Since the early 1990s, the Intag region of Imbabura in northwestern Ecuador has been the target of mining exploration. Japanese and then Canadian interests have claimed substantial finds of copper, and have promoted the idea of building a huge open-pit mine in the middle of one of the most biodiverse areas in the world – the Intag cloud forest falls into both the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena and Tropical Andes hotspots, according to Conservation International.
But while some of the residents support the proposal, most are opposed to the mine, including those who stand to be most directly affected. The mine would be within the buffer zone of a major ecological reserve (the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve) and would obliterate a community forest reserve where local people have been promoting ecotourism. The whole region depends on small-scale farming, coffee production, and eco-tourism; the County of Cotacachi has designated itself an "Ecological County" and is committed to sustainable development and participatory democracy. As a result, there is widespread and fervent opposition to plans by Bermuda-based Ascendant Holdings to build a mine and possibly also a smelter and hydro-electric dam. In order to raise money, Ascendant -- also known as Ascendant Exploration or Ascendant Copper Corporation (ACC) – is seeking a listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange, despite questions that have been raised about the accuracy of its resource estimates and the status of its claims. In the mean time, the company has openly admitted funding a community front group, CODEGAM (Corporation for the Development of the Communities of García Moreno [parish]), explicitly to promote the mining project and to undermine the authority of the County government. There has been a barrage of threats, interference, and attempted intimidation, including death threats, against opponents of the project.