By Johnny Magdaleno
The government of Ecuador is facing a lawsuit this week for giving mining companies exploration rights to a protected forest in one of the country’s most biodiverse regions without local consultation.
Brought by the town of Cotacachi in northern Ecuador, the lawsuit requests the regional court place an injunction on all mining activity within Los Cedros in the Intag Valley, a lush area of rivers and Andean tropical forest.
The lawsuit says the national government violated the constitution and forestry laws by ignoring Los Cedros’ conservation status and concessioning the protected forest without informing local officials.
“The government turned over 70 percent of the Intag Valley into mining concessions, yet they did not do a single consultation — not with the communities, not with the local authorities,” said Jose Cueva, planning director at the Cotacachi government. “According to the constitution, they are required to talk with local officials before allowing concessions.”
In recent decades, the Intag Valley has seen some of the fiercest resistance against mining in Ecuador, a country rich in gold, copper and other minerals.
Since 2008 an estimated 1.8 million acres of Ecuador’s protected forests have been made available for mining exploration, according to the Rainforest Information Centre, an environmental non-profit based in Australia.
The state has the right to extract minerals regardless of whose land they are located under, according to the constitution and Ecuador’s national mining plan. The constitution, however, require the national government consult with communities about “plans and programs for prospection, exploitation, and commercialization of non-renewable resources found in their land.”
Communities in the Garcia Moreno parish where Los Cedros and the mining concessions are located, were not consulted before an environmental license was granted to the companies, according to the legal action.
“The mining companies have more rights here than the protected forests,” said Josef DeCoux, who manages a research station within Los Cedros.