(Ottawa) On March 13th, Vicente Ribadeneira, the judge of the Judicial Unit of Protective Measures and Dismissals in Quito ordered the National Electoral Council (CNE) to suspend the ongoing Giron referendum vote. The judge accepted an injunction that had been filed by the pro-mining group “United for the Development of the Cantons of Giron and San Fernando”, who are arguing the referendum goes against their constitutional rights. The suspension is temporary until the country receives a decision from the Constitutional Court on this matter. The judge’s decision was denounced immediately by local organizations (statement attached to this note, in Spanish).
MiningWatch Canada strongly denounces any actions taken by Canadian-mining company, INV Metals which could have influenced yesterday’s decisions.
As we have reported over the past month, the company has been involved in an aggressive campaign to deny the legitimacy of the “No” vote, arguing first that the opposition to the project was minimal, and then later arguing that opposition in Giron was insignificant for the project’s development. On February 13thINV Metals published that they considered the referendum vote to be “unconstitutional” and would “consider further legal actions…” noting that “other challenges by local groups against the constitutionality of the proposed referendum and the actions of the CNE are also underway.”
MiningWatch strongly rejects any actions taken by the company to foment local initiatives, motions and actions which increase an overall state of tension and conflict among local communities.
MiningWatch also reported that the company was quoted threatening international arbitration if the referendum produced problems for the future development of the project. This threat was repeated by Vice Minister of Mines, Fernando Benalcazar, at the recent Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC)’s annual conference in Toronto. He noted, when responding to a question about the binding nature of the ongoing consultation process in Giron, that the referendum could potentially “result in an international suit against the country down the road”. It was deeply troubling to hear Benalcazar follow-up this statement with the government’s willingness to “accrue to the Ministry of Interior” in the event that protests or actions are taken to block projects considered to be in the “national interest”.
These kinds of threats provoke and/or encourage governments to use force to repress protest in order to avoid million-dollar lawsuits. They simultaneously put environmental defenders at significant risk of being criminalized for their plights to defend their territories and water sources against mineral extraction.
MiningWatch strongly repudiates threats of international arbitration that the company is making to the Ecuadorian government.
Yesterday the company released an offical statement in response to the judge's decision and applauded the move. CEO Candace MacGibbon stated:
INV Metals has been advised by its legal counsel, supported by previous challenges by the Ministry of Energy and Nonrenewable Resources, that the referendum is not constitutional based on Articles 261 and 438 of the Ecuadorian Constitution. Article 261 states, “The Central State shall have exclusive jurisdiction over…energy resources, minerals, hydrocarbons, water resources, biodiversity, and forest resources”, while Article 438 states, “The Constitutional Court shall issue a prior and binding ruling of constitutionality in the following cases, in addition to those stipulated by the law: 2. Calls to referendums nationwide or of decentralized autonomous governments.
Their position is clear and resonates with the problematic stance of the central government. The project will go through if the Government says it will go through, regardless of what affected communities desire for their territories and livelihoods.
We reject this bulldozer logic. It will bring nothing but conflict and violence. We demand that INV Metals respect the position of local communities in Giron and elsewhere and cease their activities.
Finally, we stand in support with the communities of the Canton of Giron and other affected communities near the Loma Larga mine site who have, for over a decade, strongly expressed their opposition to metal mining in their territories.
Just a year ago (February 2018), communities in the Kimsacocha region voted overwhelmingly in majority opposition to metal mining in a popular referendum. When asked if they were in favour of amending the Ecuadoran Constitution in order to prohibit, without exception, metal mining in all of its phases in protected areas, “intangible” areas (areas of cultural significance) and urban centres, residents of the Azuay province (the province where Loma Larga is located) voted in overwhelming favour of prohibiting mining (72% overall, and higher in the cantons of Girón, Cuenca and San Fernando).
Despite the overall opposition, the company continues to claim that they have a strong social license to operate in the region. That being said, their actions speak louder than their statements to their shareholders. They are using all means at their disposal to ensure that potential investors are left in the dark about the strength of the oppositional movement to mining in Giron and surrounding cantons. But the opposition to mining in the region is only growing and yesterday’s action merely reveals the weak grounds upon which INV Metals attempts to sit.
- Kirsten Francescone, Latin America Coordinator, [email protected]