A Brief History of Mining in the Junin area

By , July 14, 2004
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BRIEF HISTORY ON THE PRESENCE OF MINING COMPANIES IN JUNÍN ECUADOR

From the early nineties, mining exploration has taken place in the Junín area of Intag. Bishimetals, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi, discovered large deposits of copper and other minerals in the biodiverse Toisan Range, as part of the Junin-Cuellaje project, financed by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The mineralized areas are found in three of Intag’s 7 parish townships, and the concessions adjoin the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve- arguably one of the world’s most biodiverse protected areas. The preliminary Environ-mental Impact Statement foresees impacts to the reserve, as well as other nearby protected areas. In addition, the Toisan Range, exceptionally rich in water resources and primary forests is exceptionally biodiverse, and in the confluence of two of the world’s 25 biological hotspots (Tropical Andes, and the Chocó-Western Ecuadorian).

During the exploration phase a number of violations to different laws were registered. To cite only a few of the most important ones: a) An environmental impact statement was never prepared for exploration; b) Communities were not consulted, nor were they properly informed about the project, c) Latrines was constructed over the Junín river and the river used as a garbage dump when it was widely known the river was used by communities downstream. d) Roads into pristine cloud forests were built without authorization, or without environmental impacts studies; e) Perforations damaged private lands, contaminated the Junín river and caused diseases in the local population. When DECOIN or the communities denounced these and others illegalities, the reports from the Ministry of Energy and Mines invariably found nothing wrong.

The data made public by the JICA reports reveal the following: Confirmation of the existence of mineralized areas in the Toisan Range. The most abundant minerals are copper, 318* million tons of ore at 0.7% concentration, and molybdenum (0.03%). The ore also has traces of gold and silver (*note: In July 04, Ascendant claimed 1,300 million tons of copper ore)

Due to the strong local opposition to the mining project, which resulted in the burning down of the mining camp in May of 1997 by hundreds of local residents from 7 different communities, the mining project had to be aborted before exploration was completed. The government criminally charged 3 community leaders for the communal act, but were unable to convict. The recommendation by project personnel to further explore the mining area is meant to identify richer deposits with the hope of making the mine economically more attractive.

Context: Every year the USA consumes 2.3, and China 3 million tons of copper. Therefore, all the copper in the biodiverse Toisan Range would be insufficient to meet the needs for even one year’s worth of copper use in either of these countries (total pure copper in the Toisan: 2.26 Million tons). Interestingly, 75% of the minerals produced in Latin America is exported to the industrialized north where, surely, our copper would end up.

The copper is also associated with a deadly mix of heavy metals; including: LEAD, ARSENIC, CADMIUM AND CHROMIUM. The preliminary environmental impact statement predicted the contamination with these, and other toxic metals, with levels up to 100 times higher than naturally found in our rivers and streams. The Japanese based these impacts on less than 25% of the ore eventually discovered.

Among the many other impacts identified in the EIA, was the need to “relocate” hundreds of families from 4 communities, including Junin; increase in crime, impacts to dozens of endangered mammals and birds species; and massive deforestation, which would lead to much drier climatic conditions (process of desertification).

ONGOING RESISTANCE:

During the past 7 years, the opposition to mining has dramatically increased. This includes the unconditional backing given to the constitutional injunction presented by the Cotacachi county government to halt further mining development (2003). The initiative counted with the support of all the local parish township govern-ments, most communities, and more than 20 organizations working in the county. The injunction argued that the granting of the mining concession violated article 88 of Ecuador’s constitution, since it took place without local communities being consulted. Though the injunction had a positive resolution in the first two instances, it was unable to overcome the corruption and political interest of the Constitutional Tribunal, and was rejected 5 to 4. However, we recently confirmed (June 2004) that the constitutional injunction is still valid, since Tribunal judges have not ruled on a petition formulated by Municipal government lawyers on the case. This invalidates the latest sale of the mining concession to Ascendant Exploration.

In the latest legal initiative, the Junín community unanimously voted to take their case to the Organization of American State’s Interamerican Commission for Human Rights in order to force the Ecuadorian government to respect the community’s rights to prior consultation and to choose another development path.

ASCENDANT EXPLORATION: In May 2004 we learned of the presence of Ascendant Exploration in the Junín area. Ascendant is a Quito-based mining company 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. The real owners are not yet known, but they are presumed to be Canadian investors. Ascendant, it’s worth noting, is too small to open a mine of the size of Junín. DECOIN suspects their real goal is to try to destroy the opposition to the project and create a false impression that the communities favor the mine to lucratively sell the concession to a transnational corporation. It’s worth noting that before the Ascendant purchase, the concessions Golden 1 and 2 were bought by a single individual in a one-man “public auction” farce, highlighting just one of many irregularities and illegalities already connected to the concessions.

Ever since Ascendant came on the scene, conflicts have drastically increased. For example, Ascendant employees tried to establish a camp in the Junín eco tourism community forest reserve without permission. They left only after a women’s group from Junin forced them to leave. There also have been death threats to anti-mining activists. Ascendant, meanwhile, is carrying out a nasty smear campaign against DECOIN and its members, and has taken to employing people from Intag to do their dirty work.

As part of the strategy to convince locals of the mining project and break up the resistance, Ascendant is offering a 16.5 million dollar “development” package for 5 communities close to the mining area. The plan includes 30 kilometers of road building and maintenance; new bridges over two rivers; fully equipped and staffed clinic; an ambulance; promises for 1,000 new homes; computers for 37 grade schools; a new high school, and even organic agriculture training (!). Needless to say, the project is tied in to the community’s acceptance of the mining project. And they are ambiguous where the funds will be coming from, or when the different projects will be implemented (note: the net worth of Ascendant is only 12 million dollars).

Alternatives to Mining: The community of Junín, as many others in the Intag area, is actively seeking and developing alternatives to mining. For example, Junín owns a 2,500-hectare forest reserve which is used for the Community Ecological Tourism project (and which sits right over the mineralized area!!). 50 men and women from two communities run the project. Junín, as well as the rest of Intag, also benefit from a shade-grown, fair trade coffee project, carried out by AACRI, a small, Intag-based coffee grower’s association. These are only two of the many sustainable projects that 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. 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. The copper mine, in other words, threatens a hell of lot more than 4 communities, primary forests, endangered species and pristine rivers.

In order to confront this new mining threat and a company with such deep pockets, DECOIN is once again taking the lead in the opposition to mining activities in the Junín area. One of the things we are doing is heavily supporting the Community Development Council, an organization made up by several local communities within the mining area, which seeks to reject mining and implement sustainable projects that favor local communities. We will also be working closely with Junín to help them take their case to the Interamerican Human Rights Commission to make sure their basic human rights are not violated. We welcome your support.

For more information, please see our web page: www.decoin.org

Below are the emails of the different organizations.

DECOIN: decoin@hoy.net

Consejo de Desarrollo Comunitario: intag2004@yahoo.es *

Junin’s email is: ecojunin@yahoo.es *

* For English, contact Decoin. Also note that the Community Council and Junin 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

decoin@hoy.net www.decoin.org Tele/fax: 593 6 264 8593

DECOIN, a grass-roots environmental organization founded in the Intag region in 1995, is made up exclusively by people living in Intag. Our main objectives are: to actively conserve the area’s unique natural resources, with emphasis on forests, biodiversity and water, and to promote and support sustainable productive initiatives. One of our most important activities has been building and supporting a strong opposition to mining activities.

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