Campaign against the power plants

David Wins Again Against Goliath - Huge Success for Environmental Protection and Democracy in Chile

La Serena, Landau, 09 March, 2017. 

Full of tension, we followed the open session Thursday afternoon on the vote being held at the regional government in Coquimbo, over the Dominga Project that was proposed by the company Andes Iron. Our partner organization “Chao Pescao” broadcast the session in La Serena live on the internet. Supporters and opponents chanted their demands for four hours on the plaza in front of the seat of the regional government. Their calls were heard clearly in the assembly hall. The SEA (the agency responsible for the environmental compatibility review) presented its final report, supporters and opponents from the citizenry presented their views, and even our employee Nancy Duman provided a speech, one that was equally brilliant and courageous. After that, each minister explained their decision. We could hardly stand the tension. We expected there to be perhaps two or three votes against Dominga. Somewhere along the way we lost track on what the current balance in the voting was. Shortly before 13:00 (17:00 in Germany), The President of the Regional Government, Señor Claudio Ibáñez, stated his position on the Dominga Project. He spoke in support of sustainable development for the Community of La Higuera, and at the end of his speech voted against the project. At that point six people had voted for the project and six had voted against it; a tie! When there is a tie in the votes, it is the Regional President’s vote that carries the day, and therefore the Dominga Project with the Port in Totoralillo Norte was defeated. There was indescribable joy in the assembly hall and outside on the plaza. Supporters and opponents were stunned, and searched for words. Even we were bewildered.

In 2010, Sphenisco supported the local citizens movement MODEMA against the plan to build three coal-fired power plants in exactly the Coquimbo Region, and initialized global protests against that project. Through combined efforts, the building was prevented. For the last five years, Sphenisco has been working with local environmental protectionists and campaigning for the creation of the marine protection area „La Higuera-Isla Chañaral“, to protect the habitat in which 80% of the remaining wild population of Humboldt Penguins and many other threatened species live. During this time, the organization has also supported residents in protecting the marine area and using it only in a sustainable manner. Since the beginning of 2016, Sphenisco has been tirelessly pointing out the irregularities in the Dominga Project, and among other things, created an online petition with the environmental organization “Save the Rainforest”, for which we were able to collect 225,506 signatures!

After the Port Project Cruz Grande was initially approved in this same region at the beginning of 2015 – against which environmental protectionists are suing in the Chile’s Environmental Court – the ongoing protests against “Dominga” aroused lots of attention in Chile, particularly in the last few weeks. This attention was all the more notable because at the beginning of the Chilean Presidential Campaign, it was made public that previous President Piñera (who is campaigning anew for the position) had shares of stock in the project that was financing Dominga. That very disclosure presented his surprising decision in 2010 against the building of the coal-fired power plants in a totally new light, and resulted in widespread coverage of the ongoing approval procedure for the Dominga Project. This scandal naturally played right into the hands of the project’s critics. More and more Parliamentarians and Senators declared a position against Dominga and demanded that an investigative committee be established. At the point the decision on the project was made, the political pressure on the regional government had grown enormously.

For the second time, David has won against Goliath. Through much commitment, courage, and a bit of luck, it was possible for Sphenisco, together with its partners Chao Pescao, Oceana, Modema, and critical citizens (the majority of the fishers were also against the project), to convince the responsible parties that the irregularities in the environmental impact assessment were so grave that the Dominga Project could not be approved without damage to both the environment and democracy itself.

With the current decision against the second port project, the chances have increased that the approval for the first project will be rescinded. Unfortunately, environmental and species protectionists cannot yet rest. The company Andes Iron intends to fight politically and juristically against the decision. These actions must be opposed, and a parliamentary investigative committee must be established. That is why together with our partners, Nancy Duman will continue an information campaign throughout the country, but particularly in the Coquimbo Region. In addition, together with “Save the Rainforest”, we’re planning a global campaign in April with the motto, “Permanently Protect the Home for Penguin and Co.!” Through this online petition, the protest should be strengthened and the pressure on the political committees sustained (see also “Yes to the Marine Protection Area!”, on this website).


translated by Erich Greiner

“Yes to the Marine Protection Area”

Campaigns about World Penguin Day on April 25th

Proteste_ChileIn the main habitat of the threatened Humboldt Penguin in northern Chile, two industrial ports are supposed to be built. These intended projects are provoking many protests on World Penguin Day, in Chile and in many other countries as well.

Last year, already over 220,000 people from all over the globe signed the online petition from the organization “Save the Rainforest”, in order to bring attention to the threatened destruction of nature in northern Chile. In the affected area, many citizens objected to the planned building of the port projects and are fighting back in many ways (see the article about this issue on our website). For years, Sphenisco has committed itself to the creation of a marine protection area, and supports local residents with their efforts to preserve the marine area and to use it exclusively in a sustainable fashion.

For this year’s World Penguin Day on April 25th, Sphenisco is calling for its members and zoos in Europe and the Americas to call attention to this dramatic situation in the Humboldt Penguin’s habitat through diverse campaigns on April 25th. Among the planned actions are a worldwide photo campaign under the motto “Yes to the Marine Protection Area!” and the new online petition “A Home for Penguin & Co.”, that we are organizing with the environmental group, Save the Rainforest. Together with our partner organizations in Chile and natural protectionists around the globe, Sphenisco is appealing to Chilean President Bachelet to lastingly protect the survival of the population of wild Humboldt Penguins, and not to endanger them through the building of these port projects. The PDF file “World Penguin Day 2017” can provide more details about the campaigns.


translated by Erich Greiner

no English translation available


Prior to the Decision – Three Protests in One Week

La Serena, Landau, December 10, 2016.

Dominga 1The environmental assessment of the “Dominga” Mega-Project, with the port facility Totoralillo Norte, is in the final decision phase. The responsible agencies are working on their concluding statements and observations, and some have already presented them. In order to get their way with the Dominga Mega-Project, the company Andes Iron offered citizens and citizens groups in the La Higuera community a pact:  the company would finance certain projects in exchange for a “yes” vote on the Dominga Project.

Although it did not initially appear to be the case, important fishing unions in the area decided not to take part in the “round table” Andes Iron was offering; actually, it was the opposite. Instead, on December 5th, they demonstrated against “Dominga” on Route V (the highway between La Serena and Copiapo), near Caleta Hornos (see photos). Between 200 and 600 registered fisherman informed the public of the project's dangers to fishing and the harvesting of shellfish by holding up signs, burning tires, and blocking the highway. The demonstrators came from all the communities in the area, but primarily from Chungungo and Totoralillo Norte, where the port facilities are intended to be built. This protest was covered in many media sources.

On December 7th, the first of numerous mandatory workshops was supposed to take place, as required under the expanded environmental impact assessment (see also “Protests Force Expanded Evaluation”, from November 10, 2016). In these workshops, Andes Iron must present a response to the environmental impact of the port project on the neighboring environmental sanctuaries. The organizers of this first workshop expected 40 participants, but more than 100 came. Most of those people stood outside and loudly protested when they were not allowed inside. They demanded that such workshops be conducted in every single fishing village that would potentially be affected, and that each and every citizen should have the opportunity to take part in them. As a result, the event in La Higuera did not take place, and should be made up for this week, and, as demanded, also occur in all the other affected communities. Unfortunately, many in the media are reporting about this event in an incorrect and defamatory manner.

Dominga 2

On Friday, December 9th, the government representatives Daniel Melo and Leonardo Soto visited Punta de Choros. Daniel Melo is a member of the Environmental Committee from the Chamber of Representatives. By order of the Chilean Parliament, both representatives are reviewing  irregularities in environmental impact assessments. During a boat trip to the environmental sanctuaries and collective meal, MODEMA and Nancy Duman (Sphenisco) informed the representatives in detail about the contested projects. The representatives and environmental protectionists had also arranged a meeting in La Serena with Coquimbo Region's President, Claudio Ibáñez. At that meeting, 11,000 signatures against the Dominga Project, collected by MODEMA, were supposed to be handed over to Mr. Ibáñez. However, shortly before the meeting was to take place, the President excused himself from the meeting and had his Second Deputy represent him. During that meeting with the regional government and the media, Daniel Melo and Leonardo Soto took a clear position. They demanded that the “Dominga Project” be rejected. In the event a permit to build would be nevertheless approved by the government, they have made it clear that they will file with the Committee of Ministers for an annulment of the environmental review.

Three protests within one week strengthen the constructive forces. It might thus be possible to prevent this mega-project, despite massive economic and political interests.


translated by Erich Greiner

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Protests Force Expanded Evaluation

Landau, November 10, 2016. 

The environmental impact assessment of the Dominga Project and the port facility Totoralillo Norte, is in the final deciding phase. The corporation Andes Iron submitted its third addendum to its application on October 17th. According to Chilean law, the responsible agencies now had to present their concluding observations within ten days.  It is expected that the regional government in Coquimbo would then quickly (before the end of the year) make a decision on the Dominga Project and the port facility.

In Andes Iron's touched-up assessment, it was now indicated that the basis of the evaluation should consider the consequences of the ship traffic on the neighboring protected areas.

The agencies such as CONAF, Sernapesca, and the 224,179 supporters of the petition “Save 26,000 Penguins” have always demanded this (see “For a Factual Environmental Impact Assessment”, from January 25, 2016). The SEA in Chile (Chilean federal agency that will evaluate the environmental impact) has accepted this additional requirement, stopped the review process that has occurred up until now, and, based on this additional factor, started the review process anew. That means that the review of ship traffic and its impact on the many surrounding protected areas will involve civic participation. Andes Iron must soon begin with workshops that will attempt to lay out to the public, what their plans are with respect to their intended projects, and explain how they plan to make sure that the many natural protection areas will not be harmed. The citizens will then have the opportunity to comment and indicate their stance on the issue until December 15th. Sphenisco is currently preparing a statement on this, and requests Chilean scientists to submit their observations. This expansion of the evaluation is a step in the right direction and improves the chances of a fact-based review of the environmental impact by the regional government, and, if necessary, by the Chilean courts. This changes nothing however, with respect to the economic and political pressure, which is enormous, that is being applied to try to get the Dominga Project and the port facility in Totoralillo Norte approved.        

translated by Erich Greiner



The Penguin Petition has been handed over to the Bachelet Government

Rainforest Rescue collects over 219.000 signatures to protect the Humboldt Penguin. Sphenisco hands the signatures over to the Chilean Environmental Minister Pablo Badenier, in Santiago.

Santiago de Chile/Landau, June 7, 2016.

On June 2nd, a delegation organized by Sphenisco presented Environmental Minister Pablo Badenier 219.143 signatures that were collected from 190 countries. The delegation consisted of the Coquimbo Region Senator Adriana Muñoz (1); Josue Ramos, the spokesman for the coastal fishers from Los Choros (2); Isabella Monso from the citizens movement group MODEMA; Raimundo Gòmez Vergara from Chao Pescao, a group of artists that campaign for environmental issues; Sphenisco's representative in Chile, Nancy Duman; as well as a volunteer from Sphenisco, Laura Schuler.

The delegation's goal was, through the signatures collected by Rainforest Rescue, as well as through the “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral Declaration”, to point out to the Chilean government the dangers to the survival of 13,000 breeding pairs of Humboldt Penguins as well as to the regional environment as a whole, which would result from the planned building of two industrial ports. The Environmental Minister appeared surprised about Senator Muñoz's involvement, as well as the references to irregularities that occurred during the environmental impact assessment of the mines and ports projects.

Mrs. Muñoz thanked the Environmental Minister for taking the documents and requested that he support solutions that would conserve the environment. This request is ímportant because the port projects are linked with the planned bio-oceanic corridor (3). The danger exists that through hasty decisions, the repercussions on the environment would not be sufficiently taken into consideration, and particularly important ecological zones such as the Elqui Valley and the marine region before the coast of La Higuera would be massively damaged.

Mr. Ramos noted as well that the planned projects would damage the environment irreversibly, and also harm the coastal fisheries. He mentioned that the corporation Andes Iron was dividing the populace. Through disinformation and bribery, Andes Iron has been attempting to court acceptance for their “Dominga” project. He asked the Enviornmental Minister if it is possible that a project from a corporation would be acceptable to the Chilean government, whose owners were known to be corrupt. Minister Pablo Badenier then stated that he would speak with the politically responsible parties in the Coquimbo Region.

The Campaign “Save 26,000 Penguins” follows two objectives. First:  to inform authorities and the Chilean public about the problems with the environmental review of the port projects in a marine area of global importance, and Second:  to obtain an appropriate factual review of the mines and ports projects.

Through the phenomenal feedback of the signature campaign – over 219,000 signatures – and the handoff of the petitions to the Bachelet government, the Chilean Senate, the Chilean Diplomat in Berlin, as well as the regional government, we have reached our goal of informing the “potentially responsible parties”. The goal of informing the public could, so far, only be partially reached. Even when in the meantime, an entire array of media have reported on the issue, the battle against environmental destruction and corruption in the community of La Higuera is not adequately known. We have also not yet been able to reach the second goal of an appropriate factual review. Through the support of politicians such as Minister Marcelo Diaz, the Assemblymen Raũl Saldivar and Daniel Melo, and Senators Adriana Muñoz and Antonio Horvat, we have nevertheless gotten somewhat closer.


translated by Erich Greiner


(1) Directly-elected Senator of the Coquimbo Region.

(2)  President of the Fishery Cooperative of Los Choros and the Vice President of the Fishery Consortium of Los Choros (Presidente de la Cooperativa Pesquera de Los Choros y Vicepresidente del Gremio de Pescadores de Los Choros).

(3) Transportation link via a tunnel from the Pacific to the Atlantic, through the Andes Mountains, is currently being discussed and planned in Chile.


Penguin Petitions in the Chilean National Congress

Rainforest Rescue collects 216,000 signatures for the protection of the Humboldt Penguin. Sphenisco hands off to senators in Valparaiso.

Valparaiso/Landau, 12 May 2016.

With a petition of 216,505 signatures, Nancy Duman of Sphenisco went to the National Congress in Valparaiso, and visited Senators Adriana Muñoz (Coquimbo Region) (1) and Antonio Horvath (Aysén Region) (2). She informed both senators about the special meaning of the marine region in northern Chile, and mentioned the dangers to the 13,000 breeding pairs of Humboldt Penguins in the affected area, as well as to the environment in general, which would result from the planned building of two industrial ports. She again described the inconsistencies and irregularities in the environmental impact assessment, performed by the Chilean government. Senators  Muñoz and Horvath welcomed the signature campaign from Rainforest Rescue and the „La Higuera-Isla Chañaral Declaration”, that was signed by over 500 organisations. 

Both senators spontaneously agreed to sign the declaration, and to forward it to the Senate Environmental Committee. Just as Minister Marcelo Diaz as well as Assemblymen  Raúl Saldivar and Daniel Melo, both these Senators want to support the campaign, and ensure that the signatures from all over the world will be presented personally to President Bachelet. Both Senators want to be personally involved in the delivery. Further, Senator Horvath offered to legally support the plaintiffs who are against the Port Cruz Grande Project, and to have the plans affecting the development of the community of La Higuera checked by attorneys for irregularities. Senator  Muñoz is ready to take part in work groups and commissions, that deal with the problems in the community of La Higuera.

After these meetings, Nancy Duman was very tired, but satisfied. The battle against environmental destruction and corruption in the Coquimbo Region is not only being noticed locally, but also nationally. More and more politicians are supporting the campaign, and are helping to overcome the resistance to protect the area. If everything works out, Nancy Duman will soon return to Valparaiso, in order to report about the problems in northern Chile to the Cultural Center of the National Congress.


translated by Erich Greiner


(1)          Senator of the Coquimbo Region, through direct ballot

(2)          known, independent politician, who for many years has fought for environmental protection in Chile.