Dec 23rd Update- REsponding to AScendant and call to action from ISN

By , December 23, 2006
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Dear Everyone

Before anything else, and on behalf of Intag’s communities, DECOIN and myself, I want to sincerely thank all of you for helping; for caring and for acting on our behalf during this very difficult past 12 months.

During this past year most of you wrote letters, some sent money, and all of you expressed your heart-felt concern with the fate of this crucial struggle and our safety. It’s difficult to express how important this support was, and continues to be.

It’s also impossible to imagine our struggle without your support. I hope to keep counting on it in 2007.

Below the update, check out our response to Ascendant’s Dec 19th news bulleting to see just one example of how the company completely distorts the truth. Also, please take the time to participate in Intag Solidarity Network’s call to action to try and get Ascendant Copper Corporation off the Global Compact. This will be the first of several calls to action that I hope you will help be successful.

Again, Thank You, and our sincerest hope for a Happy Holiday.

Update
As of today, the government has not lived up to the agreement to have a permanent and strong police presence in Intag to prevent more company-induced violence, which was made on the 9th of December by government representatives. Likewise, it did not send in police to clear the area of the paramilitaries, as promised. Fortunately, it seems most of the armed thugs have left the area, but there is still a large group of paid Ascendant employees who pose a threat to the security of Junin and nearby communities.

The company has foolishly disregarded the government’s order to stop its activities, and they are still employing locals to do different jobs. This, in spite of the denial of its Environmental Impact Study, and the rejection of the company’s presence by most of Intag’s communities, all of Intag’s and Cotacachi’s local governments and, as of the 8th of December, from the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Everyone is aware that the company seems to be trying to provoke a violent reaction from the communities resisting this death project. In fact, we have information from reliable sources that they are getting ready to send local people in large numbers in early January to occupy land within the mining concessions.

Lawsuits. Just yesterday we counted the number of criminal lawsuits filed against anti-mining activists. It’s now up to 10. Most are as made up as the robbery case against me was- and all of them target known community activists. Nearly 40 men and women campesinos from the communities now are implicated, and are being investigated for all kinds of invented crimes. This includes accusations against people who were in the US, or other parts of Intag at the time of the alleged crimes.

2007. On the ground the anti-mining forces are very hopeful. The company’s Environmental Impact Study was denied; it is unable to access its concessions; more local governments and communities are in opposition than ever before; they are seen by many as the pariah of the industry in Ecuador; the UN Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and Global Witness are asking government officials for information regarding the accusations of the company’s use of violence, illegal arrest and search warrants, armed guards, and gangster tactics on the ground.

Then there is Correa. Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s new president, starts his four year mandate on January 15th. President’s Correa’s vision, shared by the Alberto Acosta, the proposed new Minister of Energy and Mines, have a very different vision of transnationals and extractive industries. And, it is one that does not favor industry interests over collective and human rights, and the environment.

Knowing the personal and professional background of Mr. Correa and Mr. Acosta, I am confident the new government will annul many mining concessions- including Ascendant Copper’s, and will not grant any new ones until a new more favorable mining law is passed.

ISN LETTER WRITING

Members of Intag Solidarity Network,

We hope you are enjoying the Winter Holidays. Though Ascendant has been ordered to stop its operations by the Ministry of Mines pending a review of the company’s environmental impact statement, the need remains to hold the company accountable for complicity in the recent human rights abuses in Intag. As you may know. Ascendant is a voluntary participant in the UN Global Compact (http://www.unglobalcompact.org/index.html), a set of ethical principles by which companies elect to conduct their activity. Ascendant has been a voluntary member of the Compact since July 2006. The company has yet to file any compliance of progress (COP) reports.

Arguably, Ascendant’s conduct in Intag violates principles of the Compact. Though, the UN Global Compact Office (the oversight body) is not an enforcement agency, they do have established procedures for filing complaints about possible violations of the Compact. We ask that you send a letter to the director of Integrity, Ms. Ursula Wynhoven (wynhoven@un.org) raising concerns about Ascendant’s potential violation of the Compact. Following is a sample letter.

*********************************************************************
Ursula Wynhoven
Integrity Measures
UN Global Compact Office
wynhoven@un.org
Dear Ms. Ursula Wynhoven,
I write to express my concern with recent alleged human rights abuses in the Intag region of Ecuador associated with the presence and operations of Ascendant Copper, a participant in the UN Global Compact. My concern stems from reports of human rights abuses documented in the December 2, 2006 denouncement by the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU), a non-governmental human rights monitor in Quito.
Reports document a number of abuses by individuals associated with Ascendant that are concerning. These acts include (a) a group of men using pepper spray and guns to confront a group of residents from Junin blocking a road, (b) a group of 120 men blocking roads into and out of Junin, (c) the presence of an Ecuadorian Army helicopter charted by Ascendant Copper flying over Junin, (d) the shooting of Israel Perez, a community member, and (e) the beating of several community members by individuals associated with Ascendant. The individuals involved in these acts are reported to work for Empresa Falericorp, a company contracted for agricultural development by Ascendant.

The violence associated with Ascendant’s operations was also documented in reports by Ecuadorian newspapers, including La Hora, (“Convulsión en Intag,” December 7, 2006) and El Comercio (“El Alcalde de Cotacachi hizo denuncias contra empresa minera,” December 5, 2006).

The Ecuadorian Ministry of Mines, in a recent letter addressed to Ascendant Copper, also acknowledged the violent confrontations associated with the company in Intag.
“As is publicly known, in the last few days grave confrontations have taken place in the communities within the area of influence of the Junin Mining project, which is under the responsibility of the company you represent, putting at risk the security and integrity of the inhabitants of the area.”
The violence in Intag warrants attention from the Global Compact Office. Ascendant’s on-going provocation of violence in Intag raises questions about the depth of its commitment to the first two principles of the Compact. In addition, I am concerned that Ascendant’s actions challenge the integrity of the Compact. I respectfully ask the Global Compact Office to ask Ascendant Copper to respond to concerns about its involvement in human rights abuses in Ecuador.
Intag Solidarity Network (www.intagsolidarity.org)

Decoin and Mining Watch Canada’s Response to Ascendant Dec 19th News reslease
http://www.miningwatch.ca/index.php?/Ecuador_en/Response_to_Davis

Organisations Challenge Ascendant Copper Corporation’s Claims Regarding Junin Mining Project

(Ottawa/Intag) MiningWatch Canada and the Ecuadorian organisation DECOIN (Ecological Defence and Conservation of Intag – Defensa y Conservacion Ecologica del Intag) today released documentation showing that Ascendant Copper’s news release dated December 19, 2006, contains inaccuracies and distortions of the facts regarding the company’s ill-fated Junin mining project.

“Ascendant CEO Gary Davis has come up with some colorful language, accusing people of being ‘eco-terrorists’ and the like, and cheerfully asserting that Ascendant’s legal and technical problems are either not material or have already been resolved,” says MiningWatch spokesman Jamie Kneen. “The truth is that he doesn’t want his investors to find out what’s really going on.” A legal response from Ecuadorian human rights lawyer Alejandro Ponce on behalf of DECOIN and its Executive Director Carlos Zorrilla is now available at http://www.ascendantalert.ca/Files/Carta_Gary_Davis.pdf.

Davis asserts that “in no manner or form has the Government of Ecuador suspended Ascendant’s activities or threatened to suspend or obstruct it from carrying out activities related to either its mining concessions or surface lands.” In reality, on December 8, 2006, Yolanda Viteri, Subsecretary of Environmental Protection for the Ministry of Energy and Mines, wrote to Ascendant’s general manager in Ecuador ordering him to suspend all of Ascendant’s activities in the Junin project until the company’s Environmental Impact Study is approved. The order can be consulted at http://www.ascendantalert.ca/Files/EIA_desaprobado.pdf.

The principal reason given for the decision was the extremely dangerous situation created by the presence of armed groups sub-contracted by an Ascendant contractor (Falericorp), who tried to shoot their way in to Ascendant’s concessions in the Junin area on December 2nd. Ecuador’s most respected human rights organization, CEDHU (the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission – Comision Ecumenica de Derechos Humanos), has labelled the group a paramilitary organization. Video clips showing the mercenaries shooting at and tear-gassing community members were broadcast on Ecuadorian television and will soon be available on the Web; still photos were also published in Ecuadorian newspapers and can also be seen at http://www.DECOINwatch.org.

Despite Davis’ claims, these individuals were in no matter or form agricultural workers. After 57 of the larger group of approximately 120 were captured by community members, they claimed that they worked for private security firms. They had been told their work in Intag was to provide security – not to carry out agricultural projects. All had handguns and teargas, and some also had shotguns. Most of them were from the coastal area of Ecuador – hundreds of kilometers’ distance from Intag.

As Zorrilla points out, “Davis’ assertion that this particular group was captured by local people armed with automatic weapons is ludicrous. They were captured by 120 men and women – from approximately 12 communities in the Intag region – with sticks, nothing more.” According to Zorrilla, the guards surrendered because they did not want to kill defenceless Ecuadorians protecting their lands. “In fact, one of them, when interviewed on national television, threatened to take the company that hired them to court because, as he put it, they were lied to regarding what their job would be.”

Zorrilla continues, “Davis also tries to imply that Ascendant had no dealings with the military in December’s violent series of events. The facts are these: CEDHU confirmed with Ministry of Defence sources that Ascendant hired a military helicopter on December 2, 2006, which flew over several communities in the Intag region. Thrity-four of the fifty-seven individuals arrested by the community had military identification cards identifying them as either active service or retired military personnel. CEDHU and other organizations have met with the Defence Minister and asked for a full investigation, a request he is fully supporting.”

Adds Kneen, “In order to draw attention away from the deteriorating situation on the ground and in the halls of the Ministry of Energy and Mines regarding the Juninmining project, Davis has been making much of Ascendant’s agreement with the Organization for the Development of Intag (“ODI”) as well as with the Parish Council of Garc?a Moreno and the Women’s Association of Garcia Moreno – yet it’s abundantly obvious that ODI is not a legally recognized organization, nor does it represent the communities of Intag.” This was made clear in a December 2, 2006 legal declaration by the Parish Council of Garcia Moreno in which it withdrew all support for the company, whom they blamed for the presence of hundreds of armed individuals from outside the Intag area and the attendant violence. The document states that the Parish Council does not recognize ODI as being representative of Intag’s communities, nor of the Parish. This also calls into question the relevance of Ascendant’s agreement with the Women’s Association of Garcia Moreno. The Garcia Moreno Parish Council is one of nine local governments that have called on Ascendant Copper Corporation to leave the Intag area.

Zorrilla concludes: “As a responsible NGO working in the Intag region since 1995 in conservation and environmental educational projects, DECOIN rejects Ascendant’s misinformation campaign, and calls for its investors to look beyond Ascendant’s smoke screens into what is really going on with the company’s Junin mining project, and to stop financing it.”

For more information:
Carlos Zorrilla, Executive Director, DECOIN: 011 (593) 6-648-593 (phone/fax) intagcz@imbanet.net
Jamie Kneen, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada (613) 761-2273 (cell)

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