Unrest threatens Ecuador development projects

Growing political conflicts over development projects have prompted security forces to intervene in recent weeks in Ecuador. In the small hours of Oct. 8, military and police invaded the community of Río Grande, in coastal Manabí province, to evict a protest encampment that had been established by local comuneros of the Montubio ethnic group to resist construction of dam. Police say that the operation took place peacefully, but the comuneros report that tear gas was used and the protesters, including women and children, were assaulted. Protest leader Alfredo Zambrano reportedly suffered head wounds when he was detained. Four others were also detained, and all are still being held.

The proposed dam would flood some 6 000 hectares of farmland and cause the evacuation of over a thousand families. This dam, commissioned by the National Secretariat for Water (SENAGUA), has been contracted to a China’s Tiesijun company and is part of Chone Multipurpose Project. The official aim is to protect the city of Chone from flooding, but thecomuneros say oil and other economic interests will benefit from it. (Defensa Territorios, Rema Atlantico, Acción Ecológica, Oct. 18)

In the Intag Valley, some 20 troops from the army’s elite Yaguachi battalion occupied Cotacachi canton of Imbabura province on Oct. 13 following protests against local mining projects. The following day, nine troops were briefly detained by community members while on a patrol of an abandoned Japanese mining site near the pueblo of Junín. The residents demanded to know their mission and affiliation, and a patrol leaders reportedly said they were from the Military Geographic Institute—despite their insignia from the Yaguachi battalion. The community issued a statement in protest of what they believe to be a deception. (Defensa Territories, Oct. 20)

On Oct. 2, the government of Azuay province called for a total ban on mining within its borders, after the communities of Tarqui and Victoria del Portete held “consultations” in which they formally rejected the local Quimsacocha gold mining project. Residents of the high Andean pueblos said they should have been consulted by the government on the project, under the country’s new constitution.

President Rafael Correa, in a bid to win a compromise, announced that 3,200 hectares slated for the Quimsacocha project will be declared a reserve for water protection. The Quimsacocha project originally had a concession area of 12,000 hectares, granted to the Canadian company Lamgold during the Gustavo Noboa government. The reserve is to be managed by the Cuenca telecom company ETAPA, as is the adjacent Cajas National Park. (Prensa Latina, Oct. 25; Upside Down World, Oct. 14)

See our last posts on Ecuador, the mineral cartel, China in Latin America and regional struggles for control of water.

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  1. Rafael Correa disses peasant ecologists

    Ecuador's President Rafael Correa characterized indigenous campesinos who oppose the planned Quimsacocha gold mine in Azuay province as "beggars sitting on a sack of gold" (mendigos sentados en un saco de oro), winning comparison with Peru's ex-president Alan García, who called indigenous protesters against mineral and oil development "dogs in the garden" (perros del hortelano), for being supposedly unwilling to exploit resources available to them. (La Jornada, Oct. 7)