Report

UNDERMINING RIGHTS

Indigenous Lands and Mining in the Amazon

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Case Studies

This section provides brief summaries of the six case studies of mining on indigenous lands in the research countries. Each case study summary includes the findings of literature reviews, and a geospatial analysis of mining and forest cover change on the indigenous lands.

Bolivia: Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park

This case study highlights the importance of strategic alliances among different indigenous peoples to effect change. In Bolivia, the Mojeño, Yuracaré, and Chimán indigenous peoples joined efforts to effectively press the government to suspend the construction of a road that would cause environmental damage and open their lands to unwelcome development, including mining. The construction of the road remains on hold.

box 5.1 | Overview and Principal Findings: Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park

  • In May 2011, the Bolivian government approved financing by the Brazilian National Bank for Economic and Social Development (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social, BNDES) for the construction of the Villa Tunari–San Ignacio de Moxos Highway through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (Tipnis).
  • The Mojeño, Yuracaré, and Chimán indigenous peoples of Tipnis participated in several marches and protests. Their efforts paid off when, in October 2011, Tipnis was, by law, declared an “untouchable” area halting the construction of the road and stopping all industrial development, including mining.
  • In April 2013, Bolivia’s president announced that the road would continue to be on hold for a three-year period until extreme poverty in Tipnis was eliminated.
  • In August 2017, a new law was passed that annulled the “intangibility” status of Tipnis and reopened the possibility of the road being built. Given the ongoing controversies over the road, however, the government again decided to put the project on hold.
  • Nearly 3,800 hectares of forest cover in the indigenous lands, roughly 0.8 percent of its total area, were lost between 2000 and 2015. This contrasts sharply with the significant forest loss immediately outside Tipnis, especially on the southern border of the indigenous lands.

Sources: WRI authors.

The Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park, also referred to as Tipnis, is located between Chapare Province (Cochabamba Department) and Moxos Province (Beni Department) in central Bolivia’s Amazon region. Tipnis was established as a national park in 1965 (Law Decree Nº 07401) and covered 1,091,656 ha.49 The national park is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world and is home to the Mojeño, Yuracaré, and Chimán indigenous peoples. In 1990, Tipnis was also formally recognized by decree as an indigenous territory (SERNAP 2020). As a national park, the land and natural resources must be used and managed in ways that are consistent with the conservation objectives of the protected area.

In August and September 1990, indigenous peoples from Beni Department in the northeast (Bolivia’s second-largest department) marched from Trinidad, the capital of Beni, to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital. The “March for the Territory and Dignity” aimed to make the government aware of the needs of the indigenous peoples in lowland Bolivia. Indigenous peoples from Tipnis and those from other parts of the country joined the march. The march was a seminal moment for elevating indigenous issues in the country and led to several changes.50 Following the march, Tipnis was expanded to incorporate the entire lands of the Mojeño, Yuracaré, and Chimán indigenous peoples (Supreme Decree Nº 22610). Then in 1997, Tipnis was legally established as an indigenous reserve that recognizes the land as the collective property of the indigenous peoples (Community Land of Origin) (SERNAP 2020). Through the Regulation of Supreme Decree Nº 22610, Tipnis was declared an inalienable, imprescriptible, unattachable, and indivisible area.

On May 7, 2011, however, the Bolivian government approved a project with funds from the Brazilian National Bank for Economic and Social Development (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social, BNDES) for the construction of the Villa Tunari–San Ignacio de Moxos Highway (Law Nº 112).51 The 360-km road would connect the Departments of Cochabamba and Beni and be constructed in three sections. The second section of the road would cross Tipnis and divide the national park and indigenous territory in two (Achtenburg 2017).52

According to the government, the road would integrate the country’s two regional centers and improve the lives of the people living there by bringing development to this remote part of the Bolivian Amazon. The main indigenous bodies and trade union organizations in western Bolivia supported the road, saying it would benefit the integration of the country and help fight poverty.

The road, however, was opposed by many lowland Amazonian indigenous peoples, including those living in Tipnis. They denounced the road, arguing it would destroy the Tipnis ecosystem and open it up to mining, logging, and other natural resource exploitation. Their position recognized the established synergies between infrastructure and extractive resources. In their effort to stop the construction of the road through their lands, the Tipnis indigenous people were taking a preemptive measure to protect their lands from mining, logging, and other unwelcome developments. In 2011, the Bolivian Institute for Strategic Research (Fundación para la Investigación Estratégica en Bolivia, PIEB) found that the road would increase access to the territory for illegal loggers, farmers, and others, accelerating deforestation. Specifically, PIEB found that the construction of the road would cause deforestation of 64 percent of Tipnis within 15 years (PIEB 2011; Tipnis Bolivia 2012, 2019; Collyns 2017).

On August 15, 2011, Tipnis’ indigenous people joined another march of more than 500 mostly indigenous people from Trinidad to La Paz demanding that the government halt the construction of the second section of the road. The march and other collective actions opposing the road were organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East (Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas del Oriente Boliviano, CIDOB), as well as other NGOs, former senior government officials, opposition politicians from the region, and other concerned citizens (Delgado 2017). During the march, other social sectors of the eastern region that traditionally shied away from the indigenous movement also expressed their opposition to the road (Canelas and Errejón 2012).

The government sought to promote dialogue, but opposition to the road construction grew and the protests turned violent. More than 100 indigenous people were attacked and beaten by the police. These beatings came to be known as the “Chaparina Massacre.” Toward the end of October 2011, the government reached an agreement with representatives of indigenous communities. A new law was enacted which declared Tipnis an “intangible” (untouchable) area. This designation meant that settlements and de facto occupations of persons from outside the indigenous territory were prohibited in the area (Law Nº 180). Mining, industrial agriculture, and other developments were also prohibited. Further, the new law established that the Villa Tunari–San Ignacio de Moxos Highway and any other proposed roads, could not cross Tipnis. As a result, road construction was suspended.

In April 2013, in the run-up to the 2014 presidential election, the president announced that the road would continue to be on hold for an estimated three-year period until extreme poverty in Tipnis was eliminated. But in August 2017, a new law was passed that annulled the “intangibility” status of Tipnis and again opened the possibility for the road to be built (Law 969). According to the government, the primary beneficiaries of the new law would be the Tipnis indigenous people, whose basic service and infrastructure needs could not be met if the area remained “intangible.” Indigenous Tipnis leaders, environmental activists, and allied civil society organizations, however, argued that only a few indigenous people living near the proposed road would benefit from the services. Most indigenous people lived in remote river villages, located “two days by water or three days by trek” from the proposed road (Achtenburg 2017; Telma 2017a, 2017b).

Figure 5.1 | Deforestation (2000–15) and Legal and Illegal Mining Areas in the Vicinity of the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (Tipnis)

Sources: Data from RAISG 2016, 2018c, 2018d, 2018e, 2019c, modified by WRI and RAISG authors.

The government stated that it had reached out to 69 Tipnis indigenous villages and that 58 villages consulted with them over the road. It claimed that 57 of the 58 consulted villages asked it to repeal Law Nº 180, and that 55 of the villages supported the construction of the road (Opinión 2017). The consultation process, however, has been widely criticized by opponents of the road and by national and international observers. Even the government’s human rights ombudsman concluded that the process failed to allow for free and informed consultation (FIDH and APDHB 2013). Given the controversies, the government decided again to put the project on hold.

In the indigenous lands, nearly 3,800 ha of forest cover was lost from 2000 to 2015, roughly 0.8 percent of its total area, with the vast majority of the loss occurring along the territory’s southern border (Figure 5.1). Other parts of the territory saw little forest loss. Legal and illegal mining is taking place near Tipnis lands, especially on its western border. There has been considerable forest loss immediately outside Tipnis from 2000 to 2015, especially on its southern border. This forest loss appears to be linked to agriculture and/or logging. The forest loss just outside Tipnis is not just an indication of the pressure on the indigenous land and national park but of the effectiveness of the measures used by the indigenous people to protect their lands from these pressures of deforestation.

Brazil: Yanomami Park

This case study highlights the extent of illegal mining in some indigenous lands in the Amazon. Despite considerable efforts by the Yanomami and Ye’kwana indigenous peoples, which have put their lives at risk, illegal mining is widespread on their lands. To date, government efforts have also failed to halt illegal miners from entering and conducting operations in the Yanomami territory. In recent years, the number of illegal miners has increased, and the operations have become more sophisticated.

box 5.2 | Overview and Principal Findings: Yanomami Indigenous Land

  • Mining is not legally possible on indigenous lands in Brazil. However, there are today perhaps 20,000 illegal miners operating on Yanomami lands.
  • The Yanomami and their supporters have led national campaigns, called for international media attention, and received support from NGOs, but these efforts have not halted illegal mining on their lands.
  • The government is responsible for monitoring and overseeing mining but, to date, has not curtailed illegal mining on Yanomami lands.
  • Inactive mining concessions and illegal mining areas overlap with about 55 percent of the indigenous lands.
  • Over the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015 about 7,000 ha of forest cover were lost in the Yanomami lands, a significant amount although a relatively small percentage (0.07 percent) of the large Yanomami territory. While some of this loss may be linked to agricultural or forestry activities, much of the forest loss is likely associated with the illegal mining operations.
  • Outside the Yanomami territory, there was significant forest loss between 2000 and 2015, especially to the east but also on the southern border.

Sources: WRI authors.

The Yanomami are the largest indigenous group in South America, living in northern Brazil and southern Venezuela (Plummer 2015; Survival International 2019, 2020).53 In Brazil, the Yanomami, together with the Ye’kwana indigenous people, live on 9,665,000 ha of land in the states of Roraima and Amazonas with a perimeter of 3,370 km (Decree of May 25, 1992), an area that is twice the size of Switzerland (Figure 5.2). The Yanomami territory extends into Venezuela, and the Yanomami and Ye’kwana peoples have been caught in the middle of escalating tensions between Brazil and Venezuela.54 Approximately 35,000 Yanomami and Ye’kwana live in around 250 to 300 villages, some of which are uncontacted55 and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of mining and other developments.

A gold rush in the late 1980s and early 1990s brought approximately 40,000 illegal miners (garimpeiros) onto Yanomami lands. This influx of miners led to an increase in conflict and violence, the spread of diseases such as malaria, and poisonings from the use of mercury in gold mining. These and other factors led to a 20 percent decline in the Brazilian Yanomami population (Survival International 2020).

On May 25, 1992, following national and international campaigns denouncing the illegal miners, the government of Brazil demarcated the Yanomami lands as Yanomami Park (Decree of May 25, 1992).56 Many illegal miners and other outsiders were evicted from the territory by the army, police, and FUNAI. In 1993, however, a group of illegal miners entered the village of Haximú in the Yanomami territory and murdered 16 Yanomami. The police arrested several people, and the Brazilian courts found five miners guilty of genocide (FUNAI 2019; Survival International 2020).

To protect the Yanomami territory from illegal miners, the army established four monitoring bases—Base of Ethno-environmental Protection (Bases de Proteção Etnoambiental, BAPE)—on site and along the territory's largest rivers, the Mucajaí and Uraricoera, the main entrances to the territory (ISA 2019). It also posted warning signs along the territory boundary.

The bases discouraged some illegal miners from entering the territory. Thousands of illegal miners, however, continued operating in the Yanomami territory, cutting down forests, polluting rivers, and putting indigenous lives at risk (Branford 2019b). Between 2008 and 2012, the Yanomami as well as local and international organizations continued to protest the illegal invasion of their lands by gold miners and request the government to evict the miners (Survival International 2008, 2010, 2012).

Illegal mining was underway in many parts of the Yanomami’s lands, and inactive large-scale mining concessions overlapped with much of the Yanomami territory. Today, there are perhaps 534 mining concessions that overlap with the Yanomami’s lands (ISA 2019) although no mining concession is labeled as active by the government. The mining concessions and illegal mining areas overlap with about 55 percent of the indigenous lands (Figure 5.2). Over the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015 about 7,000 ha of forest cover was lost in the Yanomami territory, a significant amount although a relatively small percentage (0.07 percent) of the large Yanomami territory. While some of this loss may be linked to agricultural or logging activities, much of the forest loss is likely associated with the illegal mining operations. Outside the Yanomami territory, there was significant forest loss between 2000 and 2015, especially to the east but also on the southern border (Figure 5.2).

By the end of 2018, three of the four monitoring bases were closed. The government attributed these closures to budget constraints. The closures resulted in another influx of illegal miners (ISA 2019). Today, according to Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa, about 20,000 illegal gold miners work three open-pit gold mines in the Yanomami territory (Branford 2019b; Survival International 2019). Many of the illegal miners are not typical ASM operations but rather well-financed, sophisticated operators. These miners are backed by entrepreneurs who pay them, give them shares of production, and equip them with dredges, heavy earth-moving equipment, as well as airplanes to bring supplies in and take the gold out. The miners have built three airstrips and have even set up a village in the Yanomami territory (Branford 2019b).

Between 2017 and 2019, another 1,174 ha of forest were lost due to gold mining in the Yanomami territory, with deforestation reaching about 500 ha in 2019 (Finer and Mamani 2020). And between October 2018 and March 2020, a total of 1,926 ha of forest was degraded by illegal mining (ISA 2020). In a recent survey, forest loss in the Yanomami territory ranked tenth among all indigenous lands in Brazil (ISA 2019). The miners are polluting the rivers with mercury and silt, eroding the riverbanks, cutting down the forest, scaring away the animals that the Yanomami hunt, and destroying fish stocks. They are also inciting indigenous women into prostitution and spreading diseases. Recently, the government expelled the missionaries and medical teams that were providing services to the Yanomami. The presence of the miners in the Yanomami territory has also again increased conflicts (Branford 2019b).

Despite the Yanomami’s pleas to stop the exploitation of their lands, the government has not expelled the illegal miners from their territory (Branford 2019b). FUNAI’s budget has been cut, making it difficult from a human and financial resource perspective to stop illegal mining in the Yanomami territory and, more generally, to enforce the range of laws designed to safeguard indigenous peoples and protect indigenous lands.

On July 3, 2020, however, the Regional Federal Court for the First Region (Tribunal Regional Federal da 1ª Região, TRF1), one of the most powerful judicial bodies in Brazil, ruled that the government’s ministries of defense, justice, and environment must draw up within five days a comprehensive emergency plan to stop the spread of COVID-19 into the Yanomami Park and remove the 20,000 invading miners. The judge further decreed that the administration must effectively monitor the park’s boundaries once the miners are evicted. The emergency measures must be implemented within a 10­­-day period following the announcement of the plan (Branford 2020). It is unclear whether the plan has been developed and implemented.

Figure 5.2 | Map of the Yanomami Park Showing Areas of Legal and Illegal Mining and Deforestation between 2000 and 2015

Sources: Data from RAISG 2016, 2018c, 2018d, 2018e, 2019c, modified by WRI and RAISG authors.

In May 2019, in compliance with national court mandates and acknowledging that illegal mining has damaged the region’s ecosystem as well as the life and integrity of the Yanomami, Yek’wana, and isolated peoples who live in the Yanomami Park, FUNAI announced the reopening of the monitoring bases in 2020 (it was not possible to confirm whether the bases have been actually reactivated). The bases are considered a first step to stopping illegal mining in the Yanomami territory—a way of blocking river access for illegal gold mining. Additional actions by the army, Federal Police, Roraima Public Security Secretariat, IBAMA, and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office would likely be needed to halt illegal mining in the Yanomami territory (FUNAI 2019; Pontes 2019).

Colombia: Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park

This case study shows the extreme measures that some indigenous peoples will take to protect their lands from mining. The Yaigojé Apaporis Reserve was a formally recognized indigenous territory, but when a mining company requested a concession on the indigenous lands, the Yaigojé Apaporis people requested the government establish the reserve as a national natural park where mining is prohibited. In doing so, the indigenous people forfeited some of their land use and management rights.

The original Yaigojé Apaporis Reserve is located in the lower Apaporis River basin in the Departments of Amazonas and Vaupés in southern Colombia. The reserve was declared an indigenous territory in 1988 and encompassed 518,320 ha (Resolution 035 of 1988). Ten years later, in 1998, the then Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform (Instituto Colombiano de la Reforma Agraria, INCORA) doubled the size of the reserve to 1,020,320 ha (Resolution 006 of May 11, 1998).

Based on Decree 1088 of 1993, the Yaigojé Apaporis indigenous people are governed by two traditional authorities—the Association of Indigenous Captains of Yaigojé–Apaporis (ACIYA) and the Association of Indigenous Captains of Yaigojé Apaporis Vaupés (ACIYAVA).57 The ACIYA and ACIYAVA represent the 19 indigenous communities—about 1,600 people—that live in the reserve. The community members are from several ethnic groups, including Tanimuca, Letuama, Macuna, Yauna, Yujup, Cabillari, Gente de Día, Tuyuca, Majiña, and Gente de Leña.

In 2007, Cosigo requested a gold mining concession from the Colombian government in the La Libertad mountain range within the Yaigojé Apaporis Reserve. Yuisi, a waterfall—among the most sacred sites for the indigenous peoples of the region—is within the proposed concession area.

box 5.3 | Overview and Principal Findings: Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park

  • By law, mining is not allowed in national natural parks in Colombia.
  • In 2007, Cosigo Resources Ltd. (hereafter Cosigo), a Canadian mining company, sought a gold mining concession within the Yaigojé Apaporis Reserve.
  • In response, the Yaigojé Apaporis indigenous people asked the government to declare their lands a national natural park. In 2009, the Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park was established.
  • Two days after the national natural park was established, the government’s Department of Mining Services granted a mining concession to Cosigo inside the park. The concession was quickly terminated after the National Parks Unit demanded its cancellation in compliance with the law.
  • Several lawsuits by Cosigo followed and, in 2015, the Constitutional Court of Colombia ordered the suspension of all mining exploration and exploitation activities in the park.
  • There has been limited forest loss in the Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park before and after the park was established. In the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015, the nearly 1.06-million-ha park lost 4,200 ha of forest cover, less than 0.4 percent of its total area. Following the creation of the park in 2009, deforestation dropped in the period 2010 to 2015 from the previous 10 years.
  • This contrasts sharply with deforestation outside the Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park. One active mining concession on the eastern boundary of the park shows some deforestation. There is also significant deforestation near the northern and southern borders of the park, with some deforestation on the southern border linked to illegal mining along a river. Other rivers north and south of the park are also affected by deforestation.

Source: WRI authors.

National law in Colombia allows the government to grant mining concessions on indigenous lands, including indigenous reserves, although it prohibits mining in national parks.58 In response to Cosigo’s request for a concession on their lands, ACIYA leaders, on March 17, 2008, requested that the Colombian Ministry of Environment establish the Yaigojé Apaporis Reserve as a national natural park. The government supported this request. Changing the status of the Yaigojé Apaporis Reserve and its forests to a national natural park would strengthen the protection and conservation of the land and eliminate, at least legally, the threat of mining.

The first steps in creating a park include informational meetings between the Special Administrative Unit of the National Natural Parks System (Unidad Administrativa Especial del Sistema de Parques Nacionales Naturales, UAESPNN) (hereinafter, National Parks Unit) and the ACIYA to discuss the ramifications of creating such a protected area, followed by negotiations and the signing of an agreement59 between the parties to establish a system of co-management. The parties agreed the park would have a Special Management Regime (Constitutional Court of Colombia 2014) consisting of a set of rules and procedures to coordinate implementation and monitoring of the use, control, and administration of the land and natural resources between the National Parks Unit and the ACIYA. It was also agreed that the management of the park would be based on traditional knowledge and understanding of the forest.

While most of the indigenous peoples living in the Yaigojé Apaporis Reserve agreed to the creation of a national natural park, the indigenous communities of Taraira opposed its creation. The Taraira communities argued that the establishment of the park would curtail some of their land rights and park personnel would have some authority over how their land is used and managed (Decision Nº T-384A/14; Revista Amazonas 2016). For example, the use of minerals and other natural resources in the park for commercial purposes would be prohibited, limiting the economic and livelihood opportunities of the indigenous peoples (Article 34, Mining Law, 2014). In order to protect the rights, culture, integrity, and autonomy of the communities, the National Parks Unit and the ACIYA developed a proposal for a consultation process involving the 19 indigenous communities living in the reserve.60 In July 2009, consultations were conducted with 12 out of the 19 indigenous communities and, based on the discussions, it was decided to create the park.61

After the National Mining Agency (Colombian Agencia Nacional de Minería, ANM)62 confirmed that there were no mining concessions within the reserve, the Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park was legally recognized (Revista Investigare 2013) and formally created on October 27, 2009 (Resolution No. 2079 of 2009).63 The park was extended to 1,055,740 ha (Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia 2020) to include the entire area of the indigenous lands.

Two days after the park was created, however, ANM granted a mining concession to Cosigo inside the park (Figure 5.3).64 The concession was quickly terminated after the National Parks Unit demanded its cancellation in compliance with the law.65 In response, Cosigo sued the government alleging breach of contract. ACIYAVA, on behalf of the Taraira communities, also sued the government over the creation of the Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park, alleging the lack of prior information and consultation, and that the park affected the autonomy of the indigenous peoples.

In 2015, the constitutional court ruled that the consultation process requirements had, in fact, been met and thus no rights were violated.66 The court also ordered the suspension of all mining exploration and exploitation activity linked to any type of mining title granted in the park. Following the court ruling, the Taraira communities joined the other communities in support of the park.67 In August 2015, however, Cosigo filed for arbitration at the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), a subsidiary body of the United Nations General Assembly (UNCTAD 2020). The matter is still pending.

There has been limited forest loss in the Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park before and after the park was established. In the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015, the nearly 1.06-million-ha park lost 4,200 ha of forest cover, which equates to less than 0.4 percent of its total area (Figure 5.4). Following the creation of the park in 2009, deforestation dropped in the 2010–15 period from the previous 10 years (Figure 5.4).

This contrasts sharply with the deforestation outside the park. Most of the eastern boundary of the Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park is also the international border between Colombia and Brazil. One active mining concession in Colombia on the eastern boundary of the park along the border with Brazil shows some deforestation. There is also significant deforestation near the northern and southern borders of the park, with some deforestation on the southern border linked to illegal mining along a river (Figure 5.3). Other rivers north and south of the park are also affected by deforestation. On the Brazilian side, the border region is blanketed in inactive mining concessions with little deforestation.

Figure 5.3 | Map of the Yaigoje Apaporis National Natural Park Showing Areas of Deforestation between 2000 and 2015 and Legal and Illegal Mining Areas

Sources: Data from RAISG 2016, 2018c, 2018d, 2018e, 2019c, modified by WRI and RAISG authors.

Figure 5.4 | Area of Deforestation for Each Five-Year Increment from 2000 to 2015 within the Yaigojé Apaporis National Natural Park

 

Sources: Based on data from RAISG 2016, 2018c, 2018d, 2018e, 2019c, modified by WRI authors.

Ecuador: Shuar Indigenous Lands

This case study highlights the importance of indigenous people being formally recognized by the government as indigenous and holding a title to their customary lands, even if formalization is not required for legal recognition. It also provides an example of a government establishing an easement on indigenous lands for industrial mining purposes, and the adverse impacts easements can have on indigenous people and other local communities.

box 5.4 | Overview and Principal Findings: Shuar Indigenous Lands

  • In March 2012, the government of Ecuador granted several mining concessions to a Chinese mining company, EcuaCorriente S.A. (ECSA), that overlapped with peasant farmer and Shuar indigenous lands.
  • At ECSA’s request, the government established several mining easements on indigenous and farmer lands, and the landholders were forcibly evicted.
  • In February 2018, the Amazon Community of Social Action Cordillera del Cóndor Mirador (Comunidad Amazónica de Acción Social Cordillera del Cóndor Mirador, CASCOMI), an organization established by those affected by the mining, sued ECSA arguing that the mine was developed on ancestral lands and that the evictions were conducted violently and without prior and informed consultation.
  • Lower courts ruled in favor of ECSA and the government on the grounds that CASCOMI did not represent indigenous peoples since it also included nonindigenous farmers. A final appeal is currently being prepared for the Constitutional Court of Ecuador, the country’s highest court, and before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).
  • The indigenous lands that overlap with the Mirador concessions—the Tundayme and Area Del Proyecto De Desarrollo land—are composed of many separate plots of land that collectively total more than 12,000 ha. Overall, the Tundayme and Area Del Proyecto De Desarrollo lands lost about 260 ha of forest cover over the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015, about 2 percent of the total area. Much of the forest loss occurred in the concessions.
  • Forest loss increased nearly twofold from the period 2005 to 2010 to the period 2010 to 2015. This corresponds to the time the Mirador project was approved and operations began.

Sources: WRI authors.

Mirador is the first large-scale mining project in Ecuador (RAISG 2019b). Despite local resistance, on March 5, 2012, the government signed a mining exploitation contract with EcuaCorriente S.A. (hereinafter ECSA), a Chinese company (Spurrier 2012). The company was granted several concession areas in the Amazon, in the Cordillera del Cóndor, parish of Tundayme (El Pangui Canton, Zamora-Chinchipe Province). This is a particularly sensitive area due to the high frequency of earthquakes, rich biodiversity, and high level of endemism.

It is also the land of the Shuar indigenous people (Investigación Acción Psicosocial et al. 2015). The Shuar are one of the largest indigenous peoples in the Amazon, with between 35,000 and 40,000 people living mainly in the southeastern provinces of Ecuador (Carvalho 2019). Today, they hold many separate plots of land, including several that now overlap with ESCA concessions (Van Teijlingen et al. 2017).

Mirador is planned as an open-pit copper mine that will extend to 115 ha. There will be two waste dump sites of 75 ha and 47.9 ha, and two tailings facilities of approximately 56.6 ha and 312 ha in size. The processing plant will eventually occupy an area of 20 ha (Chicaiza 2010). The parish of Tundayme has an estimated 3.18 million tons of copper reserves, along with 3.39 million ounces of gold and 27.11 million ounces of silver. Mirador began producing copper on July 18, 2019 (Llangari 2019).

Various social and environmental problems have plagued Mirador from the start of the project. A main issue is the forced evictions of Tundayme residents, including many indigenous people. In addition to the concession area, ECSA needed additional land to facilitate operations, including land that was held and used by Mestizo peasant families and Shuar families and communities.68 Many peasant families refused to sell their land to ECSA either because they did not want to leave, the price ECSA offered was too low, or ECSA did not agree to relocate the families elsewhere. Similarly, the indigenous people resisted making their land available to the mining company. In response, and despite court rulings against easements on indigenous lands (see Legal Review), the company requested the government’s Agencia de Regulación y Control Minero (Mining Regulation and Control Agency, ARCOM) to establish mining easements on the needed land. The easements—justified for a “public utility” purpose—allowed the mining company to occupy and “temporarily” use the land for its operations. Since 2013, 47 mining easements have been established.69 As a result, ECSA is now “the largest landowner in Tundayme” (Sánchez-Vázquez 2016).

Forced evictions from the mining easements started in May 2014 in the town of San Marcos in the parish of Tundayme70 and continued through December 2016. Private ECSA security personnel, together with the police and military, facilitated the evictions. These initial evictions directly affected 116 Shuar and Mestizo peoples (32 families) living in Tundayme and Güisme parishes (REPAM 2019b).

Affected and concerned peasant families and Shuar indigenous people formed the Condor Mirador Association (Asociación Condor Mirador, ACM) to address the land conflicts and advocate for the collective rights of those affected by the mining operations. Later, to strengthen its efforts, the association was registered with the government as CASCOMI (Warnaars 2012; Sánchez-Vázquez 2016). In August 2014, the government formally recognized CASCOMI as an indigenous organization. The Tundayme residents noted that even though the mine was in early stages of development and operation, its impact was already visible. The region’s mountains were being carved up, forests were being lost, and rivers were already contaminated and discolored by runoff from the mine.

The indigenous lands that overlap with the Mirador concessions—the Tundayme and Area Del Proyecto De Desarrollo lands—are composed of many separate plots of land that collectively total more than 12,000 ha (Figure 5.5). Overall, the Tundayme and Area Del Proyecto De Desarrollo lands lost about 260 ha of forest cover over the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015, which equates to about 2 percent of the total area. Much of the forest loss occurred in the concessions. Forest loss increased nearly twofold from the 2005–10 period to the 2010–15 period (Figure 5.5). This corresponds to the time the Mirador project was approved and operations began.

Figure 5.5 | Area of Deforestation (total ha) for Each Five-Year Period between 2000 and 2015 within the Tundayme and Area Del Proyecto De Desarrollo Indigenous Territories That Intersect with the Mirador Mining Concession

 

Sources: Data from RAISG 2016, 2018c, 2018d, 2018e, 2019c, modified by WRI authors.

In June 2015, CASCOMI requested the national court to issue an injunction to stop the evictions as a precautionary measure to protect the indigenous peoples from losing their lands. The request, however, was denied on the grounds that there was neither urgency nor irreparable damage to the territory. Shortly thereafter, in September 2015, another 16 communities were evicted from their homes by the national police force and ECSA’s security personnel. Residents who refused to leave were physically, sometimes violently, removed. Houses and other property were damaged or destroyed in the process. The communities were not relocated, and in some cases their belongings were not returned to them. In December 2015, another 10 communities in the Via del Cóndor, in the parish of Tundayme, were evicted in a similar manner. On May 13, 2016, eight families of the Shuar community, Yanua Kim, were evicted from their land by ECSA’s security personnel who used heavy machinery to destroy crops and clear the land. Later, when the rains came, the homes of the evicted families were flooded.

In February 2018, CASCOMI sued ECSA and the government, arguing that Mirador was developed on ancestral land, the evictions were conducted violently and without prior and informed consultation, and the compensation for the land lost as a result of the easements was fixed and not negotiated with ARCOM. The law does not require ARCOM to negotiate the amount of compensation, although it does require ARCOM to carry out a conciliation hearing between the miner and the property owner to reach an agreement on the establishment of easements (including the price). The lawsuit was supported by the Panamazonic Ecclesial Network (Red Eclesial PanAmazónica, REPAM) and the Regional Advisory Foundation for Human Rights (Fundación Regional de Asesoría de Derechos Humanos, INREDH). Lower courts ruled in favor of ECSA and the government on the grounds that CASCOMI did not represent an indigenous community (despite being recognized by the government as an indigenous organization in 2014). The courts also argued that there was no collective title that demarcated indigenous lands in Tundayme and, therefore, the community did not have the right to prior consultation. The decision was based on a report ordered by the judicial authority to clarify the nature of CASCOMI. That report noted that while CASCOMI included indigenous peoples, it was not an indigenous organization because it also included nonindigenous peasant families.71

CASCOMI appealed the decision, but in June 2018 the court again ruled in favor of ECSA and the government. A final appeal is currently being prepared before the Constitutional Court of Ecuador, the country’s highest court, as well as before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). To create international pressure on ECSA and the government, indigenous leaders have also discussed the case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, DC, and at the United Nations in Geneva when it reviewed China’s human rights record.

Figure 5.6 | Map of Indigenous Territories, Mining Concessions and Areas of Deforestation between 2000 and 2015. The Mirador Mining Concessions Are Outlined in Black

Sources: Data from RAISG 2016, 2018c, 2018d, 2018e, 2019c, modified by WRI and RAISG authors.

Guyana: Patamona Indigenous Lands

This case study highlights the fact that some indigenous peoples in the Amazon mine their land for commercial purposes. Indigenous mining operations must meet the same social and environmental safeguards as all other miners. In this case in Guyana, indigenous mining operations are conducted with the approval of traditional leaders, meet the interests of the community, and allow for indigenous people to capture important mining benefits.

box 5.5 | Overview and Principal Findings: Patamona Indigenous Lands

  • Many residents of Campbelltown, who are primarily Patamona indigenous people, mine their land. The indigenous miners have been encouraged by their leaders to find innovative ways to reduce the impact of mining (e.g., El Dorado Initiative on responsible mining), while also increasing production and profits.
  • Like other Patamona villages in Guyana, Campbelltown has requested an extension of its 2006 land title arguing that the title does not include the full extent of its customary lands. The view among coastlander miners (miners from the coast of Guyana) and dredge owners, however, is that the Patamona indigenous people are applying for an extension to gain control of additional mining tracts.
  • In the nearly 6,000-ha Patamona lands, 96 ha of forest cover was lost over the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015, about 1.6 percent of the area with the most recent time period (2010 to 2015) showing the greatest net loss.
  • Some deforestation has occurred on the Patamona indigenous lands outside the three mining concessions. This forest loss is likely linked to the artisanal and small-scale miners operating on the land with the permission of the village council.

Sources: WRI authors.

Mahdia is a gold and diamond mining town of just over 4,000 people in the Potaro-Siparuni region in Guyana, approximately 200 km from Georgetown, the nation’s capital. The town has a history of mining beginning in the late 1800s. Near Mahdia lies Campbelltown, the customary lands of the Patamona indigenous people, which was established in 1940. The lands, however, have been occupied by the Patamona indigenous people for a much longer time. Campbelltown is a recognized Amerindian village and home to about 1,000 Patamona people. The Patamona people of Campbelltown received a land title in 2006 and the land was demarcated in 2008. The land title covers a significantly smaller area than the Patamona people traditionally used and had requested from the government. Today, the Patamona people still hunt, fish, and gather materials in an area exceeding the boundaries of the existing title (Atkinson et al. 2018).

Mining is the principal source of income for Campbelltown villagers who either have their own operations on their indigenous land or work for mining operators in nearby Mahdia (Hilson and Laing 2017; Atkinson et al. 2018). There are three mining concessions in Campbelltown’s titled land72 and many active mining concessions surround the titled land (Figure 5.7). The Campbelltown indigenous people were not consulted about the mining concessions and did not give their consent—the three mining concessions on Campbelltown land predated the Amerindian Act of 2006 and the land title from 2006. Many of the artisanal and small-scale miners working on the land, however, are operating with permission from the village council and pay royalties to the council (Atkinson et al. 2018).

Over the past two decades, Guyana has experienced an unprecedented rise in gold production driven by small and medium-scale mining activity financed by people from the coast (hereafter coastlanders). Between 1995 and 2015, declared gold production increased by almost 500 percent, rising from 91,451 ounces per year to 451,490 ounces. While indigenous peoples in Campbelltown and elsewhere in Guyana’s interior are engaged in gold mining, many indigenous peoples in Guyana do not mine their land and do not want their land mined by third parties. As gold mining expands into the interior, conflicts have increased and escalated between indigenous peoples and coastlanders over control of indigenous lands with gold deposits (Hilson and Laing 2017). Gold mining operations by coastlanders often damage important cultural sites and destroy the local environment. Guyana’s draft REDD+ strategy identifies mining as the main driver of deforestation (Severino et al. 2019). The indigenous peoples argue that while coastlanders have benefited from mining their land, they have not significantly contributed to local development.73

Guyana’s gold mining economy is controlled by “a small group of wealthy elites with strong political connections” (Hilson and Laing 2017). As such, the few indigenous peoples in Guyana who do wish to mine their land often struggle to secure mining claims and extract the gold. Many of the interested indigenous peoples lack the information and political connections needed to obtain a mining license as well as the capital to acquire the mining equipment and supplies (Hilson and Laing 2017).

Guyana’s Amerindian Act of 2006 governs the recognition and protection of the collective land rights of indigenous peoples, including the rights of indigenous villages over lands titled to them by the government. The act also provides indigenous peoples—who are both recognized by the government as being indigenous and have a land title—the right of consent with respect to mining (non-petroleum) and forestry. These provisions of the act are, however, unevenly applied or enforced by the government.

Figure 5.7 | Map of the Campbelltown Indigenous Land Showing Areas of Legal Mining Concessions and Deforestation between 2000 and 2015

Sources: Data from RAISG 2016, Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission 2018, and Guyana Geology and Mines Commission 2016, modified by WRI and RAISG authors.

Across Guyana, indigenous peoples have used the act—often unsuccessfully—to title the full extent of their customary lands. While the Amerindian Act recognizes indigenous village lands, it does not provide for collective titles over the larger indigenous territories. For various reasons, including poor surveying, many existing indigenous land titles do not include all customary village lands (Cameron Ellis, personal communication, 2020). As a result, many indigenous communities—motivated by a wide range of cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors—have requested extensions to their currently titled lands (Joshua Lichtenstein, personal communication, 2020). The view among coastlander miners and dredge owners working in nearby Mahdia, however, is that some indigenous people in Campbelltown are using the Amerindian Act to apply for extensions to their existing lands to gain control of mining tracts and extract the gold themselves.

While mining, by its very nature, is environmentally damaging, Campbelltown’s indigenous miners have shown some willingness to practice mining in a way “that has minimum impact on the environment and is safe for people” (Guyana Times 2018). The indigenous miners have been encouraged by their leaders and other residents to find innovative ways to reduce the impact of mining, while also increasing production and profits. In September 2018, for example, Campbelltown’s leaders, miners, and other residents met with a group of organizations implementing the El Dorado—Responsible Mining for Guyana Initiative.74 Among other measures, the initiative seeks to reduce the impact of exploitation on forests and fresh water, eliminate the use of mercury from artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and rehabilitate mining sites (GEF 2017). More, however, needs to be done to ensure that small and medium-scale mining is less damaging to the environment and sustainable in the long run (Severino et al. 2019).

Overall, in the nearly 6,000-ha Patamona lands, 96 ha of forest cover were lost over the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015, which equates to 1.6 percent of the total area (Figure 5.7). The village lands experienced forest cover loss prior to the Amerindian Act of 2006 and then no loss between 2005 and 2010 (Figure 5.8). Forest was again lost, however, in the most recent time period of 2010 to 2015. In the 15-year period, a significant amount of forest was lost in two of the three concessions in the indigenous lands as well as in other parts of the indigenous lands. Many artisanal and small-scale miners operate on the lands with the permission of the village council (see above), although RAISG did not have data on legal ASM or illegal mining for the GIS analysis. Some deforestation in the indigenous lands, but outside the three mining concessions, is likely linked to the ASM although it may also be due to other activities, such as farming. Outside the indigenous lands, but especially in the mining concessions east of the indigenous lands, there is significant forest loss in the time period from 2000 to 2015 (Figure 5.8).

Figure 5.8 | Area of Deforestation for Each Five–Year Period Between 2000 and 2015 Within Campbelltown’s Titled Village

 

Sources: Based on data from RAISG 2016, Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission 2018, and Guyana Geology and Mines Commission 2016, modified by WRI authors.

Peru: Shipibo and Ese’Eja Indigenous Lands

This case study provides the experience of the Tres Islas community, mainly Shipibo and Ese’Eja indigenous peoples, which effectively used local and national courts as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to protect its lands from mining. In Peru, the courts are increasingly engaging in the complexities of indigenous affairs, including customary land tenure systems. A growing number of courts now recognize the unique forms of indigenous social organization with regard to their lands and traditional land uses.

box 5.6 | Overview and Principal Findings: Shipibo and Ese’Eja Indigenous Lands

  • In the early 2000s, the government of Peru granted more than 100 mining concessions and several logging concessions on Tres Islas lands without informing or consulting the Tres Islas indigenous community, which is made up principally of Shipibo and Ese’Eja indigenous peoples.
  • In response, the Tres Islas community assembly decided in August 2010 to construct a booth and wooden gate to control access to its lands. The booth was manned by members of the community.
  • Two transport companies sued the Tres Islas community demanding free transit into their lands. The court ruled in favor of the companies and ordered the removal of the booth and gate.
  • The Tres Islas community appealed the decision and took the matter to the Peruvian Constitutional Tribunal. In September 2012, the tribunal ruled that the Tres Islas community had the right to control the entry of third parties into its lands. The community reestablished the booth and gate and resumed controlling access to its lands.
  • Thereafter, the Tres Islas community sued the regional government of Madre de Dios in the regional Court of Justice over the mining concessions granted without a prior consultation process. In March 2019, the Superior Courts of Justice of Peru declared the 127 mining concessions on the Tres Islas lands, including eight concessions that were in the process of being granted, to be null and void, and ordered all activities resulting from them to be halted.
  • In total, 93 percent of the deforestation that occurred on the Tres Islas lands during the 15-year time period from 2000 to 2015 occurred in the portion of the lands that overlapped with legal and illegal mining areas. Deforestation drastically declined between 2010 and 2015, coinciding with the community regaining control of access to its lands.

Sources: WRI authors.

The Tres Islas community of mainly Shipibo and Ese’Eja indigenous peoples lives in the sub-basin of the Madre de Dios River, Tambopata Province, Department of Madre de Dios. The community consists of approximately 103 families of Ese’Eja, Shipibo, as well as Asháninka75 indigenous peoples who depend on the plants, fruits, animals, and wood from the forest, and the fish from the river. On June 24, 1994, the Ministry of Agriculture issued the Tres Islas community a land title (Nº 538) to 31,423 ha and 71 square meters of land.76 In issuing the title, the government formally recognized the land as the territory “occupied permanently” by the Tres Islas community.

In the early 2000s, the government of Peru granted more than 100 mining concessions and several logging concessions on Tres Islas’ territory without informing or consulting the community. By early 2010, these mining and logging operations had significantly damaged the environment and resulted in the loss of vegetation, fish, birds, and other wildlife. Community members also developed health problems from the high concentrations of mercury in the soil and water, and from the increased occurrence of prostitution (Movimiento Regional por la Tierra 2017).

Figure 5.9 | Map of the Tres Islas Territory Showing Areas of Legal and Illegal Mining and Deforestation between 2000 and 2015

Sources: Data from RAISG 2016, 2018c, 2018d, 2018e, 2019c, modified by WRI and RAISG authors.

To address these challenges, the Tres Islas community assembly decided in August 2010 to construct a booth and wooden gate to control access to its territory. The booth was manned by members of the community. In response, two transport companies, Los Mineros S.A.C. and Los Pioneros S.CR.L., sued the Tres Islas community requesting free transit into their lands. The court ruled in favor of the transport companies and ordered the removal of the booth and gate (Clínica Jurídica de Acciones de Interés Público 2012, Enfoque Derecho 2015, Environmental Justice Atlas 2018).

The Tres Islas indigenous people appealed the decision and took the matter to the Peruvian Constitutional Tribunal. In September 2012, the tribunal confirmed that the Tres Islas community had the right to control the entry of third parties into its territory as an expression of its right to property and communal autonomy. It determined that the transport companies did not have an easement right nor any other title to pass through the Tres Islas’ lands. The tribunal recognized that while the freedom of transit is a fundamental right, this right is subject to certain limits, such as not invading land without the consent of the landholders. While the possession of a land title by the Tres Islas indigenous people was not the single determining factor in the ruling, the court recognized it as one of the conclusive elements supporting its decision. Following the tribunal’s decision, the community quickly reestablished the booth and gate and resumed controlling access to its lands.

At the time, the Tres Islas lands were affected not just by legal large-scale mining operations but also considerable illegal mining (Figure 5.9). In total, 93 percent of the deforestation that occurred on the Tres Islas lands during the 15-year time period from 2000 to 2015 occurred in the portion of the territory that overlapped with illegal and legal mining areas. Deforestation, however, drastically declined between 2010 and 2015, coinciding with the community regaining control of access to its territory (Figure 5.10).

Figure 5.10 | Area of Deforestation per Five-Year Period (2000–15) inside Overlapping Mining Concession Areas in the Indigenous Land versus the Rest of the Indigenous Land

 

Sources: Based on data from RAISG 2016, 2018c, 2018d, 2018e, 2019c, modified by WRI authors 2018, and Guyana Geology and Mines Commission 2016, modified by WRI authors.

Because of persistent health risks and death threats to community members from outsiders, in March 2016, the Tres Islas community filed a request for an injunction to halt all mining on its lands—a precautionary measure to protect the indigenous people—before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In September 2017, IACHR granted the request, noting that the absence of medical attention and the lack of protection for threatened community members jeopardized their rights to life and personal integrity.

Encouraged by these rulings, the Tres Islas community sued the regional government of Madre de Dios before the regional Court of Justice over the mining concessions granted without a prior consultation process.77 In March 2019, the Superior Court of Justice of Madre de Dios recognized the community’s rights to prior consultation, territorial property, autonomy, life and physical integrity, health, environment, and water (IIDS 2019a, 2019b, La República 2019, SERVINDI 2019). It declared the 127 mining concessions on the Tres Islas’ lands (including eight concessions that were in the process of being granted) to be null and void, and ordered all activities resulting from them to be halted (Figure 5.9). (Figure 5.9, which uses mining data from June 2019, shows that at least some of the concessions were still active three months after the court ruling). To compensate for the damage caused to the Tres Islas community and its environment by the mining operations, the superior court of justice also ordered the regional government of Madre de Dios to implement various protection measures, including decontaminating water, air, and soil; providing a clean supply of drinking water; and reforesting the affected areas (Dossier Nº 00675-2017-0-2701-JM-CI-01, 2019).

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