Before dawn Tuesday, troops escorted more than 1 000 police officers to seize a remote mountain at the center of a gold rush at illegal mines in Ecuador’s northern Andes.
As many as 10 000 people flooded the remote region known as Buenos Aires over the last two years, to illegally mine gold owned by a Canadian exploration company. The area became the scene of crimes including human trafficking, sexual exploitation, extortion, money laundering and murder, as well as severe environmental damage, Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said at a news conference in Quito.
The Buenos Aires area is part of a concession owned by Canada’s Hanrine. It lies just south of Cascabel, where Australia-based SolGold PLC is seeking to build a major copper, silver and gold mine.
“The magnitude of the occupation by people dedicated to illegal activities makes a much stronger intervention by the state necessary,” Romo said, while President Lenin Moreno declared a 60-day state of emergency in the Buenos Aires area, which limits the right of assembly.
Police had already arrested more than 850 people and seized 350 vehicles and 3 400 tons of material since the beginning of 2018, Romo said.
Ecuador, an OPEC oil producer, is attempting to follow Peru and Chile and develop a major legal industrial mining industry. With a copper and a gold mine scheduled to start production later this year, the government forecasts that the country’s mining-related output will more than triple to exceed 3% of gross domestic product by the end of Moreno’s term in 2021.