Indigenous Ecuadorians March Against Canadian Copper Mine

QUITO, Ecuador, March 8, 2012 (ENS) – Several hundred members of the largest Ecuadorian indigenous organization today began marching to the capital, Quito, to protest new mining in their territory. They expect to arrive in Quito on March 22.

The indigenous march started from Yantzaza in Zamora Chinchipe province southern Ecuador, where a Canadian company has been authorized to develop a large open-pit copper mine – the first large-scale mine under a new government mining policy.

Members of CONAIE gather to begin their two-week march to Quito, Ecuador, March 8, 2012. (Photo by Sio El Cuidadano)

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, says that at the heart of the current discontent is not only this particular mine but also President Rafael Correa’s plans to allow international companies to carry out large-scale mining projects.

They are demanding that the government pass legislation to regulate water management and land redistribution.

On March 5, the Correa government signed an agreement with Ecuacorriente, the local unit of British Columbia-based Corriente Resources Inc., that allows the company to mine the Mirador copper project, according to Wilson Pastor, minister of nonrenewable natural resources.

Pastor said the company intends to invest about $1.4 billion over the next five years in the Mirador project. Ecuacorriente will pay $100 million in advance royalties to fund social projects in areas around the mine.

But as people gathered today in Zamora Chinchipe to start the march, provincial prefect and indigenous leader Salvador Quishpe reiterated their concerns for aboriginal communities where mining pollutes formerly pristine lands and rivers.

Government sponsored demonstration in support of the mine, El Pangui, Zamora Chinchipe, March 8, 2012. (Photo by Eduardo Santillán Trujillo courtesy Presidencia de la República)

In response, the Ecuadorian government mounted a march of its own in Quito, which went to the Palace of Government and was headed by ministers of state. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the government march highlighted its actions to improve the living conditions of women in Ecuador.

President Rafael Correa has said that the indigenous mobilization seeks to destabilize his government, and has harangued his supporters to “continue mobilized until 22 March” at Independence Square opposite the government palace in Quito.

“Resist peacefully, on March 8 we will gather in Independence Square and say, ‘Here we are and this revolution does not stop anything or anyone!'” The President said last week.

CONAIE President Humberto Cholango insists that the indigenous mobilization is peaceful and is not intended to destabilize the Correa government and asked his supporters not to fall for the “provocation.”

In their protest, the Indians have the support of faculty and student organizations and opposition political parties. Today, these groups carried out several actions to reject government policies in Quito and in several Ecuadorian provinces.

The aboriginal leaders say their groups played an important role in the fall of the leaders Bucaram (1997) and Jamil Mahuad (2000).

CONAIE says its members supported the Correa government in its infancy, but a distance developed that remains until now.

The president of CONAIE, Humberto Cholango, told reporters that the Indians want the government, as indicated by the Ecuadorian Constitution, to consult on mining projects with communities located in areas where mines are planned.

Minister Pastor indicated that the government has conducted dialogues with the indigenous communities but noted that such consultations are not binding under Ecuadorian law.

The Indians maintain that the government must go beyond just reporting on their mining plans. Government officials must discuss existing differences and reach agreements with indigenous communities.

Corriente controls a 100 percent interest in 62,000 hectares located within the Corriente Copper Belt, which extends over a 20 x 80 kilometer area in southeast Ecuador. Corriente calls this area one of the only undeveloped copper districts available in the world today and says the company will create South America’s next major producing copper district. Gold deposits have been found just to the north which the company intends to develop.

The Ecuadorian Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has approved the company’s initial Mirador Environmental Impact Assessment but in September 2006, the company filed an amendment to the EIA to allow for mill, tailings and dump location changes to the original mine plan.

In May 2007, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum advised the company that the amended EIA will require further study. It is currently being revised for re-submittal and during this ongoing review process, the company says it continues to operate under the terms of the original Environmental Impact Assessment.

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