Rural community leaders and anti-mining activists say they are being shut out of discussions that would allow a Chinese company to begin large-scale gold mining operations in the Cajas mountains, 30 miles west of Cuenca.
“This project will pollute our water and destroy our way of life,” says indigenous leader Carlos Perez. “We insist on being part of the decision. If it is necessary, we will protest in the streets of Cuenca to stop it,” he said.
In July, the Chinese mining company Junefield, which would operate the mine if it is approved, asked the government to allow it to begin exploration work. Earlier tests have estimated gold reserves in the area known as Rio Blanco to range from 650,000 to 3,000,000 million ounces, with silver reserves of approximately double that amount.
Rio Blanco is located in the parishes of Chaucha and Molleturo, which are part of the Cuenca canton.
On Friday Javier Córdova, Ecuador’s Minister of Mines, led a group of government officials on a tour of Rio Blanco. Perez says he is concerned that the government may attempt to bypass some environmental studies to allow work to begin sooner. “If all the studies are conducted as required by law, it would be at least a year before any mining operations could begin,” Perez said. “I believe if those tests are conducted by a qualified experts, they will find that mining in that area would poison the water that residents need for drinking and agriculture.
Several Cuenca cantonal councilman have also called for a thorough study before any operations can proceed.
Perez claims that the government has made a deal with the Chinese to allow Chinese companies to have a monopoly on mining operations in Ecuador. “We understand that they are denying mining permits for everyone except the Chinese.”