Ecuador: indigenous leaders file suit against new mining law

Indigenous leaders delivered a lawsuit in Quito in late March before Ecuador’s Constitutional Court asking that the country’s new mining law be declared unconstitutional. The case is the next step that the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) is taking to try to put the brakes on large scale metal mining which has achieved unwavering support from President Rafael Correa’s administration.

“The burning issue in our province and on our ancestral territories is mining,” said Angel Awak, President of the Shuar Federation of Zamora Chinchipe. “It is going to contaminate the rivers and result in social conflict.”

CONAIE’s lawsuit alleges that the mining law is unconstitutional for having failed to consult with indigenous organizations whose territories will be affected by the activity. All large scale mining was suspended last April when the National Constituent Assembly passed a mining decree that ordered the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to revoke most mineral concessions for reasons such as failure to consult with communities, or for overlap with protected natural areas and sources of water. It also gave the government 180 days to rewrite the mining law.

At the time, Correa met with Canadian investors and explained that the decree was necessary “to put the sector in order,” which had been open to speculation and weak regulation since legal reforms were implemented following a World Bank sponsored study in the 1990s.

But in addition to the controversy that the new law has generated, application of the mining mandate has also been limited. Most notably, Copper Mesa Mining (formerly Ascendant Copper Corporation) in the northwestern Intag Valley lost two of its main concessions for failure to consult with local communities. In contrast, companies such as IAMGOLD, Corriente, Kinross, and International Minerals maintain key holdings in the south despite heated conflicts over similar complaints.

In the case of Corriente Resources, its suspension dates back to late 2006 when violent repression of local protests was carried out by state security forces making use of company installations. With such issues yet to be fully investigated and Corriente now on the verge of selling its project to an industry senior, Correa continues courting Canadian business leaders.

With assistance from the Canadian Embassy, investors met with Correa in February to discuss how to deepen relations across various sectors including mining, tourism and hydroelectric generation – also necessary for large scale mining. Correa gushed to the national press afterward saying that “Canada has always been a good friend of Ecuador.”

In a possible new offense to delegitimize the CONAIE, he added that he has invited Canadian Ambassador Christian Lapointe to bring indigenous leaders from Canada to Ecuador “so that they can testify for themselves, because here some of the leaders of our ancestors have taken up the flag of anti-mining.” He called such leaders “false,” adding “they are just radical indigenous leaders,” even if they represent about 90% of first peoples across Ecuador. (Upside Down World, March 25)

See our last posts on Ecuador and the mineral cartel in Latin America.

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