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