News From the Cloud Forest

Land Speculation Threatens Reserve

Fraudsters and Land Speculators convince many to Invade Reserve to cash in on unheard of offers from new mining company.

I could start this new tale by stating that being a buffer area to national protected areas is becoming a tough job. There are so many factors involved that I hope to get them all in one short article.

In general the presence of international mining interests in Ecuador has been a disaster for the areas that interest these rapacious companies. With the new mining law that the World Bank imposed on Ecuador, that eliminated any percentage of product for the benefit of this country, that money has been employed to manipulate and divide the communities affected. Where elected governments have been opposed to this extractive industry, Mining companies have openly supported opposition parties during political campaigns. Where environmentalists have opposed mining projects they have been targeted for police harassment and intimidation. In all phases of project development money that should be paid to governments for mining privileges and obligations, these “investments” instead has been used undermine the local political process. In the case of Cotacachi, which has always been one of the poorest jurisdictions coupled with a recognized progressive participatory political process, this is an unjust situation. It is traditional in Ecuador’s politics that politicians receive payment from extractive industry and since this does not happen in this municipality these funds are employed to finance the opposition. Didn’t the World Bank have a campaign against corruption? Someone must have wolfed their witz.

When the mining companies lost the election they began to concentrate on the environmentalists and development agencies. A long campaign to deport any foreigners involved in conservation and debase local environmental organization DECOIN was instigated by both Ascendant Copper and a local gold mining company called Agroindustrial. Fortunately this was also unsuccessful but the groundwork was laid so that local communities began to ask why does not this conservation business give me a job.

Well I cannot answer that very well unless the public has an idea of what the long-range goals of conservation actually are. The public schools have done a very bad job of explaining this and actually still promote colonization as the answer to poverty.

The Ascendant Company began a process during their political interventions to finagle the purchase of land inside of their concession by any means necessary. This included offering large sums of money for anyone who could produce land title or something like it. Some corrupt topographers in league with some less than honest elements inside the Land Grant organization, INDA, began to invent owners who by perjuring themselves were able to produce the paper work for illegal title to be created and were paid by the company. I am sure that this arrangement benefited all.

Since this time these same corrupt people had been looking for a new area to benefit themselves with and unfortunately focused on this reserve. It is true that this reserve does not have a land title but this fact was manipulated to mean it did not have protected status either.

Now Lowell(US) mining company arrives on the scene and begins work with offering to purchase land that borders this reserve for 1.000$us a hectare. This price alone would have caused problems for conservation but combined with the presence of the veterans of the land grab in the Ascendant concession area it soon became a real problem.

The land grant agency is accustomed to making land grants of 100 hectares and so if you manage to get some land and sell it to Lowell you have the unbelievable opportunity to make 100.000$us. The temptation was too much for the poor who live in this area. Even people considered friends of the reserve signed up for the invasion of Los Cedros with the land speculators guaranteeing 100 hectares per person. Fistfights broke out between neighbors. Some one was assigned to get rid of me. And this operation was conducted in secret meetings that we had to infiltrate in order to find out what was going on.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the people who have showed unswerving resolve during this difficult time. First of all for financial support I have to thank the Rainforest Information Center, as always, Tim Metz for organizing rapid funding in this emergency and the Reserve Life Support fund run by Mika Peck. Not all the neighbors signed up to invade and notable was the support we received from Martin Obondo, Fausto Lomas, Marcelo Tufiño and Guillermo Farinago.

I want to thank the infiltrators who I will not name for their invaluable contribution of the information necessary to break up this criminal operation.

Today we are waiting for an investigation to be published by the Ministry of Environment, Ibarra, which was able to interview even some participants who confessed the names of the corrupt government and private individuals behind this operation.

Once published this investigation can be used to prosecute and this option will be perused. I would also like to thank the people from Mindo and Junin who provided human support during the dangerous phase of this emergency by their presence here in the reserve.

Especially I would like to thank our neighbor Julio Espinso for his unwavering commitment to protecting this reserve. His courageous presence was of invaluable help.

So that is it for now.

I will be back with the new blog to let you know about our price increases soon. Wages have to go up in this world.

José DeCoux
Director Ejecutivo
Fundacíon Los Cedros