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Brazil/Canada: Toxic Mega-Mine Looms Over Belo Monte’s Affected Communities April 12, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: it may be that Canada has a young hip looking (if vacuous) Prime Minister and a reputation for being more peace loving and less aggressively capitalistic than the United States, but that image is belied by Canadian mining companies in Africa and Latin America.

On the banks of Brazil’s lower Xingu River, a toxic controversy looms large, threatening to heap insult upon the grievous injuries of the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. In early February, the Canadian company Belo Sun received the final operational licence for its proposed Volta Grande mine from the Pará state environmental agency (SEMA-PA). The sprawling nearly 620 square-mile concession would become Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine, straddling the territories of three indigenous peoples and other traditional communities that are already reeling from the many social and environmental impacts of Belo Monte.

Since field research for the mine began in 2008, the peoples of Xingu have publicly decried the occurrence of human and environmental rights violations in the lead-up to the mine’s construction. They have also warned of the likely negative social and environmental impacts that the mine project will cause, and recently they and their allies have taken these complaints to the courts.

First, they have denounced that some of the land on which the mine will be constructed was purchased illegally, given that it is land that the federal government designated for agrarian reform in the 1980s. Second, the mine is close to the village of Ressaca, a community of 300 families, all of whom would be displaced and have not been relocated by the company as required.

Third, local communities fear that the project may well end in a tragedy, like the Samarco Mariana dam collapse in 2015, given that Belo Sun intends to use a mining waste storage dam similar to the one used in Samarco. And even if the mine did not suffer a major catastrophe, the environmental and health impacts of the liberal application of cyanide, arsenic, and other toxic chemicals frequently employed in gold mining would lead to dire implications for communities already dealing with the dramatic changesto their way of life caused by the Belo Monte dam.

In a small piece of good news for communities, on February 21st a judge issued a 180-day injunction on the license in response to a legal complaint filed by the local public prosecutor’s office. In doing so, Judge Álvaro José da Silva Souza recognized that the license issued by SEMA-PA had ignored the community’s complaints, that the allegations of illegal land purchases warrant further investigation, and that the company had not fulfilled its promises to properly relocate the families that would be displaced by the mine. As Judge da Silva said in issuing the injunction, “I understand it to be completely absurd and unjustifiable that the families are currently still at the mercy of their own luck.”

The ruling gave the company 180 days to develop a plan to reallocate impacted communities. The company insists that it will appeal the decision.

Public hearing airs concerns and condemnations

Such concerns were front and center at a March 21st public hearing in the city of Altamira, where Belo Monte’s affected communities aired their grievances to a panel of government and corporate representatives, including from Belo Sun.

After attending the hearing, local analysts described the companies’ neglect of the affected communities as an intentional tactic meant to give them no recourse but to accept meager resettlement plans far from the river and their traditional livelihoods.

During the hearing, Janete Carvalho, an environmental licensing agent from the Brazilian indigenous agency (FUNAI), recalled the toxic legacy of the 2015 Samarco disaster on the Doce River, which killed nineteen people and left another 700 homeless, as a warning to those threatened by Belo Sun. “The closest indigenous territory to Samarco is more than 300 kilometers away and the Krenak people still do not have enough clean water to live,” she stated. “Any accident by Belo Sun will create a situation of ethnocide. The risk is unacceptable.”

FUNAI representatives reiterated that their office does not recognize the mine’s original environmental impact studies and demanded that a new, more rigorous, analysis be conducted that respects the communities’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

“We would like prior consultation to be conducted,” said Chief Gillarde Juruna of Miratu village, located only six miles from the mine’s epicenter. “I was born and raised in that region. We never asked for any project and now there are two of Brazil’s largest projects there. We have no guarantees.”

To address these irregularities, FUNAI filed a lawsuit against Belo Sun in February charging that its installation license was issued by completely ignoring the indigenous agency and its demands that the project’s impact assessment and licensing adhere to a specific study of its impacts on nearby indigenous communities. That case is currently pending.

“Who are you lying to, Belo Sun?”

At the close of the contentious hearing, public prosecutor Humberto Alcântara Ferreira Lima raised serious concerns about the true size and scope of the Volta Grande mine. He revealed a major discrepancy between the mine’s projected gold production as reflected in the license granted by SEMA-PA (pending resolution of Judge da Silva’s injunction) and what the company is telling its investors it will extract. Licensed on the basis of a 2012 estimate that the project will yield roughly 37.7 million tons of gold, Belo Sun has separately touted different projection numbers to its investors: 88.1 million tons in 2013 and most recently 116 tons in February of this year.

“What is the real dimension of Belo Sun’s Volta Grande gold mining project?” asked Mr. Lima. “The one disclosed to Brazilian public institutions or the one disclosed the company’s shareholders, which is more than three times as large? Who are you lying to: the investors or the [licensing agencies]?”

Map of proposed Belo Sun operations

Like Belo Monte, Belo Sun is likely to cause more harm than good

One thing is clear: Belo Sun’s mega-mine is shrouded in irregularities and incalculable risk, much like its neighbor, the Belo Monte dam. Like Belo Sun, local communities and allies warned of the serious environmental and social impacts of Belo Monte, and, unfortunately, those dire warnings have proved prescient. And also like Belo Monte, the corporate interests behind the mine demonstrate neither concern nor prudence, rushing instead to initiate operations at any cost.

Belo Sun is owned by Canada’s Forbes & Manhattan, a private merchant bank. Canadian mining giant Agnico Eagle Mines is the company’s largest shareholder, with a 19% ownership of Belo Sun. Known for its notorious Malartic urban gold mine in Quebec, Agnico is subject to no fewer than 4,000 violations of environmental laws and regulations and is subject to a CAD $70 million lawsuit for its impacts on local residents.

The struggle to preserve what is left of the lower Xingu’s environment and communities from another catastrophic mega-project is not over. Even as political and economic forces line up behind Belo Sun and the region’s untapped riches, the local communities and their allies prepare to resist them. Amazon Watch has been standing with the communities of the Xingu for many years, and we will we not give up our support for them now!


Taking stock of Canada’s mining industry: Landmark lawsuit against the Toronto Stock Exchange could strip Canadian mining companies of impunity May 11, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, Latin America.
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May 5, 2010 in Briarpatch Articles, May/June 2010: Foreign policy |

 By Jennifer Moore
Briarpatch Magazine
May/June 2010

Marcia Ramírez hopes to set a precedent in Canadian courts that will benefit peasant farmers and indigenous peoples across the Global South.

A community leader in her mid-20s, Ramírez is one of three Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing the Toronto Stock Exchange for over $1.5 billion. The lawsuit alleges that violence in their rural community could have been avoided had the TSX not listed the Copper Mesa Mining Corporation (formerly Ascendant Copper), which is also named in the lawsuit. The TSX Group and TSX Inc. are accused of causing or materially contributing to alleged violence committed by the company in response to local opposition to an open-pit copper mine. An environmental impact study had indicated that the mine would displace several communities and jeopardize the health of forests and rivers in the northwestern valley of Intag. The defendants have vigorously denied the allegations.

“I ask the noble people of Canada,” Ramírez stated in her comments when the civil suit was filed in March 2009, “that you demand from your elected authorities significant changes in your national legislation so that what has happened with Copper Mesa in Intag will never happen again, not in Intag nor in any other part of the world.”

The TSX is a principal source of global mining financing today and specializes in services for junior mining companies like Copper Mesa. According to the Mining Association of Canada, 55 per cent of the world’s publicly traded mining companies were listed on the TSX at the end of 2008, far more than any other stock exchange. Canadian stock exchanges also provided 31 per cent of the world’s mining equity and handled 81 per cent of financing transactions for the global mining industry between 2004 and 2009.

In Latin America, a prime target for Canadian mining investments, Canadian-listed companies operate roughly 1,400 projects and have been the focal point of widespread protests and human rights abuses throughout the region. Just in the past year, anti-mining activists have been reported killed in Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala in presumed relation to Canadian projects. In Argentina and Honduras, Canadian operations have led to complaints of water scarcity, contamination and illness. In Peru, a Canadian mining oper­ation has provoked opposition among northern Amazonian peoples who question why a national park intended to protect their territory was reduced by half, giving miners access to pristine forests in headwaters of great importance to them. Alleged human rights violations and abuses by such companies are seldom investigated and almost never brought to justice.


“Mining companies are prohibited here,” reads the sign. “We don’t sell our lands, we defend them.”

As a result, Canadian mining companies have developed a reputation for human rights violations and environmental devastation that even the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racism has complained about. Members of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability were also dismayed when the government released a belated response to a series of public recommendations on the Canadian overseas extractive industry in March 2009 that only reaffirmed its commitment to the status quo: voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility guidelines. The government’s position “falls far short of international human rights norms,” said Amnesty International. KAIROS, a faith-based organization advocating for human rights, ecological and ecumenical justice, complained that Canada leaves “mining-affected communities with no recourse.” MiningWatch added that the government’s complaint mechanism “undermines the principle of independent fact-finding.” One survey of Canadian mining companies has also demonstrated that adherence to international standards by our overseas extractive industry is “inordinately” low, especially among junior mining companies.

In other words, voluntary principles are not enough.

Intag, Ecuador, says no

The Ecuadorian community of Intag has a long history of opposition to large-scale copper mining, beginning with the expulsion of a Japanese mining company in the 1990s. In 1997, Bishi Metals left the area when locals balked after obtaining a copy of its environmental impact assessment, which detailed how its projected open-pit mine would cause deforestation, dry up rivers and displace at least four local communities.

Following this victory, Intag continued organizing, aware that although Bishi was gone, the copper remained. Various initiatives were undertaken to demonstrate that Intag could live without mining, including a local conservation organization, an ecotourism project, a women’s committee, a committee of all the rural parishes in the valley, a coffee co-operative, a community newspaper, a local radio station and a community development association.

By the time Copper Mesa acquired mineral rights in Intag in 2004, it was local organizations rather than the technical challenges of working in the remote area that would prove to be its greatest obstacle. As a result of the strong collective response, the company never managed to get a drill in the ground.

According to Polivio Pérez, president of the Community Development Council for the rural parish in which Copper Mesa’s project is situated, “the company came in trying to buy support and divide the communities” in an effort to weaken local resistance. When it could not gain enough support, he continues, “they tried to enter by force.”

Prior to listing the company in 2005, the TSX was warned that violence and human rights abuses could result from facilitating access to capital. Human rights abuses had already been documented by the well-respected Ecumenical Human Rights Commission in Quito (CEDHU), including physical mistreatment, death threats, persecution, slander, false charges against community leaders and intimidation. Such concerns motivated the county mayor to write a letter to the finance and audit committee of the TSX urging them not to list the company. The company’s own prospectus, which the stock exchange requires of companies before they are listed, also indicated “the potential of further escalating violence” given existing problems with its community relations in Intag.

It was no surprise, then, that things heated up once the company was listed and started raising funds.

The worst incident, both Ramírez and Pérez agree, occurred in December 2006 when heavily armed security guards were hired to reach the company’s mineral claims and set up camp.

Villagers blocked the only access road to the potential mining site with a single-link chain and stood guard. A sign posted on a nearby tree read: “Mining companies are prohibited here. We don’t sell our land, we defend it.”

The residents, including men, women and children, refused to let the private security agents pass. But the guards were impervious to their arguments and began to fire their weapons and to spray Ramírez and others at close range with tear gas. Israel Pérez, the third plaintiff in the case and Polivio’s brother, was shot and injured in the leg.

In response, local residents successfully carried out a peaceful citizen’s arrest and the guards were held in a local church for several days until local authorities arrived. “Despite being assaulted with tear gas and bullets,” says Polivio Pérez, “we were able to demonstrate once again the strength of our local organization and our decisiveness [against mining] here.”

The incident was captured on film by two German journalism students and is featured in Malcolm Rogge’s 2008 film Under Rich Earth. Ultimately, government authorities suspended the project and declared that they were unable to process the company’s environmental impact assessment.

Months later, after company directors had been personally informed about the December events and persisting tensions, individuals believed to be linked to the company assaulted and uttered death threats against Polivio Pérez. The statement of claim for the lawsuit alleges that the directors could have done more to avoid further confrontations, such as actually signing and implementing the “Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights” that the company publicly purported to respect.

Challenging Canada’s “judicial paradise”

The Toronto-based Klippenstein legal firm, best known for its defence of the Dudley George family against the province of Ontario, is representing the Ecuadorian villagers in their suit against the TSX and Copper Mesa. Their lawsuit, Murray Klippenstein says, seeks “the same level of corporate accountability that is expected in all other areas of Canadian life.” He anticipates a tough battle.

In 1997, the last time a mining company was sued in Canada, the plaintiffs were told to go elsewhere. Twenty-three thousand Guyanese villagers filed a class-action lawsuit against Cambior after the collapse of its tailings dam at the Omai Mine, which polluted their water supply. But the Quebec Superior Court ruled that it was not the best jurisdiction for the case. When the suit was later filed in Guyana, it was dismissed and the plaintiffs were ordered to pay the defendant’s legal costs.

In order to address jurisdictional issues, explains Klippenstein, the Intag lawsuit focuses on decisions that stock exchange and company executives made in Ontario, “rather than on the finger that pulled the trigger in Ecuador.”

This aspect of the legal strategy appears to be working. The Toronto lawyer says that the TSX and Copper Mesa have decided not to challenge the Ontario court jurisdiction. This puts them one step ahead and potentially trims years off the time they might have spent in legal battles before going to trial.

However, it is not just the reticence of Canadian courts to deal with cases of abuse beyond our own borders that this case aims to confront, but also the skittishness of an entire industry to subject itself to legal oversight.

Given the weak reporting requirements for listing on the TSX and the lack of relevant legislation in Canada, author Alain Deneault calls Canada a “judicial paradise” for our overseas mining industry. “Listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange,” writes Deneault, who co-authored an exposé of Canadian mining abuses in Africa entitled Noir Canada, “is a way of seeking shelter in one of the more permissive stock exchanges in the world, while taking advantage of the reputation of the rule of law in Canada – all the while knowing that one is outside of state control and regulation when operating overseas.”

The Toronto Stock Exchange openly markets itself to companies hoping to work in areas with weak governmental institutions and vulnerability to conflict and violence. Its own online promotional materials give the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo as one potential site for which it can help companies raise financing.

In other words, the Intag lawsuit is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as Klippenstein’s legal team will argue that members of Copper Mesa’s board of directors and the TSX had significant prior indications that further violence and human rights abuses could result from listing Copper Mesa Mining, it is highly possible that a plethora of other such cases exist for which this lawsuit could set an important precedent. Coincidentally, the same year that Copper Mesa was listed, La Presse reported that another junior mining company was allegedly implicated in the massacre of about 100 Congolese civilians.

Great expectations

MiningWatch Canada is a coalition of 18 faith, social justice, indigenous and union organizations. Communications and Outreach Coordinator Jamie Kneen told Briarpatch that if the lawsuit succeeds it could really “open the door” for other communities that have been harmed as a result of Canadian mining operations. From the Congo to Papua New Guinea to Guatemala, people who have faced illegal land appropriations, forced relocation, water contamination, threats or even murder could sue.

The lack of suitable mechanisms for addressing such disputes in Canada has also drawn the attention of parliamentarians and legal experts. Recently, Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie, speaking at the 2008 Canadian Bar Association conference, urged Canada to draw up new legislation that would provide a forum for foreign citizens and companies to have such cases heard. In the spring of 2009, two Members of Parliament initiated attempts at legislative reform by tabling private member’s bills. NDP MP Peter Julian’s Bill C-354 aimed to replicate the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign citizens to fight global human rights violations in U.S. courts, while Liberal MP John McKay’s Bill C-300 would make public financing for the extractive industry subject to government oversight. Up against a fierce industry lobby and government opposition, both bills were stalled when Parliament was prorogued.

“It’s not fair,” says Ramírez, “that a foreign company comes onto our land and violates our rights, when all we want is to live in a clean environment and to defend our water and our land.” She hopes, after the procedural battles are over, for a cathartic day in court when “the stock exchange will listen and understand that we’ve been hurt by a company of theirs.”

Ramírez, the other plaintiffs and the legal team will face a tough fight. But the underlying principle of their case is straightforward, says Klippenstein: “You shouldn’t harm somebody and you shouldn’t use your money to hire someone whom you know is likely to do harm” – a golden rule that Canadians would likely agree to in any other circumstances.

However, only time will tell whether Canadian courts are prepared to hear Ramírez’s voice and those of many others calling for a 180-degree turnaround in a sector rife with human rights and environmental abuses.

Ecuador’s Future for Canadian Transnationals: An Exchange of Indigenous Perspectives May 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Environment.
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Jennifer Moore

www.upsidedownworld.org, May 20, 2009

“The sorrows are ours; the cows are not.”

Translation of a lyric written by Atahualpa Yupanqui (born Hector Roberto Chavero; died 1992), an Argentinian Communist exiled to Paris and who lived out his life there. The original Spanish is “las penas son de nosotros, las vaquitas son ajenas.”

Image“Welcome to the future,” says the sign behind the gated area where Vancouver-based Corriente Resources is developing an open-pit copper mine in Ecuador’s Southern Amazon. Bumping along in the back of a pick-up truck on her way to visit one of several communities slated to be displaced by the project, the idea that the future is fenced off with restricted entry for local communities that have lived on the land for years, even generations, hit home for Anne Marie Sam.

From the Nak’azdli First Nation in central British Colombia, Sam is one of two indigenous representatives who visited communities affected by Canadian-financed mining activities in Ecuador earlier this month. “We don’t even want Canadian companies in our territory, so we don’t blame Ecuadorians for not wanting them here either.” The Nak’azdli Nation opposes a proposed gold and copper mine on their territory that they have determined “would not strengthen them as a community” which includes about 1,700 members.

The trip was a critical response to President Rafael Correa’s recent invitation to the Canadian Embassy to help delegitimate the position of various indigenous leaders who are critical of his mining policy. The Embassy is still responding and will soon host a second delegation of indigenous leaders. This most recent visit was coordinated by the Quito-based Pachamama Foundation in cooperation with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

The CONAIE has criticized Correa for continuing with World Bank-backed policies to substitute the country’s dwindling oil reserves with metal extraction. Ecuador has been an oil producer for more than forty years, but no large scale mining project has yet entered production here. The CONAIE is worried about possible impacts on both water and local livelihoods. They further argue that indigenous peoples and other affected communities should have the right to consent over what projects take place on their lands or territories. A position substantiated by international law.

However, Correa is unequivocally opposed to local communities having “a veto” over what he sees as a matter of national interest. He calls his critics “infantile environmentalists” and the “greatest threat” to his political project.

Coming from Canada – the world’s principal source of financing for global mining activities – Robert Lovelace, a leader from the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation in Eastern Ontario, says his experiences in the Andean nation reveal that indigenous communities in both countries “share a heck of a lot in common.” Not only does Canada have its share of environmental disasters from extractive industry and not uphold the right to consent for indigenous communities, it also lags behind Ecuador for not having ratified international conventions that recognize these rights including the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We need to see much more of each other and we need to compare notes,” Lovelace says. An ongoing relationship, he believes, could be mutually beneficial. “When people in Ecuador stand strong,” he says, “it also helps us because it tells the mining companies that nobody is going to take the stuff that they’ve been giving out regardless of where they are.”

Canada’s Glowing Reputation

While Correa hopes that indigenous leaders invited by the Canadian Embassy will drown out the CONAIE’s criticisms, the recent visit by Sam and Lovelace revealed that Canada’s story is not as harmonious as Correa would lead Ecuadorians to believe.

“[Canada] has understood how to respect and benefit its ancestral peoples,” said Correa during a national radio address. The first people to benefit in Canada from mining, he added, “are the ancestral peoples.”

But Lovelace, speaking during two events in Quito which included members of Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and an international group of lawyers, called Canadian mining a “two fold problem: for us and the rest of the world.” He insisted that within Canada it has to be seen within the context of colonialism and poor regulation.

The firm but soft-spoken leader explained that indigenous peoples are the most impoverished group in Canada, with high rates of suicide particularly for those who have lost their traditional ways of life, and that they have suffered official attempts to destroy their social and cultural fabric leading to rampant addictions and many broken homes. This, he explained, is a cost of the extractive and commercial mindset with which Canada was founded and continues to operate.

Lovelace has been opposing a proposed uranium mine on Ardoch territory, and shared his experience about how his community was sued for $77 million dollars by Frontenac Ventures and about his three and a half months in jail as a result of efforts to prevent mining activities on their lands.1 Radioactive contamination of lakes and rivers from uranium mining, occupational health hazards, and the uses of uranium for nuclear energy and arms are a few reasons why they do not support the mine.

Speaking to the national press, he added that the proliferation of Canadian mining companies can be explained by the fact that “we don’t have tough rules” and have poor infrastructure to enforce the rules that we do have. The Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) lists almost 60% of mining companies worldwide with over 1,400 projects in Latin America and more than 8,000 around the globe.2

He thinks stronger regulation, backed up by good monitoring and enforcement, should be “the cost of doing business for companies that are invited into other countries and invited onto indigenous land, as a bare minimum. Canada has to acknowledge that and do that because it is immoral not to.” The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has also urged Canada to develop such legislation.

But Canada has been reticent. It took the government four years to respond to parliamentary recommendations to strengthen its mining legislation for extractive industry abroad, and its recent decision reinforces voluntary guidelines rather than tightening regulations.

Interestingly, Ecuadorians from the northwestern valley of Intag recently launched a lawsuit against the TSX with the objective that the case will help lead to stronger regulations in Canada. Inteños have broadly opposed open-pit copper mining for over twelve years, but this has not stopped current project owner Copper Mesa Mining (formerly Ascendant Copper) from trying to use forceful means to try to reach its concessions. The TSX was warned before the company was listed that further financing could lead to human rights violations and violence in the valley.3

ImageThe Environment, an Afterthought

However, Correa would have Ecuadorians believe that TSX-listed companies who are irresponsible, well, they are simply not Canadian. “Be careful!” he has warned on national radio. “There are some companies that try to pass themselves off as Canadian because they trade on the Canadian stock market, but they’re not Canadian. Canada has strict, very strict, environmental requirements.”

But the Canadian public does not even know how much pollution mining operations have generated.

Only several weeks ago, the Federal Court released a “strongly worded decision” ordering the Canadian government to “stop withholding data on one of Canada’s largest sources of pollution – millions of tonnes of toxic mine tailings and waste rock from mining operations throughout the country.”4 Indicating the strength of Canada’s mining lobby, it has taken sixteen years since the National Pollutant Release Inventory was created for the sector to be held to the same reporting requirements as every other industrial sector.

When Anne Marie hears a question translated for her from an audience in Quito: “Mining companies say that their projects will be clean, that they won’t have serious enviromental impacts, what do you think?” she laughs at the coincidence. “We hear the same thing,” she remarks. “But the question isn’t whether a company will contaminate our water, it’s when.”

Given the industry’s track record in her home province, Anne Marie’s nation has not been swayed by company promises that environmental impacts will be mitigated. A recent press release from the Nak’azdli Nation states, “There are close to 2,000 abandoned or closed mines in BC and two third of them are still polluting the land and water.”5

So, when the Nak’azdli First Nation was approached by Terrane Metals to develop a gold and copper mine on their lands at the headwaters of the Peace River watershed, they did not jump at the opportunity for an agreement with the company. They did, however, take the chance to do some of their own investigations and accepted the company’s offer of $150,000 CDN without promising any further agreement.

Anne Marie was appointed to study the issue.

“Our elders advised us not to focus just on the economic aspect, but to also seriously consider the social and cultural implications,” she said.

With the company funds, they hired their own experts and examined the social, cultural, economic, environmental and legal ramifications of the project put together in what she calls an “Aboriginal Interest and Use Study.”

They concluded that they could not support the project. Even when they hit a period during which many of their members were without work, they determined that the kinds of jobs they could qualify for based upon their education and experience – cleaning, cooking and construction – did not outweigh the impacts.

Their disapproval has not stopped the company from seeking other nearby First Nation communities that would accept the project. Nor did it stop the provincial government from recently approving the company’s Environmental Assessment despite not having consulted the Nak’azdli Nation. However, it has been a key tool in their resistance.

It is a challenge because “time is not on the side of First Nations when it comes to a mining project. It’s always the timeline of the company.” But, she laughs, thinking about the time it took to read through the 6,000 page environmental assessment that the company provided and in which they found many weaknesses, “if I didn’t read [the study], I wouldn’t be able to tell you this story.” Education and communication, she says, “are key.”

ImageSorrow is Ours, the Cows are Not

The newly elected Prefect of Ecuador’s southernmost Amazonian province, Salvador Quishpe, welcomed the Canadian delegation to their final event in El Pangui. The Condor Mountain Range stretches along the eastern horizon of this steamy jungle town situated near some of the most contentious mining developments in the country.

Whereas Bob Lovelace contextualizes Canadian mining in terms of colonialism, Quishpe frames Ecuadorian mining around twenty five years of neoliberalism that he says continues despite Correa’s slogan “Our patrimony belongs to all.” He jokes for a moment: “the Canadians came along and said, “Belongs to all, eh?” “Hey, that’s good, then that includes us too!”

Quishpe reminded the 400-strong crowd that UNESCO has declared part of the Condor Mountains a World Bioreserve which has over 48 distinct ecosystems and is one of the highest priority areas for scientific research in the neotropics. He also reminded the audience that vast stretches have been claimed for mining exploration and that the principal concession holders are Vancouver-based Corriente Resources and Toronto’s Kinross Gold.

He observes that the industry’s principal proponents –  the Ecuadorian representatives of Canadian transnationals – are in large part former officials from the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. So, he remarks, the same people who helped institute the neoliberal framework for mining in the 1990s are now sitting on top of some of the best deposits of gold and copper. “It is ultimately the companies, not the government, who makes mining policy in this country,” he concludes. “And while it’s a mortal sin to say it,” he continues, “mining should be nationalized.”

Having recently been called “an enemy of the government” and a “dumb leftist” by Correa, Quishpe adds, “We are not against development.” Rather, he emphasizes, his province needs proper planning with strong participation. He proposes at least one industry – tourism – that he plans to promote during his upcoming term in local office. “We want development for the well-being of our peoples, not so-called development by which a transnational company takes away our riches for itself.”

Sam has a similar comment. “Our community has always said, we’re not against development. But we need to have a say in what development happens in our area and where, and right now we’re not being given that opportunity.”

The Waterkeepers

As the event wraps up, Anne Marie hands Salvador a card. She explains that the image of a red and green frog was drawn by an artist from her community. The frog represents the waterkeepers, she says, and Salvador is a water defender just like she and the rest of her clan from the Nak’azdli First Nation.

“Coming here has opened my eyes to how connected we are,” says Sam reflecting on the visit shortly later, “and how similar the fight we have to protect the land and the connection [we have with the land] whether indigenous or not.” She thinks about El Pangui’s struggle at the headwaters of the Amazon, and recalls her own at the headwaters of the Arctic. “What we need,” she says, “is a stronger role for indigenous people that is not after the fact or after claims are made on the land.”

In British Colombia, she says they are using new technology that enables helicopters to identify and take images of what minerals are in the ground just by flying over their territories. “Instead of this information going direct to the internet so that people can begin staking claims,” she says, “the information should go to First Nations first. And then we can decide if we want to do small scale mining, or if we want to do something else because open pits are not a nice site to look at and a recreational lake in an open pit (which is what the Terrane Metals promises to leave behind in her territory) isn’t an ideal situation for us.”

Robert Lovelace also believes that a much more meaningful participation is necessary. He describes it as a spectrum that usually begins with information sessions or token consultations. “Consultation,” he explains, “is still a form of tokenism because to consult with someone does not mean that you’re going to agree with them or even take their advice into account especially when there’s a power differential, whether based on capital or politics.”

“But when the values of each of the parties are truly recognized,” he says “and we look at consensual partnerships where both parties are able to give consent, then if one party can’t give consent, a project or development doesn’t go ahead. But that’s honest partnership.”

“As long as the power of First Nations are recognized then they may assign their authority to a corporation or a level of government in order to facilitate something happening. But that’s their choice, they’re not being forced or imposed upon to do that. The last stage is true self-governance. That’s having full authority to choose to move forward with development or not, or to choose another future altogether.”

While it has yet to be seen what the Canadian Embassy’s upcoming delegation will share with Ecuadorian’s, it will most definitely get broader coverage from the Ecuadorian press. As well, one can be almost sure that free, prior, and informed consent; recognition of the inherent rights of indigenous peoples; and the possibility of different futures other than the Canadian-owned, open-pit and underground mines envisioned for El Pangui, Yantzaza, Intag, Victoria del Portete, Molleturo, Ponce Enriquez, and many other parts of Ecuador will not be up for discussion.


1. For further detail see: Justin Podur, “Canada’s latest political prisoners” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/17019
2. 2007 figures based upon the Toronto Stock Exchange’s Mining Presentation
3. For more information see http://www.ramirezversuscoppermesa.com/index.html
4. Press release “Court victory forces Canada to report pollution data for mines” available at http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2009/04/24-0
5. Press release “Proposed BC mines cannot proceed without Nak’azdli First Nation” available at http://www.rightsaction.org/articles/Nakazdli_abuse_031909.html

Ecuador: The Logic of Development Clashes with Movements March 21, 2009

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Written by Raúl Zibechi   
Thursday, 19 March 2009 www.upsidedownworld.org
Source: Americas ProgramIn spite of proclaiming himself socialist and a defender of the general “well being,” President Rafael Correa has been promoting the open-pit mining industry, which has provoked serious environmental and social damage throughout the region.

“The nascent left, indigenous, and ecological movements are starting to rise, having meetings to promote an uprising against the mining companies.” “With the law in hand we will not allow these abuses, we cannot allow uprisings, which block paths, threaten private property, and impede the development of a legal activity; mining.”

It was not a political conservative who said these words, but Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, who proclaimed himself a member of “21st century socialism” and an enemy of neoliberalism. The first sentence he said in a speech before the Provisory Congress in early January and the second he gave in a speech on Jan. 12 on the balcony of the president’s house in Quito.1 In addition, he accused social movements that reject the Ley de Mineria (Mining Law) of being “allies of the right.” The government minister, Fernando Bustamante, spoke of a potential insurgent link between indigenous organizations and the military.2

Tensions were already high at the beginning of January when the police brutally repressed community members protesting in the south of the country against the law. “We will not negotiate with criminals and thugs” was Minister Bustamante’s response to the indigenous leaders who defended themselves against repression by holding a police captain captive.3

Mobilization, Repression, and Beyond

On Jan. 20 two different worlds collided in Ecuador. Correa’s government, which had recently promoted and won a referendum for constitutional reform inspired by the logic of “healthy living” (“Sumak Kausay,” in Quichua) and the abandonment of the neoliberal model, pressed Congress to approve the Mining Law. The Legislative Commission approved the law on Jan. 12. Social movements called for a national mobilization to oppose the transnational exploitation of mining. The forces which met on the street were far from equal: the results were injuries, detainees, tear gas, and violent attacks.

Since the beginning of January there have been protests throughout the entire nation, organized both by indigenous groups and urban, environmental, and humanitarian organizations, along with the federation of evangelical indigenous peoples. All have questioned the Mining Law, considering it unconstitutional and rushed through into law without ample national debate for such a serious issue. The protests were particularly large in the south, in the Andean and Amazonian regions, consisting of the blocking of highways, marches, and hunger strikes.

On Jan. 20, designated “Day of Mobilization for Life,” thousands of indigenous people took to the highways as they had done previously in other protests. Some 4,000 indigenous people blocked the Latacunga-Ambato highway in the southern mountains, and tens of thousands of others engaged in similar acts throughout the country, including protests in Quito and Cuenca, the two principal Andean cities. There were also protests in the Amazon and along the coast. Multicolored marches animated with drums, flutes, horns, and whistles, in which families and entire communities took part.

Although CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) made clear that the movement would be peaceful, repression was still a major component, with the use of tear gas and even bullets, resulting in dozens of injuries, many of the wounded requiring hospitalization. The repression was not much different from that which occurred when the right governed Ecuador.

When it came time to explain the government’s response, Humberto Cholango, president of Ecuaraunari, an indigenous organization of Quichuas from the Andes, said that the problem is that the right surrounds Correa. “The president needs only to look to his side if he wants to see the right,” he said in relation to accusations directed by the president at indigenous movements.4 Nevertheless, CONAIE should recognize that the protests led to acts of violence against a diverse group of people and police, an act that was created by the presence of “infiltrators in a legal and legitimate movement.”5

What is certain is that there was no national debate about the law, but there was violence in the streets, and a crisis of relations between the government and social movements that should have been the social base of a government that promotes a “citizens’ movement.” The media played an important role in the growing division between the social movements and the government creating a confrontational climate.

In the attempt to strike a balance between the movements and the mining industry, Acción Ecológica demonstrated its satisfaction at the “new urban-rural alliance being born that embraces the principles of ecology.” It pointed out that “the arguments to protect water, strengthen community food sovereignty, vindicate the right to consultation, and the general mistrust of transnational corporations, are now understood and adopted by many Ecuadorians.” It lamented the government’s movement to the right in spite of sovereign positions such as the new constitution and the declaration of illegitimacy of foreign debt. “History shows when a government turns to the right it is very difficult for it to once again turn to the left,” the organization concluded.6 


Days later, CONAIE sent an “Open Letter to the World Social Forum,” in which it explained their “opposition and rejection” of Correa’s presence in “a space that has historically constructed alternatives and guarantees to the rights of the people and the right to life and cannot be a tribune for a president with impregnable discriminatory, sexist, and violent positions on racism, machismo, and paternalism.” They alerted the Forum that behind the language of the “citizens’ revolution” was repression and attempts against dignity and human rights, assuring that “the long neoliberal night is present in Ecuador.”7

Arguments in Dispute

The sociologist Alejandro Moreano attempts to analyze the Mining Law in terms of the contradictions of Correa’s government. At the beginning of his presidency Correa assured the people that when the privatized cellular telephone contracts (Spain’s Telefónica and Mexican entrepreneur Carlos Slim’s América Movil)expired, those services would return to the hands of the state. But he then renewed the concessions for 15 additional years. Something similar occurred with the audit of the public external debt: after it became apparent that there were illicit proceedings in its formation last November, Correa retracted his initial idea of not repaying it.

“From the beginning, the government has acclimated us to a policy in which reforms are implemented through a neoliberal method, or vice-versa. One from the right and another from the left. How can we understand such discrepancies? Are the leftist measures merely smokescreens for those of the right?” asks Moreano.8 At first glance, it seems only time can answer these questions. In any event, various analysts maintain that one of the central problems is that the government’s party, Acuerdo Pais, has at its core important divergences from the left and a sizeable right-wing voice.

The Mining Law was rigorously analyzed by the social movements. In the “antecedents” section of one of the bodies of work, we are reminded that foreign investment in Ecuador has always focused on extraction and agro-exports and that international division of labor condemns the country to be an exporter of primary goods and resources such as cacao, coffee, bananas, and others, without any industrialization. “For every dollar that stays in the country, four have been yielded for foreign investments.”9

After the Second World War a process of import substitution industrialization (ISI) started. There were nationalizations and a Welfare State was established. But the country continued supporting itself based on exports of one or two primary products, making it very vulnerable to economic fluctuations. In the last few years Ecuador’s main export has been oil, which nevertheless has been unable to stimulate national production of capital goods or crude derivatives exports. “The exportation of oil has arrived as an inexhaustible source of social and environmental damage.”10

Also in question is the fact that the law has been approved by the Legislative Commission or “Little Congress,” a transitory organization put in place until the general elections take place in April under the banner of the new constitution. In the same vein, critics maintain that the Mining Law “does not correspond to the national vision that the constitution of October 2008 lays out,” in large part because “it disrupts the balance among communities and thus impedes the free exercise of rights,” and “corrupts the multi-ethnic character of the Ecuadorian state.”11

In terms of the Mining Law articles, Article 2 (Applications) does not include community members as it does with public, mixed, or private figures. Article 3 (Supplementary Norms) incurs the omission of not pointing out “the supremacy of the political constitution and the international instruments of human and environmental rights.”12 


Article 15 (Public Utility) is one of the most questioned articles. Acción Ecológica’s report points out that it is not explicitly established that the concessions “should never again compromise the right to water, community food sources, protected natural areas, indigenous territories, and lands dedicated to the production of food. Mario Melo, lawyer for the Pachamama Foundation, emphasizes that by declaring mining activity to be a “public utility,” the constitution is authorizing the expropriation of lands in indigenous territories “by simply citing a supposed collective benefit.”

At the same time Article 16 (State Dominion over Mines and Oil Fields) places “national interests” at the forefront. These national interests are of course defined by the government in power, and according to its critics, will respond to “the requirements of fiscal income, which will end up imposing permanent damage to the well-being of those who live in the country.”13

Article 28 (Prospection Freedoms) states that any business “has authorization to liberally prospect to search for mineral substances,” which allows them to do mining studies on community and indigenous lands (in Ecuador there are 14 nationalities and 18 indigenous peoples). Similarly, Article 90 (Special People’s Consultation Proceedings) makes references to said proceedings, which conform to article 398 of the constitution and not article 57. The difference is vast. “In the first it clearly states that if a community or indigenous people oppose prospecting, the issue “will be resolved with the decision of the higher administrative authority.” In the second, the same conflict may be resolved “to conform to the applicable international instruments, among which is the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, signed by Ecuador. The mandatory result of the proceedings must be in accordance with those being consulted in order to undertake said activity.”14

Ultimately, one of the most controversial aspects of the new law is related to respect for both the environment and indigenous territories. Both issues are established within the new constitution but are completely ignored in the Mining Law.

Acción Ecologista concludes that the law “is written in the neoliberal model,” since it favors foreign investment, grants priority to income over social and environmental concerns, the extraction of minerals is put above human rights and affected communities, as well as the conservation of biodiversity and water sources. It also includes the potential opening of protected natural areas, while at the same time “criminalizing protest and the right to exercise resistance.”

According to the report from Acción Ecológica, the state’s object is that mining activity be “an important source of fiscal incomes, which would complement and ultimately replace oil.” Although the policy of increasing state income is defended, it is considered by many that the regressive aspects reinforce Ecuador’s neocolonial dependence. Lastly, and this is very serious, this extraction model further removes itself from the new constitution which claims to defend “a model of human, integral, and holistic development to achieve well-being, with the essential ingredient of nonviolence toward man or nature, with which a purely harmonious relationship should be maintained.

The defenders of the law assure that it will create 300,000 jobs, which is vital to the development of the country, and that there will be no pollution. This cannot be corroborated and differs from Ecudor’s oil-laden past. In either case, strengthening the role of the state seems to be one of the current government’s top priorities.

The total area destined for mining exploration are 5.6 million hectares, which equals roughly 20% of the country’s total area, including national parks and natural reserves granted since the 1980s.


Ecuador has never been a mining country, but the eruption of this activity can place it in the same category as its neighbors, particularly Peru. Throughout the entire Andean region mining has led to the pollution of water sources, threatening the existence of thousands of communities. This fact is at the root of the birth of a new generation of social movements.


Continental Uproar Against Mining

Mining activity is the main cause of environmental conflict in Latin America. Along the Andean mountain range, there are a number of social movements engaging in permanent actions against the savage exploitation of open-pit mining. Put in perspective, the movement against open-pit mining, in spite of its short life thus far, is growing exponentially.

In Argentina new gold, silver, and copper mines are now functioning. Five more are under construction, and another 140 are being explored. There are 70 towns in 13 provinces affected by large scale mining exploration. There are 5,000 kilometers of the Andean range where companies are setting up base: from the United States, South Africa, Great Britain, Switzerland, and above all Canada, the seat of the main multinationals in the sector.

In 2002, when the Vecinos Autoconvocados de Esquel (self-organized neighborhood group of Esquel) first started to meet, they were the only organization that fought against mining in Argentina. Today there are more than 100 assemblies of self-organized neighborhood groups that have mobilized to denounce the large mining projects undertaken by multinationals. Additionally, they have organized to denounce monoculture farming. These groups are linked through the Union of Citizen Assemblies (UAC).


In Chile there has been a prolonged movement against the Pascua Lama Mine. It is a binational project (in Argentina and Chile) of the Canadian company Barrick Gold that is extracting gold and silver. The process uses 370 liters of water per second, blasts 45,000 tons of dynamite into the mountain per day, and has reserves of roughly $20 billion dollars. Until now the project has been blocked by legal issues and the opposition of social movements. The resistance movement, consisting of farmers, indigenous people, and churches, denounced Barrick Gold’s hiding of the fact that the fields were located beneath three glaciers.

Yet it is in Peru where one of the fiercest battles against mining in Latin America is being fought by the largest social organization, CONACAMI (National Confederation of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining). It is a young organization born in 1999 in response to the “mining boom” that took place in Peru beginning in 1993 under the authoritarian regime of Alberto Fujimori. It consists of 1,650 communities from the coast, mountains, and jungle, and has more than 1,000 leaders currently being pursued by the law.

Peru has become the world’s largest silver producer, third in tinand zinc, fourth in lead and copper, and fifth in molybdenum and gold. The minerals make up 45% of Peruvian exports, but mining activity accounts for merely 4% of the state’s income and 1% of the active population. Contamination costs the nation 4% of its annual GDP (Gross Domestic Product). It is estimated that nearly a quarter of the nation’s area, roughly 25 million hectares, has been granted to mining companies.

Ecuador can be seen in the same light. On the one hand, the social and environmental conflicts of the 90s may continue to grow, as CONAIE has already proclaimed. 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 International Labor Organization (ILO), which recognizes collective rights.15 But Correa has a 70% approval rating and will emerge victorious in the general elections due to take place at the end of April with the seal of the new constitution.

End Notes

  1. Kintto Lucas, ob. cit.
  2. Memorandum 3 of the CONAIE, 20 Jan. 2009, at www.conaie.org.
  3. From the Ecuadorian Newspaper Hoy, 7 January 2009, at www.hoy.com.ec.
  4. Kintto Lucas, ob cit.
  5. “CONAIE to the national and international public opinion,” 12 January 2009 at www.conaie.org.
  6. “The Plight of the Protests Against Mining,” Acción Ecológica, Quito, 24 January 2009.
  7. “Open Letter to the World Social Forum, at www.conaie.org.
  8. Kintto Lucas, ob. cit.
  9. “Report of the Mining Law,” ob. cit.
  10. Idem.
  11. Mario Melo ob cit.
  12. “Report of the Mining Law,” ob. cit.
  13. Idem.
  14. Mario Melo, ob cit.
  15. “Mining and Attempts Against the Right to Education,” CONAIE, 6 de marzo de 2009.



Translated for the Americas Program by Eliot Brockner.

Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups. He writes the monthly “Zibechi Report” for the Americas Program (www.americasprogram.org).

To reprint this article, please contact americas@ciponline.org. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the CIP Americas Program or the Center for International Policy.




CONAIE (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador): www.conaie.org.

Conflictos y resistencia frente a la actividad minera,” en Acción Ecológica, www.accionecologica.org.

CONACAMI: www.conacami.org.

“Informe sobre el proyecto de Ley de Minería,” en Acción Ecológica, www.accionecologica.org.

Kintto Lucas, “El indigenismo en pie de lucha,” semanario Brecha, 30 de enero de 2009.

Mario Melo, “Cinco razones jurídicas para oponerse a la nueva Ley Minera,” en revista Petropress No. 13, enero 2009, www.cedib.org.


Movimientos sociales de Ecuador: www.llacta.org.