Exploration for copper intensified in the Junín area with the arrival of Bishimetals in the early 1990s. Junín is a community located in Intag, a 1,500 km2 expanse of cloud forests and farms in northwestern Ecuador (Cotacachi County, Imbabura Province). Bishimetals, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation, received financing from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to explore for minerals in Junín. The effort led to the discovery of large deposits of copper and other minerals in the Junín-Cuellaje project area, located in the exceptionally biodiverse Toisan Range.
Interest in the mining potential of Intag was further fanned by the Project for Mining Development and Environmental Control (Spanish acronym: PRODEMINCA), financed with a loan from the World Bank (now part of Ecuador’s foreign debt) and implemented in the second half of the 1990s. The principle objective of the PRODEMINCA project was to promote industrial mining in Ecuador. It sought to achieve this goal by: a) modifying Ecuador’s mining legislation to make it much more pro-industry; b) to produce maps of Ecuador’s mineral deposits (thus saving mining companies the time and money in locating minerals). The World Bank has provided the same “service” to dozens of so-called developing countries. DECOIN presented a formal complaint against the Prodeminca project which resulted in a full-scale investigation by the Inspection Panel. However, by this time the project was near its end, and thus too late to modify. One of the most troublesome aspects of the project was that it prospected in seven national parks. This was just one of the many irregularities that came to light as a result of DECOIN’s successful challenge.
The most profound consequence of the PRODEMINCA project, the total revamping of Ecuador’s mining law, included the following incentives to mining companies: No royalty whatsoever, nearly all existing environmental regulation was scrapped, and what little was left, was left to the Ministry of Energy and Mines to apply; the right to repatriate 100% of profits, minimal provisions designed to protect the rights of labor and communities or to mitigate environmental impacts. The law further gave companies the right to use any and all resources within the concession needed for mining; this includes water, which is required (and contaminated) in massive quantities during mineral processing. Compensation for privately owned resources (only the subsoil minerals belong to the concession holder) was determined by the Ministry of Energy and Mines; farmers dissatisfied with the decision of this entity did not have the right to appeal to a court of law. The law also made mineral extraction and processing strictly a private enterprise- leaving the State completely out of the loop. And, Ecuador was not alone in receiving this kind of international aid from the World Bank. One hundred more countries were similarly affected by the World Bank’s radical neoliberalist agenda aimed at opening up access to the world’s mineral resources. The wholesale deregulation in Ecuador would later prove to be key to the violence and human rights violations provoked by the presence of unscrupulous mining companies, attracted by the incentives.
In 2009, Ecuador’s National Assembly approved a new mining law that eliminated many of the above incentives but, and in spite of widespread opposition by indigenous people, environmental organizations and communities affected by mining, the law did not prohibit large-scale mining, as was proposed by these groups.
WHAT BISHIMETALS DID DURING ITS STAY IN JUNIN
Bishimetals paid little attention to the laws of Ecuador while exploring in Junín. Among the most serious violations, the company:
1 neglected to prepare an EIS prior to exploration (the EIS quoted below was prepared for the production phase);
2 neglected to inform communities about the project;
3 neglected to consult communities affected about whether they wanted the project;
4 built its latrines right on the banks of the Junín River and dumped its garbage into the river, which happens to be the major source of water for communities downriver;
5 damaged private property during drilling;
6 contaminated the Junín River during drilling, thus causing skin diseases in the local population.
Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (DECOIN), a local environmental organization founded in response to the mining threat, lodged repeated complaints about these and similar situations to the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM). However, employees of the MEM could never find evidence of wrongdoing.
HOW MUCH COPPER IS THERE IN INTAG?
Eventually, Bishimetals discovered mineral deposits in three of Intag’s seven townships (Parish governments). According to JICA, mineralized areas in the Toisan Range contain 318 million tons of copper ore, with a 0.7% concentration. In other words, the Toisan Range will yield a total of 2.26 million tons of pure copper. Molybdenum is also present in a concentration of 0.03%, and there are traces of gold and silver in the ore.
How much copper is 2.26 million tons? Not enough to satisfy the annual demand of China, whose citizens consume approximately three and one half million tons per year. Not even enough for the United States, where people consume over 2.5 million tons per year.
ASCENDANT is saying the inferred deposit is approximately 3 times the above amount. They based this on their own “in-house” evaluation.
An interesting bit of data: on average, 75% of all minerals produced in Latin America is exported to the industrialized North. What stays in the South is the devastation resulting from the mining of those minerals. Bishimetals’ scientists predicted the devastation that Junín would suffer if the copper there were ever mined.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF COPPER MINING IN JUNIN
According to Bishimetals’ scientists, the open-pit copper mine in Junín will produce severe environmental and social impacts.
As noted, the Junín concession is located in the Toisan Range. In 2005, this area was recognized as an Important Bird Area of South America by Birdlife International. The copper lies under farming communities and primary forests adjoining the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, one of the world’s most biodiverse protected areas. The Toisan is exceptionally rich in water resources, upon which farmers downstream rely, and its primary forests are within two of the world’s 34 biological hotspots (the Tropical Andes and the Chocó-Darien-Western Ecuadorian). Biological hotspots are areas noted for exceptional levels of biological diversity and exceptional numbers of endemic species, and their biodiversity is severely threatened. The Andean Biological Hotspot, the area where the mine would be located, is known as biologically as the hottest of all 34 hotspots. In 1997, the world renowned biologist E.O. Wilson wrote a letter to DECOIN pointing out the biological importance of Intag’s forests and of conserving them.
According to JICA’s preliminary Environmental Impact Study (EIS), forests, farms and water resources throughout the Toisan Range would be severely impacted by the planned copper mine. Among the environmental impacts predicted by Bishimetals’ scientists:
1 massive deforestation leading to drying of the local climate and desertification (his is almost literally what the EIS says)
2 contamination of water sources by lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium (metals associated with the copper ore) in levels up to 100 times greater than those naturally existing;
3 the flight of large mammals due to noise pollution from dynamiting the ore;
4 Impacts to the habitat of dozens of bird and mammal species in danger of extinction (including Jaguars, Spectacled Bears, Brown-headed Spider Monkey, Mountain Tapirs and several species of birds)
5 Impacts to the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve (similar to a Wilderness Area)
JICA’s scientists also predicted a series of social impacts:
1 the “relocation” of at least 100 families from four communities whose farms and homes are in the way of the proposed mine and related infrastructure;
2 the creation of a mining town of 5000 inhabitants (the largest population centers in Intag, where the largest villages are seven parish seats, each with fewer than 500 inhabitants);
3 increased crime and traffic accidents;
Scientists predicted these impacts after discovering only a small portion of the copper said to exist in the Junín concessions. It is likely that if more copper is mined, more widespread and severe impacts will result.
The mere presence of Bishimetals in Intag produced significant impacts. People began to learn about the impact of mining on forests and communities. Then, alarmed by what they learned, people began to organize. Thus was DECOIN founded. Through DECOIN, often in coordination with other national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the fields of human rights and the environment, residents in the communities immediately threatened and throughout Intag began to mobilize.
Local opposition to the mining project finally resulted in the burning of Bishimetal’s mining camp on May 15, 1997. Hundreds of local residents from seven communities participated in the protest. The government singled out three community leaders for prosecution. Eventually the charges were dropped. Finally, after recommending that further studies be done in the hope of identifying more copper and thus making the mine more attractive to investors, Bishimetals pulled out of the project.
Victory was sweet, while it lasted.
RESISTANCE TO MINING GROWS
Between 1997 and 2002, in spite of the absence of an immediate threat, the opposition to mining in Intag increased dramatically. This was due, primarily, to the growing awareness about how human well-being requires a healthy natural environment and about the destructive nature of mining, in social, economic and environmental terms. DECOIN was key in creating this awareness, and also in creating and/or supporting alternatives to mining, such as the Río Intag Agroartesanal Coffee Growers Association (AACRI), women’s craft groups and community tourism projects. During this same period, the Cotacachi County Government passed an ordinance declaring Cotacachi an “ecological county” where mining and other activities incompatible with the conservation of natural resources are forbidden. DECOIN was the instigator for this unique local law, which sets down the basic plan for a sustainable economic and social base in Cotacachi.
As a result of environmental consciousness raising, Intag was ready for the next round in the anti-mining struggle: the Ministry of Energy and Mine’s (MEM) auction of the Junín concessions. In spite of protests by the presidents of the six parish governments of Intag, most community boards and more than 20 organizations working in the county, the MEM not only went ahead with the auction on August 15, 2002, but awarded the concession to Roque Bustamante, the only bidder, a trafficker in mining concessions, who paid $18,005 for the right to mine 7,000 hectares for 30 years.
The mayor of Cotacachi, with the backing of parish governments, grassroots organizations and the majority of residents, took the MEM to court in 2003. According to the plaintiff, the auction violated article 88 of Ecuador’s constitution* which requires that local communities be consulted before the onset of activities that are likely to affect the natural and social environment. The judge who heard the case agreed. Bustamante appealed to the nation’s Constitutional Tribunal. Two of the three judges on the panel assigned to the case once again decided in favor of county government and the communities of Intag, but because it was not a unanimous decision, the case went to the court’s full nine-judge bench. There, after less than 24 hours, five judges decided against the county and in favor of the defendant, which by this time is a Canadian mining firm, Ascendant Exploration, the company to which Bustamante his sold rights to the concessions in Junín while judicial proceedings to decide the legality of the auction were underway.
*In 2008 Ecuador approved a new Constitution which stills calls for community consultation.
IN MAY OF 2005, the Municipality of Cotacachi presented another lawsuit in the Administrative Court to have the concessions overturned, using similar arguments.
On September 2006, the president of Junin presented yet another constitutional injunction against the Junin mining project asking the courts to stop the government from approving Ascendant’s Environmental Impact Study. The final resolution is still pending.
One of the legal remedies pending is to take the case to the Organization of American State’s Interamerican Commission for Human Rights.
THEN, THERE WAS ASCENDANT
As noted, Roque Bustamante sold his rights to the Junín mining concessions to Ascendant Exploration, a company based in Quito whose main objective, according to their web page, is to “hold” mining concessions for foreigners. The parent company is Ascendant Holdings, based in the Caribbean islands of Turks y Caicos. Later on, yet another Ascendant was created: Ascendant Copper** Corporation, with the objective, according to the company, of mining Junin’s copper. Ascendant, it is worth noting, was too small to open a mine as large as the one in Junín. DECOIN suspects their real goal is to try to destroy the opposition to the project and then sell the concession to one of the “majors.”
**In 2008, Ascendant Copper Corporation changed its name to Copper Mesa Mining Corporation
Ascendant’s arrival has coincided with conflicts in the communities directly affected and throughout Intag. Here are just a few examples of clashes between anti-mining residents and company supporters.
1 Ascendant employees tried to establish a camp in Junín’s community forest reserve contrary to the wishes of residents; they were forced to leave by a women’s group from Junín.
2 Numerous death threats to anti-mining activists.
3 In November 2004, three anti-mining residents, including a woman who heads a crafts group, were assaulted by bodyguards employed by pro-mining ex congressman during a public meeting organized by Ascendant. The attacks occurred when the bodyguards tried to forcefully take a camera away from one of the victims containing a photo of General Villacis.
4 DECOIN and some of its members have received death threats and have been victims of a nasty smear campaign which includes a web page intended to discredit the environmental organization’s members.
5 CODEGAM, the false organization created by Ascendant, bussed dozens of people to the Cotacachi Municipality in April 2005 to violently demonstrate against the Mayor for supporting the opposition to mining.
6 In October of 2005, CODEGAM disrupted a public assembly called by the Garcia Moreno Parish government, forcing the president of the Parish to cancel the event.
7 On several occasions, CODEGAM followers blocked roads when community leaders and organizations opposed to mining tried to meet.
8 LAWSUITS: Ascendant initiated over a dozen lawsuits to date, in its strategy to intimidate and wear out the opposition, including one against the Periódico INTAG for a million dollars, which the company dropped a few months later.
9 Lawsuit presented against Carlos Zorrilla 2 days after Ascendant’s camp was torched by local residents, by a man had sold his land to the company, accusing Mr. Zorrilla of threatening him and others that if they sold the land to the company they would all be killed (this too was dropped)
10 Several lawsuits presented by the company or its employees against anti-mining activists as a result of actions taken by community members to protect their lands and their rights. In total 12 lawsuits were presented against community activists, the four that came to trial were won by activists, and all of the accused in all the lawsuits were amnestied by the national assembly in 2008, as part of a general amnesty affecting hundreds of Ecuadorian environmentalists fighting against mining, logging, large-scale damns and petroleum activities.
11 Completely false accusations filed by Leslie Brooke Chaplin against Carlos Zorrilla in July 2006 for supposedly instigating a crowd to steal Ms Chaplin’s camera and assaulting her. It is believed Ms Chaplin was working for the company at the time of the accusation. She left for the US shortly after filing the malicious lawsuit. The false accusations led to arrest and search warrants issued against Carlos, and resulted in a police raid to Carlos’ house early in the morning of 17 of October, where the police planted a gun and drugs in his house. Carlos was not home at the time of the raid and was able to go into hiding shortly before the police arrived at his home. The incident which led to the false accusations and lawsuit took place in front of the Ministry of Energy and Mines where about 400 Intag residents were demonstrating to pressure the Ministry to force Ascendant to leave the Intag area. (2008 update: on July of 2008, the judge overseeing the theft and assault case ruled the lawsuit presented by Chaplin was MALICIOUS and reckless. The ruling opens the way for Carlos to sue Chaplin for damages, and for the courts to carry out a full-scale investigation into who really was behind the judicial set-up against him.
July 2006 saw the presence in the Junin areas armed personnel identifying themselves as members of the Ecuadorian Army Corps of Engineers. Some of these persons were involved in death threats against a local community activist. When this was denounced to the heads of the Corps of Engineers they said they did not send anyone to the Intag area and are investigating. Decoin has denounced this new human rights violation to human rights organizations and the nation’s ombudsman. This is only the latest of many instances of intimidation community and Decoin activists have suffered in the past few months.
Ascendant’s strategy to convince locals that mining has included all kinds of false offers to communities and organizations. According to an earlier $16.5 million “community development proposal” mining will bring only good things to Intag. The project includes 30 kilometers of road building and maintenance; new bridges over two rivers; a fully equipped and staffed health clinic; an ambulance; 1,000 new homes; computers for 37 grade schools; a new high school, and training in organic agriculture. Needless to say, the project was tied in to the community’s acceptance of the mining project.
TO DO SOME OF THEIR DIRTY WORK, Ascendant created the false “community development” organization, CODEGAM, which has been accused of all kinds of divisive and illegal actions by local residents. CODEGAM publicly admitted in 2005 that all their funding came from Ascendant Copper Corporation (July 2005 El Comercio Article). As of August 2006, Codegam was inoperable because of in-fighting, and in early 2007, it broke off relations with the company, citing unwillingness to comply with previous agreements with the company. As of September 2007, CODEGAM was replaced by ODI, another company-made “development organization”.
POLITICAL ACTIVITIES. In one of their first assemblies, CODEGAM publicly called on its followers to not respect the Mayor of Cotacachi; called for the creation of a new Municipality; asked Ascendant to stop all negotiations with the Municipality of Cotacachi; asked that Mr. Zorrilla (at the time Decoin’s president) and three other foreigners be expelled from Ecuador. Afterwards, using Ascendant funds, they paid for soccer uniforms with a message supporting the creation of a new Municipality. Furthermore, there is evidence that Ascendant gave money to a political party in the Intag area who supported mining.
INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN: Local opposition is not the only strategy against the mining project. In May 2005, DECOIN, along with Friends of Earth Canada and Mining Watch Canada presented a claim against the mining company for violation of the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. In January of 2006, we decided to withdraw the complaint because we felt there was a total lack of willingness and transparency in the process carried out by Canadian authorities.
The Toronto Stock Exchange: In spite of a determined campaign by DECOIN, Friends of Earth Canada and Mining Watch Canada to alert the regulators in Canada in charge of overseeing listing in the Canadian Stock Exchanges of all the irregularities related to Ascendant Copper (Copper Mesa) Corp, they allowed it to go public in November 2005*. This includes dozens of official documents from community presidents, the Mayor of the County of Cotacachi, a prestigious US law firm, pointing out innumerable instances of misinformation in the prospectus meant to mislead potential investors. To illustrate, the prospectus wildly under reported the magnitude of the opposition by most local communities and the government of Cotacachi to the mining project and to the presence of the mining company.
* In 2008, three inteños presented a lawsuit against the mining company and the Toronto Stock Exchange. The lawsuit is unique in trying to, among other things, hold the Toronto Stock Exchange responsible for the human rights violations occurred in Intag and paid for by capital raised in Toronto. In 2011 the inteños lost the lawsuit but the company was delisted from the Stock Exchange.
Chalguayacu Bajo, December 10th 2005
The fact is that the opposition is so fierce that it led to the burning down of Ascendant’s mining camp on the 10th of December 2005. Close to 300 local residents from approximately 15 communities gathered in Chalguayacu Bajo that morning and assumed all responsibility for the collective action. No arrests were made, but Ascendant officially asked the district prosecutor to investigate, and named 24 local residents as possible guilty parties. In addition it named DECOIN’s Carlos Zorrilla as the brains behind the torching of the camp. It’s important to point out that no one was hurt during the deed, and absolutely nothing was stolen from the premises. To date (August 2006), the legal process is still in the investigative phase, and the case may soon go to court, with four of the most effective community activists still named in the lawsuit.
TO DATE and thanks to local opposition, Ascendant Copper (Copper Mesa) Corporation was unable to access the key mining areas to carry out the Environmental Impact Study necessary for them to do the exploration. Every time they tried, community members from Junín and other nearby communities stopped them.
ALTERNATIVES TO MINING
Communities in the mining area and throughout Intag are developing alternatives to mining. For example, Junín owns a nearly 1,500 hectare forest reserve, the centerpiece of its Community Ecological Tourism project (located right over the mineralized area). Dozens of men and women from two communities run the project.
AACRI- the Coffee Project. Junín, as well as the rest of Intag, also benefits from a shade-grown, fair trade coffee project, carried out by AACRI, a coffee grower’s association started by DECOIN in 1998, but now independent. AACRI has approximately 400 members growing sustainable coffee and is growing.
WOMEN’S GROUPS: Several groups have organized since the Mitsubishi camp bonfire seeking to institute their own form of development. This includes several women’s groups working in sisal handicraft, hand-made soap, etc.
CASA DE INTAG: Another DECOIN initiative born directly from this challenge, was the creation of the CASA DE INTAG. The Fair-Trade store, situated in Otavalo, sells products only produced by organized groups in the Intag area and sells the best coffee around, all under FAIR TRADE premises.
TOISAN CONSORTIUM. The consortium, founded in 2005, is made up of 10 of Intag’s organizations, and was created to support sustainable productive activities by working with local groups. They are heading the Intag Small-scale hydroelectric project and trying to get funding for it.
DECOIN’S COMMUNITY RESERVE PROGRAM. During the past 10 years, Decoin has helped establish 41 community-owned watershed and forest reserve in the Intag area. The project protects thousands of hectares of threatened cloud forests and its endangered wildlife, while at the same time providing clear, safe water for thousands of inhabitants. It is one of the most successful conservation projects in the area, since the communities area actively involved in protecting their reserves. The project also helps community reforests with native species where necessary. The trees are produced by the local communities.
These are only a few of the many sustainable projects residents have developed in response to the mining threat. These initiatives, and the model of sustainable development being created in Cotacachi County, are supported by a County ordinance, which in 2000, declared Cotacachi County the first Ecological County in Latin America (this was also a DECOIN initiative). The Ordinance promotes local, community-based development, full respect for human rights; sustainable use of renewable resources and cultural and biological diversity, to mention a few of its objectives. In other words, a copper mine threatens far more than four communities, primary forests, endangered species and pristine rivers.
Community members from several communities adjacent to the mining area have expressed their intent to continue stopping the mining projects, and keep doing whatever it takes until Ascendant leave.
CODEGAM officially broke relations with Ascendant on February 17, 2006, and at one point wanted to join with the anti-mining forces to force Ascendant to leave Intag. CODEGAM called on several government institutions to investigate Ascendant, and to revoke its mining concessions. CODEGAM was officially disbanded in 2006.
May 20th 2006, nearly 800 men, women and children, joined all seven Parish presidents, as well as legitimate representatives from most of Intag’s communities and NGO’s in a regional Assembly, where firm anti-mining measures were adopted, including asking Ascendant to leave Intag. The company, as was to be expected did not abide by this massive demonstration of rejection.
May 2010. In May 1,500 people attended the Intag-wide Assembly in the Parish of Peñaherrera, and one of the resolutions, backed by nearly 100% of the people present, was to reject mining as a development option. The numbers are significant, in that it represents over 30% of the adult population, and the largest gathering of this kind in Intag.
SUCCESSFUL MARCH TO QUITO. On July 12 and 13th 2006, approximately 600 intag residents traveled to Cotacachi, and then to the nation’s capital, to march to the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the offices of the company, to let the Ministry and the rest of Ecuador know they will not allow mining in Intag. The protesters were led by Parish government presidents and the indigenous Mayor of Cotacachi. The Minister met with a delegation and promised to make sure the company was complying with all laws, and force it to abandon the project if not.
September 2006: The government of Imbabura Province voted to ask the national government to stop Ascendant from carrying out any exploration or exploitation activities within the Junin mining concession. With this decision, all local governments having any jurisdiction over the Junin mining project have publicly announced their opposition to Ascendant Copper (Copper Mesa) Corporation’s mining project.
Using the courts: In an effort to intimidate the opposition, approximately 12 criminal lawsuits were filed by Ascendant (now Copper Mesa Mining Corporation) and/or its employees against approximately 50 community members opposed to the mining project. (As stated above, in 2008 Ecuador’s National Assembly issued an Amnesty, effectively ending all the lawsuits against hundreds of environmental defenders in the country, including all of Intag’s residents facing lawsuits)
OCTOBER 2006: In October 2006, 19 heavily-armed police raided the home of Carlos Zorrilla based on trumped up charges filed by a person believed to have been working for the mining company. The police took advantage of the raid to steal hundreds of CD’s with personal information, as well as information on Carlos’ environmental work with DECOIN and personal possessions. One of the police also planted a gun and some drugs in his home, leading to more criminal charges. Carlos avoided arrest until the arrest warrant was revoked. On April 2007 the charges were dropped for lack of evidence
In July 2008, the court ruled the original lawsuit against Carlos was malicious. And, in late 2008, he contacted human rights organizations to begin legal measures to try to discover the authors of the judicial set up against him (see below for more details).
For accounts of the police raid see: www.counterpunch.org/zorrilla10262006.html
EVENTS OF NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER 2006
On November 1st, about 50 persons carrying machetes, tear gas and attack dogs, tried violently to go into the Barcelona-Cerro Pelado area. Despite the risk of confronting paramilitaries, who used the tear gas against unarmed community members (including a 3-year-old child) the communities stopped them. In the struggle, Vicente Quiguango, of the Villaflora community was run-over by a vehicle belonging to the company. Some of the paramilitaries in this incursion would again be seen in Intag 30 days later.
THE USE OF PARAMILITARIES
On December 2, 2006 several dozen armed guards tried to gain entry to Ascendant’s concessions. They were stopped at the Junin road control, which was manned by community members, and were told they could not proceed any further. Without any provocation whatsoever the guards, led by the international security firm Honor and Laurel, used pepper spray and fired their guns indiscriminately at the unarmed community members, wounding one of them in the leg (the attack was videotaped and photographed). The attack was repelled by the communities, and three days later 56 of the estimated 120 armed guards thought to be in the area, were captured by over 100 of the nearly 300 Intag residents who by then had arrived to Junin from all parts of Intag to support the community. The guards were all ex-military. The company also hired an army helicopter to provision the guards with food.
Ascendant later claimed they didn’t hire the guards, who the Quito-based human rights organization CEDHU, labeled paramilitaries, but that they were hired by Falericorp, a company contracted by Ascendant to supposedly work on agricultural projects. Later it was found that Falericorp was not only not an agricultural company, but that they were operating illegally in the country since 2004. The same was discovered about Honor and Laurel, and most organizations or companies Ascendant’s hired to work in Intag.
More aggressions: On the 6th of December, a large delegation composed of nearly 300 persons from Intag and the highlands of Cotacachi along with the Mayor of the county and the governor of Imbabura province were viciously attacked by crowd of about 50 pro-mining persons, when they were on their way to the community of Junin to officially receive the captured guards. The pro-mining crowd threw thousands of rocks, Molotov cocktails, burning tires and shot at the delegation, wounding several of them (including two Decoin representatives) In order to avoid an escalation of the violence, the trip was cancelled. Three days later, representatives from the national government, as well as the Mayor of Cotacachi, arrived by helicopter in Junin and the 56 guards were turned over. Later, as some of Intag’s residents were leaving this event in Junin, pro-mining personnel attacked them, wounding three of them with machetes, and sticks. ((None of the illegalities committed by the paramilitaries or Falericorp were ever investigated)) See: https://tinyurl.com/ydazzdpq, and the documentary Under Rich Earth, at https://tinyurl.com/y9pbtq7g
March 2007: Community representatives turned over the guns taken away from the paramilitary force in December of 2006 to police officials in the village of Chalguayacu Alto. One of the police officials expressed his grave concern over the threat of paramilitarization and of Ecuador possibly becoming another Colombia (the illegality of the guns were never investigated)
April 2007: In March, the opposition peacefully took over Ascendant’s camp in Chalguayacu Bajo, and the company was forced by the government to reduce its workforce by 70% as a consequence of community pressure. The communities then turned over the guns confiscated from the armed paramilitaries to government officials, and agreed with the government to take down its road controls. The company, however, was prohibited by the communities from entering the mining site. Ascendant’s Environmental Impact Study has not yet been approved, and it’s highly unlikely it will.
On July 2007, Polivio Pérez was nearly lynched by a mob comprised, in part, of Ascendant Copper (Copper Mesa) employees. He was saved by the presence of the police, but the mob destroyed his motorcycle. Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action letter in reaction to this incident, and presently (Sept 2007) As a consequence, Polivio had to have police protection at his home for several months.
On September 2007, charges against Carlos Zorrilla were dropped for both, the original robbery, and illegal possession of firearms charges due to lack of evidence (see item number 11 for an update into these lawsuits)). And, on July of 2008, the judge overseeing the theft and assault case ruled the lawsuit presented by Chaplin was MALICIOUS and reckless. The ruling opens the way for Carlos to sue Chaplin for damages, and for the courts to carry out a full-scale investigation into who really was behind the judicial set-up against him.
The Mining Mandate: In April of 2008, the National Assembly issued the Mining Mandate, with annulled 88% of Ecuador’s mining concessions, including Ascendant Cooper’s concessions in Intag. Lately, the company switched continents, and is focusing its activities on an abandoned Arizona copper mine. In the meantime, the company’s shares have lost approximately 98% of their initial value (as of January 2009).
Although the Mandate set back the mining agenda for almost all of transnational mining companies, it is very important not to be lulled into a false sense of security. I, for one believe that the companies (not necessarily Copper Mesa) will try to take advantage of the political situation (a pro-mining president for example) and possibly fund the campaign of key politicians in the upcoming elections (April and June 2009) in order to regain their concessions and push the mining development model on the people of Ecuador. However, there has never been so much resistance to mining as there is presently, and I strongly believe that if a mining company were to be successful at getting back the concessions, that they will be stopped by the communities.
Victory at last?
Based on the mining mandate, and bowing to years of community pressure, on November 2008 the government finally annulled Copper Mesa Corporation mining concessions in Intag. Though the company has been absent from the area, it apparently told its ex-workers that they would soon return to finish the mining project. The false promise has maintained tensions alive in Intag. As of January 2010, DECOIN is not aware that there are any active mining concessions in Intag, and some government spokespersons have publicly said that there will be no mining in Intag. However, there are no lack of mixed signals coming from the Correa government, and in February 2010, the new head of the state-owned mining company included Junin in the list of areas of interest. In spite of these kinds of statements, it seems, at least at the time, that the resistance was successful at stopping large-scale mining development in Intag for the second time.
Late 2008 and early 2009, Ecuador’s National Assembly approved a new constitution and a new mining law. The passing of the mining law provoked wide-scale anti-mining manifestation in which the country’s indigenous sector joined with the rest of civil society to express their dissatisfaction with the law. It was the one of the few times in Ecuador’s history that an environmental issue raised has so much public discontent and protests, and one of the few times that the indigenous people joined so forcefully with the non-indigenous and environmental groups to publicly manifest their discontent.
The TSX lawsuit. In March 2009 Intag three residents formally presented a 3 billion dollar lawsuit against the Toronto Stock Exchange for human rights violations stemming from the 2006 paramilitary attack and subsequent actions against activists. The lawsuit was presented in Canada, and is the first of its kind against a stock exchange. The activists (Marcia Ramirez, Israel Pérez and Polibio Pérez) also sued the mining company and two of its directors for 90 million dollars. (see www.ramirezversuscoppermesa.com)
Unfortunately, in early 2011 the Ontario Appeals Court hearing the arguments in the lawsuits threw out the case supposedly for lack of proof. Needless to say, when it comes to the communities suing transnationals there will never be enough proof. http://upsidedownworld.org/main/ecuador-archives-49/3015-no-justice-no-peace-canadian-mining-in-ecuador-and-impunity- However, as a result of the lawsuit, the Stock Exchange delisted the mining company from the Stock Exchange, and its funding ran out.
And it goes on……..On March of 2010, ECSA, a subsidiary of Canadian-based Corriente Resources, financed a documentary that disparages a documentary released in 2009 on Ecuador’s anti-mining struggle called “A Cielo Abierto. Derechos Minados” (“Rights Undermined in the Open Sky”). The film has been translated into several languages and has won several international awards. The ECSA film called “A Response to a Contaminated Documentary” disparages and slanders the documentary and some of the activists involved in the anti-mining struggle in the south of Ecuador (hundreds of miles from Intag), but it also uses up about 50% of the time to slander me. The producer takes a guide* I and others wrote for communities to protect themselves from extractive industries, and tries to link me to violent activities that took place in the south three years BEFORE the guide was published, and clearly insinuates that I am a terrorist. So, I sued them and the lawsuit is advancing. (*the guide is called: Protecting Your Community Against Extractive Industries- translated into several languages)
Huge Victory: Perhaps the biggest news in 2010 was the decision taken by the Toronto Stock Exchange to (finally) delist Copper Mesa Mining Corporation!! What this unique victory means is that the was not able to trade its stock on the exchange, and their source of funds dried up. We know of no other anti-mining struggle that has achieved a delisting.
In 2012 the Ecuadorian state-owned mining company, ENAMI, together with Chilean-owned, Codelco (the world’s largest copper producer), took over the project as part of a government-to government agreement. In spite of repeated attempts to enter the mining concession to continue the work of exploration, both companies have been stopped by the communities, this in spite of the presence of police and military (Latest intent took place on September 2013). Thus, no mining activity has taken place, but the pressure is mounting on the communities to allow ENAMI to resume exploratory activities. Millions of dollars are being channeled to Intag by several government agencies in order to win the social approval the project needs to resume.
2013: Going After the Resistance
In an effort to weaken Intag’s resistance to mining, on four different occasions the president and Vice President of Ecuador, in late 2013 and 2014, publicly vilified DECOIN and some of its members on nationally televised speeches and compulsory nation-wide televised special messages. The vilification and defamation of Intag’s organizations and anti-mining leaders has been repeated on a number of occasions by other public employees, in what is a clear governmental strategy to destroy the opposition at all costs. (see http://bit.ly/1s0fpAN)
In fact, in late 2013, President Rafael Correa took to national televised addresses (Sabatinas, which he did every Saturday) watched by millions of Ecuadorians, to go after the opposition to mining in Intag. In particular, he singled out DECOIN’s founder, Carlos Zorrilla, even going to the extreme case of accusing him of destabilizing his government, among other things, all based on made up lies in order to defame him (https://tinyurl.com/y7dztnp8) The president’s lies were so outrageous, and dangerous, that Amnesty International issued a Urgent Action to try to safeguard Carlos’s life (https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/12000/amr280042013en.pdf)
In part due to the pressures by Chinese interests (China is Ecuador’s biggest lender), plus Codelco’s need to expand outside Chile, on April 10th 2014 Javier Ramirez, Junín’s president at the time, was arrested without an arrest warrant and jailed while the government investigated alleged charges for rebellion and sabotage and terrorism. What triggered the arrest and arrest warrant for his brother Victor Hugo was a confrontation in Chalguyacu Alto earlier in the month between community members and Enami personnel in which no one was seriously hurt, though the windshield of the Enami vehicle was broken (see also the Codelco camping experience). At the time of the confrontation Javier Ramirez was resting at his home with a swollen knee result of a motorcycle accident.
In effect, Javier became the first political prisoner of Intag’s struggle.
Codelco camping experience.
In February 2014 two of what was then thought to be Enami employees were arrested by community residents for illegally being in the Junín community reserve, and taken to the community to be turned over to the police. The two individuals were being guided by four Intag residents, one of them was armed with a unregistered handgun. The two “Enami employees” turned out to be Codelco employees. Enami’s CEO has publicly said the two were just camping. Right!
Intag Under Siege
On May 8th 2014 nearly 400 police from elite units violently broke through a community blockade between Chalguayacu Alto and Junín in order to escort 18 employees of a company in charge of undertaking the Environmental Impact Study for advanced exploration, along with other Enami functionaries and very likely Codelco employees. No one was seriously hurt, though there was ample evidence of police abuse when they tried to arrest several campesinos and campesinas — two of them underage. The exaggerated police and military presence was meant, along with Javier’s illegal detention, to intimidate the whole community. Meanwhile, Javier’s brother, Victor Hugo, continues to be protected by Intag’s communities. In October 2014 ((six months after being arrested), the judge overseeing the case ruled that there was sufficient evidence to go to court, and officially charged the Ramirez brothers with sabotage. At the time of arrest Javier was the president of the Junín community, the first one that would be wiped off the map if mining were to go ahead. Many saw Javier as no more than a political prisoner, a pawn being used by the government to pressure and intimidate the communities into accepting mining. Javier is totally innocent of the charges leveled against him (striking a public employee/- in this case a Enami worker), in a road blockage by several community members. Javier was in bed at the time of the alleged incident with a swollen knee due to a motorcycle accident, and was being attended at home by a respected medical doctor. In the incident no one was seriously hurt.
Amnesty International, and The International Human Rights Federation, as well as several national human rights have issued reports on Javier’s case. Human Rights Watch is currently (April 2015) investigating the numerous human rights violations surrounding Javier’s arrest and incarceration. Javier was released after being sentenced in February of 2015 but only after serving 10 months in jail. His brother Victor Hugo remains in hiding accused of sabotage, the same criminal offense as his brother, for putting up resistance to the presence of Enami employees in their territory.
During the 10 months Javier was in jail and Intag’s population intimidated, Codelco and Enami forced themselves on community property to and, on May2015, started exploration.
2016: Finding an “Extinct Species”.
In march of 2016, a biologist from Jambatu Foundation discovered a extremely rare species of frog in Junin’s community forest. Unti its rediscovery, the specis, Atelopus longirostris, or Long-nose Harlequin Frog, was listed as extinct by the IUCN Red List, and last seen in 1989. Legally, this complicates matters for Codelco or any other mining company interested in mining in Junin’s forests, as it would violate the Rights of Nature, as enshrined in Ecuador’s Constitution. The biologists found the frog thanks to a project funded by DECOIN (for more details see: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23766808.2017.1327000)
Based on the IUCN Red List, in the early part of 2018, a biological study of the forest of Intag and adjacent areas, revealed over 100 species of animals facing extinction would be impacted if mining were to go ahead in Intag (https://tinyurl.com/y9g4dzhe). Several are listed as critically endangered. There are very few mining projects in the world that would impact so many endangered or threatened species of mammals, birds, amphibians and other animals. Shockingly, the list would be much longer if the Ecuador Red List were to be used.
In late 2018, Codelco completed advanced exploration it planned for, and it is soliciting further expansion of exploration to another track of primary forest; which presently (Dec 2018), it is being stalled due to lack of water permits. Press reports indicate that if enough ore is discovered, exploitation could begin by 2020. Presently, the government and Codelco are trying to agree on a joint-venture model to extract the ore in case it is determined it is economically feasible, but there’s no indication they’ve come to an agreement. Meanwhile, all the drill rigs have been removed from Junin’s forests, and the drilling company, has left Intag with all its equipment.
The UN 2017 Equatorial Prize
Based on DECOIN’s work against mining and our conservation initiatives- which, jointly with the communiteis and local governments, are protecting tens of thousands of hectares of native forests, in 2017 DECOIN was one of 15 organizations bestowed with the prestigious United Nations Equator Prize 2017. We were chosen from 800 participating organizations from 120 countries (https://tinyurl.com/y9ghutj3).
In 2018, Copper Mesa (Ascendant Copper), won a 24 million dollar award from Ecuador, from the UNCITRAL tribunal for loss of income and expropiation of its mining concessions. This, in spite of the fact that the Tribunal recognized that the company was partly to blame for using violence against the communities (the final settlement came to $20 million. See: https://tinyurl.com/yd3ouq6l and https://tinyurl.com/yb93mlbe)
For a more complete update on this fast-evolving situation, see the Decoin’s Facebook page and/or www.codelcoecuador.com .
Intag continues to be a national and international reference to successful resistance to extractive activities. We welcome your support to help us consolidate this inspiring model of resistance, and transformation to a truly sustainable society. Free of mining.
Updated by Carlos Zorrilla
DECOIN also has a Facebook that it updates constantly
If you would like to get in touch with us, write to: DECOIN: email@example.com
There’s many other excellent articles on this issue out there in cyberspace: just google decoin and intag
There have been five excellent documentaries produced on Intag’s struggle, including: The Curse of Copper; When Clouds Clear; and Under Rich Earth. Javier, con i de Intag details the illegal arrest and incarceration of Javier Ramírez.
The latest documentary, released in 2017, is Hugo, TerritorioRebelde, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DH9IRXVlnrY&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=CarlosZorrilla
Junin’s email is: firstname.lastname@example.org and marcia ramirez email@example.com *
* For English, contact Decoin. Also note that the Community Council and Junín cannot regularly check their emails (no nearby phones). You can copy us and we’ll try our best to contact them.
DEFENSA Y CONSERVACIÓNDECOINECOLÓGICA DE INTAG
Casilla 144 Otavalo, Imbabura Ecuador
Tele/fax: 593 6 256 9023
DECOIN, is a grass-roots environmental organization founded in the Intag region in 1995. All of DECOIN’s members live in Intag. Our main objectives are: to conserve the area’s unique natural resources, with emphasis on forests, biodiversity and water, and to promote and support sustainable productive initiatives. We have helped established over forty community-owned natural areas protecting water, biodiversity and forests- to mention just one of our areas of conservation work. Our most important work has been building and supporting a strong opposition to mining activities by working closely with communities, organizations and local governments, in addition to establishing strong links with the international community.