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Protesters leave but Rio Blanco mine remains closed; Three are jailed for destruction of property

The Rio Blanco gold and silver mine, west of Cuenca, remains closed although most protesters have left the area near the mine entrance. The Azuay Province prosecutor’s office says it has made three arrests for what it described as “criminal destruction of property” during the protests.

Protesters dug ditches to restrict access to the Rio Blanco mine. (El Mercurio)

Three hundred national police and army troops moved into the area on Wednesday and Thursday, moving protesters back from the mine’s front gate. On Friday, the regional police commander reported that “order and security” have been restored near the mine.

Protest leaders from the Molleturo, Chaucha and Cochapata communities, close to the mine, claim that the mine is polluting local water supplies and demand an end to all mining operations. National mining officials dispute the claim, saying that studies show that there has been no pollution or environmental damage.

“The mine is operating in full compliance with all national regulations and environmental surveys by both the (mining) ministry and independent sources have concluded that no pollution is occurring,” Ecuador’s mining ministry reported Thursday.

The ministry reported that the protest is being led by “outside interests interested in political agitation.” Local mining leaders dispute the claim, saying they have been “assisted but not led” by anti-mining activists with whom they have common interests.

“This is a home-grown protest to protect our way of life,” said Molleturo resident and protest leader Carlos Morales. In addition to claims of pollution, Morales says that the government should not be working with Chinese mining companies. “They are known throughout the world for environmental damage and for violating human rights,” he said.

Rio Blanco is operated by the Chinese-owned Ecuagoldmining corporation.

Rio Blanco managers say they hope to resume operations within a week, once repairs are made to access roads and damaged equipment is repaired or replaced. They say that a miners dormitory partially destroyed by a firebomb will be rebuilt.