On February 7, 2021, the same day as the first round of Ecuador’s presidential election, the National Electoral Council (CNC in Spanish) held a popular vote on banning industrial mining in the watersheds of 5 rivers surrounding the city of Cuenca. Residents voted overwhelmingly (80%) in favour of water protection and against large-scale mining including the Loma Larga project of Canadian mining company, INV Metals.
As expected, the company maintains its position that it will continue to pursue its Loma Larga project. According to INV Metals CEO Candace MacGibbon, “The constitutional court which approved the referendum last year was very clear that it only applies to new projects.”
However, as we reported in February, Loma Larga was and still is not yet in operation. Although INV has rights to the underlying concessions, it has not yet applied for an exploitation licence, the permit which would allow construction and production. The project is still in the permitting stage as it awaits the licensing process for its Environmental Impact Assessment.
Despite the clarity that this constitutionally-backed decision brings – and this is the second referendum in the area with an overwhelming vote against industrial mining – the company insists on not respecting the will of citizens.
INV Metals’ attempt to change the hearts and minds of Cuencanos after the referendum – Interference in the communities
INV Metals has been running a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign in Cuenca to get “social licence” for the Loma Larga project since well before the referendum vote. The company has produced and published dozens of videos, cartoons, infographics, and company-sponsored articles on local media It’s produced dozens of videos, commissioned cartoons and/ infographics, and paid for advertisements in local media to supposedly “demystify” “fake news” about mining in Cuenca. The main message is that “Mining is for People” and won’t contaminate or dry out water sources, nor harm delicate páramo ecosystems. The posts are peppered with comments from locals calling out the Canadian firm for its misleading “information”.
The communications strategy did not work and Cuencanos voted 80% against the project and in favour of water. Yet, the company seems to be ramping up its advertisements since the referendum vote, undeterred.
Beyond disrespecting the will of the people, INV Metal’s media campaign risks creating at division within the communities. The company employs locals in its commercials and tries to convey the idea that there are lots of people who support the Loma Larga project.
Pro-mining presidential candidate wins the presidential election
Two weeks ago, Guillermo Lasso (a former banker) won Ecuador's presidential election. Canadian mining companies are pleased with the results. For them, this presidential election was a can’t-lose situation. Prior to the vote, Vancouver-based Solaris Resources said, “Both candidates have strong pro-mining platforms: You’d be guaranteed of government support.”
MiningWatch Canada urges Canadian companies, including INV Metals, to respect the referendum vote in Cuenca and cease their continuous attempts to undermine and intervene in local processes.