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“We are water and we will flood Quito” – Ecuador´s 14-day march to demand respect for water and the right to say “no” to large scale mining

On the 8th of March, International Women´s Day, and only three days after the Ecuadorian national government signed the country´s first contract for a large-scale mining project with the Chinese-owned Ecuacorriente (ECSA), citizens of Ecuador´s south east Amazon started their march to the capital. They performed an indigenous ceremony to launch their march to Quito along the banks of the Chuchumbletza River in the parish of El Pangui - the site of my own PhD fieldwork.

On the 22nd of March, International Water Day, after two weeks of walking 700 km, thousands of marchers—including community members, indigenous people, farmers, women, students, environmentalists and workers—arrived in the capital to denounce the development of large-scale mining in the country. Human rights groups supporting the demands of the marchers called for the suspension of the large-scale project.

Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa made several statements questioning the marchers’ legitimacy. He claimed the march to be a failure from the start. He claimed that the marchers were neither indigenous nor anti-mining, but individuals attempting to destabilize the government. He tried to show popular support for his government by calling citizens to a counter-march, leading to an encounter of marchers in the streets of Quito. Although Correa did not receive the marchers, the president of Parliament Fernando Cordero did meet with a group of leaders, heard their demands, and committed to consulting with them in May 2012 regarding the Water Resources Law.

There are number of signs of success of the anti-mining march, beyond just counting heads. First, the anti-mining march clearly showed that there is a serious discontent with the policies of Ecuador’s government on mining and indigenous peoples. There is a growing polarization affecting Ecuadorian society, where cities previously in favor of mining like Cuenca—the third most populated city—came out in support of the march. The indigenous movement, seen by many as fragmented since Correa came to power, was certainly also empowered by the march.

Above all, it created awareness of what was up to now the least talked about but most controversial mining project in Ecuador, the Mirador Project. The project is located in a biodiversity hotspot; on the lands of indigenous and campesino communities that have not been consulted; in an area containing important water sources; and right on the international border with Peru, the site of various border wars between the nations.  Former Ecuadorian military personnel have found new jobs as company security guards, and since 2006, according to the 2009 human rights report carried out by CEDHU (the Comisión Ecumenica de Derechos Humanos) and FIDH (the International Federation for Human Rights), the company has allegedly been involved in human rights abuses, kidnapping and violence. Not a good start for a “responsible” mining project.