“Dominga“ Investigative Committe

- Chamber of Representatives Investigates Irregularities -

La Serena, Landau, 06 April, 2017.

At the beginning of last year, Sphenisco published the “La Higuera- Chañaral Island Declaration”, in order to preserve the breeding areas of the Humboldt Penguin. More than 500 institutions and celebrities all over the world have signed the declaration. 227,444 people supported Rainforest Rescue’s online petition (s.a. “Save the Habitat of 26,000 Humboldt Penguins!”). In the declaration, the politically responsible parties were, among other things, called upon to investigate the irregularities in the environmental assessment of the mine and port projects in northern Chile.

KongressThese efforts were doubly successful. First, the Chilean Regional Government in Coquimbo rejected the planned “Dominga” project (s.a. our article on 09 March, 2017). Now the Chamber of Representatives from the Chilean National Congress have discussed the “Dominga” approval process, and decided to form an investigative committee. The goal of this committee is, by July 1st, to look into any possible “irregularities, mistakes, or loopholes” in the environmental sustainability review process. The findings of this investigation is of high political impact, even though it is not binding on the Chilean government. The committee will be lead by Raúl Saldivar. Mr. Saldivar also plans to hear the NGOs’ Oceana and Sphenisco’s views on the issue as well. During this time, our employee, Nancy Duman, will have the opportunity to present the Representatives with the deficiencies that occurred during the environmental review of the “Dominga” project.

The central failing of SEA (The governmental agency responsible Raulfor the environmental sustainability review) with respect to “Dominga,” was that only the impact of the immediate surroundings of the port project were evaluated, and not the ecosystem as a whole, which includes the neighboring protected areas. That means that the environmental sustainability review was not conducted in a regionally comprehensive manner. The breeding island Chañaral (part of the National Protection Area of the Humboldt Penguin) lies in the Atacama Region, and the impacts on this island were not taken into consideration at all. For example, dangerous emissions from ship traffic would reach this protected island within 24 hours. It is also feared that the island would be threatened by possible contamination through the entry of invasive species. SEA even went so far as to deny CONAF (the Chilean agency responsible for the protected areas) any authority in the review, and demanded that it not take a position regarding the possible ramifications of ship traffic on these protected areas. Other aspects, such as the disposal of poison residues and debris that come from ore mining, and further formalities in the environmental impact assessment were not adequately adhered to.

For the first time, a political discussion happened on a national level about the sustainable development of the “La Higuera” community.  And for the first time, attention is being paid to the possible exertion of illegitimate influence. We are curious to see how thoroughly the investigative committee will shed light on the process that led to the previous decision in the environmental review of the “Dominga” project. There is the possibility that facts will triumph over fakes. With its partners Oceana, Chao Pescao, and Modema, Sphenisco will work toward that goal.


translated by Erich Greiner