Ecuador: Defending the Intag Valley from Mining Abuses

Congratulations to the communities in Ecuador’s Intag Valley that recently secured a court order canceling a license to mine copper in one of the world’s most biodiverse forests!

For decades, communities have resisted mining in the area. The proposed Llurimagua mining concession covers approximately 19 square miles where more than 70 communities live. The proposed mine is located in forests of the buffer zone of the Cotacachi Cayapas National Park. The area is home to many species found nowhere else, including the long-nosed harlequin frog (Atelopus longirostris) listed as extinct in 2016 but rediscovered in the mining concession area after 20 years without sightings. In 2019, the “Intag Resistance Rocket Frog,” a new amphibian species that has yet to receive a scientific name, was also discovered inside the mining concession. Many threatened species, including the brown-headed spider monkey, spectacled bear, black and chestnut eagle, rare orchids, unique moths, and more, also call the area home.

Last month, the Provincial Court of Imbabura ruled in favor of the communities, supported by the Ombudsman’s Office and Ecuadorian civil society organizations that filed a Constitutional Protection Action against the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Resources, and the Attorney General’s Office.

The communities requested the cancellation of the mining license granted to the Ecuadorian public company Empresa Nacional Minera (ENAMI EP) and the Chilean company Codelco (the world’s largest copper producer), through its subsidiary EMSAEC S.A.

“This victory is a milestone in the defense of the constitutional rights of nature and the right to prior consultation in environmental issues,” says Vivian Idrovo, a lawyer with Alliance for Human Rights of Ecuador, who worked on the case. “For years, participation failed because it was controlled by powerful forces. Local people didn’t have the necessary time and information to participate adequately and felt pressured to favor the project to get basic services in exchange. We will continue to use the law to defend the Constitution, the rights of nature, and the communities.”

The court ruled that the Ecuadorian government violated the rights of nature and the communities’ right to prior consultation. The ruling pointed out that sharing information is not the same as consulting the communities and cited binding jurisprudence from the Constitutional Court of Ecuador. The court also reiterated that project proponents must refrain from efforts to divide the community and improper offerings of goods and services.

The Provincial Court of Imbabura also found that the Environmental Impact Assessment Study (EIA) submitted by the company had serious deficiencies, including the omission of information on endangered species, like the rediscovery of the long-nosed harlequin frog.

As a result, the court canceled the project’s EIA license and ordered the suspension of all mining activities in the area until the company meets prior consultation requirements and submits a new EIA and Environmental Management Plan.

In January, ELAW’s science team submitted an amicus brief to the court with an analysis of the project’s EIAs of 2014 and 2018. ELAW scientists pointed out several weaknesses, including that the EIAs failed to provide basic information on the estimated forest area to be removed, measures to manage hazardous wastes, and more.

“The ruling brought hope to the communities that the defense of constitutional rights could be achieved through the courts,” says Mario Moncayo, a lawyer who worked on the case. “This victory was possible thanks to the decades-long struggle of the people of Intag (comuneros and comuneras) who faced intimidation because of their work.” The struggle of the communities has been supported by numerous Ecuadorian organizations, including: Defense and Ecological Conservation of Intag (DECOIN), Ecuadorian Coordinator of Organizations for the Defense of Nature (CEDENMA), Alliance for Human Rights of Ecuador, and others. ELAW has collaborated with local advocates working to challenge mining in the area for more than a decade.

For more information, see:

Alianza por los Derechos Humanos Ecuador

Intag, la minería en un paraíso que mantiene en vilo a sus comunidades

Ecuador Court Upholds Rights of Nature, Blocks Intag Valley Copper Mine

Bern Johnson
Executive Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide

PHOTO: Atelopus longirostris. Long-nosed harlequin frog in Junín, Imbabura province, Ecuador. Photo by Luis Aurelio Coloma.