MAC: Mines and Communities

Ecuador: Government declares state of emergency, sends troops to Chinese copper project in Amazonia

Published by MAC on 2016-12-16
Source: CONFENIAE, Reuters, Associated Press, Aljazeera

Indigenous organisations fear widespread repression

Ecuadorean indigeous organizations have called on the national and international public, media, social organizations, human rights organizations and the community in general to denounce the intention of the government to militarise the southern region of Amazonia.

Nearly fifty international organizations and networks have sent a letter to Ecuadorian authorities urging an immediate end to the militarisation and the State of Emergency.

A policeman was killed and several security officials were injured last week, in a violent protest against a Chinese copper exploration project, amid conflicts between mining companies and indigenous communities.

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, has declared a 30-day state of emergency in Morona Santiago province, home to the Panantza-San Carlos coppper exploration project.

"These are no invaders, these are communities who have lived here for hundreds of years," says Jorge Herrera, a leader of Ecuador's indigenous association, CONAIE.

The Panantza-San Carlos exploration project is owned by ExplorCobres S.A., a subsidiary of the Canadian-registered companies Corriente Resources and CRCC-Tongguan Investment Co., themselves subsidiaries of the Chinese consortium CRCC-Tongguan.

See previous on MAC: 14 police hurt in clash with Shuar over Ecuador mining camp (November 22, 2016)

Shuar tribe face government in Amazon mining protests

Ecuador's Shuar say mining project in Cordillera del Condor threatens their livelihood and encroaches upon their land.

29 December, 2016

Morona-Santiago, Ecuador - The death of a police officer during a standoff between military and indigenous Shuar people in a takeover attempt of a mining camp in Ecuador's southern Amazon on December 14, catalysed a government mobilisation of armed forces in the region.

With a 30-day state of exception imposed across the entire Amazonian province of Morona Santiago, the government has reportedly mobilised up to 1,000 military and police personnel to protect the mining camp and hunt down what top officials have called an "illegally armed group" that they say does not represent the Shuar nation.  

Under the emergency decree, which has suspended rights such as freedom of expression and the inviolability of the home, reportedly five Indigenous Shuar and four mestizo men have been arrested and sentenced to 90-day preventive incarceration.

Human rights observers and Indigenous leaders have reported the arbitrary use of tanks, helicopters, rifle blasts and house raids by the military in what they say is an unprecedented "witch-hunt" against those threatening mega-mining projects in the Amazon.

Most notably, the imprisonment of Agustin Wachapa, President of the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Peoples, and the closure of environmental activist group Accion Ecologica for allegedly "inciting public disorder" in their calls for solidarity protests with the Shuar people, have attracted condemnation from rights groups.

Fighting to keep ancestral territory mining-free

Shortly after a SWAT team was seen patrolling the streets of Gualaquiza, a small town two hours south from the conflict hotspot, Raul Ankuash expressed his fear. "I have to disappear, they are looking for me," he said.

Upon receiving information that he appears on the government's blacklist, Ankuash pondered the same strategy as other fellow Shuar leaders who have gone into hiding following the military manhunt.

The Ministry of Interior has said it will pay up to $50,000 for any verifiable leads that can identify those responsible for the police officer's death. 

Among the military's most wanted are the 40 to 60 people who make up the "militant" base of Indigenous Shuar according to Raul, whose father Domingo Ankuash is one of the most vocal Shuar leaders in the anti-mining movement in the Amazon.

This base coordinated the recent attack that resulted in the casualty at the mining camp in Nankintz, territory where Chinese company EcuaCobres SA (EXSA) has begun advanced exploration for gold and copper extraction.

Shuar leaders and government officials have blamed each other for the death, but neither have offered concrete evidence to sustain their claim. 

When asked about the evidence, an Interior Ministry spokesperson told Al Jazeera the case was still under investigation.

Conflicts over the mining camp have arisen over the 41,000 hectares of land conceded to EXSA across the uniquely biodiverse Cordillera del Condor, a mountain range connecting Ecuador's southern Andes with the Amazon. Of these concessions nearly 50 percent are on ancestral Shuar territory .

"These concessions are completely illegal and unconstitutional," Ankuash said, "there was no consultation with the Shuar communities during these concessions, a violation of the constitution and a total abuse of power by the government."

According to Shuar rights lawyer Tarquino Cajamarca, the government holds no obligation to consult landowners for concessions since technically they own the land, but not the subsoil.

"A concession is a property title over a subsoil for mining operations," Cajamarca told Al Jazeera, "and it is the state that owns the subsoil, as well as the rivers, the mountains, etc."

In an email correspondence with Al Jazeera, ExplorCobres SA countered the allegation that they have not engaged affected community members in their project, saying it "counts with all of the support of the communities in its zone of influence."

"We cannot go back when the majority of the people in the area are waiting for us with open arms in the face of a group that is opposed to progress," their statement added.

EXSA, has a history of conflict since settling up its mining camp in Nankintz, from where it will exploit the subsoil.

Nankintz used to be communal Shuar territory but ended in the company's hands as private property because of agrarian policies in the 1990s, when the state started selling any land thta had no houses or cultivation to mestizo settlers.

The incursion of the foreign mining company, then Canadian, was met with widespread opposition from Shuar and mestizo farmers. In a show of unity together with Accion Ecologica, they succeeded in expelling  EXSA from Nankintz in 2006.

To keep the area mining-free, a group of 32 Shuar settled on the 90 hectares of land until they were forcibly evicted in August this year by military troops for "illegally occupying land" belonging to EXSA.

"They want to get into Warints, Banderas, Kuangos - all Shuar communities - to disband the people and carry out mining there," Ankwash said, "Nankintz was there to defend these communities because it is from there that you can access them."

If fully operational, EXSA's Panantza-San Carlos Project would be the world's second largest copper mine and generate an estimated $1.2bn in annual profits.

Paying with lives

Despite leading the bold and innovative concept of the Rights of Nature in its 2008 Constitution, President Rafael Correa defended the new mining projects,  arguing that "the most important thing about nature continues to be the human being and the primary ethical and moral duty is to defeat poverty."

Correa's fully fledged military operation to protect mega-mining on the one hand, and the steadfastness among some Shuar to defend their territory on the other, make peaceful resolution of the conflict an unlikely possibility.

Ankuash says he is determined to continue defending his territory, but admits young Shuar people like him are afraid.

He mentions the death of Jose Isidro Tendetza in December 2014, a Shuar leader who is speculated to have been assassinated for opposing the Mirador Project, Ecuador's first large scale copper mine in neighbouring province Zamora Chinchipe.

To proceed with the opencast pit mining operation there, up to 16 families in the rural parish of Tundayme were forcibly evicted from their homes and land a year later.

Two other Shuar men have died in mining-related circumstances: Bosco Wisum in 2009 and Freddy Taish in 2013 . 

"This is the beginning of a fight to exterminate the Shuar people because we are the only nation that have strongly defended our territory," Ankuash said. "If they have to exterminate us, they can do it. Maybe then they can go on with the mining. But until then we will continue to defend the land they have conceded to the mining companies."

Panantza: a farmers village under military siege

Sitting between heavy rain clouds and the luscious green mountains that make up the Cordillera del Condor, the small agrarian village of Panantza has been under military siege since the state of exception was issued.

Its location only 20 minutes from the EXSA mining camp makes Panantza its nearest village and consequently a strategic military outpost.

The area remained largely inaccessible to the media for more than a week, during which Regional Foundation for Human Rights Advisory  reported cases of property destruction, abuse, arbitrary raids and arrests at the hands of the military.

A woman in her early 20s, who spoke in anonymity, alleges that the military burned down her family's farm house because they suspected Shuar fighters were using it as a base during their take-over attempt.

"We were two families, 12 people, who lived there. We lost everything in the fire. We don't even have our clothes," the Panantza native told Al Jazeera.

"Then they raided my father's house, broke the windows and turned everything upside down because they thought we were hiding weapons to help the Shuar."

Any suspicion or evidence hinting at an anti-extractivist position has meant trouble in a village where farmers fear the open-cast mining project will contaminate their rivers and destroy the cloud forests they depend on for agriculture and cattle.

"A lot of us are afraid that with the mine there will be nothing left for us campesinos. Some people agree because they promised work," an 80-year-old Panantza local told Al Jazeera in anonymity.

"But look at Tundayme, there are no jobs there. They gave them to the Chinese. And the rivers are contaminated so no one can farm there any more."

"There's no way to protest against the mine because they will just send you to jail. Look, they have put up cameras everywhere and the police come and go," he added.  

President and Vice-President of Panantza's parish board, Danny Marin and Milton Reinoso, have represented these concerns and long been vocal opponents of the mining project.

They were also the first ones to be taken from their homes during the military operation and handed down a 90-day preventive incarceration sentence for attempted murder against the police.

"First they want to sow fear so that no one rises up," Severino Sharupi, leader of territories and natural resources of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, told Al Jazeera.

"Then they want to imprison some of the main spokespersons of the resistance so that there cannot be any opposition in the territory. This is why they arrested Danny Marin, who has been one of the key mestizo figures in the resistance. The state needs to have an authority there that gives permission to the company and allows them in," Sharupi added.

The Interior Ministry has denied any restriction on freedom of expression on behalf of the military.

"People in Morona Santiago are free to publicly disclose their stance in favour or against the mining industry," Maria Cristina Zuniga, director of the ministry's communication department, told Al Jazeera.

"If people are afraid to talk, it is rather due to the tense environment following the criminal attacks of December 14," Zuniga added.

The Interior Ministry further countered any allegations of unlawful misconduct on behalf of security forces in the region, adding that in fact "campesinos are showing their gratitude for the deployment of police units that are keeping them safe" from the sought-after armed group.

Solidarity protests

Since the escalation of the conflict in Morona-Santiago, solidarity protests with the Shuar struggle have flared up across the country.

In Quito, environmentalist activists and national Indigenous leaders have held joint demonstrations in front of the presidential palace and improvised assemblies to map out further resistance strategies. 

"We are building new alliances between the city and the countryside, mestizos and Indigenous. It is events like these that help activate a new consciousness and build a larger platform," Luis Corral, a leading environmental activist, told Al Jazeera.

According to Corral, this represents a significant shift from the Yasunidos initiative, an urban youth movement that tried but eventually failed to keep the Correa government from drilling oil in Yasuni, one of the most biodiverse rainforests in the Amazon.

"There was a lot of confusion among the Yasunidos, they depoliticised the issue and their discourse turned very mild, lax. There were fights with Indigenous leaders because they didn’t build enough with the Indigenous movement," Corral said.

The solidarity mobilisations have spread to other cities such as Latacunga and Cuenca where protesters linked the Shuar struggle to local concerns over ongoing conflicts with large mining projects and water privatisation.

The protest wave comes in the aftermath of an "Indigenous uprising" that shook the country in the summer of 2015, when a myriad of Indigenous struggles over largescale resource extraction projects across the Andes and Amazon took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Correa.

Ecuador: Arrest of Indigenous leader, state of emergency and imminent closure of a local organisation puts safety of defenders of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, land and territory at risk

22 December 2016

On 21 December, officers from the National Police force forced their way into the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar and Achuar Centres facilities in Morona Santiago and arrested their leader Agustín Wachapá.

His arrest comes in addition to a series of acts of violence, harassment and pressure from the state authorities towards members of the Shuar Indigenous Peoples’ community due to their opposition to a copper mining project in Morona Santiago.

Along with the arrest of the defender Agustín Wachapá, on 20 December the Ministry of the Interior filed a complaint against the local organization Ecological Action Corporation (Corporación Acción Ecológica) accusing them of acts of violence after they published information on their social networks about the possible environmental impacts which mining activities in the zone would have and also highlighting the possible human rights violations which the project would involve.

Faced with these administrative proceedings, Ecological Action runs the risk of being closed down before the end of the year.

“The Ecuadorian government must protect the Shuar people from attacks on their community, and not impose states of emergency or arrest Indigenous leaders. These acts of intimidation only serve to increase tension and put the lives of more people at risk”, said María José Veramendi, South America researcher for Amnesty international.

Amnesty International calls on the Ecuadorian authorities to thoroughly respect due process of law in Agustín Wachapá’s case and urges them to end the state of emergency and the acts of harassment in Santiago Morona.

The organization also urges the Ministry of the Interior to drop their application for the dissolution and closure of Ecological Action, to guarantee due process throughout the administrative proceedings and comply with the recommendations established in the UN Human Rights Council resolution on the “Protection of human rights defenders, whether they be individuals, groups or institutions, who work in the economic, social or cultural fields”.


International Organizations Call for End to State of Emergency and Militarization in Ecuador's Southern Amazon

19 December 2016

Today, nearly fifty international organizations and networks sent the following letter to Ecuadorian authorities urging an immediate end to the militarization and the State of Emergency that was declared in the southeastern Amazonian province of Morona Santiago last week. Instead of force, they urged for there to be openness to dialogue over the proposed Panantza-San Carlos mine project with the Shuar and campesino communities in accord with their constitutional and internationally recognized Indigenous and human rights. A joint communiqué translated to English from the National federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) can be found here.

Letter sent December 19, 2016:

Dr. Patricio Benalcázar Alarcón
Defensoría del Pueblo de Ecuador

Javier Felipe Córdova Unda
Ministro de Minería

Abg. Cristina Silva Cadmen
Directora Ejecutiva, Agencia de Regulación y Control Minero (ARCOM)

Dra. Inés Arroyo
Subsecretaría de Tierras y Reforma Agraria

Dr. Galo Chiriboga Zambrano
Fiscalía General del Estado

Esteemed authorities,

The below-signed international organizations write to express their profound concern about the militarization of the Shuar Indigenous communities of Nankints and the State of Emergency that has been declared in the province of Morona Santiago with the aim to impose the Pananzta-San Carlos mine project in the area.

The Shuar Indigenous community of Nankints was evicted by soldiers in August 2016 in order to make way for ExplorCobres S.A.’s Panantza-San Carlos project. When the community sought to recuperate their territory in late November, the area was militarized. Then, on December 14, when police and soldiers reportedly acted on an order from the District Attorney in Gualaquiza to enter the area, a violent confrontation took place that left one police officer dead and seven people wounded.

ExplorCobres S.A. is a subsidiary of the Canadian-registered companies Corriente Resources and CRCC-Tongguan Investment (Canada) Co., themselves subsidiaries of the Chinese consortium CRCC-Tongguan. CRCC-Tongguan purchased Corriente Resources and the Panantza-San Carlos project in 2010.

This company should have lost the mining concessions associated with the Panantza-San Carlos project for lack of compliance with the 2008 Mining Mandate, which remains in effect. According to this mandate, mining concessions that were granted without prior consultation of affected communities, or that overlap with sources of water, among other criteria, must be repealed without economic compensation.
For these and other reasons, the Auditor General found that this copper, gold and molybdenum project does not meet the Mining Mandate. In addition to other issues, the Auditor General identified over 400 water sources vital to the life and culture of the Shuar people in the 14,000 hectares where the thirteen mining concessions that are part this project are located.

It is important to note that Canadian mining companies – among them Corriente Resources – and the Canadian Embassy in Quito share responsibility for the lack of application of the 2008 Mining Mandate. At the time that it was past, the Embassy and companies fought to defend the economic interests of industry against the rule of law in Ecuador and the negative impacts of these projects in ecologically and culturally sensitive areas, such as that affected by the Panantza-San Carlos project.

Another serious irregularity concerning this project is that the Ministry of the Environment granted it an environmental license in 2011 on the basis of an environment impact study carried out ten years earlier under a different constitutional framework, mining law and environmental legislation than are in place today.

This project does not only affect Nankints, but rather ten Shuar Indigenous Centres belonging to the Tariamiat, Arutam and Churuwia Associations, as well as numerous campesino families. Other Shuar Centres and campesino communities are also in the broader area of influence of the project.

We deeply regret the death of police officer José Luis Mejía Solórzano and express our solidarity with his family, as well as with the others who were wounded. At the same time, we believe that this violence could have been avoided.

In the interest of avoiding further violence and the wellbeing of the affected communities, we urge that you immediately lift the State of Emergency, withdraw the armed forces and the company from the area, and open a process of dialogue with affected communities that would be premised on full respect for their human rights, including to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as other international accords and jurisprudence.


Alternatives au Développement Extractiviste et Anthropocentré (ALDEAH)
Amazon Watch, U.S.
Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network, Canada
Bios Iguana, México
CATAPA, Belgium
Centro de Documentación e Información Bolivia (CEDIB), Bolivia
CEIBA, Guatemala
Censat Agua Viva, Colombia
Cercle des Premières Nations de l’UQAM, Québec, Canada
Colectivo CASA, Bolivia
Colectivo Voces Ecológicas (COVEC), Panama
Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida, Tolima, Colombia
Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL), Québec, Canada
Cooperacción, Perú
Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (DECOIN), Ecuador
Defensa del Ixofillmogen – Vancouver, Canada
Delhiin Mongol Nogoon Negdel (DMNN), Mongolia
Earth Law Center, U.S.
Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC), U.S.
The Esperanza Project, U.S.
Friends of the Earth – Canada
Fundación Ecuménica para El Desarrollo y la Paz (FEDEPAZ), Perú
The Gaia Foundation, U.K.
Intercontinental Cry, Canada
Justiça nos Trilhos, Brasil
Justicia, Paz e Integridad de la Creación (JPIC), Chile
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment, Philippines
Kanaka, Ecuador
Listen To The Amazon, U.K.
McGill Research Group Investigation Canadian Mining in Latin America (MICLA), Canada
Mining Injustice Solidarity Network – Toronto, Canada
Mining Justice Action Committee – Victoria, Canada
Mining Justice Alliance – Vancouver, Canada
MiningWatch Canada
Movimiento Mesoamericano en Contra del Modelo Minero (M4), Regional
Movimiento Morelense Contra las Concesiones Mineras de Metales Preciosos, México
Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de América Latina (OCMAL), Regional
Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales (OLCA), Chile
Otros Mundos Chiapas, México
Procesos Integrales para la Autogestión de los Pueblos (PIAP), México
Red Muqui, Peru
Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Minería (REMA), México
Servicios Internacionales Cristianos de Solidaridad con America Latina - Oscar Romero (SICSAL), Canada
Society for Threatened Peoples, Switzerland
United for Mining Justice, Canada
Statement to the national and international community in the face of imminent repression against the Shuar people with military weapons

Statement by CONFENIAE

December 16, 2016

This morning it was learned that military tanks had moved to the side passage of Puyo, Ecuador, with the presumable destination of Morona Santiago province.

We alert the national and international community to these facts and again urge the national government to seek out the serious conflict generated by the militarization of indigenous territories, whose background is the presence of transnational corporations for mega mining projects.

The Ecuadorian government will be solely responsible for what will happen because the life of our brothers is in danger.

We call the national and international public, media, social organizations, human rights organizations and the community in general to denounce the intentions of a government that instead of finding solutions responds with a military armor of unforeseeable consequences.

Taking advantage of the state of emergency to send military tanks against villagers constitutes an unprecedented, violent and reckless act that must stop immediately.

We demand the immediate demilitarization of #Nankints and we strongly send out an international call of #SOSPuebloShuar

Governing Council of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE)

Ecuador sends troops to Chinese copper exploration project after protest

Alexandra Valencia

Reuters -

Dec 16, 2016

Ecuador sent soldiers and police on Thursday to an isolated jungle area after a policeman was killed and several security officials injured in a violent protest against a Chinese copper exploration project amid conflicts between mining companies and indigenous communities.

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, declared a 30-day state of emergency in Morona Santiago province, home to the Panantza-San Carlos exploration project operated by the ExplorCobres company. His government said "illegally armed groups" protested against the project on Wednesday.

"Violent people want to take over the mining camp," Correa said on Twitter. "We have one dead police officer and several others injured. Criminals!"

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China was paying close attention to the incident and was in touch with Ecuador about it, although, as far as he knew, no Chinese had been injured.

China appreciates Ecuador's steps to bring the situation under control, Geng said, noting Correa's condemnation.

"China is willing to work with Ecuador to take effective steps to create a good environment for bilateral practical cooperation," he told a daily news briefing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Ecuador last month.

Local media reported that the indigenous Shuar group, which accuses authorities of generating violence by kicking them out of their ancestral home to make way for mining developments, staged the protest.

The head of Ecuador's larger indigenous association, CONAIE, called on the church to mediate the conflict.

"These are no invaders, these are communities who have lived here for hundreds of years," said Jorge Herrera.

The incident highlights tensions facing Ecuador and much of mineral-rich Latin America - how to develop vast mineral wealth while addressing deep inequalities, environmental concerns and indigenous rights.

Reuters was not immediately able to reach ExplorCobres.

China has been the largest financier of Ecuador, an OPEC nation, since 2009 and is heavily present in its oil industry.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Attack on Mine Prompts Emergency Decree in Ecuador

Associated Press -

Dec 15, 2016

Ecuador's government said it has declared a state of emergency and is moving troops to an Amazonian region where apparently indigenous protesters attacked a Chinese-owned mine, leaving at least one policeman dead in a challenge to the government's effort to develop its minerals industry.

Officials say about 60 people believed to be Shuar attacked the Exploracobres copper mine on Wednesday, killing one policeman and wounding several others.

The government immediately announced the emergency and chief prosecutor Galo Chiriboga said Thursday three prosecutors have been named to investigate the case.

Members of the Shuar people have been fighting the Exploracobres copper mine in the country's Amazon region, accusing it of encroaching on their lands. Fourteen police officers and a mine guard were injured in a November clash at the mine.

The confrontation at the San Carlos Panantza site pits at least some members of the Shuar against President Rafael Correa's efforts to develop Ecuador's mining industry with Chinese backing.

Correa sent a series of furious tweets late Wednesday urging Ecuadoreans "to unite unanimously against barbarism" and vowing to act "with all the capacities the constitution and laws allow us."

He referred to the attackers as "the usual violent ones, disguised as 'ancestrals.'"

Two Ecuadorean indigenous organizations, however, issued a statement blaming the government for the clash, saying it was "the product of the invasion of indigenous lands by a Chinese transnational" and accusing the government of failing "to listen, dialogue and resolve the conflicts."

The statement issued by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorean Amazon said the government was "trampling on the constitutional rights of indigenous Ecuadoreans."

The government's secretary-general of political development, Paola Pabon, insisted that the opposition "is not a generalized position of the (Shuar) people. It's a focused, violent and minute group."

China Expresses Concern over Attacks on Mining Firm in Ecuador

17 December, 2016

BEIJING – The Chinese government expressed concern Friday over attacks by indigenous groups on a Chinese mining company in southeastern Ecuador.

An attack against the company, Explorecobres S.A. (ECSA), on Wednesday had killed one police officer and injured seven others.

The Chinese government is extremely concerned about the incidents that took place in Ecuador’s Morona Santiago province, said spokesperson Geng Shuang of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a press conference.

He added the two countries are still discussing how best to address the situation.

Wednesday’s attack was allegedly carried out by a group belonging to the indigenous Shuar people, who have targeted the Chinese firm in the past too, including an attack on Nov. 21, 2016.

The natives are against the extraction taking place in their region and want the company to leave even though ECSA is licensed to mine in the region for minerals, especially copper.
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