Mirador: A mine full of mirages

China is investing in the massive Mirador mining project in Ecuador – at great risk to human life and the natural environment

When you make sixty thousand tons of toxic waste per day and you need to store it safely till the end of times, you do what the sun does to desert dwellers: you make a mirage. You fool people into believing that a solution is in sight.

That’s exactly what China’s government does in Ecuador, by investing in the massive Mirador mining project.

The mega-mine has estimated reserves of 5 million tons of copper, 700 tons of silver and 90 tons of gold. Digging it up leads to toxic waste than needs storage behind a dam.

Toxic cascade

Since 2007, experts say that present and proposed construction of dams to hold all the waste will inevitable collapse, as it recently did in Brazil with 100s of deaths as a first consequence.

In 2014, alternative plans were put forward and accepted by the Ecuadorian Government, but the risk remains extremely high. That is the opinion of Dr Steven Emerman, Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the World Mine Tailings Failure Database, who visited the site in November 2018.

A dam failure would amount to more than 100 deaths, major loss of fish or wildlife habitat and extreme losses affecting critical infrastructure or services.

Imagine a tsunami of toxic waste, hundreds of millions of metric tons, containing mercury, arsenic, cyanide, acid and heavy metals cascading through the steeply inclined river system to reach the Amazon River.

This will be a veritable nightmare of pollution and destruction. The speed of the toxic cascade is impressive. If the collapse occurred at a moment of high rainfall it would travel 88 kilometers in five hours.

Dam disaster

Ecuador’s first open pit mega-mine happens to be located in a hotbed of biodiversity: the Cordillera del Condor. If the Chinese state companies succeed, it will become one of the largest mine’s humanity has ever created.

The companies involved are the Tongling Non-Ferrous Metals Group joined and the China Railway Construction Corporation.

Dr Emerman noted that the first dam under construction was being built in a manner which did not comply with the Environmental Impact Study of 2014 and was being built at a “critical” angle, in engineering terms at the “edge of collapse”. This dam will be 63 meters tall.

The second dam in planning is to be 260 meters tall. The agreed plan is to build this dam with slopes which are steeper than generally used, thus creating a greater danger of collapse.

There are many ways how a dam disaster can be triggered. The dams could collapse from overtopping in flood conditions. Neither of the dams take a Probable Maximum Flood into account. Nor do they consider the Probable Maximum Earthquake.

The contents stored behind the 260-meter-tall dam will be “wet” by nature and therefore more susceptible to liquefaction. Building the foundations from what is known as “weak material” doesn’t help either.

Court case

Three of us are bringing a case before the Ecuadorian courts. Our lawyer Julio Prieto will give the legal standing and details, Dr Emerman will provide scientific evidence and this author will represent Nature itself.

The Ecuadorian Constitution is unique in giving rights for nature, meaning that anyone can go to court in the name of nature. We will use the precautionary principle in relation to grave threats to those constitutionally agreed Rights of Nature.

We will ask for an injunction to halt the construction and to require a full review of the design and construction by an independent international panel of experts.

These Author

David Dene and Julio Prieto are United Nations’ experts in harmony with nature. Julio Prieto is also an Ecuadorean lawyer who became famous for representing 30,000 Indigenous people in Ecuador impacted by Chevron’s toxic oil waste and is also the author of a book about Rights of Nature for the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court. Dr Steven Emerman is the owner of Malach Consulting, the environmental compiler and vice-chair of the board of directors of the World Mine Tailings Failure Database and an expert on the Mirador Mine tailings facilities.

More background on the Mirador Mine conflict in the Atlas of Environmental Justice (Spanish).

Legal Update from March 2019

INTERNATIONAL EXPERTS REQUEST PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES TO AVOID AN ECOLOGICAL CATASTROPHE IN THE CORDILLERA DEL CONDOR, THE ECUADORIAN AMAZONIAN WATERSHED.
The Mirador Copper Mine Project presents a serious and imminent danger to the Rights of Nature in the upper Amazon river basin. Quito, Ecuador –
Last Friday, March 1st, two UN Rights of Nature experts presented a request to the Ecuadorian court to suspend the construction of the tailings dams of the mega openpit mining project “Mirador “. The tailings dams are located in the Cordillera del Condor of the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe.
David Dene and Julio Prieto, experts recognized by the Harmony with Nature program of the United Nations, presented the request based on a rigorous technical report prepared by Dr. Steven H. Emerman, who is an internationally recognized expert on tailings dams and their structural integrity.
Dr. Emerman points out in his report that the current design of tailings dams – the only barrier that protects Nature from the toxic waste generated by Mirador’s mining operations – is not adequate for the natural conditions of the area, which generates a probability of failure so high that it is imminent.
It is a serious and imminent threat of around 100 million tons of highly toxic waste (tailings), which will be discharged directly into the surrounding rivers.
A design similar to that of the dams that are being built at the Mirador Mine project was used in the Brazilian mine of Córrego de Feijão, whose appalling collapse in January of this year caused the death or disappearance of around 300 people, and unquantifiable damage to various ecosystems.
“When the Mirador dams fail, they will completely annihilate the life cycles of the Quimi, Tundayme, Zamora and Santiago rivers, which are tributaries of the Amazon,” said Dene. “The catastrophe in Minas Gerais (Brazil) was caused by the collapse of a dam that is small compared to the dams being built at the Mirador Mine. When the Mirador Mine dams collapse – and there is no doubt that they will collapse – the impact on ecosystems and loss of biodiversity will be catastrophic. “
The request for this precautionary measure explains in detail how the sum of adverse natural conditions and the design of dams is a perfect formula for an environmental catastrophe. “The construction method of the dams that ECSA are building at the  Mirador Mine is so risky that its construction is illegal in Chile and a few weeks ago was declared illegal in Brazil,” said Prieto. “If we add to this the high seismicity and rainfall of the sector, and its rugged geography, once the dams of the Mirador project have been built, they will be like a loaded gun, ready to kill. We must intervene before the dams are finished; before the gun is loaded,” he added while discussing the case during a conference on the Rights of Nature at Yale University.
The activists are being represented by Juan Pablo Sáenz, an Ecuadorian lawyer, who stated that “this action is aimed at suspending the construction of tailings dams until their design is re-evaluated and updated, for which best practices and technologies should be adopted that guarantee the protection of the Rights of Nature, recognized by the Ecuadorian constitution “.
They also have the advice of the expert in constitutional law, Gabriela Espinoza, who specializes in the application of constitutional rights between private parties. As she explains: “Since rights of nature are constitutional rights, the mining company is constitutionally obliged to respect them. Constitutionally, enforcement is a certainty. There are no constitutional grounds for a refusal”.
The mega open-pit mining project Mirador is built and will be operated by Ecuacorriente S.A., a subsidiary of the Chinese state-controlled China Railway Construction Corporation and the Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group Holding Company.
Ecuacorriente S.A. has been encountering resistance from both indigenous and environmental movements in its operations in Ecuador. Mirador’s works were temporarily suspended in November 2018, due to the death of two Ecuadorian workers caused by a failure to comply with occupational health standards.

Contact information:  Ecuador – Juan Pablo Sáenz juanpasaenz1981@gmail.com +593 98 4250 700
USA – Julio Prieto: julio.prieto@yale.edu +1 267 356 0298
EU – David Dene: david.dene@gmail.com +34 699 532842

The Mirador Mine in Ecuador – Another disaster waiting to happen?

David Dene is co-founder of Protect Ecuador.

29th January, 2019


In order to bring the situation affecting the Mirador Mine into perspective I am including information on the recent Tailings Dam failure in Brazil.   

On Friday, January 25th. 2019, the 42 year old Brumadinho Tailings Dam in Brazil collapsed. On January 30th.  news outlets declared that 99 people had been found dead, and the chances of finding a further 259 people missing were declared slim. Vale, one of the world’s biggest mining companies, has had $3bn frozen from its accounts to pay damages, fines, penalties and the funding of recovery work. Five arrests have been made. 

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47054328   

The environmental damage will not only affect this generation. The killing of Nature by poisoning is like killing ourselves. Can we put a price on that.? 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-47021084    

The ongoing list of damages and deaths attributed to this collapse puts the Mirador Mine situation into sharp focus, and once again obligates us to ask the question. Can we afford to take these risks with our environment.? 

The Mirador Mine

Facilities were given a Very High risk category in the 2007 consulting report by Knight-Piesold using criteria provided by the Guidelines of the Canadian Dam Association. The same criteria were used in the 2010 Environmental Impact Study, and again in 2011 in response to questions from the Ministry of the Environment.. Risk refers to the consequences of dam failure.
The mine should be designed to withstand the Maximum Credible Earthquake.

I think it is important to clarify the definitions used in tailings dam design:

MDE = Maximum design earthquake. This is the earthquake for which a dam has been designed
MCE = Maximum credible earthquake that is theoretically possible at a particular location
OBE = Operating Base Earthquake is an earthquake that will happen during the life of the project.
PMF = Probable maximum flood

The risk category derived from the consequence of failure relates to the population at risk, loss of life, the impact on environmental and cultural values, and the impact on infrastructure and economics. A category of “very high risk” necessitates a very high standard of safety in construction and management.

Cardno Consulting disregarded both the 2007 consulting report and the 2010 Environmental Impact Study.

Both the risk factor, a combination of the probability of failure and the consequences of failure, had increased, and the consulting firm had disregarded both in favor of cost cutting. (Cardno EIS 2014) The Mirador Mine in Ecuador is a mega-mine, under construction in the Cordillera del Condor mountains. These tropical cloud forested mountains are registered by Conservation International as a planetary “hot spot” of bio-diversity. The Cordillera del Condor mountains feed tributaries leading to the River Amazon.

The Chinese company ECSA is building huge structures to hold hundreds of millions of tons of toxic mining waste known as tailings.
Tailings are waste materials, created in this case by the extraction of copper and gold from mined rocks. Tailings are highly toxic and need to be held in impoundments. Impoundments are called tailings storage facilities.
All Tailings facilities are supposed to be built to withstand earthquakes. Facilities are supposed to be built, to avoid internal collapse due to liquefaction of the contents and foundations.
Excess water. Collapse can occur owing to excess water causing water overtopping the dam, or piping which occurs when tailings are washed through the dam walls.
All tailings facilities, all over the world, are supposed to hold toxic waste in perpetuity with no maintenance or inspections.
Dr. Steven Emerman has supported me in the writing of this article and has rigorously fact checked the content. If you would like to contact Dr. Emerman with any questions, his E mail address is shemerman@gmail.com
Dr. Steven Emerman is the owner of Malach Consulting, and is the environmental compiler and Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the World Mine Tailings Failure Database. His company specializes in groundwater and mining. He is the author of many reports on the Mirador Mine Tailings Facility.
Dr Emerman informs us that the following list comprises the five most common causes leading to the failure of tailings dams. He notes that the distinguishing feature of the Mirador Mine tailings facilities is that they are susceptible to failure by all of these listed causes.
Collapse is inevitable.

⦁ Earthquake.
⦁ Flooding.
⦁ Internal erosion, also referred to as piping.
⦁ Static liquefaction.
⦁ Foundation failure.

Here are some fundamental statistics sourced from ICOLD, the International Commission on Large Dams.

ICOLD inform us that between 2006 and 2015 there were 18 tailings storage failures. Their prediction, Table 1,. for the period 2016 to 2025 is for 30 failures, showing a 67% increase.!

For further and more detailed information you can access the World Mine Tailings Failure Database. https://worldminetailingsfailures.org/
It is worth noting that in contrast to water-retention dams, which are dismantled if they cannot be inspected and maintained, tailings dams are simply abandoned after mine closure under the assumption that they will hold back toxic mine tailings in perpetuity with no further maintenance and inspection, therefore, the utmost safety in construction is essential.

 

The Mirador Mine in Ecuador is being built with two huge waste dumps, (tailings storage facilities). The mine, when in full operation, is expected to produce 60,000 tons of mining waste tailings every day!
The foundations of the Mirador Mine are alluvial sediments.
In response to questions from the Ecuador Ministry of Environment in 2011, EcuaCorriente, quoted from the 2007 report by Knight-Piesol.
This report was originally written in English and was later translated into Spanish by Walsh Walsh Scientists and Engineers. This part in the original English refers to liquefaction caused by earthquakes.
“The results indicate that the entire depth of the tailings deposit is potentially liquefiable for the MDE and OBE. Liquefaction is
also predicted for the loose alluvial soils near surface (in the upper 10 metres) for the MDE and OBE.”

Knight-Pièsold, 2007. Rio Quimi Tailings Management Facility Feasibility Study for 27,000 tpd mine production [Estudio de viabilidad de la Instalación de Gestión de Relaves Río Quimi para 27,000 tpd de producción minera]. Ref. No. VA201-78/09-2, 111 p.

The dam could collapse by seismic liquefaction of the tailings without failure (or liquefaction) of the foundations. The report says that both factors are a potential for collapse; The combined, or separate potential realized would release hundreds of millions of tons of toxic waste into the sensitive and vital river systems of the Upper Amazon Basin.
The vision of the dam walls sliding into their foundations with millions of tons of toxic waste pouring over the collapsed walls is a nightmare that we do not want to experience.
The present plan increases tailings from 27,000 tons a day to 60,000 tons a day.
The torrent of toxic waste, millions of metric tons, would flow through the steeply inclined river system to reach a main tributary of the upper Amazon rainforest, the Santiago River, and from there it will continue its passage to the Amazon River. This will be a veritable nightmare of pollution.
In the case of a high rainfall event leading to collapse, the fastest-moving mine tailings would reach the next major confluence where the River Zamora meets the River Santiago, (about 88 km downstream from the Rio Quimi – Rio Zamora confluence), within 5 hours.!
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/52d71403e4b06286127a1d48/t/564a18c0e4b0f19eae571949/1447696576435/Espanol-Emmerman-Mine-Tailing-Transport111515.pdf
The Tundayme dam. The Chinese are building what is projected to be the tallest tailings dam in the world. This dam, in the valley of the Tundayme River will be 260 meters high, and built with an inclination of 1 meter vertical to 1.5 meters horizontal. (Cardno EIS 2014)

Cardno, 2014. Actualización del Estudio de Impacto y Plan de Manejo Ambiental, para la Fase de Beneficio de Minerales Metálicos (cobre), Ampliación de 30 kt por día a 60 kt por día del Proyecto Minero Mirador, Concesión Minera “Mirador 1 (acumulada)”: Informe a EcuaCorriente S.A., 1206 p. con 6 anexos (1125 p.).

The Tundayme dam was not yet under construction when Dr Emerman visited the site on November 6th, 2018.
The dangers of building the tallest tailings dam in the world at a steep angle of slope are clear as stated in a quote I am taking from Dr Emerman:
. “A slope of 1V:2H is most common for tailings dams. This slope was stated in the EIS and all of the permits for the Mount Polley dam (although it was not followed in practice) and in the EIS for the Mirador dam (although it is not being followed in practice). That is, 1V:2H is generally regarded as providing a sufficient factor of safety for tailings dams.”

The Environmental Impact Study of 2010 had advised a slope of 1 meter vertical to 2 meters horizontal.
The consequences of the Tundayme collapse will be much greater than that experienced in other tailings dam failures simply because the dam is higher, the highest in the world, meaning that the released tailings will travel a greater distance at a greater speed.
The facility at Quimi, There are two facilities at the Mirador mine. This facility will incorporate walls at a height of 63 meters
The 2014 Cardno EIS said that the Quimi dam should be built at a slope of 1 meter vertical to 2 meters horizontal.
Dr Emerman in his visit to the facility on November 6th 2018 noted that the slope being built was 1 meter vertical to 1 meter horizontal, a slope angle referred to as a critical angle building on the edge of collapse.
I quote from Dr Emerman
“An embankment slope of 1V:1H is regarded as a critical maximum slope for the prevention of piping (also called internal erosion). This information can be found in presentations by consulting companies that design tailings dams and other earthen dams. A high slope (and the resulting high hydraulic gradient) forces water to move rapidly through the dam. This rapid movement washes tailings and other construction material out of the dam, which destroys the structural integrity of the dam. Failure of earthen dams by piping has resulted in more deaths than the failures of all civil engineering structures by all causes combined.”
The dam is being built at a critical slope angle. This is building on the edge of collapse.
Civil engineering structures are not supposed to be built at a critical state at the edge of failure.!
Water-retention dams have stricter safety standards. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommends an embankment angle of no steeper than 1 meter vertical to five meters horizontal for the prevention of piping.
The Quimi facility dam is supposed to hold back an excessively wet mass of tailings in perpetuity. The dam is being built in a manner where piping and collapse are inevitable.
The Mirador Mine facilities are being built in the tropical cloud forests of the Cordillera del Condor with a rainfall of 1.85 metric tons per square meter per year.
The risk category “Very High” was confirmed by ECSA in their 2011 responses to questions from the Ministry of the Environment.
This information was dropped from the Cardno 2014 EIS. Cardno consultants worked on a decision to build for a 500 year flood even though the risk had been increased owing to a doubling of tailings.
Flood standards are not being met in the design of the Mirador Mine tailings facilities.
When these standards are not met excess water can cause “overtopping” which will cause catastrophic collapse.
The tailings storage facilities at the Mirador Mine are being built in violation of the Cardno 2014 EIS. The EIS states that the Quimi facility, now under construction, was to be built with a centerline construction with a 1 meter vertical to 2 meters horizontal slope. As I explained earlier, the Quimi facility is being built at a critical slope. on the edge of collapse.
Collapse due to earthquake, flooding, internal erosion, static liquefaction, and foundation failure are all likely.

In the next part of this article I am drawing your attention to examples of various dam collapses around the world and their resulting devastating environmental consequences.


The Mishor Rotem Dam Collapse 2017

https://lindsaynewlandbowker.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/tsunami-of-phophate-tailings-from-icl-plant-inundate-20km-of-dry-valley-near-dead-sea/

“Israel Chemicals first identified the spill at 11:45 a.m. on Friday (June 30, 2017), after workers found a hole in the eastern embankment”. This a clear example of piping.

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/toxic-tsunami-wastewater-gushes-over-10741676

You can see in the above picture the incredibly steep slope of the dam wall.

The Mount Polley Collapse 2014

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZfCPNy9cPE   Independent panel review of Mount Polley TSF – Full presentation

The above picture is of the Mount Polley collapse in 2014. This was caused by foundation collapse. The steep embankment and excess water were contributing factors leading to the most serious environmental disaster in Canadian history.
The mine waste travelled into Quesnel Lake, the deepest freshwater lake in the world, a depth of 1,400 meters. Livelihoods have been lost, fish stocks are decimated and both water and soil remain polluted from the catastrophe.
The Fundao collapse in 2015 occurred when the contents of the dam turned to liquid. The collapse was triggered by an earthquake measuring a mere 2.6 on the Richter scale. The dam had been suffering structural and drainage problems for several years prior to the collapse.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KF3Clm6T_kI Investigating BHP’s $5bn Mining Disaster In Brazil

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff described the event as “the worst environmental disaster Brazil has ever seen”.
19 people died and 6,000 people were displaced. 700 kilometers of river remain polluted, drinking water is polluted. The poison reached the Atlantic and fishermen on the coast are affected as well as the towns and villages and Indigenous peoples along the whole length of the river.
The Mount Polley Dam in British Columbia, the Fundao dam in Brazil, the Mishor Rotem Dam in Israel, and the recent Brumadinho Dam in Brazil, all collapsed for reasons that could have been avoided.

The Chinese are building their waste dump holding facilities, (tailings storage facilities), in a manner which, if finalized under the present regime of construction, will destroy Ecuador’s reputation as a world leader in environmental protection, and will create a catastrophe, in the Upper Amazon Basin never before seen or imagined.

Both of the tailings storage facilities are being built in contravention of Environmental Impact Studies and pose an unacceptable risk for both the environment and for society.
A disaster waiting to happen.? Yes, taking into account statistics and the above facts, it is inevitable.
There is clearly a need for legal action.

 

David Dene. January 31st 2019

Expert in Earth Jurisprudence
UN “Harmony with Nature”.

Ecuador’s tribes declare ‘national mobilization’ against oil and mining

David Dene is co-founder of Protect Ecuador.

24th May, 2014

This article is based on an original story in EcoHustler.

Also on The Ecologist: ‘In Ecuador’s Amazon, a small tribe lives under a dark, oily shadow‘.


Ecuador is facing an unprecedented confrontation between a ‘progressive’ left-leaning government and a national coalition of indigenous peoples determined to stop vast oil and mining projects taking place on their community land and villages.

Ecuador’s umbrella organization representing the country’s Tribal Nations, CONAIE, has declared a National Mobilization to oppose a wave of oil and mining projects that threaten tribal territories across the country.

The declaration comes in the wake of increasing hostility by Ecuador’s government against the indigenous people resisting large scale resource extraction on their ancenstral lands. The government has announced a ‘national security alert’.

At present more than 200 Tribal National leaders are under investigation for terrorism – relating to the growing popular resistance to polluted water and environmental destruction arising from extractive industries.

The government of the ‘progressive’ and left-leaning President, Rafael Correa, is pushing hard for the development of oil and mineral resources as a means of bringing wealth to the country and raising much needed revenues for social spending.

However its insistence on pursuing massive resource projects on lands owned by indigenous communities, and in some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth, is causing growing tension across the country.

Oil Exploration and Extraction

Yasuni National Park is an area of incredible biodiversity which the Government has declared open to oil extraction. It is also home to indigenous communities including two groups living in voluntary isolation, the Tagaeri and Taromenane.

However Yasuni is estimated to hold over 800 million barrels of oil worth some $18 billion, and its exploitation would yield Ecuador’s government revenues of $7 billion.

The decision to exploit Yasuni’s oil has caused widespread outrage in the small Andean nation and 756,000 people signed an official petition demanding a referendum on whether the project should go ahead.

To force a referendum 583,323 voters would have to sign, 5% of the electorate. However after a brief inspection of only four days, the government declared that only 359,762 of the 756,000 signatures were valid, claiming that the remainder were fakes and duplicates – and refused to hold the demanded referendum.

There are loud calls declaring the process “fraudulent” and a failure of the Democratic process, and insistent demands that the electoral council publish the annulled signatures.

“This is without precedent. This is fraud, a clear fraud. There is no precedent on a global scale”, said Patricio Chavez, one of the petition organizers. “We have a copy of everything we turned over and before turning it over we went through a verification process to prevent any problems.”

Sapara territory at risk

Another Amazonian hotspot is the Sapara territory – 380,000 hectares of forest under the official tenure of the Sapara Nation, now threatened with Chinese oil exploration.

Leaders have held rallies and raised awareness of their danger. Several Sapara leaders are now facing investigation by the Attorney General’s Office for terrorism and undermining the security of the country.

Sapara leaders met this week to decide on future actions to save their forests. We are in communication with Gloria Ushigua, who is President of the Association of Sapara Women, Ashinwaka.

The Sarayaku, who won a Human Rights case in the International Courts have also pledged to defend their lands against oil exploration. We are in communication with Jairo Santi, communicator for the Sarayaku.

The government has designated further oil concessions in Aschuar territory, which the Aschuar People are resisting.

The threat of huge mines

Two areas in Ecuador threatened by large open pit copper and gold mines. The longest struggle is at Intag in the North West of the country. In recent weeks the military and police have invaded the territory and made arrests. The situation is tense and the people are determined to protect their territory.

In the South East of the country in the province of Morona-Santiago, the Central Ecuadorian Government have launched major mining concessions which are not acceptable to the Provincial Government who are committed to preserving ecosystems and biodiversity.

The situation is particularly tense in the area of The Mirador Mine, an open pit copper and gold mine of enormous scale. The destruction of water sources, endemic species, and cultural life have brought this mine to the first ever Citizens Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal.

Corriente Resources

About two weeks ago a church and school were demolished in San Marcos de Tundayme in Zamora-Chinchipe by EcuaCorriente S.A (ECSA), a subsidiary of Corriente Resources, which has a troubled human rights history in the country. San Marcos is situated in an area to be submerged in toxic mine waste. The church was being used for Christian worship until it was destroyed.

Last week workers locked themselves into the mine works citing Human Rights abuses. This is a very difficult situation exacerbated by Government irregularities in relation to both Human Rights and The Rights of Nature, both of which are incorporated into the Ecuadorian Constitution.

With growing spirit of rebellion across the country, the national mobilization of indigenous tribes, a National Security Alert in place, the disputed petition, and the government’s continued commitment to seeking development by resource extraction, the tension in Ecuador is palpable.

All indicators portray the picture of a country heading into crisis.

Ecuador – Upholding the Rights of Nature

David Dene is co-founder of Protect Ecuador.

29th April, 2014

This article was originally published on EcoHustler.

See also: ‘Being Nature – extending civil rights to the natural world‘, by Mumta Ito.

https://theecologist.org/2014/apr/29/ecuador-upholding-rights-nature


Deep in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, a gigantic open pit copper and gold mine is planned in the heart of the Shuar peoples’ territory. David Dene tells the story of a growing international campaign to uphold and defend the ‘Rights of Nature’, in Ecuador and beyond.

Over the last few months I have been asked on numerous occasions how I have come to be involved with an European Citizens Initiative to introduce a directive into the European Parliament on The Rights of Nature.

The answer involves an ancient medicine, a deep friendship with members of an Amazonian tribe, witnessing first hand the devastation caused by extractive industries and ultimately the insight that all of us can make a difference.

My name is David Dene and I live in Andalusia, in Southern Spain (here is my blog).

This is my story

In 2001 I was invited to Amsterdam to partake in ceremonies using the plant medicine, Ayahuaska, from the jungles of South America. This medicine has been used for millenia by the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

I was so impressed that I invited the Shaman to come down to Andalusia. This was the start of this particular journey. Within a year, a Shaman, from the Shuar tribe of South Eastern Ecuador, came and introduced us to the Shuar Culture and their Ayahuaska Medicine, which they call Natem, or the Little Death, signifying death of the Ego.

I was consequently invited to spend time with this Shaman in Ecuador, which, of course, I did. Over the years a strong friendship was built up with various Shamen from the area who came over to visit us here in Southern Spain.

His Holiness The Dalai Llama took medicine in the jungle with these Shamen, so I felt that I was in good company.

One day, the phone rang

In 2012 I received a call for help from ‘the family’ as they were, and still are, threatened by a huge open pit copper and gold mine, set to mine 60,000 tons of ore per day.

The Open pit mine, to be 800 meters deep, 4 kilometers wide and impacting over 200 water sources will have horrendous effects on the Shuar Culture and their ability to live and pursue their lives.

This mine, financed by Chinese Government-owned mega-companies, has the potential to become one of the biggest mines on the Planet rivaling Bingham Mine at Kennecott in the USA.

The area is of huge bio-diversity and contains endemic species. In other words, the mine is in direct contradiction to the Rights of Nature enshrined in the Constitution of Ecuador.

Poisoned waterways

I decided that the best thing to do would be to visit the area and spend time with the Shuar and to visit NGOs working with them.

I spent 2 months in a Shuar community in the jungle where I learnt of the conflicts and divisions running throughout the 70 Shuar communities in danger from the mining project.

In Quito I was able to secure a map of the hydrology of the area submitted in the Environmental Impact document. Here in Andalusia we used PhotoShop and showed how poisoned waterways could affect the communities. These maps were circulated throughout the 70 communities and were also used by NGOs in Ecuador.

We then created a website: protectecuador.org as a resource for all people wanting to know about the mine.

Upholding the rights of nature?

Our next action was to set up an Avaaz petition calling on the judge, due to take the case presented to the Constitutional Court, to uphold The Rights of Nature. This case was dismissed, appealed, and lost on the grounds that mine was in the National Interest.

We funnelled the Avaaz petition through The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and built friendship with the Global Alliance and with Wild Law in Australia.

I wrote an abstract for a Wild Law Conference and was invited to speak in Brisbane, Australia.

Subsequent to that Conference I was invited to a Summit Conference of The Global Alliance held in Ecuador last January. At the end of the Conference we set up the first Citizens Tribunal to try cases which clearly abuse The Rights of Nature.

The Mirador mine will be one of the first cases to be judged

The Mirador Mine, in the Shuar territory was accepted as one of the cases to be judged, and at that time, in Quito, I was enrolled in an European Citizens Initiative.

I am now working as co-ordinator in a working group (currently 40 people in 14 EU countries) who are drafting a Directive to propose to the European Commission, on the Rights of Nature. We aim to bring a European Citizens Initiative later this year

Last Summer I visited Ecuador traveling with Amazon Watch on an advocacy tour to see the damage caused by Chevron in the North Eastern Ecuadorian Amazon. It is almost beyond belief. The ‘Toxic Tour’ is an apt description.

We also visited the Sarayaku tribe, deep in the jungle, who won their case against the Government of Ecuador. The case was heard in the International Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica.

For the first time in the history of the court the judges visited the accused Government and declared against the Government of Ecuador, citing Human Rights abuse.

Even modest funding can go a long way …

After leaving the Tour I visited tribal leaders in the South and at a meeting of the leaders they agreed that funding for regular monthly meetings would be a great help. The funding covers food, transport, communication, and the calling of reunions.

We started this funding last July and out of those meetings we have formed a school to work with 50 young Shuar leaders, to re-invigorate the Shuar Culture, to re-integrate communities, to teach on Human Rights and Rights of Nature and how to defend these rights.

We have been able to assist the Nations of Ecuador to meet and create resolutions heard in the General Assembly, (Parliament) of Ecuador. Work in progress is the creation of a film showing the potential damage likely from the mine and a short film on The Rights of Nature. Both films will be released in the next month or two.

We will be fund raising for the school and for a Shuar village project to introduce people to the true Shuar Culture, their traditional houses, their knowledge of plants and all life, their medicines and their life style.

You really can make a difference!

I have written this to show how it really is possible to make a difference, how respect and confidence and trust can start to shift paradigms of thought, and create real change.

This is both a critical, and a crucial time. Planet Earth’s ecological systems are under threat. We are altering the fundamental patterns of relationship which have created the planet we live on.

Our opportunity, indeed, our need, is to connect with others to take a stand for those fundamental relationships which we know as Nature.

We are developing an Internet platform to enable connection. The European Citizens Initiative and The Mirador Mine are two of the emerging catalysts to enable us, Citizens of the World, to take a stand together.

For me, this is a most rewarding and exciting adventure. I invite you to join in and to share the sense of joy, fun, and positivity embedded in all actions to empower Nature.

The Horrors Of Mining In The Head Waters Of The Amazon

By David Den

19 February, 2013
Countercurrents.org

There is an area in the Upper Amazon, in South Eastern Ecuador which is under threat from the first of what may be a succession of open pit copper mines. Mirador One has been licensed and more mines are planned for the future.

This type of mining, “open pit” mining ALWAYS causes pollution because as soon as sulphide rocks are exposed to air and water, by chemical reaction, they exude sulfuric acid, which in turn releases heavy metals from the rocks, which in turn create toxic waterways.

In this case the waterways link into the great Amazon River system.

The acidification of the water causes gill malfunction in all fish life and ultimate death. The waters also become toxic due to the presence of heavy metals and toxins used to extract copper and gold from the mined ore. This acidification is known as Acid Mine Drainage and lasts for ever. The poisons remain in river sediment. Mines started in the times of the Romans are still leaching acid after 2,000 years.

This acid moves into ground water, and in this case with a pit which will be started at 900 meters and which will be mined to a depth of 1,250 meters, putting the base of the pit below sea level, this is a certainty. The mine will process 60,000 tons of ore every day, crushing this ore and
washing it, using poisonous chemicals, and using an estimated 12 million liters of water per day.

There are 227 water sources in the area, and with a pit that deep, of course, the delicate hydrology of the area which supports the diversity of life, will be irreparably damaged.

It is certain that this used contaminated water will leach into the waterways, killing fish, and by bio-accumulation into the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom, will spread a slow cancerous death throughout the area.

Rainfall is averaging at over two and a half tons of rain per square meter per year, so, there will be considerable run off of contaminated water. In the Environment Impact Assessment this project is considered as a High Risk project.

Sacred springs and sacred lands will be rendered unusable, The Shuar will no longer be able to hunt and fish. Their Culture will be destroyed, and their lands polluted for eternity.

This is a desecration of Nature. A case has been brought by eight NGO’s and Human Rights Organizations confronting the Government by due process of law in relation to The Rights of Nature enshrined in the Ecuadorian Constitution of 2008.

Early February this year, the first hearing was held in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and the Minister for the Environment failed to appear, so the case was postponed.

In 1997/8 the Shuar, who live near the mine, were trained by the Government to protect their borders against Peruvian incursions. I was at their General Assembly this year and they say that they will protect their land until their last breath.

These men and women are “warriors”. The worst scenario, which is unfortunately a possibility, is the militarization of the area and serious civil unrest.

The President is relying on mining and oil exploration to continue his “social revolution”, which is financed by the Chinese.

At present Ecuador pays 24% of its Gross Domestic Product to service “low interest” Chinese loans, and it seems that access to more money hinges on China being able to strip Ecuador of it’s most valuable mineral resources, which in turn strips Ecuador of the most ecologically
mega-diverse areas left on the planet.

This is a short term gain for one generation, followed by a terrible loss for all future generations. The legacy for the future will be an ongoing huge financial cost to mitigate the effects of Acid Mine Drainage in the upper Amazon, The fabric of Nature and the fabric of society will be devastated.

All the money in the world cannot re-make and re-build a fragile eco-system, and a thousand year old culture destroyed by copper and gold mining.

When this mine is stopped it has the potential to also stop the Ecuadorian Economy in it’s tracks.

The issue of the Mirador Mine goes beyond minerals and pollution. It is a pivotal point in the future of Ecuador, a direction where the Government and President will protect their Nature and “Good Life” for future generations, or a direction in which they will sell and destroy their Nature, leaving a legacy of severe environmental degradation and an ongoing financial burden to mitigate the effects of further damage from Acid Mine Drainage. In short the second option will destroy the elements of Nature and “the good life” enshrined in their Constitution of 2008.

When the Government uphold their Constitution they will not be able to follow their economic expansion. This is a pivotal situation. The question which the President has to face is indeed extremely difficult. Does he sell the Nature at the expense of future generations, or does he totally re-think and implement a new economic policy.?

David Dene is a researcher based in Spain.

For further information see: http://www.protectecuador.org

¿Es este el final de los Derechos de la Naturaleza en Ecuador?

Todo estaba bastante “bien” hasta el año pasado cuando los representantes de las empresas mineras transnacionales tuvieron una reunión con el presidente Correa y le persuadieron para relajar las leyes mineras de Ecuador.

En pocas palabras, estas “reformas” violan la Constitución del país y son una amenaza directa a los Derechos de la Naturaleza y los Derechos de las Naciones Indígenas. La ley de “reforma” establece claramente que la minería puede desarrollarse en cualquier parte del país. Esto significa que las garantías que antes protegían los derechos de la Naturaleza y los Derechos Humanos se han suprimido con eficacia.

POR QUÉ? ¿Es porque a Ecuador se le ha prestado más de 17 mil millones de dólares de los chinos y ha garantizado devolverlo a través de ventas de productos básicos, en concreto 17 mil millones de dólares en ventas de productos básicos?

Indígenas, tomarán medidas

Después de que los líderes de Perú y Ecuador se reunieron en Bomboiza, el presidente de la CONAIE, la Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador, Humberto Cholango, presentó una acción predeterminada en el Tribunal Constitucional el 09 de julio. Declaró que, en marzo de 2010 se emitió un fallo constitucional que requiere la Asamblea Nacional de consultar a los Pueblos y Naciones Indígenas antes de aprobar cualquier enmienda a la Ley de Minería. Seguir leyendo la historia completa…

Is this the end of the Rights of Nature in Ecuador?

All was reasonably “well” until last year when representatives of transnational mining companies had a meeting with President Correa  and persuaded him to relax the mining laws of Ecuador.

Put simply, these “reforms” violate the country’s constitution and are a direct threat to the Rights of Nature and the Rights of Indigenous Nations. The “reformed” law clearly states that mining can develop in any part of the country. This means that the safeguards that were previously in place to protect The Rights of Nature and Human Rights have been effectively abolished.

WHY? Is it because Ecuador has borrowed more than 17 Billion Dollars from the Chinese and has guaranteed to pay the money back through commodity sales, 17 Billion Dollars worth of Commodity Sales?

Indigenous take action

After the leaders from  Peru and Ecuador reunited in Bomboiza, the president of  CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, Humberto Cholango, presented a default action in the Constitutional Court on July 9th.  He declared that in March 2010 a Constitutional ruling was issued requiring the National Assembly to consult with Indigenous Peoples and Nations before approving any amendments to the Mining Act. Continue reading the full story…

Los dirigentes de Perú y Ecuador se encuentraron en Bomboiza

Cientos de líderes indígenas y representantes de ONG del Norte de Perú y Sur del Ecuador se reunieron el 5 y 6 de  julio en la Parroquia Bomboiza, Cantón de Gualaquiza, Provincia de Morona Santiago, Ecuador para el “Encuentro Binacional en contra de la Minería de Frontera.”

Peru and Ecuador in defense of the territory against the mining

Perú y Ecuador en defensa del territorio ante la minería de frontera

Las comunidades situadas a ambos lados de la frontera se ven amenazadas por los mismos problemas. Ambos gobiernos están promoviendo irresponsablemente la devastación de los territorios a través de la minería, extracción de petróleo, centrales hidroeléctricas y la colonización de las tierras indígenas por parte de las empresas transnacionales. Las empresas están cometiendo abusos contra los derechos humanos y violan los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales, violan los derechos civiles y hacen caso omiso de la legislación nacional e internacional. Seguir leyendo la historia completa…

Leaders from Peru and Ecuador reunited in Bomboiza

Hundreds of indigenous leaders and NGO representatives from northern Peru and southern Ecuador met on the 5th and 6th of July in the parish of Bomboiza,  province of Morona Santiago, Ecuador for a  “Binational meeting to discuss Border Mining”.

Peru and Ecuador in defence of the territory against the mining on their frontiers.

Peru and Ecuador in defence of the territory against the mining on their frontiers.

Communities situated on both sides of the Ecuadorian/Peruvian border are threatened by the same problems. Both governments are irresponsibly promoting the devastation of territories through mining, oil extraction, hydroelectric dams  and colonization of the indigenous lands by Transnational Corporations. The companies are committing Human Rights abuses and violate economic, social and cultural rights.  They violate civil rights and ignore International and National law. Continue reading the full story…

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