Hundreds of residents of the Molleturo and Chaucha communities in the Cajas Mountains have stopped operations at Ecuador’s largest gold and silver mine. The protesters, who have established a camp outside the gates of the Rio Blanco mine, claim that it is polluting their water and destroying their crops.
The mine is located 42 kilometers west of Cuenca.
Ecuador’s mining ministry calls the protest illegal and says that roads leading to the mine have been blocked and that trucks and other equipment has been destroyed. “Employees of the mining company are trapped at Rio Blanco and say that they fear for their safety,” said a mining ministry press release. “This is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.”
The ministry says that a major concern is the the large stockpile of explosives stored at the mine. “If these fall into the wrong hands there will be serious danger,” a ministry spokesman said.
Río Blanco is one of five large mining projects in Ecuador, according to the mining ministry, and is the only one in production. Chinese mine operator Ecuagoldmining reports that 120 tons of ore was being produced daily from the mine before the protest shut down operations. Ecuagoldmining says it expects to mine 800 tons a day by 2020.
Gold and silver extractions from the mine are already being shipped to China.
Protesters say that their demand is simple. “Our requirement is that there be no more mining activity at Rio Blanco,” protest leaders said in a communiqué issued Tuesday.