The first attempt to develop a mega-mining project in the Intag region began in the 1990’s when the Japanese company Mitsubishi began exploration in the region. However, Mitsubishi cancelled the project in 1997 after an environmental impact assessment concluded that mining in the region would lead to irreversible ecological damage[i]. The assessment predicted that a copper mine in the region would lead to widespread deforestation, contamination of water sources with heavy metals in levels up to 100 times greater what occurs in nature, dislocation of local communities, and a loss of biodiversity[ii].
Following the end of the Mitsubishi project, a number of anti-mining groups emerged alongside coffee growers and artisan unions which sought to provide alternative models of development[iii]. In 2004 Ascendant Copper began operations in the region in the face of large-scale community opposition[iv]. In December 2005 local activists burnt down one of the company’s building to protest what they saw as a violation of their right to fair consultation under Article 88 of the Ecuadorean constitution as well as to force the government to adopt a 5 year moratorium to mining in the region[v]. Community groups have also alleged that the company’s Environmental Impact Study is not valid thus rendering the concession illegitimate[vi].
There have been many instances of violence towards protesters perpetrated by people with links to Ascendant Copper, including an assault on anti-mining activists by people armed with tear gas, machetes and firearms in November 2006[vii]. In March of 2007 the company scaled down its operations in the area by 70%[viii] and in 2008 the company lost its concession as part of a mass cancellation of concessions by the Ecuadorean government[ix]. Despite these obstacles, mining activity continues in the Intag region and in June 2011 it was revealed that Chilean mining company CODELCO had been granted a concession to begin operations in the region[x].
[i] A Brief History of Resistance to Mining in Intag, Ecuador. MiningWatch Canada. http://www.miningwatch.ca/brief-history-resistance-mining-intag-ecuador
[v] Ascendant Copper Corporation Meets Resistance in Ecuador. Upside Down World. http://www.minesandcommunities.org//article.php?a=2811
[vii] Crisis sharpens in Intag. La Hora. http://www.minesandcommunities.org//article.php?a=2973
[viii]Ascendant Copper Moves Agrees to Curtail activities in Ecuador. MiningWatch Canada. http://www.miningwatch.ca/ascendant-copper-agrees-curtail-activities-ecuador
[ix] It’s all over for Copper Mesa Mining Corporation in Intag. Mines and Communities. http://www.minesandcommunities.org//article.php?a=8937
[x] Estatal chilena Codelco planea explotar cobre y molibdeno en Ecuador. No a la Mina. http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-latinoamerica/mineria-ecuador/estatal-chilena-codelco-planea-explotar-cobre-y-molibdeno-en-ecuador