Picture of the road blockade that lasted over two years against a mine in the Chocó Andino. Photo by Danila, Red de Jóvenes del Chocó Andino

Between the 15 – 23rd November environmental defenders, organizations and social movements from across South America met in Quito for the ‘Encuentro del Derecho a Decir No’, organized by CATAPA. A report by Connor.

The metropolitan district of Quito, including the Chocó Andino biosphere reserve, was deliberately chosen so that we could celebrate and learn from the success of the popular referendum, and the Quito Sin Minería campaign, which successfully prohibited mining from the area. 

One of the most important aspects of the Right to Say No is also the Right to Say Yes, and this is fundamental to the Quito Sin Minería project. The campaign was focused around saying YES. Yes to life, yes to the Chocó Andino, yes to the Andean Bear which is native to the area, and yes to an economy that respects and values nature. 

Most impressive of all, in the wake of the popular referendum there is a coordinated effort within the Chocó Andino to promote an alternative vision of the biosphere reserve, based upon eco-tourism and agroecological production of coffee, panela, sugar cane and other fruits and vegetables. 

During the week, accompanied by the Red de Jóvenes del Chocó Andino, a network of  young people that were pivotal in the fight against mining projects within the biosphere reserve, we visited several centers of resistance within the Chocó Andino. 

In one particular visit, we went to Las Taguas, an eco-tourism farm project that teaches visitors about the process of making products such as panela and sugar cane juice agro ecologically, without chemicals or fertilizers, that respects nature and ensures that future generations can enjoy it. We also went for a nature walk with student guides in training, in of itself a vital process that involves young people in the protection of the biosphere reserve, swimming in a nearby waterfall that is protected and cared for by the project.

Photos from the visit to Las Taguas, an agritourism farm. Photo: CATAPA

In another symbolic visit, we visited the site where several communities of the Chocó Andino organised a road block for twenty four hours a day, seven days a week for over two years against an illegal mining project.

By focusing on visiting centers of resistance, participants not only theorized what an alternative to mining and extractivism could look like, but saw with their own eyes a very real example of popular alternatives based on agroecology, community tourism and solidarity. 

Environmental defenders face daily threats and a constant struggle to protect their territories. Understanding this, the various visits across the Chocó Andino provided an opportunity for participants to relax, recharge their batteries and reaffirm their commitment to the protection of their territories in the fight against extractivism. 

In combination with this, a part of the meeting also focused on self-care and protection. During one particular workshop, we shared the measures we are taking individually and collectively to protect ourselves and others in our territories. However, we acknowledged that self-care and protection measures can only go so far. We collectively agreed that it is the responsibility of governments at every level to provide the necessary protection for environmental defenders, so that they can protect us without fear of violence and retaliation. 

The Quito Sin Minería campaign was not born overnight. As we learnt during the trip, it is the culmination of years of struggle against mining projects in the region – a social process that has taken place across the Chocó Andino and the city of Quito to build a collective consciousness about the impacts of mining, the importance of the reserve as a place of super biodiversity, and the need to protect it.

Aside from the visits, we based ourselves in the cantón of Pacto for several days of workshops and activities. We began by creating a collective map of the context regarding mining within each of the countries represented in South America.

In general, we concluded that the political situation in the region is increasingly dangerous, with governments at the local, regional, national and international level looking to facilitate the opening and expansion of new and existing mining projects, perpetuating economic dependence on the extraction of limited natural resources. This development model is marked by an escalation of violence and assassinations of environmental defenders and leaders of anti extractivist social movements. For example, Perú is still under the dictatorship of Dina Boluarte, the former vice president who took power in a violent coup beginning in December 2022, which resulted in the murder of over sixty protestors and the injury of thousands. In recent months, Dina Boluarte’s government has visited Canada and other western countries to declare Peru open for business, and is looking to ‘reactivate’ several mining projects, originally prevented by social movements, such as Minas Conga and Tia Maria.

Workshop focused on analyzing the context of mining in South America. Photo: CATAPA

The vast majority of mining projects in the region of South America are owned by multinational corporations with horrific, bloody histories. This includes the support of genocide, forced displacement and assasinations of environmental defenders to gain access to such territories, such as Newmont in the case of Minas Conga, Cajamarca, Peru and Anglo Gold Ashanti across Colombia – a scandal which is touched upon by the Quitale La Mascara Campaign.

During the week, we also organized a virtual team building activity with CATAPA volunteers that were taking part in the Movement Weekend in Belgium at the same time. In order to confront extractivism as a political project, we must form and strengthen international movements in order to make the connection between the extraction of resources from the ‘Global South’, which serve to manufacture products such as electric cars that are enjoyed only by a small minority of the world’s (predominantly western) population, whilst local communities receive little benefit.

Activity with Catapistas. Photo: CATAPA

As a result of the gathering, and in response to the current social, environmental and political context, the Network of Territories for the Right to Say No (Red de los Territorios por el Derecho a Decir No) was formed. This network will serve as a platform to share information about struggles against mining projects, and to develop and diffuse tools to strengthen the capacity of communities to say No to mining and other extractive activities in their respective territories.

Offering to the land that remained during the entirety of the meeting. Photo: CATAPA.

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