Ecuador: The logic of development clashes with movements

Ecuador: The logic of development clashes with movements

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By Raúl Zibechi

Despite proclaiming himself a socialist and defending "good living", President Rafael Correa promotes large open-pit mining, which has been causing serious environmental and social damage throughout the region. Throughout the Andean region, mining has caused contamination of water sources that threatens the survival of thousands of communities, a fact that is at the basis of the birth of a new generation of social movements.

Despite proclaiming himself a socialist and defending "good living", President Rafael Correa promotes large open-pit mining, which has been causing serious environmental and social damage throughout the region. "That infantile left, that infantile indigenism, that infantile environmentalism, are already reactivated, holding meetings to promote an uprising against mining." "With the law in hand, we are not going to allow these abuses, we are not going to allow uprisings that block roads, that violate private property, that impede the development of an activity that is legal: mining."

It was not a conservative politician who uttered those phrases, but Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, who proclaims himself a supporter of "21st century socialism" and an enemy of neoliberalism. The first was said in his report to the Provisional Congress at the beginning of January and the second on the 12th of the same month, on the balcony of the government house, in Quito (1). He also accused the social movements that reject the Mining Law of being "allies of the right" while the Minister of Government, Fernando Bustamante, spoke about a possible coup connection between indigenous organizations and the military (2).

Already at the beginning of January, the climate had warmed up when the police viciously repressed community members who were protesting in the south of the country against the law. "We are not going to negotiate with criminals and scoundrels," was Minister Bustamante's response to the indigenous leaders who defended themselves from the repression by retaining a police captain (3).

Mobilization, repression and after

On January 20, two ways of being in the world clashed in Ecuador. The Correa government, which shortly before promoted and managed to win a referendum for constitutional reform inspired by the logic of "good living" ("Sumak Kausay" in Quichua) and the abandonment of the neoliberal model, pressured Congress to approve the Law of Mining that was approved by the Legislative Commission on January 12. Social movements called for a national mobilization to oppose transnational mining. The forces that clashed in the streets were very unequal: there were wounded and detained, tear gas and beatings.

Since the first days of January, there have been demonstrations in many parts of the country, by indigenous people and urban, environmental and humanitarian associations as well as the federation of evangelical indigenous people, who questioned the Mining Law for considering it unconstitutional and for not having mediated a broad national debate on such an important issue. The protests were especially massive in the south, in the Andean highlands and in the Amazon, through roadblocks, marches, acts and hunger strikes.

That January 20, the day of the Mobilization for Life, thousands of indigenous people took to the highways as they usually do in each protest. Some 4,000 indigenous people cut off the Latacunga-Ambato highway in the southern highlands, and tens of thousands more in multiple parts of the country, including protests in Quito and Cuenca, the two main Andean cities, but also in the Amazon and on the coast. They were animated multi-colored marches with drums, flutes, drums and horns in which entire communities and families participated.

Although the CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) (4) always said that the mobilization would be peaceful, the repression was important, with tear gas and even bullet shots that caused dozens of injuries, some of them hospitalized. It can be said that the repression was not very different from what was recorded on other occasions when the right ruled in Ecuador.

When explaining this governmental attitude, Humberto Cholango, president of Ecuarunari, the indigenous organization of the Quichuas of the Sierra, said that the problem is that the right wing surrounds Correa. "The president should only look around him if he wants to see to the right," he said in relation to the accusations made by the president to the Indian movements (5). However, CONAIE had to acknowledge that the demonstrations led to acts of violence against various people and police officers, which it justified by the presence of "infiltrators in a legal and legitimate mobilization" (6).

The truth is that there was no national debate on the Law, but there was violence in the streets, and a crisis in relations between the government and the social movements that should be the social base of a government that proposes a "citizen's revolution." In this distancing, the media played an important role, which, at all times, sought to create a climate of confrontation, but also the harsh attitudes of Correa and a part of the social leadership.

At the time of taking stock of the mobilizations against mining, Acción Ecológica showed its joy because "a new city-country alliance is being born that includes the principles of environmentalism." He stressed that "the arguments to protect water, strengthen food sovereignty, claim the right to consultation, mistrust transnationals, are already understood and assumed by many Ecuadorians." He lamented the right-wing course of the Correa government despite its sovereign positions such as the new Constitution and the declaration of illegitimacy of the foreign debt. "History shows that when a government turns to the right it is very difficult for it to go back to the left", concludes the balance sheet (7).

Days later, CONAIE sent an "Open Letter to the World Social Forum" in which it explained its "opposition and rejection" of Correa's presence in "a space where historically alternatives and guarantees of the rights of peoples and for the life and cannot be a platform for a president with positions impregnated with racism, machismo, paternalism, discriminatory, sexist and violent. " It alerts the Forum that behind the language of the "citizen revolution" it is repressed and violates dignity and rights and assures that "the long neoliberal night is present in Ecuador" (8).

Disputed arguments

The sociologist Alejandro Moreano tries to analyze the Mining Law in the context of the sharp contradictions of the Correa government. At the beginning of his mandate, he assured that when the contracts for the cellular telephony concessions to private companies (Telefónica de España and América Móvil of the Mexican Carlos Slim) expire those services would return to the hands of the State. But then he renewed the concessions for 15 more years. Something similar happened with the audit of the public external debt: after it was proven that there were illegal procedures to contract it, last November, Correa gave up his initial idea of ​​not paying it.

"From the beginning, the government has accustomed us to a policy in which reforms are accompanied by a neoliberal measure, or vice versa. One of lime and another of sand, one from the left and the other from the right. How to understand such contradictions? Are the measures of the left only alibis and smoke screens for those of the right? ", Reflects Professor Moreano (9). It seems only time can answer these questions. In any case, several analysts maintain that one of the central problems is that the governing party, Agreement País, has significant divergences and a wide right-wing sector.

The Mining Law was rigorously analyzed by the movements. In the "Background" of one of the works, it is recalled that foreign investment in Ecuador has always focused on extractive activity and agro-exports and that the international division of labor condemned the country to be an exporter of raw materials and primary products without industrialize such as cocoa, coffee, bananas and others. "For every dollar located in the country, it has yielded four to foreign investment" (10).

After the Second World War, a process of import substitution and industrialization began, nationalizations were carried out and a Welfare State was established. But the country continued to sustain itself based on the export of one or two primary products, which made it very vulnerable. In recent decades, its main export has been oil, which, however, has not been able to encourage the national production of capital goods or promote the export of crude oil derivatives, so "oil exploitation has become an inexhaustible source of liabilities. social and environmental "(11).

It is also questioned whether the law has been approved by the Legislative Commission or "Congresillo", a transitory body since general elections are held in April within the framework of the new Constitution. In the same vein, critics argue that the Mining Law "does not correspond to the vision of the country that incorporates the Constitution in force since October 2008", largely because "it breaks the balance between communities and the natural environment, preventing free exercise of rights ", and, prominently," undermines the plurinational character of the Ecuadorian State "(12).

Regarding the articles, it is considered that article 2 (Scope of application) does not include community persons as it does with public, mixed or private persons and that article 3 (Supplementary rules) incurs in the omission of not highlight "the supremacy of the political Constitution and international instruments on human and environmental rights" (13).

Article 15 (Public utility) is one of the most questioned. The Ecological Action report highlights that it is not explicitly established that concessions "must never compromise the right to water, food sovereignty, natural protected areas, indigenous territories and lands dedicated to food production." The lawyer for the Pachamama Foundation, Mario Melo, emphasizes for his part that by declaring the mining activity of "public utility", the Constitution authorizes the expropriation of land in indigenous territories "with the sole claim of alleged collective welfare."

In turn, Article 16 (State Dominion over mines and deposits) places in a prominent place "national interests" that are naturally defined by the government of the day, and according to the criticism, they will respond "to the conjunctural requirements of fiscal income, which will end up imposing themselves on the permanent objective of the good living of the people who inhabit the country "(14).

Article 28 (Freedom of Prospecting) says that any company "has the power to freely prospect for mineral substances", which will allow them to carry out mining studies on the lands of indigenous communities, peoples and nationalities (in Ecuador there are 14 nationalities and 18 indigenous peoples natives). In parallel, article 90 (Special Procedure for Consultation with the Peoples) refers to the fact that such consultations will be carried out in accordance with article 398 of the Constitution and not 57. The difference is greater: the first dictates that if a community or The people oppose the prospecting, the dispute "is resolved with the decision of the higher administrative authority." On the second, the same opposition is resolved "in accordance with the applicable international instruments, among which is the United Nations Declaration on the Law of Indigenous Peoples, approved by Ecuador, which requires that the result of the consultation be the consent of those consulted to carry out the planned activity "(15)

As can be seen, one of the most controversial aspects is related both to the environment and to respect for indigenous territories that the new Constitution establishes, but that the Mining Law does not fully respect.

Acción Ecologista concludes that the Law "is part of the neoliberal model", since it favors foreign investment, gives priority to income over social and environmental liabilities, to the extraction of minerals over the human rights of the affected communities, the conservation of biodiversity and water sources. It even foresees opening the extraction of natural areas that are protected, as well as including "provisions aimed at criminalizing protest and the exercise of the right to resistance."

According to the Ecological Action report, the objective for the State is for mining activity to be "an important source of fiscal revenue, complementary to and later substitute for oil." Although the policy of increasing state income is defended, it is considered that the regressive aspects reinforce the neocolonial dependence of Ecuador. Finally, and this is very serious, this extractivist model moves away from the new Constitution that claims to defend "the model of human development, integral, holistic, to obtain the objective of good living, with the essential ingredient of not exercising violence against women. people or nature, with which a relationship of full harmony must be maintained "(16).

The defenders of the law assure that it will create 300 thousand jobs, which is vital for the development of the country and that there will be no pollution. Something that cannot be corroborated and that denies Ecuador's recent oil past. In any case, strengthening the role of the State seems one of the priorities of the current government.

The area destined for mining exploitation is 5.6 million hectares, which is equivalent to 20% of the country's surface, which includes national parks and natural reserves concessioned since the 1980s.

Ecuador had never been a mining country, but the irruption of this activity can place it on the same path as its neighbors, and very particularly Peru. Throughout the Andean region, mining has caused contamination of water sources that threatens the survival of thousands of communities, a fact that is at the basis of the birth of a new generation of social movements.

Continental outcry against mining

Mining activity is the main cause of environmental conflict in Latin America. Throughout the Andean mountain range, permanent actions of social movements against the savage exploitation of open-pit mining are registered. In perspective, the movement against open pit mining, despite its short life, is growing exponentially.

In Argentina there are nine gold, silver and copper deposits, five are under construction and another 140 are being explored. There are 70 towns in thirteen provinces affected by large-scale mining. There are five thousand kilometers of the Andean mountain range where companies from the United States, South Africa, Great Britain, Switzerland, Japan and, especially Canada, headquarters of the main multinationals in the sector are installed. The Bajo la Alumbrera mine, in the province of Catamarca, is among the ten largest copper and fifteen gold operations in the world.

In 2002, when the Self-convened Neighbors of Esquel began to meet, they were the only organization fighting against mining in Argentina. Today there are more than one hundred self-convened neighborhood assemblies that are mobilized to denounce the large multinational mining enterprises, but also cellulose and monoculture agriculture, grouped in the Union of Citizen Assemblies (UAC).

In Chile there is a prolonged mobilization against the Pascua Lama mine. It is a binational project (Argentina and Chile) of the Canadian Barrick Gold that will extract gold and silver, will use 370 liters of water per second, will dynamite 45 thousand tons of mountain per day and has reserves of 20 billion dollars. Until now the project is blocked by legal issues and by opposition from social movements. The resistance movement, made up of farmers, indigenous people and churches, denounced that Barrick Gold concealed that the deposits are under three glaciers.

But it is in Peru where one of the strongest battles is being fought by the largest social organization against mining in Latin America, CONACAMI (National Confederation of Communities of Peru Affected by Mining). It is a young organization born in 1999, in response to the "mining boom" that occurred in Peru since 1993 at the hands of the authoritarian regime of Alberto Fujimori. There are 1,650 communities on the coast, the mountains and the jungle, which have more than a thousand leaders persecuted by the courts.

Peru became the first producer of silver in the world, third of tin and zinc, fourth of lead and copper, and fifth of molybdenum and gold. Minerals account for 45 percent of Peruvian exports, but mining activity only contributes 4 percent of the State's income and employs one percent of the active population. Pollution costs the country 4 percent of gross domestic product. It is estimated that almost a quarter of the country's surface, some 25 million hectares, is concessioned to mining companies.

Ecuador can look at itself in that mirror. On the one hand, the social and environmental conflicts of the 90s can multiply, as CONAIE has already announced. The violation of indigenous rights and their territories "will make the projects unviable," the organization warned mining companies, since the Mining Law violates Article 169 of the ILO, which recognizes collective rights (17). But Correa has 70 percent support and will be victorious in the general elections to be held at the end of April within the framework of the new Constitution.

Raul Zibechi He is an international analyst for the weekly Brecha de Montevideo, a teacher and researcher on social movements at the Franciscan Multiversity of Latin America, and an advisor to various social groups. Write the "Zibechi Monthly Report" for the Americas Program ( - Report published in Programa de las Américas, in March 2009.-


(1) Kintto Lucas, ob. cit.

(2) Communiqué 3 of CONAIE, January 20, 2009, at

(3) Diario Hoy, January 7, 2009, at

(4) Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, the main social organization in the country.

(5) Kintto Lucas, ob cit.

(6) "CONAIE to national and international public opinion", January 12, 2009 at

(7) "Balance of the days of protest against mining", Ecological Action, Quito, January 24, 2009

(8) "Open Letter to the World Social Forum", at

(9) Kintto Lucas, ob. cit.

(10) "Report on the Mining Law project", ob. cit.

(11) Idem.

(12) Mario Melo ob cit.

(13) "Report on the Mining Law project", ob cit.

(14) Idem.

(15) Mario Melo, ob cit.

(16) "Report on the draft Mining Law", ob cit.

(17) "Mining and attacks against the right to education", CONAIE, March 6, 2009.


CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador):

"Conflicts and resistance to mining activity", in Acción Ecológica,


"Report on the Mining Law project", in Acción Ecológica,

Kintto Lucas, "Indigenism in the struggle", weekly Brecha, January 30, 2009

Mario Melo, "Five legal reasons to oppose the new Mining Law", in Petropress magazine No. 13, January 2009,

Ecuadorian social movements:

Video: Paula Castro - Unveiling the power of collaboration for professional development. #CambridgeDay2020 (July 2022).


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