MAC: Mines and Communities

Small-Scale Miners Fight Large-Scale Interests in Southern Amazon, Ecuador

Published by MAC on 2010-09-27
Source: Upsidedownworld, Statement (2010-09-22)

The Ecuadorian government has sent troops into the country's southern Amazonian province, in order to bulwark corporate mining interests, just days after small-scale miners joined other citizens in backing a sustainable development plan.

It seems the country's president (already noteworthy, if not notorious, as an uncritical supporter of large-scale mining) thinks he must now show people in the province that he has the last word and is in charge. (see statement below of local and national organisations denouncing the government's use of force and the continuous criminalisation of activists).

Why is this so? It's because so many citizens support the province's indigenous leader and prefect, Salvador Quishpe, who has worked hard to build alliances between small scale miners and those in opposition to large scale mining. The provincial government recognises that small scale mining is a driving force behind the local economy, while acknowledging that it must be also be cleaned up and formalised.

Paquisha and Guisime  - site of this recent confrontation - is the second entrance to the Kinross Gold's mining operations, the first being in Los Encuentros.

[Comment by Ximena Warnaars, 23 September 2010]

ESPAÑOL

Small-Scale Miners Questioning Large-Scale Interests in Southern Amazon, Ecuador

By Jennifer Moore

Upsidedownworld

22 September 2010

Only days after small-scale and artisanal miners pronounced themselves in favor of land use planning and against large scale mining in Ecuador's southern Amazon, a heavy deployment of police and military was ordered to evict a group of these miners for alleged environmental damages. Approximately 1,500 police and military officers took part in the September 15 operation, or roughly one officer for every resident of the small county of Paquisha in the province of Zamora Chinchipe, where confrontations took place.

The province of Zamora Chinchipe is the focal point for development of major large scale gold and copper mining operations controlled by Canadian and Chinese interests, including Kinross Gold, Dynasty Metals & Mining and CRCC-Tongguan, which the Ecuadorian government has made a priority.

Provincial prefect Salvador Quishpe, however, says that evictions forewarn of increasing tension as national and foreign-backed projects enter into conflict with local development priorities. Quishpe is an indigenous leader who has been actively leading resistance to large scale metallic mining in Ecuador during recent years, and who has been building support among small-scale and artisanal miners in his home province.

Forceful eviction

Last Wednesday, four hundred indigenous and non-indigenous small-scale and artisanal miners and farmers were blocking the main road to Paquisha when five hundred police arrived with orders to evict the protestors from the area of Congüime.

Midday reinforcements brought the number of police and military to about 1,500.

Protesters fought against police with sticks and stones to which state forces responded with tear gas. Confrontations left five people injured, two reportedly from shotgun wounds. Two people were also detained for allegedly carrying explosives and firearms.

Later, armed forces searched private property to seize over a dozen backhoes that small-scale miners in the area use to look for gold along the Nangaritza River.

The Secretary for Peoples, Social Movements and Citizen Participation, Alexandra Ocles, defended the government's actions against "illegal mining" on national radio and stated that the measure was taken "in order to guarantee discontamination (sic) of the area and to enter into a process of regularizing mining activities."

Evictions and concerns among some miners that they will not be relocated seems to be contributing to growing alliances between this sector and resistance to large scale mining in the province. Another eviction took place in early August when fifty-six miners were expelled from the area of San Luis in Podocarpus National Park, while at least one other investigation in the county of Paquisha is also underway.

Segundo Salinas, a local miner from Paquisha, told Ecuador's Daily Express that "The government is attacking workers who defended the Condor mountain range during the war of Paquisha, with the aim of handing over the country's mineral wealth to foreign companies." The Condor mountain range has been much fought over with neighbouring Peru during several armed conflicts in past decades.

Small-scale and artisanal miners side with provincial government

In the days and weeks prior to the recent operation, provincial leaders from Zamora Chinchipe had been meeting with groups of miners to reach agreement over a proposed land use planning project, rights for local workers and joint opposition to large scale mining. Three days prior to last week's police operation, a provincial assembly was held at which those present "petitioned the government of President Rafael Correa to order the departure of multinational companies from the region and the recognition of the right to work for local miners," reported BBC World.

According to a press bulletin issued by the province, leaders of small-scale and artisanal mining operations were asking, "How is it possible that we are treated as illegal on our own land while multinational companies get all the support?" The same bulletin cited provincial leaders who acknowledged that the "environmental impacts of small-scale mining are worrying, however, we will not allow evictions to take place that will give way to multinational interests."

Until recently, small scale and artisanal gold mining were the principal metallic mining activities in Ecuador. Important enters of this type of mining are situated within the country's south and over the last three decades have led to serious environmental damages with repercussions for both miners and local communities. However precarious, it remains a source of income for tens of thousands of families.

Following a decade of World Bank-backed legal reforms and promotion of Ecuador's mining potential in the 1990s, multinational mining companies started to invest in developing the country's untapped mineral riches. Initially led by Canadian-financed junior mining companies, areas such as the Condor mountain range, which borders the province of Zamora Chinchipe to the east and separates it from Peru's northern Amazon, were staked out for large scale gold and copper developments. Senior companies, such as Toronto-based Kinross Gold, began buying up the biggest holdings in the province during a process of mining law reforms from 2008 to 2009, which strengthened state participation and control over the sector.

As part of these same legal reforms, Ecuadorian legislators set a timeline of 180 days for the government to carry out a census of informal mining operations in the country and to begin a process of regularization. Political representatives from the province of Zamora Chinchipe claim that this process has not been carried through and area miners express fear that more evictions will be forthcoming.

Representatives of a subsidiary belonging to Vancouver-based Dynasty Metals & Mining, which holds one mineral concession in the county of Paquisha, has filed a complaint against artisanal miners that is under investigation. Under new mining rules, companies can solicit protection from authorities against informal mining taking place on their concessions.

A representative of Kinross told BBC World, however, that the erradication of small-scale mining is not their aim. "Our commitment," he said, "is simply to inform authorties about the extent of informal mining taking place in the sector for authorities to take the appropriate decision."

The Prefect's land use planning project

Resource conflicts in the southern Amazon have emerged over the last decade between companies and indigenous and non-indigenous communities concerned about the potential impacts of large scale operations on their lands and lives. But only since former national congressman Salvador Quishpe was elected as prefect of the province in 2009 have agreements been forged with small-scale and artisanal mining groups to join the resistance.

Quishpe is in open dispute with the government of President Rafael Correa. Correa strongly supports multinational mining companies that have invested in Ecuador, saying that their top-of-the-line technology and Ecuador's strengthened regulations will help avoid serious impacts from future large scale operations. The President also personally intervened during the country's 2009 general elections when he visited Zamora Chinchipe and publicly insulted Quishpe, encouraging voters not to support him.

Quishpe, however, calls the most recent eviction "an abuse of power" and says that he is not just confronting multinational operations, "but also those from here." Current agreements between the province and small-scale and artisanal miners include commitments to establish a "Provincial Organization of Artisanal and Small Scale Miners" that will be coordinated by the National Assembly representative for Zamora Chinchipe Clever Jimenez. This incudes an agreement to participate in a land use planning process that would exclude large scale mining and explicitly define areas in which other mining activities may take place, giving priority to agriculture, livestock husbandry, water, biodiversity and tourism. Quishpe has also asked for dialogue with the government to talk about legalization for small-scale and artisanal mining, about programs to reduce environmental contamination, and how to coordinate with his land use planning project.

Constructive dialogue could be hard to come by as long as opposition to large scale mining remains a central tenet of provincial organizing in Zamora Chinchipe. The Interior Minister Gustavo Jalkh has said attempts at dialogue have been obstructed by "political manipulation" and informed the press that operations will continue to control informal mining activities.


PLURINATIONAL COUNCIL OF SOUTHERN ECUADORIAN COMMUNITIES

In response to the criminalization of protest and the violent police raid and eviction in Zamora Chinchipe

Indigenous Nations and local communities of the south of Ecuador, opposed to large-scale mining in the country, gathered in Gualaquiza on Friday September 17, 2010, and later with the FICSH on September 18 and 19, we question the following,

Faced with the continued criminalization of protest and the prosecution of social organization leaders, such as Pepe Acacho, president of the FICSH, who along with 30 other leaders in various parts of the country, has been charged with sabotage and terrorism for participating in protests in defence of our sovereignty and nature, and,

Faced with the violent and unjustifiable police raid to evict small-scale miners in the area of Conguimi (Kenkuim), Parish of Paquisha, in the province of Zamora Chinchipe, and interrupting an ongoing dialogue that was finding solutions to the problems created by informal small-scale mining, which is largely controlled by certain powerful sectors of the local economy and that causes serious socio-environmental damage. Given the ineffectiveness of government, the local organization of the Shuar (Nankais Association) was demanding small-scale miners restore the soils and reforest the areas where they were mining as well as asking for the legalisation of the concession on behalf of the Shuar Association, which the governor of the province of Zamora Chinchipe was facilitating. In this case there was open dialogue, with its share of difficulties, - among them the continued use of machinery in Kenkuim - which was interrupted by the use of police force.

What does the National Government expect with these kinds of policies?

The clearing of obstacles for large-scale mining activities - controlled by transnational companies - by creating an atmosphere of terror and anxiety?

In the Cordillera del Condor, Morona Santiago and Zamora in Chinchipe, Aurelian Kinross (59%) together with ECSA (21%) [delete - have] control over 80% of the concessions. Also present is Condormining Corporation SA (5.3%), Midasmine (3.7%), Cia Miningsources SA (3.43%), Cia Condor Gold (1.63%), and others like Elipe, Minerpacific.

The government has not taken action against the monopoly of transnational corporations in the Cordillera del Condor, even though there was a mining mandate that, if rigorously enforced, would have reverted all these concessions to the Ecuadorian state.

There is no sabotage or terrorist acts among those who are defending their territory, their livelihoods, culture, and sovereignty.

Large-scale mining in fragile areas like the forests of the Cordillera del Condor, or the moors of Quimsacocha, is an activity driven by the strategic projection of this government which will generate intensive, extensive and irreversible impacts, as identified even by the environmental impact studies of projects such as the open pit copper mining project of Mirador - ECSA 

In this scenario, we wonder whether the environmental or legal concerns of the central government are genuine?

We warn the country of the irresponsibility with which the national government, and specifically, the President, the Ministry of Government Policy, Environment, Non-Renewable Resources, the Ministry of Peoples, and Senplades, in dealing with this sensitive issue. 

We believe that all these governmental decisions are part of a well outlined plan to make way for large-scale mining in the area, and other areas in the country for the benefit of foreigners, regardless of the irreversible environmental, social, cultural, and economic effects which will be left for the communities.

We support the strategy of dialogue, taking into account the seriousness of the informal small-scale mining issue that the provincial government of Zamora Chinchipe has been promoting. The provincial government has been encouraging the reconstruction of a participatory development process based on “buen vivir” (which makes reference to a Quechua concept of “Sumak Kausay”, or integrated “good living”) through land use planning between farmers, indigenous people, informal small-scale miners in the province and all its other inhabitants.

Small-scale mining should be regulated, controlled and its expansion should be avoided. In order to achieve this, the government must develop policies and strategies to make a transition from an economy of informal artisanal mining towards alternative and sustainable modes of production.

We denounce the government of Rafael Correa and the outbreaks of violence; we demand the immediate cessation of repression against the communities of Zamora Chinchipe and the establishment of a genuine process of participatory land planning in the Cordillera del Condor and throughout the southern region.

We urge the government and judicial authorities to annul the criminal cases against social organization and community leaders accused of sabotage and terrorism when they take part in the struggle to defend life, the environment, work and the country's sovereignty.

We express our solidarity in this statement with the leadership of the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers, based in the province of Morona Santiago where this meeting takes place and demand an end to the legal proceedings for terrorism and sabotage. We declare ourselves watchful of these proceedings, and others against members of communities and leaders whose only crime is to defend nature.

We urge the government to end the mining claims in the hands of transnational companies,

We confirm our intention to build an Ecuador free of large-scale mining.
 
Plurinational Council of Southern Ecuadorian Communities:

 

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