Resident Vote to Ban Future Mining Projects in Cuenca in Ecuador
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Resident Vote to Ban Future Mining Projects in Cuenca in Ecuador

Al Jazeera reported that as the results of this month’s presidential elections in Ecuador remain disputed, another important vote was held that could have wide

Al Jazeera reported that as the results of this month’s presidential elections in Ecuador remain disputed, another important vote was held that could have wide reaching implications for the South American nation. Residents of the Andean city of Cuenca and the county’s rural outskirts on February 7 voted to prohibit future large scale mining activities in five nearby watershed zones, an area that stretches over 3,100 square kilometers and is home to more than 580,000 people. Each of the five questions on the ballot received nearly 80% support in favor of the ban on mining for any metals, provincial authorities said on February 11, when the final count was released. But how exactly the vote results will be applied remains in dispute, as pro-mining unions and the city are deadlocked over what to do about mining projects that have already received the go ahead. The confusion is linked in part to a September 2020 ruling by Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, which reviews all ballot initiative requests under Ecuadorian law. The vote could complicate Ecuador President Mr Lenín Moreno’s efforts to expand Ecuador’s mining industry, including his administration’s goal of attracting USD 3.7 billion in new investments over the next two years.

Cuenca Mayor Mr Pedro Palacios told Al Jazeera “The result of the referendum is a reflection of what we as a city and as citizens have been seeking to do for a long time. It is now up to the Ministry of Environment and Water to approve the delineation of the five hydrological water systems that will be covered by the future mining prohibition, and update the municipality of Cuenca’s development and land-use plan.”

YASunidos Cuenca environmental group activist Paola Ortiz told Al Jazeera “What the results show is that Cuenca doesn’t want mining near their water sources nor in the Andean moorlands and forests. We don’t want foreign investment that destroys our sensitive and valuable ecosystems.”

Ecuador’s Constitutional Court had ruled in September 2020 that communities have the right to vote on whether to allow new large and medium sized mining projects in their areas. The decision followed a petition by the Ecuadorian city of Cuenca to allow a ballot referendum on mining near water sources, including near the Tomebamba, Machángara, Norcay, Yanuncay, and Tarqui rivers.

Cuenca is located in the province of Azuay, which is home to extensive reserves of gold, silver, and copper and several major mining projects, including SolGold’s Sharug project, INV Metals’ Loma Larga mine, and the Rio Blanco mine, owned by a consortium of Chinese companies. Throughout the Andes, river systems provide clean water for communities downstream from unique, high-altitude ecosystems called moorlands. About 30 kilometers west of Cuenca lies the El Cajas National Reserve paramos, the source of most of the city’s water. Currently, two mining projects near the reserve are in the exploration phase, though neither is extracting yet. Environmentalists have raised concerns the close proximity of these mines to El Cajas National Reserve could contaminate local water sources.

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