SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Attempts at implementing a mining project in the province of Cotopaxi, Ecuador, have been met with protests staged by the residents of the two small rural towns that would be affected.

The local church, as well as the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM) are supporting the demonstrators and condemning violation of their rights.

Owned by the Canadian company Atico, La Plata is a mining endeavor that comprises an area of more than 2,000 hectares and may result in the exploitation of gold, silver, zinc, and copper. The area was already hit by a foreign company in the 1970s.

Earlier this year, Atico obtained from the Ecuadorian government a 25-year extension of the mining concession for La Plata, and that time can be further prolonged in the future. Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa signed an investment agreement with the Canadian corporation in March.

But Las Pampas residents have been fiercely opposing the project. They argue that it will not bring anything valuable for them and that the environment will be affected, something that will jeopardize their agricultural activities. They say that the region has been subjected to mining exploration on different occasions since the 1950s and that the consequences of it are still felt today.

“In the 1950s and 60s, the minerals were taken out from here and carried by animals. In the 1970s a company exploited minerals here. The local river acquired a gray tone, it’s contaminated. The earth was also affected. Landslides became common,” said Sister Mercedes Herrera, who has been taking part in the movement of opposition to mining in Las Pampas.

Community leader Juan Carlos Carvajal, a 30-year-old grower, said the mining endeavor would only generate wealth for its owners, while a very small percentage of the income would remain in Ecuador.

“At the same time, our environment would be harmed. It doesn’t make sense,” Carvajal told Crux.

Herrera explained that in 2023 the local communities managed to suspend the implementation of the project after a wave of demonstrations.

“Now, the Ministry of the Environment came here last month in order to proceed with the consultation of the communities that will be affected, something that is mandatory in the company’s licensing process,” she said.

The problem is that the local communities should have been consulted years ago, before the beginning of the project, Carvajal said.

“That mining company violated many of our rights. The first thing they should have done was to listen to us. And they should consult us again before each new phase,” he said. According to him, that was the very first time the communities were questioned about the project.

Between Mar. 11-28, the local residents promoted continuous demonstrations against La Plata. The Military were sent by the federal government in order to repress the protestors, and at least four people were injured during the marches, including one that ended up in a more critical condition, said Herrera.

But it was possible to temporarily freeze the implementation of the endeavor, Carvajal explained.

“We’re struggling by legal means to stop La Plata. We hope to get the right to take part in a popular consultation about it,” he pointed out.

Most families in Las Pampas work with cattle and farming, producing milk, fruits, and especially sugar cane. A local association centralizes cane processing, and the community produces and exports organic unrefined sugar.

“Mining could impact the organic production of sugar. Something like that cannot happen here,” Herrera said. Almost all families have been totally against La Plata since the beginning.

In Palo Quemado, however, the communities are evenly divided between supporters and adversaries of the mining endeavor. Some people think that La Plata will generate jobs for them, so they accept the implementation of mining operations.

“But Palo Quemado is much smaller than Las Pampas,” Herrera emphasized.

The nun also fears the potential social consequences of the project.

“The arrival of employees from other regions usually changes the local dynamic and introduces new problems, including drugs,” she said.

Herrera and Carvajal said that Las Pampas’ demonstrators have been supported by church organizations since the beginning of the struggle.

Last week, REPAM issued a statement in which it repudiated the violent repression of the security forces and manifested solidarity with the local communities.

“We ask the national government that the residents’ life and rights are respected and that the ambition of a few people is not imposed by force, something that mutilates the will of most of the population, that feels harmed by the mining project, and violates current norms and laws,” the declaration read.

Carvajal said that the local priest and the bishop of Latacunga have been supporting the community’s struggle “and defending our common house.”

He thinks that Canadian companies should not go to Ecuador and perform mining activities.

“Our region is very productive and has great biodiversity. If Canada has severe laws to protect the environment, why do they think they can come to our country and destroy it? That’s not fair,” he said.