A few days ago in southern Ecuador, production of the first large-scale mining project began. Visit to a parish where the extractive industry not only cleared the native forest but also the social fabric of the community.
… Everyone should have adequate access to information
on the environment available to public authorities,
including information on materials and activities
that pose danger in their communities,
as well as the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes ... "
Rio Declaration, year 1992, on Environment and Development
Tundayme, Ecuador. -"With machines it is like with women: you know how to treat them, but do it with more care." The uniformed man stood in front of the men from theArmy Corps of Engineers and he scolded them for their treatment of the machines, up on the mountain of the Cordillera del Cóndor. It's five-thirty in the morning, the last weeks of May, and the two lines of men, dressed in orange vests and plastic helmets, are more or less in line. Some of them in a good mood, others still traveling through dreams.
The morning training takes place on the steps of the new Tundayme parish park, a few kilometers from the mining projectlookout, located in the province of Zamora Chinchipe in southern Ecuador.
The grass was freshly laid, as was the sports hall and the four giant letters at the entrance - ECSA. The park does not represent Tundayme but rather the Chinese mining company: Tongling - CRCC, in Ecuador under the name ofEcuacorriente S.A., state company of the Asian country, known as ECSA.
Suddenly a small group slams their feet together and moves away from the rest. "Let's eat," says one and heads toward the restaurant on the corner. Coffee, fried eggs with rice and chicken pieces await you. The only women seen in Tundayme in the early morning are the cooks on their way to work. The street is dominated by men. Something that doesn't change much during the day.
Mirador, one of five “strategic” projects
While the orange vests go to breakfast, the employees of the contractors and subcontractors turn on the engines of their trucks and dump trucks. Yellow buses and four-by-four trucks pass by on the main street with more orange vests and dull faces. A group of men sit on the sidewalk, drinking beer, laughing and speaking Chinese.
The copper mine is the lynchpin of the engine rig that is starting this morning. The Mining Projectlookout, the first large-scale in the country with $ 2,015 million in investment, is one of the five “strategic” projects in Ecuador. The other four are:
- Northern fruit:located in the Los Encuentros parish, province of Zamora Chinchipe. Found metals: gold and silver. Investment: $ 1,240 million. Company in charge: Lundin Gold (Canada). Construction phase: the last quarter of 2019 is expected to start gold production.
- White River:located in the Molleturo and Chaucha parishes, in the province of Azuay. Investment: approx. $ 90 million Company in charge: Junefield Ressources (Ecuador / China) Construction phase: the project is suspended by an order of a civil judge in Cuenca, Azuay.
- Long Hill:located in the Chumblin, San Fernando and San Gerardo parishes, Province of Azuay. Investment: $ 432 million. Company in charge: INV Metals (Canada). Construction phase: the project is held back by a popular consultation in Girón - affected canton - in March 2019, where a large majority said: no to the project.
- San Carlos Panantaza:located in the San Miguel de Conchay parish, Morona Santiago province. Found metals: molybdenum, silver, gold and copper. Investment: $ 3,032 million. Company in charge: ExplorCobres S.A. (Canada). Construction phase: advanced exploration.
Ecuador, according to the plan, must become a mining country andlookout it is the most advanced project. The exploitation phase started last week and from December they will start full production. 1,200 tons of copper will be extracted daily. The environmental impact generated by the mine is enormous: 1,400 hectares of deforested forests, contaminated water sources and the diversion of the Tundayme river. The Cordillera del Cóndor is going to be exploited for at least 30 years.
"Violence is part of extractivism"
lookout Not only the geography of the place changed but also the social structure: where the extractive industry arrives, men and machines arrive, noise and pollution come, there is speed and vertigo. Until 1991, Tundayme did not even have an electric light. Today there are two bars, several restaurants and lodgings, at least one brothel on the banks of the Zamora River and many people from other places: with other behaviors, perceptions and values.
During our visit, a neighbor tells us that one day a Chinese contractor yelled at him for some details at work. “There I grabbed a pipe that was on the ground and told him to shut up and pay me what was due. The Chinese only work with shouts and threats ”. A criterion that is shared among the Ecuadorians who work at Tundayme. No one speaks well of the Chinese, least of all the women.
They are the most affected by masculinization and motorization in the area. The extractive industry took away the base of their support - the land, animals and houses, mostly maintained by them - and they were exposed to the dozens of men who live in front of their houses, who whistle at them in the street or harass them in the warehouse .
"Sex crimes such as rape, abuse, harassment and rape are part of extractivism," says Cecilia Borja, a researcher at the Ecumenical Commission for Human Rights (Cedhu) who has been in Tundayme several times. She, cited during the dayHealth in times of mega-mining at the beginning of July at the Simón Bolívar Andean University, several testimonies that evidence the increase in violence against women in the parish. “Extractivism - says the researcher - reinforces gender roles as an impact on the lives, bodies and rights of women, due to the exercise of patriarchal relations with violation of their rights such as political participation, health, education, food and work ”.
Already in 2017 different social organizations of Ecuador, referring to the projectlookout, they indicated in the reportCondor open wound that “the sexual harassment to which women are subjected (…) is part of the patriarchal imaginaries that are strengthened with the penetration of mining, in which both nature and the bodies -and in particular, those of women- they appear as reified, appropriable and sacrificial spaces ”.
Women's bodies as weapons
An emblematic example occurred during the eviction of San Marcos, a Tundayme neighborhood. It was on September 30, 2015 when a woman, in front of her own house in the process of demolition, asked an employee of the operation where she could leave the wood, "because I have nowhere to go."How are you,answered this one,if we are going to leave it in my lot and we make the house and we live together?
The woman recounted this episode at a meeting of the Amazon Community Cordillera del Cóndor Mirador (Cascomi), a group of natives, critical of the mining project. Tears fall to him, because he does not understand that in such a painful moment such an offer is made. A proposal that the researcher Cecilia Borja is not surprised, “in a context of mining conflict, the body of women is considered a weapon to frighten the population. (…) Consequently, women bear sexual guilt, are re-victimized and subjected to mistreatment ”.
Nightmares at night
Elvia de Jesús Arévalo Ordóñez is a member of Cascomi and lived through the eviction of San Marcos through her 81-year-old father. They not only demolished his house but also took his belongings. The complaint at the Prosecutor's Office was filed last year, things still do not appear.
Elvia Arévalo was born in San Marcos, when there was still no way to get there. His parents traveled on horseback to sell panela and aguardiente in nearby towns. Today the commercial engineer works in a public institution and lives in Gualaquiza, the closest city, about 25 kilometers from Tundayme. "But our core - she says - was always San Marcos." There they met for parties, going to the river or just spending the weekend. Until the day of the eviction, his father owned several cows. Today he lives with his wife in Elvia's house and suffers nightmares at night.
Locked in the houses
Tundayme has changed, the few women seen on the streets - and only during the day - walk suspiciously, avoiding any movement that could attract the attention of men. There is an air of fear in the parish, of insecurity and oppression. Eugenia Flores, whose name we modified for protection reasons, despite the fact that she was born in Tundayme, no longer recognizes her place. "I leave the house very little," she says while rocking one of her children. “Also when the dog barks, it's time to go see. It's not like before when we sleep with the doors open ”.
Eugenia has worked for the mining company for years, but she does not like the situation in the town. “Before we had chickens, pigs or guinea pigs to sell and buy rice, now there is so much neighborhood that there is not even space to plant or have animals. And the monthly payment does not pay either ”. Eugenia fought with her parents and siblings, like many other families, over the mine. Some wanted me to enter the mine like her, others not. “Sure, he misses the baths in the river and seeing the entire line of cattle on the hill that followed the path. Now we stay in here with our phones because there is no more to do ”.
Eugenia has heard of the violence that increased in her parish: ranging from the attempts to kidnap children, the theft of gas cylinders, the noise in the bars and the fights with stones to even shots that fly through the air. . He also heard of the stabbing on the last day, but since he lives between the mine and his home, he does not know the details.
Other neighbors confirm the fears, especially around theBilliard, a shed with karaoke, pool tables and a visible urinal. Those who spend their money there are men; those who win, women: either serving drinks or sitting next to customers. Many of them are young women from other places and have stayed in the village, after the first man left them.
HeBilliard it is like their job market and what they sell is their body. The noise in the bar, as a direct neighbor tells us, begins at one in the afternoon and ends only at five or six in the morning. "There is no time to rest."
The local police confirm most of the observations of the locals, but the political lieutenant, Diego Maxi, emphasizes that the complaints are "minimal" and within the "established degree". Diego sees the problem in population growth, "also" - he writes in an email - let's not forget that we are close to a mining project for which thousands of workers make income and this increases the crime rate ". At the end of May, Diego called a meeting to discuss security issues, "something that is always done." The conclusion of the meeting was: prevention measures and institutional corporation should be implemented. The Tundayme parish president did not respond to our interview requests.
Neighbors who believed the story
The antecedents of what is happening today in Tundayme were deceptive purchases of land, displacement of entire neighborhoods, destruction of houses and kidnapping of personal property, as in the case of Elvia Arévalo's father. The persecutions continue to this day, especially against the members of Cascomi. Even the fight claimed the death of a defender of the territory. The body of José Tendetza, the Shuar leader of the Yanua Kim community, an outspoken critic of the mining project, was found floating in the Chuchumbletza River, with traces of blows and strangulation. The murder happened at the end of 2014, the wounds are still open to this day.
Many of the new inhabitants of the parish do not know these stories, such as Lida Cordero, who only a few weeks ago learned of Tendetza's death. “Of course - he says - on TV they never tell you the whole truth. I only saw that the company gives money to fix the town, but being here one realizes that the reality is different. Not even the streets are made, each leader who was previously in a protest march, they accommodate their job and disappear ”.
Lida came a year and a half ago from Loja along with her family. He set up a grocery store thinking that Tundayme was doing well for him. He believed in the story on TV, without knowing that upstairs, at the entrance to the mine where a large part of the Chinese and Ecuadorian workers live, there is everything. "We Ecuadorians benefit very little from the mine," he says and reveals his anger: "The Chinese steal hours and work and we kill them after three months to see if they will give them three more months." Her husband, a digger operator, recently worked in the mine: 22 days in a row, 8 days off.
At that moment a woman in flip-flops enters and takes a bag with plastic platesCan you write it down for me? Lida pulls out a list and puts a number next to the name. "This is normal," he says. Many of those who buy here have debts and pay them at the end of the month. And they get back into debt right away, not just with her.
Lida Cordero is one of the few inhabitants of Tundayme who is not afraid to reveal her name. Most of the people we have interviewed prefer anonymity, others did not even speak to us. Only those who have nothing to do with the company or who do not have a criticism attend the parish meetings. They fear revealing their perception and being fired the next day.
"Are you anti-miner?"
We go to the house with the blue roof, at the entrance to the parish, where ECSA has its offices. Our request for an interview was ignored by the head of communications, Dunia Armijos, indicating that in July - or last week - a tour oflookout, along with other journalists. Being in front of their offices we insist on wanting to speak with the managers and surprisingly the next day they make us come in.
Next to the reception, leaning against a shelf, are the awards won by ECSA and its community relations manager, Jun Zhu: for sustainability, social projects and I don't know what. An Ecuadorian woman is sweeping the white tiles from the floor and someone just sprayed the offices against cockroaches. The smell is sharp, breathing difficult, but apparently not for the four representatives of the company - all Ecuadorians, including Dunia Armijos - who are sitting on black plastic chairs.I do not feel anything, says the oldest of the four, looking suspiciously at the journalist, and before starting the conversation he asks: "Are you anti-miner?"
We wanted to record the conversation, knowing that we are going to touch on sensitive topics, but there was no case. Without authorization from the lawyers, ECSA does not allow recording. Therefore we desist from replicating the details of the meeting. What can be revealed is that the fear and mistrust felt in the parish are also felt within the mining company. As soon as a topic is touched, one of the four justifies itself.
The death of José Tendetza:It did not happen in the environment of the company.
Destruction of the environment:It was not our goal.
Absence of the State:We see ourselves as collaborators.
Cascomi:Many of them are not from here.
Two phrases from the conversation in the fumigated offices of the mining company remain for the grandchildren of the parish:Those of us who work here in the company are humanistsYwe must assume the diversity of humans and consider the different versions of reality.
How to explain "the different versions of reality" to someone, who was violently evicted from their land?
William Arturo Uyaguari Guamán is one of 140 people who was evicted in 2015 by the public forces and company employees. The Cascomi president is standing in front of the ECSA sedimentation pools, looking at the place where he used to live with his family. The 38-year-old man lost an entire life in a short time: first his parents and a nephew, washed away by the Kymy River in a deluge and unclear circumstances, then the family homes in San Marcos. “We lived there,” says William, pointing his arm at the tailings pools, those gigantic tanks that will be used as a warehouse for toxic waste. While behind him the trucks and dump trucks are seen going up and down with an unknown speed, he says that just coming here hurts his soul.
William Uyaguari declared from the beginning against the Mirador project. With all the consequences. Recently they called him by landline at his house, asking for him and that he never gave that number to anyone. They are known prosecution methods in extractive project settings. In the Public Prosecutor's Office they even filed a complaint against William for having found four weapons in his house, without any evidence, "to justify it they placed a photo of another house," says the peasant. Urgent Action, a feminist fund in Colombia, highlighted in a 2016 report that “due to the magnitude of the interests and investments at stake in the framework of extractive industries, defenders of the land are often subjected to multiple attacks perpetrated in order to neutralize their work ”. And Amnesty International has said for years that in Latin America people who fight against impunity, those who work for women's rights or those who focus on human rights issues related to land, territory and natural resources they are still in danger. To these data must be added the criminalization of protest by the Ecuadorian State, promoted during the government of Rafael Correa (2007-2017) and in force to this day.
Elvia Arévalo, the commercial engineer who lives in Gualaquiza, is aware of developments in the area. As part of Cascomi, with its more than one hundred members, it meets once a month in Tundayme to exchange observations and impressions. In one of these meetings, a neighboring Shuar revealed that an ECSA worker, a native of Gualaquiza and now a grandfather, asked his daughter, a girl of just 13 years old, one day. The mother was outraged, since the man is the father of the family and the wife works in the municipality of Gualaquiza.That's why, the neighbor explained,In Tundayme I want to be with your daughter, in Gualaquiza with my family. Apparently he did not offer her money, Elvia remembers, "but it is evident that he wanted to abuse the family's economic situation, knowing that he has many children and that since the arrival of the mining company they have been living in poverty."
The logic of capital in combination with patriarchal structures creates stories like this. In addition, Zamora Chinchipe is one of the provinces where women suffer the most sexual violence in all of Ecuador. The violence that Tundayme is experiencing, confirms Elvia Arévalo, is not current. "There always was, but perhaps now it is getting worse." What is missing, he says, is not so much education but to become aware of what is happening. “The women of the region have to begin to empower themselves, it is no longer that they have to put up with it because the male has more physical strength. They have to report ”.
Cecilia Borja, the Cedhu researcher, recommended during her presentation at the Andina, that the State serve the population affected by the Cóndor mining company, with prevention mechanisms and with an emphasis on gender inequalities. In addition, it is fundamental for her that society, the communities affected by extractivism and the State think of "alternatives to this development model that occupies and exploits territories, which systematically violates human and nature rights to create sustainable, anti-patriarchal models of a coexistence respectful of human rights ”.
Dealing with the consequences of tomorrow
Since the mining concession in 2012, Cascomi has presented several legal appeals to prevent and stop the violation of human rights. However, the response from the judicial system has been negative, but the community is persistent in defending water and its territory.
At the beginning of 2018, Cascomi filed a protection action, accusing the mining company and the Ecuadorian State of having violated their right to prior consultation and their right to decent housing. A year later, a Family and Childhood judge denied the appeal, arguing mainly that the members of Cascomi are not “ancestral indigenous”.
Now, on July 10, the community presented an extraordinary protection action before the Constitutional Court. It demands that the rights that were not examined by the Court of second instance at the time of denying the appeal to the extraordinary action presented be analyzed.In addition, the community denounced the violation of rights before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN.
Ecuador is one of the few countries that could resort to its Constitution, where the rights of nature are explicitly discussed, but the government of Lenín Moreno continues with the mining advance prepared by his predecessor, these interpellations become increasingly difficult.
“If I knew that the world ends tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today”,says a sign hanging on the fence of the Tundayme school. Below, the four letters of the Chinese mining company. Will ECSA know that it is these children of today who have to deal with the consequences of tomorrow?
By Romano Paganini
Freelance journalist and lives between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Coordinator of the digital magazine Mutantia.ch
Source: The Fire Line of Ecuador