Ecuador residents seek referendum to block mining projects

Choco Andino forest. Credit: International Model Forest Network

Residents of Ecuador’s capital Quito on Monday delivered hundreds of thousands of signatures to the country’s electoral court in a bid to ban mining in one of the Andean country’s most biodiverse areas.

The signatories, who come from rural areas in northwest Quito, hope to block six gold-mining concessions in the Choco Andino forest, citing threats to water sources, nature and their local businesses.

The forest, which spans some 280,000 hectares (691,895 acres) and was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2018, boasts large numbers of bird, mammal and amphibian species.

It is also home to 12% of Ecuador’s plant varieties and an important corridor for Andean bears, as well as a major water source for Quito.

Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso is betting on the mining sector to boost the economy, with exports foreseen at $3 billion this year.

However, plans to further develop mining have been disrupted by judicial resolutions and referendums in favor of communities and indigenous peoples, frustrating potential projects.

The activists presented 380,000 signatures to the National Electoral Council (CNE), greater than the 200,000 required ahead of calling a referendum in the city, which will ask inhabitants if they agree with banning all types of metal mining in the area.

“We’re not willing to accept the mining companies, we don’t need these companies,” said Fanny Duran, a resident of the rural parish of Pacto, who helped deliver the signatures.

Ecuador’s ministry of energy and mines has already handed out 12 concessions in the area, so a vote to block further mines will not affect those projects, the activists said.

However, inhabitants in those areas have filed lawsuits in local courts to stop their progress, arguing that they were not previously consulted.

The energy and mines ministry did not immediately respond for comment.

The electoral court must now verify and accept the signatures but activists hope the referendum can be held in February 2023, alongside local elections.

(By Alexandra Valencia; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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