Two hundred national police and army troops took up positions Wednesday at the Rio Blanco mine in the Cajas Mountains west of Cuenca as the protest against the mine entered its fourth day. The move was prompted, according to Ecuador’s ministry of mining, by the alleged destruction of equipment and roadways by protesters.
The ministry reported that a fire bomb partially destroyed a miners’ dormitory and damaged a guard house on Tuesday night. The ministry also said that workers at the mine have been threatened by the protesters.
Azuay Province Governor Xavier Enderica is calling for discussions with protesters but says that the destruction of property will not be tolerated. “Most of the damaged equipment belongs to private individuals who work with the mine and not the mine itself,” he said. “The damage to the public roadways near the camp must also be repaired.”
He added: “It is our desire to begin a dialogue with those opposed to this project but talks must occur in a peaceful environment.”
Leaders of the protest, many from the nearby communities of Molleturo and Chaucha, say they will not end the shut-down until all mining activity is permanently suspended.
Spokesman Carlos Morales claims that the Chinese-run the Ecuagoldmining operation is polluting water in the area and threatening the livelihood of farmers. “For the people who have lived here for many generations, water is life,” he says. “Our interests should come before those of the Chinese who only want to destroy the earth so they can take gold back to China. The government of Ecuador should be protecting Ecuadorians, not the rapacious interests of the Chinese.”
The government is claiming that “outside agitators and political actors” are leading the protest, a claim disputed by protest leaders. “Our friends have come to help because they are affected by mining too,” says Morales. “Most of the people that you see here today are from this area, not from outside. We are fighting for our existences and we welcome all the help we receive.”