MAC: Mines and Communities

Ecuador: And now Ladies and Gentlemen, CODELCO in Intag!

Published by MAC on 2012-01-23
Source: Statement (2012-01-13)

And now Ladies and Gentlemen, CODELCO in Intag!

By Carlos Zorrilla

DECOIN statement

13 January 12012

Well, it was just a matter of time, and clearly within the plans of the Correa government. Codelco started its illegal exploration in the vicinity of the Paraiso community, located in the Intag-Manduriacos area as of yesterday, January 12th.

CODELCO is the third transnational mining company to attempt to start what would be a large-scale and open pit copper mining project in the area. As you are likely aware, Mitsubishi failed miserably in the 1990s, and Copper Mesa went bankrupt in the 2000s trying to do the same thing. What are the chances CODELCO will succeed where other transnational have failed? Not much.

Consider the following:

CODELCO was given the go-ahead to start exploration based on an amazingly flawed Environmental Impact Study. Local government authorities are challenging the legality of the EIA, as well as the flawed Constitutional-guaranteed process of Consultation. As expected, local communities are extremely pissed off by the way they were left out of the whole process. Given the violent past associated with mining in the area, there is no guarantee that CODELCO's presence will not spark another cycle of conflicts and confrontations.

The project threatens pristine rivers and streams, plus the drinking water of two communities (El Paraiso and Magdalena). As well, mining threatens primary and secondary forests that are within two of the world's most biologically diverse regions; the Tumbes-Chocó Magdalena, and the Andean Tropical Biological Hotspot. Of the world's 34 Hotspots, the Andean Hotspot is by far the most diverse, and one of the most threatened (http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/Pages/default.aspx). Furthermore, the area is part of and Important Bird Area (http://www.birdlife.org/action/science/sites/andes_ibas/pdfs/Ec_367-371.pdf and exceptionally rich in orchid diversity (some are unique to this region).

CODELCO, the world's largest copper producer, has lots of experience in mining in the Atacama desert; the world's driest desert. Here's what Wikipedia has on the Atacama: The average rainfall in the Chilean region of is just 1 millimetre (0.04 in) per year. Some weather stations in the Atacama have never received rain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atacama_desert ... the average rainfall in the mining area Codelco is now interested in is between 3,000 and 4,000 millimeters per year. See below for the significance of this fact.

CODELCO and Perpetual Pollution

The high rainfall mentioned above is a nightmare factor for mining companies, but especially for the environment and communities. High volume of water (both as rainfall and in acquifers) and mining just don't mix; it increases astronomically the chances of generating what is known as Acid Mine Drainage, a chemical reaction between the air, water, heavy metals and the sulfur contained in the mineralized soil and subsoil that is present in the Intag and Manduriacos (as confirmed by Mitsubishi scientists in the 90s).

Acid Mine Drainage is a process that, once started, is virtually impossible to stop, and can keep contaminating rivers and streams for hundreds- and sometimes thousands- of years (for more information see: http://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/acid_mine_drainage).

CODELCO will lie about the impacts of exploration; alleging that its activities will cause little or no impacts. However, Mitsubishi contaminated the Junin river and tributaries with lead and arsenic as a consequence of the exploratory holes it drilled to find copper. The contamination continues to this day; seventeen years after the last hole was drilled.

If this is not enough to dampen CODELCO's success in Intag and Manduriacos, consider the following

Open-pit mining is illegal in Cotacachi County. It was outlawed in 2000 with the passing of the legally-binding Cotacachi Ecological County Ordinance.

The mining concession CODELCO is surrounded by four protected areas (the Los Cedros, and the Chontal Protected Forests, the Toisan Municipal Protected Area, and the Junin Community Reserve). It is very likely that it is within the Municipal Protected Area.

Not enough? How about that where they are looking for copper is extraordinarily rich in pre-Incan archeological sites belonging to a people which very, very little is known about? Oh, and by the way, for all practical purposes, mining is illegal in such sites.

Finally, CODELCO should know, that the people in Intag will not allow it. During the course of the last 17 years of standing up to transnationals, they've learned a few tricks. They made Mitsubishi clear out in 1997, and then Copper Mesa in 2008. In the case of the latter, not only did it have to abandon Intag, but the company lost its concessions, was kicked off the Toronto Stock Exchange, and was sued in Canada. Last we heard, the company was broke.

One of the tragedies of the insistence on developing this project is its social costs. Given the above reasons, it is very likely that CODELCO will also fail in Intag and Manduriacos. The question is, at what cost for the region and its communities?

In Chile, the company's owners, the people of Chile, should also ask themselves: what is our company doing in this biologial and social jewel, where we are not wanted, and where mining can cause such environmental devastation? And, is it worth it?

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