MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Ecuador: Constitutional mandate freezes mining exploration/Ecuador revoka concesiones

Published by MAC on 2008-04-30

An estimated 80% of all Ecuador's mining concessions have been cancelled, as the government seeks to implement a new minerals law. Understandably the announcement has rattlled a large number of foreign companies who, over the past week, have been queuing up at the president's door to express their concerns - and bolster their own claims as "responsible" miners under terms laid down by the country's Constituent Assembly (see below).

It doesn't seem clear at present what implementation of the National Assembly's decree will mean in practice. Although Ecuador has substantial deposits of certain minerals (especially copper and gold), it lags well behind other Latin American countries - such as Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, lBrazil, Colombia, Guyana - in experience of managing those resources. The planned establishment of a national mining company will surely prove daunting, especially as the majority of neighbouring states have already wilfully stripped such corporations of their power.

Over two years, differences have emerged within president Correa's own ruling party, as to how to define acceptable mining practices (ex-mining minister, Alberto Acosta, having earlier condemned open-pit mining per se). However, there seems to be agreement that small scale mining should not be interrupted or proscribed, within certain limits.

While numerous questions thus remain, there is surely little doubt of the earnest intention behind Ecuador's recent national debate. Arguably, the discourse has been more focussed and involving than than anything similar, of late, in Latin America.

Ironically, the fact that the country is not yet overly reliant on mining incomes may promote further examination of what mineral dependency means in practice. If the promises held out - and broken - by the industry elsewhere - are shown to be derelict, the moratorium might conceivably continue indefinitely.

[Comment by Nostromo Research, London, 29 April 2008]




Ecuador's legislators pronounce on the country's mining

18th April 2008

THE CONSTITUENT NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

CONSIDERING

THAT, by means of a popular consultation on April 15, 2007, the people of Ecuador approved the call to a Constituent Assembly with plenary powers;

THAT, the Constituent Assembly, by virtue of Article 1 of the Constituent Mandate, assumed the effective exercise of those plenary powers;

THAT, the existing mineral substances in the subsoil, in the rivers and lakes, with their beds and shores and in any other part of the national territory are the inalienable and unprescribable property of the Ecuadorian State, and these same substances will be exploited to serve national interests;

THAT, the exploration and exploitation will be conditional on the strict fulfillment of legal obligations, including those concerning the preservation of the environment and the respect for the rights of indigenous people, Afro-Ecuadorians, and communities that are themselves directly or indirectly affected by this activity. It will also be conditional on the payment of patents, royalties, and taxes established in the law;

THAT, it is necessary to reduce potential negative impacts on the environment caused by mining activities;

THAT, the development of mining activity in the country requires a firm and equitable legal framework that standardizes its operations in a coherent form without encouraging speculative activities nor the concentration of mining concessions in a few legal entities and individuals;

THAT, small-scale, subsistence, artisanal, and aggregate mining is a source of work and income that requires a legal framework and environmental, labour, and social protection.

THAT, it is necessary to promote in the country legitimate mechanisms of territorial ordering, planning and the definition of priorities for the use of the land in the short and long term, as much in the case of renewable resources as in non-renewable resources;

THAT, the current institutional legal framework is insufficient and does not respond to national interests - which is why it is urgently necessary to correct it and to restrain the environmental, social and cultural liabilities until a new Mining Law, with safe and efficient regulations, according to the model of development desired by the country, comes into force;

In the exercise of its duties, it resolves to issue the following:

CONSTITUENT DECREE

Art. 1. - Declares the extinction without any economic compensation of all mining concessions in the exploration phase that have not made any investment in the development of the project by December 31, 2007 or that have not presented their respective studies of environmental impact, including those that are awaiting administrative resolution.

Art. 2. - Declares the expiration of mining concessions that have not paid the conservation fees in the time established in the Mining Law, that is to say by March 31 of every year and in advance as of 2004.

Art. 3. - Declares the extinction without any economic compensation of mining concessions granted within protected natural areas, protected forests, and buffer zones defined by the competent authority, and those that affect springs and sources of water.

Art. 4. - Declares the extinction without any economic compensation of mining concessions which have been granted in numbers greater than three to a single natural person (individual) or his/her partner; or legal entities and their related companies, be it through the direct participation of the legal entity or its shareholders and his/her relatives to the fourth degree of consanguinity and the second degree of affinity.

Non-metallic mining concessions that are under exploitation are excluded.

Art. 5. - Declares the extinction without any economic compensation of all mining concessions granted to public officials and former officials of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, or to their immediate relatives, within the fourth degree of consanguinity and the second of affinity, due to the use of privileged information in their personal interest. Similarly, expiration is ordered for the concessions which at the moment are held by third parties, and which are the product of the transference of concessions initially granted to public officials and former public officials of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, or their immediate relatives, up to the fourth degree of consanguinity and the second of affinity.

Art. 6. - Declares a moratorium on the granting of new concessions from the moment of the approval of the present decree up until the new constitutional and legal framework comes into force. Consequently, the National Government is ordered, through the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, to shelve the pending procedures for the resolution of requests for new mining areas. The Ministry of Finances is ordered to transfer the necessary resources in order that the fees paid for processing rights be returned to the applicants.

Art. 7. - The holders of concessions for non-metal mining and construction materials that do not fall within the cases described in articles 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the present decree, shall continue their activities, but they are obliged to renegotiate their titles according to the new legal framework that regulates the activity.

The State, as the owner of mineral resources, has the preferential right to take free advantage of construction materials, fulfilling environmental and other regulations that are dictated for this purpose by the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum.

Art. 8. - The activities of all metal mining concessions that do not fall within the cases described in articles 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 remain suspended until the new legal framework that regulates the activity and redefines the conditions of operation is approved.

Only and exclusively metal mining concessions that at this date are in production and that do not fall within the first item of this article shall continue their activities, but they are obliged to renegotiate their titles under the conditions of the new legal framework.

Art. 9. - The new legal framework which is mentioned in the present decree shall have to be drawn up within a term of 180 days counted from the date of promulgation of the present decree.

Art. 10. - The concessions of small-scale mining, artisanal mining, subsistence mining, mining concessions in which there are properly legalized mining cooperatives, associations, and joint ownerships shall continue their activities, except those which fall within that which is indicated in article 3 of the present mandate.

Without prejudice to the above subsection, no individual or legal holder of mining rights for small-scale mining, artisanal mining, and subsistence mining will be able to possess individual mining titles or combined titles which exceed 150 mining hectares in production or which have a volume of production of more than 150 tonnes a day.

Art. 11. - The National Government, through the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, will establish the National Mining Company, which will take part in all phases of activity under conditions of environmental protection and respect for the rights of the people.

Art 12. - The provisions contained in the present constituent decree are of obligatory observance. For this reason this decree will not be subject to complaints, challenges, action for legal protection, demands, protest, recourse or any administrative or legal action. Neither will it give rise to any compensation.

FINAL PROVISIONS

FIRST: Notify the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, ordering that it comply with the regulatory administrative acts for the strict enforcement of the present decree.

SECOND: Prepare the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to establish the necessary regulations for the exploitation of rock salt (sodium chloride) in coordination with the Ministries of Health and Environment, taking care to safeguard the principles of public health and environmental protection.

THIRD: If the term anticipated in article 9 lapses and the new legal framework regulating mining activity has not been promulgated, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum will renegotiate the titles of the mining concessions referred to in article 8 in accordance with constitutional principles.

FOURTH: The present decree will enter into force as of the present date.




Value vaporizes as Ecuador puts mining on hold

Peter Koven, Financial Post

19th April 2008

Ecuador dealt investors a massive blow yesterday as it passed a controversial mandate to suspend mining projects for as long as 180 days, raising concerns about the future of mining in the country. More than half a billion dollars of shareholder value was vaporized as Aurelian Resources Inc. dropped 32%, Dynasty Metals & Mining Inc. fell 34% and Corriente Resources Inc. fell more than 10% before being halted. They fell sharply on Thursday when reports of the move surfaced.

"The accepted proposal is fraught with negative actions that make Ecuador inhospitable to mining investment," Haywood Securities analyst Eric Zaunscherb wrote in a note to clients.

The mandate, which is full of uncertainty, would revoke concessions and put a halt on most activity until the government formulates a strict mining law. It was voted on by Ecuador's Constitutional Assembly, which is led by a man named Alberto Acosta, who made strong anti-mining statements.

Patrick Anderson, Aurelian chief executive, is not sure why Mr. Acosta took that stance, as he was formerly mining minister and appeared to be in favour of environmentally-responsible mining. "It's a much more extreme position he's taken with this mandate. I don't know where it's coming from. It's just come out in the past few days," Mr. Anderson said in an interview. The news also came as a shock to the investment community because Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has been a strong supporter of the mining industry and has pushed back against anti-mining environmental groups.

Sources said yesterday that the abrupt decision, which goes against virtually everything Mr. Correa has said in recent months, is evidence he is losing some of his political influence. He was reportedly greeted by jeers from the public when he made a speech yesterday after the vote. "There's a big political power play going on. I think [Mr. Acosta] more or less held a gun to Correa's head and said: 'This is what I want,'" said one source who asked not to be named.

The anti-mining vote in the assembly passed by an astonishing 95 to 1 (with 25 abstaining) despite almost no debate, leading to more speculation that some kind of deal was struck.

A big concern in the man-date is the constitutional assembly's proposal to limit the number of concessions any company can hold to just three. Aurelian, for example, currently has 38. Mr. Acosta said specifically that he opposes open-pit mining, which would affect Corriente most directly. The company's stock was halted so it was not hurt as badly as some of the other companies yesterday.

"I don't think Corriente is going to have a very good Monday morning," said Michael Gray, an analyst at Genuity Capital Markets. Aurelian became the darling of the junior mining world in 2006 when it made a massive gold discovery in the southeast corner of the country that ranks as one of the best in decades. But the stock has had a very bumpy ride as investors fret about political stability in Ecuador.

As shareholders were frantically unloading Aurelian stock yesterday, Mr. Gray suspects that senior mining companies were buying, which would give them an advantage in a possible future takeover. "They've got a ton of cash and they're the longest-term investors out there," he said.




Ecuador Suspends Some Mining for as Long as 180 Days

By Stephan Kueffner and Alex Emery, Bloomberg

18th April 2008

Ecuador [has] revoked mining concessions and will suspend most mining of metals such as gold and copper for as long as 180 days while lawmakers prepare legislation to regulate the industry. Mining companies with stakes in Ecuador declined, with Aurelian Resources Inc. dropping 32 percent in Toronto trading. Dynasty Metals & Mining Inc. fell 34 percent, and Corriente Resources Inc. sank 11 percent before trading was halted.

The freeze, which comes as the administration of President Rafael Correa moves to win greater control over natural resources and boost the government's share of profits, may be shorter than six months.

The Energy and Mines Ministry expects the new regulatory proposal to be ready for debate by late May. ``The government sees the margin expansion for mining companies because of the prices, and they're saying `Let's get our hand in the cookie jar, too,''' said Tom Winmill, president of Midas Management Corp., which owns Aurelian shares.

Ecuador's Constitutional Assembly, which is drafting a new charter for the country, voted 95 to 1 in favor of the rules, with 25 members abstaining.

The move cancels 80 percent of the more than 5,000 mining concessions in Ecuador, including all those handed out in protected areas or where water sources are threatened. It also declares a moratorium on new concessions before a new constitution is drafted. Correa has said Ecuador has mineral reserves amounting to about $220 billion. Mining or exploration is taking place at about 7 percent of the concessions, according to the Energy and Mines Ministry.

`Devastating'

The ruling could halt millions of dollars in investments in Ecuador's mining industry by about 40 international companies, Dynasty spokesman William McCartney said. Companies including Dynasty plan talks with the government in Quito next week, he said.

``On the face of it, it's devastating and could affect everybody,'' McCartney said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. ``We've just had millions of dollars of market capitalization wiped out.''

Iamgold Corp. will continue working on a pre-feasibility study for Quimsacocha, a deposit with 4 million ounces in gold resources, spokeswoman Lisa Doddridge said. ``The situation is not all clear,'' Doddridge said in a telephone interview from Toronto. ``We weren't given any notice.''

Iamgold fell 25 cents, or 3.4 percent, to C$7.13.

Future at Stake

The mining bill passed today calls on the government to renegotiate terms with mining companies. Correa's government is in talks with oil companies to modify contracts so that the government gets about 70 percent of revenue from the extracted crude, instead of about 30 percent now.

``What's at stake here is to define the future of large- scale metallic mining in Ecuador,'' Alberto Acosta, the assembly's president and a member of Correa's Alianza Pais party, said in a speech before the vote. ``The new mining law will favor serious entrepreneurs, not the speculators.''

Constitutional Assembly members allied with Correa said that current mining laws favor speculators over companies that would create work for the country's citizens. The assembly was elected last year to write a new constitution for the South American country.

``Concessions were handed out for the price of a sick chicken,'' said Aminta Buenano, a member of Correa's party.

New Mining Law

The Energy and Mines Ministry is preparing the new law to regulate mining and has begun to discuss the terms, including environmental protection and royalties, with mining companies.

Ecuador also plans to create a state-owned mining company loosely based on the example of Chile's Corporacion Nacional del Cobre. A draft will be presented to the industry on April 21, Energy and Mines Minister Galo Chiriboga said in an e-mailed statement today after the vote.

Opposition delegates -- most of whom decided to abstain or weren't present for the vote -- said that there was no proof that the bill would stimulate investment. ``No technical studies have been made regarding its legal or economic impact,'' opposition assemblywoman Mae Montano said during the debate. Other delegates said that the bill would eliminate tens of thousands of mining-related jobs.




Ecuador freezes mining exploration, boosts control

Reuters

18th April 2008

QUITO) - Ecuador froze all mining exploration in the country on Friday and revoked hundreds of concessions, in a move that will increase the leftist government's control over natural resources.

The decision by the government-controlled assembly suspends exploration until a new mining law is approved aimed at boosting the state's share of revenue. It says the law must be approved within six months.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa wants to rework mining, oil and other deals to direct billions of dollars of revenue into state coffers to pay for increased social spending.

The government estimates the country holds $130 billion worth of metal deposits. Mining companies invest about $100 million per year in Ecuadorean exploration, industry officials say.

The wide-ranging decree could hamper the country's growing mining industry by delaying production plans and scaring away much-needed investment, analysts and company executives said. Share prices of Canadian miners operating in Ecuador plummeted sharply on Friday on news of the decree.

The mining ministry said in a statement that it would deliver the first draft of the mining law and project to build the state-run company on Monday. However, it said a final version of the law could be ready by late May. Ecuador has no significant output of precious metals, but dozens of firms are exploring for copper and gold, including Canada's Aurelian Resources, Corriente Resources and IamGold Corp.

The three companies will be forced to halt operations in their concessions. Assembly head Alberto Acosta said the decree was "a historic victory" and later told Reuters he will push a referendum to ban open-pit mining for metals.

Friday's decree also limits mining holdings to three concessions per company, and calls for revoking all their remaining concessions without compensation.

A top mining ministry official said the ministry will call affected companies for talks next week, and plan the suspension and revoking of concessions.

"We have flexibility to apply the decree and interpret it in some issues, but the suspension and holdings reduction is something we can't undo," said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not allowed to speak publicly.

Eric Zaunscherb, a mining analyst with Haywood Securities in Vancouver, said the decree "was an ambush... and fraught with negative actions that make Ecuador inhospitable to mining investment."

The 130-member assembly, which is rewriting the constitution and also acting as the legislature, has the power to issue decrees that cannot be vetoed by Correa. The assembly also ordered the creation of a state mining company.

Correa said on Friday he supports mining, but wants better terms for the state in future deals. "It is absurd to say 'no' to mining," Correa told hundreds mine workers from his balcony in the presidential palace. "This is about mining with social, environmental and economic responsibility."




LA ASAMBLEA NACIONAL CONSTITUYENTE CONSIDERANDO

18 de Abril 2008

QUE, mediante consulta popular del 15 de abril del 2007, el pueblo del Ecuador aprobó la convocatoria a una Asamblea Constituyente de plenos poderes;

QUE, la Asamblea Constituyente, en virtud del Art. 1 del Mandato Constituyente No. 1 asumió el ejercicio efectivo de esos plenos poderes;

QUE, son de propiedad inalienable e imprescriptible del Estado ecuatoriano las sustancias minerales existentes en el subsuelo, en los ríos y lagos, con sus lechos y riberas y en cualquier otra del territorio nacional, las mismas que serán explotadas en función de los intereses nacionales;

QUE, la exploración y la explotación estarán condicionadas al cumplimiento estricto de las obligaciones legales, incluidas las concernientes a la preservación del medio ambiente y el respeto a los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, afroecuatorianos y comunidades que se vean involucradas directa o indirectamente por esta actividad y al pago de patentes, regalías y tributos establecidos en la ley;

QUE, es necesario reducir potenciales impactos negativos al ambiente provocados por las actividades mineras;

QUE, el mismo desarrollo de la actividad minera en el país requiere de un marco jurídico seguro y equitativo, que norme en forma coherente su accionar sin alentar actividades especulativas y tampoco la concentración de las concesiones mineras en pocas personas jurídicas y naturales;

QUE, la actividad minera artesanal, de subsistencia y de áridos es fuente de trabajo y riquezas, que requiere de un marco jurídico y de protección ambiental, laboral y social;

QUE, es necesario promover en el país mecanismos legítimos de ordenamiento territorial, planificación y definición de prioridades de uso del suelo en el corto y largo plazo, tanto en los casos de recursos renovables como no renovables;

QUE, el marco jurídico institucional vigente es insuficiente y no responde a los intereses nacionales, por lo que es necesario corregir emergentemente y frenar las afectaciones ambientales, sociales y culturales hasta que entre en vigencia una nueva Ley de Minería, con regulaciones seguras y eficientes, acorde al modelo de desarrollo deseado por el país;

En ejercicio de sus atribuciones, resuelve expedir el siguiente:

MANDATO CONSTITUYENTE

Art. 1.- Se declara la extinción sin compensación económica alguna de todas las concesiones mineras que en la fase de exploración no hayan realizado ninguna inversión en el desarrollo del proyecto al 31 de diciembre del 2007 o que no hayan presentado su respectivo estudio de impacto ambiental, inclusive las que estén pendientes de resolución administrativa.

Art. 2.- Se declara la caducidad de las concesiones mineras que no hayan cancelado las patentes de conservación en el plazo establecido en la Ley de Minería, es decir hasta el 31 de marzo de cada año y por adelantado a partir del año 2004.

Art. 3.- Se declare la extinción sin compensación económica alguna las concesiones mineras otorgadas al interior de áreas naturales protegidas, bosques protectores y zonas de amortiguamiento definidas por la autoridad competente, y aquellas que afecten nacimientos y fuentes de agua.

Art. 4.- Se declara la extinción sin compensación económica alguna de las concesiones mineras que en número mayor de tres hayan sido otorgadas a una sola persona natural o a su cónyuge; o personas jurídicas y sus empresas vinculadas, sea a través de la participación directa de la persona jurídica, o de sus accionistas y sus parientes hasta cuarto grado de consanguinidad y segundo de afinidad. Se excluye a las concesiones mineras de no metálicos que se encuentren en explotación.

Art. 5.- Se declara la extinción sin compensación económica alguna de todas las concesiones mineras otorgadas a favor de funcionarios y ex funcionarios del Ministerio de Recursos Naturales, Ministerio de Energía y Minas, y Ministerio de Minas y Petróleos, o a sus parientes inmediatos, hasta el cuarto grado de consanguinidad y segundo de afinidad, por utilización en su interés personal de información privilegiada. Igualmente se dispone la caducidad de las concesiones que actualmente detenten terceros, y que sean producto de la transferencia de concesiones inicialmente otorgadas a funcionarios y ex funcionarios del Ministerio de Recursos Naturales, Ministerio de Energía y Minas y del Ministerio de Minas y Petróleos o de sus parientes inmediatos, hasta cuarto grado de consanguinidad y segundo de afinidad.

Art. 6.- Se declara la moratoria al otorgamiento de nuevas concesiones a partir de la aprobación del presente mandato, hasta que entre en vigencia el nuevo marco constitucional y legal. En consecuencia, se dispone al Gobierno Nacional que, a través del Ministerio de Minas y Petróleos archive los trámites pendientes de resolución de solicitudes de nuevas áreas mineras. Se dispone al Ministerio de Finanzas que transfiera los recursos necesarios para que los valores cancelados por concepto de derecho de trámite sean devueltos a los solicitantes.

Art. 7.- Los titulares de concesiones mineras no metálicas y de materiales de construcción que no estén incursos en los casos descritos en los artículos 1, 2, 3, 4 y 5 del presente mandato, continuarán sus actividades, pero están obligados a renegociar sus títulos de acuerdo al nuevo marco legal que regule la actividad. El Estado como titular de los recursos minerales tiene derecho preferente al libre aprovechamiento de los materiales de construcción cumpliendo las regulaciones ambientales y otras que para el efecto dicte el Ministerio de Minas y Petróleos.

Art. 8.- Quedan suspendidas las actividades de todas las concesiones mineras metálicas que no estén incursas en los casos descritos en los artículos 1, 2, 3, 4 y 5; hasta que se apruebe el nuevo marco legal que regule la actividad y se redefinan las condiciones de su operación. Única y exclusivamente las concesiones mineras metálicas que a la fecha se encuentren en explotación y que no estén incursas en el primer inciso de este artículo, continuarán sus actividades, pero están obligadas, a renegociar sus títulos bajo las condiciones del nuevo marco legal.

Art. 9.- El nuevo marco legal al que se hace mención en el presente mandato, deberá expedirse en el término de 180 días contados a partir de la fecha de promulgación del presente mandato.

Art. 10.- Las concesiones mineras de pequeña escala, minería artesanal, minería de subsistencia, las concesiones mineras en las que se encuentren operando cooperativas, asociaciones y condominios mineros debidamente legalizadas continuarán sus actividades, excepto aquellas que se encuentran incursas en lo señalado en el Art. 3 del presente mandato. Sin perjuicio de lo señalado en el inciso anterior, ninguna persona natural o jurídica titular de derechos mineros para pequeña minería, minería artesanal y minería de subsistencia, podrá poseer títulos mineros individuales o en conjunto que excedan de las 150 hectáreas mineras en producción o que tengan un volumen de explotación de más de 150 toneladas al día.

Art. 11.- El Gobierno Nacional a través del Ministerio de Minas y Petróleos constituirá la Empresa Nacional Minera, la cual intervendrá en todas las fases de la actividad bajo condiciones de preservación ambiental y de respeto de los derechos de los pueblos.

Art 12.- Las disposiciones contenidas en el presente mandato constituyente son de obligatorio cumplimiento. En tal virtud éste no será susceptible de quejas, impugnación, acción de amparo, demanda, reclamo, recurso o cualquier acción administrativa o judicial. Tampoco dará lugar a indemnización alguna.

DISPOSICIONES FINALES:

PRIMERA: Notifíquese al Ministerio de Minas y Petróleos disponiendo que cumpla con los actos administrativos regulatorios para el estricto cumplimiento del presente mandato.

SEGUNDA: Dispóngase al Ministerio de Minas y Petróleos que establezca regulaciones necesarias para la explotación del mineral halita (cloruro de sodio) en coordinación con los Ministerios de Salud y Ambiente precautelando los principios de la salud publica y de protección ambiental.

TERCERA.- Si transcurrido el plazo previsto en el Art. 9 no se hubiere promulgado el nuevo marco legal que regula la actividad, el Ministerio de Minas y Petróleos renegociará los títulos de las concesiones mineras a las que se refiere el Art. 8 de conformidad con los principios constitucionales.

CUARTO: el presente mandato entrará en vigencia a partir de la presente fecha.




Ecuador revoca concesiones, en vilo proyectos mineros

18 de abril de 2008

QUITO (Reuters) - La Asamblea Constituyente de Ecuador declaró el viernes la caducidad de miles de concesiones mineras presuntamente ilegales y puso en vilo millonarios proyectos extractivos, mientras se aprueba un nuevo marco legal para ampliar el control estatal en la naciente industria.

La resolución, adoptada por 95 de los 130 miembros del organismo que reconfigura la Constitución y el andamiaje jurídico del país, afianza la línea política del presidente nacionalista Rafael Correa, quien es un firme defensor de la intervención del Estado en sectores económicos estratégicos.

A través de un decreto, el ente dispuso una moratoria en el otorgamiento de nuevas concesiones y la caducidad y reversión a manos estatales de las que no reporten inversiones, mantengan deudas con el fisco y afecten a reservas naturales, a lo largo de sus diferentes fases de exploración o explotación.

El paquete incluye además que la suspensión por 180 días de las actividades mineras metálicas de mediana y gran escala en fase de exploración mientras se estructura una nueva ley para ampliar la participación estatal en los réditos de un sector en manos de mineros artesanales e informales.

"Hemos comenzado a rescatar la soberanía y no nos tiemblan las rodillas con los tribunales internacionales," dijo el presidente de la Asamblea Constituyente, Alberto Acosta, un férreo opositor de izquierda a que el país impulse la industria minera pese a sus reservas por cuestiones ambientales.

La suspensión de actividades afectó a las canadienses Corriente Resources, Aurelian Resources e Iamgold Corp., que han encontrado depósitos de oro, cobre y plata y anunciado millonarias inversiones para explotarlos y convertir a Ecuador en un jugador del rico mercado mundial de metales.

El número de empresas y concesiones afectadas no fue precisado. El Ministerio de Minas y Petróleo de Ecuador, quinto productor de crudo de Sudamérica, aseguró que existen unas 3.298 concesiones inscritas y otras 1.228 en trámite, tanto por extracciones metálicas, no metálicas y de construcción.

La decisión de la Asamblea Constituyente de Ecuador -que, según proyecciones gubernamentales iniciales, podría albergar reservas de minerales por unos 200.000 millones de dólares, casi tres veces el monto de las reservas de crudo- cayó como un balde de agua fría entre las empresas.

"Esto manda el mensaje de que la actual administración no se da cuenta de lo que la minería puede hacer por su economía y lo que realmente es la minería moderna," dijo Patrick Anderson, presidente de Aurelian, que poseía 38 concesiones en el país.

NUEVAS REGLAS DE JUEGO

Ecuador apostó en la última década por la entrega de concesiones para desarrollar la industria y flexibilizó su legislación, pero esta política no se tradujo en un aumento de la paupérrima extracción, alentando las críticas de sectores políticos y ambientales opuestas al desarrollo minero.

El futuro de las inversiones anunciadas por las firmas canadienses y otras compañías, que alcanzarían los 2.000 millones de dólares en los próximos dos años, quedó en entredicho mientras se definen las reglas legales, que podrían ser desafiadas por las empresas ante juzgados foráneos.

Las acciones de las firmas golpeadas cayeron a lo largo de la jornada ante la incertidumbre generada por el futuro del sector ante la aprobación de la ley, que reintroduciría el pago de regalías y mecanismos para que el Estado reciba parte de los réditos que reportarían los proyectos.

Los títulos de Aurelian, que mantiene la reserva Fruta del Norte que albergaría 13,7 millones de onzas de oro y 22,4 millones de onzas de plata, cayeron en 31,5 por ciento, a 5,04 dólares canadienses en la bolsa de Toronto, en su nivel más bajo en dos años, en el marco de las discusiones en Ecuador.

Por su parte, Corriente, que gestiona el proyecto cuprífero Mirador, vio desplomarse sus acciones un 10,9 por ciento, a 4,10 dólares canadienses. Mientras que los papeles de Iamgold, que tiene el proyecto aurífero Quimsacocha, perdieron un 3,4 por ciento, a 7,13 dólares canadienses.

OTROS PUNTOS EN AGENDA

Entre otros puntos, la Asamblea Constituyente reguló la dimensión de las concesiones y dispuso la creación de una empresa minera estatal que podrá operar en cualquiera de las fases de la industria y desafiar a las empresas foráneas en el manejo de las reservas. Los concesionarios que pierdan sus títulos no tendrán derecho a compensaciones económicas. Los asambleístas oficialistas incluyeron en el decreto además una disposición que obliga a los jueces locales a no tramitar ningún recurso en contra de la aplicación.

"El Estado a la vuelta de la esquina tendrá muchos juicios y pagar indemnizaciones," advirtió el asambleísta César Ron, líder de la facción opositora que evidenció nuevamente su incapacidad para frenar a la mayoría oficialista. Las minas operativas seguirán trabajando con normalidad, pero deberán renegociar sus concesiones.




3 100 concesiones mineras son revertidas

Luego de un intenso debate el mandato se aprobó con 95 votos. Hubo un activo trabajo de los representantes de la Presidencia y del Ministerio de Minas.

Quito - Ecuador 19 de abril del 2008

http://www2.elcomercio.com

Con 95 votos a favor, uno en contra y 25 abstenciones, el Pleno de la Asamblea aprobó ayer el Mandato 06 para revertir al Estado -sin compensación económica alguna- cerca de 3 100 concesiones mineras, según la asambleísta Bety Tola. Esto equivale al 80% de las empresas del sector. Se estableció, además, que corren 180 días para el establecimiento del marco legal que regulará su cumplimiento.

La decisión se tomó luego de un intenso debate al interior de la Asamblea que provocó que la asambleísta de Acuerdo País, Diana Acosta, anunciara su abstención debido a un conflicto de intereses que ella mantiene en ese tema (está casada con un minero).

Acosta cuestionó la legalidad de la medida y explicó que ese Mandato no tiene los informes técnicos ni jurídicos sobre los impactos que ocasionará en la práctica. Dijo, por ejemplo, que para fabricar una baldosa se necesitan 50 concesiones que provean de igual número de materiales, mientras que para el cemento son necesarias tres concesiones. Acosta calificó como un "manejo insensato, no jurídico e inequitativo" al informe que presentaron los asambleístas de la Mesa 7 de Régimen de Desarrollo, Betty Tola y Norman Wray (ambos del oficialismo).

Desde la mañana, la operación política del Gobierno para concretar la aprobación del Mandato se inició con la visita a Ciudad Alfaro del ministro de Minas, Galo Chiriboga; el secretario Jurídico de la Presidencia, Alexis Mera, y el mediador entre el Ejecutivo y la Asamblea ,Augusto Barrera. Ellos mantuvieron una reunión con la dirigencia del oficialismo para aclarar algunos puntos técnicos del contenido de mandato.

Luego de la cita, el ministro Chiriboga explicó que la idea es establecer un marco jurídico que regule la actividad minera dentro del respeto a la naturaleza y los derechos de los pueblos ancestrales.

Entre los cambios introducidos luego de la reunión están que la declaratoria de reversión de las concesiones la realice directamente la Asamblea y no el Gobierno y aclarar en una disposición transitoria del Mandato que la sal no sea considerada como un mineral y que su explotación sea regulada por las disposiciones del Ministerio de Minas conjuntamente con la Cartera de Salud. La asambleísta Tola aclaró que el Mandato también determina la suspensión del trámite de legalización de 1 227 concesiones.

Ella reiteró que para evitar posibles demandas internacionales, se cambió la palabra caducidad por la de extensión y se incluyó una aclaración que dice que las empresas no recibirán ninguna compensación económica. En la mañana, varios asambleístas de la oposición (Prian, PSC, PSP) mantenían reuniones informales y dialogaban constantemente por sus teléfonos celulares.

Nueve asambleístas se ausentaron de la votación y entre ellos estuvieron Mae Montaño (UNO) y Pablo Lucio Paredes (Futuro Ya). El asambleísta alterno de Alfredo Ortiz (RED-PSP), Max Freire, votó en contra y 25 asambleístas se abstuvieron. Pero en la votación hubo sorpresas. Los asambleístas de RED Martha Roldós y Fernando Sacoto votaron a favor pese a que reiteraron que su movimiento siempre se ha opuesto a los mandatos. Incluso los asambleístas del opositor PSP Hólguer Chávez, Humberto Guillem y Manuel Mendoza respaldaron el Mandato. Rafael Esteves (ex PSP) también votó a favor.

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