Water sources under threat from mining in Ecuador’s mountains

Ecquador mountains
Photo by Marlon Puertas

AZUAY PROVINCE, Ecuador – November 24, 2017 — What happened on October 8 and 9 in Ecuador’s Río Blanco area was not entirely unexpected. On August 12, a group of inhabitants decided to take “de facto” measures — such as setting up a tent at the entrance of Junefield mining company’s camp — with the goal of stopping the beginning of the exploitation of copper and gold reserves in the mountains in southern Ecuador’s Azuay Province. For two months they occupied the area, despite the growing tension between them and the miners. It was a situation that could explode at any moment.

During the cold night of October 8 and into October 9, this tension came to a head, with allegations from both sides of attacks. Members of the community say that for 24 hours, they were harassed by the mining company’s private guards, as well as the police, who were in the area with the goal of preventing clashes.

“They threw stones at our roofs; it was a permanent harassment,” said one of the protesters in a video posted to social media, showing images of the dwellings that were affected.

The mining company also claims its people were attacked with stones. The Secretary of the Interior, César Navas, posted photos on social media of two injured police officers. An operation to quell the violence began immediately, and two inhabitants of Río Blanco were arrested. The community members say that one of them is a minor.

The Public Ministry of Ecuador is currently investigating the incident.

All of this is occurring at a decisive moment for the Río Blanco mining project. A source of controversy for a decade due to its location in the páramos – restricted, alpine ecosystems that exist above the tree-line but below the permanent snowline – critics worry about the project’s potential effects on the water sources that supply rivers in the region. This controversy has grown in the past year, with the extraction of gold and silver reserves set to begin by the end of 2017.

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