Calling illegal mining a security threat, government calls in the army; Waves destroy sections of coastal highway; Manta airport to offer Panama flights
The government said Thursday it is increasing efforts to combat illegal mining, including using military troops to search for and destroy unauthorized operations. Secretary of State Security Diego Ordóñez said the mines are causing extensive environmental damage and that many of them are operated by criminal gangs.
“These mines are polluting the water and destroying the ecosystem in remote areas of the country,” Ordóñez said at a news conference. “Equally concerning, they are used for money laundering, human trafficking and drug importation by criminal organizations. In the raids we have conducted, we have seized large amounts of explosives, firearms and chemicals that are harmful to the environment.”
In addition to targeting illegal mines, Ordóñez said military troops and police will protect authorized mining operations. He said President Guillermo Lasso will issue an executive decree next week providing specifics about the plan.
Indigenous organizations, including Conaie, oppose the use of troops at mining sites. “This is a case of a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Conaie President Leonidas Iza. “The government’s real interest is in protecting mines it has permitted but many of these mines have not been approved by indigenous authorities. It is a plan to put military personnel on ancestral lands to monitor the activities of indigenous people.”
Waves destroy sections of coastal highway
The Transportation Ministry and the Manabí Prefectura are working to repair four sections of the coastal highway, or Ruta Spondylus, that have been undermined by high wave action. On Wednesday and Thursday, heavy machinery was depositing concrete and rocks below washed out sections of roadway but officials say they don’t know when the highway will reopen. They say an alternate route, away from the shore, has been opened.
The highway is closed between Manta and Montecristi, near La Resbalosa, the prefectura’s office said.
According the Transportation Ministry, at least 15 sections of the highway in Santa Elena and Manabí Provinces have been affected by the high surf since mid-January. It says traffic is being allowed on some of those sections but these will be closed if the situation becomes unsafe.
Ecuador’s meteorology office says the high waves and ocean level are the result of “unsettled weather in the northern Pacific” and said conditions will not change through the weekend. The high surf has caused an estimated 10 million in damages in Salinas, where several buildings and dozens of cars have been destroyed and where work crews continue to remove ocean sand from streets.
A University of Guayaquil geology professor warned Wednesday that “quick fixes” to Ruta Spondylus are doomed to fail. “The ocean is undercutting the highway in numerous locations and no amount of fill material and remediation can change this,” says Milton Ramos, who has been studying coastal erosion for more than 20 years. “Continental plate dislocation and rising sea level have eroded hundreds of meters of beach in some places and this will continue. Large sections of highway will need to be relocated inland.”
In the past, Ramos has criticized provincial and national governments for not putting more restrictions on coastal development. “When high-rise condominiums start falling into the ocean I guess they will finally take action,” he said Wednesday.
Manta airport to offer Panama flights
Manta’s General Eloy Alfaro airport has been authorized to begin international passenger service beginning in June, with the first flights scheduled for Panama City. “Air travel is not only recovering from the pandemic but expanding to more routes,” President Guillermo Lasso said Thursday at a ceremony in Manta. “We expect to make announcements of more international connections in the coming months.”
The Alfaro airport has provided international cargo service for several years, primarily to China. Major upgrades to cargo facilities at the airport, financed by a Chinese company, were completed late last year.
National aviation authorities said Cuenca could be next airport to offer regional international service when it completes an authorization process later this year.