Dear Codelco

By , October 9, 2014
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To Codelco’s Directors

Intag, 9 October 2014

Dear Codelco,

After reviewing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Llurimagua mining project, I got to wondering whether you know what you are getting into here in Ecuador, and if you had the slightest idea of the social conflicts and violence you could detonate if exploration starts.

Are you aware, for example, that the recently complete EIA for the mining project is woefully inadequate? The people doing it were obviously so pressed for time to get it done, that it is FULL of mistakes and omissions, rendering the study useless. I mean, how much correct information about the project can you possibly gather just in a few days of on-the- ground observations and sampling?  Especially in such a highly complex ecosystem as a primary cloud forest replete with pristine rivers and streams. The Study’s principal objective, after all, is to gauge the potential impacts that the advanced exploration activities could have on the social and natural environment and propose solutions to mitigate or avoid them.  As should be obvious to anyone minimally honest, you can’t do that if the information you are basing the solutions on is wrong, totally lacking or incomplete. If, as often happens with such studies, the intention of the authors or editors (who apparently worked for Codelco) was to go out of their way so as not present any inconvenient facts that might jeopardize the project, then the Study is dishonest and a sham.

In use of its attributes as a civil society actor, the Asamblea de Unidad Cantonal de Cotacachi (Cotacachi Assembly for County Unity), an umbrella organization made up of Cotacachi County’s most important civil society organizations, on October 7th turned in to the Ministry of the Environment approximately one hundred pages detailing some the Study’s major flaws, its mistakes and omissions, as part of the participatory process of reviewing the Study. I use the term ¨ some of the Study’s flaws’ because the 15 days given to the communities and civil society to review the over 1000 page EIA, was embarrassingly inadequate. Especially when considering that the Annexes were unavailable until just the last few days. Had we had more time to review the EIS, I’m sure we could have filled another 100 pages of mistakes.    In Chile, I understand, the time frame for civil society to study and comment on the information contained in Environmental Impact Assessments is 120 days. Here’s a perhaps a stupid question for you:  why did you not insist on the same standards here in Ecuador?  A process like this if not done in good faith, is a failed process.

Here’s another question: Would an Environmental Impact Study in Chile, regardless of the phase of mining activity it is prepared for, be prepared based on 12 days of on-the-ground observations and sampling during just one climatic period in the year? And, would a 1000 page Study have been put together in just three months? Keep in mind that, according to Ecuadorian legislation, the advanced exploration project classifies as a Category IV project, the most environmentally damaging of all, thus extra care should have been given to prepare the best possible study.

Let me illustrate what I mean about the poverty of the study with a couple of concrete examples, but please do take the time to study the detailed  Asamblea de Unidad Cantonal de Cotacachi document.

The authors of the study knew or should have known, that dozens of members from community of Junin and Chalguayacu Alto run a successful community ecotourism project, and that it owns and manages a 1,500 hectare forest reserve.  First of all, the first major blunder was that the authors did not consider the impact the exploration project would have on the business and community members taking part in the initiative, nor consider ways to avoid or minimize the  impacts. The omission also applies for the project’s impacts on tourism in general in Intag; it was never properly assessed.

Second, there is no doubt that the community forest reserve is within the mining concession.  However, the authors, or the editors of the Study who did not want people to know too much about the reserve, very briefly mentioned the existence of a ¨500 hectare Junin community reserve¨ just once in the 1000 plus page study, but did not specify where it was. It so happens that, after looking at the recently made available property-owner map in the Study’s Annexes (Mapa Catastral), that the community land is exactly where Codelco would like to drill the 90 exploration wells (now we know why the delay to make them available to the public)!  Yet, no one from either Codelco or Enami has taken the time to ask the owner’s permission to use, or rent the land.  Needless to say, we know what the answer would be, but does this key omission not put the whole exploration project in jeopardy?

If, as I suspect will happen, Codelco or its proxy, ENAMI, will claim that since the community has no legal title to part of the land, they cannot claim anything, it would be a huge mistake. A mistake which, given the conflicts in the past, will set off confrontations and very likely lead to violence and human rights abuses. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that if you lose the forests your ecotourism business depends on, you lose the business.  And people aren’t going to stand for that. People have lost their lives fighting for land rights right in Junin and countless other places around the world.

The law of the land in this part of the world states that if you use untitled land that you pay for, as the community did and has been doing since 1998 when DECOIN helped the community purchase the first properties in the mining area, then it is yours. Indeed, the law allows for squatters to gain lawful title to untitled land. I’m referring about just the part that is untitled: the community and business has title to most of their land. The fact that the community has been unable to title one part of the community forest reserve is because the government arbitrarily prohibited land titling within the mining concession. But that does not make it any less theirs, nor does it extinguish the passion for defending what they consider to be theirs.  You should take note that Ecuador’s Constitution gives its citizens the right to resist any action or omission that threatens their rights.

The authors of the Study inexplicably?,  completely omitted the fact that the Municipality of Cotacachi approved a County Ordinance in August of 2008 creating the 18,000 hectare Area Natural Toisan protected area. The Municipal protected area not only prohibits mining but encompasses most of the mining concession. How to explain such crucial omission given the fact that the section of the Study devoted to reviewing all the legal bodies affecting the project runs to 67 pages?  This is just one of many legal arguments that casts severe doubt on the project’s legality. There is a section on the Asamblea de Unidad de Cotacachi document that details the others.

And, while on the subject of Municipal Ordinances, while the authors of the study analyzed another of the County’s legal instruments, Cotacachi’s Ecological Ordinance, the review is very superficial, and left out one of the most important parts of the Ordinance: its prohibition of industrial activities that involve deforestation of native forests. As the Study reports, the mining site is very rich in primary forests, in spite of the authors going shamefully out of their way not to mention the P word.

The above are just a few examples of the hundreds of errors and omissions in the study you very likely funded, and edited, and which include a ridiculous picture of the popular support for the project.  Thus, in the sincere hopes of avoiding re-activating social conflicts that could lead to human rights abuses, I urge you to carefully read the Asamblea de Unidad Cantonal de Cotacachi  document, and rethink starting mining operations on such a wrong foot in Ecuador**.   Perhaps, who knows, you will come to the conclusion that your reputation is not worth the risks this project entails.

Before closing, I would like to draw your attention to something I think it’s worth reminding you of.  Tomorrow, Javier Ramirez, president of the Junin community, will have spent six months in an overcrowded jail.  During all this time the government was supposed to be gathering evidence to bring him to trial for as crime he could not have possibly have committed, violating Javier’s most fundamental right to justice and a number of his Constitutional Rights. However, everyone knows that the real reason he is in jail is to pressure the community to accept mining, and to intimidate the opposition. For many, Javier Ramirez is a political prisoner. In a country where the Constitution proclaims that jail should only be used for exceptional cases, it’s not hard to see why.

Why this should be relevant to you is because people in Intag have no doubt whatsoever that the real reason Javier is in jail and his brother Victor Hugo avoiding arrest is, indirectly, because of CODELCO. Even though the persons who accused Javier of hitting them are ENAMI employees (causing only minor injuries), everyone knows that it is CODELCO who can put a stop to the injustice.  Tomorrow. If you wanted to.

If, in the end, the mining project fails and you abandon the Llurimagua project, at least you leave with your reputation intact and the knowledge of having done something right in Intag.

I thus urge you to put human rights over economic gain and not take a chance of being part of a project so beset with illegalities, human rights abuses and dishonesty.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Carlos Zorrilla

** you can ask for a copy of the analysis from  the Asamblea de Unidad Cantonal at asambleacotacachi@gmail.com and from DECOIN at  decointag@gmail.com  (Decoin is a member of the Asamblea and helped draw up the analysis)

 

I also suggest you read Twenty One Reasons Codelco Should Stay Away from Intag at

http://www.decoin.org/2013/05/tweny-one-reasons-codelco-should-stay-away-from-intag-veintiuna-razones-para-que-codelco-no-se-meta-en-intag/

 

The Report on Human Rights Abuses connected to the May 2014 police action can be accessed here:

https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6911920#editor/target=post;postID=9126156696743719567;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=0;src=postname

 

 

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