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.
We urgently 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.