José Tendetza should have been in Lima, Peru
last week at the climate change talks as one of the powerful
Indigenous voices speaking about the destruction that the
mining and energy agenda of countries like Canada is bringing
upon his and many other communities in the Global South.
José Tendetza was a Shuar Indigenous community leader from
Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador who
refused to give up his land for the
illegal gold and copper Mirador project currently under
construction. Now in the hands of the Chinese consortium,
CRCC-Tongguan, this project belonged to the Vancouver-based
junior mining company Corriente Resources until August 2010.
CRCC-Tongguan still has a subsidiary in Vancouver.
On December 2, a group of mine workers found Jose’s body
tied up with a blue cord in a tributary of the Zamora River.
According to Indigenous Shuar leader Domingo Ankuash, police
photos provide evidence that he had been tortured. Tendetza had
been missing since November 28 and his body was buried before
the family had even been notified of his death.
The police first alleged that he died in a fishing accident.
Then the government said that he was likely strangled. José’s family and friends do not believe either
of these stories and are calling for a full, impartial and
independent investigation with international support, while raising
concern about increasing violence in connection with the
development of this project, including two other Shuar mine
opponents killed since 2009, Bosco Wisum and Fredy Taish.
This is not the first time that there has been violence in
connection with the Mirador project. In late 2006, when the
project was still owned by Corriente Resources, community
members protesting the project faced violent state repression
along with two journalists and a national congress member. The
congressman was kidnapped, tied up, and subjected to inhumane
treatment from soldiers on company property, which was reported
to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
These events led to the project’s suspension and a
constitutional decree should ultimately have led to its
cancellation. But, at least in part due to the
“tireless” efforts of the Canadian Embassy in Ecuador, the
law in Ecuador has never been fully applied to the project.
According to a constitutional-level “Mining Mandate” passed by
Ecuador’s National Constituent Assembly in 2008 – that still
remains in effect — the
Mirador project should have lost most or all of its mining
concessions for overlapping with water supplies and
protected natural areas, and for lack of prior consultation
with affected Indigenous and campesino (peasant) communities.
But when the Mandate was issued, the Canadian Embassy worked
hard on behalf of this and other companies to ensure that it
did not affect their projects and that they had a privileged
seat at the table in writing a new mining law.
Numerous complaints and challenges continue to be raised about
this project, including at a hearing before the IACHR in
Washington D.C. this October, which José Tendetza and other
Ecuadorian community leaders attended. The Ecuadorian
government did not attend.
Canadian authorities could have weighed in on these complaints,
but chose not to. In July 2013,
a group of Ecuadorians from affected communities filed a
petition against the Mirador project with the Canadian
National Contact Point (NCP) for the administration of the OECD
Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The Canadian NCP
refused to consider serious allegations, including forced
displacement and lack of free, prior and informed consent of
Indigenous communities. After delaying a year, it published an
initial assessment of the complaint, announcing that it would
not proceed, saying that the allegations were not
substantiated. The NCP provided no detailed explanation, nor
did it ever ask complainants for additional input, although it
spent months in discussions with the company. If Canada had
acted on this complaint, it could have helped diffuse and
de-escalate growing violence and repression in Ecuador.
José Tendetza did not have to die. The Canadian government was
aware of the tensions and could have acted.
However, as long as the state of impunity surrounding big
mining projects like this one persists with support from Canada
and the “host” states alike, the conditions for this and many
other acts of violence and destruction will continue. Whether
Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Tanzania, South Africa, or Papua New Guinea, the list of bloodied
Canadian mining projects runs long.
need an independent Ombudsman in Canada with enhanced
powers to investigate and sanction companies that fall out of
line, along with guaranteed access to Canadian courts for
mining-affected communities. However, this will only respond to
harm already being done. In order to actually prevent harm from
occurring, the Canadian state must stop helping create the
problem through its wilful, wanton, and unconditional promotion
and facilitation of mining projects around the world.