Demand for a 10-year mining moratorium sets up confrontation between the government and indigenous groups
The recent protests in front of Ecuador’s Mining Ministry in Quito have, for the most part, been small and orderly. They have received little attention from the press. That could be about to change.
The country’s two major indigenous organizations, CONAIE and ECUARUNARI are demanding a 10-year moratorium on new mining concessions at a time when the government is emphasizing mining as a source of badly needed income.
CONAIE and ECUARUNARI have a long history of opposing mining, based mostly they say on the danger it poses to water supplies for those living in rural areas. “This is an issue that unites all campesinos, all country people, not just the indigenous people,” says Jorge Herrera, COANAIE president. “Water is our life.”
The indigenous organizations claim the government is fast-tracking approvals of new mining concessions and by-passing strict environmental studies. ECUARUNARI leader Carlos Pérez has led meetings and protests in Cuenca three times this year, opposing mining projects in Azuay Province. “They (the mining ministry) are using quick, phony environmental studies to approve these operations that our research shows will contaminate the water for local people,” he says. “The government is putting the interests of Chinese and Canadian mining companies ahead of those of Ecuadorians.”
Pérez also claims the government is violating the 2008 constitution. “It says very clearly that the government must consult with indigenous communities that will be affected by mining, and they are not doing this,” he says.
President Rafael Correa says that indigenous communities have been consulted and that mining revenue is essential to the country. “We have had moratoriums in the past and have used them to conduct thorough studies,” he says. “We have opponents who are only interested in disrupting the legitimate work of the government and we cannot let them succeed.”
Mining Minister Javier Cordova says a mining moratorium is unworkable and unnecessary. “We already had a nine-year moratorium and now they are demanding anther 10 years,” he says. “This time, we will put the interests of fighting poverty and improving education for the entire country ahead of those of a handful of discontents.”