Northwestern jaguar subspecies - critically endangered in Ecuador
For five years, the Rainforest Information Centre and our Australian and international allies have been supporting rural and Indigenous communities to resist grand-scale mining in Ecuador.
This small country in the Andes region of South America is thought to be home to around 13% of the planet's species - that is, all phyla, including plants, fungi, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects and mammals.
Ecuador's high altitude regions contain some of the world's rarest ecosystems. They provide water for huge rivers that run to the coast and the Amazon basin - controlling climatic and hydrological cycles for the entire continent of South America and beyond.
In a global climate and biodiversity emergency, you'd think all efforts would be in play to protect these species and landscapes, right? No.
100% of funds go to Ecuador to support frontline communities in their campaigning, scientific research, legal funds and community organising to protect their lands, forests and livelihoods.
Residents of the community of Gualel, Loja Province, southern Ecuador, survey mountains which have been considered sacred by their ancestors for hundreds of years. The land on which they stand - an important archeological site and water source area - is undergoing exploration drilling for copper and gold by Australian company SolGold.
An epic land grab
In 2017, around a third of Ecuador's land mass was sold by the government to national and transnational mining companies. Exploration is mainly for copper and gold (Ecuador is part of the fabled "Andean Copper Belt"), but other minerals of interest are silver, lead and uranium.
This sale was done with zero knowledge or consent from the public. Over two million hectares of the land under concession covers protected forests and Indigenous territories.
With several rounds of concessions awarded since 2017, the number of active exploration licenses has increased by the hundreds. The opening of the new National Mining Registry in early 2023 will speed the process up even more.
A third of the investment is from Australian companies, including BHP, SolGold, Fortescue Metals Group, Newcrest, Sunstone, Titan Minerals, and Hanrine (privately owned by Gina Rinehart).
To make the irony even worse, several of the above companies are greenwashing their Ecuador investments as being for "clean" copper for the global energy transition towards a fossil fuel free future!
This is not clean and green. This is a human rights and environmental catastrophe.
If even some of these mining projects go ahead, thousands of endangered species risk extinction.
Over the past five years, human rights abuses and contamination incidents have occurred in hotspots all over the country. Companies continue to aggressively pursue their exploration activities as we speak. And the resistance from the grassroots is growing.
To get a visceral feel of the size of the situation and the landscapes, biodiversity and communities who are being impacted, watch this trailer for a documentary film which is currently being created by our partners at the "Marrow of the Mountain" project.
Visit the website of our sister group of campaigners, Melbourne Rainforest Action Group, who have tirelessly driven the active part of our campaign since 2018, and have produced many media releases, maps and reports on the Australian mining company involvement in this disaster.
Los Cedros cloud forest
CAMPAIGN 2022 RUNDOWN
It's been a massive year for RIC's campaign in Ecuador. We've supported numerous projects and campaigns throughout the country, made many new contacts, and are preparing to expand further in 2023 with our efforts to help communities protect their lands, waters and biodiversity.
Los Cedros win
In December 2021 Ecuador's Constitutional Court decided in favour of protection for the Los Cedros Biological Reserve - a spectacular tropical cloud forest in the country's Chocó biodiversity region, of which only remnants are left.
Seven of nine judges voted to revoke the environmental license of mining companies Cornerstone Capital Resources and ENAMI, forcing them to cease operations within the reserve.
The Rainforest Information Centre founded Los Cedros in 1989, and ever since has supported manager Jose deCoux and a diverse local and international team of staff, volunteers and scientists to keep this irreplaceable forest and its myriad species safe from logging, poaching ... and now mining.
The Constitutional Court ruling was a world first precedent for forests under threat of major extractive industries. It upholds Ecuador's unique Rights of Nature constitutional laws, as well as protecting four major waterways and the rights of local communities to a clean and safe environment. Read more here!
Team at Los Cedros with international visitors and Constitutional Court judges, October 2022
The win would not have been possible without the hundreds of people who donated to help us cover the extensive legal fees for the case, and support the reserve's dedicated local team in securing its future.
While mining threats continue to grow across Ecuador, with transnational companies aggressively exploring two million hectares of vulnerable ecosystems and Indigenous lands, the Los Cedros win sent shock waves through the mining sector.
Internationally, the legal precedent for the Rights of Nature has inspired efforts in other countries to pursue similar goals. Nationally, at least four communities have since launched or are writing cases based on the constitutional rights enshrined by the Los Cedros ruling.
Mural painted by community anti-mining groups opposite the Constitutional Court of Ecuador, 2021, during the proceedings of the Los Cedros case
Visit of Constitutional Court judges to the reserve
In October 2022, Los Cedros hosted two of the judges who decided in favour of the Rights of Nature at the Court – Agustín Grijalva (who presided over the writing of the ruling) and Ramiro Avila. These amazing humans had a great time at the reserve, along with a diverse group of local and international supporters.
As well as fun, important meetings were had, in order to strategise the best way forward for Los Cedros. In Ecuador, there is still a large gap between the “ideals” of constitutional rights and their legislative and practical application. Over 2023 the judges will work closely with the reserve's management team to amplify the national and international precedents set by the ruling, support local communities, and ensure that government agencies and mining companies stick to their legal obligations.
Judges Grijalva and Avila enjoying the waterfall
Getting ready for business
Visitor numbers to Los Cedros were profoundly impacted through 2020-21 during the triple blow of the pandemic, civil unrest in Ecuador, and the mining threats.
The scientific station and infrastructure are currently undergoing essential maintenance works, to enable the reserve to get back to hosting tourists, students, scientific expeditions and community projects, as it has done for nearly 40 years. This is part of the management plan guided by the Rights of Nature ruling.
RIC crowdfunded $15,000 for these works, and we recently received impressive photos of the team’s progress, including this new footbridge being built across the Los Cedros river - with hard, rot resistant timber that should last another 30 years at least!
Other Rights of Nature cases
This year, RIC and Melbourne Rainforest Action Group (MRAG) have continued to support the Rights of Nature legal battle to stop mining in Junín, Intag, near Los Cedros. There is currently a third case in progress - appealing the action for protection won by mining companies in 2021.
In April we helped cover some costs for three biodiversity surveys in the Llurimagua mining concession. Many endangered species were catalogued, counteracting the pathetic "environmental impact studies" done by the companies. One monkey was put on the Critically Endangered list.
The herpetologists found a specimen of what was originally thought to be the critically endangered Confusing Rocket Frog (Ectopoglossus confusus) but since has been determined to be a new species - named the Resistance Rocket Frog by popular vote from locals!
Confusing rocket frog (Ectopoglossus confusus). Image: Carlos Zorrilla
Support of Waorani community with land rights and ecotourism work
Over the past five years, the Waorani community of Ñoneno, near the Yasuní region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, has been developing projects to protect their territory from numerous threats, including oil exploitation, poaching and colonisation. RIC has a long history with the leaders of this struggle for autonomy. In the 90s RIC volunteers worked extensively with the Waorani and helped with a massive project of physically demarcating their ancestral lands.
In June 2022, we provided $1000 for a laptop for community leader and old friend of RIC, Nanto Huamoni. Nanto has been using it to collate and write coursework for Ñoneno’s ecotourism and cultural education projects.
In November, a RIC volunteer crowdfunded another $500 towards maintenance for a tourism lodge now owned by the community, in preparation for their first large group of visitors in January 2023. This lodge is situated 4 hours by canoe from the nearest town, in one of the most biologically intense places on the planet!
Next year RIC hopes to raise funds towards solar panels for the lodge and Ñoneno.
Waorani leader, Alicia Cahuiya, with a rare tree marked to be cut down within an area gazetted for oil exploitation near Ñoneno
Partnership with Billions of Blossoms charity set up by Flow Hives
In March 2022, Flow’s Billions of Blossoms program provided a grant of $10,000 specifically to support the development of a management plan at Los Cedros, with all its pollinator richness.
This was gratefully used by Jose DeCoux and the team for facilitation of local community meetings, and legal costs for future-proofing the reserve’s boundaries.
RIC is looking towards a partnership with Flow for support of other projects and Rights of Nature legal cases in mega-biodiverse parts of Ecuador.
One of Ecuador's 4000 known species of orchids - a plant family which contains an enormous amount of endemism and symbiotic relationships with insect pollinators, barely touched by scientific research.
Field research trip
In October-December 2022, RIC’s Ecuador campaign coordinator took a field trip. Some travel costs were covered by the support of RIC, the Melbourne Rainforest Action Group, and a generous donor.
The trip was a two month whirlwind, involving travelling to nine different provinces –crossing the Amazon region, cloud forests and the high Andes – visiting activist groups and communities impacted by transnational mining companies.
This was physically and mentally exciting and challenging. Ecuador is a country where it is possible to gain or lose 3000 metres of altitude in a single day. Also not to be underestimated is the diversity of available transport methods: bus, 4WD, cattle truck, mule, canoe, foot, or any combination of these in one journey.
Alpine "páramo" grasslands at 3,800 metres above sea level - one of the most ecologically important landscapes in Ecuador, providing carbon storage and habitat for hundreds of rare and endemic plant, insect and bird species, and the water source for rivers running to the coast and Amazon basin.
The findings of the field trip are still being collated, but suffice to say there are many incredible, resourceful and passionate people in Ecuador, who are dedicated to protecting their lands, waters, livelihoods, and ecosystems for future generations of all forms of life.
With serious fundraising efforts, RIC has the opportunity to support at least three emerging legal cases with the potential magnitude of Los Cedros, as well as continue to support communities and collectives on the ground with their mobilisation, education and conservation efforts.
The community of Buenos Aires, northwestern Ecuador, gathers to send a public rejection of Australian-owned mining company, Hanrine
Between 2017 and 2022, we have raised and sent over $80,000 to Ecuador's frontlines who are defending their communities, waterways, mega-biodiverse ecosystems and human rights against this onslaught of extraction and greed.
Again - if you'd like to support us to continue this work, please visit our crowdfund here!
Toisán Range cloud forest, Intag, Ecuador - threatened by BHP
For more information about the damage that grand-scale mining will do to biodiversity and ecosystem services, read this 2018 research paper published in the Journal of Tropical Conservation.
For an overview of Australian involvement, written by members of MRAG, read: Australian mining companies plunder Ecuador's gold and copper
PREVIOUS CAMPAIGN NEWS
The court ruling was a world first for forests under threat of major extractive industries. Seven out of nine judges chose to uphold Ecuador's unique Rights of Nature constitutional laws, as well as to protect four major waterways and the rights of local communities to a clean and safe environment. As a result of the ruling, two mining companies - Cornerstone Capital resources (Canada) and ENAMI (Ecuador) lost their environmental licences to operate within the reserve.
The decision cannot be appealed. Most importantly, this ruling sets a legal precedent for over 2 million hectares of protected forests across Ecuador. Other legislative implications will complicate things for mining companies who have until now been given free rein to hold a massive copper investors' party over one third of the country's land mass.
This win would not have been possible without the hundreds of people who donated to help the Rainforest Information Centre cover the legal fees for the case - so a big thank you from the campaign team and all species who call the reserve home!
In this 5-minute video John Seed, founder of the Rainforest Information Centre, explains what is special about Los Cedros and why we've fought so hard to protect it.
Visit the Los Cedros webpage to learn more about the reserve's history, contact details and how to visit.
Visit our campaign website to learn about the incredible natural history of the reserve, including taxonomy lists and photos of birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects.
Letter from world scientists attesting to the biological value of Los Cedros
List of Publications from research undertaken at Los Cedros
Pristimantis cedros. Image: Morley Read
Intag Biodiversity Hotspot
Just north of Los Cedros, the Intag Valley and surrounding cloud forests are part of the same global biodiversity hotspot, with hundreds of endemic and endangered species. Unfortunately the region is covered in mining concessions - several of them owned by Australian companies including BHP, SolGold and Hancock Prospecting (Hanrine).
Watch this video showcasing the amazing biodiversity of the Intag region, narrated by John Seed.
Contaminated water from exploration drilling at Cascadas Las Gemelas, Junín, Ecuador. Local communities have been resisting mining here for nearly four decades and continue to fight for their biodiversity, farming livelihoods and ecotourism businesses. Image: Carlos Zorilla
We are continuing to assist community resistance against the entry and destructive activities of mining companies in Intag and other areas of northwestern Ecuador.
We have helped fund several regional assemblies, leading to a resolution among Intag residents for the region to be declared a Mining Free Zone - a Sanctuary of Life. This motion is now enshrined in local legal ordinances.
We are currently helping to support legal cases in other parts of Ecuador which will challenge illegally-awarded concessions on the basis of lack of prior consultation and violations of constitutional rights, as well as specific actions by companies which have resulted in violence and human rights abuses against people who don't want mining in their lands.
Plaintiffs intend to use precedents set by the Los Cedros ruling pertaining to the rights of water, and the human rights to a clean and healthy environment. More details about these cases, and how to support, will be published once they are scheduled in court - at the moment communities are keeping a low profile so as to not alert mining companies and corrupt officials.
Regional Assembly against mining in Apuela, Intag, September 2019. Photo provided by Carlos Zorilla
Putting Ecuador's mining problems on the global map
In 2021, we collaborated with international alliance Yes to Life No to Mining, to put the serious mining situation in Ecuador on the global map with regard to the push for copper for the "Green Energy" revolution. Mining companies - especially Australian - are greenwashing their environmental and human rights abuses in Ecuador in terms of needing to mine critical minerals for net zero.
This report published by two of our campaigners details violent scenes in the small town of Buenos Aires, where the company Hanrine (owned by Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart) forced its way into the community.
In November we ran a workshop at the COP26 People's Conference, bringing frontline speakers from Ecuador to join mining activists from other parts of the global north and south impacted by Australian mining companies.
Police line up to violently evict protestors in the town of Buenos Aires, August 2021. Hundreds of community members were peacefully blocking the road to prevent entry of personnel from mining company Hanrine. Image courtesy of BUPROE.
Visit here for more information, including news, media releases, reports and interactive maps, produced by our amazing volunteers at the Melbourne Rainforest Action Group (MRAG), who have driven the Ecuador Endangered campaign from its beginning.
MRAG has a focus on the Australian mining companies plundering Ecuador, and works to build solidarity in Australia as well as supporting frontlines in Ecuador.
Would love to help? We sometimes need volunteers for the following things:
- English to Spanish, and Spanish to English translation of documents
- Specialised skills such as GIS/KML mapping
- Video editing and subtitling
MRAG protests in collaboration with Latin American Solidarity Group at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC), Melbourne, 2019
CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS 2019-2020
BHP'S AGGRESSIVE PUSH INTO INTAG
It was an intense beginning to 2020 for front-liners protecting rainforests and communities in northwestern Ecuador.
BHP, the world's biggest mining company, proved they were willing to do almost anything to get into communities to start their drilling - including lying, cheating and surrounding themselves with military police.
RIC helped to fund numerous community assemblies, which resulted in a legal document containing resolutions to be presented to governmental, human rights and environmental bodies.
Peruse the MRAG home page for more media links, reports and photos.
See also our report in The Ecologist: here
Resisting BHP in the community of Cazarpamba, 2020. Image: Carlos Zorrilla
August 2019: RIC contributed to initial production costs for a major environmental documentary, Marrow of the Mountain (See trailer here). This film is being produced by friend of John Seed, mycologist and campaign supporter Roo Vandegrift. It will focus on Los Cedros and other critically endangered forests in the northwestern Andes of Ecuador. RIC is now a partner of the film and will continue to support its completion.
September 2019: Along with our allies at Mining Watch Canada, RIC donated funds to make a national anti-mining convergence happen in Quito. Our money mainly went to catering and travel for indigenous leaders from the Amazon and people dwelling in the vulnerable high plains ecosystems, all under mining concession. At the meeting we presented an overview of Australian mining company involvement in Ecuador.
Also in September we helped fund an assembly of 1500 people from communities across the Intag province.
Also in September MRAG got its first ever national news coverage in Australia, with an SBS story about Gina Rinehart's mining debacle in Intag
In October Ecuador erupted in nationwide protests and strikes over austerity measures imposed by the government as part of a new IMF deal.
In October RIC donated funds (mainly from a couple of generous donors) to support the ongoing legal action to stop a gold mine destroying cloud forests at Junín, Intag. RIC also supported Los Cedros Reserve to present a legal action to the Constitutional Court, as mining companies continued to refuse to honour the April provincial court ruling and leave Los Cedros.
In October and November MRAG targeted the AGMs of SolGold and BHP in Brisbane and Sydney respectively, to present the concerns of embattled Ecuadorians to shareholders.
In December RIC members ran a deep ecology workshop in Melbourne and fundraised $2000 for Ecuador. More workshops followed in Feb and March in Tassie, and May in Melbourne.
A new wave of nationwide protests against newly incumbent president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, in 2021. Lasso was responsible for signing executive orders to quickly expand the mining roll-out across the country in conjunction with austerity measures, to pay huge debts to the International Monetary Fund.
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MORE MEDIA, REPORTS AND STUDIES
For an article addressing the broad neoliberal agenda behind Australian mining companies pushing their way aggressively into developing nations like Ecuador see here: Neoliberalism versus justice on Ecuador's mining frontier - published in FoE Australia's Chain Reaction.
John Seed’s March 2018 article
Jefferson Mecham’s comprehensive paper "Ecuador Endangered by Extreme Extractivism"
Vandegrift et al (2017): The extent of recent mining concessions in Ecuador (pdf, english) (pdf, spanish)
New mining concessions will severely decrease biodiversity and ecosystem services in Ecuador (Bitty Roy et al 2018)
Environmental Impact Study from early mining efforts in Junin (1996) (pdf)
Summary of tax and legal deregulations for mining made during Correa administration (Carlos Zorrilla, 2017) (pdf)
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