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Intag region present in protests "Ecuador free of Mining" (source: Marian Sofia Morillo Revuelque Títeres, Facebook)

Some Key Points to Understand What Is Going on in Ecuador in Light of Recent Massive Protests

Kirsten Francescone Latin America Program Coordinator Kirsten Francescone works to support communities, organizations, and networks in the region struggling with mining conflicts.

What's going on

Since October 2, Indigenous organizations, along with trade unions, social movements, and peasant organizations, have been demonstrating across Ecuador against a set of economic austerity measures (called the Paquetazo, or "the huge package") imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international lending institutions that have resulted in increases of up to 120% in fuel prices; labour reforms that seriously undermine worker protections in Ecuador, such as job precarization, a downward “harmonization” of wages resulting in a 20% cut for new contracts in public sector jobs; and imposition of extractive projects (mining, oil, and gas) in a misdirected effort to solve the debt crisis. These mobilizations are indicative of a broad, decades-long opposition of Indigenous and campesino communities in particular to the imposition of extractive projects in their territories.

The government of Ecuador has responded with extraordinary repressive violence, including using tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live bullets on protesters. Organizations have reported that more than 700 people have been arrested, at least 5 protesters have been killed, and more than 100 are seriously injured. This morning HR organizations in the country also identified that 74 journalists have been injured and several media outlets have been closed by police. Ecuadorian organizations insist that high as they are, these statistics underestimate reality and belie the gravity of the situation.

Why it isn't just about fuel subsidies – and why Canadians should care

Despite the mainstream media portrayal of the protests as mere reaction to the rise in fuel prices, Indigenous organizations from across the country have been clear to note that the government had this coming – the gas prices were just the straw that broke the camel's back. For Indigenous and rural communities, the government's hard-handed insistence on resource extraction development in their territories has been unrelenting. And despite numerous grass-roots attempts over the past year to demonstrate local autonomy and dedication to promoting more sustainable livelihoods, the government has steamrolled over every act of local resistance, claiming that mining development is needed to generate 'national' wealth and pay off the foreign debt.

When MiningWatch Canada was in Ecuador in September, we interviewed community members from the northern, south-central, and southern regions of Ecuador who are opposing Canadian mining exploration activites in their territories. Canadian mining companies are the most prevalent exploration companies in the country; the first joint-venture contracts between the Ecaudorian state company, ENAMI, and a foreign company were signed with a Canadian mining company; and they have many partnerships with Australian exploration companies where they are not the direct rights-holders. As such, communities are explicit when they direct their resistance, targetting not only the local subsidiary, but identifying its Canadian roots. Those same Canadian companies (13 in all), operate, in our opinion, under conditions where opposition is the norm. They, communities constantly remind us, produce tension and conflict where there wasn't before, and are causing serious impacts to the environments within which they are working, despite the fact that all except one are in the prospecting and exploration phases.

Communities affected by decades of insistent Canadian mining investment, despite their opposition to these projects, expressed similar sentiments this September:

"It makes one so mad since, the company isn't listening even though we have asked nicely. We ask nicely, they invade our property. We will keep them out." – Community member from Intag, affected by Cornerstone Capital Resources "Playa Rica"

"The government is giving out concessions without our permission as if it were their territory to give away. The companies negotiate with a few members of the community, as if that were how our political structures operate. We have had enough. No more mining." – Indigenous community member from Shuar Arutam territory, affected by Solaris Copper project

"We have been resisting this project for more than 10 years. We took to the streets, we were kicked around by the police. But they continue to push the project through. We are those who will be affected by the project and that is why we should be able to decide, not the central government in Quito..." – Community member from Giron, affected by INV Metals "Loma Larga"

The three most visible acts of resistance to mining in Ecuador in the past year come from areas and communities affected by Canadian mining companies. The historic "NO" popular referendum vote in the canton of Girón to metal mining, which includes INV Metals "Loma Larga" project in the highland páramo wetland ecosystem; the historic rejection of mining activities and the official "consultation" process by the Indigenous Shuar Arutam peoples affected by Solaris Copper's "Warintz" project, Aurania Resources "Lost Cities" project, and Luminex Resources "Tarqui" project; and the historic Intag Assembly where all of the local governments of the Intag region voted to declare the territory free of mining and demanded the swift exit of companies from their territories. In Intag, the community of Cuellaje is threatened by Cornerstone Capital Resources' joint-venture with ENAMI, the Ecuadorian state mining company. All three areas have been resisting Canadian mining companies for nearly two decades. All continue to revitalize their actions against the companies to make their voices heard; all actions continue to fall on deaf ears of the companies.

While in Ecuador, we noted that folks were committed to their resistance but also frustrated by the companies' lack of respect for local decision making on the one hand, and dissapointment and anger with the government's blind support for the companies. It comes as no surprise then, for us, that all of the recent official statements from the CONAIE, FUT and other Ecuadorian organizations who are involved in the mobilizations are not solely focusing on the "Paquetazo" but are trying to ensure that their demands to protect their territories from extractivism remain on the public agenda. "No to extractivism" is not a catch phrase they are adding to the collecitve list of demands; it is a central and motivating part of it. Today's statement from CONAIE rings true to their base, and to those brave women and men who are taking to the streets day after day and risking their lives to be heard in Quito, to be seen in Quito, to bring their territories to the capital, and to force the government to listen.

They say: 

  1. Any dialogue with the President of the Republic and his cabinet must be direct, public and transparent and include the presence of certified observers (UN, Episcopal Conference) about the points of the mobilization which are: ​The abolition of the economic measures and no to extractivism.

They've spoken, they are clear: no to mining in their territories. Canadians need to be clear on this too. 

The following is a brief timeline of the events leading up to this week's massive Indigenous, labour and civil society organizations:

Mar 2019 - IMF executive board approves 4.2 billion dollar loan to Ecuador, on top of billions already loaned by IDB , World Bank, and IMF.

March 24 - Overwhelming “No” vote resounds in Giron against Canadian mining project. 

Sept 20 - Intag declares territory free of mining, demand exit of mining companies 

Sept 23 - PHSA Declare Shuar Arutam territory free of mining, demand exit of mining companies. 

Sep 23 - IMF reaches agreement at second review of program; notes that structural adjustment legislation should be implemented in the near future.

Oct 1 - President Moreno informs the public that the government will be implementing a series of economic austerity measures (Presidential Decree 833).

Oct 2 - IMF applauds government for the measures to improve Ecuadorian economy 

Oct 2 - Frente Unitario de Trabajadores (FUT), Frente Popular, CONAIE, and other organizations call for nation-wide protests against the economic austerity measures, demanding the revocation of the Presidential Decree.

Oct 3 - Moreno declares “State of Exception” (State of Emergency) granting military and police exceptional powers to “maintain order and peace”. Repression of protesters ensues. Acts of violent repression are recorded across the country and continue over the weekend. 

Oct 5 - Indigenous organization CONAIE announces its own “state of exception”, demanding immediate withdrawal of military and police from communities or they will face “Indigenous justice”. 

Oct 6 - Repression continues. In some regions where Indigenous organizations take the lead, like Morona Santiago and Imbabura, it intensifies. 

Oct 7 - Media reports that 20,000 Indigenous members of CONAIE arrive in Quito to continue the protests; they are welcomed by the city, but attacked by the police. 

Oct 7 - The Ecuadorian Ombudsperson’s office releases a report on “The State of Exception 2019” noting this week’s events to be the most intense in recent years. They note excessive use of military and police force, especially against Indigenous peoples; the use of physical violence against protestors; evidence of torture of detainees; and a total of 485 reported detentions between October 3 and October 6. 

Oct 8 - Moreno imposes a nation-wide curfew, Decree 888. Announces he will move office to Guayaquil. 

Oct 8 - The Organization of American States releases statement condemns acts of “violence” by protestors. Says nothing of State-ordered repression, detentions, and killings. 

Oct 10 - Ecuadorian Ombudsperson’s office laments at least 5 deaths related to the protest, one of whom was a leader for CONAIE Cotapaxi. Urges government to guarantee right to protest. 

Oct 10 - CONAIE ratifies its position against extractivism and economic austerity measures and demands freeing of political prisoners, cancelling of D883, and immediate dismissal of Ministers of Defence and Interior as basic conditions for dialogue.

Here is a summary of the IMF's conditions to reduce fiscal spending to more effectively pay the foreign debt  (not exclusive

  1. Reduce government fuel subsidies (the spark that ignited the strikes this past week) 

  2. Tax reform to make more favourable for foreign direct investment (FDI), lowering taxes paid by foreign companies

  3. Increase labour market “competitiveness” to favour FDI

  4. Rationalize wages to favour FDI (wage cuts around 20%)

  5. Substantially reduce vacation time for public-sector employees 

  6. Restructure fiscal management 

  7. Prioritize debt repayment 

  8. Promote mining and oil extraction by foreign companies (factored into the anticipated national budget

You can find other translated versions of the CONAIE's statements on our website.