On August 19th, many organizations from Cuenca and the surrounding area of the Kimsakocha páramo in Ecuador released a public statement (translated below) regarding a letter sent by Canadian company INV Metals to the Cantonal Council of the municipality of Cuenca (attached here in Spanish).
The letter sent to the municipality spoke wonders of the company’s Loma Larga mining project, clearly stating (in capital letters) that there would be “NO impacts to the páramo that surrounds the mine”, and that the mine would “NOT contaminate any canton in the province of Azuay”. This is in stark contrast to public statements made in Girón and Cuenca in September 2019 by expert geologists Steven Emmerman and Andrés Angel (invited by the communities of several towns affected by the mine), who noted that páramos are not ecosystems that can support industrial mining activities, and that indeed, there would be effects on the overall hydrological cycle, as well as quantity and quality of water. The company’s statements also contradict the expert report by geologist Jim Kuipers for the affected communities of the region in 2015, who highlighted, among other findings, that the extremely high concentrations of arsenic in the ore would present an unmanageable risk for the company.
The company also outlined its desire for dialogue with the council in order to draw up an agreement between the company and the canton of Cuenca to ensure that the canton “reap the maximum benefits of the project”. As the many citizen groups note in the response below, such a decision is not to be made by a few elected politicians, but the broader citizenry. Writing to convince politicians to have meetings behind closed doors and out of the public realm hardly meets the “commitment to transparency” the company boasts of in its letter.
The letter was leaked just days after the Environmental Commission of the Cantonal Council of Cuenca voted unanimously in an online session to approve a popular consultation on metal mining in the water recharge areas of five rivers in the canton to protect the watershed from metal mining. The consultation would have a direct impact on INV Metals’ “Loma Larga” mining project.
The questions approved by the commission read the same for all five rivers:
“Are you in agreement with large-scale metallic mineral exploitation in the zone of hydrological recharge of the Yancunay River, according to the delimitation created by the Municipal Company for Telecommunications, Potable Water, Sewage, and Sanitation, ETAPA EP?
The statement against the company lobby notes “It is clear that INV Metals, in a desperate attempt to move forward with its mining project, tried to delay or block the approval process of the Popular Consultation.” And, if we look at what has been happening recently, it makes sense that the company wouldn’t want this vote to go ahead. The Loma Larga project has already been forced to change its mine plan) following a similar consultation vote in the canton of Girón in 2019. If the new vote approves watershed protection, and the years of local organizing suggest that it will, Loma Larga will be directly affected, since it is situated within the canton of Cuenca and would extract water from the Irquis River (45,000 l/day as per the company’s updated feasibility study).
It is hard to overstate the inappropriate nature of this letter and of the broader workings of the company at present. The company is attempting to sway the council to make a deal and prevent the people of Cuenca from voting democratically to decide what happens in their territory. And it is doing this in the middle of a global pandemic, where Ecuadorians still face strict lockdown measures on their movement. To make matters worse, on August 3rd, the company announced that it has nearly completed the EIA (environmental impact assessment) for the project and will be presenting it at the end of August. That has raised serious concerns for people affected by the project as to how the public engagement process for the EIA can happen under current conditions.
You can find the original version of the statement, in Spanish, here.
THE DECISION IS TO BE MADE BY THE PEOPLE OF CUENCA
August 19, 2020
Ing. Pedro Palacios Ullauri
MAYOR OF THE CANTON OF CUENCA
Arq. Pablo Burbano Serrano
VICE-MAYOR OF THE CANTON OF CUENCA
Ph.D. Cristian Zamora Matute, Urban Councillor
Mgst. Alfredo Aguilar Arízaga,Urban Councillor
Sra. Marisol Peñaloza Baculima, Rural Councillor
Mgst. Omar Álvarez Cisneros, Urban Councillor
Ph.D. Diego Morales Jadán,Rural Councillor
Mgst. Andrés Ugalde Vásquez, Urban Councillor
Abg. Xavier Barrera Vidal, Urban Councillor
Dr. Gustavo Duche Sacaquirín, Rural Councillor
Sra. Paola Flores Jaramillo,Urban Councillor
Ing. Daniel García Pineda, Rural Councillor
Mgst. Fabián Ledesma Ayora, Urban Councillor
Mgst. José Fajardo Sánchez, Rural Councillor
Abg. Roque Ordóñez Quezada, Urban Councillor
Mgst. Iván Abril Mogrovejo, Urban Councillor
With our consideration,
On August 11th, the Canadian mining company INV Metals, which aims to start mining the Kimsakocha páramos in 2021, wrote a letter to you [the city council] proposing to "move forward in the search for a long-term and mutually beneficial agreement". We found out yesterday on social networks.
In spite of so many expressions of rejection of the Loma Larga project, the letter arrives 17 years after IAMGOLD, the operating company at the time, stealthily installed its camps in the headwaters of the Tarqui and Yanuncay rivers; nine years after the Cantonal Council (2009-2014) demanded a moratorium on mining activities in the páramos; three years after the next Cantonal Council (period 2014-2019) declared the area corresponding to the canton Cuenca del Macizo del Cajas free of metal mining; two years after the people of Cuenca, in a popular consultation, ordered the prohibition of metallic mining in natural protected areas; and only one year after ETAPA [the publicly owned water and telecommunications company in Cuenca] demanded that the central government definitively suspend all mining projects in the water recharge areas of Cuenca’s rivers in order to guarantee the fundamental human right to water of its people.
The letter also came two days before the Environmental Commission of the Cantonal Council, in an expanded session, unanimously approved, with the votes of Mayor Pedro Palacios and 13 council members, the project for a Popular Consultation promoted by the Cuencan Water Council on metal mining in the water recharge areas of the Tarqui, Yanuncay, Tomebamba, Machángara and Norcay rivers.
It is clear that INV Metals, in a desperate attempt to move forward with its mining project, tried to delay or block the approval process of the Popular Consultation. But it did not succeed. Once again, the Mayor's Office and the Cantonal Council of Cuenca, including ETAPA, fulfilled their mandate to guarantee the rights of the people of Cuenca, within the framework of the Constitution and the law, independently of the foreign interests of transnational corporations. This is how things are done.
Whether or not we accept mining activities in our páramos is a decision that we the people of Cuenca have to make. And the best way to do it, the democratic, civilized way, is through the Popular Consultation guaranteed by the Ecuadorian Constitution. We will have the opportunity to freely and autonomously express our decision at the polls.
It should be recalled that the strategic shareholders of the Loma Larga project include the mining companies IAMGOLD and Dundee Precious Metals (35.5% and 19.4% of the shares respectively). Both companies have obscure antecedents around the world.
Because we are the owners of this wonderful land that life gave us to take care of; because we drink water from the Cajas; because we cannot imagine ourselves without the song of the rivers; because we eat corn that is grown and cooked with water from the paramos; because we were born free and are free; and, because this is our land and we determine what happens here, we salute your performance. Now, united to protect life, let’s get quickly moving to have the session where the Council will approve the consultation project.
Cabildo por las Mujeres de Cuenca
Frente de Mujeres Ecologistas del Sur
Escuelas de Agroecología del Sur del Ecuador (Azuay)
Fundación para la Nutrición y Servicios de Salud Integral del Ecuador (FUNSSIEC)
Red Agroecológica del Austro