Indigenous leader and attorney Yaku Pérez says his followers will take to the streets if the Azuay Provincial Court allows the resumption of mining at the Rio Blanco gold and silver mine west of Cuenca.
“We will begin actions of civil disobedience to show our displeasure at the sacrifice of our resources and ancestral lands,” he says. “These actions will be carried out not just in Cuenca but in Quito and throughout the country. It will be declaration of war on the government.”
Yaku Pérez led a protest on Monday when the court heard arguments for and against reopening the mine. About 500 protesters gathered around Parque Calderon urging the court to shut down the Chinese-owned Rio Blanco mine for good.
Following protests at the mine in May, a judge ordered operations at Rio Blanco suspended pending this week’s court hearing.
Pérez claims that the mine, near Molleturo in Cajas Mountains, is diverting water flow and causing pollution. The city of Cuenca agrees and has joined the anti-mining forces in petitioning the court to close the mine due to possibility of pollution of the municipal water supply.
The owners of the mine claim they have suffered millions of dollars in loses and demand immediate resumption of operations and protection from protesters at the mining site. They are backed by the Ministry of Mining, which claims the mine is part of the government’s plan to attract more mining operations to help finance the federal budget. The ministry claims that studies have proven that there has been no pollution at Rio Blanco and that the operator has gone to “extraordinary lengths” to protect the surrounding environment.
In addition to causing pollution, Pérez also claims that the government’s grant of mining right to Rio Blanco is a violation of indigenous rights. “The land near Molleturo has been the home to indigenous Cañari communities for a thousand years and deserves protection. By law, the local community must be consulted about operations that affect ancestral lands and, in this case, it was not.”