MAC: Mines and Communities

Ecuador’s Extractive Policies and the Silencing of Dissent

Published by MAC on 2017-02-22
Source: CEDHU, Mining Watch Canada

Correa has used courts to intimidate journalists and researchers

In the past twelve months, the Ecuadorian government has accepted requests for hundreds of new mining concessions, exponentially expanding the area set aside for the industry. The expansion is being carried out without consultating local governments or communities. For the first time, dozens of concessions overlay protected areas and cover most of the country’s upper watersheds of the nation’s Andean range, within primary forests, prime agricultural lands and hundreds of towns and villages.

In this context, the repression experienced by the Shuar in the south of Ecuador needs  interpretation as an attempt to intimidate and prevent what will inevitably be countless future protests challenging such runaway extractive fury.

About 85% of Intag’s area is currently overlain by mining concessions being requested by transnational mining companies. CODELCO, the world’s largest copper producer, is exploring for the red mineral deep inside primary forests formerly used by communities for ecological tourism. In early 2017, reports suggest that BHP Billiton, the world’s largest miner, had expressed interest in joining the partnership to develop the copper and molybdenum deposit lying beneath this biodiversity wonderland.

This month (February 2017) Ecuador will choose a new president - many Ecuadorians will be holding their breath.

See previous on MAC:

2017-01-28 Ecuador: Mining by blood and fire in Shuar ancestral lands
2016-12-16 Ecuador: Government declares state of emergency, sends troops to Chinese copper project in Amazonia
2016-11-20 Ecuador: Water protectors vow to defend their land from mining

Ecuador’s Extractive Policies and the Silencing of Dissent

Carlos Zorrilla

February 2017

Ecuador's policy of silencing non-governmental organisations that question its policies and programs has gotten the world's attention lately including that of five United Nations experts on Human Rights, which issued the following statement in January of 2017:

“It seems Ecuador’s government is systematically dissolving organisations when they become too vocal or challenge official orthodoxy,” the UN experts claim. “This strategy to asphyxiate civil society has been implemented through two decrees - 16 and 739 - that give the authorities power to unilaterally dissolve any kind of organisation.”[1]

The Straw that broke the Camel’s Back

The exceptionally harsh criticism by the United Nations was triggered by Ecuador’s supposedly progressive government’s attempt to shut down the country’s oldest environmental organisation- Acción Ecológica. The organisation was falsely charged with using social networking sites to espouse support for violent tactics supposedly used by the Shuar Indigenous People’s revolt against a large-scale copper mining project in the south of the country. The revolt took place in December 2016 and led to the death of a police officer, a crime which is still unresolved[2]. The Shuar were trying to reclaim part of their ancestral land from a Chinese mining company, which had led to violent evictions of local residents by the government to make room for the company’s infrastructure. The government’s response was to suspended civil rights in the entire Morona Santiago Province, site of the confrontations. Thousands of elite police forces as well as military personnel were sent to the region, and several homes were searched and indigenous and campesino leaders have been arrested without legal warrants. A massive manhunt is currently underway to arrest others linked to the rebellion. In the midst of it all a severe news blackout was imposed, making it all but impossible to find out what is really taking place. The news that does manage to filter out is alarming.

Due to national and international rejection of the government’s authoritarianism, and support for Acción Ecológica, in early January 2017 the government stopped the organisation’s dissolution. However, as of February 2017 the the siege-like conditions in Morona Santiago are still in place.

Quito-based Acción Ecologica isn’t the only environmental organisation targeted by the current government for challenging its extractive policies. In December 2013, the Pachamama Foundation was shut down for its support of the indigenous people’s rejection of opening up new regions of the Amazon to oil exploration. The same Executive Decrees used against Acción Ecológica were used against Pachamama[3]. What these NGO’s have in common is their active support of the right of communities and indigenous people’s to peacefully oppose the government’s aggressive oil and mining development that would impact their lands and rights.And the kind of opposition that may scare away investors is simply not allowed in an administration that at one time labeled terrorist anyone who opposed development[4].

But Acción Ecológica and Pachamama are not the only organizations that have, so far, fallen victim to the Presidential decrees. The decrees- seen by most legal experts are flagrantly unconstitucional- were also used to shut down UNE (Union Nacional de Educadores), Ecuador’s oldest and most prestigious teachers union.  And, in 2015, the government tried but failed to close down Fundamedios, a non-govermental organization dedicated to promoting and protecting free speech. The principal accusation for starting dissolution proceedings against Fundamedios was that “it allegedly disseminates messages with political undertones[5]”.

One wonders what organization in the world whose main goal is to promote and protect the right to free speech doesn’t disseminate information with “political undertones”. However, and as unbelievable as it may seem, this is one of the prohibitions in the presidential decrees whose obvious goal was and is to stifle civil society organizations that oppose its plans and programs. And, this is just one of several tools used by the authorities in Ecuador to criminalize the social protest.

When presidential decrees are insufficient the Mr. Correa has used the courts to silence journalists and researchers who have denounced unsavory aspects of his administration. The most renowned case is that of journalist and ex member of the National Assembly Fernando Villavicencio, whom the courts sentenced to jail and to pay the President $141,000.00 for supposedly slandering Mr. Correa. It is no coincidence that Mr. Villavicencio is one of harshest and most effective critics not only Mr. Correa’s administration, but specifically of the handling of the country’s petroleum’s policies. His book “Ecuador: Made in China”[6] laid bare embarrassing trade deals with China centered on the pre-sale of petroleum to Chinese companies and linked to multi-billion dollar Chinese loans with extravagantly high interest rates.   In 2011 two other journalists were sued by Correa for 10 million dollars for moral damage caused by the content of their book linking the President to unlawful business deals with his brother. Again, the submissive courts agreed with the government and ruled against the journalists. One of the ironies of this case was that the government itself ordered the investigation the journalists reported on. Correa also sued and won a forty million claim against a journalists and directors of the opposition newspaper El Universo[7]. In the end, and after strong international outcries, Mr. Correa gave up his right to the money, but not before the lawsuit and court sentence had the intended effect of chilling dissent. One of the journalist found guilty sought and was granted asylum in the United States[8].

As in the case of Acción Ecológica, national and international pressure worked to dissuade the government from closing down Fundamedios. Meanwhile Pachamama has not been allowed to reopen.

In Intag, a Different Tactic

DECOIN is another organization targeted by the government for opposing mining development. Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag is a very small grass-roots environmental organization working in the Intag area of the extremely biodiverse northewestern Ecuadorian forests since 1995. One of our main activities is working closely with local governments and communities to protect the region’s embattled cloud forests and to protect the source of water for communities. To do so we’ve worked very closely with seven local governments and 35 communities to conserve more than 12,000 hectares of Intag’s forests, and provide safe drinking water to thousands of residents. Dozens of species of mammals, birds, plants and other species facing extinction also benefit from these community and local government owned forest reserves. Most of these collectively protected areas are now in danger of being transformed into open-pit mines as a consequence of the government’s extractive agenda.

Although the decrees denounced by the UN has not been used against DECOIN, we’ve felt the government’s displeasure in other ways. The tactic used so far has entailed the President of Ecuador publicly slandering DECOIN’s leadership on several occasions. In late 2013 and early 2014, and on nationally televised presidential addresses to the nation, President Correa spread damaging lies and misinformation about several activists involved in the resistance to mining. However the president specifically targeted me[9]. I happen to be one of DECOIN’s founder and actively inform the world on the happenings related to the mining project in Intag. My real crime, from the perspective of the government, apparently was writing a manual educating communities of what to expect when multinational mining companies show up unannounced at their door. The manual also contains peaceful tactics for communities to defend themselves from the corrosive and often destructive practices of corporations and their allies[10]. The lies espoused by Rafael Correa were so egregious that it motivated Amnesty to issue an worldwide Urgent Action aimed at guaranteeing my safety[11]. This was not the first time I’ve been targeted by extractive interests. In late 2006 a Canadian mining company tried to have me arrested on trumped-up charges and very nearly succeeded.

While the other organizations targeted by the Ecuadorian government are large urban-based and relatively well funded, DECOIN is very small, and our work is limited to just one part of one county among 221 Counties within Ecuador’s 24 provinces. Why, you might wonder, should a sovereign nation through its Executive Branch, go so out of its way to silence us?

Intag is where the government in intent on pushing large-scale open-pit mining project at all costs. Given its well-known environmental and lasting impacts in this kind of fragile,extremely biodiverse ecosystem, it is obvious that we would oppose mining. And we are very vocal about our opposition. We also very actively support the Constitutional rights of communities to oppose this kind of so-called development. A development scheme that is the very embodiment of unsustainability.

According to experts who carried out a preliminary environmental impact study based on a small copper deposit, the mining operations would lead to the relocation of at least four communities, contaminate rivers and streams with heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium, plus caused “massive deforestation” which would lead to local desertification of the climate. It would also impact of one of the world´s most biologically important protected area the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve[12]. The massive deforestation predicted would also impact the critically endangered Brown-Faced Spider Monkey, the Spectacled Bear plus dozens of other mammals, amphibians, plants and species of birds facing extinction. After these impacts were identified five times more copper was discovered.

In the past twelve months, the Ecuadorian government has accepted requests for hundreds of new mining concessions, exponentially expanding the area set aside for the industry. The expansion is being carried out without consultation with local governments or communities, in violation of Constitutional Rights. For the first time, dozens of concessions overlay protected areas, begging the question whether the companies know something the rest of the country is in the dark about. The concessions, moreover, cover most of the country’s upper watersheds of the nation’s Andean range and include within their borders primary forests, prime agricultural lands and hundreds of towns and villages. In this context, the repression experienced by the Shuar in the south of Ecuador needs to be interpreted as an attempt to intimidate and silence what will inevitable be countless future protests challenging this runaway extractive fury.

In the Intag area, where I live and work, the story is no different. About 85% of Intag’s area is currently overlaid by mining concessions being requested by transnational mining companies- quite a few of them of the fly-by-night types. Currently CODELCO the world’s largest copper producer is exploring for copper deep inside primary forests formerly used by communities for ecological tourism. And in early 2017 we read reports that BHP Billiton, the world’s largest miner, had expressed interest in joining the partnership to develop the copper and molybdenum deposit lying beneath this biodiversity wonderland. It will not be an easy task given Intag’s 22 year history of resisting mining development, which includes kicking out two transnational mining corporations. The uprising in the south of the country also must be making many oil and mining companies uneasy. However the strong-arm response shown by the government in silencing dissent in the communities, coupled with the intimidation of NGO’s that support the communities opposing these industries, must go a long ways to quell their unease.

On February 19th Ecuador will choose a new president. Two of the leading contenders to the ruling political party have shown openness to reviewing the current extractive policies and vowed to respect the will of the communities regarding mining and oil development. We can only hope that the promises are not just of the campaign type, and that they will respect basic Constitutional rights that safeguard human rights, community consultation, the rights of nature as well as free speech, and truly support sustainable development.

On the 19th, a lot of Ecuadorians will be holding their breath.


8.    Ibid.

Persecution Persists of Indigenous Leaders over Mining in Ecuador

February 22, 2017 

With deep concern, we share the following statement from the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission of Ecuador (CEDHU its initials in Spanish) denouncing the arrest of a Shuar Indigenous leader in southeastern Ecuador. This is part of an ongoing campaign of militarization, criminalization and forced displacement of the Shuar people and affected campesino communities in order to proceed with a large scale, open-pit copper and gold project without consent, which we first denounced in December.

The company involved, 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.

It is also important to note that the Canadian Embassy in Ecuador worked with Canadian companies, such as Corriente Resources, to lobby against the implementation of a constitutional decree, known as the 2008 Mining Mandate, which remains in effect and which should have led to the cancellation of the mining concessions associated with this project.

The Quito-based collective Minka Urbana has produced a short video that is subtitled in English and French illustrating the situation that the Shuar and affected campesino communities are facing.  

Vice President of Interprovincial Shuar Federation Detained

Ecumenical Human Rights Commission of Ecuador (CEDHU)

February 21, 2017

On Tuesday, at approximately 11:40am, Claudio Washikiat, Vice President of the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centres (FISCH) was detained together with another citizen whose name is not yet known. The two were reportedly detained in the town of Sucúa, outside of the FISCH office in the province of Morona Santiago, and taken to the city of Gualaquiza for a hearing where they would learn what charges they are facing.   

Despite an end to a two-month long State of Exception (the imposition of martial law) in the province on February 15th, the national government has continued to repress and persecute Shuar leadership. This is yet another detention among others who have already been detained and subjected to legal processes in an attempt to hold them responsible for state-provoked violence in this territory, including the President of the FISCH Agustín Wachapá who has been jailed in the regional prison in Latacunga in the central highlands.

While media attention in Ecuador is focused on the elections waiting on the final results (of the national elections on Sunday), we denounce the national government for continuing to persecute human rights defenders opposed to mining and the militarization of Indigenous territories and campesino communities. To date, this has meant the forced displacement of two Shuar communities, Nankints and Tsuntsuim, to benefit the mining activities of ExplorCobres S.A. (EXSA), subsidiary of the Chinese consortium CRCC-Tongguan Investment.

It is important to recall that this company has not undertaken prior consultation in Indigenous territories, that it does not have social legitimacy with affected Indigenous and campesino communities, and does not comply with the 2008 Mining Mandate on which basis its mining concessions should have been canceled, including for the overlap with water supplies and for having title to more than three concessions.

We hold the Ecuadorian state responsible for the physical integrity of Claudio Washikiat and the other person who was detained. We also denounce the irregularities in the process of detention of Indigenous leaders who are defending their territorial rights.

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