(Ottawa) An Ecuadorian environmental group today called on the Canadian government to insist that its companies abide by the highest standards of conduct when operating overseas in order to prevent Canadian mining companies from continuing to threaten fragile eco-systems and local communities, while tarnishing Canada’s image both at home and internationally.
Carlos Zorrilla, Executive Director of DECOIN (Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag - Intag Ecological Defence and Conservation, a small environmental organisation based in the Intag region of Ecuador) is in Ottawa to speak out against these abuses and to ask the Canadian government to adopt all of the recommendations proposed by the Advisory Group of the Roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility as an important first step in addressing this growing problem.
Canadian mining company Ascendant Copper Corporation’s Junín mining concession, situated in the Toisan mountain range of northwest Ecuador, allegedly contains millions of tons of copper ore lying beneath some of the most biodiverse and endangered forests on Earth. It also threatens communities with relocation and endangers thousands of hectares of first growth cloud forest, pristine rivers and dozens of species facing extinction. If allowed to go ahead, this would be one of the world’s most environmentally devastating mining projects.
The project has already caused serious social damage. Since May of 2004, anti-mining activists have had to endure numerous documented human rights violations, including death threats, physical assaults, trumped-up criminal lawsuits, and have twice repelled paramilitary personnel trying to enter their communities. Most recently, in December of 2006, the communities fended off paramilitary forces and took into custody 56 paramilitaries on Ascendant’s payroll.
Based on trumped-up charges made by someone believed to be a company employee, 19 heavily-armed police carried out a violent search in October of last year on the home of Carlos Zorrilla, one of Intag’s anti-mining activists now visiting Canada. One of the police planted a gun and a packet supposedly containing drugs in Zorrilla’s home to implicate him in further criminal charges. In April of 2007, Ecuadorian courts dropped all charges against Mr. Zorrilla, in large part due to international pressure.
“I’m living proof that the Canadian government must take strong measures to curb the reckless behaviour of Canadian mining companies like Ascendant Copper,” said Zorrilla. “The situation is especially critical in the Intag region of Ecuador,” he continued. “There is a toxic atmosphere of insecurity and hostility in an area previously known as being exceptionally peaceful.”
Ascendant’s presence in Ecuador has created deep mistrust within families and communities. In spite of Ascendant’s underhanded efforts and divisive tactics, however, most communities and all of the region’s local parish governments still overwhelmingly oppose the project.
Contact: Carlos Zorrilla, tel. 613-237-0850 ext. 454; cell: 613-222-5101; e-mail toisan06(at)gmail.com