The President of Ecuador promises that indigenous groups will not block mining projects

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The Ecuadorian president has dismissed environmental opposition to a major expansion of mining projects, saying he cannot allow indigenous groups motivated by “political interests” to destroy the Andean nation’s economy.

A few days after President Guillermo Lasso advertised $ 30 billion projects, including 14 mining ventures, sent a completely different message to foreign investors at the Ecuador Open for Business event. She revoked the environmental permit given for drilling in the Los Cedros cloud forest, saying there had been no prior consultation with local communities.

The decision sparked protests from the mining lobby. This threatens a major copper project being developed by Ecuador’s state-owned mining company Enami with Canadian company Cornerstone, and uncertainty from that could affect other mining projects, hitting Lass ’plans to revive the economy.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Lasso said Ecuador’s deposits of copper and other precious metals must be excavated to support the global fossil fuel energy transition, adding: “To deny yourself this possibility is to deny the country’s future development and this government will not allow it.”

He said he planned to try to gain public opinion by “explaining what mining is like, responsible, sustainable mining and defending the greater interest of most Ecuadorians over the political interests of indigenous leaders who want to campaign against the Ecuadorian economy”.

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

President Guillermo Lasso gives a speech in August during the ceremony of appointing new civil servants at the Carondelet Palace in Quito © AFP via Getty Images

Having achieved early success with one of the fastest vaccination campaigns in the developing world, Lasso is now facing a tough fight. His CREO party has less than a dozen seats in the National Assembly and has failed to form a stable ruling coalition.

The president’s tax reform passed only by default, after the time limit for Congress to accept or reject it expired. The progressive measure, which increases levies on companies and the richest Ecuadorians, will increase close to 1 percent of GDP in additional revenues, according to JPMorgan.

Lasso now wants to bring about labor reform to make the country’s rigid employment law more flexible and an investment promotion measure that facilitates public-private partnerships. The working measure is strongly opposed by the left-wing UNES bloc of former President Rafael Corree and the indigenous Pachakutik party.

“We will present in January [the labour reform] Ecuador’s civil society and public opinion to have as wide a discussion as possible between groups of employers, unions, academics, politicians and gather all possible doubts to modify the project and then send it, I would say in March, to the National Assembly for approval, “Lasso said.

That task is complicated by a very public dispute between the president and Jaime Nebot, the leader of the center-right PSC party. After a joint campaign, the PSC broke up with Lass at the beginning of his government, and Nebot has since sharply criticized the president for failing to abide by political agreements.

This leaves Lasso dependent on Pachakutik for support, but the indigenous party is divided and has been a volatile force in Congress. His former presidential candidate Yaku Pérez has officially accused Lassa of tax fraud after details of his offshore investments were published in Pandora’s papers, sparking an investigation by the chief prosecutor.

Lasso, a millionaire he made himself, retaliated strongly after the discovery of Pandora. He said he left his offshore investments in 2017 and survived the effort initiated by political opponents in Congress to recall it. The Controller’s Office also dropped the investigation due to lack of evidence.

“This is an absolutely closed chapter,” Lasso told the FT about the recall attempt. “He was born imprisoned and died imprisoned because there was no motive for such an investigation.” He described Perez’s accusation as “ridiculous”.

But the problems Lasso faces in governing “will not change until the end of his term,” said Andrés Mejía, an Ecuadorian expert at King’s College London. “My feeling is that it will be worse. . . It is a worrying sign that he has so quickly shattered the possibilities of a meaningful coalition. ”

Lasso also faces the serious challenge of exacerbating criminal violence, mostly related to drug trafficking. US Ambassador discovered this month that Washington has abolished visas for a number of Ecuadorian “drug generals” and expressed concern about the extent to which traffickers have infiltrated law enforcement.

Two prison massacres in the space of two months in the facilities under the control of drug gangs the lives of more than 180 prisoners cost. Lasso said safety was his top priority now.

“I will finish this interview and [then] spend two hours every day dedicating myself to strengthening the SNAI, the institution that runs the prison system, ”he said. “My big concern is safety.”

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

“Ecuador has always been proud of the fact that it is not like Peru or Colombia,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. It’s a big headache for Lass. “

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