The Struggle Against Mining
Mining Resistance In The Community Of Intag.
Cloudforest Coffee supports land defenders in Ecuador. The communities in the Intag region have a long history of resistance to mining companies. One of these companies was a Canadian mining company. The issue of the effects Canadas giant mining industry has abroad is often ignored in the media.
The story starts with a Japanese company not a Canadian one. In the 1990’s a Japanese company called Bishimetals began to explore for minerals in the area. Communities were not informed and Bishimetals had not done an environmental impact assesment. Opposition to the company began to mount in the community, and people began to educate themselves about the risk of large open pit mines.
They began to organize a resistance. They formed DECOIN (Defensa y Conservacion Ecologica de Intag) to promote sustainable alternatives to mining in the community. They also formed the coffee cooperative Asociacion Rio Intag. The coffee initiative was started directly because of the threat of the mining. Bishimetals continued to drill deep holes looking for minerals. The community became fed up when the Junin river, which they rely on for drinking water, was contaminated. In 1997, after Bishimetals ignored the concerns of the community, the mining camp was occupied and eventually burned down. Realizing the extent of the opposition to their project, Bishimetals left Intag for good. However, the struggle was not over yet.
This is where the Canadian mining corporation comes into the story. In 2004 a Canadian company called Ascendant Copper bought the mining concession for Intag. The company made all the same mistakes, and did not consult with the community before trying to force their way in. They were resisted fiercely, and were not even allowed to take samples. The Canadian company even hired a paramilitary group to go in and incite violence. This was because the resistance to the mining company had been peaceful, and they thought by inciting violence they would be able to force their way in. In 2008 the company was forced to give up its concession, due to determined and organized resistance to mining in the community.
Thanks to the efforts of ordinary people in the Intag, it is still the beautiful and pristine cloud forest that it always has been. That is not to say the struggle is over yet, there is now a Chilean company in partnership with an Ecuadorian looking to start up exploration in the Intag again. The people of the communities are still opposed to mining, and are still fighting to keep their land pure and free of toxic pollution from open pit mining. To learn more watch the movie “Under Rich Earth” or check out one of these websites.
Current Situation in the Intag region
After successfully resisting two mining companies bids to create a large open pit mine on their land, the community is now entering the third round of resistance. In 2012 the Chilean and Ecuadorean governments signed a deal to start an open pit mine in the Intag region in the community of Junin. The Ecuadorian company is called ENAMI (Empresa Nacional Minera) is owned by the Ecuadorian government. This is especially worrying as there has been an increasing criminalization of environmental activism in Ecuador. Indigenous groups looking to protect their ancestral lands from extractive industries are being charged as terrorists and facing lengthy sentences. Another example is the shut down of the nonprofit called Pachamama Foundation, which opposes drilling for oil in the Amazon rainforest. Pachamama Foundation worked closely with the Achuar indigenous people who are opposed to oil development in the Amazaon. The criminalization of environmental activists puts the farmers in Intag who want to protect their land in an awkward position. They are being accused of wanting to hold back the country from economic prosperity, when in reality they want to have clean air, soil and water for their children. Help keep Intag free of mining by supporting the coffee farmers. Drink a coffee that you know is ethical.
Current Situation in Ecuador with Regards to Mining
Under the government of Rafael Correa, who was reelected in February 2013, mining and extractive industries in general are being pursued with new vigor. He has campaigned under the promise of a “citizens revolution” that increased social spending and aimed to decrease inequality. These are good programs and it is high time that a government in Ecuador made efforts to curb the rampant poverty. The only problem is that Correa is bankrolling this social spending with revenue from the extractive industry. Roughly half of Ecuador’s revenue comes from oil, and the government is looking to expand oil drilling into vast areas of the Amazon. This can be seen by their decision to drill for oil in Yasuni national park which originally Correa had vowed to protect if the international community would pay the Ecuadorean government the amount of money they would get from exploiting the oil. They were effectively holding the Amazon hostage. But the money was not forth-coming form the worlds nations and Rafael Correa announced that oil drilling would begin in the pristine park.
Oil is not the only extractive industry that Correa is banking on to to fund the “citizens revolution,’ there is also mining. The last time Ecuadors mining laws were reformed before Correa took power was in the year 2000. It was around that time that the World Bank was going around South America and “modernizing” countries mining laws. Basically they were making it easier for multi-national companies to go into countries and export minerals to the the North as cheaply as possible. Following this neo-liberal model most of the money stayed in private hands and the government did receive much of the funds. The consequence of this unfair mining law was social conflict, violence and unrest. Now fast forward to 2009 when Rafael Correa decided to reform the mining law again. This time the reform aimed at increasing state royalties so that at least the government would make some money from the mining. However it also aimed to do away with the windfall tax and reduce exploitation fees: essentially making mining cheaper for the corporation. Perhaps the biggest change the new mining law introduced was to reduce the free, prior and informed consent with indigenous people. This is particularly harsh in Ecuador where such a large percentage of the population is indigenous, and that the rights of the environment are supposedly enshrined in the country’s constitution.
So there is a situation in Ecuador where the president is pursuing an agenda of expanding the extractive industry. This has sparked a lot of resistance among communities, NGO’s and indigenous organizations. Correa has responded to this by issuing bylaws that regulate NGO’s. It basically limits what NGO’s can get away with if they are criticizing the government. This is a situation where the government of Rafael Correa is criminalizing environmentalists and aggressively pursuing the destruction of the environment.
Still, at the same time his argument that he is doing it to fight poverty is a powerful one. If a person is to criticize his choices, then they must propose other ideas to help improve the lives of the many impoverished Ecuadorians. I believe that the answer here is diversity: a number of different industries rather then just relying on oil and minerals. The possibilities are long: coffee, banana, body products, musical instruments, textiles, eco-tourism etc…
If mining is to be pursued, it should only be done so in communities where they unanimously vote for mining. There should be no cases where it is being forced on communities just to send revenue back to the central government.
We firmly support the resistance to mining in the Intag region of Ecuador, and our purchasing of their organic coffee is an effort to support the ecological conservation of the pristine cloud forest.