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Story Publication logo March 7, 2022

Mining Has Pushed Zamora Chinchipe into a Corner (Spanish)


A piece of land and mud in dark colors

The Map of Death seeks to offer a visual understanding of the destruction registered in the...

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This story excerpt was translated from Spanish. To read the original story in full, visit La Barra Espaciadora. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.

Dredging pools contaminate the Nangaritza river along its course, as in Zurmi, a Shuar community. Image by Jackeline Beltrán. Ecuador.

Zamora Chinchipe is home to Condor Mirador and Fruta del Norte, the two megaprojects with which Ecuador inaugurated large-scale mining. Between January and September 2021, 50% of the country's income from this activity came from that province, but in exchange, the Alto Nangaritza —the last forested connection bridge between the Andes and the Amazon— succumbed to legal and illegal mining. In addition, part of the Shuar nationality found no other option to improve their quality of life than to look for gold.

"In the Cordillera there are large reserves of gold, copper, silver and many other minerals; perhaps that is why someone often repeated that the Indigenous people are 'beggars sitting on a sack of gold.' What that person was not able to understand is that their real wealth is not under the ground, but above it, in the forests and in their biodiversity."

Paúl Palacios, environmental engineer.

Postcards That Cannot Be Seen

The road that connects the provinces of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe is a succession of esses surrounded by lush, very green mountains. Near the city of Zamora there are signs welcoming you to the "land of waterfalls and birds." And of course, there are birds flitting around. There is a river that accompanies the road and enters the city. There is a boardwalk that overlooks the noisiest and most touristic avenue of this Amazonian city located in southern Ecuador. These postcard scenes are, more or less, what travelers expect to find when they think of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

But there are scenes that break the idyll. Five minutes from the boardwalk by car is the Redondel del Minero, a monument about five meters high that shows the figure of a man with a helmet and boots, holding in his hands a pan to wash gold. The statue is so well done that the skin looks as if the tropical heat has toasted it. The miner looks out over the Zamora River and the Podocarpus National Park, a 146,280 hectare protected area that is home to unique bird species and a complex of more than a hundred lagoons. It even looks as if the giant miner is bowing to them.

Two children play in the upper reaches of the Nangaritza River, next to a group of miners extracting gold in the Shaime community. Image by Carlos Medina. Ecuador, 2018.

In Zamora, backhoes, which are the most used machines for mining activity, are everywhere, even in a kind of monument next to the Bombuscaro River. Image by Jackeline Beltrán. Ecuador.

Backhoes remain in the Nangaritza River, where gold extraction takes up to 16 hours a day. Image by Carlos Medina. Ecuador.

Miners in the Chinapintza district have organized to legalize and train in order to be allowed to work. Image by Paúl Pineda. Ecuador.

Image by Jackeline Beltrán. Ecuador.

Image by Jackeline Beltrán. Ecuador.

Image by Jackeline Beltrán. Ecuador.

Image by Jackeline Beltrán. Ecuador.

Image by Carlos Medina. Ecuador.

Image by Carlos Medina. Ecuador.