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Judge stops local mining referendum

A judge has temporarily suspended a referendum on a large mining project south of Cuenca, ruling that Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, must make a final decision before the vote proceeds.

Marchers protest Loma Larga project last year in Quito.

The referendum is on the March 24 election ballot in Girón and San Fernando cantons and could derail plans for the Loma Larga gold and silver mine, located near the Quimsacocha community. The project would be operated by INV Metals of Canada, which was granted a concession by the national government in 2016.

The national Protection Measures Court judge ordered the National Electoral Council (CNE) to suspend referendum plans and campaigning effective immediately. “Due to jurisdictional questions, I am ordering the temporary suspension of the referendum until there is an express ruling by the Constitutional Court,” the judge said.

One of the jurisdictional questions the high court must decide is the legality of a popular referendum on mining projects. “According to the constitution, mining decisions fall exclusively to the national government,” says former deputy mining minister Ricardo Iglesias. “The government has the authority to negotiate with mining companies and grant concessions and if this right is not respected it could ruin the country’s ability to attract mining interests. It would be a disaster if mining decisions were made in popular elections at the local level.”

Referendum supporters, most of whom oppose Loma Larga, were angered by the court order but said they would await the decision of the Constitutional Court before deciding on a response.