Ecuador’s mining industry is threatened by legal uncertainty, the sector’s guild said on Wednesday, citing a decision by the country’s top court to withdraw environmental permissions for a project in a protected forest.
The Constitutional Court last week rescinded an environmental license for initial exploration at the Rio Magdalena project in the Los Cedros forest in the country’s north.
The court said the project, being developed by state-owned mining company Empresa Nacional Minera and Canadian partner Cornerstone, violated the rights of nearby communities to a prior consultation and of the forest to protection. It also cited the so-called “rights of nature” that are included in the country’s constitution.
The Ecuador Mining Chamber, however, claimed the court had overreached its authority. “In this decision the court ignored the rights given by the state to the licensee,” the guild said in a statement. “This industry is now seriously threatened by judicial insecurity from this ruling.”
Last year, the chamber expressed its disagreement with another court ruling that allowed a public referendum on mining in Cuenca, the country’s third largest city. In February, voters there overwhelmingly passed a mining ban in the municipal watershed. The chamber said mining decisions should be made by the government and not be subject to local elections.
There are currently two major gold and copper mines operating in Ecuador’s Amazon region, while other projects, including the Chinese Rio Tinto gold mine near Cuenca have been halted by community opposition and law suits.
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso, a conservative ex-banker, has pledged to give more security to the mining sector in a bid to attract investment, while allowing community consultation rights. The government expects mining exports worth $1.6 billion this year and aims to increase the amount to $4 billion a year within five years.
Los Cedros forest counts about 290 species of trees per hectare, thousands of insects and dozens of mammal species like the capuchin monkey, the black-headed spider monkey and the howler monkey, many of whom are in danger of extinction.
“The ruling creates a precedent for the whole country for the protection of forests,” Jose Cueva, spokesman for the Mining, Environmental and Social Observatory of Northern Ecuador advocacy group, told local media. “The problem in Ecuador is the mining industry is modifying laws in their favor.”
Credit: Engineering News