On October 17th, police in ski masks carrying automatic weapons raided the home of Carlos Zorrilla, the Executive Director of Defense and Ecological Conservation of Intag (DECOIN), a grassroots group comprised of farmers, peasants and priests that he co-founded in Intag of Northwest Ecuador in 1995. Mr. Zorrilla was able to get out of his house just before the raid, but is still facing arrest on trumped up charges. Sadly, this is a story that is constantly repeated around the world wherever communities are fighting against multinational corporations for control over their local resources.
In this case, the people of Intag live in a cloud forest region that adjoins the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, arguably one of the world’s most biodiverse protected areas. For the last 10 years, multinational mining companies have been trying to gain access to Intag’s copper deposits. Amazingly, community organizing and campaigning, much of it led by DECOIN and Mr. Zorrilla, has kept these companies out.
We have supported this work through our Protect-an-Acre Fund, including a recent $3,000 grant to support efforts to build on the already strong community-level opposition to mining company Ascendant Copper, which has been trying unsuccessfully to gain access to Intag for the last few years.
Read Mr. Zorrilla’s personal account of what happened below and visit MiningWatch Canada to find out what you can do to help. You can also check out the video The Curse of Copper to learn more about the struggle of the people of Intag against Ascendant Copper.
Carlos Zorrilla’s personal account of the police raid:
When I received the very early phone call around 6:15 on the morning of the 17th of October informing me that there were “very many policemen” headed my way, I did not hesitate. I closed down my computer, said goodbye to my son, and left my home. I didn’t even have to say goodbye to my wife. Since I had been connected to the Internet, and thus kept my line busy, I didn’t know for how long the person calling had been trying to reach me. The nearest place cars can drive to is a 15 minute easy walk from our home. Five to seven if you run. As it turned out, I had about 10 minutes to spare before the first group of police arrived looking for me. The nightmare had begun.
As I hid in the nearby forest more police arrived, some bearing automatic weapons, others wearing ski-masks and all in bullet-proof vests. They pointed their guns at my wife and son ordering them not to move and informed them that they were looking for me and that they had a search warrant to go into our home. They then burst into our home without the warrant looking for me. She insisted on seeing the warrant, and 20 minutes later a District Attorney from the city of Cayambe showed up supposedly bearing the warrants. When my wife asked the DA to show her the search warrant, he briefly showed it to her, but was not allowed to hold it and read it, but merely read it to her from several yards away. As she recalls, the warrant said that I had stolen some goods, but didn’t specify what. By then there were a total of 17 police around our home, and some entered our home (in all, 19 persons participated in the raid). Some of police wearing uniforms did not have name tags to identify them, and when asked to identify themselves, they refused. Some were very aggressive and violent, yelling and insulting my teenage son and wife, and at one point, pushing them aside for no reason.
Around this time, several police showed up with one of our workers, who had been violently roused out of bed by one of the agents. The police had broken into his home, without a search warrant and violently pushed Roberto down on the bed because he dared asked for his identity and called him all kinds of names, forcing him to hurry up and get dressed and accompany the agent down to our home.
Six police then went into our home and went through everything, but specially my room, which they tore apart. They threw the hundreds of books on my bookshelves on the ground, searched in every drawer and closet space, and forced open a locked wooden box where we kept cash. Outside, the police had taken Roberto to every farm building and cabin to search them. When my wife Sandy asked what they were looking for, they said it was anything that might be damaging to the State!
After about an hour or so, and after Roberto had returned to our home, the police said something to the effect that “we found nothing and that they should leave as they had other things to do”. My wife was at that moment outside the house comforting our son, who was extremely upset and angered by the police action, and especially the abusive way they had been treated. It was then that one of the police took Roberto away from the house under the pretense that he wanted to talk to him in private. From a distance of about a dozen meters he saw another police walk into the house. Minutes later this same police walks out of the house and talks to one of the officials, who then goes back into the house, and comes back with the hand gun and a plastic bag containing what they say was drugs that they had planted in our home. Recall that there was approximately 10 minutes time lapse between the time I received the warning and the time the police started arriving. Who, in their right mind and if impartial, will ever believe that if I had guns and drugs in my home that disposing them would not be the first thing I would have done before the police showed up? But then again, impartiality is not even a question here (the police, by the way, said they found the gun under a magazine in my son’s bookshelves, out in the open, and the so-called drugs were found right in the living room behind some books. BOTH ITEMS WERE “FOUND” AFTER MORE THAN ONE HOUR OF INTENSE SEARCHING.
To date, I’ve been able to certify that they took personal videocassettes, hundreds of CD-ROMs with personal information and photographs, DVDs, several thousand dollars in cash, and a debit card from a US bank. I am sure if I could return and go carefully through my house I will discover other missing things. It is not the missing stuff that is so upsetting, but the outright violation of our privacy, and our basic fundamental rights that are so deeply disturbing, and the ease how a transnational mining company can buy such gross violations.
It is also worth pointing out that according to several eye-witnesses, the police were transported in five unmarked cars, without license plates. Apparently, at least one car is said to belong to the mining company. In addition, eye-witnesses told me that they saw at least one person known to work for the mining company hanging around Santa Rosa, the village closest to my home, the night before the raid. The same person, accompanied by others known to support the mining company and perhaps also being employed by them, were also waiting for the police the day of the raid. No doubt hoping to see the police take me in handcuffs.
Some of you are no doubt wondering why I would leave my wife and son to confront such a situation on their own. We, in fact, had discussed this probable scenario before, concluding that if it ever came to pass, that I would leave because it was clear that it was not them, but me the company was after.
For nearly three years I, along with other leaders of the resistance to Ascendant Copper Corporation’s mining project, have been subjected to countless instances of intimidation, including death threats, criminal lawsuits, and very dirty defamation campaigns against DECOIN and me personally. I knew I was one of the main leaders they were after, and that they wanted me out of action really badly. All along, the company’s CEO has been badly mislead into thinking that the opposition is based on the leadership of a few people. They could hardly be more wrong. The resistance to their mining project is deeply entrenched in Intag’s population.
The Made-up Accusation. But to understand what a bunch of police and a crooked DA were doing in my home at 6:15 in the morning with 17 heavily armed thugs and bearing a search and a arrest warrant against me, we have to go back to the events of July 13th 2006 outside the doors of the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Quito.
On that date, approximately 400 people from Intag had marched down Amazonas Avenue to demand that the Minister of Energy and Mines meet with Intag officials and force Ascendant Copper to leave the Intag area. I went mostly along to photograph the event (later producing a 15 minute photo video with my older son) All of a sudden I was called to a smaller crowd that had broken away from the main crowd, and told to translate, because there were some women distributing anti-Decoin information. When I arrived, there were approximately 50 people surrounding the two foreign-looking women, demanding an explanation of why they were there. My youngest son, Martin was already there and translating, and I just had time to ask the older women, Leslie Chaplin and her companion, who it was that had hired them to do this. All they said was that a friend had hired them. I then became aware that the crowd had started to block the traffic on the street, and was worried for their safety. As I left to try and move the crowd out of the street I do remember distinctly saying to the crowd “don’t do anything to them”. I was concerned that if there was violence on the part of the crowd, it would be used to smear the opposition even more. That was the last I saw of the Ms. Chaplin and her companion. But a few days later, Ms. Chaplin filed robbery and assault charges against me, saying that I had stolen a $1200 video camera and $500 in cash. It’s worth emphasizing that the whole exchange with Ms. Chaplin was not only witnessed by several dozen witnesses, but also was photographs by several photographers, and filmed by at least one person.
Based on these made-up charges, obviously orchestrated by the company, Ecuador’s legal system initiated a criminal lawsuit against me, but without notifying me. The court appointed a public defender, who also failed to notify me I was charged, so that I could present evidence during the 90 day period assigned to prove I was innocent. When the 90 day period expired, the District Attorney asked the judge to issue the warrants, and it was then that they mysteriously were able to find me.
As it stands now, if I am arrested, I will have to remain jailed until early January, which is the period assigned to the trial. The lawyer defending me will try to get the arrest order revoked, but he admits this is will be very difficult. The more so because of the “new evidence” against me that the police planted in my home, and which undoubtedly result in new criminal lawsuits.
Public pressure will play a very important role in the outcome of this outrageous miscarriage of justice. This means letters written denouncing all this, contacting the press, and letters of support. Already, many of you have done some of this, and I am deeply moved by the amount of support I’ve received. Please don’t give up. Help make this Ascendant’s last mistake in Ecuador (here are some addresses you can write to).