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Weekly Report - 27 February 2020 (WR-20-08)

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Ecuador’s top court rejects anti-mining consultation

Ecuador’s mining sector as well as the government led by President Lenín Moreno will have breathed a collective sigh of relief on 21 February when the constitutional court (CC) rejected a request by the prefect of Azuay, Yaku Pérez Guartambel, to stage a referendum on whether the province should be declared a mining-free zone.

If the CC had accepted that a local referendum could be held on a matter of such national importance it would have opened a can of worms for the Moreno administration as other provinces would have followed Azuay’s lead. An unfavourable ruling would also have jeopardised the government’s fiscal commitments as mining is a major source of foreign direct investment (FDI) and economic growth in Ecuador.

Pérez represents Pachakutik, the political arm of Ecuador’s largest umbrella indigenous organisation Conaie which led last October’s uprising over fuel subsidies. In September last year Pérez went to the CC in order to present legal arguments to back up his demand for a popular consultation on mining, but the magistrates turned it down. His second attempt, presented last month, which was similar but provided two, more detailed, questions, was unanimously rejected.

The CC concluded that the two questions contained within the proposed consultation did not comply with “constitutional parameters” to provide voters with the requisite clarity to make a free decision. It also resolved that the cancellation of mining licences that had been previously awarded would “affect the constitutional right to juridical security”.

The ministry of energy and non-renewable resources issued a statement saying that the CC ruling reaffirmed its commitment to upholding rights and was in the national interest. Pérez, meanwhile, responded to this latest setback by saying that he was at pains to understand how “a genuinely democratic initiative” could be “blocked by the mining empire”. But he is promising not to give up the fight. Pérez said that he would pursue “action at a national and international level”. He did not elaborate upon what this would entail, but he has previously suggested he might push for a national consultation, which could increase the number of provinces in which mining would be prohibited.