The conflict in the Azuay region of Ecuador began in 2006, as part of the larger debate over government efforts to promote large-scale foreign mining in Ecuador as well as the commencement of IAMGOLD’s operations in the region[i].
In May of 2006 campesinos blockaded the Pan-American Highway to protest IAMGOLD’s activities in the region[ii] and in 2007 local groups joined with a national organization to oppose mega-mining[iii]. These actions culminated in a series of “dialogues for life” which led to the creation of a manifesto that called on the National Assembly to ban open pit mining[iv]. This manifesto was a crucial impetus to Congress’ decision to revoke hundreds of mining concessions in April 2008[v].
However, the moratorium on mining was lifted as a result of the adoption of a new mining law in November 2008 and the project was resumed [vi]. On the 18th of November there were a series of demonstrations by indigenous and environmental groups, both in the Cuenca region where the mine is situated, and in the capital Quito[vii]. Local community organizations continue to be concerned with risks to water supply and contamination[viii]. In May 2010 three community activists Carlos Pérez, Federico Guzmán and Efraín Arpi were arrested for protesting the mine, as part of what a number of international human rights organisations have condemned as part of the ongoing criminalisation of protest by the Correa government[ix]. In September 2011 communities in the Community Water System of Tarqui and Victoria del Portete voted overwhelmingly to block mining activity in the Quimsacocha water source[x] and in October the people of the province of Azuay held a referendum in which 92.38% of the population voted against the mine[xi]. On the 27th of October President Correa visited the community to allay local fears about the impact of the mine, stating that concerns about contamination of the Yanuncay River (whose headwaters are near the mine site) are unfounded[xii]. President Correa also declared the results of the October vote against the mine illegitimate, as they had not been validated by the National Electoral Council[xiii]. Correa`s visit was met with protest and community groups continue to voice their opposition to the mine[xiv].
[i] Project Overview: Quimsacocha. IAMGOLD. http://www.iamgold.com/english/operations/development-projects/quimsacocha/default.aspx
[ii] Pobladores de Azuay movilizados contra Quimsacocha para proteger el agua. OCMAL. http://www.olca.cl/ocmal/ds_conf.php?nota=Conflicto&p_busca=180
[iii] Protests against Canadian Mining Firm in Ecuador. Associated Press. http://www.minesandcommunities.org//article.php?a=2813
[iv] Pobladores de Azuay movilizados contra Quimsacocha para proteger el agua. OCMAL. http://www.olca.cl/ocmal/ds_conf.php?nota=Conflicto&p_busca=180
[vi] Constitutional mandate freezes mining exploration. Mines and Communities. http://www.minesandcommunities.org//article.php?a=8570
[vii] Ley Minera moviliza a indígenas y organizaciones sociales de Ecuador. No a la Mina. http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-latinoamerica/mineria-general/ley-minera-moviliza-indigenas-organizaciones-sociales-ecuador
[ix] Pobladores de Azuay movilizados contra Quimsacocha para proteger el agua. OCMAL. http://www.olca.cl/ocmal/ds_conf.php?nota=Conflicto&p_busca=180
[x] International Organisations Protest Against the Criminalisation of Environmental Defenders in Ecuador. Mining Watch. http://www.miningwatch.ca/article/international-organizations-protest-against-criminalization-environmental-defenders-ecuador
[xi] Quimsacocha gold Project rejected in consulta to water users. Mines and Communities. http://www.minesandcommunities.org//article.php?a=11222
[xii] Población de Quimsacocha rechazó la minería. No a la Mina. http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-latinoamerica/mineria-ecuador/poblacion-de-quimsacocha-rechazo-la-mineria
[xiii] Correa descarta consulta popular para tema minero. El Telégrafo. http://www.telegrafo.com.ec/index.php?option=com_zoo&task=item&item_id=19389&Itemid=2