The government of Ecuadorian President Rafeal Correa sent the national mining company, ENAMI, into the Intag region last month in order to begin work necessary for a legally required environmental impact study for the proposed large-scale, open-pit copper mine near the agrarian community of Junín. Community members successfully prevented ENAMI from entering their community by using an age-old peasant community tactic, the road blockade.
On September 14, 2013, the government of Ecuadorian President Rafeal Correa sent the national mining company, ENAMI, into the Intag region of the northern Ecuadorian Andes in order to begin work necessary for a legally required environmental impact study for the proposed large-scale, open-pit copper mine near the agrarian community of Junín. Through ENAMI, the Correa government has a joint partnership with CODELCO, the Chilean national mining company, and world’s largest copper producer. All are backed by the deep pockets of Chinese state and capital interests, marking the newest wave of primitive accumulation through communal dispossession in the region.
Community members successfully prevented ENAMI from entering their community by using an age-old peasant community tactic, the road blockade. The Correa government recently passed a law defining such blockades as acts of terrorism, a measure that raises great concern among community members and human rights organizations. Although formally denied by the Correa government, ENAMI’s efforts were supported by the presence of the Ecuadorian military, an action that community members saw as highly provocative, as evidenced by the interviews in the tv news coverage of the confrontation.
One of the community members interviewed in the news report is Polibio Perez, the president of the municipality of Chalgoyalco Bajo, located in the Intag region. He also serves as the president of the Coordinadora Zonal de Intag, a grassroots organization dedicated to the protection of the region’s cloud forests, the promotion of alternative economic development, and the defeat of large-scale mining in the region. Perez is a grassroots community leader in one of the most successful resistances to large-scale mining in the world. Along with other community members, Polibio has fought against a project to bring a large-scale, open-pit copper mine to Intag. This struggle is defined by its uniquely proactive nature; community members have said “no” to mining from the very start, not after the mine has been built nor when the negative consequences led communities to “after the fact” resistance. The struggle has lasted since the early 1990s. The communities have defeated two transnational mining companies, Bishi Metals (a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corporation) and Ascendant Copper, a Canadian company made famous for its paramilitary attack in the community of Junín in December 2006. As a community organizer and environmental activist, Perez has been the target of death threats, harassment of his family, and legal persecution. At various times, the Intag Solidarity Network has provided human rights observer presence at his house as well as accompaniment when traveling through the region.
On September 28, President Correa used several minutes of his Sabatina television program to publicly attack Perez, along with fellow community leader Marcia Ramirez. Among other things, he labeled them as anti-democratic obstacles to Ecuador’s development. In the program, Correa also targeted the international human rights observers, calling them agitators and intellectual authors of what is an organic, community resistance of nearly 20 years in duration.
In response, the Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos (CEDHU), one of the most respected human rights organizations in the Western Hemisphere, issued a press release that reaffirmed their support for the communities of Intag and defended the presence of international human rights observers in the region.
As we move forward, ways of resolving the conflicts between environmentalists and progressive regimes need to be created. The potential for a violent and tragic ending to the mining struggle in Intag is real. Our predicament centers on how to finance progressive social programs that do not depend upon World Bank funding, yet without resorting to large-scale, environmentally destructive extractive mining, clear-cut foresting, commercial fishing, or hydrocarbon extraction. We have to step up to the challenge, pronto.
Glen David Kuecker is co-founder of Intag Solidarity Network and is the founder and overseer of the international human rights observer program in Intag. He is a professor of Latin American History at DePauw University. Dr. Kuecker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org