Ecuador’s President Swears That Indigenous Groups Won’t Block Mining Projects

Ecuador’s president has dismissed environmental objections to the scaling up of mining projects, saying he cannot allow indigenous groups motivated by “political interests” to undermine the economy. economy of the Andean nation.

A few days after President Guillermo Lasso touted 30 billion dollars project, including 14 mining ventures, to foreign investors at an Open for Business event in Ecuador, the constitutional court sent a very different message. It invalidated the environmental permit issued for drilling in the cloud forest Los Cedros said without prior consultation with the local community.

This decision has provoked protests from the mining corridor. It threatens a major copper project being developed by Ecuador’s state miner Enami with Canada’s Cornerstone, and the uncertainty from it could affect other mining projects, affecting plans. Lasso’s economic recovery.

Lasso told the Financial Times in an interview that Ecuador’s mines of copper and other precious metals needed to be tapped to support the global energy transition away from fossil fuels, adding: “Self-denial this possibility is to negate the future development of the country and this government will not let that happen. ”

He said he intends to try to win public opinion by “explaining what this type of mining is, responsible and sustainable mining, and protecting the greater good of the majority of Ecuadorians above the main interest of the people of Ecuador.” of indigenous leaders who wanted to carry out a grassroots campaign that sacrificed the Ecuadorian economy”.

Ecuador’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic and has yet to fully recover. Citi estimates growth of 3% in 2021 and 1.5% in 2022. Lasso believes the numbers will be higher, but adds: “These are not numbers that make me happy or very happy because they are. I need stronger economic growth.”

President Guillermo Lasso delivers a speech at the Carondelet Palace in Quito

President Guillermo Lasso delivers a speech in August during a ceremony to appoint new civil servants at the Carondelet Palace in Quito © AFP via Getty Images

After scoring early successes with one of the fastest growing vaccination campaigns in the developing world, Lasso now faces an uphill struggle. His CREO party holds less than a tenth of the seats in Parliament and he has failed to form a stable governing coalition.

Presidential tax reform is only passed by default, after the expiration of the time Congress approves or rejects it. According to JPMorgan, a progressive measure that raises taxes on companies and the wealthiest Ecuadorians, it would increase GDP by nearly 1% in additional revenue.

Lasso now wants to pass a labor reform to make the country’s rigid employment laws more flexible and an investment promotion measure that facilitates public-private partnerships. The labor measure faced stiff opposition from former president Rafael Correa’s left-wing UNES bloc and the indigenous Pachakutik party.

“In January, we will introduce [the labour reform] for civil society and for Ecuadorian public opinion to have the widest possible debate among employer groups, trade unions, academics, politicians, and to gather all possible concerns to correct change the project and then send it, I’ll say in March, to Congress. to get approved,” Lasso said.

That task has been complicated by a very public spat between the president and Jaime Nebot, leader of the centre-right PSC party. After campaigning together, the PSC went bankrupt with Lasso when he first formed his government, and Nebot harshly criticized the president for failing to keep political deals.

That leaves Lasso dependent on Pachakutik for support but the indigenous party is divided and a fickle force in parliament. Its former presidential candidate Yaku Pérez formally accused Lasso of tax fraud after details of his offshore investments were published in Pandora Papers, prompting the Prosecutor General to initiate an investigation.

Lasso, a self-made millionaire, hit back hard after the Pandora revelations. He said he got rid of offshore investments in 2017 and survived an attempt by political opponents in Congress to impeach him. The coroner’s office also dropped an investigation because of a lack of evidence.

“This is a completely closed chapter,” Lasso told the FT of the impeachment effort. “It was born closed and it died because there was no motive for such an investigation.” He described Perez’s accusation as “ridiculous”.

But Lasso’s problems with governance “will not change for the rest of his term,” said Andrés Mejía, an Ecuadorian expert at King’s College London. “My feeling is it’s going to get worse. . . It’s a worrying sign that he’s disrupted the ability of a meaningful alliance so quickly. ”

Lasso also faces a serious challenge from worsening criminal violence, much of it related to drug trafficking. US Ambassador revealed this month that Washington has canceled the visas of some “drug addicts” in Ecuador and expressed concern about the extent of traffickers’ inroads into law enforcement.

Two massacre in prison In two months in facilities controlled by drug cartels claimed the lives of more than 180 inmates. Lasso said security is now his top priority.

“I will end this interview and [then] spend the two hours that I dedicate each day to strengthening SNAI, the agency that runs the prison system,” he said. “My big concern is security.”

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, said he was shocked after his recent visit to Ecuador by how serious drug crime had become.

“Ecuador has always been proud because it is not like Peru or Colombia,” he said. “But it has definitely joined the club, unfortunately. It was a big headache for Lasso.”

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