Judge orders Chinese company to stop mining activities in Ecuadorian town

Protest against the Río Blanco project. Photo by Ecuarunari, Twitter.

A judge from the Ecuadorian province of Cuenca ruled that Ecuagoldmining South America S.A, owned by Chinese investment firm Junefield Group S.A., violated article 57 of the country’s Constitution, which establishes people’s right to be consulted prior to the development of any resource exploitation project in their communities.

Judge Paúl Serrano said that given such violation, Ecuagoldmining should immediately halt operations at its Río Blanco gold/silver project. His decision was in response to a motion presented by Ecuarunari, an organization that represents 12 ethnics groups that belong to the Kichwa nation, whose members alleged that there were legal gaps in the consultation process for Río Blanco and that, therefore, the environmental permits granted were not valid.

Ecuarunari also argued that the company was polluting water sources, which is considered very dangerous given that the project is located in the area of influence of the Cajas National Park.

Project development started in the early 2000s but it was in 2016 when the Chinese miner began exploiting the 5,708-hectare site, located between the towns of Molleturo and Chaucha in the Cuenca municipality of the southern Azuay province. Production is estimated at 800 tonnes of ore per day.

According to El Comercio newspaper, activities at the mine were halted almost a month ago following protests by anti-mining groups.

In parallel with the rallies, Ecuarunari presented the aforementioned motion before Azuay’s Court of Justice. The audience to hear their case ran for about four hours last Friday. Once all parties presented their arguments, the judge decided that it was urgent to stop mining operations at the site, to remove all military personnel from the area and to ask the Ombudsman’s Office to make sure that the ruling is observed.

The decision can be appealed before the Provincial Court of Justice. However, Ecuagoldmining has not made public whether it is going to pursue a new legal action.

In a video published on Ecuarunari’s Twitter page, the organization’s president Yaku Pérez said that this decision sets a precedent because it is the first time that the justice system sides with Indigenous communities and not with the government or foreign companies.