Hanrine Ecuadorian Exploration and Mining (HEEM), a subsidiary of Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting has been involved in a political minefield in Ecuador for the past year. In mid December 2018, hundreds of members of the Ecuadorian Military were trucked into the town of Buenos Aires, in the northern Imbabura Province in an attempt to curtail illegal mining activities. The military and police have been active in the region over the past year.

Informal miners from HEEM concession meeting September 2018, Buenos Aires, Ecuador. Image credit: prensaminera.org
Informal miners from HEEM concession meeting September 2018, Buenos Aires, Ecuador. Image credit: prensaminera.org

In late 2017, thousands of illegal miners descended into the region after the discovery of gold, with local reports stating up to 12,000 miners from as many as 10 countries rapidly mobilised into the area.

Much of the activity of the “informal” miners has centred around a community now known as El Triunfo (the Triumph), which is located 3km inside in a mining concession, controlled by HEEM.

The concession was granted by the Ecuadorian Government in early 2018, but local miners dispute the way the concession was processed and handled and are contesting its legality. Some are claiming that the concession process was flawed and that the concessions should have been granted to Ecuadorians, rather than an overseas Australian mining company.

There now appears to be a power struggle emerging between the miners on how to manage a situation which is increasingly becoming fraught. Negotiations between HEEM and the miners appear to be polarising mining groups against each other, only adding to the tensions.

There were two murders on the gold fields during the year, and hundreds of miners have been arrested. Prostitution and drug trafficking are becoming established in local towns. Truckloads of mining materials were also been confiscated. Other concerns regarding illegal mining can include: human trafficking, money laundering, arms trafficking, explosives trafficking, blackmail and influence peddling.

El Triunfo, is located only a few kilometres south of the highly anticipated Cascabel project, overseen by another Australian company - Solgold.

“In effect, any concession holders within the country could suffer outcome to that of El Triunfo,” says member of the Rainforest Action Group, Anthony Amis. “If gold is discovered by prospectors, literally thousands of desperate miners could descend on the concession in a very short amount of time. The gold rush at El Triunfo was spread electronically and through social media in a matter of weeks”.

“We are concerned how these situations will be managed by Australian companies, who control hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in mining concessions throughout Ecuador” Mr Amis said. “Many questions remain regarding how Hanrine have managed and dealt with the problems of thousands of informal miners inside their concession. Most of the informal miners are very poor and have come to the region to work, many are honest and desperate.” Mr Amis concluded.