What the fight against copper mines in Ecuador has in common with the fight against coal exports in Oregon

By Mary Fifield of Portland, Oregon. As executive director of Amazon Partnerships Foundation, Mary Fifield worked in the Ecuadorian Amazon supporting indigenous communities' efforts to fight climate change and oil extraction. She is now principal of Kaleidoscope Consulting in Portland. Learn more about Mary Fifield.

More than 50 people from in and around Portland, including activists in the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, gathered this week at the Lucky Lab to show support for a different but related fight: open-pit copper mining in Ecuador.

The evening featured a screening of the award-winning documentary When Clouds Clear, which chronicles the struggle against mining in the remote region of Intag. Rural communities have been fighting--and winning--the battle against multi-national companies that have tried to divide villages through bribes and manipulation and force construction of a mine that will be an environmental disaster. Intag borders two ecological reserves in a country that ranks as the sixth most biodiverse in the world. Folks in Junín and neighboring communities are subsistence farmers who face economic hardship, and yet most refuse to sell their land--a source of livelihood, food, cultural identity, and water.

Lately the stakes have gotten even higher. President Rafael Correa has nationalized extractive industries and is opening up Ecuador's vast reserves of minerals and oil to pay its debt to China and expand education and health care. While the administration's programs are leftist, its approach to development is autocratic. It is now illegal for individuals or groups, including communities, labor unions, and student associations, to express opposition to government policies. Peaceful protests like road blockades, which Intag communities used successfully for years, have been labeled "terrorism." The government is persecuting local leaders and the international observers who are helping to document violations.

While Ecuador may seem a world away, the fight in Intag bears striking resemblance to the fight against coal exports in the Pacific Northwest. Organizer Laura Stevens, a former international observer with Intag Solidarity Network and now an organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, said, "One of the reasons I wanted to host the event was to show people how much we Oregonians have in common with folks in Intag. We often forget that our local battles are global, so it's powerful to connect with other communities in the same struggle to support and learn from them."

There was another important message to take from the event: that the political is personal, no matter where you live. The Ecuadorian government's decisions have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of people in Intag. Decisions that Governor Kitzhaber and the DEQ make will affect the lives of people in North Portland, along the Columbia River, and in other communities along the coal transport route, not to mention affects on the global climate. With every rally we attend and every petition we sign, we close that gap between the personal and political, and we get that much closer to the democracy we deserve.

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