Mining companies will challenge a ‘yes’ vote to ban large gold and silver mining in Cuenca

Feb 5, 2021 | 6 comments

The Cuenca Chamber of Mining says it will not accept a referendum vote banning large scale gold and silver mining in the Cuenca Canton. Chamber President Patricio Vargas says he will go to court to overturn the ban if necessary.

Many of the rivers that provide Cuenca’s drinking water originate in the Cajas Mountains.

Polls show that voters will overwhelmingly approve a referendum question that would only allow regulated artisanal mining in the Cuenca watershed in Sunday’s national election. The result only applies to future mining projects, not to existing or approved projects.

“If there is a ‘yes’ vote it would be a violation of Ecuador’s national interests, unfairly penalize mining companies that have already invested in future projects in the canton and eliminate hundreds of future jobs,” he says. “By law, this is a decision that should be made at the national level and should not be up to local communities.”

He adds that the question on the ballot is overly broad and does not provide a clear definition of large mines or artisanal mines. “The wording provides voters with little information about what they are voting on. I am surprised the question was approved by the Constitutional Court.”

Gonzalo Clavijo, a civil engineer specializing in water projects, rejects Vargas’ argument and said the citizens of Cuenca are entitled to ensure the safety of their water supply. “Cuenca has the best drinking water in Latin America and we are asking the people if they want to maintain that distinction,” he says. “This is a quality of life issue that has a very personal impact on everyone who lives here.”

Clavijo cited a 2011 study by international water engineers that listed Cuenca among the top five cities in the world for best municipal water quality.

The referendum question applies specifically to the water recharge areas of the Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui, Machángara and Norcay rivers that feed city water reservoirs and purification plants. “The protections for these recharge and watershed districts must be strengthened to preserve our water quality,” Clavijo says.

According to Ecuador’s mining ministry, Cuenca sits atop some of the world’s richest gold and silver deposits.