating are: the inclusion of ethnic communities in the government’s recently announced National Development Plan; the protection of community leaders from targeted killings; and the guarantee of prior consultation (consulta previa) for extractive or agro-industrial projects that affect indigenous territory. They also demand their full appropriation of 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) of land that was promised to indigenous people in the Cauca by the former president, Juan Manuel Santos; since only 14 square kilometers (5.4 square miles) have been delivered to date. CRIC says the land would have to be divided between 126 reservations in the department.

CRIC also declared its opposition to oil exploration in the form or fracking, that has begun at three pilot locations in the Magdalena River valley. Five companies, including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and state-owned Ecopetrol, are seeking to operate six proposed fracking blocs. “We don’t agree with fracking practices,” Lemus said. “This government has approved fracking, the destruction of the Amazon and other environmental crimes that only serve to increase the wealth of a corrupt minority and multinational corporations. Our territories are systematically violated by this government beholden to a capitalistic death project.”

On March 22th, an explosion in remote indigenous territory in Valle del Cauca department killed nine indigenous protesters. Before launching an investigation, the government claimed the deaths were caused by an accident. Minister of Defense Guillermo Botero told El Tiempo the explosive devices were brought into the territory by an indigenous protester, presumably to generate an attack. “That is the most probable hypothesis considering that they are near the Buga Buenaventura highway.” The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC for its Spanish acronym) rejected the notion that indigenous people were responsible for the explosion, calling the incident a paramilitary-led massacre. “The indigenous people are people of peace, not terrorists,” ONIC said in a public statement.


Sources: MONGABAY: ‘Indigenous leaders decry Colombia’s deadly crackdown on land protesters’.

 

World Water Day

On the 22th of March, World Water Day was celebrated. In various parts of Colombia, people took the streets to demand attention for the irresponsible use of water resources. In Bucaramanga citizens spoke up for the protection of the Santurban páramo, a fragile and strategic ecosystem that provides water to millions of people in and around the city and is currently threatened by mining. A similar protest occurred in the nearby city of Barrancabermeja, where people also criticized the poor water management and the way authorities are willing to privatize water resources.

In Medellín, the environmental association ‘Rios Vivos’ organised an encuentro por la liberacíon del Río Cauca. With music, sing-alongs for the water, speeches and debates, they aimed to claim justice for the environmental disaster that was caused to the second biggest river of Colombia by the Hidroituango dam, which cut the river’s current for almost three days in February.
(cf. M&T February).

Meanwhile mining companies such as Minesa seek to take advantage of this symbolic day by publishing publicity videos which aim to show a company concerned with water conservation and supply. In a press interview, the president of the company, Santiago Ángel, condemns the “stigmatization” of mining always being bad for a clean water supply. He argues that his company is aware of the importance of water in the mining territories and that they so far completed over 60 thousand hours of technical studies to ensure the protection of water resources. In their publicity companies, sentences created by grassroots
organisations such as ‘el Agua es Vida’, Water is Life, are used.

On the World Water Day Yes to Life No to Mining and partners launched their online ‘water is life – toolkit’. The site YLNM designed is a summary of the circuit in which water circulates within the ecosystem, the importance of water for human and other life on the planet and the threats to water resources by mining and oil activities. Furthermore, the platform offers a toolkit with basic principles that communities can implement to protect their territory from destructive mining.


Sources: TWITTER: ‘Tweet Minesa Colombia 21 March 2019’; TWITTER: ‘Tweet Movimiento Rios Vivos 19th of March 2019”; YLNM: ‘How mining disrupts the water cycle’; VANGUARDIA: ‘Realizan plantón para exigir protección del agua en Santander’; CARACOL: ‘Trabajadores de Minesa consumirán agua que usen’.

Appendix: LATIN AMERICA

Mines&Territory's extra section on remarkable events that happened in other Latin American countries concerning extractivism.

Mexico

Mexican president Lopez Obrador cancels a big mining project in the ‘Bajo California Sur’- department and announces that it’s time to protect the nature and the paradise Mexico possesses, instead of destroying it. His main motives are tourism and the protection of water.


Source: LAJORNADA: Cancela AMLO mina de oro Los Cardones en BCS.

 

Peru

The third circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in Washington reinterpreted the case of Máxima Acuña and her family against Newmont Mining Company. The Peruvian family sued Newmont in the United States for the abuses perpetrated by the security forces hired by Newmont Mining. At first instance the case was rejected, arguing that it should be judged in Peru, but now the Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Marissa Vahlsing, lawyer of EarthRights International, who represents Máxima and her family, says that Newmont knows better than anyone that the family will not get a fair trial in Peru, and that local courts have not guaranteed the rights of the family. Newmont insists on sending the case to Peru.

Máxima Acuña has been struggling for years to defend her rights, her territory and those of her community. Newmont however is determined to ignore such rights and seize the land to build an immense open pit gold mine. This mining project, called Congo, would be one of the biggest in Latin America. Security forces hired by Newmont have systematically harassed and brutalized Máxima and her entire family, destroyed their house and killed their animals, all in order to remove them from their lands and expand their mining operations. After the Peruvian authorities failed to protect the family from these abuses, the family filed a lawsuit against the mining company in the US Federal Court in 2017. Today, it seems like their voice is finally
being heard. The family urges Newmont to stop the abuse and demands reparations for the damage they have caused.


Source: PORLATIERRA: ‘Máxima Acuña y su familia ganan apelación en Estados Unidos contra gigante minera.’

 

Ecuador

The citizens of Girón, in Azuay, said no to the mining project ‘Loma Larga’ in Ecuador’s first recognized Consulta Popular. Social organizations and environmentalists requested the consultation protect the water and settlements of indigenous people. The Consulta Popular had to determine whether the mining works in the Quimsacocha Páramo could or could not continue. The Canadian company INV Metals intends to extract gold, silver and copper in the páramo which contains lagoons and water springs that supply water to the country’s third city, Cuenca. The outcome of the binding referendum will threaten the activities of INV Metals, which owns the largest concession in that area, expected to extract 2.6 million ounces of gold, 13.3 million ounces of silver and 88 million pounds of copper in 12 years. Last week, Candace MacGibbon, CEO of the mining company, said in a statement that they will continue to advance towards the development of the project. She says the area of Girón was the designated location of the processing and tailing facilities, but the company will relocate to other areas if necessary. The Loma Larga project thus remains a threat to the region, outside of Girón.

This first successful Consulta Popular set a precedent in the fight against mining in Ecuador. Candidate to the Prefecture of Azuay and anti-mining activist, Yaku Pérez, pointed out that the environmental associations are planning new referendums in nearby municipalities, such as San Fernando, Íntag, Portete and Tarqui, to ban mining companies for once and for all in the region.

“Quimsacocha is the first step to reach an Azuay free of metallic mining,” Perez added. The Ministry of Energy and Non Renewable Natural Resources, Carlos Pérez, was against the consulta. He fears that the result might restrain companies from investing in the country and that the Canadian company, which has already spent more than 100 million dollars on the project, might turn to the international courts to prosecute Ecuador for not guaranteeing its investments.


Sources: ELTIEMPO: ‘Girón da su voto en la única consulta popular del país’; ELCOMERCIO: ‘El no se impuso con el 86, 79% en la consulta popular minera del cantón Girón, en Azuay’; ELDIARIO: ‘Primer referéndum vinculante en Ecuador para decidir entre medio ambiente y minería.’

 

Brazil

Mining dam tragedies in Brazil.

At the end of March, a mining dam that contained clay and sand collapsed in the Brazilian state of Rondonia, border state with Bolivia, and a powerful spill of water and sand formed a waterspout that broke down several bridges and isolated about 300 people, informed official sources.

The dams located in the municipality of Machadinho D’Oeste were deactivated some 30 years ago and only contained water and clay, according to the company MetalMig, responsible for the facilities. According to the first reports, the breakdown occurred due to heavy rains and caused no casualties, but it revived Brazils fear for large dams of mining companies since a similar disaster killed at least 483 people in the city of Brumadinho in the state of Minas Gerais in January of this year, where a toxic mud stream devastated the area.

Regarding the Brumadinho disaster, on February 20th, the Brazilian Court ordered Vale S.A, the mining company that constructed the Brumadinho dam, to pay a minimum salary to each affected person in the tragedy of Brumadinho for 12 months and 400 reales (108 dollars) to all 50,000 inhabitants of the place. Before the judicial decision, there had been five
previous meetings between the Movement of those Afected by Dams and (MAB) and VALE to coordinate the emergency measures that the company was going to undertake to compensate the victims of Brumadinho, but they had refused to provide economic subsidies for the damages caused and only offered “donations”.


Source: OCMAL: ‘Histórica decisión judicial a favor de los afectados por la tragedia’.

The role BMW may play in creating a world-class environmental disaster in Ecuador

Carlos Zorrilla | Ecuador, Mining

The role BMW may play in creating a world-class environmental disaster in Ecuador

Carlos Zorrilla, 27 March 2019

There is a rush these days to gain access to copper deposit and other key minerals driven by the expected increase in electric vehicle usage world wide.  These vehicles, including the hybrids, use nearly 3 times as much copper as a internal combustion vehicles. Thus, it is estimated that by 2027 switching over will result in a nine-fold increase in the amount of copper currently going to the automotive sector. That may sound like good news for the composition of the atmosphere, but it will spell doom to other parts of the biosphere, including its biodiviersity, forests, rivers, as well as trampling human rights. In this context, I welcome the United Nations recent realization that the biodiversity crisis is as dire as climate change. Worse, the UN also recently concluded that resource extraction is responsible for 80% of biodiversity loss and 50% of the world’s carbon emissions.

Concurrently, with the rush by transnational mining companies to secure mining rights, there is another rush to green-wash the dirty business of extracting metals like copper from biodiverse corners of the world, such as Ecuador’s Intag’s cloud forests. The latest green-washing effort was born out of an agreement signed in November 2018 between the German automaker, BMW, and Chile’s mining giant, Codelco; the world’s larges copper producer. They named their deal, the “Responsible Copper Initiative”.

The agreement is reminiscent of another green-washing effort, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, created by the Chinese government and a few private mining companies, and of which Damlier is a member.  Cobalt is a key ingredient in electric car batteries, and considered a conflict-mineral due to the human-rights abuses associated with its extraction. As the rush to extract copper extends to all corners of the planet, it is only a matter of time before red metal joins the macabre list. 

Which brings us back to Ecuador’s Intag’s cloud forests and the role BWM may end up playing in its destruction. 

According to the information reported on the BMW website, the main goal of the Responsible Copper Initiative is to “…achieve a commitment to ecological and social responsibility in the copper industry”

Given the social and environmental contexts in the mining area where Codelco is currently planning on extracting copper in Ecuador, it is inconceivable that it, or BMW, will be able to live up to the professed goals of the agreement. More than likely, they will both be held responsible for creating one of the world’s great environmental and social disasters; along the lines of the recent and horrific mining catastrophe at Brumadinho, Brazil. It is entirely possible that BMW may want to cherry pick the mine where they’d want their copper to come from, but it doesn’t work that way. As any marriage, you take the good with the bad. And, in this case, the bad by far outweighs the good.

To get an inkling of why it will be impossible for BMW not to dirty its reputation for being involved with a company that may destroy the habitat to hundreds of species in danger of extinction and be responsible for widespread human rights violations, it is essential to understand a few of the risks involved in mining in this part of Ecuador.

In 1996, upon the request of the Ecuadorian government, a reputable Japanese agency conducted a preliminary Environmental Impact Study for a small copper mine in this region. They predicted the mine would provoke massive deforestation; contaminate rivers with heavy metals- including lead, cadmium and arsenic; impact endangered species of animals, directly impact 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) as well as relocate hundreds of families from four communities. Two years later, the mining company reported to have found five times more copper.  However, after the latest exploration by Codelco, and as recently as November of 2018, the press reported the ore deposit may hold 17 times more copper than the original estimate of 450,000 tons. In other words, the impacts will be incalculably worse than what the Environmental Impact Study reported in 1996, which already were bad enough. Based on these recent estimates and layout of the land, today, not less than six communities and hundred additional families would have to be relocated to make room for the large-scale mine and all the infrastructure that comes with it.

 

A unique biological jewel

Intag’s forests are part of the most biodiverse region of the world, the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot. This region is so biologically diverse that it is hard to comprehend. The diversity is mainly due to its geographic position (on the Equator) and the difference in elevation, climate and rainfall created by the mountains. Orchid diversity is specially rich, with the forests containing more orchids than most nations in an area of just 1,500 square kilometers. Animal diversity is no less diverse. At the proposed mining site and surrounding forests, 279 species of animals in danger of extinction have been reported. Several are critically endangered, including two monkey and three frog species. In the case of one of the amphibians, the Longnose Harlequin Frog had been listed as extinct by the IUCN until a biologist rediscovered it in 2016. And, as recent as March of 2019, National Geographic reported the discovery of a glass-frog new to science in a nearby forest patch. The frog immediately went into the critically endangered list. According to the magazine, corruption and mining are the main threats this new species have to face. Intag’s forests and streams, now threatened by mining, are the only place on the planet where these amphibian species are known to exist.

Apart of biological risks, the area where copper was found gets over 3,000 millimeters of rain and the topography is very steep, which increases the chances of major environmental disasters. In stark contrast, Codelco gets all of its copper from the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world. As it is the case for most of the Andes, Intag’s mining site also sits in a seismically active zone. There are many more factors that explain why it is a huge mistake to mine in Intag.

 

Intag’s long conservation history

During the past 24 years, with a lot of support from national and international organizations as well as individuals, the communities and organizations in Ecuador’s Intag region have worked tirelessly towards the conservation of the region’s forests, biodiversity and watersheds. DECOIN, the small grass-roots environmental organization that I helped found and currently work for, has been at the forefront of Intag’s conservation work. To date, we’ve been able to create 41 community and local government-owned watersheds and forest reserves, protecting over 13,000 hectares of watersheds, forests and the hundreds of endangered species they harbor. Besides the initiative’s conservation value, the reserves also provide clean drinking water to thousands of local residents. We, along with other organizations, have also been busy developing sustainable alternatives to mining, such as shade-grown coffee and community ecotourism. Since mining would, without a doubt,  destroy what we and the communities have so hard worked to preserve, it was only natural that a good deal of our work would focus on stopping mining development. Which we have. Since 1995.

In spite of the fact that since 1995  two transnational mining companies had to abandon Intag due to local resistance, they keep coming back. The latest threat manifested itself full-fledged in 2014, as an outcome of a bi-lateral agreement between the governments of Ecuador and Chile, signed in 2011. The main objective was to have Codelco help Ecuador’s mining company, Enami, develop the Intag mineral deposit. Curiously enough, the agreement is considered a state secret in Chile, with the Chilean courts prohibiting government agencies from revealing its content.  One does wonder what kind of cat is in that bag. 

 

Exploration begins, and so do Human Rights violations and environmental impacts

In May 2014, EMSAEC, Codelco’s Ecuador subsidiary, together with Ecuador’s national mining company, were able to begin exploring in Intag’s forests after a fifteen year lapse due to local resistance. They were able to do so only after being “escorted” to the mining concession by hundreds of special police units and military personnel. Ecuador’s government also saw it necessary to impose a de-facto state of emergency on the whole Intag region. The exploration took place in primary forests that members from two local communities were managing since 1999 as part of a successful community-run ecotourism project.

As soon as exploratory activities began, so did the impacts. The communities, aided by DECOIN and the Municipality of Cotacachi, denounced violations of the permits, licenses and the Environmental Impact Study, as well as serious human rights violations. These included illegal arrest and incarceration of a community leader, contamination of the Junin river, illegal logging, unauthorized land-use, and impacts on the community tourism businesses. But every time the communities denounced the illegalities, backed up by solid evidence, the authorities rejected the denunciations, or simply looked the other way. It could not be clearer to communities that the authorities were openly biased in favor of the mining companies.

However, all that drastically changed on January 25th, 2019.

 

An extremely inconvenient report*

On that date, Ecuador’s Comptroller General made public the final draft of an in-depth investigation of the Llurimagua mining concession – as Intag’s mining project is now known as.  What the Comptroller found, confirmed what the communities have been denouncing for years. But the report revealed much, much more, including dozens of irregularities by State institutions, showing a total disregard for the regulation of mining activities. The lack of oversight, the report contended, made it possible for the Codelco-financed exploration to contaminate the Junin river, log trees illegally, start mining activities without an environmental license, and even utilize 258 million liters of water without proper authorization, among numerous other violations. In essence, the report highlights just how impossible it will be for the companies to abide by directives of the Responsible Copper Initiative, and avoid being implicated in gross environmental and human rights violations.

One of the draft report’s main conclusion was that, due to the lack of oversight and multiple violations, the project should have been suspended. In light of the aforementioned Brazilian mining disaster, a disaster that is, in large part, being blamed on the lack of government oversight, BMW should seriously consider withdrawing from the agreement with Codelco. Better yet, Codelco should reconsider altogether mining in areas as biodiverse and fragile as Intag.

It is indisputable that we must stop the rise of C02 in the atmosphere. It is also true that, in order to do so, we will need new techologies that will require metals like copper and cobalt. However, blindly adopting new technologies that will result in undoing other key components of the biosphere while trampling human rights is, at least, criminal. It is more so when we know that the new “green consumer goods”, such as electric cars, will benefit a very small portion of the planet’s inhabitants, as well as the fact that they will keep alive the wasteful consumption practices that have taken us to where we are today.

It is in this light that we, as consumers, along with BMW’s shareholders, can play an essential role in helping to create a healthier biosphere. We can do so by consuming responsibly: knowing our choices can cause tragic environmental and social impacts. On the other hand, shareholders should reject the company’s green-washing, and demand the company not to participate in creating environmental and human rights disasters in places such as Intag’s forests and communities.

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* The final report was due to be released during the first trimester of 2019. We are still waiting.

“Proyecto Mirador”: Mining in the Cordillera del Condor, Ecuador

Alienor de Sas | Ecuador, Ecuador, News

Acción Ecológica resists the mining project along with the locals

28th February 2018

Gloria Chicaiza Aguilar is the head of “Acción Ecológica”, an Ecuadorian NGO that strives for social and ecological justice according to the principles of ‘Buen Vivir’ and ecologism. For more than 20 years, the organisation has opposed to private interests of the extractive industry and provides a voice to the affected communities.

Even though Ecuador has been extracting oil for decennia, larger scale mining is a relatively new phenomenon in the region. This is mainly due to the ideas of president Rafael Correa, who stayed in office from 2007 until 2017. Under his policy, the Constitution of 2008 was created, which was perceived as very progressive. This was mainly because it acknowledged Ecuador as a plurinational state and promised to develop according to the principles of ‘Buen Vivir’. These principles describe a way of doing things that is community-centred, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive. In addition to this, the country has given rights to nature, which makes them the first one to do so in the whole world. Ironically, it is the same constitutional text that describes the extractive industry as a strategic and economic sector, a sector that would be controlled exclusively by the government. With resource nationalism, the government of Correa hoped to increase influence on the infamous oil-exporting industry, and wanted to stimulate the underdeveloped mining sector.

Correa’s wish to provide a boost to the large-scale mining was very clear. In 2009 a policy was voted in that would give a legal framework for the development of the mining sector. This law lead to a wave of fierce protests from anti-mining groups. They feared that the other principles listed in the constitution would not see the light of day, such as buen vivir, rights of indigenous people, protection of nature and the right for prior consent.

Even though the protest grew to larger sizes, the government signed a contract in 2012 with a Chinese mining company, EcuaCorriente S.A.. They were to extract copper, gold and silver from the region. The project “Mirador” is one of the main projects in the pro-mining campaign. The massive coppermine is located in the southern-Ecuadorian province Zamora Chinchipe, in the district Tundayme (Kanton El Pangui). El Pangui is part of the Cordillera del Condor, a mountain range with an extremely diverse fauna and flora containing more than 5 million tons of copper, 700 tons of silver and 90 tons of gold. The mine is supposed to open in 2018 and should produce 60 000 tons of copper every day.

Not only did the contract determine the future profit of EcuaCorriente and the projected income for the Ecuadorian profit, but it also determined the lives of the Shuar people and the mestizo farmers in the region. Their fertile lands would be transformed into a gigantic coppermine, nature will have to part for industrial infrastructure and roads. Waste pools will form a constant threat to public health and local rivers, only amplified with the possibility of quakes.

The Ecuadorian government facilitates the process by handing out favourable environmental impact judgements and giving the right licenses to EcuaCorriente. In addition, the army, together with the police, has been employed to protect the project against the protests of the local people. This was clearly visible in 2015, when a group of guards from EcuaCorriente drove 32 people out of their houses with assistance of Ecuadorian officials. At dawn these families were ordered to pack and leave, after which the Chinese organisation demolished their houses with bulldozers.

Since the start of the mining project in the Cordillera del Cóndor in the nineties, the whole process has been characterised by a general lack of information, of participation and of consultation concerning the local inhabitants. Not just the lack of information proved to be a problem, but also blatant misinformation was spread about the purpose and consequences of the project. EcuaCorriente told the locals deceitfully that their land would be used for livestock, which is clearly far from the truth.

The inhabitants don’t tolerate the mining activities and resist them when they can, which entails big consequences for the activists. One defender of local rights named José Tendetza was able to experience the retaliation of EcuaCorriente first hand. Because of his protests and resistance he’s been targeted with threats to him and his family. His crops have been burned and his house torched to the ground, all because of his explicit opinion on mining and the defense of land. Eventually he disappeared when he was going to a meeting regarding the problems of mining. Five days later his body was found on the banks of the river Zamora on the level of bridge Chuchumbletza, a part of the region of influence of the Mirador project.

Even though the power of the mining sector increases constantly, the locals maintain a strong resistance against the activities. They are assisted by national NGOs such as Acción Ecológica, who provide technical, political and legal support and spread the story of the Cordillera del Cóndor.