Water defenders just won an important battle in Cuenca, Southern Ecuador, against metal mining in the Kimsakocha páramos, where Canadian company Dundee Precious Metals is attempting to develop its Loma Larga gold-arsenic mine.
On Tuesday, a local judge granted Protective Measures to the Kimsakocha páramos and suspended all mining activities on the grounds that the Ecuadorian State and company failed to consult with affected communities. The application for Protective Measures was filed in February 2022 by the Federation of Campesino and Indigenous Organizations of Azuay (FOA in Spanish) and the Community Water Systems of Tarqui, Victoria del Portete and Girón against the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition.
Dundee Precious Metals is now attempting to minimize the importance of the decision by saying that the company “had already planned the consultation process prior to proceeding to the exploitation phase.” But Article 57 of the Ecuadorian Constitutions says that communities must be consulted about “plans and programs for prospection” – activities that were already underway without consultation.
Besides not being consulted, communities also argued in the judicial action that mining activity in these high-altitude wetlands would violate their right to water, given the ecosystem’s importance as a water source and natural hydrological system.
In a press conference held in Cuenca yesterday, Lauro Sigcha, president of FOA, highlighted how this victory comes on the heels of nearly 30 years of struggle to protect the water in the Kimsakocha páramo… “We haven’t slept soundly for 30 years…due to the [uncertainty] of whether or not mining would begin. This is one of our rights that has been violated: our right to live in peace.” He also denounced the violence, persecution, and arrests the community has suffered for exercising their right to defend water.
During the press conference, Yaku Pérez, long-time water defender and campaigner against large-scale mining and a lawyer representing FOA, recalled the referendum held over a year and a half ago where over 80% of residents of Cuenca voted overwhelmingly in favour of water and against industrial mining in the watersheds of the area’s five rivers. He characterized the legal battles as a David vs. Goliath situation, explaining how eight governmental and corporate actors joined forces, including the Ministry of the Environment and Dundee Precious Metals, to fight the communities in court as they sought Protective Measures for the Kimsakocha páramos.
According to Graciela Calle from the Southern Women’s Ecological Movement in Cuenca, this court decision “gives us some breathing room… it is a ruling that gives us, as communities, the time to organize.”
Meanwhile, Canadian officials continue to be actively involved in promoting the expansion of Canadian mining projects in Ecuador. Ecuadorian officials – including the Minister of Energy and Mines – presented alongside Canadian Ambassador to Ecuador Sylvie Bédard at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual mining conference in Toronto this June – promoting the expansion of mining in the country at the same time as communities were marching on Quito as part of a historic national strike to demand, in part, a moratorium on mining and to nullify Executive Decree 151 – the Action Plan for the Mining Sector. As we reported in June, Bédard was applauded at the PDAC convention for the “fundamental contributions she has made for the industry’s growth,” including spearheading the Mining Consultative Public-Private Council set up to troubleshoot solutions for the mining industry. Given the pivotal role she’s playing in assisting Canadian mining companies in Ecuador, we call on the Canadian embassy in Ecuador to halt this support and recognize this important legal victory by the people of Cuenca.
This victory is due in large part to a broad community effort, but also and specifically to FOA and the Community Water Systems of Tarqui, Victoria del Portete and Girón, who have been at the forefront of the protection of water and resistance against metal mining in their páramos.
We call on Canadians to be attentive to this process, congratulate Cuencanos in this long-awaited victory, and express our ongoing support as they get ready to face an expected appeal by the company.
Photo credit: Yaku Pérez