By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
The conflict with the local gold miners in the La Playa concession area in the province El Oro has been going on for years. Since 1986, 180 families had been engaged in small-scale mining in the area, and they were organised in a co-operative. In 1991, they made an agreement with Ecuanor that the rights to the area would be transferred in exchange for US$ 2,270,000, according to Ivonne Ramos in Accion Ecologica.
- The problem was that Ecuanor only paid parts of this amount, Ivonne Ramos says to NorWatch. She continues:
- The local gold miners took Ecuanor to court, but the company won. The local community considered this to be unfair, and Ecuanor hired a paramilitary group in order to protect their interests. The group has terrorized the area and put lives in danger. At one point, 100 hectares of forest, grass and fruit trees which the local community owned was burnt down by the company's people.
"Of course they are armed. If our guards have caused insecurity for the local population, we will discuss it. But it is incomprehensible for me that we are not supposed to enforce our right of ownership to an area which we have bought legally."
The chairman of Ecuanor's board, Jørn Eriksen, to the Norwegian News Agency (NTB) 12.05.1999.
- A conflict of interests
Last year, the Supreme Court judged that we have the rights to the area. After the judgement, the governor of the province sent the police to chase away the illegal gold miners. At the same time, we were told that we had to take care of security ourselves, and we hired a security company. Of course they are armed. If our guards have caused insecurity for the local population, we will discuss it. But it is incomprehensible for me that we are not supposed to enforce our right of ownership to an area which we have bought legally, says the chairman of Ecuanor's board, Jørn Eriksen, in an interview with the Norwegian News Agency (NTB).
Eriksen ascertains that the conflict in La Playa is a conflict of interests.
- The use of paramilitary groups is a growing problem in Latin America. It cannot be right that private companies use armed force, says Ivonne Ramos to NorWatch.
Along with a national umbrella organisation of indigenous people, a peasants' organisation and five other Ecuadorian organisations, Accion Ecologica has sent a letter to Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, in which the issue of La Playa is raised.
In the protest letter to Bondevik, the organisations also address the problem that Ecuanor's resident representative in Quito, Odd E. Hanssen, is also Norway's and Sweden's consul.
- This double role can be invidious, and it gives Hanssen a lot of influence in the country, says Ivonne Ramos.
Earlier protests against Ecuanor have been replied to by the Norwegian Embassy in Chile. Ramos says that the Embassy apparently bases its information solely on what Odd Hanssen reports, and Accion Ecologica asks for an investigation of Hanssen's activities in Ecuador.
Ecuanor not only receives criticism for its activities in the La Playa concession area. The conflict about the national park Poducarpus has not been solved, even though Ecuanor withdrew from the park in 1993 as a result of pressure from, among others, the Future in Our Hands. Accion Ecologica says that the company's illegal road construction, and the infrastructure it left behind in and around the park, has opened the park to the destructive activity of other gold miners.
- Ecuanor must take its part of the responsibility for the destruction which takes place in Poducarpus today, says Ivonne Ramos.
The last conflict mentioned during Accion Ecologica's visit, was the activities which threaten the river Gala, and which caused environmentalists and Indians to occupy the Norwegian Consulate in Quito in October last year (see NW 18/98 and 22/1998).
Norwatch Newsletter 8/99