While the president remains hugely popular among large swathes of the population for his social projects aimed at the poor and the disabled, his relationship with indigenous people has been far from rosy, most recently due to his desire to build a large scale mining industry on biodiverse, indigenous land.
“We can't be beggars sitting on a sack of gold,” said Correa earlier this month, referring to the country's need to tap its natural resources. The government hopes to attract $3 billion in mining investments by next year – a significant contribution to its economy. “It is a lie that good mining destroys water,” Correa said.
Correa's administration says indigenous organizations are just trying to destabilize the government ahead of the February 2013 presidential elections.
But according to indigenous leaders, the timing is connected to the government's negotiation of a mining contract with the Chinese-owned company Ecuacorriente. The contract was signed earlier this month and is to be carried out in the southern province of Zamora Chinchipe with a $1.4 billion investment. Another multi-billion dollar contract for a silver mine is expected to be signed with a Canadian company in coming months.
The open-pit copper project would be the first of its kind in Ecuador, a country that relies on oil exploitation but is new to large-scale mining.
“The government has caused this mobilization,” says Salvador Quishpe, one of the march organizers, and governor of Zamora Chinchipe.
Mr. Quishpe says the government did not consult with local populations before approving the project – something many claim is required by the constitution. Quishpe says there are 227 water sources inside the mining project’s zone, and locals are worried they will all be contaminated through the extraction process.