On Monday evening I went to the screening of Under Rich Earth at Weinstein Hall. I knew that the documentary had won numerous awards, and so I was looking forward to seeing it.
Filmed in Ecuador, Under Rich Earth tells the story of a group of people in the village of Junin that try to keep their lush land from being developed into open pit copper mines by a Canadian mining company called Ascendant Copper Corporation (that has now changed its name to Copper Mesa Mining Company). Mining has huge environmental impacts such as loss of biodiversity and erosion, and many people think of it as a practice that should be avoided–especially considering Ecuador’s reputation as an “ecological paradise”.
The documentary was very disturbing, for multiple reasons. The measures that the mining company workers (who were considered “paramilitaries”—armed civilians who usurp the police function of the state—in this documentary) took on behalf of Ascendant Copper against the residents of Junin were unnecessarily violent. They fired their guns and sprayed pepper spray at the Juninseños in attempt to gain access to their land. Only once the residents had mobilized and decided to make a citizen’s arrest of the 56 paramilitaries (which they did nonviolently), did the government and press finally get involved, and act on behalf of the residents.
My reaction to this movie was one of sadness, for several reasons. Firstly, there are many Ecuadorians who are taken advantage of by these foreign companies and work for them without knowing that the work they are doing is sometimes illegal. This manipulation of ignorant citizens is simply unacceptable. Secondly, this situation in Junin is not unique by any means. American and Canadian companies have been using similar violent and exploitive tactics to gain control of land all over Latin America for many decades. Lastly, it amazes me/makes me sick to see how many highly ranked business members can spew out false information about the actions of their companies, and then when they are confronted about any misdoing their company has partaken in, they claim that they had no idea about what was going on.
In regard to Under Rich Earth, the Juninseños felt relatively satisfied at the end of the film. The police were playing an active role in protecting the community, and the Juninseños were enjoying a mining-free community. Hopefully this is a situation that continues to be a reality for not only the people of Junin, but for most Ecuadorians.