An eyewitness report by one of the International Observers of December 10, 2005.
On December 10, 2005 I served as an international human rights observer in the community of Chalguayacu Bajo in the Intag Region of Ecuador. In light of the events of that day, in which a building owned by the Ascendant Mining Corporation was burned, as well as a series of discrepancies that have arisen in various news reports and press releases, I am writing to describe the occurrences of that day as I witnessed them.
The events that I witnessed were as follows:
At approximately 9 o’clock in the morning on December 10, 2005, I was present outside of a family home in Chalguayacu Bajo. At that time a series of truckloads of people began to arrive and gather and a considerable number of people also arrived on foot. By 9:45 a large group was gathered and a brief general assembly held, lasting approximately 15 minutes. During that assembly, a decision was made to take over the building and property located about 200 meters down the road from the site of the assembly; property owned by the Ascendant Mining Corporation. In addition, there were no objections to such action stated by any individual present during the meeting and thus the assembly came to a close.
As the assembly adjourned, the group of people who had partaken walked the 200 meters to the Ascendant property. While walking, a number of individuals carried a large sign made from sheet-like material stating the communities’ rejection of mining activities in the area and demanding the departure of the Ascendant Mining Corporation.
When the group arrived a heavyset Ascendant employee approached. He appeared to have been working outside of the building, as he did not emerge from the building itself, but came walking up the driveway. The employee entered the porch area of the building at which point a conversation began between him and the members of the communities. The members of the communities explained that they were taking over the Ascendant property because they felt that their rights were being violated, and demanded that the Ascendant employees leave. The heavyset Ascendant employee expressed his disapproval. During their conversation, another Ascendant employee who was wearing a backwards baseball cap entered the porch area. The employee wearing the backwards hat approached to within a very close distance of one of the women standing on the porch area, such that their faces were approximately a foot apart and their bodies apparently in contact. The employee wearing the backwards hat then made what seemed to be some aggressive gestures and comments. At that point a small amount of pushing occurred and both employees were pushed out of the porch area and then walked off the property onto the road. Thus, the pushing seemed to be precipitated by the employee with the backwards hat and lasted for approximately 10 seconds. Neither employee was hurt in any way during this episode, and after the employees were off of the porch the pushing stopped and both left the grounds walking on their own accord.
The two employees who were previously on the porch were then joined on the road outside the property by approximately seven other Ascendant employees. At that point an approximately 15 minute conversation ensued, during which varying members of the community spoke to the heavy set employee who stood with the other Ascendant employees. During the conversation the heavyset employee asked to reenter the building in order to retrieve a personal computer and other personal items. The members of the communities then allowed him to do so and I entered the building as well. The employee placed his computer in a bag in a room with a table and television on the wall. He then entered another room and took a few other personal belongings and exited. At that point the employees got into and on the back of a pickup truck and left.
Following the departure of the employees, electric wiring was removed from the outside of the building. Subsequently the building was burned. As the building burned, the members of the communities returned to the site of the assembly.
About an hour later, a member of the local police force arrived. The members of the communities explained the occurrences of that day and their desire for the departure of the mining company and then took the police officer to see the then burnt building. The police officer then departed. Roughly three hours later approximately 20 members of the Ecuadorian National Police arrived. They questioned a number of individuals and were also taken to the site of Ascendant’s building. After approximately one hour they departed.
Claims made in news reports and press releases:
According to an article published by the Canadian Press on December 14th, Ascendant representatives stated that various articles were stolen from the Ascendant premises. An Ascendant press release from December 13th stated “medical supplies and equipment, including pharmaceuticals, farm communication equipment and personal property were stolen before the facilities were set ablaze.” I did not witness one article being removed from the building. One individual of approximately 13 years in age wanted to remove a soccer ball but was told not to by community members. The remnants of the only article of great value that I saw, the aforementioned television, could be seen upon returning to the burnt building.
In addition, the same Canadian Press article offered an Ascendant claim that the building served as a health clinic and as stated above, the Ascendant press release said that the building contained medical supplies and equipment. I saw no signs that the building was a health clinic. There was no medical equipment or facilities in view when I entered. The Canadian Press article also stated that the building served to give agricultural classes to community members. In regard to this claim as well, I saw nothing in the building indicating that it served for classes. There was a small plastic table and two or three chairs. There were no classroom-like materials such as a blackboard, notebooks, etc.
Lastly, the Canadian Press article also claimed that the Ascendant employees were both physically and verbally assaulted. In addition, the Ascendant press release also stated that “the employees who were on the property were physically and verbally assaulted, but thankfully injuries were not serious.” I did not witness any individual assaulted in any form. Furthermore, no individual was injured in any way.