A judge from the Ecuadorian province of Cuenca has ruled that Ecuagoldmining’s Río Blanco gold and silver mine violates the country’s constitution and that operations in the area must stop.
The 5,708ha site is financed by Chinese mining company Junefield, and is located between the towns of Molleturo and Chaucha in the Cuenca municipality of the southern Azuay province. The operation was found to have violated Articles 57 and 398 of the Ecuadorian constitution, which states the right of local people to be consulted prior to the development of resource exploitation projects.
Ecuarunari, a group representing 12 ethnic groups belonging to the Kichwa Nation, presented a petition to the Azuay Court of Justice, arguing that the local inhabitants had not been involved in the decision to begin work on the mine in 2016. There are estimated to be between ten and eleven million Kichwa people globally, of which 2.5 million live in Ecuador. A further half a million people living in the city of Cuenca, the capital of the Azuay province, were not consulted on the development.
Ecuarunari president Yaku Perez called judge Paúl Serrano’s ruling a “huge gain for the resistance”, and commented that the court ruling in favour of the state rather than a multinational corporation is a significant development in Ecuador.
Environmental damage was a key reason for the protests, as streams providing drinking water to the city of Cuenca have become contaminated following the development of the mine in 2016. The site is also located near the Cajas National Park, home to the South American or Andean condor, which has been declared as near threatened.
The ruling followed increasingly intense local protests that forced the mine to halt operations last month. Around 300 security personnel had been placed around the site following an attack by local people that damaged excavation equipment and resulted in fewer arrests. This force has been removed as part of Serrano’s ruling and there is hope tensions in the region will be reduced.
Ecuagoldmining was awarded the land in 2015 when the Ecuadorian Mining Ministry was established, in an attempt to increase the sector’s contribution to Ecuador’s GDP from less than 1% to the global average of 4%. The mine was predicted to produce 800t of gold daily.