When I Think of the Copper Laying Under Intag’s Cloud Forests.
When I think of the copper laying beneath Intag’s cloud forests the last thing I think about is clean energy for the poor of our planet. I know better. Rather, I think of death. I think of contamination of pristine rivers and streams with arsenic and lead that will last a thousand years. Of acid waters that scar the landscape and kill all aquatic life. I think of the utter and complete devastation of the homes of hundreds of animals and plants species in danger of extinction. I think of the many species of frogs that live here and nowhere else on Earth. Of the many other species critically endangered, including the brown-faced spider monkey, the Lynch Glass Frog and tree so rare it has only been reported in another patch of 100 hectare lowland coastal forest hundreds of kilometers away. I also think of the last tracts of Western Ecuadorian forests where the jaguar and spectacled bear roam. An ecosystem much more endangered than the Amazonian ecosystems. The same forests also shared by several species of endangered toucans, rare hummingbirds, the spectacular Andean-Cock-of-the-Rock. And it is impossible to imagine this land without the countless waterfalls gracing the steep valleys covered in primary cloud forests dressed in myriad orchids and bromelias. Orchids also found here and nowhere else.
A land too beautiful to lose.
And then I think of the farming families and communities that will be forcefully relocated to make room for the open pit mines. Not willingly, but violently. To where? To do what? Proud small farmers and their families yanked off from their roots and scattered to the cities. Like so much debris. Hubris.
Along with the primary forests and pristine rivers and streams, the violations to individual and collective rights are an integral part of the grim picture. Not only the ones coming, but the ones already committed during these past almost 26 years of resisting the mine. Judicial set ups, dawn police raids, planting of evidence, death threats, the outrageous smearing campaign by the country’s president, intimidating lawsuits, arrest warrants, illegal arrests and incarceration. Of paramilitaries shooting at defenseless locals valiantly standing their ground. Finally, the months-long police and military siege of the whole Intag valley that violently implanted the companies on our land. With the full weight of the State; including several elite police units, the military and the support of 19 public institutions. All facilitated by rampant, state-sponsored impunity.
Then the cover ups. Garbage environmental impacts studies approved by corrupt officials. Inspectors that only saw live trees and not the hundreds logged illegally to line the muddy mule trails. Of waterfalls hemorrhaging heavy metals. Inspectors expertly at looking any other way but where they were supposed to. The Junin forest reserve, community owned and managed, now thrashed by Codelco and Enami. Their livelihood from ecotourism equally thrashed. “Nothing happening here”; the oft-repeated conclusion of the coopted inspectors. One cover up after another. The much-lauded constitutional rights of Nature a joke. An inconvenience. Just like the people, the organizations and communities opposing the mine. Anti-developmentists. Ecoterrorists. Infantile ecologists. “They”, on the other hand, were the heroes promising roads and new jobs; finally bringing “development” to Intag. Filling their filthy mouths with words like progress. We were the enemies of the State. But is there any doubt as to who, really is the enemy of the State? Who are the true terrorists?
All the while, the poison keeps spreading. The companies weaving a dysfunctional tapestry of economic dependence of people previously proudly independent, under the institutional cloak of “legality”. A tapestry backed by judicial intimidation and a fabricated sense of impotence, and the ever-present lies. What can campesino communities do against a government sponsored mining project operated by one of the world’s richest mining company? And the social decomposition goes on. Day after day, especially in times of Pandemic, when the government encourages miners to work and urge them provide basic goods and services to the people, but organizations and community leaders are barred from meeting.
You say we need clean energy to mitigate the climate crisis. I say we need less criminal over consumption and much more coherence. And that we need diversity of ecosystems and species as much or more to keep the planet’s climate system resilient and working properly. Most of the copper, as should be obvious, will end up in second cars and homes of the richer 15% of our planet’s population. Think of monster SUVs and summer homes. And in gadgets designed to last months, if not weeks. How many of the 85% will be able to afford electric vehicles? Is the extinction of species we’ve shared this billions-years long ride worth it? Is the accompanying human rights abuses, evictions, massive deforestation, and the despoiling pristine rivers and streams in perpetuity worth the price? Tell me frankly, is it worth it just to mine 1% of the world’s yearly consumption of copper? Or 10% or 100%?
They are still there, still illegally occupying the community’s forests and spreading lies. Codelco and Enami, both State-owned corporations; both killing ways of lives and ready to poison new streams and cut down thousand-year old trees. Waiting for another approval of yet another garbage environmental impact study, so they can expand their death march to another 700 hectares of nearby primary cloud forests. They may call it progress, but we call it for what it is: ecocide and outrageous human rights abuses.
Once they explore this new tract of primary forest, it will no longer be considered primary. Much easier to justify its destruction. Crucially, it will not sound so bad on the yearly reports to shareholders. Just what the government ordered and inspectors want to “see”. “There are no endangered animals or primary forests”. “Nothing happening here”. Mining can proceed.
Regardless of the ridiculous odds and powerful forces we face we will not give up this fight. There is just too much to lose. Despite two days ago the government reporting that BHP, the world’s largest miner, was interested in buying ENAMI’s stake in the Llurimagua mining project. Two days ago, our coalition on the ground was “just” facing Codelco; the world’s largest copper producer, supported by Ecuadorian-owned Enami. And before that, it was the Canadian Copper Mesa in 2009, which was forced to abandon the project due to community opposition. Just like Mitsubishi subsidiary Bishimetals, in the mid 1990’s. And, tomorrow, with a little bit more help, it will be BHP and Codelco leaving this land with their tails tightly tucked between their legs.
No, we will not give up. We do not see ecocide and mass relocation as progress. We do not intend to surrender basic human rights in order to keep feeding a version of progress that is taking the planet to the brink of collapse and, in the meantime, extinguishing thousands of species.
This is, after all, our home.
*Carlos is a full-time resident of Intag. He has authored numerous articles on the Intag’s and Ecuador’s mining conflicts, and is a member of DECOIN, a grass-roots environmental organization that has led the resistance to mining in Intag since 1995. In recognition of the organization’s conservation work, the United Nations Development Program awarded DECOIN the prestigious Equator Prize.
For more information see:
The Rocket Frog and Intag’s Future