forced displacements and archaeological destruction by the mega-mining project Mirador in the Ecuadorian Amazonia.
There is a war going on over Amazonia. This is a conflict for the appropriation of the forest’s underground territory, which is as rich in mineral commodities as the forest’s aboveground is rich in fauna and flora. This is no even battle. It is disproportionally fought by powerful corporations in collision with state agents against local indigenous and peasant communities who stewardship the land and from the land make their livelihoods.
This investigation examines the case of Project Mirador, a mega-mine development led by Chinese corporation Ecuacorriente in the region of the Cordillera del Cóndor, Shuar ancestral territory, one of the most biologically rich regions of the Amazon basin.
For Project Mirador to be implemented, indigenous and peasant communities have been expropriated of their lands and evicted from their homes. Vast swaths of forests and numerous indigenous archaeological sites have been destroyed.
These multiple forms of violence – social, cultural, ecological – are intimately tied to the ways global extraction industries are appropriating indigenous lands across South America and beyond.
Mining, illegal or legal, is widespread throughout Amazonia, happening at both small and large scales. It is estimated that mining concessions covers 21% of the total surface of the Amazon basin. This is equivalent of imagining a territory over twice larger than Spain, predominantly formed by primary forests and innumerable freshwater streams, completely zoned for extraction – a mega-mine operating on planetary scale.
Mining blocks often overlap with demarcated and non-demarcated indigenous territories, communal lands and ecological reserves, generating conflicts over land and water with local communities. According to the project Environmental Justice Atlas, there current exists at least 56 water and land conflicts related to mining in the Amazon basin.
Mining concessions cover about 11% of the Ecuadorian territory. They are mainly concentrate in the southern flank of the Amazon region. These concessions are in conflict with indigenous territories and protected ecological reserves.
This massive push in the mining frontier in Ecuador is driven by several projects of “mega-mining.” Three of them – Mirador, San Carlos-Panantza, and Frutal del Norte – are situated next to each other in region of the Cordillera del Cóndor mountain range in Shuar ancestral territory, south of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Raúl Sanchez, a former resident of the region of Tundayme, shows the site of his parents house along the Cóndor road, which was demolished by state forces in December 2015.
Dispossession & Displacement
enclosures and forced evictions caused by project Mirador
In order to control the territory of the mining concession, the company Ecuacorriente used obscure procedures and intimidating tactics to divide communities and force them to leave their lands. This occurred with the connivance and direct support of the Ecuadorian State, which was instrumental to remove the population in two main ways: on the legal front, by making use of juridical mechanisms to expropriate land and persecute land and nature rights defenders; and on the territory, by deploying security forces to evict families that refused to abandon their land.
Dispossesion by Deception
Testimony of Carlos Cajamarca
The Destruction of San Marcos
Testimony of William Uyawari
Sattelite image of the Mirador mining area in 2013, before the systematic evictions.
Satellite image of Mirador mining area in 2019, showing the mining pit and extraction infrastructures over location of forced displacements.
The destruction of San Marcos was the first of a series of violent evictions conducted by state and private forces between 2014 and 2017, which affected at least 27 families between shuar, kichwa and mestizos throughout the region.
On 30 September 2015, at dawn and without prior notice, police officers and security guards of the company Ecuacorriente carried out an eviction against 13 families in San Marcos and on the El Cóndor road, at the margins of the Tundayme River. Equipped with guns and bulldozers, they destroyed their homes, edible gardens and hen houses, forcing elderly, women and youth to flee without place to go.
Weeks latter, on 16 December 2015, another violent land-clearing operation was conducted across the area. Once again at dawn and without prior notice and judicial order, state and private security forces and evicted more 14 families. Similar to the displacements of September, all the houses were destroyed in front of the families as a way of terrorizing them and preventing their return.
The last evictions took place on 13 May 2016 against the shuar family Tendetza-Antún in the community of Yanua Kim, and latter on 04 February 2017 against Rosario Wari and her son, by that time the last residents of the area.
Construction of the tailing dams in the former site of the San Marcos village, January 2016.
deforestation and water contamination caused by Project Mirador
Sitting at the frontiers between the Andes and Amazonia, the Cordillera del Cóndor region functions as an “ecological bridge” between different highland and lowland climatic ecosystems. This condition gives these montane tropical forests a high degree of species diversity and endemism. The Cordillera del Cóndor is considered one of the planet’s most important yet least-known biological refuges. Given its “mega” dimensions, the Mirador mine will have widespread environmental impacts on these fragile ecological system as a whole.
This satellite image shows the site of Project Mirador in 2013, after the destruction of the village of San Marcos and prior to the forced evictions of 2014-2017. At this moment the company Ecuacorriente was initiating the construction of the extraction complex, and few infrastructural works are visible. Most of the families alongside the Tundayme and Wawayme rivers still lived in the area.
This satellite image shows the mining site in 2018, after the violent evictions of 2014-2017 that depopulated the area. The territory changed dramatically as vast tracts of forests were completely destroyed. The mine infrastructure occupies a much larger space, the tailing dams and the crater are in advanced stages of construction.
Carlos Tendetza-Antún and his mother, with an ancient ceramic pot encountered in their garden.
destruction of indigenous archaeological heritage
In addition to the expulsion of local communities and massive deforestation, mega-mining operations are also destroying hundreds of indigenous archaeological sites in the Cordillera del Cóndor region. The geographic mapping of these sites shows that they form a very large and dense archaeological complex that extends throughout valleys of the Wawayme, Tundayme and Quimi rivers. This ancient heritage is now completly gone to open land for extraction.
Several archaeological sites are located inside the mining concession area. The few sites that went through carbon tests show a concentration of dates between 800 and 1300 AD. According to one archaeological study, this allows to infer “a period of greater occupation” in this interval, just prior to the invasion of European colonizers. The communities that lived in this region were therefore the near ancestors of the Jivaroan peoples.
Documentation of the petroglyph found in archaeological site Z6DIII-020 before its destruction. An investigation commissioned by Ecuacorriente in 2006 identified a large petroglyph in this area. This study concludes by recommending a modification in the original project of the mine to “avoid the destruction” of the petroglyph and its adjacent archaeological structures, which included more than 30 terraced structures. These recommendations were ignored. In a field inspection conducted by the Ecuadorian National Institute of Cultural Heritage (INPC) in 2017, researchers found that the petroglyph had been “partially destroyed.”
This report was produced under commission of INREDH (Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos) and CASCOMI – (Comunidad Amazónica de Acción Social Cordillera del Cóndor Mirador), within the framework of a protection action filed against the Ecuadorian State (Ministry of Mining, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of the Environment, ARCOM - Agencia de Regulación y Control Minero) and the company Ecuacorriente for the violation of collective rights of the communities of the Cordillera del Cóndor. Our research counted on the invaluable collaboration of Geografia Critica Ecuador and Acción Ecológica.
Realized by autonoma, MediaLab-UFRJ and Forensic Architecture
Coordinator: Paulo Tavares
Research and Mapping: Adriano Belisário and Ana Altberg
Web Design: Marlus Araújo
Video: Camara Shuar
Ecuador: La herida abierta del Cóndor Vulneración de derechos,Quito: El Chasqui Ediciones, 2017.
CEDHU (Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos) and FIDH (Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos). Intervención Minera a Gran Escala en Ecuador y Vulneración de Derechos Humanos. Quito: 2010.
William Sacher and Michelle Báez, ENTRETELONES DE LA MEGAMINERÍA EN EL ECUADOR. Quito: Acción Ecológica, 2015.
Gloria Chicaiza,El Enclave Minero de la Cordillera del Cóndor. Quito: Acción Ecológica, 2010.