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What's Yours Is Mine

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Issue: 38 Section: Accounts Geography: Latin America Ecuador Topics: Mining, social movements

June 19, 2006

What's Yours Is Mine

Ascendant Copper Corporation Meets Resistance in Ecuador

by Cyril Mychalejko

MiningProtest_web.jpg
Several hundred mining opponents, many carrying colourful banners, marched into the town square of Garcia Moreno, Ecuador on May 20 for a region-wide assembly concerning the mining activities of Canada's Ascendant Copper Corporation. photo: UpsideDownWorld.org
In spite of criticism and resistance from local residents, Canadian mining company Ascendant Copper Corporation has big plans for its two large mining operations in Ecuador. "We are confident that Ecuador will grow to be one of the world's great copper districts," said Gary E. Davis, President and CEO of Ascendant.

Analysts at eResearch, a Canadian investment research firm, released a cautiously optimistic report on the company in early May.

"Ascendant Copper is flush with cash and about to embark on an aggressive exploration program. It expects to commence drilling on one of the properties later this year, after an environmental impact study has been completed," the report stated.

The property that Ascendant is eagerly awaiting to start drilling is in Junin, located in the Intag region of Ecuador. The report also states, "provided the Company can advance its projects forward in a timely and positive manner, we believe there is considerable upside for the [Company's] shares from current levels over the longer term."

Perception is Reality?

As for the response to Ascendant's project in Junin, a lot depends on who you ask. According to Davis, the project has huge support from local residents. He concedes that there is a vocal opposition to the project, but by his count it amounts to no more than 40 residents from the immediate area and 100 people altogether.

"Every project has its naysayers," said Davis.

But Davis' rosy outlook may not reflect the reality on the ground. Just last December approximately 70 local mining opponents burnt down one of the company's buildings. There had been a community meeting hours earlier where people voted to burn the building as an act of protest-- nearly 300 people took responsibility for the burning. There is also a letter signed by all 7 local Parish government presidents asking the Ministry of Energy and Mines to invoke a 5-year moratorium on all mining activities in Intag.

The company faces possible legal hurdles that include the possibility that the company's concessions are not legally binding because the State violated the constitutional rights of local residents by not consulting them prior to the transaction.

"There are a lot of irregularities with the project and we want them to stop the whole process," said Isabela Figueroa, a Human Rights lawyer representing people affected by the project in Intag.

The validity of Ascendant's Environmental Impact Study (EIS) has also been called into question. Figueroa is working against Ascendant with fellow lawyer Alejandro Ponce and NGOs Defensa y Concervacion Ecologica de Intag (DECOIN), Comisión Ecumenica de Derechos Humanos (CEDHU) and ECOLEX-which specializes in environmental litigation. Figueroa believes that the company failed to follow proper protocol with its EIS when it failed to consult the communities regarding the Terms of Reference (ToR). The ToR's essentially outline how and what the company will study regarding the project's impact on the local environment.

An April 20th letter sent to Ivan Rodriguez, Minister of Energy and Mines, by leaders of local communities, parishes and the Municipality of Cotacachi, expressed concern about Ascendant making the EIS public before consulting community members: "By attempting to publicize it in our zone, the company is not only committing illegal actions that are also legal reasons for nullification, but also generate confusion within communities in the area, that could lead to tension that is the concern and duty of all public authorities…to prevent."

Legal claims have been filed to nullify the study's ToR's and Figueroa is awaiting response from the Ministry of Energy and Mines and other government officials.

Environmental Concerns

Friends of the Earth-Canada (FOE-CA) and MiningWatch Canada launched "No Means No to Ascendant Copper in Ecuador" campaign on May 3 and simultaneously released a new documentary titled "The Curse of Copper" which can be viewed at www.ascendantalert.ca. The campaign urges the Canadian junior mining company to respect the wishes of local communities and local environmental laws.

"The Intag Cloud Forest is blessed with some of the most important biodiversity on the planet," said Beatrice Olivastri, Chief Executive Officer of FOE-CA. She said the company should respect the wishes of the local community and leave immediately.

"What part of 'no' does Ascendant not understand?" asked Olivastri.
Davis dismisses most of the environmental concerns as "rhetoric" and "overstated."

"This is not a pristine area," said Davis.

But he also added that the company is committed to protecting the environment. He said that despite popular beliefs no cyanide will be used at the mine. He also said that mines today are zero discharge—that no water is ever released from mines.

Carlos Zorrilla, Executive Director of DECOIN, said that Davis is wrong on every aspect of his environmental analysis. He points to an evaluation of the local environment by the Ecuadorian Environmental Organization Jatun Sacha. In a June 2005 study called "Estudio de la Caracterizacion Ecologica de la Reserva Comunitaria Junin" (Study of the Ecological Characterization of Junin's Community Reserve) the organization found that the area contained 60.3 percent primary, or "natural forest" and another 16.3 percent "slightly disturbed natural forest."

Zorrilla said that Davis will never admit that the area is primary forest or "pristine" because it would cause problems for the company. Zorrilla also scoffs at the notion that there would be no water run-off at the mine. He said that because of the vast amount of rainfall in the area and the large amounts of subsurface water, there is no way that discharge can be avoided.

In addition, he points to an EIS conducted by the Japanese mining company Bishi Metals. The company's study concluded that there would be contamination of water supplies, as well as other environmental destruction such as massive deforestation and climate change. The company owned the concession in Junin in the 1990´s before leaving after a couple hundred local residents burned the company's mining camp down. Ascendant recognizes this (on its website) as a "major revolt by local communities," yet Davis insists that any current opposition, despite even larger numbers, is a minority voice.

Davis said that the operation is only in the first phase of exploration and that there will be at least two other exploration programs over the next four years before any decision is made regarding the possible commercialization of the project. And he said that this remains "a big if."

Davis also contends that if the mine does become commercialized the ensuing development would bring many benefits to the local communities. By his approximation the mine would last between 40 and 80 years.

"If the mine becomes commercialized it would bring hospitals and service organizations, as well as Wendy's and McDonald's," said Davis.

Originally published on www.UpsideDownWorld.org

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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