“Copper War” in Ecuador: Ascendant Copper vs. Local Communities

It’s the kind of scenario that makes shambles out of the carefully crafted image the mining industry has spent millions on creating: A transnational mining company using retired military officials, military helicopters and hundreds of contracted armed personnel – "paramilitary force" according to a respected human rights organization– shooting their way through to their mining concessions.
The pre-dawn military-type operation failed, in spite of more than 50 hired goons using tear gas and hundreds of rounds of small arms and machine guns against unarmed community members.  The men and women from the community were able to send this group of invaders packing after they ran out of ammunition, but not before one community leader had been shot in the leg.  However the failed incursion combined with the presence of hundreds of outsiders forming part of what is seen locally as paramilitaries, has served to rally support against the mining company and its project like nothing before.  Of course, it also didn’t help the company’s image that they actually went out and hired a military helicopter to fly around the area, to attempt, presumably, to intimidate the communities and the opposition.  It didn’t work.
Soon after seeing their town overrun by paid thugs, and upon hearing of the shooting confrontation, the local government of Garcia Moreno, where the concessions are situated, unanimously decided to withdraw all support for the company, and called on the rest of the Intag region to back the communities. The communities and organizations responded by sending hundreds of people to support the communities at risk. It is currently believed that there are still over one hundred armed "private security personnel" in the area, and more and more communities are sending their people from all over Intag, and Cotacachi County to support Junin; including indigenous communities.
The hard-to-believe scenario is taking place right now in the biodiverse forests of Intag, Ecuador, where the people have been fighting mining development for the past 12 years. All nine local governments of the Province of Imbabura, along with the overwhelming majority of the organizations working in the region, have joined Intag’s communities in their rejection of the mining project.  The only entity supporting Ascendant Copper Corporation’s Junin copper-molybdenum project at this time is the Ministry of Energy and Mines (the Canadian company is listed in the Toronto Stock Exchange and its headquarters is in Colorado). The bad news for the company is that the officials supporting the company are on their way out in January with the outgoing Palacio government.  Thus, the last-minute outrageous aggressiveness and violent tactics are likely linked to the political scenario facing Ascendant of doing business with a leftist government that publicly said they will not give away the country’s natural resources to the transnational extractive companies. 
If Ascendant’s latest actions in Intag are an indication of how transnational mining companies are going to behave when the price of minerals skyrocket and local opposition deny access to what they consider to be their legally-owned concessions, then we are witnessing a dramatic escalation of the war over access to valuable mineral resources. It’s a scenario that environmentalist and experts have predicted for years.  In this context, a good deal of the threat of mining development in biodiverse countries like Ecuador will shift from the environmental, to human rights and other social issues.

It remains to be seen, however, if the world’s public opinion will let it happen.

For more information visit DECOIN, Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (Intag Defense and Environmental Conservation) at www.decoin.org and the Intag Solidarity Network at www.intagsolidarity.org.