Collecting 200.000 signatures by October 2022, this is the goal of the ongoing campaign “Quito sin mineria”. The campaign was launched in March 2022 by a group of organizations, collectives and people from the towns in the northwest of Quito who want to defend the Metropolitan District of Quito (MDQ) from mining. With the campaign they want to collect enough signatures to let the inhabitants of northwestern Quito decide for themselves whether they agree or not with mining in Ecuador’s Chocó Andino Biosphere reserve. Although seeking public consultation is a constitutional right in the country, the campaign is a large undertaking, especially given Ecuador’s mining favorite climate and the ongoing violations against environmental and human rights defenders.
The Chocó Andino: one of the most biodiverse places in the world
So, what is the Chocó Andino and why is it so important to protect it? The Chocó Andino is located in northern Ecuador, in the Pichincha province, north-west of the capital city of Quito. It is one of the last remaining forests in Quito, designated by UNESCO as biosphere reserve in 2018 . Biosphere reserves are sites where core protected areas are combined with zones where sustainable development is fostered. These sites are great spaces for ‘understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity’ .
Photo of the region threatened by mining. Credit: Antonella Calle Avilés
The Chocó Andino region has received this UNESCO designation because it is a very particular area, covering the humid forest lowlands of the Chocó – Darien (which extend from Panama to the Ecuadorian West) and the Northern Andean Mountain Forests . With an area of 286,805 hectares, the Chocó Andino represents 83% of the Metropolitan District of Quito and constitutes the lungs of the Ecuadorian capital and its surrounding areas. Its forests remove at least 266,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually, which helps to reduce global warming .
It is an area of global importance for its biodiversity, which includes nine protected forests, four conservation and sustainable use areas, the Ecological Corridor for the Andean Bear  and more than 35 nature reserves. It is home to an estimated 150 species of mammals (21% of which are in danger of extinction), 90 species of reptiles (57% of which are in danger of extinction), 120 species of amphibians (51% which could become extinct in the future, 640 species of birds (20% of which are also in danger of extinction) and more than 3,000 species of plants (representing 12% of all plants in Ecuador of which more than 80% could disappear) .
Photo of the region threatened by mining. Credit: Antonella Calle Avilés
The region has more than 21.000 inhabitants and includes the parishes of Calacalí, Nono, Nanegal, Nanegalito, Gualea and Pacto, which form the Mancomunidad del Chocó Andino, as well as the cantons of San Miguel de los Bancos and Pedro Vicente Maldonado . Quito’s Chocó Andino Region also has a very important cultural heritage, especially of the indigenous Yumbo, KituKara and Inca peoples. At least 528 archaeological sites have been found in the area .
The Chocó Andino under threat
Despite the unique characteristics of the region and its vital importance, the region is under imminent threat. Currently, 12 metallic mining concessions have been granted, occupying 17.863 hectares and another 6 concessions are in process, occupying 9.899 hectares within the Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve . Developing mining activities in such sensitive areas as the Chocó Andino can have very serious environmental and social impacts that could permanently affect biodiversity and the territory .
This has already been shown in areas of similar ecological significance in Ecuador, for example in the Cordillera del Condor (located in the province of Zamora Chinchipe). In 2012, the Ecuadorian State signed a contract for large-scale mining with EcuaCorriente SA, which enabled the exploration and production of copper in one of Ecuador’s other mega-diverse and fragile ecosystems . For years, environmental organizations and critics have raised concerns about the numerous social and environmental impacts resulting from the Condor Mirador mining project . Since 2014, more than 30 families have been displaced from their land and the threat of eviction haunts families to this day . Major environmental problems include the treatment of residues, water pollution and deforestation of the Cordillera del Condor’s biodiverse mountain areas . A study by Dr. Steven H. Emerman, for example, revealed the environmental risks of one of the tailings dams. The slope and height of the dam (with its 260 meters – the highest tailings dam in the world), he says, will inevitably lead to an ecological and social disaster, as it will not withstand earthquakes or floods, which are common in this region of Ecuador .
However, in the Chocó Andino, as in other regions in Ecuador, various economic alternatives exist that could replace the need for extractive mining. The Chocó Andino area is known for its organic agriculture, as more than 450 organic products are produced in Quito’s Chocó Andino, several of which are exported abroad: coffee, chocolate, milk, fruits, and panela . Another source of income and way of living is agro-ecological tourism, with 72 tourist attractions in the area. Twenty-five of those are cultural attractions and 47 are natural sites .
Towards a Consulta Popular in Quito
The campaign “Quito sin mineria” opposes mining projects in the Metropolitan District of Quito and the Chocó Andino region. But first and foremost, the initiators of the campaign want the people of northwestern Quito to be able to decide for themselves, through public consultation, whether or not they agree with mining in the region.
Photo: Mobilisation for the referendum. Credit: Antonella Calle Avilés
The ‘consulta popular’ or referendum is one of the mechanisms that is provided for in the Ecuadorian Constitution (article 104) to guarantee both the right to participate in matters of public interest and the right to be consulted. This may be requested by citizens as well as by the President of the Republic and the decentralized autonomous governments and its result is “mandatory and immediately enforceable” .
The organizations, collectives and people behind the Quito Sin Minería campaign, find it important to make their voices heard on issues that affect their lives and their futures.
According to Acción Ecológia, Ecuador’s leading environmental organisation, “the role of the State is one of collusion, complicity and negligence in the destruction of alternative life systems to mining development” . The campaign therefore sees a referendum as “the only effective procedure they have left to try to stop mining in their territories”  as they will not allow the destruction of one of the most biodiverse areas of the country .
To start the process of the referendum, the ‘Quito Sin Mineria’ alliance sent four questions to the Constitutional Court for approval the 12th of january 2022. The Constitutional Court approved the questions on the 4th of may 2022. The questions included in the referendum are the following:
“Do you agree with the prohibition of large-scale metallic mining within the Metropolitan Subsystem of Natural Protected Areas of the Metropolitan District of Quito; and, within the Area of Ecological, Cultural and Sustainable Productive Development Importance, formed by the territories of the parishes of Nono, Calacalí, Nanegal, Nanegalito, Gualea and Pacto, which make up the Commonwealth of the Andean Chocó?” This question is repeated three more times for the levels of artisanal, small-scale and medium-scale metal mining .
Collection of signatures in progress
Photo: Collecting signatures for the referendum. Credit: Antonella Calle Avilés
The inhabitants of the six parishes have now begun to collect signatures throughout the metropolitan district of Quito. Ten percent of the electoral roll (2 million voters) is needed and this means they must gather about 200,000 signatures. “But as there will always be signatures rejected for whatever reason, the goal is to collect around 400,000,” says Ivonne Ramos of Acción Ecológica .
However, the collection of signatures is a huge undertaking. On different occasions, municipality officials have already been reported to prevent the collection of signatures in public spaces. The municipality officials either not allowed them to set up the collection spaces and even evicted them from public spaces. All this, while those collecting the signatures are merely exercising their (constitutional) right to seek public consultation .
Limitations of the Consulta Popular
As mentioned above, within the Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve, 12 metallic mining concessions have already been granted and another 6 are in process . The consulta popular will not be able to stop those concessions. However, if the inhabitants of Metropolitan District of Quito vote in favor of the mining ban in Quito, this would at least stop future concessions.
The “Quito sin minería” campaign in context
From the start of his Presidency, it was quite clear that the economic policy of President Guillermo Lasso’s government would be based on extractivism. The aim of its policy is to increase mining exports and make Ecuador more attractive for foreign investors.
“The economic policy of Ecuadors’ government, based on the deepening of a neoliberal, privatizing, open-minded, extractivist model, which grants enormous privileges to large corporations through Free Trade Agreements and Investment Protection Treaties, can only be achieved through violence against communities, peoples and nature”, writes Acción Ecológica .
Photo: Quito Sin Minería (Pacto)
President Lasso strongly believes in mining as one of the most important activities for Ecuador’s economy, emphasizing that “Ecuador fundamentally needs the jobs generated by sustainable mining and the economic resources for programs such as the one undertaken against Chronic Childhood Malnutrition (CCD) or solidarity bonds for those who need them most” .
The idea that mining will lift communities out of poverty and create jobs, however, is a myth. Large-scale mining only represents 1.65% of the Gross Domestic Product and employs only 0.12% of the economically active population, while it destroys tens of thousands of jobs linked to agriculture or tourism; The mining sector barely pays taxes but causes serious damage in community territories . Official figures show that the total income from all mining projects would be no more than 0.8% of the money coming into the State. On the other hand, the money produced by mining is very volatile because it depends on international prices. In addition, mining concentrates wealth in the hands of a few .
Mining does produce jobs, but very few and of very poor quality. In 2019, the then energy minister said that the mega-mining sector will generate 32 thousand jobs, this is not a big number. Tourism, for example, generates 12 times more jobs. For the construction stage of the mine, mining generates poor quality employment, temporary, long working hours and minimal payments, without considering the effects that the mine generates on the health of workers .
The Ecuadorian Government also claims to only support ‘sustainable mining’ i.e. mining which is environmentally responsible and economically beneficial to the country. However, there is no such thing as ‘responsible’ or ‘sustainable’ mining because the pollution caused is inevitable. Even with the use of the most advanced technology, pollution is still one of the biggest problems in mining .
Criminalization of environmental defenders
In Ecuador, human rights, collective rights and rights of nature are violated every day. Every day, mining companies continue to devastate natural spaces, contaminating rivers, stripping communities of their sources of livelihood and their ancestral territories . Human rights defenders working to protect the environment, increasingly find themselves targeted and in need of protection. At the beginning of this year, Ecuador’s National Assembly granted amnesty to over 260 environmental, social, indigenous and human rights leaders in the country. While the decision was welcomed by human rights organizations, the granting of amnesty wouldn’t have been necessary if the State had fulfilled its obligations to protect and guarantee the rights of its citizens and the work of human, collective, and nature defenders . Moreover, defenders denounce that despite this, criminalization persists . Since the decision of the National Assembly, there have been more than 100 new criminalizations of defenders in the territories where extractive activities take place. This is also the case in the Chocó Andino region, where those defending the rights of nature and their communities continue to be intimidated, threatened, harassed and persecuted. Already 32 defenders have been criminalized.
The Quito sin Mineria campaign: what’s next? .
Once the period for collecting signatures is over, the National Electoral Council (CNE) must validate the signatures. If the threshold is passed, the entity will have to set a date for the referendum and guarantee the resources for the voting day . The signatures are required to include this consulta popular in the mid-term elections in 2023. This will hopefully allow the inhabitants to exercise their right to public consultation and to safeguard the Metropolitan District of Quito and the Chocó Andino from mining once and for all.
You can support the campaign by following their networks and share their content to give more visibility to their struggles:
You can also contribute by donating directly to their campaign account: https://www.quitosinmineria.com/unete/
Written by Catapista Nicky Broeckhoven
 Emerman, Steven H., Evaluación del Diseño y de la Construcción de las Presas de Relaves para la Mina Mirador, Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador. Consulted on https://drive.google.com/file/d/16NXX3gReSzkFDpAurGqHdtSi0QPXuyvk/view
 Unrefined whole cane sugar
 Some of these instances have been shared on the campaign’s twitter account: https://twitter.com/quitosinmineria
 https://www.eltelegrafo.com.ec/noticias/actualidad/44/ecuador-mineria-legal-guillermo-lasso; https://www.ecuadorchequea.com/guillermo-lasso-dijo-que-no-se-puede-dejar-de-explotar-petroleo-ni-minerales/