Ecuador: protests mount over mining, oil

Some 30 protesters crashed the opening of the sixth Expominas trade fair at the Quito Exhibition Center April 3, where Ecuador's government sought to win new investors for the mineral and oil sectors. The protesters, mostly women, interrupted the event's inaugural speech with an alternative rendition of the song "Latinoamérica" by the Puerto Rican hip-hop outfit Calle 13, with lyrics referencing places in the country threatened by mining: "You cannot buy Intag, you cannot buy Mirador, you can't buy Kimsacocha, you can't buy my Ecuador." The activists wore t-shirts with the slogan: "Responsible mining, tall tale" (literally, cuento chino, Chinese tale). (Tegantai, April 3)

Correa makes new push for Intag Valley
The Mirador and Kimsacocha projects have been the focus of recent protests in Ecuador, while the gold and copper project in the montane rainforests of the Intag Valley (Imbabura province) has attracted attention from global ecologists due to the presence of the rare spectacled Andean bear in the threatened area. Mining companies have sought to exploit the area for nearly 20 years, met with persistent community resistance; Canada's Ascendant Copper and Japan's Mitsubishi Group have both pulled out, but the government is still attempting to attract investment to develop the lease. In a campaign coordinated by the international group Rainforest Rescue, some 3,000 hectares of threatened rainforest above the copper reserves have been bought with donations and transferred as communal forest to the local village of Junín. However, President Rafael Correa is now seeking to exploit the area in a partnership between Ecuador's state-owned mining company ENAMI and the Chilean parastatal CODELCO. The government pledges "socially and environmentally responsible mining"  for the lease area, at a place called Llurimagua, and hopes to begin operations this year. Local communities reject the proposal, and Rainforest Rescue is calling for international pressure on President Correa. (Rainforest Rescue, April 1)

Amazon opened to Chinese capital
In another controversy, Ecuador has announced plans to auction off more than three million hectares of Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies. On March 25, a group of Ecuadoran politicians pitched bidding contracts to representatives of companies including China Petrochemical and China National Offshore Oil at a Hilton hotel in central Beijing. Previous meetings in Quito, Houston and Paris were each confronted with protests by indigenous groups and their supporters. "Ecuador is willing to establish a relationship of mutual benefit—a win-win relationship," said Ecuador's ambassador to China, Leonardo Arízaga, said in opening remarks.

California-based Amazon Watch says that seven indigenous groups who inhabit the lands now being opened to Chinese companies have not consented to the oil projects. "We demand that public and private oil companies across the world not participate in the bidding process that systematically violates the rights of seven indigenous nationalities by imposing oil projects in their ancestral territories," indigenous leaders said in an open letter distributed by Amazon Watch last year.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ecuador's secretary of hydrocarbons, Andrés Donoso Fabara, accused indigenous leaders of exploiting the issue. "These guys with a political agenda, they are not thinking about development or about fighting against poverty," he said. "We are entitled by law, if we wanted, to go in by force and do some activities even if they are against them. But that's not our policy."

A TV news report broadcast by the US Spanish-language network Telemundo showed members of Amazon indigenous groups—some wearing traditional facepaint and headdresses—waving protest banners and scuffling with security guards outside the Ecuadoran government's trade fair in Houston earlier this year. "What the government's been saying as they have been offering up our territory is not true; they have not consulted us, and we're here to tell the big investors that they don't have our permission to exploit our land," Narcisa Mashienta, a leader of Ecuador's Shuar people, said in the report. (The Guardian, March 26; El Comercio,  Quito, March 14; Pachamama Alliance, Feb. 21)

Ecuador began large oil exports to China in 2009, two years after Correa took office.

  1. Ecuador mineral zone militarized
    Military and police personnel were mobilized to communities in Ecuador’s Intag Valley in September to back up a team of 20 technicians form the National Mining Company of Ecuador (ENAMI) and the National Copper Corporation of Chile (CODELCO), sent to begin mineral exploration in a 4,900-hectare concession area. (El Universo, Guayaquil, Sept. 15)

  2. Ecuador: Correa threatenes ecologists

    Amnesty International cites growing concerns for the safety of Ecuadoran activist Carlos Zorrilla and others protesting development projects in the northern region of Intag. These concerns come after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa repeatedly attacked their activities during his weekly addresses to the nation. 
    Carlos Zorrilla is a founding member of Intag Environmental Defense and Conservation (DECOIN), and has for years participated in local initiatives to oppose mining in the region.
    On Sept. 14 community members blocked access of National Mining Agency employees to enter an area of Intag to take samples for an environmental assessment. According to Carlos Zorrilla he was not in the area at the time. But on Sept. 28, President Correa broadcast photos and details of Intag activists ,including Zorrilla, during his weekly televised address. He characterized their activities as “destabilizing” and as foreign-led interference with government policies. During another televised speech on Dec. 7, the president accused  Zorrilla and other activists again of serving foreign interests, and called on the Ecuadorans to react. (AI via UDW, Dec. 13)

    Zorilla has been repeatedly harassed by the police and judicial authorities in recent years.