Ascendant leading the march to the chopping block

By , February 29, 2008
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ASCENDANT COPPER LEADING MINING COMPANIES TO THE CHOPPING BLOCK

The government let the official cat out of the bag today by stating that next week the Constitutional Assembly will vote on the mining moratorium and revocation mandate. The Assembly was voted into power last year with the main goal of re-drafting the country’s Constitution, and has the power to legislate.

Though there are several draft versions of the mandate making the rounds, all of them apparently call for a revocation of all large mining concessions (over 200 hectares in some versions). Some versions call for a total ban on large-scale metal mining projects, and to all mining in certain biodiverse or water-rich catchment areas. Mining will also very likely be off limits in all indigenous territories.

According to reliable sources, at least one version calls for the juiciest mining concessions to be taken over by a proposed state mining corporation.

Elements in common with many of the draft mandates is a moratorium on new mining concessions, a virtual moratorium on large-scale mining and the issuance of new concessions until a brand new mining law is drafted, which is meant to bring much higher rents to the country, and to institute much stronger social and environmental safeguards. However, today the Ministry of Mines and Energy said that mining will only proceed if it is clearly in the benefit of the country, and let it be known that the current mining law has only benefited mining companies and created social unrest. He went on to say that this year the government will introduce a new mining law.

Until such a law is drafted and approved by the yet-to-be elected Congress, many, many months will come and go.

The new law will undoubtedly limit or do away with large-scale or open-pit mining projects, reinstate the royalty at much higher rates, and raise taxes for the mining companies. Environmentalist sectors foresee very stringent social and environmental regulations in the new law, with free, prior and informed consent of all communities and local governments potentially affected by the projects as one of the most important safeguards. In the best of cases this would apply to small and medium scale mining projects, since most indigenous organizations, communities and environmental organizations are betting for an end to medium and large-scale metal mining, and all open-pit.

In his news conference today the Minister of Mines and Energy referred to the fact that some large-scale mining projects have caused “serious frictions between environmental groups and rural communities that are opposed to mining in their territories ”; very likely in parte referring to the well-publicized violence and conflicts linked to Ascendant’s presence in the Intag area (site of its Junin project, which the company lost title to in January of this year)

To further dampen the mining panorama for mining companies in Ecuador, as of two months ago, the biggest indigenous organizations have come out strongly against large-scale mining. This includes the powerful Ecuarunari and CONAIE, Latin America’s most powerful indigenous organization. These organizations join hundreds of other smaller, social, human-rights and environmental groups opposed to mining as a model of development in Ecuador, with sovereign issues, the threat to water and mining’s environmental impacts being some of the more important main rallying points.

The mining companies, meanwhile, keep spending millions of dollars in publicity, and of late even gained the support of the government of Canada, who has been co-hosting forums with mining companies and selling the squeaky clean-and false– image of the responsible Canadian corporation (the ultimate oxymoron in the mining world)

Keep tuned. There’s a good chance next week, the Constitutional Assembly will vote on the mining moratorium.

The Ministry’s news conference (in Spanish) can be accessed at: http://www.univision.com/contentroot/wirefeeds/lat/7419316.html

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