Ecuador: police raid home of environmentalist

About a dozen heavily-armed police, some wearing ski-masks, raided the homes of environmental activist Carlos Zorrilla, executive director of the NGO Intag Defense and Environmental Conservation DECOIN, and his neighbour Roberto Castro on Oct. 17, according to reports from the Intag Solidarity Network and the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission of Ecuador (CEDHU).

Zorrilla, an outspoken critic and opponent of Ascendant Copper’s widely unpopular mining activities in Intag, was not present at the time and his whereabouts are still unknown, although we understand he is alive and well.

At about 6:15 AM, about 10 persons identifying themselves as policemen, some in uniform, two with black ski masks, and all armed with handguns and/or machine guns, arrived at Zorrilla’s. Twenty minutes later, another individual who claimed to be the prosecutor from the city of Cayambe, appeared with a search warrant. They searched Zorrilla’s home, as well as Castro’s, who has worked on Zorrilla’s farm for years and who lives nearby. As far as we can ascertain the Castro house was not included in the search warrant. Castro asked to see identification. His request was not granted. Zorrilla’s wife Sandy and son Martin were home and watched the policemen burst into the house and search their belongings. They tore apart Zorrilla’s bedroom/study. According to Martin, one member of the group was particularly aggressive, pushing and shouting at Martin, Sandy, and Roberto. The apparent leader announced after an hour that there was nothing to be found, they had other places to go to, and suggested that they be on their way. At that point, the aggressive individual walked outside with a bag of marijuana he claimed to have found in the living room and a gun he said he had found in Martin’s bedroom. At that point the search ended and the policemen left.

Other witnesses say that the police arrived in Santa Rosa that morning in a number of vehicles, none with police insignias, all without licence plates, and one, a red vehicle, identified as belonging to the mining company. They also state that the day before, two Ascendant Copper employees had spent most of the day in Santa Rosa. The police apparently acted on a complaint by an American, Leslie Brooke Chaplin, filed July 23 regarding an assault and robbery that had supposedly taken place during the peaceful rally against Ascendant Copper’s Junín project in Quito on July 13. Eyewitnesses have reported that there was no violence at any point during the rally and that the complaintant had been distributing leaflets on behalf of Ascendant Copper in the midst of the rally. We are also informed that Chaplin is or was an employee of the company, making the circumstances of the complaint and the unverifiable allegations it contains highly questionable.

From Mining Watch, Oct. 25, via Upside Down World. Names and addresses of the appropriate officials for letters of protest are online.

See our last post on Ecuador and our October special report on the struggle against Ascendant Copper.