Mining and McDonald’s in Ecuador

Imagine living in a cloud forest in the Ecuadorian tropical Andes.  The region is recognized as one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world.

Although the community you live in is considered poor by "first world" standards, sustainable projects from organic agriculture to ecotourism enable you to raise your family in a pristine and tranquil environment free from traffic, pollution and the excesses of consumer culture. Would you see a Wendy’s or McDonald’s down the road as a fair trade off for putting the future of such a community in peril?  

Gary E. Davis, President and CEO of Ascendant Copper Corporation, speaking from his office in Lakewood believes so. He said that such fast food chains would be an example of the benefits a massive copper mine would bring to the region.

To be fair, the president of the junior mining company said a commercialized mine would also provide hospitals and other service providers for local residents. Davis is quick to point out any perceived benefits and support associated with the mine. He would, because Ascendant eagerly awaits approval by the Ecuadorian government to begin the first exploration phase of its "Junin Project."  

But ask Davis about the environmental consequences and local opposition and his strategy is to minimize or deny.  For example, he said that environmental concerns about the project are "overstated" and "a lot of rhetoric."

"This is not a pristine area," said Davis adamantly. 

But environmental experts disagree.

The Ecuadorian NGO Jatun Sacha conducted a study in June 2005 that determined the Junin community reserve is flush with primary, or "natural forests."  

Ascendant’s own Environmental Impact Study for the project (which it socialized prematurely) listed nine mammals under protection of CITES, an international treaty ratified by over 150 nations to protect endangered and threatened species of plants and animals. The study also identified that 98 percent of the bird species are either rare or uncommon.

Bishi Metals, a Japanese mining company that owned Ascendant’s concessions in the 1990s forecasted dire consequences from a potential mine. Bishi’s environmental study stated that a mine would cause massive deforestation, lead to desertification and local climate change, and would contaminate local water supplies. In addition, the mine would require the forcible relocation of 100 families.  

Bishi didn’t abandon the project because of the calamitous environmental and social consequences. The company left after local residents burnt its mining camp down.

Ascendant, on its website, says this act was "a major revolt." Yet Davis dismisses the current opposition as a minority voice. Unfortunately for Davis the facts get in the way of his "analysis." 

Just last December about 70 local residents burnt down a company building in protest. Hundreds more approved the act to express their indignation that neither Ascendant nor the Ecuadorian government was respecting their wishes to keep their communities free of mining.

More recently, on May 20, several hundred mining opponents (the Ecuadorian newspaper El Norte reported close to 1000) gathered in the town of Garcia Moreno for a region wide assembly to discuss the conflict. A resolution signed by all of the region’s Parish presidents was read, demanding that the company leave in 15 days. 

Yet despite vast local opposition, inevitable environmental damage, and legal challenges ranging from the constitutionality of the project to the potential violation of a local ecological ordinance, Davis remains undeterred. He insists the company will not leave.

This conflict between a foreign corporation and Ecuadorians is more than just an isolated incident. It represents a struggle over the direction of economic globalization and development—issues that affect Coloradoans and Ecuadorians alike.  

Too often the current top-down model of globalization empowers corporations like Ascendant to dictate what development is (mining), what progress is (McDonald’s) and what laws are acceptable.

This upside down type of thinking has left in its wake ruined cultures and catastrophic environmental damage throughout the world. Isn’t time we flipped this model right side up so that people’s rights to self determination and to live in a healthy environment come first?  

Ecuador is as a good a place as any to start. Here’s hoping Davis holds off on the mining, and the french fries.

Cyril Mychalejko is the assistant editor of and Wayne Erb is a journalist from New Zealand. Both are currently based in Ecuador.