By Harald Eraker
On 19 October, around 40 peasants and activists occupied the Norwegian Consulate in the Ecuadorian capital Quito. The action was a protest against the Norwegian mining company Ecuanor's prospecting for gold in the Azuay province (see NorWatch no.18/98).
The occupation resulted in a brutal police action against the activists, an action which is now having a sequel. A letter from the environmental organisation Accion Ecologica to Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik protests strongly against the dual role of the Norwegian and Swedish consul-general Odd E. Hanssen in the country:
"We would like to ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, how it is possible for a member of the Norwegian and Swedish Diplomatic Corps to be responsible for environmental devastation, and to threaten the livelihood and food security of these communities, and the sustainable way of life of present and future generations."
"We DEMAND that the responsible authorities take the necessary action and impose sanctions against Mr. Odd Hanssen, who has violated the fundamental and collective rights of various communities in Ecuador."
Letter dated 30.10.98 to Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik from the environmental organisation Accion Ecologica in Ecuador.
The letter to Bondevik addresses both past and present activities, which in Accion Ecologica's opinion violate the human rights of the Ecuadorian constitution.
Firstly, it is referred to Ecuanor's prospecting for gold in the Poducarpus National Park in the early 1990s. The national park, which is situated in the Loja province in the southern part of the country, and stretches from the Amazon rainforest to the Andes mountains, is rich in species, including endangered species.
The national park also has an important function as a water reservoir for the population in the dry, surrounding areas. Ecuanor's plans of an open-cast mine in the park therefore faced massive opposition:
"In 1993 Ecuanor finally left the Poducarpus National Park because of protests from local organisations and ecological groups. But the company's road construction and work base opened the national park to gold miners, and it is therefore directly responsible for the environmental damage which took place, and is still taking place, in Poducarpus National Park", writes the environmental organisation.
Ecuanor in Ecuador
Ecuanor SA in Ecuador is fully owned by the Norwegian stock exchange registered mining company Ecuanor ASA. Over the past 10 years, the company has been prospecting for gold in Ecuador, and it holds about 20 concessions in the country. Ecuanor SA is led by the Norwegian consul-general Odd E. Hanssen, who is resident in Quito.
Accion Ecologica now thinks that Ecuanor is about to repeat its environmentally hazardous activity:
"Ecuanor once again acts against 17 farming communities in the Azuay province, threatening the livelihood of more than 25,000 people in the area. The mining activity they have started will affect the Gala river, the only clean water source of these communities. Furthermore, (the activity) will affect an area of high biodiversity, including the Protected Forest Molleturo-Mollopungo, which plays an important role in the area and in the entire country...".
There seems to be confusion about whether Ecuanor's activity is going on within the Protected Forest. The manager of Ecuanor's head office in Kristiansand, Øyvind Midtbø, says that there is only a proposal to establish a Protected Forest in Molleturo-Mollopungo.
- We have requested maps and documents of the Protected Forest from Fundation Natura, the largest environmental organisation in Ecuador. They have given us a map where the Gala river is outside the protected area. We have no further documentation so far, but it seems that Fundation Natura has had a meeting with INEFAN (the mining authorities in Ecuador) and decided that the river is to be removed from the protected area, says Gloria Chicaiza in Accion Ecologica to NorWatch.
"We would like to ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, how it is possible for a member of the Norwegian and Swedish Diplomatic Corps to be responsible for environmental destruction, and threaten the livelihood and food security of these communities, and the sustainable way of life of present and future generations."
Letter dated 30.10.98 to Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik from the environmental organisation Accion Ecologica.
The protest letter to Prime Minister Bondevik also addresses the police violence against the peaceful occupation of the Norwegian Consulate in Quito, which also serves as Sweden's Consulate in Ecuador. Accion Ecologica describes the background for the action taken by the local population, environmentalists, and representatives of indigenous groups, against the Consulate, and condemns consul-general Hanssen for calling the police:
"We want to protest against this violation of the human and collective rights established in the Ecuadorian Constitution, and question the role of the present Norwegian and Swedish Consul in Ecuador, Mr. Odd E. Hanssen, whose personal mining interests are jeopardising his diplomatic role in our country."
The environmental organisation ends its letter by asking Bondevik to interfere in the following way:
"We DEMAND that the responsible government take the necessary actions and impose sanctions against Mr. Odd Hanssen, who has violated the fundamental and collective rights of various communities in Ecuador."
Copies of the letter to the Norwegian Prime Minister have also been sent to the Minister of Development and Human Rights, Hilde Frafjord Johnson, and also to several ministers in Ecuador, to the commission of human rights in Ecuador, and to the Swedish Prime Minister.
Adviser Katja Nordgaard at the Prime Minister's Office confirms that Bondevik recently received the letter from Accion Ecologica, and informs that it will soon be replied to.
- It is regrettable that activists were injured at the Consulate. But this is a matter and a responsibility of the Ecuadorian authorities, says Nordgaard, and points out that the issue is under consideration.
Norwatch Newsletter 22/98