SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT ASCENDANT EXPLORATION, THE MOTHER COMPANY-ASCENDANT HOLDINGS LIMITED, AND THEIR OFFSPRING, ASCENDANT COPPER CORPORATION… And some of the main characters involved in running them.
• Quito-based Ascendant Exploration, created in 1997, was purchased by Ascendant Holdings Ltd. in 2000. Ascendant Holdings is based in the British Turks and Caicos Island, off the Cuban coast. Ascendant Exploration’s president and founder, Paul Grist, is 28 years old. His father, was involved in a shady operation in Ecuador’s Amazon region a while back. In the Hampton Court Resources 1997 Annual Report, Stan Grist was listed as one of two Corporate Advisers and as the Corporate Liaison in the companies Quito Office. On February 19, 2004, trading in the shares of Hampton Court Resources was suspended by the Toronto Venture Exchange pending a long overdue independent appraisal of the actual gold in the Napo River Project. This is same area where Ascendant now has many of its (gold) concessions. Ascendant Copper Corporation was created supposedly to mine Junín’s copper, but if Mitsubishi was forced to abandon the mining project in 1997 due to strong community opposition, there is no chance Ascendant Copper will succeed.
• CEO. In 1998 Ascendant CEO, Chris Werner was fined $117,000 by the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey for “making false public statements concerning the financial condition of a company he was an officer of, and for selling his own stock at inflated prices. The action was instigated by the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission. Werner had been an officer of Aqua Buoy Corporation at the time of the crime (UNITED STATES SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION Litigation Release No. 16084 \ March 11, 1999).
• Ascendant’s Representatives. Cesar Villacis Rueda is a retired Ecuadorian army general with deep connections to military intelligence, and was implicated in doing business with an arms dealer arrested in 2000 for selling armament from the Ecuadorian Army to Colombia’s terrorist group, FARC (see Nuevo Herald article, October 6, 2003). Villacis also studied in the infamous “School of the Americas”- known for training some of Latin America’s worse torturers. In July 1997 Ecuador’s premier magazine, Vistazo, ran a series of articles titled “The General’s Fall” in reference to Villacis’s fall from grace after the disclosure of his attempt to, illegally, obtain special favors to benefit a US based petroleum company. General Villacis, amazingly enough, in charge of Ascendant’s community relations.
• In May of 2004 Ascendant Holdings claimed ownership of the Golden 1 and Golden 2 mining concessions in the Junín area of Intag, Ecuador (Cotacachi County). This is the area where Mitsubishi discovered a large copper ore deposit, and where, in 1997, surrounding communities forced an early end to the project by burning down the mining camp to protest the mining project.
• Cotacachi County Mayor, Auki Tituaña, as well as the Municipal government and several legal firms in Ecuador, consider illegal the sale of the concession to Ascendant based on violation of Ecuadorian constitutional safeguards. Mayor Tituaña made his position clear regarding this illegality in a letter addressed to Ascendant’s board members on January 2005 (see copy of letter). The main violation was to article 88, which requires the government to consult with communities potentially impacted by development projects before such activities are approved (exploration included). Since the government never consulted with communities before the concessions were granted, the concessions are plainly illegal. In order to force the Ecuadorian government to uphold their rights, the Junín community decided to take their case to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (based in Washington D.C). It’s also important to keep in mind that until the Constitutional Tribunal rules on a request for clarification, the injunction is technically unresolved.
• On May 12 of 2005, the Municipality of Cotacachi launched another lawsuit which challenges the legality of Ascendant’s Golden 1 and Golden 2 mining concessions in Intag. The lawsuit was presented to Ecuador’s Administrative court and alleges the Ministry of Energy and Mines violated laws and regulations in the granting of the concessions. If the court rules favorably, the concessions will revert back to the State.
• Besides the constitutional safeguards protecting communities and the environment, in 2000, the Cotacachi County government enacted an Ecological Ordinance, which contain very stringent environmental regulations that effectively prohibits large mining project in the county.
• To date, every single community most likely to be impacted by the project vehemently opposes it, a position shared by all but one community surrounding the site. The Municipality of Cotacachi, the majority of organizations in the county and some national organizations, also oppose the project. This includes powerful indigenous-campesino organizations (FENOCIN, UNORCAC, and others). Additionally, in May of 2005, a letter titled “IN A SINGLE VOICE”, and signed by 1,100 citizens from Intag and nearby areas, asked Ascendant to leave Intag within 30 days.
• May 16 2005 DECOIN, along with Friends of Earth Canada and Mining Watch Canada, presented a claim to the Canadian National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, alleging Ascendant is in violation of the guidelines. Canada is a signatory to this mechanism of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development meant to ensure proper corporate behaviour by transnational corporations and must implement the guidelines.
• Ascendant Funny Business…
To start off, Ascendant claims its Junín concession holds about 4 times more copper that what was confirmed by the Japanese, who actually drilled to get their 318 million ton ore estimate (at 0.7% metal content, it is only about 2.2 million tons of pure copper). Ascendant’s inflated estimate of 1,300 million tons is questioned by several North American-based organizations, including the Center for Alternative Mining Policy, Rainforest Action Network, Miningwatch Canada and Earthworks.
• When Ascendant bought the concession, they made a deal with the ex-owner that forces Ascendant to share some of the profits with him (this is conveniently ignored in their press releases).
• Exploration? At one time in the overview section of their web page, Ascendant reported Junín was in an “advanced stage of exploration”. The actual truth is that Ascendant has not, to date (May 2005) been able to go into the mining site to even do the environmental impact statement, as required by law before the start of exploratory activities, because of very stiff and determined opposition from the Junín community, who at one time, forcibly removed Ascendant employees from their community forests reserve. The 3,000 plus hectare community-owned reserve sits atop the copper ore, and is used by the community for their successful community ecological tourism project. Private landowners own the part of the concession not owned by the community and have consistently refused to sell to the company.
• Perhaps recalling the Hampton Court disaster, in December 2004 the company removed all mention of the Junín mining project from its web site. If Junín was their equivalent of the jewel in the company’s concession crown, why did they do it? To date, their web site does not mention Junín and no explanation has been offered by Ascendant (they reinserted in recently under Ascendant Copper’s web page).
• Opposition. Ascendant reports they have the backing of communities. This could not be further from the truth. The partial support they do have is from a few communities, most of which are not even adjacent to the mining area. Some of the signatures gathered in support for the project might have been given by parents of school kids to confirm receipt of candy given away by Ascendant during Christmas as part of their signature-gathering campaign. In addition, some signatures were given by people falsely representing their communities, and where no assemblies were ever held to vote on support for the mining project. As of February 2005, the overwhelming majority of newly elected local community and Parish government officials were clearly anti-mining. This widespread (and growing) rejection is in spite of the various community projects they’ve tried to carry out in the area- many of which have not materialized.
• The Junín site. Ascendant also seems to be hiding the fact that the Japanese concluded a preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment in 1996 that predicts major environmental and social impacts to this unique site. The mining site encompasses primary cloud forests belonging to two of the world’s 34 biological Hotspots, harboring not less than 28 species of mammals and birds threatened by extinction. These include: jaguars, spectacled bears, ocelots, two species of monkeys, mountain tapirs, and the plate-billed mountain toucan. Harvard’s E.O. Wilson classifies these forests as some of the most biological diverse and threatened in the world, and calls for their protection against mining activities (personal letter to Decoin’s president). Furthermore, the concession is adjacent to the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, arguably one of the world’s most biodiverse protected area. The study foresees impacts to this reserve. The study also foresees cadmium, arsenic, lead and chromium contamination of rivers and streams hundreds of times higher than natural levels.
• According to the same Japanese study, four communities and hundreds of families would have to be relocated to make room for the mine. Since these impacts were based on about 25% of the total ore discovered by Mitsubishi, the impacts will be much, much greater, and more widespread, impacting several other communities. The opposition, thus, can only be expected to expand correspondingly.
• Ascendant Lies. Ascendant’s web page (as of May 2, 2005) is impressively full of lies. They are claiming work done that, a) was done by other institutions years ago (the case of the García Moreno-Magnolia-Loma Negra Road which is over 15 years old!!!, or, b) by other institutions (the case of the three bridges), and c) are an absurd exaggeration (the 3 football “stadiums”, that are no more than flatten dirt fields to kick around a football). They say the area is totally devastated by logging, yet the Japanese environmental impact statement for the project predicted “massive deforestation”. Also, on one of their pages, there’s a photo of the thickly forested Toisan Range, site of the mining project. They take a photo of another town (Chalguayacu Bajo) and claim it is Junín pointing that it is deforested- yet the site on the photo is their own “model” La Florida experimental farm! They fail to mention that most people do not live off logging, but from several other agricultural and ranching activities. They also claimed they’ve built “drinking water projects” but fail to name them because they just don’t exist.
The social, environmental and human rights issues involved in this project ensure that neither the World Bank, banks signatory of the Equator Principle, or any bank with minimum concern for ethical issues will go near this project, and that it will generate widespread opposition from human rights and environmental organizations around the world.
DECOIN-Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag
PO BOX 144 OTAVALO, IMBABURA ECUADOR