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Voters say ‘no’ to mining near Girón

Voters in the Girón canton, south of Cuenca, have voted overwhelmingly to ban mining. The results of the public referendum has immediate consequences for the proposed Loma Larga gold and silver mine project and its Canadian owners, INV Metals. The vote is also certain to spark a nationwide debate on the government’s plan to expand mining in Ecuador.

Yaku Perez during an anti-mining protest in Quito in 2015.

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, 81 percent of the canton’s 15,000 voters rejected mining in the area.

Yaku Perez, an upset winner as Azuay prefect, celebrated the anti-mining results. “This is great news for future of Giron and all of Ecuador. Protecting our water resources should always be our top objective and mining poisons our water,” he said. Perez says that once he is office, he will sponsor a mining referendum in Cuenca to permanently stop mining in the Cajas mountains.

Representatives of the mining industry lamented the election result, warning that it could have dire economic consequences. “Ecuador is committing suicide by allowing these kinds of elections,” says Andrés Ycaza, vice-president of the Ecuadorian Chamber of Mining. “We are condemning future generations to poorer lives.” Ycaza and others say that mining decisions should remain with the national government. “They need to consult with local governments, of course, but this must be done before mining concessions are granted and mining activities begin. Public referendums will lead to disaster for the mining industry.”

Constitutional attorney Marco Machado says Sunday’s vote could cost Ecuador hundreds of millions of dollars in international court. “The owners of the mines and concessions in Ecuador will seek legal remedy if they are not allowed to pursue their work,” he says. “In the case of Loma Larga, the mining company has already spent millions of dollars based on its assurance from the government that the concession was valid,”

The government attempted to stop the referendum two weeks ago but the courts and election commission ruled that the challenge came too late.