DECOIN has been asked by the communities surrounding Ascendant
Copper Corporation’s Junín mining project to inform the general public
of the risks and dangers of supporting this company’s mining project. Ascendant
Copper’s Prospectus has innumerable instances of misinformation and omissions
that you should be aware of in case you are considering investing in this very
troublesome project and company. Below are the ten of the most substantial
reasons it is a very bad idea to invest in this company and project.
1. Local Opposition
2. Government Opposition
3. Exaggerated Claims
4. Relocation of Communities
5. Ecological Ordinance
6. Uncertainties of Land Tenure and of the Mining Concessions
7. Environmental and Archeological Considerations
8. Political Instability
9. Present and Future Legal Challenges
10. Aggressive Tactics
1. Local Opposition.
The prospectus gives a misleading idea that the opposition to the mine is centered
on the grass-roots environmental organization, DECOIN, and in a few ‘individuals’ of
a few communities. This is completely false. The majority of community presidents
from communities surrounding the mining project, including: JUNÍN, CERRO
PELADO, BARCELONA, EL TRIUNFO, CHALGUAYACU BAJO, LA ARMENIA, CHONTAL BAJO,
CUARAVÍ, VILLAFLORA AND MANY OTHERS, have signed official documents attesting
to their community’s opposition to mining. The above-mentioned communities
are the most likely to be impacted by the project, and at least four of them
face relocation if the project goes ahead. Many more communities oppose mining
in Intag, and the Prospectus is misleading you if it gives the impression
most communities are in favor of the mining project. JPG images of the original
of these, and other documents were sent to the British Securities Commission
to inform it and other commissions of some of the real risks facing this
project and can be accessed at Mining Watch Canada, and DECOIN’s web sites.
It is definitely not a matter of a few individuals, but of the majority of
the communities and organizations that work in the region. (See: www.decoin.org/2005/06/eight-community-presidents-opposed-to.html)
The outrage felt by the local population that led to the burning down of Mitsubishi’s mining camp in 1997, resulting in Mitsubishi abandoning the project, and in which over 200 people from seven communities participated, has been revived by Ascendant’s presence. The local opposition has been so fierce and determined that the company has been unable to access the mining site to carry out the required environmental impacts studies for exploration. Every single time they’ve tried to access their concessions, they’ve been stopped by the communities and forced to leave.
May 20, 2006. On this date a crucial Intag-wide assembly was held in which all seven of Intag’s local government officials voted, along with nearly 800 Intag residents and most community presidents and representatives from nearly all organization working in the area, to ask Ascendant to leave Intag immediately. This unprecedented event galvanized the different organizations and local governments working against the mining project like never before, and sent a clear and unmistakable message that Ascendant and its shareholders should respect and act on. In how many ways must Ascendant be told it is not wanted in Intag before they get it? To continue operation in the face of this widespread and entrenched opposition is nothing if not outrageous and irresponsible (please see May 21st Update at: www.decoin.org)
In addition to community opposition, the overwhelming majority of organizations working in Cotacachi County (site of the Junín project), and Intag in particular, are opposed to the project. This includes the powerful Rio Intag Coffee Growers Association (AACRI); the Women’s Coordinating Committee (which represents eight women’s groups); The Agroecological Group, and the Intag Youth Organization, to mention just a few of the organizations openly hostile to mining development in Intag.
2. Government Opposition.
The Prospectus makes very little mention of the radical opposition to the Junín
mining project by all local governments, including the Municipal government
of Cotacachi. The authorization of the Municipality is required for mining
to go ahead, and the government has categorically stated that it will not give
it. The last time this was manifested to the British Columbia Securities Commission
was on a letter by the Mayor dated September 2005 to the Commission. In this
same communication the Mayor said that they will use any legal means at their
disposal to oppose the project (the letter can be seen at: www.miningwatchcanada.org and www.decoin.org). Indeed, in the past the government has presented several
legal challenges to the project (see below). See www.decoin.org/2005/10/update-another-major-headache-for.html for
story of Mayor Tituaña’s letter
The provincial government of Imbabura also expressed its opposition to the mining project in September of 2006. All five Parish governments of Intag clearly expressed their opposition to the mining project in May 20th of 2006. This means that all local government having any jurisdiction over the mining concessions have publicly expressed their opposition. There’s not a single mining project in the world that has succeeded in the face of so much local government opposition.
3. Exaggerated Claims.
Ascendant would have you believe their concessions in Junín contain much more copper than what the Japanese found after actually exploring the site for five years. Mitsubishi was only able to discover a total of the equivalent of 2.26 million tons of copper. Ascendant is claiming they have 3 times this much. Not only has Ascendant never explored the site but, over 30 months of their presence in the Intag area, they have been unable to even access the main mining due to community opposition. The inability of Ascendant to access the Junin mining concessions was admitted by Ascendant’s CEO in July 12 2006 in a letter addressed to the Canadian Ambassador. It would be interesting for Ascendant and Micon International to explain how they were able to infer as much minerals as they claim without accessing the mining site, as required by Canadian legislation. In October of 2006, Canadian Environmental Law Center filed a claim with the Ontario Securities Commission based on this highly irregular procedure. The OSC accepted the claim and is currently investigating.
(see: www.decoin.org/2004/12/al-gedicks-from-center-for-alternative.html Document from the Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy Raising
Questions about Ascendant’s Claims
4. Relocation of Communities.
When the Japanese Metals and Minerals Agency carried out their Environmental Impact Assessment, based on only a fraction of the copper they eventually found, they predicted that four communities and hundreds of families would have to be relocated. As you can imagine, it will not be easy to legally uproot four communities and hundreds of families from their land and homes. The real number of communities to be uprooted, taking into consideration later discoveries of copper, is more likely to be seven. These communities now have ample support from local governments, communities and several indigenous groups in the area. And they have no intention of moving out.
(Please see: http://www.decoin.org/2005/04/in-single-voice-no-to-mining.html for story on document signed by 1,100 persons opposing the mining project in Junín).
5. Ecological Ordinance.
In 2000, Cotacachi declared itself an ecological County. The declaration came with a carefully crafted local government law prohibiting environmentally destructive activities, such as mining. The government of the County of Cotacachi, led by the indigenous Mayor, Auki Tituaña, has publicly be known again and again, that it is determined to apply this local law to protect the County’s natural resources and its peoples. Photographs of original letters from the Mayor can be seen at: www.miningwatch.ca
6. Uncertainties of Land Tenure and of the Mining Concessions.
As explained below in “Legal Challenges”, the different legal challenges to the legitimacy of Ascendant Copper’s mining concessions are ongoing and yet to be resolved. The information on the Prospectus is especially misleading in this area. The company should not be claiming they have free and legal tenure of the concession until the final sentence from the different investigations and court action are handed down. Even some of their recently purchased properties are highly suspect. As a consequence of several denunciations of illegal and irregular land title transfers in Ascendant’s favor, Ecuador’s Institute for Agricultural Development (INDA), in October 2005, decided to investigate some of the titles in the hands of individuals who were selling their lands to the company. So far, one criminal lawsuit has come out of the preliminary investigations for falsification of an INDA official’s signature. Many more are expected to follow. (See Ascendant Copper Investigated by Inda http://www.decoin.org/2005/10/ascendant-coppers-land-purchases.html#1
Ecuador’s Congress and Ascendant Copper Corporation. Furthermore, the Ecuadorian Congress’ Civic Anti-Corruption Commission, in May of 2005, officially instigated a complete investigation into possible corrupt practices surrounding mining activities and projects in the Intag area. This would include looking into the highly irregular concession processes. If the Commission uncovers any corrupt practices linked to Ascendant Copper’s obtaining any of the numerous authorizations and legal permits required by national legislation, the mining project will come to an end. As of October 2006, the investigation is still in process, even though they announced the discovery of several instances of irregularities.
7. Environmental and Archeological Considerations.
The Junín mining site sits amidst primary cloud forest belonging to two of the world’s most biological diverse regions on the planet: the Tropical Andes, and the Choco-Darien Western Ecuadorian Biological Hotspots. Of the world’s 34 Hotspots, these are the biologically the hottest. Additionally, Intag’s remaining forests are part of some of the last remaining native forests of northwestern Ecuador. The area is known for its extreme biological diversity and its high rates of endemism. The primary forests of Junín harbor dozens of mammal and bird species in danger of extinction; including Jaguars, Spectacled Bears, brown-headed spider monkeys, and the spectacular Plate-billed Mountain Toucan; these endangered mammal and bird species, along with many more, were listed on the 1996 Environmental Impact Statement done by two highly respected Japanese institutions.
Ascendant’s 2005 environmental impact study, which has not been approved by the government, nevertheless identified 9 species of mammals under some kind of protection by the CITES treaty (globally recognized endangered species treaty). Those species fall under Cites Categories I and II- the highest protection categories. In addition, the biologists identified four bird and six amphibian species likewise threatened by extinction. In particular, they discovered an extremely rare species of frog.
The company, in its prospectus, states that it will not mine in primary forests. Yet, the prestigious organization Jatun Sacha recently concluded a field study confirming that the site is covered in 63% primary forests. Only 11% of where the bulk of the copper was found has been converted to agricultural lands; the rest is primary (63%), and secondary native forests. And, more recently, Birdlife International, recognized the site around the mine as an Important Bird Area (Important Bird Areas of South America. Birdlife International, 2005). Ascendant’s own study found identified species of endangered bird species in the mining area in 2005.
The Japanese study, furthermore, predicted the mining project would also impact the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve (similar to a Wilderness Area). This protected area is, arguably, one of the most biodiverse in the world. In Ecuador, mining is illegal in all protected areas. See our site http://www.decoin.org/currentwork/mitsubishi_021200.html for details about their environmental impact statement.
Besides the uniqueness of the area’s ecological and biological diversity, the whole mining site is dotted with archeological sites from the pre-Incan (Imbaya) civilization. The information in the Prospectus would have you believe that the archeological sites discovered and reported by the Japanese study are far away from mining site. Again, this is highly misleading. The Japanese discovered several sites close to the community of Junín (as reported on page 114 of the study). In actual fact, there are thousands of burial sites spread out throughout Ascendant’s Golden 1 and Golden 2 mining concessions- including several earthen sacrificial pyramids of great national importance. This archeological wealth was also reported in detail in what Ascendant is calling their environmental impact study, completed in November 2005.
In Ecuador, as even the Prospectus points out, mining is prohibited in archeological areas.
Heavy Metal Contamination
As for water resources, the area’s primary forests protect dozens of pristine rivers and streams. The underground water resources are also unbelievably abundant, which will create tremendous troubles for the operation of any open-pit mine, as well as uncontrollable ecological impacts. The EIA also predicted our rivers and streams would be contaminated with a deadly mix of heavy metals up to 10,000% higher than natural levels, including: lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium.
For a complete list of endangered fauna and details of other social and environmental impacts please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
8. Political Instability.
Ecuador is one of South America’s politically most unstable nations. During the past eight years, 3 presidents have been violently thrown out of office by the country’s citizens. The current President, Alfredo Palacio, has publicly said that his government will end the unfair profit sharing agreements with Petroleum companies. This is a sentiment widely felt in this, and other Andean nations, including Bolivia. Taking into account that the 2000 mining law did away with the 3% royalty that mining companies had to pay the state, there are many civil society groups also calling for a complete re-writing of the mining law to benefit Ecuador, at the same time that many others are insisting all mineral and hydrocarbon resources be nationalized. In fact, in May of 2006, the government started this process by taking over part of Occidental Petroleum’s oil fields in Ecuador’s Amazon, due to irregularities. It’s worth noting that Ascendant’s CEO in Ecuador, Juan Carlos Bermeo, was named by the Ecuador’s Congressional Anti-Corruption Commission
9. Present and Future Legal Challenges.
In 2003, the Municipal government of Cotacachi presented a Constitutional Injunction challenging the legality of Ascendant’s mining concession. The Municipal government won in both of the lower courts. Because the Tribunal has been inoperative since shortly before its final ruling rejecting the injunction on technical reasons, it has not been able to answer to a legal petition from the Municipality’s lawyer asking for a clarification of the case.
In May of 2005, the Municipality again presented another legal challenge at a different court to annul the concessions. The main argument in both cases was that the government violated the constitution by not carrying out a proper consultation process with the communities, as Ecuador’s constitution requires. Without this consultation process, mining not only cannot take place, but it makes the mining concessions themselves illegal.
OECD Claim. Working together with Friends of Earth Canada and Mining Watch Canada, in 2005 DECOIN presented a claim to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development against Ascendant. We are claiming Ascendant violated safeguards contained in the Guidelines for International Enterprises. However, in January 2006, we dropped the case because of lack of trnasparancy by the National Contact Point in Canada (please see http://www.decoin.org/archive/2005_05_22_archive.html
Decoin and others will present new legal claims during the months of June and July 2006 to block the approval of the different environmental impact studies, and to ask again for the annulment of the mining concessions. Furthermore, the new regional development organization, the Coordinadora Zonal de Intag- created in May of 2006, is now assuming a much more active role in stopping the mining project. The opposition, which was never solely Decoin-based, just got tougher.
The Interamerican Human Rights Court. If the communities opposing the mining project cannot obtain justice in Ecuador, they will take their case to the Interamerican legal system; of which Ecuador is a signatory. This could tie up the mining project for years as the court decides if the Ecuadorian government violated the communities’ human rights. If the court decides in favor of the communities, the government is legally and politically bound to follow the court’s recommendations.
The international law firm, HellerErhman, represents DECOIN in the US and has submitted a number of documents pointing out some of the discrepancies and troubling aspects of this project and Ascendant Copper Corporation to the British Columbia Securities Commission. It is unfortunate the officials in Vancouver and Toronto decided to not take more seriously their observations. HellerErhman will continue working with DECOIN in order to assure our, and the community’s rights are respected and this project does not go forth. http://www.miningwatch.ca/issues/Ecuador/OECDrls_en.html
What it comes down to is this: why would you want to support a project that that threatens to destroy primary forests and endangered species, people’s livelihoods, their homes and communities, their rivers and streams, and their basic human rights, knowing that it is a project that is overwhelming opposed by majority of the communities, the local government and in general, the society of Cotacachi? Economically it is a very risky investment; ethically it is completely unacceptable.
If you want more information on this company, profiles on some of its present
and past employees, and its dealings in Ecuador, go to: www.decoin.org/2005/05/some-interesting-facts-about-ascendant.html
ABOUT DECOIN. DECOIN is a grass-roots environmental organization working to protect the Intag area’s unique and threatened biological diversity and other natural resources, and promotes sustainable development. The local government of Cotacachi, in 2004, publicly recognized DECOIN’s work in protecting community water resources, the area’s forests and biological diversity, and for promoting sustainable development projects. We are responsible for the creation of several economic and ecologically sustainable alternatives to mining, including a shade-grown coffee project (now over 250 member strong) and the community-run ecological tourism project in Junín. DECOIN has created 32 community owned and administered watershed and forest reserve, including the nearly 4,000 hectare (10,000 acres) reserve managed by the community of Junín. This is the natural reserve sitting on top of the copper Mitsubishi discovered in the 1990’s and which Ascendant dreams of exploiting. It also happens to be the same area that is used by the community of Junín for their ecological tourism project.
10. Aggressive Tactics.
CEDHU (Comision Ecumenica de Derechos Humanos), Ecuador’s most prestigious human rights organization, released a damming condemnation of Ascendant’s tactics in the Junin mining concession on the 18th of October related to trumped up charges filed against one of the activist opposing the Junin mining project. This latest persecution of opposition members, the human rights organization points out, is only one in a long list of abusive corporate behavior by Ascendant (see www.cedhu.org/html/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=360 (in Spanish)