Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Dan Sharpe: Recent News - The Indigenous People of the Ecuadorian Amazon Stand up to the Government’s New Mining Deal

GfGD's latest University Ambassador (at the University of Leeds), is Dan Sharpe, our regular GfGD columnist. Over the past couple of weeks he has written about natural hazards and oil, today he looks at a recent story from Ecuador.

"As you may have seen, plastered over most major environment sections of websites such as the BBC is the news that the indigenous people of Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest have stood up and protested against mining plans in their area. Several hundred protestors set off on a march in protest of the newly accepted plans to develop a large open pit copper mine proposed by Ecuacorriente, a large mining company based in China.

It will not only displace numerous local communities but could well contaminate their water supply, claim Ecuador's main indigenous organisation; Conaie. In contrast, President Rafael Correa has accused the group of trying to destabilise the country, explaining that the agreement was made with Ecuacorriente in the aim of increased development as a result of new investment. Indeed there has been much disagreement within this nation over the deal, with indigenous residents taking to their feet and marching a 700km route to the capital, Quito. Aiming to pick up people along the way, they will undoubtedly gain support but may also find opposition protestors in their way. One thing for sure is they will certainly find that when they reach Quito, where thousands of the President’s supporters have gathered in a rival protest.

Don’t get me wrong, there are clearly issues surrounding this deal but it is obvious that there are huge positives too. The Ecuadorian Government stated that Ecuacorriente are set to invest US$1.4 billion into their new mine in the first five years of the twenty-five year contract, receiving approximately US$4.5 billion over the whole deal. The company have also promised to set aside US$100 million for the development of neighbouring communities. “We cannot be beggars sitting on a sack of gold” said the president recently, exclaiming that this is a new era for the small South American nation. Try telling that to the communities who have just lost their homes, businesses and entire way of life however.

President Correa
(courtesy of Roosewelt Pinheiro/Abr)

It is clearly a difficult situation and one that has no ideal outcome. I shall leave you to your own opinion on the agreement, but I cannot help but consider it on two different scales. Locally there are going to be tales of hurt and poverty and breaches of human rights, invariably there always is, but you have to sympathise with President Correa. This is a huge amount of income for Ecuador and a big deal to make for a country where the state owns a 52 percent share of mining income (compared to Chile at 36 percent and Peru at 33 percent). Correa is clearly after ‘The Greater Good’, but then when was the last time you heard that phrase?"