How locals halted a Chinese-owned gold mine in Ecuador

Shortly after driving through the beautiful mountains, lakes and grasslands of Ecuador’s Cajas National Park, Elizabeth Durazno and I reached the first road to the Rio Blanco gold mine. Elizabeth, who hails from the village closest to the mine, frowned at the piece of wood propped up in our path.

She lowered her voice to complain: “We built that road ourselves. Now the mining company is blocking it. We don’t even have the right to use our own road…” She and I stopped by the roadblock and a man emerged from a nearby hut. I’m not sure if he was a mining company employee, but perhaps he recognised her. Without speaking he removed the pole and allowed our car to enter.

She spoke proudly as we travelled up the steep mountain road: “We made our own checkpoint before they did.” The first one was built in May 2018, by the villagers of San Pedro de Yumate on the other road to the gold mine. “Mining company vehicles are not allowed to pass,” the village head had declared.

As you travel higher in the Andes, the climate changes. Rio Blanco, up in the mountains, enjoys cloudless days. San Pedro de Yumate, lower down, has the humidity and precipitation of a rainforest.

It rained constantly that day in San Pedro de Yumate, with the water gathering in muddy puddles. The original roadblock was still in place, with a guard hut not yet finished beside it. A slogan on a nearby wall could easily have been missed: “Against the terrorist state accomplices of the mining transnationals!”

Another slogan at the entrance to the mountains was more visible, and decorated with a skull: “Mining pollutes water and infringes sovereignty – China out!”

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