The resistance to multi-national mining companies in Ecuador has recently become evident, while the companies continue singing the same old song about wanting to carry out sustainable opencast mining. The suggestion of sustainability in an activity such as the extraction of mining resources is questionable, to say the least.
To speak of sustainability implies that the resources we have today will be available for future generations, and bearing in mind that mining involves the use of non-renewable resources, there appears to be a clear contradiction between mining and sustainability.
Aware of this, the mining companies have made statements in which they suggest that sustainability is reached by ‘creating the greatest benefit for human beings through the extraction and use of minerals' and that by directing these benefits and the indirect and extrinsic effects of the metal mining operations to other non-mining economic activities, they will continue well beyond the mining project itself. ( ). The observant reader will notice that when referring to ‘benefit for human beings', they do not actually state who will reap these benefits and, moreover, this is a call to maintain extra-activist methods of development which have caused so much harm to both nature and to our people.
In the "Guiding Principles" of its paper ‘Towards Sustainable Mining' the Mining Association of Canada ( ) sets down a series of recommendations which bear no resemblance to the reality lived by those communities which have had to endure mining operations.
Proof that sustainable mining does not exist can be seen in the enormous environmental and social damage caused, particularly by opencast metal mining. One only needs to see the effects in devastated land, dried-up lakes, contaminated water, resources which have been destroyed or are in grave danger, forests which, together with the biodiversity characterising them, have disappeared and communities that have been crushed and impoverished.. As shown in various reports, the multi-national companies have operated in like manner in their own countries. ( ) A terrible example of this is the draining of Laguna Yanacocha in Peru to extract the gold from its interior and after which the community of the region became officially classified from ‘poor' to ‘very poor'.
There is also other evidence and this is the rule known as The Mining Moratorium Bill April 1998 (Statute 293.50) of Wisconsin, a traditional North American mining state. In order to obtain a permit, the mining company has to give an example of at least one similar mine in the United States or Canadian that had been operating for a decade and has been closed for a further ten years without causing pollution. The Bill includes specific criteria which must be complied with before considering the site, or sites, offered as examples of such mines In 2003, 50 mines were presented for consideration and all were rejected. ( ). As there are no cases of ‘sustainable mining', permits are simply not awarded.
If there is no such thing as sustainable mining, this should be clearly stated and taken into consideration before analysing any possible mining operations. Opencast metal mining in particular should be prevented in view of the serious threats it poses, and if the evidence from overseas is to be ignored, then precautionary steps should be taken so that in cases of reasonable doubt and lack of scientific evidence, one is obliged to adopt measures to protect both nature and human life. As they say in Europe, "if we are going to risk making a mistake, we should err on the side of protection rather than the side of destruction."
Edgar Isch López
( ) www.icme.org
( ) www.mining.ca/www/media_lib/TSM_Documents/principlessp1120.pdf
( ) Earthworks and Oxfam America, 2004. Dirty Metals. Mining, Communities and the Environment, is an excellent example of a report denouncing mining.
( ) IIED (2003). Opening a breach, mining, minerals and sustainable development. Abriendo Brecha. Minería, minerales y desarrollo sustentable. Final report.