It came out of nowhere. No letters, no meetings, no publicity or any attempt to sell the idea, and from one day to the next, the game had entirely changed. With one approval from the Mining Ministry, what was once a pristine mega-diverse rainforest at the headwaters of one of the main watersheds of the Ecuadorian Amazon had been transformed into a gold mining hotspot.
Over the past three months, the Ecuadorian government has granted more than 10 new gold mining concessions in the headwaters of the Aguarico River, most within the boundaries of the Cayambe-Coca National Park and home to the ancestral Kofan people of Sinangoe. Despite its direct impact on the community, the rivers, the land and the A’I Kofan way of life, the new mining claims were granted without any prior consultation with Sinangoe, in violation of Ecuadorian law, and most probably without a proper environmental license.
To put it in other words, these operations are totally illegal.
A radical change of scale
As described in a previous chronicle, the community of Sinangoe has been monitoring and blocking illegal mining inside their land for years. These invasive activities had significantly dropped following a September 2017 announcement of the community’s Indigenous Law – prohibiting any extractive activities on their land – an encouraging sign for the community that had witnessed an increasing amount of colonos inside its land for years. However, this new wave of gold miners is nothing like what they have witnessed before.
Large machinery, huge water pumps, road construction, massive deforestation, noisy operations, gaggles of miners…this birth of a gold rush is a radical change of scale and quite worrisome, seeing how much damage they can do in such a short time. In recent weeks, Sinangoe’s land patrol has observed diggers and large water pumps outside the mining concession limits and inside the river bed, excavating and damaging the Aguarico River. One of the community’s main concerns is that these kinds of gold mining operations in the Amazon often come with the use of highly toxic mercury, a heavy metal that bioaccumulates in fish and can be extremely damaging to the human nervous system.
Fueled with these new concerns, and with their struggle already attracting media attention at the international level, Sinangoe has increased its monitoring of the area and called upon the provincial and national Ecuadorian authorities to stop these operations. The Environment Ministry, the Mining Ministry, the National Prosecutor, the “Defensoría del Pueblo” and local governments have all been notified and called to action by Sinangoe.
To date, none of them appear to have taken any actions to stop these illegal activities, despite a recent referendum in Ecuador calling for a ban on any mining activities inside protected and sensitive areas. With mining being such a controversial topic in Ecuador, the country’s President Lenin Moreno announced the cancellation of 2,000 mining concessions in February, but we still don’t know if any of the concessions in the Aguarico are part of that list.
Sinangoe joining forces with other mining-impacted communities
On Monday April 16th, more than half of Sinangoe’s population joined a national protest against mining, calling upon the government to cancel all new mining concessions and stop all operations in the headwaters of the Aguarico River.
To succeed in nullifying these concessions, Sinangoe needs to increase pressure on the Ecuadorian authorities, and your support can make the difference to turn the tables and ensure that Sinangoe’s pristine ancestral rainforest stays intact. Stand with Sinangoe by signing the pledge and by sharing this information with family, friends and colleagues, and stay tuned for further updates and actions to support Sinangoe in their efforts to defend their ancestral homeland..