Court closes Imbabura mine; New landslide warning issued in Alausí; Yaku Pérez and Democracia Sí join forces; Highway closures depress holiday tourism

Apr 10, 2023 | 5 comments

In a major blow to the government, the Imbabura Provincial Court has revoked the license of the Enami-Codelco mine in the Intag forest of Imbabura Province. The judges agreed with local residents who claimed that the Chilean-operated mine violated environmental protections granted by the constitution.

“This is a victory for the anti-mining resistance,” said plaintiff’s lawyer Carlos Valera in a news conference following Thursday’s decision. “The court agreed with us that the mine violates the rights of nature guaranteed in the 2008 constitution. The government ignored the people and environmental well-being and now they will pay for it.”

Valera said the government of former president Rafael Correa knew the mine was a constitutional violation but issued the permit to Enami-Codelco anyway. “Not only was there the violation of the rights of nature but there was a violation of the rights of people to be consulted before mining was permitted,” he said. “The government’s own environmental study recommended against the mine but the Mining Ministry ignored the advice.”

Landslides near Giron kept the Cuenca-Machala highway closed for much of the holiday weekend.

This is the second time residents have challenged permitting of Enami-Codelco. In 2014, the Correa government ignored local protests and granted permission to mine in the Intag nature preserve. He ordered police to protect the mining site from protesters, calling them “infantile environmentalists.”

The court decision could cost the government more than the revenue generated by the mine, an attorney for the Mining Ministry said. “We will face expensive legal action as well as damages if this judgement is allowed to stand and the people of Ecuador will pay the price,” said Jorge Villas. “The decision will be appealed.”

New landslide warning issued in Alausí
Ecuador’s Risk Management Secretariat has issued a new landslide alert near Alausí. The warning advises the immediate evacuation of a 150-hectare sector of the Huigra parish, southwest of Alausí. The Secretariat and Alausí cantonal officials met Sunday night to determine how many of the area’s 2,400 inhabitants will be affected by evacuation plans.

Alausí Fire Commander Hugo Arellano said the alert was issued after large fissures were discovered in the higher elevations of surrounding Huigra. “These are very large cracks in the ground and they are rapidly widening,” he said. “Residents living nearby also report land movements and structural damage.”

Yaku Pérez and Democracia Sí join forces
Former presidential candidate Yaku Pérez and leader of the Democracia Sí movement, Gustavo Larrea, are joining forces to push for a constituent assembly to reform the 2008 Constitution. The pair said last week it wants environmental protections and the rights of local residents strengthened.

Some supporters suggest that Pérez and Larrea might make up a future presidential ticket.

Pérez, who heads Somos Agua, an organization supporting protection of water sources, said constitutional changes are needed because the “government has consistently ignored the rights of nature” that were a cornerstone of the 2008 constitution. “The Correa, Moreno and Lasso administrations have violated environmental protections intended by the constitution and we need to rewrite the language to be iron-clad.”

Several Somos Agua members criticized the alliance with Larrera, pointing out that he was a minister in the Correa government but Pérez defended it. “Gustavo rejected the Correistas long ago and has always been a supporter of environmental protection,” Pérez said. “And, unlike other members of Correa’s government, he is not a fugitive from justice and can walk around freely in Ecuador.”

Road closures depress holiday tourism numbers
An ongoing series of rock- and mudslides that blocked highways near Cuenca is being blamed for keeping tourists away during the three-day Easter holiday weekend. Since Thursday, the highways connecting Guayaquil and Machala have suffered continuing closures.

“In 2022, we filled 73% of hotel beds during Easter and we were hoping for similar occupancy this year,” the Cuenca Tourism Foundation said in a statement. “Because of the heavy rains and landslides, our occupancy this year was only 51%. Many tourists from Guayaquil, our main source of visitors, decided to stay home because of road conditions in Molleturo, in the Cajas Mountains.”

The Cuenca- Girón -Machala highway was the most affected by closures as a 900-meter stretch of the highway near Girón was closed for much of the weekend. On Sunday afternoon, the Transportation Ministry opened a single lane but warned continuing rains could trigger more slides.

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