The Intag region of northwestern Ecuador, a stretch of about 1,800 square kilometers of cloud forests and small farms, represents an invaluable mix of ecological diversity and strong community structure. However, for decades, community members of Intag have been fighting to protect not only their land and their livelihoods, but also the ecological beauty and sustainability of their region as a whole.
It all began over twenty years ago, when Bishmetals, a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corporation, began a copper mining project in the Intag Valley. The project resulted in significant deforestation, impacted dozens of endangered mammals and birds, polluted rivers with heavy metals and minerals, and increased crime and internal displacement and relocation within several different communities in the Valley.
In response, strong opposition in the region ensued: DECOIN (Defensa y Conservacion Ecologica de Intag) was founded as a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to reversing deforestation, conserving the unique biodiversity of the area, and battling mining companies that threaten to disrupt and destroy the Intag Valley. Bishmetals was eventually expelled, only to be replaced shortly thereafter by Ascendant Copper, a Canadian transnational corporation.
The arrival of Ascendant Copper sparked a decade-long “reign of terror.” During this time, the Intag residents fought against paramilitary forces and local leaders of the opposition were beaten, threatened, and illegally arrested. Finally, in 2008 the government of Ecuador expelled Ascendant Copper; however, in 2011 the conflict was revived when the government signed an agreement with the Chilean government that enlisted the help of Codelco, the largest copper producer in the world. As a part of the agreement, Codelco was set to help ENAMI, an Ecuadorian state-owned mining company, explore and exploit Ecuadorian mining projects. Overwhelming opposition against the agreement has stalled Codelco and ENAMI’s efforts to move forward, but ENAMI has still managed to successfully convince some local communities (those that won’t be affected by the mining projects) to support its plans.
Environmental Impact Assessment
On September 24, 2014, the EIA Llurimangua for Intag was published, a nearly 1000-page document, outlining the social environmental, and legal feasibility of the proposed open-pit mining project. However, due to incomplete disclosure of information, skewed representations of support, and the extremely short two-week window granted to community members to synthesize the report and prepare their statements of opposition, the Assessment has done little in fostering transparency between stakeholders. Ultimately, all of these flaws perfectly illustrate how interest in community participation is feigned but not actually encouraged in the process.
As the push for mining in the Intag region continues, and the voices of local stakeholders remain silenced, there seems to be little hope for progress. However, the decades of continued resistance practiced by Intag community members has caught the eye of many fighting back against analogous plans for resource exploitation, both nationally and globally. Here in Upstate NY, the fracking conflict lies at the forefront of the environmental discourse, and offers an unexpected connection between landowners domestically and in Intag. Likewise, one of the most ecologically similar mines to the that proposed in Intag, the Grasberg Mine in Indonesia, offers an interesting perspective on the long-term impacts of mega-projects of this nature and the potential for harm not addressed by the Ecuadorean EIA.
In response, an initiative named “The Intag Project” was founded at Cornell University in 2013, working to partner students with community-run organizations in Ecuador. Building off of an historic partnership, CUSLAR has teamed up with Intag Project founder, Martin Zorrilla, to help translate, synthesize, and analyze the recently published EIA for community use. By sharing the EIA with relevant experts on the Cornell campus and beyond, we hope to collect a host of statements that can be referenced by community leaders both during the initial feedback period and onward as they continue to resist the introduction of mining in their region.
Read more about Martin Zorrilla’s vision for how Cornell students can contribute to building relationships and developing an alternative economy in the Intag region.