By Carlos Zorilla, resident of Intag and member of Decoin.
Two decades after the resistance to mining in Intag began against a large-scale mining project, which led to the expulsion of two transnational mining companies and the creation of sustainable alternative, Chile’s mining company Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, in conjunction with Enami, the Ecuadorian state-owned mining company, is ready to begin exploratory activities in one of the world’s most threatened and biodiverse forests: Intag’s Toisan Range.
I think it disingenuous when companies say “we didn’t know”; or “had we only known”, or even lamer yet: “had the government made it clearer that…” then they try to weasel out of assuming responsibility for their catastrophic economic, social and environmental blunders. This then, is an attempt to draw attention to some of the hurdles Codelco, or any mining company, would face if they tried to open up a mine in Intag.
Studies and more Studies.
To justify their existence in certain projects, mining companies, when they can afford it, hire hot-shot NGO’s to carry out interviews and studies to ascertain popular perception on mining, identify key players, and confirm that they are loved. Then they actually go ahead and base their decisions on the study’s results! Even though they know they are lies at worst, or at best, written to please the funders. As if an area’s complexity and attitudes could be studied in a few days or weeks.
A Brand New Century.
If there’s anyone interested in investing in Intag’s mining project reading this, you probably know- or should know- as all responsible mining companies can attest to (as well as key players like the World Bank), that support from the Executive Branch of government is not nearly enough guarantee a project’s success. You need genuine (not manufactured or self-delusional) social license issued freely, without pressures or intimidation. In fact, national government support is no guarantee at all the project will succeed. So, do NOT bank on the government’s enthusiastic endorsement. You’ll lose. Big time.
I am positive that if most INVESTORS were find out about all the risks and obstacles facing mining in this corner of Ecuador, they would pull out.
This, then, is one more attempt to try to inform of the reality behind the lies and distortions being generated around the Junín mining project, and just 21 of the reasons why this project, as BN Americas pointed out in 2013, is bound to fail.
Based on the Bishi Metals Environmental Impact Assessment of mining in Intag, and on a small (450,000 ton) copper mine (a couple of years later they inferred the existence of 5x more copper)
- Intag is not like the Atacama desert, where Codelco has its copper mines. Besides being super biodiverse, there are communities all over the place. According to the Study, the mining project would relocate hundreds of families from four communities. Afterwards, the Japanese found more five times more copper, which could increase the number of communities affected by two- at the very least. Relocation of communities is more than enough to stop most extractive projects.
- It would impact primary cloud forests. What’s so special about cloud forests? Less than 2.5% of the world’s tropical forests are cloud forests. They are not only exceptionally biologically diverse- as well as severely threatened- but they play an outsize role in protecting important headwater watersheds.
- The project would cause massive deforestation(in the words of the experts preparing the Study). The small mine would directly impact 4,025 hectares.
- The deforestation, according to the Japanese, would lead to drying of local climate, affecting thousands of small farmers (the EIA used the worddesertification). You think communities will let this happen once they truly get the picture???
- Intag’s forests belong to the world’s top Biodiversity Hotspot; the Tropical Andes. The scientist working on the study identified 12 species of mammals and birds facing extinction that would be impacted by the project, including jaguars, spectacled bears, mountain tapirs and the brown-faced spider monkey. (Based on incomplete studies, Decoin identified more than 30 species of threatened or endangered plants and animals, and there could be dozens more).
Every year new species are found in Ecuador’s cloud forests, and this includes the spectacular Prince Charles frog, as well as the only carnivore discovered in the Western Hemisphere in the last 35 years. In addition, the area has several other endemic species, such as the recently discovered Shape-shifting Rain Frog (Pristimantis mutabilis), and the Black-breasted Puffleg Hummingbird, which exists in only two patches of high altitude cloud forests- one of them located in Intag.
- There are pristine rivers and streams everywhere within the concession. The EIA predicted they would be contaminated with lead, arsenic, chromium, cadmium and other toxic substances.
- The project would, unquestionably, destroy pre-Incan Yumbo archeological sites. This is one of the least studied cultures in Ecuador.
It would impact the Cotacachi-Capayas Ecological Reserve (one of the world’s most biologically diverse protected areas and the only large one in all of western Ecuador).
Besides these very worrying impacts identified in the Study (for a mine a fraction of what it could end up being)… there are other significant hurdles.
- Large-scale mining would violate the legally-binding Cotacachi County Ecological Ordinance created in 2000. Only the Constitutional Court can rule on the validity of the Ordinance in light of the new Constitution. And the Court l has not.
Ecuador’s new Constitution demands that communities be consulted before any project impacting their social or natural environment takes place; a Constitutional guarantee that has been disregarded from day one. The Constitution also grants nature rights, and the people right to Sumak Kawsay, or a Good Life (also translatable as Harmonious Life) . Good luck trying to convince a decent government and world opinion that open pit mining will not violate these two fundamental rights (no matter how obscenely the government decides to define the indigenous concept of a “Good Life”). Just because a government does its best to distort the Constitution does not mean a future one will do the same.
Waning political support.
- One of the things the government likes to underline is that it has the area´s political support. As of February 2014 this is no longer true, as the president’s party, Alianza País, lost badly in local elections in Imbabura province, site of the mining project. In fact, Imbabura was one of the provinces where Mr. Correa’s party lost more municipalities (5 out of 6) than anywhere else in the country. One of those Municipalities is the Cotacachi, which encompasses the Llurimagua mining concession. The new Mayor, Jomar Cevallos, is firmly opposed to mining.
There is widespread opposition to the Intag mining project. This includes:
- The new threat has actually mobilized more organization at the local, county and national level, than ever before.
Community Opposition. Many communities surrounding the mining project are still, after all these years, opposed to the project. There are some that seemingly have given their approval, though under duress and without any consultation whatsoever taken place. Proof of this is that on September and November 2013 the government tried to carry out an environmental impact study and were stopped by the communities- in spite of heavy police presence, and military in the area.
- Human Rights Violations.
After years of stopping dozens of attempts by government and private companies of accessing the mining concession that overlap communal land in order to carry out the environmental impact study and begin exploration, the government and Codelco only succeeded in carrying out the study in May of 2014 with the help of hundreds of police that terrorized the area for two months and violated rights, such as the right to freely circulate. To intensify the intimidation, a month earlier Javier Ramírez, president of the Junín community was arrested and jailed under highly irregular circumstances, which have been denounced by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, and The International Human Rights Federation, as well as several national human rights groups. Human Rights Watch is currently investigating the numerous human rights violations surrounding the Javier Ramirez case. Javier was released after being sentenced in February of 2015 but only after serving 10 months in jail. His brother Victor Hugo remains in hiding accused of sabotage, the same criminal offense as his brother, for putting up resistance to the presence of Enami employees in their territory.
- 90% of NGO’s in Cotacachi County and Intag oppose the project. In late 2012, the most important civil society organizations in Intag wrote a letter to Chile’s president to make sure he understood that the organizations would again rise to defend the area if Codelco or anyone went ahead and tried to revive the project. .
Exaggerated Copper Claims
15. In 2007, Micon International, the entity contracted by Ascendant Copper to evaluate the Junin copper deposit, said that it could not confirm their earlier estimates due to degradation of samples. Copper Mesa had been saying all along that the Junin copper deposit had four times more copper than what the Japanese inferred after years of exploration. In all, 2.26 million tons were inferred by the Japanese, which is a little less than 1/10thof what the world consumes annually (and it would take decades to mine it all out).
Further environmental challenges
16. The area receives between 3000 and 4000 millimeters of annual rainfall. Heavy rainfall, abundant underground aquifers, and heavy metals in the ore make for a deadly mix. Not only that, but they raise the price of mining considerably, while greatly increasing the risks of man-made disasters, such as landslides. For an idea of what a landslide can do in an open pit mine, gohere:
- The ore contains toxic heavy metals and sulfur (which will cause Acid Mine Drainage).
- There is a superabundance of underground water (according to Japanese EIA). This is bad news for mining companies and even worse news for the environment.
- The area where they found the copper is exceptionally steep and mountainous, making mining much more difficult and expensive than most mines.
- There are clear indications that Junín’s copper is very deep, making mining much more environmentally destructive and economically risky. Emphasis on Economically risky.
- The Toisan Range has many geological faults, posing significant earthquake risks.
There are, in fact, more than 21 reasons for Codelco to stay out of Intag. But these should suffice for any company that considers itself responsible and to realize that Intag’s forests and inhabitants should be a no-go zone.
For more information contact Carlos Zorrilla at Decoin (email@example.com)
There are innumerable articles on this struggle, but a good place to begin is:
Current information can be found at DECOIN’s Facebook page, but also in these sites: