Indigenous groups in Ecuador began a two-week march Thursday to protest a new mining project.
The Ecuador government signed a 25-year-contract with a Chinese firm earlier this week, allowing the the business to exploit a huge copper mine in the Amazon, the Associated Foreign Press reported.
The contract marks Ecuador's first large-scale mining project, Reuters reported.
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Ecuador President Rafael Correa promised that the project would revitalize the area. Under the agreement, Chinese mining company EcuaCorriente plans to invest $1.4 billion into Ecuador within five years, the AFP said. The money would go to schools, hospitals and roads, BBC News reported.
But the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONIE), an umbrella group of communities, says that copper mining could pollute drinking water and force natives off of the land, the BBC said. Several hundred protesters began marching Thursday. Some held signs that said "Chinese companies get out of Ecuador." They plan to arrive to the capital, Quinto, by March 22.
Correa accused the marchers of trying to destabilize his government, although the protest has been peaceful so far. "It seems to me that the government considers that any form of opposition is a form of conspiracy," a Latin American studies professor told the Wall Street Journal.
The news comes after Human Rights Watch published a critical report last year about Chinese copper mining industry practices in Zambia. The report says that "miners at several Chinese-run companies spoke of poor health and safety standards, including poor ventilation that can lead to serious lung diseases, hours of work in excess of Zambian law, the failure to replace workers’ personal protective equipment that is damaged while at work, and the threat of being fired should workers refuse to work in unsafe places."