Ecuador cracks down on illegal gold mines, wants higher royalties from majors

Ecuador’s government sent in army troops backed up by helicopters into the jungles of the northwest coastal province of Esmeraldas to shut down illegal gold mining operations last week, saying the highly polluting activity is associated with drug trafficking and protected by armed militias. Several back-hoes, diesel generators and dredges were destroyed in controlled explosions. The small-scale mining operations in the cantons of Eloy Alfaro and San Lorenzo near the Colombian border were “totally illegal” and violated the country’s mining, environmental and tax codes, Minister of Non-Renewable Natural Resources Wilson PĆ”stor and Environment Minister Marcela AguiƱaga said in a press conference. AguiƱaga reported that arsenic and heavy metals like mercury are found in the waters of tributaries of the Rio Santiago. “This will cause cancer and other diseases in the short term,” she said. Added PĆ”stor: “Ecuador is not a no man’s land. Illegal mining has to stop. We have to put a stop to exploitation of the local workforce. We have to put a stop to drug money laundering. And we’re tired of the plundering of our natural resources.” (IPS, June 1)

Quit also announced that it would seek higher royalties from new mega-scale copper, gold and silver operations currently planned by US and Canadian companies. “The law requires a 5 percent [royalty] and we are going to go higher,” PĆ”stor told a news conference. Negotiations with Canadian companies Kinross Gold and Ecuacorriente and US-based International Minerals are advancing, and contracts are expected to be signed in July. The government expects $7 billion in mining investments over the next seven years. Kinross plans to develop Ecuador’s largest gold project at Fruta del Norte (in the southeastern Amazonian province of Zamora-Chinchipe) with estimated reserves of 6.8 million ounces of gold and 9.1 million ounces of silver. (Reuters, May 26)

The Peruvian government carried out similar military raids on small-scale miners in the Amazon region earlier this year.

See our last posts on Ecuador, the struggle for the Amazon and the mineral cartel in Latin America.

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