Valuable nature and indigenous territories are threatened by mines

Water is life. Pictured is the San Juan River, which forms the border between Ecuador and Colombia.
Photo: Private.

The Ecuadorian government pursues an aggressive extraction policy and mining concessions, permits to conduct mining activities, spread over large parts of the country. The new mines affect both indigenous territories and nature reserves - and at the same time the people who are fighting to preserve the vital water and forests are portrayed as "development opponents" and "mafia" by the state.

Ecuador has already been hit by the negative consequences of the mining industry. On the coast there are rivers that are so polluted that the water can not be used for anything. Despite this, the Ecuadorian government continues to sell hectare after hectare to foreign mining companies and exploitation continues. On the other side of the issue are indigenous peoples, bird watchers, other environmentalists and environmental activists who see the value in protecting nature and who are fighting to preserve it. But it is an uneven struggle when those who want to exploit nature have much more power and resources. Then species worthy of protection, clean water and untouched nature easily weigh against economic profit interests.

Activists from OMASNE (Observatorio Minero Ambiental y Social del Norte del Ecuador) demonstrate against the mining industry. They are monitoring the development of the mining issue in northern Ecuador and part of their job is to inform the public about what is going on. Photo: Private.

As an example, 90 percent have Bosque Protector Cerro Golondrinas - a nature reserve in northern Ecuador consisting of thousands of years old primary forest with species found nowhere else - and 70 percent of the indigenous territory of Awá has been affected by mining concessions. This is despite the fact that indigenous peoples, according to international law, must always be consulted and given their approval before their territories are subjected to exploitation.

Officials thus paint the illegal mines as a problem, but they also paint opponents of mining as an equally big problem that also needs to be addressed because they are said to pose a threat to development. They call the mining opponents a "mafia" that spreads lies among the population. Furthermore, they claim that bird watchers pollute nature and disturb wildlife. All this has no factual basis and it is a dangerous discourse that is spread because it criminalizes mining opponents and environmental activists.

In Mataje Alto, the assembly decided that they would not allow mines in their territories. As defenders of nature, the indigenous people of Awá will continue to fight for the right to their land. Photo: Private.

There are two different "truths" that are set against each other and the sad thing is that a large part of the population believes in the discourse that the state spreads because they have great respect for their politicians. I believe that it is important that this is taken into account and that environmental activists receive our support. So far, only words are directed at these activists, but it is the first step in the escalation of violence that turns the critical masses against them and that eventually justifies more serious acts. It is important that it comes to an end now before it goes as far as it has done in other places in Latin America where activists are imprisoned, or even murdered, for their resistance.

William and Dayana are biology students and members of an environmental club for young people who are part of the ECO-RED network. These environmental clubs have contributed to strengthening environmental awareness among young people and are part of the long-term environmental work in the region. Here they are bird watching in the nature reserve La Planada in southern Colombia. Photo: Private.

Colombia is also facing similar problems. Colombia is the country with the most bird species in the world and there is great potential for both research and ecotourism because the country's area still consists of 70 percent natural ecosystems. This is because these are previously guerrilla-controlled areas that have not yet been subjected to exploitation. With the peace agreement, there is a risk that environmental conflicts will take over when the country opens up to international investors. There is a risk that the Colombian government will choose the easy and fast path to economic development in the form of mines and the forest industry, which would have devastating consequences for the rich flora and fauna. A sustainable alternative to this could instead be an investment in ecotourism and bird watching that can create a long-term sustainable development for communities in today's post-conflict Colombia.


On a hike in Bosque Protector Cerro Golondrinas to evaluate the potential for bird tourism in the area, it became clear that the real wealth is above ground and not in the minerals hidden in the ground.
Photo: Victor Obando.
The poster from the 2017 edition of the international bird counting competition Chiles-Golondrinas-Maldonado-Chical contained a message addressed to mining companies and authorities: "Golondrinas is not for sale, Golondrinas is defended".
Photo: Private.

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