Take physic, pomp

CONAIE, herding cats and mining protests


So Ecuador’s new mining law is finally with the Congresillo, the lawmakers have until January 9th (my sister’s birthday, you’ll be fascinated to know) to get the job done and the protests are about to start.
  • Protests from Studmuffin that the treehugging NGOs try to stop Ecuador from moving forward, don’t care about their country and don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • Protests from the treehugging NGOs that use phrases like “rape of the land” and talk about cyanide being deliberately thrown into streams by mining companies cos they like watching fish die.
  • Protests from Canadian investors that just want out of Ecuador once and for all, never want to hear the name of that country mentioned in polite conversation etc, but don’t want out enough to sell now and take a loss….the lure of the three bagger keeps their greed alive.
  • But most of all, protests from the people that really matter, namely the people who live where the mines will be built. IMHO the others above don’t matter a jot, but I have all the time in the world for the people whose lives would be affected by any project going forward. However, that change might be positive or negative, depending on many different aspects. The protests will be anti-mining and pro-mining from these people. Worth thinking about, no?
If you follow this ongoing saga, tomorrow you’ll hear about the CONAIE protests over mining, especially open pit mining, that are due to take place around the country. But trying to put a single tag and a single voice to Ecuador’s indigenous pressure groups, community councils and associations is like herding cats. CONAIE is a national umbrella group for dozens of smaller groups, and each of the smaller groups has its own agenda. There are indigenous groups that are pro-mining, there are anti-mining groups, there are those with a neutral stance. There are groups that live hundreds of miles away from mining projects that shout loud. There are those that live 200 yards from the front gates with soft voices. Towns and villages that sit next to each other in the jungle region have differing views. Basically a real hotch-potch.

So how to make sense of what is going on? Otto suggests the following:

1) Listen to the view of associations and groups closest to any mine or mining project. The people that really matter are the ones that have to live with any development. There are local groups that oppose all forms of mining (e.g. those around the Ascendant Copper/Mesa Copper project) amd there are other locals in different places that support the proposed local projects (e.g. around the Corriente Resources Mirador project). Moral; listen to the local, not the national view. That’s exactly what the Correa government will do.

2) Don’t make the mistake of thinking these people know little or nothing. There’s a latent racism about the way that both pro-mining and anti-mining groups seem to think “well, they don’t understand..all we need to do is explain our point of view to the ignorant locals and they’ll see the light.” Big mistake guys; the ignorants in this case are the foreigners, not the local indigenous.

3) Consider it this way; if somebody told you they wanted to build a big mine three miles from your front door and then told you the benefits of the project, and then the next day some other person knocked on your door and told you to oppose with all your strength the big bad miners that were about to poison your children and rape the land….then these two groups left you to chat with your neighbours for six months or so…and you lived in a place with a very strong sense of community…and that place had intelligent, caring people who find out about both sides of the story….and you had community meeting after community meeting on the subject…and you were a normal human being who can weigh evidence and come to a decision…..and you acted as a democratic society, respectful of other views. After a while I’m willing to bet serious money that you’d be very educated about mining, know both sides of the story inside out and know all the pros and cons of the situation. So what makes you think that the people of Ecuador are any different to you, gringo?

4) Regard CONAIE as a sophisticated political machine, because that’s exactly what it is. Its continued existence means that it is constantly compromising between different wings with differing views inside its organization. This means it perfected the art of the compromise a long time ago (otherwise it wouldn’t exist any more) and is, at heart, a political party that will move and shake the same as any other regarding its agenda. “The art of the possible” most definitely applies in CONAIE politics and amongst its leaders.

5) Don’t believe either Mining Watch (or similar anti-mining NGO) or any mining company when either says something along the lines of “The indigenous in Ecuador support us and here’s the signature of the leader to prove it.” Be a sceptic about either side’s claims until you find out who supports them. The key to any support should always be “the more local the better”. If one side has the national committee on its side and the other has the local association, it might sound counterintuitive but go with the locals even though the group may be 20 times smaller.

The bottom line might shock’n’surprise, but fact is that Ecuador’s indigenous community is already well-educated about the pros and cons of mining and will decide for themselves what’s good for them. Quite right, too. Those espousing the view that all development is bad and it would be better for all those quaint brown people to live as savages forever are an insult to the intelligence and are as racist as those who would oppress for profit. Those espousing capitalism as the way, the truth and the light need to explain why the system won’t concentrate all the rewards in very few hands and screw up Joe Ordinary the same way as the current situation playing out in the USA.

You’re dealing with a culture that was around hundreds and even thousands of years before the conquistadores arrived and in that time invented a decimal system, invented the suspension bridge, build roads thousands of miles long, built overground and underground aqueducts, understood the concept of cross pollenation to produce better crops, worked gold, silver, copper etc, and had an ordered society that lived in harmony with its surroundings. Underestimating smart people is the job of a moron.

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