Ecuador: Stop the violence by the mining industry!

People protesting against mining with banners and posters The community of Buenos Aires opposes mining (© Bonaerenses Unidos Protectores del Ecosistema - BUPROE)

The community of Buenos Aires in northern Ecuador is peacefully resisting an Australian company that wants to mine gold and copper in their mountains. Local people are asking the authorities to guarantee their human rights and respect their opposition to mining.

News and updates Call to action

To: the Ministry of Environment; Ministry of Non-Renewable Natural Resources; Mayor of the Municipality of Urcuquí, Tirone Vega Gaybor; the Government of the Province of Imbabura, Governor M.ª Gabriela Jaramillo Puente; Municipal Council; National Police

“Human and natural rights in Ecuador must be guaranteed. The people must be consulted and their opposition to mining must be respected.”

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A gold rush is in full swing in the Urcuquí district of Imbabura province in northern Ecuador: Thousands of illegal gold prospectors have descended on the area. They have destroyed the tranquil life of the local people and their highly toxic mercury and cyanide is contaminating streams, rivers and farmland.

Greed for gold appears to have also taken hold of policymakers, authorities and companies: in future, gold and copper are to be mined – allegedly with the state's blessing – in an industrial open pit.

Since April 19, 2021, the community has been facing a new onslaught. Local people complain that Hanrine, a subsidiary of the Australian company Hancock Prospecting, has entered the community with a convoy of trucks. The staff would intimidate the residents and claim to have the permits necessary for mining.

Ecuadorian human rights organizations warn that the mining company does not have a permit. Furthermore, according to the state audit office, the concession was awarded to the company at a time when the mining cadastre was closed.

Regardless of the legality of the mining operation, the residents of Buenos Aires are determined not to allow a gold and copper mine. Their peaceful protest has so far prevented the passage of the convoy (see video).

Please support their urgent letter to the Ecuadorian authorities and the mining company. Let the recipients know that the world is watching and that they must respect the community’s decision.

Back­ground

Police and military units have moved into the municipality of Buenos Aires. The presence of the armed units raises fears among residents that the authorities intend to grant the mining company access.

“Whatever happens, we will defend the rivers, streams, mountains, animals and everything that exists in our community,” the peacefully protesting residents affirm. They have repeatedly spoken out against mining since 2017.

Illegal mining in the area has attracted 5,000 prospectors, as well as members of armed and criminal gangs. Their activities have had a serious negative impact on the community – not only with the destruction of the environment and their livelihoods, but also pervasive violence, lawlessness, alcohol abuse and prostitution. When illegal miners are evicted by the authorities, they leave behind rock mills, engines, chemical tanks, fuel cylinders and cableway systems for transporting rock.

The Ecuadorian press has tended to associate local people with illegal mining activities, but the communities reject this narrative, having backed the authorities in multiple missions against illegal mining. “But the illegal miners always get off. It's outrageous,” complains one resident.

People fear that the planned “legal” mining – the industrial mining of gold and copper in a large-scale open pit – will only make matters worse. The Hanrine mining company has concessions covering an area of around 23,000 hectares.

“The Ecuadorian state has on various occasions labeled us [the inhabitants of the community] as terrorists, illegal miners or anti-miners. We feel we are in great danger because the police and army have removed a checkpoint that was supposed to prevent the entry of illegal miners. In doing so, they have cleared the way for the mining company’s trucks and machines.” The trucks also brought in workers – up to 120 people who have no connection to the area. The convoy includes two buses with around 50 police officers and a group of soldiers. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the presence of these outsiders is an incalculable health risk for the community.

The ombudsman’s office has issued a warning: Despite the measures taken in recent days and the presence of the police, “the situation has worsened”, and “responsibility for protecting human rights and nature and for controlling and regulating mining activities in Ecuador” rests with the state. “Addressing the mining problem in Buenos Aires requires inter-institutional coordination”.

The miners have stated that they will not back down, as they have brought in their workers and machines and are ready to begin. The access road is clogged with their trucks and vans. The miners have set up a temporary camp on the side of the road, which is prohibited by law. The larger trucks presumably contain industrial machinery, indicating an intent to conduct exploratory drilling on private or government land.

Further information (in Spanish):

Alerta N°81- Parroquia Buenos Aires, cantón Urcuquí, Imbabura (Ecuador) denuncia nuevo intento de invasión de empresa minera ILEGAL HANRINE acompañada de la fuerza pública

Alianza por los Derechos Humanos Exhortamos a que se garanticen y se respeten los derechos a la resistencia y a la protesta en la parroquia de Buenos Aires -Imbabura- durante el estado de excepción

La Defensoría del Pueblo exhorta a las autoridades competentes a respetar y garantizar el derecho a la resistencia de las y los ciudadanos de La Merced de Buenos Aires en Imbabura

Letter

To: the Ministry of Environment; Ministry of Non-Renewable Natural Resources; Mayor of the Municipality of Urcuquí, Tirone Vega Gaybor; the Government of the Province of Imbabura, Governor M.ª Gabriela Jaramillo Puente; Municipal Council; National Police

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have learned that the Buenos Aires municipality and the Palmira municipality of the indigenous Awá in Urcuquí district, Imbabura province, are protesting the violation of their rights by an intrusion by Hanrine, a mining company.

In support of the residents of Urcuquí, we call on you to do the following:

To the authorities:

- Please intervene to stop all acts of intimidation against the people of Buenos Aires. Investigate the allegations without bias or prejudice and without criminalizing community residents as a whole.
- Provide a full explanation of this unjustified and in multiple respects risky mining intrusion.
- Establish the environmental liability arising from previous illegal mining that has previously been disregarded: Regulate and control all activities that have an impact on the environment in accordance with the law and in compliance with human rights and the rights of nature, the constitution and international instruments such as ILO Convention 169.
- In the municipality of Buenos Aires, respect and guarantee the right to protest, free expression, peaceful assembly and political participation, as well as the right to the personal integrity and health of its residents.
- Establish a dialogue and a working table between the parties in search of a solution to this social conflict that includes, as a possible outcome, a consultation of residents respecting their right to prior, free and informed consent on access by the mining company.

To the national police:

- Until the situation is fully resolved, please do your job by monitoring and preventing the entry of companies, machinery and workers into the area in response to citizens’ concerns.
- Register any complaints from residents.

With regard to the military forces present in the area:

- According to the Ecuadorian constitution, the maintenance of public order is not their mandate; their presence in Buenos Aires thus requires urgent clarification. The national police are responsible for public order.

The world is watching the events in Buenos Aires. I look forward to your prompt response.

Yours faithfully,

News and updates Footnotes

HanrineHanrine Ecuadorian Exploration and Mining SA (HEEM)


State Audit OfficeContraloría General del Estado, Dirección Nacional de Auditorías de Recursos Naturales, Informe-DNA6-0009-2020, p. 18, top: https://www.contraloria.gob.ec/WFDescarga.aspx?id=61510&tipo=inf

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