Tensions Explode Around Canadian Mining Operation in Ecuador: Residents Torch Building

MiningWatch Canada has been informed that on Saturday, December 10, local residents set fire to, and destroyed, at least one building owned by the Canadian mining company Ascendant Copper Corporation in Ecuador. According to the Ecuadorian daily El Comercio, more than 300 residents, including representatives from a range of local communities, set fire to the building in a compound described by Ascendant as a demonstration farm. This action was apparently taken to protest development of Ascendant’s proposed Junín mine.

The proposed mineral project is located in Cotacachi County in north-western Ecuador. Tension has grown in the area since Ascendant obtained a concession there in late 2004. Local communities have explicitly rejected mineral development in their area, favouring more sustainable forms of development. Local residents, some of whom have reported being threatened and intimidated, have expressed growing frustration with the proposed mine.

It is our understanding that community representatives are calling for the following: that Ascendant abandon its Junín mining project and the area, and that it stop funding the Corporation for the Development of the Communities of García Moreno (CODEGAM), a local organization that has received substantial support from Ascendant and has been a source of significant controversy in the area.

Community representatives also identify the need for an independent third party in Junín, such as a representative from a human rights organization, in order to defuse tension in the area and to establish the conditions necessary for a peaceful resolution to this conflict.

MiningWatch Canada cannot condone the use of violence. We do believe that it is essential to understand the frustration that has led to this act of desperation on the part of local communities. We are deeply disturbed by the growing tension in the area, which if left unchecked, could result in open conflict.

For further information on Ascendant’s operations in Ecuador, see the complaint that was filed under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by DECOIN, Friends of the Earth and MiningWatch Canada.

Ascendant Copper Corporation has released a statement describing their account of the incident. See the company’s web site for details.

Friends of the Earth Canada and MiningWatch Canada wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew to ask him to intervene - see letter below (as PDF).