Fierro Urco: between life and large-scale mining

The Fierro Urco mountain range and its foothills is a territory where magic, natural charm and cultural and biological wealth are mixed.

Located between the provinces of Loja and El Oro, it covers more than 70,000 hectares. forming a páramo ecosystem of the low Andes. Today, it is seriously threatened by the mining concessions that the Ecuadorian state offers as a "development alternative" to the peoples and communities that inhabit it.


We spoke with Víctor Macas, President of the Association of Indigenous and Peasant Communities of Tenta, Celén and Selva Alegre, which leads one of the fronts to defend the territory, water sources and culture of its people: the Saraguro against what they call “threats from mining activities”.

 Víctor is a native of the San Vicente community of the Selva Alegre parish, which is located in the Western Cordillera of the Andes, he has seen and knows firsthand the profound changes that affect the social structure of the communities found in regions of mining activity.

In total there are 19 communities from these three parishes that remain in defense of the great corridor of Fierro Urco, "since at that time it is under concession for large-scale mining," says Víctor.

The process of defending this important source of water sources against the "mining threat" began more than five years ago, in 2015. Víctor recalls that there was "strong repression in Saraguro precisely because of this resistance process, which It is the same one that we now insist on, we do not want mining in our wasteland”.

“We are clear that this is a long fight and we hope that at some point these mining claims will be appeased, that they will no longer continue. So maybe we will rest there, but otherwise we will continue there. ” He reflects in a convinced tone of this cause that he has had to work in his life.


Biodiversity in the Fierro Urco corridor includes:

700 plant species

160 bird species

50 species of mammals

17 species of amphibians

The cities of Loja, Machala, Santa Rosa, Pasaje, Zaruma, Portovelo are direct beneficiaries (both of drinking water and irrigation water systems) of the river systems that originate in Fierro Urco, specifically in the area that intends to be intervened by open pit mining activities.

What is at stake in Fierro Urco?

FierroUrco is part of a dozen places in Ecuador that are concessioned for mining and that are sources and springs of water, as well as protective forests and buffer zones that serve as life zones for dozens of bird species and mammals.

"" in the heart of the eminent FierroUrco, where the first ray of the sun kisses the icy hair of the waters of the South"" 

According to the Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America on its website it describes:

“4 important tributaries for an entire productive and wildlife region are born from the Fierro Urco páramo, it is called by its defenders as the Water Star of the South.

In this area is the Siriquiña Lagoon where 3 fundamental rivers for the area originate: on the Saraguro side, the Llaco River is born, which reaches La Papaya and flows into the Jubones River, on the Loja side, the river Guayabal; in El Oro the San Luis river is born, which goes to Portovelo.


The importance of the aquifer systems of the Fierro Urco corridor (the "Water Star of the South of Ecuador") is so great that there is a proposal from various organizations to declare it a "Water Protection Zone" since the rivers are born here: Guayabal , Santiago, Tenta, San Luis and Ambocas, which make up the Catamayo, Santiago, Jubones and Puyango basins and supply irrigation and drinking water to thousands of people.



Water defenders prosecuted in Fierro Urco. Mining Ecuador

As in other cases of defense of “living spaces” territories and water sources against claims of mining exploitation, persecution, threats, and imprisonment are some of the repercussions that occur towards people.

Fierro Urco is no exception and in this regard, Víctor Macas states: "we are convinced that it is a strategy from the government that they use because they intend to intimidate or threaten us, but this does not scare us and we are going to continue fighting." and referring to the case of the four water defenders detained in 2020, he assures: "Regarding the cases of the detained compañeros, we have already had to work for their defense and well, we have the case of Gualel, in which four compañeros were detained, but now they are free and we hope the persecution will stop.

Jovita, Salomón, Jhon and Manuel are the 4 most recent heroes in the defense of water and life in the moors from a list that includes dozens of people who have been persecuted and prosecuted for several years for their actions in defense of life. and the water in the Fierro Urco corridor.


There are several direct actions that various groups and organizations that defend human rights and nature have been taking for about 5 years.

The Association of Indigenous and Peasant Communities of Tenta, Celén and Selva Alegre, which brings together the bases of the parishes in defense of water, has also been carrying out its part, which includes everything from sit-ins and marches to training and support activities for families of farmers and of communities in general.

  1. Reforestation: Víctor Macas states that during 2020 the people of the communities reforested more than 4,000 native trees at different altitudes. Care and maintenance is also carried out through mingas.
  2. Knowledge transmission: “….on the subject of education, for example, the relationship between these places with us as energy points and our apus as our places of healing. In the same way we are working on the rescue and strengthening of some knowledge that was being lost (both in food and culture, for example). It is the legacy that we want to leave to our generations to come” Víctor tells us.

3. Visits to the moor: Although the people of the communities carry out surveillance visits to the territory on a constant basis, these visits are open to the general public ONCE EVERY MONTH, with the aim of finding allies and making the community aware of the beauty and charm of these aquifer systems. and the biodiversity of the area. If you wish to participate in a visit cContact Victor to coordinate the next available.

4. Agroecology: Through the transmission and exchange of knowledge and experiences. They need to be strengthened as well.

5. Tourism: There are dozens of sites around the communities that are worth knowing and enjoying contact with the natural life of the equatorial Andes. The visits have been specific and it is one of the alternatives in which advances are sought for the families of the communities.

I want to be part of the process of defending the paramos and the water sources of the Fierro Urco mountain range. 

What I can do?

  • Follow on Facebook to the support platforms for the peoples of Fierro Urco
  • Share this article
  • Go ahead and visit the Fierro Urco moorland with your family and friends. To coordinate and know information for the next available visit or send a message of support Contact Victor Macas
  • Talk to your friends about the importance of various cities in southern Ecuador in the Fierro Urco mountain range as a source of water supply.
  • share the hashtag #IierroUrcoNoSeToca

The process of the peoples of the Fierro Urco mountain range shares with women and elders the joy of defending water and life in the moors in southern Ecuador.