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Ecuador: Local protests and legal action put operations at Chinese-owned gold mine in Rio Blanco on halt

Author: Ning Hui, China Dialogue, Published on: 18 July 2019

“How locals halted a Chinese-owned gold mine in Ecuador”, 5 July 2019

After just two months, local protests and legal action over threats to water sources and lack of consultation brought operations at the Rio Blanco mine to a halt… Via the courts local groups have managed to stop extraction at the Rio Blanco mine. But President Lenín Moreno’s government has appealed the ruling.

The story of Rio Blanco reveals the complex problems facing mining in Ecuador: inadequate public consultations; fraught questions of indigenous identities and rights; local versus state power; the protection of scarce natural resources…

… The country [Ecuador] has a 750 kilometre stretch of mostly undeveloped deposits of copper, silver, gold and zinc. Its government hopes mining will improve economic growth…

Chinese investment has taken a lead role in fulfilling that goal. Three of Ecuador’s five most important mines are funded and operated by Chinese firms. Both the Mirador and San Carlos-Panantza copper mines… are owned by a joint venture between Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group and the China Railway Construction Corporation. The third is the Rio Blanco gold mine, owned by Hong Kong’s Junefield Mineral Resources and the Hunan Gold Corporation…

In April 2018… news broke that Junefield had officially started mining the metal…

…  Junefield reduced the number of workers and cut hours; currently employees work an average of five days a month, meaning incomes have fallen sharply…

Andres [of Rio Blanco village] lists the “crimes” of Junefield: the quiet filling in of a mountain lake; the appropriation of a mountain road in use for generations, with a roadblock preventing locals using it; the storing of mining explosives near a water source…

… Yaku Sacha Pérez, a Cuenca-based lawyer specialising in water and indigenous peoples… asked Andres if the government or company had carried out prior consultation with local communities before developing the mine.

“What’s prior consultation? We’d never heard of it before,” Elizabeth [of Rio Blanco village] recalled…

Prior consultation is a civil right, more fully expressed as the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), included in the 2006 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples…

The conflict came to a head in May 2018. Protestors invaded the mine, damaging roads and burning camps. The government dispatched hundreds of police and soldiers in response. Meanwhile, Yaku Sacha lodged a case in the provincial court bought by the villagers of Rio Blanco and other nearby villages against the mining and environmental authorities. On June 5, judge Paul Serrano found that there had been no prior consultation with locals, as required under the constitution and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and ordered a temporary halt on all mine activity. On August 3, the court rejected a company appeal attempting to restart operations.

This was the first time a court in Ecuador had found in favour of indigenous communities because of foreign mining firms failing to carry out prior consultation…   A similar lawsuit against the Chinese-funded Mirador copper mine is underway, with the plaintiffs referring to the Rio Blanco decision in their case.

Junefield's office in Cuenca declined our requests for an interview. [Also refers to China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China]

Read the full post here

Related companies: China Development Bank China Railway Construction Junefield Mining Resources