DECOIN has been asked by the communities surrounding Ascendant Copper Corporation’s Junín mining project to inform the general public of the risks and dangers of supporting this company’s mining project. Ascendant Copper’s Prospectus has innumerable instances of misinformation and omissions that you should be aware of in case you are considering investing in this very troublesome project and company. Below are the nine of the most substantial reasons it is a very bad idea to invest in this company and project.
The prospectus gives a misleading idea that the opposition to the mine is centered on the grass-roots environmental organization, DECOIN, and in a few ‘individuals’ of a few communities. This is completely false. The majority of community presidents from communities surrounding the mining project, including: JUNÍN, CERRO PELADO, BARCELONA, EL TRIUNFO, CHALGUAYACU BAJO, LA ARMENIA, CHONTAL BAJO, CUARAVÍ, VILLAFLORA AND MANY OTHERS, have signed official documents attesting to their community’s opposition to mining. The above-mentioned communities are the most likely to be impacted by the project, and at least four of them face relocation if the project goes ahead. Many more communities oppose mining in Intag, and the Prospectus is misleading you if it gives the impression most communities are in favor of the mining project. JPG images of the original of these, and other documents were sent to the British Securities Commission to inform it and other commissions of some of the real risks facing this project and can be accessed at Mining Watch Canada, and DECOIN’s web sites. It is definitely not a matter of a few individuals, but of the majority of the communities and organizations that work in the region. (See: Eight Community Presidents Opposed to the Mining Project in Intag)
The outrage felt by the local population that led to the burning down of Mitsubishi’s mining camp in 1997, resulting in Mitsubishi abandoning the project, and in which over 200 people from seven communities participated, has been revived by Ascendant’s presence. The local opposition has been so fierce and determined that the company has been unable to access the mining site to carry out the required environmental impacts studies for exploration. Every single time they’ve tried to access their concessions, they’ve been stopped by the communities and forced to leave.
Ascendant’s Infrastructure Burned to the Ground by Communities (posted 11 Dec).
On Saturday December 10th, 2005, approximately 300 people from 15 communities meeting in the town of Chalguayacu Bajo, where Ascendant Copper had its base in the Intag, took the decision to destroy Ascendant’s facilities by setting fire to the building as a sign of protest, and to force the company to abandon the mining project. No one was injured and there were no arrest.
Expropiation of Land.
We were told that another decision taken at Saturday’s Assembly was for the communities to start taking over ASCENDANT OWNED LAND- starting with the model farm of La Florida, in Chalguayacu Bajo.
All but one of the community presidents from communities adjacent to the mining site were there, including: Junin, Chalguayacu Bajo, Cerro Pelado, Barcelona, La Armenia, El Triunfo- all took part of the decision making.
In addition to community opposition, the overwhelming majority of organizations working in Cotacachi County (site of the Junín project), and Intag in particular, are opposed to the project. This includes the powerful Rio Intag Coffee Growers Association (AACRI); the Women’s Coordinating Committee (which represents eight women’s groups); The Agroecological Group, and the Intag Youth Organization, to mention just a few of the organizations openly hostile to mining development in Intag.
2. Government Opposition
The Prospectus makes very little mention of the radical opposition to the Junín mining project by the Municipal government of Cotacachi. The authorization of the Municipality is required for mining to go ahead, and the government has categorically stated that it will not give it. The last time this was manifested to the British Columbia Securities Commission was on a letter by the Mayor dated September 2005 to the Commission. In this same communication the Mayor said that they will use any legal means at their disposal to oppose the project (the letter can be seen at: www.miningwatch.ca and www.decoin.org). Indeed, in the past the government has presented two legal challenges to the project (see below). (See: Mayor Tituaña’s letter to the British Columbia Securities Commission)
3. Exaggerated Claims
Ascendant would have you believe their concessions in Junín contain much more copper than what the Japanese found after actually exploring the site for five years. Mitsubishi was only able to discover a total of the equivalent of 2.26 million tons of copper. Ascendant is claiming they have 3 times this much. Not only has Ascendant never explored the site, but after 18 months of their presence in the Intag area, they have been unable to even access the main mining site to do their environmental impact studies before exploration can begin, due to community opposition. (See: Document from the Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy Raising Questions about Ascendant Coppers’s Claims)
4. Relocation of Communities
When the Japanese Metals and Minerals Agency carried out their Environmental Impact Assessment, based on only a fraction of the copper they eventually found, they predicted that four communities would have to be relocated. As you can imagine, it will not be easy to legally uproot four communities and hundreds of families from their land and homes. The real number of communities to be uprooted, taking into consideration later discoveries of copper, is more likely to be seven. These communities now have ample support from local governments, communities and several indigenous groups in the area. And they have no intention of moving out.
(See: In a Single Voice: NO TO MINING for story on document signed by 1,100 persons opposing the mining project in Junín)
5. Ecological Ordinance
In 2000, Cotacachi declared itself an ecological County. The declaration came with a carefully crafted local government law prohibiting environmentally destructive activities, such as mining. The government of the County of Cotacachi, led by the indigenous Mayor, Auki Tituaña, has publicly be known again and again, that it is determined to apply this local law to protect the County’s natural resources and its peoples. Photographs of original letters from the Mayor can be seen at: www.miningwatch.ca
6. Uncertainties of Land Tenure and of the Mining Concessions
As explained below in “Legal Challenges”, the different legal challenges to the legitimacy of Ascendant Copper’s mining concessions are ongoing and yet to be resolved. The information on the Prospectus is especially misleading in this area. The company should not be claiming they have free and legal tenure of the concession until the final sentence from the different investigations and court action are handed down. Even some of their recently purchased properties are highly suspect. As a consequence of several denunciations of illegal and irregular land title transfers in Ascendant’s favor, Ecuador’s Institute for Agricultural Development (INDA), in October 2005, decided to investigate some of the titles in the hands of individuals who were selling their lands to the company. So far, one criminal lawsuit has come out of the preliminary investigations for falsification of an INDA official’s signature. Many more are expected to follow.
(See: Ascendant Copper Investigated by Inda)
Ecuador’s Congress and Ascendant Copper Corporation
Furthermore, the Ecuadorian Congress’ Civic Anti-Corruption Commission, in May of 2005, officially instigate a complete investigation into possible corrupt practices surrounding mining activities and projects in the Intag area. This would include looking into the highly irregular concession processes. If the Commission uncovers any corrupt practices linked to Ascendant Copper’s obtaining any of the numerous authorizations and legal permits required by national legislation, the mining project will come to an end.
7. Environmental and Archeological Considerations
The Junín mining site sits amidst primary cloud forest belonging to two of the world’s most biological diverse regions on the planet: the Tropical Andes, and the Choco-Darien Western Ecuadorian Biological Hotspots. Of the world’s 34 Hotspots, these are the biologically the hottest. Additionally, Intag’s remaining forests are part of some of the last remaining native forests of northwestern Ecuador. The area is known for its extreme biological diversity and its high rates of endemism. The primary forests of Junín harbor dozens of mammal and bird species in danger of extinction; including Jaguars, Spectacled Bears, two species of monkeys, and the spectacular Plate-billed Mountain Toucan; these endangered mammal and bird species, along with many more, were listed on the 1996 Environmental Impact Statement done by two highly respected Japanese institutions.
The company, in its prospectus, states that it will not mine in primary forests. Yet, the prestigious organization Jatun Sacha recently concluded a field study confirming that the site is covered in 63% primary forests. Only 11% of where the bulk of the copper was found has been converted to agricultural lands; the rest is primary (63%), and secondary native forests. And, more recently, Birdlife International, recognized the site around the mine as an Important Bird Area (Important Bird Areas of South America. Birdlife International, 2005).
The Japanese study, furthermore, predicted the mining project would also impact the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve (similar to a Wilderness Area). This protected area is, arguably, one of the most biodiverse in the world. In Ecuador, mining is illegal in all protected areas. See our site for details about their environmental impact statement.
Besides its ecological and biological diversity uniqueness, the whole area of the mining site is dotted with archeological sites from the pre-Incan Imbaya civilization. The information in the Prospectus would have you believe that the archeological sites discovered and reported by the Japanese study are far away from mining site. Again, this is highly misleading. The Japanese discovered several sites close to the community of Junín (as reported on page 114 of the study), as well as others close to the Intag river. In actual fact, there are thousands of burial sites spread out throughout Ascendant’s Golden 1 and Golden 2 mining concessions- including an eroded earthen sacrificial pyramid close to the village of Chalguayacu Alto; well within the concessions.
In Ecuador, as even the Prospectus points out, mining is prohibited in archeological areas.
Heavy Metal Contamination
As for water resources, the area’s primary forests protect dozens of pristine rivers and streams. The underground water resources are also unbelievably abundant, which will create tremendous troubles for the operation of any open-pit mine, as well as uncontrollable ecological impacts. The EIA also predicted our rivers and streams would be contaminated with a deadly mix of heavy metals up to 10,000% higher than natural levels, including: lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium.
For a complete list of endangered fauna and details of other social and environmental impacts please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
8. Political Instability
Ecuador is one of South America’s politically most unstable nations. During the past eight years, 3 presidents have been violently thrown out of office by the country’s citizens. The current President, Alfredo Palacio, has publicly said that his government will end the unfair profit sharing agreements with Petroleum companies. This is a sentiment widely felt in this, and other Andean nations, including Bolivia. Taking into account that the 2000 mining law did away with the 3% royalty that mining companies had to pay the state, there are many civil society groups also calling for a complete re-writing of the mining law to benefit Ecuador, at the same time that many others are insisting all mineral and hydrocarbon resources be nationalized.
The instability is further engendered by Mr. Palacio’s call for a complete overhaul of the country’s constitution. For this drastic step he has, on numerous occasions, called for a Constitutional Assembly made up of civil society representatives. Many groups previously excluded from power will be relying on the Constitutional Assembly to re-write Ecuador’s Constitution so that more of the benefits from the exploitation of its resources stay in Ecuador. In the next 60 days, it is hoped that a Popular Referendum will take place to make it legally possible for the Assembly to take place (Source: various articles at www.elcomercio.com
9. Present and Future Legal Challenges
In 2003, the Municipal government of Cotacachi presented a Constitutional Injunction challenging the legality of Ascendant’s mining concession. The Municipal government won in both of the lower courts. Because the Tribunal has been inoperative since shortly before its final ruling rejecting the injunction on technical reasons, it has not been able to answer to a legal petition from the Municipality’s lawyer asking for a clarification of the case.
In May of 2005, the Municipality again presented another legal challenge at a different court to annul the concessions. The main argument in both cases was that the government violated the constitution by not carrying out a proper consultation process with the communities, as Ecuador’s constitution requires. Without this consultation process, mining not only cannot take place, but it makes the mining concessions themselves illegal.
OECD Claim. Working together with Friends of Earth Canada and Mining Watch Canada, in 2005 DECOIN presented a claim to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development against Ascendant. We are claiming Ascendant violated safeguards contained in the Guidelines for International Enterprises. As of 1 November 2005, the case is still pending. (See: Intag Update and Mining Watch Canada‘s web site)
The Interamerican Human Rights Court. If the communities opposing the mining project cannot obtain justice in Ecuador, they will take their case to the Interamerican legal system; of which Ecuador is a signatory. This could tie up the mining project for years as the court decides if the Ecuadorian government violated the communities’ human rights. If the court decides in favor of the communities, the government is legally and politically bound to follow the court’s recommendations.
The international law firm, HellerErhman, represents DECOIN in the US and has submitted a number of documents pointing out some of the discrepancies and troubling aspects of this project and Ascendant Copper Corporation to the British Columbia Securities Commission. It is unfortunate the officials in Vancouver and Toronto decided to not take more seriously their observations. HellerErhman will continue working with DECOIN in order to assure our, and the community’s rights are respected and this project does not go forth. (See: LAW FIRM QUESTIONS ASCENDANT COPPER’S ACTIONS)
What it comes down to is this: why would you want to support a project that that threatens to destroy primary forests and endangered species, people’s livelihoods, their homes and communities, their rivers and streams, and their basic human rights, knowing that it is a project that is overwhelming opposed by majority of the communities, the local government and in general, the society of Cotacachi? Economically it is a very risky investment; ethically it is completely unacceptable.
If you want more information on this company, profiles on some of its present and past employees, and its dealings in Ecuador, go to: Some Interesting Facts about Ascendant Copper.
DECOIN is a grass-roots environmental organization working to protect the Intag area’s unique and threatened biological diversity and other natural resources, and promotes sustainable development. The local government of Cotacachi, in 2004, publicly recognized DECOIN’s work in protecting community water resources, the area’s forests and biological diversity, and for promoting sustainable development projects. We are responsible for the creation of several economic and ecologically sustainable alternatives to mining, including a shade-grown coffee project (now over 250 member strong) and the community-run ecological tourism project in Junín. DECOIN has created 32 community owned and administered watershed and forest reserve, including the nearly 4,000 hectare (10,000 acres) reserve managed by the community of Junín. This is the natural reserve sitting on top of the copper Mitsubishi discovered in the 1990’s and which Ascendant dreams of exploiting. It also happens to be the same area that is used by the community of Junín for their ecological tourism project.