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April 22, 2024

Ecuador referendums vote to save the environment

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In referendums held last week, Ecuadorians voted to protect unique biospheres and halt mineral and oil extraction – one annulling mining concessions owned by Gina Rinehart and others in northwest Ecuador.

Director of the Rainforest Information Centre and spokesperson for the Rainforest Action Group, Liz Downes said the move is a huge win for the protection of these irreplaceable areas. ‘In one referendum, seventy-six percent of citizens were in favour of halting gold mining projects near Ecuador’s capital Quito, in the Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve, designated by UNESCO in 2019.’

The UNESCO reserve sits in a tract of mega-biodiverse cloud forest which once extended through northwestern Ecuador and southern Colombia. It is estimated that 3 to 6 per cent of the original forest remains. Other nearby tracts include the Cotacachi-Cayapas National Park and Los Cedros Reserve – which was protected from mining by a historic Constitutional Court decision in 2021, defending the rights of nature.

Director of local environmental and human rights organisation APT-Norte, Peter Shear, said seventeen metals mining concessions are affected by this referendum victory. ‘Six of these do not have existing environmental licenses, and have now been completely annulled –including two gold concessions owned by Hanrine (Gina Rinehart), Lorena02 and Lorena03.’

Hanrine, a 100 per cent owned subsidiary of Hancock Prospecting, has alarmed human rights groups since 2019 for its violent repressions towards citizens of Buenos Aires, a town sitting within the company’s Imba two mining concession, north of the Chocó Andino region

Friends of the Earth spokesperson Anthony Amis said Hanrine has had a very difficult time since entering Ecuador over five years ago. ‘Community groups are still in shock about what has occurred in the Imba mining concessions after violence and excessive Government force. The north of Ecuador is an extremely risky proposition for mining companies such as Hanrine, BHP and Solgold’.

Peter Shear dsid the referendum results specifically prohibit the exploitation of metals. ‘This means that the remaining 11 concessions that already have their titles can still apply for exploration permits and the associated environmental licenses but cannot then establish mines or tunnels.’

‘It is now up to the Ministry of Environment and Energy Transition (MAATE) to make sure companies do not try to continue to illegally explore or exploit minerals at the sites – however we know the ministry is pro-mining, and we may have to resort to international arbitration to ensure the referendum result is upheld by law.’

In the other referendum, over sixty percent of Ecuadorian citizens voted in favour of stopping the drilling of new oil wells in the Yasuní national park in the Amazon – one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, and home to numerous Indigenous peoples, including two of the world’s last ‘uncontacted’ communities.

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