Conflicts Over Canadian Mining Firm Ecuacorrientes in Zamora, Ecuador

By César Padilla

This past October 20, in the gymnasium in the town of El Pangui, in the Ecuadorean jungle in the province of Zamora in the Cordillera del Cóndor, near the city of Cuenca, some 500 people from nearby communities, including indigenous Shuar, met to oppose the mining project of Ecuacorrientes, subsidiary of the Canadian firm Corriente Resources.

There were numerous presentations by local leaders, indigenous persons, authorities and invited speakers from Bolivia, Perú and Chile who spoke of the risks of mining from the experiences in their countries. The area affected by the mining project of Ecuacorrientes is not traditionally a mining area, and the experiences and knowlege of the local population around the issue is not sufficient to imagine a mining operation in the jungle.

The numerous rivers which cross the jungle, the great variety of species and the economic potentials are all put into risk by the polymetal (copper and gold) mining project in porphyry deposits.

Although there is opposition to the mining project, which is said to be promoting the use of technology without chemicals and of high technological rigor -- explanations which are thrown about with impunity thanks to the lack of technical knowlege of the local population -- the firm has managed to break the will of some local leaders of indigenous communities under the discourse of "mutual benefits," some of whom have decided to support the company and its project. This group of local leaders is small and is bitterly opposed and denounced by the rest of the population of the province, including leaders of the Shuar communities of the region.

During the anti-mining meeting, a Shuar leader called for indigenous leaders coopted by the mining firm to reflect with the help of potions traditionally utilized by the indigenous to clear the mind and make good decisions. The efforts that the communities are undertaking in order to inform themselves and prepare themselves for a strong opposition to the project are notable, owing to the difficulties of transport, movement and the distances between the communiites and lack of means of personal communication.

Another problem which affects the communities nearby is the construction of hydroelectric projects, which are also being opposed and boycotted by the local population. The communities are opposed to their construction as the energy generated in the jungle projects is destined for use in the mining project.

There are various mayors and religious leaders in the area opposed to the development of the mining project and are undertaking efforts to halt its advance. As in the district of Cotacachi, where leader Carlos Zorrilla has been persecuted for his opposition to the mining project of the Ascendant company, there have been threats and intimidations against the opponents of the Ecuacorrientes mine.

Taking advantage of the visits of mining and environmental experts and representatives of neighboring countries, two parallel meetings were carried out in the night of October 20 in the municipalities of Llansasa and Gualaquiza. In both locations, there were presentations over the risks of mining and its effects upon the environment, local economies, employment, social relations and the organizations of civil society.

In the meeting in Llansasa there was a large turnout of employees of the mining firm, which generated a heated discussion resolved by dividing the group and working in parallel workshops. In Gualaquiza, the participants pronounced themselves firmly against the mining project and emphasized alternative productive projects, the care of the water and environment for the necessities of current and future generations.

One particular exposition during the Gualaquiza meeting was carried out by the parish of Jumbitono over the resistance of the communities against the expansion of the hydroelectric project. Communities of Jumbitono have blocaded the roads and accesses to the locations where the hydroelectric expansion is to be carried out to provide energy to mining projects.

Information recently provided by the different communities affected by the mining project speak of the militarization of the company with 200 police troops, after indigenous leaders coopted by the mining firm spread rumours that the communities had burned the company's installations.

Meanwhile, the Shuar communities decided to expell from their territories a small mining firm in order to prevent the development of projects of larger scale in the future.

As attempts to advance mining projects in Ecuador increase, the emerging conflicts also appear to be growing. In this sense, the future of mining in this country appears to be more sombre than hopeful. After having confronted time and time again the terrible effects of the petroleum industry, Ecuador, traditionally not a mining country, is resisting acceptance of the mining industry.