Mining Paradise: Intag’s New Ominous Mining Threat
Two courtroom Losses in the same week
Mining Paradise II: Update 5 April
It’s been a while. I’m going to try to summarize as much as possible as too much is going on.The new mining threat, in the area of the El Paraiso community, lies approximately 4 kilometers in a straight line west of Junin as is part of a 800 hectare mining concessions owned by an individual who has signed (according to official documents) an agreement with CODELCO, the world’s largest copper producer (1,8 million tons, or 11% of the world’s total production). The concessions is adjacent to the extremely biodiverse Los Cedros Protected Area. While lying within the Cotacachi County, this area is known as Manduriacos and is adjacent to Intag.
CODELCO is owned by the Chilean government and has little experience with mining copper outside the Atacama desert- the driest in the world- where most of its large mines are located.
This week the concession owner, with the support of the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Non-Renewable Resources, commenced socializing its environmental impact study (EIS) in El Paraiso in order to begin exploration of the concession- with Codelco personnel. The existence of the study was news to most of the people in the area- and especially those around Magdalena Bajo, who were hardly aware of the existence of the mining project and who did not participate in the making of the Terms of Reference- a legal preliminary step necessary for carrying out the EIS.
This is not the only illegality CODELCO is so far party to. Citing violation of its Ecological Ordinance, the Municipality of Cotacachi last month refused to emit a legally required permit to the concession owner to carry out mining activities. The ordinance prohibits mining in native forests. The owner, supported by CODELCO, is obviously intending to ignore the wishes of local residents and disrespect local laws. The disrespect of local authorities extends to the local Government of Garcia Moreno- who has not received any documents from the mining company as required by law.
Rejection early in the game. This last Saturday (March 26) 57 persons from the community of Magdalena Bajo with members of El Paraiso and other nearby communities met to express their outrage and rejection of the mining project. One of the resolution taken was to ask the assistance of DECOIN and for it to be present next Saturday’s meeting in El Paraiso when government officials will come to attempt to legitimize the illegality (the socialization of the EIS is a legal step in the process to begin exploration- but so is socializing the Terms of Reference which was never properly done).
Lafarge, or is it Lafarce?
Yes, it’ll seem surreal, but at the same time this new threat is looming over the horizon, a group of people affected by the operations of the quarry site in Selva Alegre, Intag, as well as the cement factory outside Otavalo where Lafarge transforms the limestone mine in Intag into cement contacted us to see if we could help them with labor, human rights violations and contamination issues. France-based Lafarge is the world’s largest cement manufacturer. In Intag they use the technique known as mountain top removal to strip the limestone from an area rich in native cloud forests.
After many denunciations and persistence from a group of landowners surrounding the mine and factory in late 2010 the Ministry of the Environment carried out several inspections to both sites and confirmed that the company “was in violation of Ecuadorian environmental law and regulations– specifically regarding the components: air, water and soil, and vibration“ (taken from one of the inspections). We are working with involved stakeholders to see how we can be of help.
However, given that quite a remarkable number of illegalities and irregularities have been documented and completely ignore in the case of the nearby marble mine affecting the residents of Barcelona, we don’t hold much hope the contamination and human rights violations will soon stop. The Barcelona conflict is still active, as well as the one affecting the community of El Rosal (another marble project).
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that Lafarce has an agreement with non other than WWF to clean up its act!
How bad can contamination from a cement factory be? Lafarge has been implicated in mercury contamination in a cement factory in New York (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lafarge http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lafarge) The hundreds of thousands of tons of dust emitted annually in the making of cement can also cause or aggravate a wide range of respiratory illnesses for people and animals living around the factory- including tuberculosis and silicosis.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that Lafarce has an agreement with none other than WWF to clean up its act!
Losses in Court.
I am hoping that Upside Down World will publish an article I’m working on dealing with the the recent court decision in Canada to throw out the case brought by Polibio and Israel Perez and Marcia Ramirez against the Toronto Stock Exchang and Copper Mesa (See www.ramirezversuscoppermesa.com for more details). Basically the judges determined that the directors of both these institutions have no obligation to non-investors. If their actions or omissions cause other people (and especially foreigners) to die or become ill from contamination, it is not their responsibility. However, if these fine institutions lie to investors and cause them to lose money, then woe is them. Since it costs way too much to appeal again, this is where this ends.
In fact, the monetary element is one of the bigger issues facing communities when they try to use the legal systems to fight for their rights. In the case of Ramirez versus Copper Mesa, the real costs where over one-hundred thousand dollars- all of it generously covered by the Toronto-based law firm of Klippensteins. If the lawsuit contributed to the company being delisted from the Stock Exchange and to company’s bankruptcy, as it happened early last year, then it was very much worthwhile.
In a related note, if anyone of you lives close to Boston, the Harvard Law School will be holding a panel discussion on the difficulties of communities use of the legal system against transnationals. It’s to take place this coming April 14th and I’ve been invited to participate. Under Rich Earth will be shown before the panel discussion, and I’ll be joined by representatives of Rights Action and Oxfam.
The other courtroom loss, of which I am not going to go into detail for now for lack of time and energy, took place I think the same week as the other loss, and it involved my criminal lawsuit for libel against Ecuacorriente, a Chinese-owned mining company who financed the making of a documentary that portrayed me as terrorist and behind the anti-mining movement in the south of Ecuador. The lawsuit was thrown out on procedural grounds. The project is a huge open-pit copper project in the very biodiverse Condor Range. Since their main argument was that the community manual I co-authored for communities to better stand up to mining companies is a vile and terrorist tool, I believe their objective was to try to convince the government that the manual is responsible for any and all past and future anti-mining activities. Or something absurdly along this line. Does this feel like Alicelandida sometimes? You betcha! More on the criminalization of the social protest later?
This is all I have time for now, I’ll try to update later on the week or after the meeting this coming Friday. BUT, I thought I’d let you know that last year we helped pay for the transportation of 15 high school groups. School will begin next week, and only Junin is funded. Likewise, the new mining threat catches us with very (as in VERY!) little funding for this kind of activity. SO please loosen your wallets.
MINING PARADISE II: Farcing, Mayhem and Catatonics in Paradise (April 5 update)
This last Friday (April Fool’s) the company owner of the Mandariyacus mining concession held an open-house to, in theory, socialize their Environmental Impact Assessment for copper exploration in the community of El Paraiso- something that is required by law.
Just before the start of the afternoon show, about fifty folks from Magdalena Bajo and nearby communities went up to Paraiso to express their view on the proposed exploration project. They were met by 20 or 25 Paradise residents, as well as legal representatives from the concession owner (Edgar Salazar), several representatives from the company that worked on the Environmental Impacts Study (EIS), plus an almost catatonic functionary from the Ministry of the Environment, who arrived an hour late. Accompanying the representative was a geologist from CODELCO, Chile’s premier mining company and the world’s largest copper producer (CODELCO signed an exploratory agreement with the concession owner to develop the mine in case enough copper is found). DECOIN was also present, thanks to being invitated by community representatives.
The meeting got off to a wrong start when the rep from the EIS company refused to let the local government official speak. After that got sorted out, Shisela Morales told off the moderator (who was a Calidad Ambiental employee)a few things, most notably that her government had never been consulted over the exploration of Paradise, and that she was shocked at the lack of transparency. At one point, and towards the end of the meeting, the town’s vice president asked the representative of the Ministry of the Environment if they were going to approve the environmental license given that the company had never met with all town members, and that in fact, most of the people in favor of the project were also currently working for the company. He didn’t respond. It was pathetic how seeing the biologists from Calidad Ambiental did not, or were not able to answer many of the questions asked by the crowd. When confronted by the threat of arsenic contamination from groundwater welling up out of the boreholes, Codelco’s geologist claimed that he had no knowledge of the existence of arsenic. Yet, in the April Fool’s Environemtal Impact Study, soil samples revealed high concentration of arsenic and lead. He should have also known that in the study done in the Junin area by the Japanese 15 years ago, found the copper ore deposit also rich in arsenic, lead, cadmium and chromium. Several people also pointed to a recently completed water analysis by PHD candidate Karen Knee which revealed extremely high concentration of arsenic pouring out of abandoned Mistubishi exploratory wells; just like the ones that CODELCO may be funding to carry out in Paradise.
To make a long story short, the socialization ended up in a shouting mayhem when the lights went out and people grew incensed at the ridiculous answers from the people in charge. It was very clear, however, that the overwhelming majority rejected the exploration project, the lack of transparency, and illegal way the consultation had been carried out. Many were genuinely worried about the possibility of their water sources being contaminated (Magdalena Bajo lies downstream from the proposed exploratory project).
In fact, there are over a dozen streams and the source of one important river within the concession (parts of the Magdalena, Manduriaco, and the Aguas Claras would be affected). According the flawed study, there is also hundreds of hectares of what the biologist call “natural forests”, though everyone knows them to be primary forests. That’s a word that sticks in the mind and throats of most mining companies. Incredibly enough, the study only found 67 species of plants in one of the world’s most botanically diverse ecosystem! This is an ecosystem where one single mature tree can harbor over 70 species of epiphytes. Only 80 species of birds were seen, captured or recorded, where they should have found over 200, and very few species of threatened beasts, where there should have been over 20. Only 10 species of amphibians and reptiles- which is…., beyond ridiculous. Maybe part of the reason they discovered so few species was that the time the biologists were on the field was a total of… 3 days and only in the rainy season! But in fact, the forest here is the home of many species of mammals, birds, and plants facing extinction- including jaguars, but also pumas, spectacled bears, and the brown-faced spider monkeys. None of these threatened species were even mentioned, even though there is easily available bibliographical information that prove they live here.
I’m not going to expand on the farce the meeting was and the Environmental Impact Study is. We are, however, taking legal steps to denounce the illegalities connected with this project.,.. Hope springs eternal.
Before closing, it’s worth noting that in 2009 CODELCO signed an exploratory deal with the gov of Ecuador to help it discover exploitable copper deposits. CODELCO is not likely to settle on exploiting a small copper reserve (not their policy), so some of us are supposing that their real aim is to open up Junin by proving to the governement and the world this area is full of copper.
Thus, our work is cut out for us. I hope you can be a part of keeping Paraiso- and INTAG- FREE OF MINING.