Ecuador’s Perez to review mining contracts suspected of polluting if elected
QUITO, Aug 18 (Reuters) – Ecuadorean Indigenous presidential candidate Yaku Perez would revise mining concessions that do not comply with environmental and social rules and would ask creditors for breathing room amid spiking violence, he told Reuters in an interview.
More than 13 million Ecuadoreans are eligible to head to polls on Sunday in a contest that has been marred by the murder of anti-corruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio, highlighting sharply deteriorated security which the current government blames on drug traffickers.
Mining is a top contributor to Ecuador’s economy, but Perez, an erstwhile water activist, said late on Thursday he would ask the country’s comptroller to review contracts suspected of polluting, to define their continuity under Ecuadorean law.
Ecuador has abundant mineral reserves, but has lagged behind regional neighbors like Peru and Chile in developing large-scale projects because of resistance from Indigenous communities and judicial decisions that have stymied development.
“If there are audits that say they are contaminating the environment, that they are poisoning water, that they haven’t done prior consultations (with communities)…they will need to be revised,” Perez said. “If they have complied with social and environmental licenses they will continue.”
“We are not going to premeditatedly pursue (miners), but there must be responsibility,” he said. “I respect legal guarantees.”
He would also push a constitutional reform to bar mining in areas with lakes, rivers and other water sources, first by sending it to the national assembly, and then, in case of failure, to voters via a referendum.
Perez supports two environmental efforts also on the ballot on Sunday – one to shutter an oil block in a megadiverse part of the Amazon and a local bid to bar mining in a forest near Quito.
Perez, who was polling in the top five of eight candidates, said he would trace corrupt funds through an expert commission backed by the United Nations, which will review contracts from the last 20 years.
“If we correct the distortions, the corruption, if we charge taxes to the defaulters we won’t need new loans,” said Perez, who came a surprise third in elections in 2021.
He would approach Ecuador’s multilateral creditors and bondholders to ask for payment extensions because of the difficult economic and security situation, he said.
“We have to tell them that this is a very difficult time to pay foreign debt, that we recognize them and will pay…but first allow me to get the country started on economic growth and a reduction in poverty.”
Ecuador has leaned on international financing since its economy was battered by the COVID pandemic. The country concluded a credit agreement for $6.5 billion with the International Monetary Fund at the end of last year.
“We are in a spiral of violence: there is no work, there is no education, people are fleeing the country,” he said. “Hopefully they will understand.”
Perez pledged to make agriculture – not oil, the country’s top source of income – Ecuador’s economic driver, creating 500,000 jobs.
Better social programs and data-based security programs are also on his agenda if elected, he said.
“We must get back control of the borders where drugs come through, get back control of the Ecuadorean coasts where drugs leave and get back control of the prisons from which crimes are ordered,” he said.
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia
Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Sharon Singleton