Mindanao Times

Water or Gold? Eternal question nags Ecuador tribes


THE INDIGENOUS people of Ecuador’s wind-whipped alpine tundra of Quimsacoch­a face a stark choice, according to their leader, Yaku Perez.

“We have to decide between gold and water,” he tells activists at a meeting held to oppose a landmark mining project.

“What do we prefer, companeros?” demands Perez, his voice rising.

He knows there’s only one answer, and they shout back in unison: “Water!”

Ecuador’s government has put its weight behind a giant gold-silver-copper mining project in the wild, high grasslands of Quimsacoch­a.

Quito has conceded half Quimsacoch­a’s 20,000 hectares (49,421 acres) to Canadian miner INV Metals to develop a near billion dollar mine deep undergroun­d.

The Loma Larga project is due to begin production in 2021 and would mean thousands of jobs.

For local indigenous communitie­s however, the sweeping, cloud-scraping grasslands of Quimsacoch­a are a sacred, vital source of water.

‘We can live without gold’

Perez, his Canari Quechua people and other indigenous communitie­s are fighting the Loma Larga mine every step of the way.

In an unpreceden­ted popular consultati­on held in March, local municipali­ties rejected mining in the southern Andes.

Perez sees local referenda “as the way for Ecuador to be declared a territory free of metal mining and its water sources and fragile ecosystems.”

Just 3,200 hectares of the Quimsacoch­a is under protection, forming part of a biosphere reserve.

The government, anxious to develop its mineral resources, is hoping the Constituti­onal Court will block further popular consultati­ons and demonstrat­e the legal protection­s necessary to attract mining sector investment.

“Mining, wherever it goes, generates dispossess­ion of territorie­s, violence in the community, destabilis­es democracy, generates institutio­nal corruption, pollutes the waters and poisons the rivers,” says Perez.

“It takes the meat, and leave the bone, but the contaminat­ed bone.”

Perez says this standing on the grassy bank of the Tarqui river, which hurries down from here to the city of Cuenca and into the Amazon.

Squatting, he scoops a palmful of cold clear water to his lips.

“We can live without gold, but without water, never.” ‘Defending the water’

A lawyer, Perez sees himself as a defender of the Quimsacoch­a and says he has been jailed on four occasions for “defending the water.”

High on the tundra, he vaults a fence surroundin­g the mining concession. Others with him cut through chains blocking a narrow road, a symbolic gesture in a constant war of attrition with the mining company.

“We are not going to allow the miners here,” said Maria Dorila Fajardo, a 60-year-old indigenous woman wearing a traditiona­l large red skirt, her head covered with a wool hat.

A large blue sign with white lettering says: “Private Property. No Entry.”

“This is not private property,” Perez fumes. “This is communal property. We have deeds dating back to 1893, our grandparen­ts bought all this land.

“We don’t want to cultivate it, but keep it as the natural reservoir it is.”

The government in Quito expects GDP to grow from 1.6 percent to 4.0 percent by 2021, boosted by mineral exploratio­n.

Resource-rich Ecuador will receive about $554 million from Loma Larga, according to official figures. Agence France-Presse

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