By , December 20, 2012


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 Important dates

Road and more

Is mining inevitable in Intag?


It’s been six years and two weeks since Copper Mesa paid for the paramilitary attack on Junin.  Six years and 45 days since the paramilitary attacked the communities of Cerro Pelado and Barcelona; paid by none other than Copper Mesa.  Six years and two months- almost to the day- since the 19 heavily armed police burst into my home intent on arresting me based on completely made up charges paid by someone working for Copper Mesa.

 Two years and 11 months ago, Copper Mesa got delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange, and finally left us alone. It´s been fourteen and a half years since Mitsubishi subsidiary left the Intag area due to community opposition.

 In two weeks it’ll be DECOIN’s 18th anniversary. Eighteen years ago the resistance to mining began.  Just in case you are wondering, there is definitely a coincidence.


As of September or maybe August of this year, the provincial government started the paving and widening of the Cuicocha-Apuela-Garcia Moreno road.  Weirdly enough, the Environmental Impact Statement (which is about the worse EIA I’ve ever read), was turned in for approval to the Ministry of the Environment, only yesterday. Corruption? What, here in Ecuador?? Nah… (Recently Transparency International placed Ecuador # 116 out of 176 countries in the corruption index.. and one of the most corrupt in Latin America).

 Anyway, the road crews are still high up in the Paramo, still a ways off from Intag, but slowly making their way.  And, as expected, the road has caused land prices to go UP; making it harder to buy forested land for the communities.  But soon we’ll have some great news on this front.


 Now, here we are, December 2012 and, happily, there’s not much to report in regards to mining.  All is pretty quiet here in Intag.  HOWEVER!!

 However, I am taking time to write this on this stormy Wednesday in the hopes of  dispelling the erroneous impression that if Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s current president is reelected, mining will become an inevitability here in Intag.

 If you have this impression, probably recently acquired from a fundraising letter, you are wrong.

 Let me give you a quick summary why, and why it is counterproductive to hold and spread this impression.


First, let’s set the record straight.  Correa has been interested in opening up Junin since he came to power six years ago.  One of the reasons his government has been unable to do much here is that he faces opposition from within his own party to mine in Intag.  The Intag struggle is widely known in Ecuador, and has more than a few supporters in the National Assembly.

 And now that I mentioned the Assembly, even if Correa were to win, he also needs to win a large majority in the Assembly to get the support he needs to open up Junin to mining.  That does not necessarily mean that he won’t try without a large majority in the Assembly.  This is one of the more authoritative governments in recent history.  However, without significant support from the Legislative, it’ll be much harder, and the political costs may be too high.

 The Economics of mining in Intag

Before a mine is actually opened, a lot has to happen.  For example, no one really even knows if the copper deposit in Intag is economically feasible to mine.  The Japanese inferred the possibility of 2.26 million tons.  But that is only a possibility.  Years of more exploration work has to take place before the deposit is considered proven.  Perhaps as much as eight more years of exploration.

 Even if they find a lot of copper, it could very well turn out that the ore deposit is be too deep (there is strong indication of this); that the metallic content of the deposit is too low in the areas not yet explored; and copper could experience a drop in price, to mention just three of many factors that may make the Junin mining project uneconomic (for example, the deeper a metal deposit is, the more expensive to mine, and the more damaging the impacts and restoration)

Also important to keep in mind that there has never been so much resistance to mining in Ecuador.  All of Ecuador’s important indigenous organizations are vehemently opposed to petroleum and now mining extraction in their territory. They have also developing strong ties with the rest of the anti-mining centers in the country.  Including us here in Intag.  This is a very crucial development, that will make most politicians think twice before imposing any mining project anywhere in the country.

 Environmental reasons.

These have been brought up numerous times, but basically, the Junin mining project is exceedingly difficult place to do large-scale mining.  It rains a lot; it is very, very steep, and there is strong seismic risks.  Not to mention that it will impact primary forests which are home to dozens of endangered species of mammals and birds. It will also impact one of Ecuador’s most biodiverse protected areas, The Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve- which will certainly provoke national and international outcry.

 There are many other environmental reasons why mining will be difficult in Junin, but we’ll save them for another time.


 Organized Resistance

As you are aware, there is a long history of successful organized resistance to mining in Intag. Any new mining activity will have to deal with this very important fact; making it that much less appealing for any company, whether private or state-owned.


Open pit mining cannot take place in the Junin concessions without the forceful relocation of several communities.  At least four, according to the 1996 environmental impacts study, but more likely six communities will have to be relocated for a large open pit mine.  This is a nightmare scenario for any government, and a very heavy political price will have to be paid for it.  Keep in mind that the new Constitution gives people and communities the right to resist if a government action or omission imperils their Constitutional rights.  Forced relocation would be definitely fall within one of those imperiled rights.

 What company wants to deal with all this?  The National Mining company?  They cannot do anything alone, since Ecuador has zero experience with large-scale metal mines.  Without a large multinational mining company, it just won’t happen.  There is the possibility that a Chinese company can fill the void- but that will transform the stage quickly against the government.

 These are just a few of the reasons that mining is not a foregone conclusion if President Correa is reelected.

 For sure, there is a possibility that the Correa government will succeed in initiating exploratory activities in Intag with CODELCO this coming year. It will not be easy.  For one thing, it means spending a lot of money to try to win minimum support for mining; something they tried to do early this year, and failed at-  but which they may want to resume early 2013.  Why? Would Correa take these risks?  Basically because this government needs $$$$ to pay for the so-called socialist programs they are implementing, and the Chinese need copper.  Ecuador is looking at a  six billion dollar deficit for 2013……

 In the unlikely scenario that CODELCO and ENAMI are able to start exploration activities in 2013, it will not change Intag much beyond what the Canadians did here a few years ago.  It will cause more divisions, more temporary social upheaval, but everything will return to normal once they leave after discovering that economically, environmentally and socially the price of mining is not worth paying.  What is unknown, is how much social damage they will do in the interim.

 Thus, highlighting the high cost of mining in Intag depends on all of us. One thing is for sure, Intag will not be able to resist without international support; without your support.

 For that reason we cannot afford to be burdened with pessimistically thinking that mining is inevitable if Correa wins the elections this coming February. Not only is it an erroneous judgment, in my opinion, more importantly, it creates a pessimism that can impact our struggle.

 Mining, a likely threat?

Let me remind everyone that the mining threat for us is nothing new.  It has been around since Bishimetals starting exploratory activities in the early 1990’s. It became more “real” when it published its finding in 1996 and 1998, and became more real yet in 2004 when Copper Mesa thugs rolled into town.  And, the threat will haunt Intag as long as there is copper underneath the Toisan Range, and there are greedy CEO’s and corrupt politicians.  In other words, for the foreseeable future, and beyond.

 What we can do is to continue what we have been doing these past 18 years, including: helping create alternative, sustainable alternatives to mining, educating people (and politicians) on the importance of conserving what we have left while, at the same time, conserving as much forests and watersheds as possible..  We can continue to do this with your support.  Alone, there is just no hope.  Please get in touch if you want to donate.     These are crucial times.

 Let me take the opportunity to thank each and everyone of you for your support, and to wish you a happy holiday season.

 As soon as I find a little bit of time, Ill post  our end-of-year report on what we been up to during 2012.

Carlos ZorrIlla



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