By Javier Rodríguez Pardo
At the end of November, the Communities, Mining and Development Conference was held in Quito with the participation of academics from the United States, Canada, England and Ecuador. The current extractive model, oil policy and mining conflicts, their dynamics, actors and community participation were analyzed.
In Quito we participated in the Conference of Communities, Mining and Development on November 21 and 22 of this year, organized by the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, FLACSO, Ecuador headquarters; the Center for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC), York University, Canada; the Platform for Socio-Environmental Agreements (PLASA) and Rainforest Concern. The objectives were “to examine the new trends in political economy in the mining field and their repercussions for development models at the global and local level; generate knowledge about the dynamics of environmental and social conflicts from a dialogue and exchange between communities and universities; conduct a comparative analysis of environmental conflicts in Ecuador and other Latin American countries; and debate the possible scenarios of mining activity at the national and local level and the development alternatives for communities and local governments ”.
With us, different academics from the United States, Canada, England and Ecuador spoke about the current extractive model, oil policy and mining conflicts, their dynamics, actors and community participation. My presentation focused on a recurring work called “The mining invasions five hundred years later,” which preceded a detailed description of the mining issue and resistance of the communities in Latin America, where César Padilla, from the Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA) spoke on mining in Chile; Marco Arana (CONACAMI) did the same with Peru, and the Argentine case touched me.
As happened in Ibarra days before, this new meeting in Quito attracted the attention of numerous organizations of peasants, indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians such as the Cotacachi Cantonal Unit Assembly, the Intag Zonal Coordinator, the Cotacachi Peasant Organizations Union, the Indigenous and Peasant Federation of Imbabura, the Confederación Comarca Afroecuatoriana del Norte de Esmeraldas, the Federation of Chachi Communities of Ecuador, the Épera people, the parish councils of the northwestern Pichincha, the municipality of Cotacachi, activists of Conservation and Ecological Defense of Intag, and the Imbabura Water Resources Forum, among others.
Two stories caused a strong impact: those of Marcia Ramírez and Luis Zorrilla, from Intag, and the one that recounts the struggle to prevent the construction of the trans-Amazonian oil pipeline that is so beautifully collected in the award-winning documentary Oleoducto, Contamination y Pobreza (OCP).
The resistance of mining in Intag has so far a happy ending for the people of Junín and Cotacachi, but not the tragic fight against transnational oil companies, incapable of stopping the destruction of native forests of the equatorial Amazon, the polluting spills and the exodus of native peoples, despite the strenuous solidarity of many international militants.
The residents of Intag expelled the mining company Bishimetals, which explored the Cordillera de Toisán to become the owner of “small” deposits in Junín, a population of 260 inhabitants who, mobilized in haste, set fire to one of the mining camps and thus managed to stop the project. In May 1997, Bishimetals left Ecuador but entered Ascendant Copper Corporation, which began a campaign to divide families, bribes officials, buys wills, traffics land, and persecutes leaders. In May 2006, some 800 men, women and children joined the seven parish presidents, Intag communities and non-governmental organizations in a regional assembly to take firm action against this mining and to oust Ascendant Copper. The mining company, on the other hand, responds by hiring mercenaries from a security company -Honor and Laurel- that does not have a permit to operate in Ecuador and from here on, clashes continue despite the fact that the government of the Imbabura province spoke out against it. exploration or exploitation activities of the Canadian transnational. In October 2006 Ascendant signed an agreement with Río Tinto Zinc and brought legal actions against Intag leaders who were also attacked by armed personnel. The mayor of the canton himself is attacked by pro-mining activists, while seventeen lawsuits by the company act against the residents who protect their rights and their lands. Ascendant lost in the courts but reinforced the persecution of inteños committed to the fight, invading houses and "planting" evidence against their occupants that did not prosper, until the government of Ecuador through the Ministry of Energy and Mining orders the definitive cessation of its extractive activity, for violating mining legislation. Last month, ministry officials, accompanied by the police, officially closed the facilities of the mining corporation Ascendant Copper, which still maintains its concessions.
Carlos Zorrilla, a resident of Intag and a militant from the first hour against the mega mining companies, warned that “the work of the company has been stopped for the moment, but Ascendant is still present in Ecuador and Río Tinto Zinc is a powerful older brother interested in that the polymetallic extractions continue. "
During the sessions in Ibarra and Quito, the assembly members proposed all kinds of actions against Ascendant, including prosecuting the Toronto Stock Exchange to force the company to pay for the damages caused, given the evidence of having contaminated aquifers with lead, chromium , cadmium and arsenic that hit the skin and lungs of many children who bathe in the area.
The water, the forest and the people
Ecuador has a forum on water resources with a motto: "Everyone for water, water for everyone." The National Forum is organized by seventeen regional and provincial working groups, with more than 1,400 representatives of popular peasant, indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian organizations, universities, etc. The Imbabura water resources forum, for example, is made up of 250 entities in its general assembly.
Forty years of oil exploitation and fierce deforestation that expands the agricultural frontier, destroys forests and pollutes waters in the north of the Amazon region.
In Ecuador there are between 10.9 and 11.4 million hectares of natural forests, but annual deforestation exceeds 198,000 hectares. 61% of the native forests belong to the Amazon, 22% to the mountains and 17% to the coast. 80% is shared by indigenous peoples such as awa, fecche and Afros who see the common goods of an ecosystem that provides them sustenance diminish. The damage due to the industrial lack of control is total: the mangroves that abound on the coast are succumbing to the shrimp industry and this is due to irrational exploitation.
Someone will say as always that this type of economy should not be stopped; In Ecuador, the oil companies, logging companies, shrimp companies and the traditional export of bananas are in command, but when Intag assembly members rejected the mining company, they reaffirmed other alternatives that yield much more to the region than extractive ones: handicrafts and tourism, for example, but especially organic coffee that is exported to Japan and whose demand is increasing. Many families of settlers and peasants are harmed in Ecuador, especially the numerous ethnic groups that make it up: Kichwa, Huaorani, Tagaeri, Achuar, Shuar, Cofán, Siona and Secoya. Extractive violence has no limits and under its mechanical caterpillars fall national parks and reserves such as Cuyabeno and its buffer area, the Limoncocha biological reserve and the Llanganates and Yasuní national parks, among others. Oil spills in the equatorial Amazon are common, but for these peoples the three kilos of explosives for each of the five hundred drill holes are all the more intolerable, searching for black gold in the vicinity of indigenous populations, affecting fishing and hunting activities, polluting rivers and streams and displacing communities that disturb the passage of machines and pipelines. Intag's fight pitted him against dozens of mercenaries hired by Ascendant Copper Corporation, and the result was an exemplary popular triumph.
Today Ecuador is experiencing a historic moment, the next National Constituent Assembly and the advent of a political discussion that will modify the prevailing picture of contamination, destruction and looting. In the "Ecuador that we want" the assembly members set a path to follow in the constituent, which includes annulling the mining concessions from ten years to the present, without compensation; Eliminate current legislation that allows persecution and abuse because "in Ecuador, when you oppose strategic issues of the State, they apply a terrorism law to you" - they rushed to tell us - and they agree that a supreme right must be established, that of " food sovereignty, above all the laws of Ecuador ”.
Our presence in that country helped to unite the southern countries with those of North Latin America. The objective is to articulate joint actions among all because Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina have begun to travel a single path. Together, we dream of the freedom of our peoples, but to achieve it it is necessary to unite strategies that expel the invader from the north who preys, plunges and subdues with imperial violence.
* Javier Rodríguez Pardo
Chubut Antinuclear Movement (MACH
National Network of Environmental Action of Argentina (RENACE)
Union of Citizen Assemblies (UAC).