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Mirador Mining Project

Tundayme Parish, Quimi Parish, El Guismi Parish, El Pangui City, Zamora Chinchipe Province, Ecuador
Updated on 3 November 2020.
Located in one of the most biodiverse areas in southern Ecuador, the Mirador mining project is operated by Ecuacorriente S.A., a company owned by CRCC-Tongguan, which is in turn jointly owned by China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) and Tongling Nonferrous Metal Group (TNMG). The project presents several problems. First, Ecuacorriente attempted to dispossess indigenous peoples of their land rights by mining without their consent. Second, serious environmental issues have been reported, including improper handling and discharge of waste and pollutants during road construction, inadequate management of solid waste in the camps, and lack of treatment of contaminated water at the mine. Finally, the company failed to fully comply with environmental and labour regulations. Local communities are asking for the full and permanent suspension of the project.

Basic Information

Chinese Name: 米拉多铜矿
Location: Tundayme Parish, Quimi Parish, El Guismi Parish, El Pangui City, Zamora Chinchipe Province, Ecuador
Type of Project: Extractive (copper, gold, and silver)
Project Developers: Ecuacorriente S.A. (ECSA), a subsidiary of CRCC-Tongguan, which is jointly owned by Tongling Nonferrous Metal Group Holdings Co., Ltd. (TNMG) and China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC)
Main Contractors: China Enfi Engineering Corporation, a subsidiary of China Minmetals Corporation
Known Financiers: China Development Bank
Cost: The total investment expected for the Mirador mining project is 2,015 million USD. Around 1,052 million USD was invested between 2010 and 2018. For 2019, the programmed investment was 167.8 million USD, but until the third quarter of the year only 148.3 million USD had been invested. Between 2020 and 2023, 236.9 million USD are expected to be invested.
Project Status: Operational

Project Outline

The Mirador mining project is one of five strategic mining projects in Ecuador, and the first large-scale open-pit mining project in the country’s history. It is located in the parishes of Tundayme, Quimi, and El Guismi, in southern Ecuador, at 1,000 metres above sea level in the Condor mountain range. This is an area that the Ministry of Environment considers to be a forest and vegetation protected area as it houses 16 different ecosystems, 4,000 species of plants, and between 300 and 400 species of algae. The project covers a total area of 6,685 hectares, and it is estimated that within this deposit there are 3.18 million tonnes of copper, 3.39 million ounces of gold, and 27.11 million ounces of silver. Its productive life is estimated at 30 years.

Founded in Ecuador in 1999, Ecuacorriente S.A. was originally owned by the Canadian company Corriente Resources Inc. In May 2010, after having verified the company’s estimates regarding the deposits in the Condor mountain range, a consortium composed of Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group (TNMG) and China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC), both state-owned companies from China, acquired 96.9% of the total shares of Corriente Resources Inc. Less than two years later, in March 2012, the Ecuadorian government signed a contract with Ecuacorriente S.A. for the Mirador mining project. Initially, CRCC and TNMG each held 50% of the project, but in 2015, CRCC sold 20% of its shares to TNMG, leading to the latter acquiring a controlling stake of 70% in the project. Ecuacorriente S.A. has attempted to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their land rights by mining on Indigenous land without their consent. According to the Ecuadorian Constitution (Art. 254) and the Constitutional Court Ruling No. 001-10-SIN-CC, this is illegal. The company has also allegedly forcibly evicted Indigenous peoples and farmers in the Tundayme community. In addition, local workers have been victims of mistreatment, unlawful dismissals, and mining accidents, some of which were fatal. Although the company has been repeatedly sued in court by the local communities, all these petitions have been rejected so far.

The Mirador project area in 2018. Credit:

Project Impacts

  • Employment & labour rights: In 2015, the company announced that the mine would generate around 2,800 new jobs. However, labour relations within the mine have been marked by conflict. Strikes broke out in 2014 and 2016. Fatal accidents have also been reported at the work site.
  • Environment: The construction of the project required deforestation of at least 1,300 acres between 2009 and 2017, but the concession planned to deforest 9,000 acres in total. Deforestation on the slopes and high rainfall cause mass movements, with the sediments converging to the springs and contaminating water sources. According to the local communities, water can no longer be used for agriculture and livestock activities, even less for human consumption. 
  • Land: Three collective evictions in 2015 and 2016 resulted in more than 30 families losing their houses, pastures, and areas of crops that were their only means of subsistence.
  • Local community: The violent process of expropriation, forced sale, and enclosure of land has resulted in the loss of livelihoods for the peasant and Indigenous populations, leading to economic dependence on the mining company. It has become impossible for the local communities to maintain the agricultural and livestock activities that made up their means of livelihood and an important part of their food sovereignty. Also, given the lack of relocation policies, evictions have meant the loss of living spaces and great economic difficulty for local people. Many of the evicted families have been forced to pay rent or request help from relatives. 
  • Governance: The environmental monitoring and audits carried out by Ecuacorriente S.A. between 2015 and 2017 for the exploitation and benefit phases of the Mirador project occurred without authorisation from the Ministry of Environment. The Ministry of the Environment was also blamed for failing to exert control over the company between 2016 and 2019.

In 2012, the project was awarded to Ecuacorriente S.A. That same year, two precautionary measures were presented under the constitutional mining mandate, which orders the termination of mining concessions that affect water sources and protected areas, as well as those granted without prior consultation to the communities. However, these requests were denied. Between 2013 and 2014, the Mining Regulation and Control Agency, at the request of Ecuacorriente, started several processes of mining easements—a legal mechanism based on the use of a property to carry out mining exploration and exploitation activities—that affected various families in local communities.

On 15 May 2014, Ecuacorriente arbitrarily and illegitimately destroyed the church and school of the San Marcos community. The same year, as a result of this violence and the attacks experienced over the years, a group of people from different communities in the Tundayme Parish established the Amazon Community of Social Action Cordillera del Cóndor (CASCOMI), which the government recognised as an Indigenous community in August. Since CASCOMI is an Indigenous community, their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) on activities that affect their territory should have been respected, as stated in the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989.

In May 2014, 150 workers peacefully took over the Mirador camps due to disagreements with the company regarding salary issues, and the Ministry of Labour had to intervene to solve the problem. In 2016, heavy machinery haulers went on strike for four days, claiming that they had not received their wages for six months, which resulted in the company paying the wages to half the workers and firing all of them. In addition, several work-related accidents were reported, some of which resulted in death. The latest occurred in September 2019, causing the temporary suspension of the project as problems were recorded with regard to occupational health and safety policies.

To take possession of the territory needed for the project, Ecuacorriente S.A. began negotiating the purchase of peasant properties. However, not all of the owners agreed, so the company resorted to easements and later asked the government to evict them—two mechanisms envisaged by the current Mining Law. In 2015, the communities presented precautionary measures to prevent evictions, but they were denied. In September the same year, company workers along with police and private security forces from Ecuacorriente evicted 16 families from the San Marcos community, destroying their houses. CASCOMI presented another precautionary measure to avoid more evictions but, once again, the judge denied the measure and in December 18 more families located on the road to Condor were evicted. Another eviction of the remaining Shuar population took place in 2016. In total, over 30 families were evicted, losing their houses, pastures, and areas of crops that were their only means of subsistence.

There are concerns about pressures exerted by the company in relation to the mine. A press release published in 2019 by the Ecuadorian Ombudsman denounced the harassments carried out by the company Ecuacorriente S.A. against the community members of CASCOMI. The same press release also denounced that Mr Wang Zinan, Special Advisor for Government Relations of the company, sent repeated emails to the Ecuadorian Ombudsman’s Office in an attempt to interfere with their work.

 In 2020, the General Comptroller conducted a special examination of the project, which concluded that irregularities occurred between July 2013 and September 2019. The report says that between 2009 and 2016, the mining activities of Ecuacorriente affected the Wawayme, Tundayme, and Quimi rivers by exposing them to metals and minerals. In the same period, the Ministry of the Environment requested a new study from Ecuacorriente, which was delivered in October 2018 and confirmed the high concentrations of metals in the three rivers. The General Comptroller also detected a lack of control by the Ministry of the Environment, since between 2016 and 2019 the Ministry did not require the company to take ‘corrective actions’, thus putting local communities that use the river at risk. Also, the Comptroller’s report determined that the environmental monitoring and audits carried out between 2015 and 2017 by Ecuacorriente regarding the exploitation and benefit phases of the project were conducted without authorisation from the Ministry of the Environment. This lack of oversight meant that, until the closing of the special examination in September 2019, the environmental performance of the Mirador project was unknown and measures aimed at environmental repair, restoration, and remediation were not applied. The Comptroller’s Office recommended to the Ministry of the Environment that it present a proposal to correct the technical and economic needs.

In January 2020, Ecuador exported its first ever shipment of 22,000 tons of copper concentrate from the Mirador mine. It was shipped to the Chinese city of Tongling, one of China’s most important copper production bases and TNMG’s place of origin, to supply TNMG’s smelting production.

In-depth Sources

  • Acción Ecológica and Investigación Acción Psicosocial. 2017. ‘The Open Wound of the Condor.’ Investigación Acción Psicosocial website, June. Link.
  • Bermúdez, Andrés. 2019. ‘The Indigenous People of the Ecuadorian Condor Do Not Want Copper.’ Gkill City, 4 July. Link.
  • Bermúdez, Andrés. 2019. ‘Indigenous Communities Take Legal Action over Ecuador’s Largest Mine.’ Dialogo Chino, 4 July. Link.
  • Figueroa, Isabela. 2018. ‘Evictions under Development: A Case Study of the Mirador Mining Project in Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador.’ Scielo website, June. Link.
  • Granizo, María Paola. 2019. ‘The Health Minefield.’ Salud y derechos website, November. Link.
  • Ning, Hui. 2019. ‘How local communities halted a Chinese-owned gold mine in Ecuador.’ China Dialogue, 5 July. Link.
  • Plan V. 2019. ‘The Other Story of Mirador.’ Plan V, 2 July. Link.
  • Sacher, William. 2011. ‘Partial Critical Review of the “Environmental Impact Study for the Benefit Phase of the Mirador Copper Mining Project” of the Company Ecuacorriente, Ecuador.’ Derechos de la Naturaleza website, March. Link.

Updated on 3 November 2020.

Latinoamérica Sustentable (LAS) conducts research, raises awareness, develops advocacy tools, and promotes collaboration among NGOs in Latin America, China and other parts of the world. LAS is legally established as an Ecuadorian organization and works to protect the environment and local communities within the context of Chinese development finance in Latin America.