By , June 7, 2012

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As most representatives of local governments, communities and organizations were taking part in a Intag-wide assembly yesterday debating, among other things, the disastrous consequences of the Lafarge limestone mine in Intag, and agreeing to take much more serious steps to force the company to turn over financial, labor, and environmental information about  their operation, functionaries of ENAMI, the state-owned mining company were fanning out throughout Intag carrying out a series of interviews, with such questions as:  is there government media coverage in the area;  what are the needs of your community, who do you trust as a  leaderwhat actors do you trust in and why, and twenty-six other questions directly related to mining!

 This is exactly the kind of information mining companies normally spend much time and money on to acquire, usually  in very discreet ways, so they know what to bribe communities and local governments with (roads, clinics, computers, etc,), what people know about mining, and which leaders or organizations needs to be neutralized.  This type of information is essential in order for the mining companies to design an effective plan to overwhelm the opposition.  In mining parlance, it’s called getting the “social license” to operate.  To the people on the ground, it translates to social upheaval, conflicts, violence, and permanent human rights violations.

It is extremely likely that the information will be distorted, and the result magically turn out to be what the government wants to portray about Intag to the world:  that Intag is a)  extremely poor, b) its people begging for jobs (even though there’s plenty of work), and c) that the overwhelming majority of Inteños want mining.

Another probable abuse of the interviews is that the government will be able to say that the Intag population was consulted about mining, thus complying with the Constitutional obligation of Previous Consultation, a very important right the communities have (but which is being severely weaked by the Correa government).

The message could hardly be clearer.  The government of Rafael Correa has decided, against all logic, to go ahead with the large-scale mining project in Intag.  As I mentioned on yesterday’s blog, the stupidity shown by the mining interests has been a constant in the struggle here in Intag, and it’s never failed to surprise me. This new development, however, sets a new standard.  I say this because, among other reasons, it seems bizarre, that on an election year, the government would want to create a new zone of conflict with local communities and governments by provoking Intag’s populace, which has defeated two transnational mining corporations.

I think that ENAMI’S actions also signals that the stupidity will not be much different from what we experienced with the private mining companies.    The strategies no doubt will be different, in that being a governmental corporation, they can count on the backing of the courts, the army, the police, the legislative, plus entities like the equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service, which makes it much easier to harass, intimidate, and criminalize the opposition.  But I think the government has underestimated the national and international support Intag can count on, and the level of anti-mining sentiment in the whole country.

The timing of ENAMI’s first incursion into Intag is interesting.  Interesting because, after the Intag Assembly yesterday, there hasn’t been such a strong anti-mining sentiment in the area in years.   At the Assembly, in which hundreds of people from all over Intag and Manduriacos participated, all seven Parish governments joined together, for the first time, to create a Union of Parish governments (Mancomunidad), to, as I mentioned before, force the Lafarge owners and government officials to turn over sensitive information about the company’s operations.  There was also unanimity in damming the company for the way it operates the mine, the treatment of Intag residents, the illegal contamination of the Quinde River, and the thrashing of the road, among several other issues.  One of the chief concerns was that after decades of pillaging Intag’s resources, the area has hardly seen any benefit from the operations.

Probably the most important resolution taken by the Assembly, in which several hundred people participated, was that if the company does not turn over the documents requested within 20 days, direct measures will be taken by the residents of Intag, led by the seven Parish Government presidents.  I t was the resolution that was the most loudly cheered and one I have no doubt at all will be implemented.

The message Lafarge should get out of this is that Intag folks and local governments are fed up with the way Lafarge has been operating in Intag, and fed up with mining in general. Thus, in large measure thanks to Lafarge, the government’s new mining plans will be that much harder to carry out.

Finally, there is a real possibility that ENAMI will not act beyond gathering information until after February 2013, when the country goes to the polls.  But this is dependent on smart people making smart decisions.  There is also an outside chance that with the recent steep decline in copper prices that the government will back off thinking about copper mines in Intag; or anywhere in the country.  Hope springs eternal.  In a logical world,  in a world not dominated by corruption and the quick-n-easy money mind set, it makes all the sense in the world.



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