It has more biodiversity per square kilometer than any other nation on Earth.
Despite Ecuador's status as one of the world's most mega-diverse countries, the threat of extinction for some of its world-renowned biodiversity has dramatically increased in recent years.
In 2015 and 2016, the former Correa government deregulated and weakened mining laws to attract foreign investment. These changes included decreasing the corporate tax rate, reducing royalties paid to the treasury, and ending the windfall tax on mining companies.
“Ecuador is one of the world’s last mining frontiers, but it is under-explored and under-developed. There is a great window of opportunity.” -Rodrigo Izurieta, president of Ecuador’s Mining Chamber. It's a frontier for a reason. The rugged terrain, heavily forested and with few roads has kept miners, loggers and ranchers at bay, until now. Exploring frontier forests for mining is tantamount to pushing roads into mega-diverse primary forests, especially in the Choco cloud forests which have been 98% deforested, and are among the world's top 1% of critically endangered biodiversity hot-spots.
While lowering regulations on mining companies, the former Correa government passed laws to deeply regulate Non-Governmental Organizations, attempting to silence journalists, tribal leaders and activists alike. The Panchamama Foundation was dissolved by Presedential Decree in 2013, followed by a failed attempt to shut down Acción Ecológica in 2016.
In 2013, Shuar leader José “Pepe” Acacho was controversially found 'guilty' of terrorism offences for protests undertaken in 2010, and sentenced to 8 years jail. Another Shuar leader who opposes mining in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Agustín Wachapá, was found not guilty of inciting violence in May 2018.
Since 2016, 1.7 million hectares (4.25 million acres) of forest reserves and indigenous territories have been handed over to mining companies for minerals exploration.
These mining concessions were awarded to transnational corporations in closed-door deals without public knowledge or consent.
Mining inside Protected Forest Reserves
At least 30% of total concessions cover previously protected forests, like the Los Cedros Ecological Reserve shown below.
A recent research paper by Roy et al on the impacts of mining in Ecuador, revealed the potential losses that mining could cause, namely:
- 8 critically endangered species, including two primates (brown-headed spider monkey and white-fronted capuchin) and large predators like the jaguar are under direct threat of extinction
- 37 endangered species, like the mantled howler monkey, mountain tapir and Ecuadorian toad-headed pitviper
- 153 vulnerable species, like the Andean Spectacled Bear, Little Red Brocket deer and Oncilla
- 89 near threatened species, like the Puma or Mountain lion, Jaguarindi and coral snake
Despite strong community opposition by farmers, indigenous communities and conservationists, the Australian government trade agency Austrade - has been actively encouraging the Australian mining industry to invest hundreds of millions in mining and exploration.
In June 2018, Judge Paul Serrano of the Cuenca civil court ruled that the Ecuagoldming Rio Blanco mining concession is unconstituional and ordered a suspension of mining at the controversial Rio Blanco mine and the demilitarisation of the area. The sovereign risks of operating in Ecuador are underplayed by mining companies and Austrade officials alike.
First Nations people resist mining in Ecuador
Around 995,426 ha of Indigenous territories are under mining concessions, or nearly 14% of estimated Indigenous lands.
Concessions now cover vast tracks of the Amazon headwaters, deep inside Indigenous territories, including 50% of the ancestral homelands of the Shuar people.
Shuar leader Domingo Ankwash is uniting the 8000 strong Shuar nation, and leading the fight against proposed large scale Chinese and Canadian mines in the pristine rainforests of the Cordillera del Condor.
As Domingo explains, “the forest has always given us everything we need, and we are planning to defend it, as our ancestors would, with the strength of the spear. To get the gold, they will have to kill every one of us first.” Source: salon.com
The Shuar's enduring struggle against mega mines on their ancestral lands, has been dubbed Ecuador's Standing Rock and continues to this day.
Australian mining companies; Solgold and Fortescue collectively own 127,166 ha of mining concessions inside Shaur territory.
1200 Sarayaku people of the Amazonian regions of eastern Ecuador, have successfully stopped further oil exploration on their land.
Patricia Gualinga is a Kichwa Indigenous leader of Sarayaku who until recently, was forced into witness protection, after surviving a violent home invasion and receiving death threats.
Back in 2013, the Ecuadorian Government was forced to comply with the Inter-American Court for Human Rights' ruling in favor of the Kichwa of Sarayaku, after the government illegally violated their territory for oil exploration and polluted their land.
Further north, nearly 70% of Awá territory is under mining concession, despite widespread disapproval and protest. The Awá are attempting to peacefully resist the expansion of mining in their homelands, gaining the support of various provincial governments and conservationists in and outside of Ecuador.
Despite strong community opposition by farmers, indigenous communities and conservationists, the Australian government trade agency Austrade - has been actively encouraging the Australian mining industry to invest millions in mining exploration. The Australian government shows no interest in the human rights abuses suffered by the Ecuadorian people under its militarised and oppressive mining regime
Australian mining companies in Ecuador
Australian mining companies possess 294 mining concessions in Ecuador, covering 1.18 million hectares of land, much of it forested.
- At least 77 of these Australian mining concessions occur inside Bosques Protectores or Protected Forest Reserves (totalling 104740ha).
- A further 54 Australian mining concessions are inside Indigenous Territories (totalling 134783ha).
- Roads and mines are being built and/or planned inside ecological zones of global significance
BHP subsidiary Cerro Quebrado has;
- 23 Concessions in Ecuador totalling 73,203 ha
- 2,952ha of its mining concessions are inside 5 Protected Forest reserves, including
- CUENCA RIO GUAYLLABAMBA (AREA 1), AREA DE DRENAJE DE LOS RIOS UMACHACA, QUEBRADA AFILANA, MARGEN IZQ. DEL RIO PICHAN, ALAMBI ALTO Y TANDAYAPA
- CUENCA RIO GUAYLLABAMBA (AREA 2), AREA ENTRE EL RIO TULUMBI Y MARGEN DERECHA DEL RIO ALAMBI
- LOS CEDROS
- SIEMPRE VERDE
BHP has an appalling environmental track record among Ecuador's neighboring states; Colombia and Brasil.
BHP Case study 1 - Cerro Matoso Mine (Colombia)
The Cerro Matoso nickel mine in Colombia severely polluted an entire region and poisoned many in the local community
Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of 3000 indigenous and 100 afro-carribean community members, finding the mine caused chronic health conditions, including fatal cancers. BHP was found guilty and potentially faces around US$300 million dollars in compensation payments. The court's ruling was accepted by BHP and is the most expensive pecuniary sanction in the legal history of Colombia.
The Cerro Matoso mine was originally funded by the World Bank in 1979, providing another example of disastrous mega-development projects gone horribly wrong.
BHP Case Study 2 - Semarco / Germano iron ore mine (Brasil)
In 2015, the southeastern Germano iron ore mine's massive Fundão tailings dam failed and released 39.2 million cubic metres of waste. Nineteen people were killed, including five village residents and 14 employees of the Samarco mining firm (owned by BHP Brazilian mining giant Vale and the Anglo-Australian multinational BHP Billiton) .
An ABC Four Corners report found BHP's deadly dam collapse was linked to ramping up production and ignoring warning signs. Four Corners asked how exactly did BHP — which had two of its own executives on the Samarco board — not know of the ongoing problems with the dam?
Four Corners has learned that independent testing of water samples from the river system which locals drink from, has found levels of arsenic and lead 10 to 20 times higher than Brazilian regulations allow.
Prosecutors allege the company put profits ahead of safety, failed to take actions that they say could have prevented the disaster. They claim "there is repeated, continual negligence in the actions of a company owned by Vale and BHP." BHP-Billiton faces a restitution bill in the billions of dollars, and the likelihood of lawsuits and litigation for years to come.
The UN has called for greater scrutiny of mining tailings dams worldwide, following this disaster .
One smaller Australian mining company, Solgold and its subsidiaries, owns 186 mining concessions, covering a total of 780,864 ha of land or 67% of all Australian concessions.
Approximately 41% of Solgold concessions are inside Protected Forest reserves and Indigenous territories.
41 Solgold concessions cover 161,765 ha of Shuar and Awá territories.
19 Concessions totaling 164,852 ha occur inside 21 Protected Forest Reserves, which are:
Protected Forest reserves threatened by Solgold
- CERRO GOLONDRINAS
- CORAZON DE ORO
- CUENCA DEL RIO PAUTE
- MOLLETURO Y MOLLEPUNGO
- TINAJILLAS RIO GUALACENO
- COOPERATIVA JIMA LTDA.
- SUBCUENCA ALTA DEL RIO LEON Y MICROCUENCAS DE LOS RIOS SAN FELIPE DE ONA Y SHINCATA
- 15 AREAS DEL INTERIOR DE LA CUENCA DEL RIO PAUTE
- CUENCA ALTA DEL RIO NANGARITZA
- CUENCA DEL RIO MORO - MORO
- EL INGENIO Y SANTA ROSA
- MOLLETURO Y MOLLEPUNGO
- RIO ARENILLAS PRESA TAHUIN
- SANTA RITA
- UZCHURRUMI, LA CADENA, PENA DORADA, BRASIL
- CASHCA TOTORAS
- GINEALES SAMANA Y MUMBES
- HACIENDA SHISHIMBE
- SUBCUENCA ALTA DEL RIO CINTO, SALOYA Y QDA SAN JUAN
- SUBCUENCAS DE LOS RIOS MATIAVI Y MULIDIANHUAN (PENA BLANCA)
- TOACHI PILATON
Brisbane based Solgold, has $80m cash in the bank, says it has 84 exploration geologists on the ground and over 400 Ecuadorean employees.
Solgold are an Australian exploration company currently registered in the United Kingdom. They are a subsidiary of DGR Global. Solgold are concentrating their exploration activities in Ecuador, the Solomon Islands and Queensland Australia. In Ecuador, they are concentrating on copper and gold.
PAST CONTROVERSIES IN AUSTRALIA:
- Surat Basin CSG, Galilee Basin Coal,
- Galilee Basin/Bowen Basin CSG.
- Lakes Oil CSG/Oil Exploration Victoria
Current Solgold directors for instance, were catalysts in finding coal in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, through their company Waratah Coal. Sold to Clive Palmer in 2008 for $130 million, plans are now afoot to build the $6.5 billion Alpha North coal mine deposit, which would be almost three times the size of Adani’s disastrous Carmichael mine, at a staggering 144,000 hectares, raising fears for the Great Barrier Reef.
Arrow Energy, another DGR subsidiary (Solgold's parent company), is embroiled in The McArthur River Basin project in the NT, which has faced stiff resistance from Aboriginal groups, particularly at Borroloola.
“ABORIGINAL PEOPLE ARE SAYING ‘WE KNOW WHAT MINING LOOKS LIKE IN THIS REGION ALREADY, AND YOU’RE TRYING TO PUT MORE MINING ON US ACROSS OTHER AREAS OF THE COUNTRY THAT WE RELY FOR OUR LIVELIHOODS"
Gadrian Hoosan from the Garawa Aboriginal Land Trust, who holds land covered by Armour’s petroleum exploration licenses said there had been no agreements signed by his group and Armour. He is actively opposed to mining in his country.
Where to from here?
- Establish Rainforest Action Groups (RAGs) in every state, especially QLD and WA where Solgold and Fortescue are respectively based.
- Actions on key mining companies, mining conferences, government agencies/MP offices.
- Further research on all the main mining companies, including Canadian, Chinese, Chilean and Ecuadorian. An urgent appeal has been made from campaigners in Ecuador for this data.
- Divestment Campaigns, targeting super funds and banks that support mining companies active in Ecuador.
- 2 petition and crowdfunding campaigns are currently active
- Raise funds for the Los Cedros Ecological Reserve legal challenge underway in Ecuador, against Cornerstone Resources and BHP.
- Raise funds for grass roots groups in Ecuador actively campaigning against mining.
- Community outreach - organise a presentation, film night with friends and/or workmates, or with your local club. Get creative, make it fun! All the materials you need are downloadable from our website, including placards and posters, presentations, flyers and other info sheets.