MiningWatch Canada and the Ecuadorian organisation DECOIN (Ecological Defence and Conservation of Intag – Defensa y Conservacion Ecologica del Intag) today released documentation showing that Ascendant Copper’s news release dated December 19, 2006, contains inaccuracies and distortions of the facts regarding the company’s ill-fated Junin mining project.
"Ascendant CEO Gary Davis has come up with some colourful language, accusing people of being ‘eco-terrorists’ and the like, and cheerfully asserting that Ascendant’s legal and technical problems are either not material or have already been resolved," says MiningWatch spokesman Jamie Kneen. "The truth is that he doesn’t want his investors to find out what’s really going on." A legal response from Ecuadorian human rights lawyer Alejandro Ponce on behalf of DECOIN and its Executive Director Carlos Zorrilla is now available.
Davis asserts that "in no manner or form has the Government of Ecuador suspended Ascendant’s activities or threatened to suspend or obstruct it from carrying out activities related to either its mining concessions or surface lands." In reality, on December 8, 2006, Yolanda Viteri, Subsecretary of Environmental Protection for the Ministry of Energy and Mines, wrote to Ascendant’s general manager in Ecuador ordering him to suspend all of Ascendant’s activities in the Junin project until the company’s Environmental Impact Study is approved.
The principal reason given for the decision was the extremely dangerous situation created by the presence of armed groups sub-contracted by an Ascendant contractor (Falericorp), who tried to shoot their way in to Ascendant’s concessions in the Junin area on December 2nd. Ecuador’s most respected human rights organization, CEDHU (the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission – Comision Ecumenica de Derechos Humanos), has labelled the group a paramilitary organization. Video clips showing the mercenaries shooting at and tear-gassing community members were broadcast on Ecuadorian television and will soon be available on the Web; still photos were also published in Ecuadorian newspapers and can also be seen at www.DECOINwatch.org.
Despite Davis’ claims, these individuals were in no matter or form agricultural workers. After 57 of the larger group of approximately 120 were captured by community members, they claimed that they worked for private security firms. They had been told their work in Intag was to provide security – not to carry out agricultural projects. All had handguns and teargas, and some also had shotguns. Most of them were from the coastal area of Ecuador – hundreds of kilometres’ distance from Intag.
As Zorrilla points out, "Davis’ assertion that this particular group was captured by local people armed with automatic weapons is ludicrous. They were captured by 120 men and women – from approximately 12 communities in the Intag region – with sticks, nothing more." According to Zorrilla, the guards surrendered because they did not want to kill defenceless Ecuadorians protecting their lands. "In fact, one of them, when interviewed on national television, threatened to take the company that hired them to court because, as he put it, they were lied to regarding what their job would be."
Zorrilla continues, "Davis also tries to imply that Ascendant had no dealings with the military in December’s violent series of events. The facts are these: CEDHU confirmed with Ministry of Defence sources that Ascendant hired a military helicopter on December 2, 2006, which flew over several communities in the Intag region. Thrity-four of the fifty-seven individuals arrested by the community had military identification cards identifying them as either active service or retired military personnel. CEDHU and other organizations have met with the Defence Minister and asked for a full investigation, a request he is fully supporting."
Adds Kneen, "In order to draw attention away from the deteriorating situation on the ground and in the halls of the Ministry of Energy and Mines regarding the Junin mining project, Davis has been making much of Ascendant’s agreement with the Organization for the Development of Intag ("ODI") as well as with the Parish Council of Garcia Moreno and the Women’s Association of Garcia Moreno – yet it’s abundantly obvious that ODI is not a legally recognized organization, nor does it represent the communities of Intag." This was made clear in a December 2, 2006 legal declaration by the Parish Council of Garcia Moreno in which it withdrew all support for the company, whom they blamed for the presence of hundreds of armed individuals from outside the Intag area and the attendant violence. The document states that the Parish Council does not recognize ODI as being representative of Intag’s communities, nor of the Parish. This also calls into question the relevance of Ascendant’s agreement with the Women’s Association of Garcia Moreno. The Garcia Moreno Parish Council is one of nine local governments that have called on Ascendant Copper Corporation to leave the Intag area.
Zorrilla concludes: "As a responsible NGO working in the Intag region since 1995 in conservation and environmental educational projects, DECOIN rejects Ascendant’s misinformation campaign, and call for its investors to look beyond Ascendant’s smoke screens into what is really going on with the company’s Junin mining project, and to stop financing it."