Campaign against the power plants

Governors Call Fragmented Marine Protection Zone "inappropriate."

Allianza HumboldtOn 22 December, the Council of Ministers for Sustainability approved the creation of a protection zone in the Humboldt Archipelago Marine Area. Thus, after the Corte Suprema's insistence on a comparison in the matter of the "Dominga" port of loading, the fight for the rescue of the valuable ecosystem continues to escalate (see also. Can it be 10 percent more destruction?

This article is an unabridged translation of “Gobernadores de Atacama y Coquimbo califican de "improcedente” que Área Marina Protegida haya dividido Archipiélago de Humboldt“, from the online newspaper, El Observatodo.


Santiago December 23, 2021.

The surprising announcement by the Council of Ministers for Sustainability ignores the plan that the regional governments of Coquimbo and Atacama have developed together with the affected communities. The aim of the plan is, among other things, to prevent the settlement of industries that would cause a strong impact on the environment in the Humboldt Archipelago Reserve.

Suddenly, the Council of Ministers approved a coastal area from the northern border of La Serena to the northern border of the Coquimbo region as a multi-use protection zone. This did not take into account the part of the ecosystem that lies in the Atacama region. The governors of both regions question the actions of the executive authority, the Council of Ministers.

Can it be 10 percent more destruction? - Corte Suprema sets date for comparison -

Landau, Santiago 5 December 2021.

On 29 and 30 November, hearings on the Dominga mining and port project took place before the 3rd Chamber of the Chilean Supreme Court (Corte Suprema). The hearing was broadcast live.


It is difficult in the infinitely long Dominga cycle to keep an eye on what it is all about:

- In 2017, both the Coquimbo Environmental Impact Assessment Commission and the Committee of Ministers rejected the Dominga mining and port project on the grounds that the project did not take sufficient account of the conditions of the marine ecosystem and therefore underestimated the impact on one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the entire Humboldt Current.

Info There is no translation available for this article. Article in German.
No hay traducción disponible para este artículo. Artículo en alemán.

Erste Bilder vom Projekt „Forschung fürs Überleben“

 Landau 28. November 2021.

Die Forschungsarbeiten in Chile haben begonnen (1). Die Gruppe um Dr. Guillermo Luna (Universität Coquimbo), die das Monitoring durchführt, hat auf den Inseln Choros 80 Nester und auf Chañaral 40 Nester markiert und dokumentiert das Brutgeschehen in den Nestern.

Education and outreach activities are being expanded.


Landau, 25 November 2021.

The last 2 years have been very turbulent in Chile. In October 2019, millions of Chileans protested against social inequality and demanded a new constitution. The mass protests led to a referendum and elections of deputies for a constituent assembly. Presidential elections were held in Chile last weekend. A new parliament and parts of the senate were also elected. The election of the new president will be decided in a run-off on 19 December. Chile is undergoing a political and social upheaval with an uncertain outcome. This also applies to the impact on the protection of the environment and nature.

The proponents of the mining and port projects "Cruz Grande" and "Dominga" have been put on the defensive by the revelations of recent months (see reports on this page). Therefore, despite all imponderables, the chances are actually favourable at the moment to finally push through the long overdue protection zone for the valuable ecosystem "Archipelago Humboldt". SPHENISCO is trying to support the favourable development through 2 measures. As a founding member of the Alianza Humboldt, which campaigns for the protection of the "Archipelago Humboldt" in northern Chile, the association has started the petition "Humboldt penguins finally need protection" together with "Save the Rainforest". This is intended to lend weight to the demand for a protected area at the international level as well. Currently, around 68,000 people around the world are already supporting this demand. We hope to gain over 100,000 supporters in the near future.

Since our staff member Nancy Duman is so to speak overburdened with work and the situation around the "Humboldt Archipelago" is so explosive, SPHENISCO is hiring another staff member, Karen Quezada, in November to expand the education and public relations work in the Coquimbo Region. Karen Quezada studied tourism management with an additional degree in international ecotourism. She has worked for various institutions and associations, including CONAF (Chilean Protected Areas Authority), and therefore has many years of experience in the planning, management and control of protected areas. Among other things, her tasks included organising and shaping the cooperation of the nature conservation authority with the state tourism authority (Sernatur) and the communities.

Nancy Duman and Karen Quezada want to and should continue the previous activities and projects. We remember: Together with other conservationists, Nancy Duman has helped to build and maintain environmental networks such as "Defensa Ambiental" and "Alianza Humboldt" in recent years. In seminars and conferences - online and in presence - she and others have tirelessly drawn attention to the threatening destruction of the valuable ecosystem "Archipel Humboldt" with a wide variety of actions, including demonstrations. For years, she has accompanied the legal disputes about the valuable ecosystem, has repeatedly pointed out the impending destruction to politicians, authorities and citizens and has spoken out in the discussion about a new constitution on the topic of environmental protection and nature conservation. In this way, it has contributed to the fact that port and mining projects in the Coquimbo region are currently rejected by a majority.

These successes are to be secured and expanded with new issues and projects. The two staff members are planning the following initiatives:

  1. citizen participation in the design of the marine protected area "Archipelago Humboldt".

The aim of this initiative is for concerned citizens of the region (fishermen, shellfish farmers, tourism experts, seaweed collectors, indigenous people, etc.) to organise themselves and formulate and represent scientifically sound demands for a "Multiple Use Marine Protected Area". In this way, the foundations for the future management of the protected area are to be developed and its acceptance increased.

  1. public relations work "Research for Survival".

In October, studies on population numbers, breeding success and foraging of the Humboldt penguins began throughout Chile, with a focus on the Coquimbo Region.

  1. educational work via the radio.

With the help of a regular programme on the topic of the "Humboldt Archipelago" on a popular radio station in the Coquimbo Region, a larger public is to be informed about the importance of the valuable ecosystem in an entertaining way. The broadcasts are also intended to test a new format of environmental education.

  1. environmental education in the community of La Higuera.

In Peru, ACOREMA has been successfully providing environmental education for many years on behalf of SPHENISCO in regions where Humboldt penguins live. In the coastal villages near the "Humboldt Archipelago", there is no such offer so far. Karen Quezada is therefore to initiate an educational programme for schools in the community of La Higuera and realise it in consultation with those responsible.

These activities and projects strengthen the environmental and species protection efforts in the Coquimbo Region, they help the inhabitants of the coastal villages to defend their livelihoods and contribute - we hope - to the urgently needed multiple use marine protected area finally being designated and made sustainable.


translated by Claudia Wirth


Nancy Duman Karen A. Quezada


"Dominga" the big deceit - World Natural Heritage as an object of speculation


Landau September 15, 2021.

This article is based on the article "Dominga, el Gran Engaño: ex Jefe de la Unidad de Geología de CMP afirma que Proyecto No es Viable Económicamente" in the online journal "Vocería virtual" (1). The article focuses on the aspects "quality of ore deposits", "production costs" and "history of the Dominga mine". Along these keywords, the interview of the Chilean journalist Lucía Escobar with the geologist Mario Rojo Lara is summarized.

In 2013, the company Andes Iron applied for the mining and port project "Dominga" in the region of Coquimbo, northern Chile. The project endangers one of the most valuable ecosystems in the world and has strongly been opposed by environmentalists since then. On their website (2) Andes Iron advertise that they produce high-quality and competitive iron ore and copper products. The investment costs are quantified at US$ 2.5 million. In mid-August, the online newspaper Vocería virtual (1) reported that this information is false. The Chilean newspaper bases its publication on investigations and expertise of the geologist Mario Rojo Lara. Being an experienced and recognized expert in uranium and iron ore mining, he worked at the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission (CCHEN) for 11 years and at Compañía Minera del Pacífico (CMP), the largest iron ore producer on the Pacific coast of the Americas for 32 years. At CMP, he was head of the geological department for a decade before retiring.

The retired geologist knows the Dominga project very well. As head of the geology department of Compañía Minera del Pacífico (CMP), he had to review the project because it should be sold to CMP by Latin American Cooper company, the former owner. In addition, ore deposits of CMP and "Dominga" are located right next to each other, they rest on the same deposits (El Tofo district). The quality of the raw materials is evaluated by the retired geologist as follows:

Dominga is not economical

As mentioned, the company Andes Iron state on their website that they want to produce high quality and competitive products (iron ore and copper). The investment costs are quantified at US$ 2.5 million.

When the price of iron boomed in the late 2000s, Mario Rojo's department conducted metallurgical tests. These tests showed that the rock mass of their deposits were of poor quality (low concentration). As a result, the (weight) yield from the mining is too low to obtain a saleable product. For this reason, CMP canceled their research.

Then Andes Iron offered to sell the Dominga mine to CMP. The iron ore producer tested the deposits and confirmed what they already knew. After this failure "Dominga" was to be sold to Mitsubishi in Japan. At that time, however, the Japanese company was advised on all iron ore projects in South America by CMP - another flop. The next step was to sell to Chinese companies. China, however, does not exploit their own deposits which are of low quality. Why then should Chinese companies mine low-grade ore in remote countries? The Chinese have not made an offer either.

Technical Problems

The "Dominga" deposit (El Tofo district) consists of magnetite mineralized tuff. The material is below the cut-off grade (lowest grade of a raw material that is still considered to be worth mining). That means that the production costs are too high to achieve a profit. The average iron ore content of Dominga is 23%. In comparison: the average grade of the El Romeral mine near La Serena is 52%. So there much less rock has to be moved to extract iron ore.

The copper content of the Dominga mine is 0.09%. In copper mining, as little as 0.1% is considered to be unusable. Andes Iron have unusable rock, but declare it as a resource. With an iron content of 23%, Andes Iron can only extract an iron concentrate that does not meet international requirements. On international markets, the standard is 67-69 % total iron. "Dominga", however, can only reach maximum values of 64-65%. There does not seem to be much difference between 64% and 67%. However, it is necessary to know that enormously high penalties are imposed for every percentage point of iron which is not contained in the offered concentrate. Therefore, selling a 67% concentrate is much better than selling a 65% concentrate, since penalties for deviations exponentially affect the price.

Andes Iron aim to produce 12 million tons of iron concentrate per year. For that, in the meantime a capital requirement of only US$ 2.5 million is stated. Originally, Andes Iron had estimated US$ 3.2 million. This reduction has a simple reason: In mining, an investment of more than US$ 3 million represents a high risk. In order to attract investors, the capital requirements have been "adjusted". However, with this amount of money, mining at the Dominga mine is technically not feasible. According to calculations by the geologist Mario Rojo, the costs for a port and filtration plant, desalination plant and production costs amount to at least US$ 3.35 million. This does not even include the necessary stock market launch.

In response to journalist Lucía Escobar's question about whether information on ore grades or capital costs can be given arbitrarily without government agencies confirming the data, Mario Rojo clarifies: "The Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Sernageomin) or any other public body do not interfere. You can declare whatever you want. You can make up a project, and if it is convincing, you can even sell it. Although there is a peer review (a quality assurance process by independent experts from the same field) as in science, there is no obligation to conduct one. Andes Iron, of course, are not interested in peer reviews. So an investor has to hire own experts to review the project point by point.

In this context, the geologist recalls the major scandal involving the gold mine Bre-X in Indonesia. No ore was found there. That's why they cheated and gold was spread over the samples. After the scandal, mineral trading floors were established in Canada and Australia with credibility testing standards. When a mining company is questioned for misleading investors, the whole country is called into question, and the image of the country deteriorates. Andes Iron's approach therefore discredits the image of Chilean mining, which is so enormously important to Chile.

Pure speculation

The geologist Mario Rojo Lara describes "the "Dominga Mine Project" as pure speculation. It is not a real „mining project". The project began in the mid-2000s. The mine belonged to the Latin American Cooper company. At the time, geologist Iván Garrido worked for them. The British investors conducted a few surveys that did not yield significant results. They therefore considered the project unprofitable despite discrete copper and gold anomalies in the iron-bearing material.

In 2009, Garrido and the Larraín Vial Group founded „Minería Activa“, an investment fund for mining companies. Soon Larraín Vial were able to attract well-known, influential families such as the Piñera Morel family and the Délano Méndez family as investors. The "Minería Activa" fund bought the Dominga mine. In 2010, the year when Sebastián Piñera became president, Andes Iron acquired the mine. Iván Garrido took over the position of Chairman of the Board and General Director, which he held until December 2020.

Although the "iron business" is very difficult, the group bought Larraín Vial without consulting with experts in the industry. The geologist Iván Garrido, however, does not have the relevant experience and also does not communicate with colleagues in the industry. He neither has in-depth knowledge of the production nor of the market. Together with his friend, the geologist Armando Signa, he "made up" the project. Iván Garrido and Armando Signa, however, are primarily financial consultants and not mining entrepreneurs.

Andes Iron are in debt and therefore have to hurry to attract investors. Also for this reason the environmental problem had to be solved. In this respect, the worries were not particularly big. It was assumed that the current government under President Sebastián Piñera would solve the environmental problem. The real worries, on the other hand, were the technical problems (see above). When these problems could no longer be overlooked, confidence was withdrawn from Iván Garrido. He was dismissed.

Mario Rojo estimates that about $250 million have been invested in the Dominga project so far - a small amount for mining. Expenditures include costs for professional studies, renting very nice offices in "Sanhattan" and a lot of lobbying. Andes Iron could have promoted the project without a lot of media hype and thus causing chaos which has brought Chilean mining into disrepute. Any outsider who examines Andes Iron's figures will recognize the false statements. Therefore, the company will not find a buyer that will make investments profitable.

The port alone could save the project. If the Agua Negra tunnel (3) is built to get from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, it will be a big deal. But the construction of the tunnel will be implemented in 20 years at the earliest. It takes at least seven years to launch a mining project, if everything goes well and Andes Iron comply with the law. Usually, investors, however, insist on separating the seaside project, the port, from the land project. Therefore, the port company cannot subsidize the mining company.

The geologist Mario Rojo sums it up: "In the Dominga project, some very serious mistakes were made".


(1) Vocería virtual 17. August 2021. Dominga, el Gran Engaño: ex Jefe de la Unidad de Geología de CMP afirma que Proyecto No es Viable Económicamente

(2) Website Andes Iron

(3) Agua-Negra Tunnel


G.K. & W.K.


translated by Angelika Veelken


Andes Iron Logo Iván Garrido Mario Rojo Lara

No to ecocide - #NoaDominga


La Serena 15th of August 2021.

On Wednesday, 11th of August 2021, the Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment (COEVA) of the Coquimbo region approved - to the astonishment of the whole country - in an extraordinary session, with 11 votes in favor and one against, the mining and port project Dominga of the company Andes Iron. This is despite the fact that four civil society organizations have appealed to the Corte Suprema (Supreme Court) against the ruling issued in this matter by the Antofagasta Environmental Court in April of this year. The Supreme Court's decision is still pending. This is the first time that this commission has approved a project without waiting for the decision of the Corte Suprema.

The Antofagasta Environmental Court accepted the mining company's appeal and ordered the COEVA (Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment) to revote on the project based on the previous assessment report (ICE). In other words, to repeat the vote and overturn the two rejections of the project, the first in March 2017 by the regional government and the second in August of the same year by the Committee of Ministers (note1).

To make clear the great importance of Wednesday's COEVA vote and decision, and to understand why this irregular operation represents a renewed and perhaps more serious threat to the "Humboldt Archipel" ecosystem in the community of La Higuera, it is necessary to state some facts:

  1. Pablo Hermann, President Piñera's appointee (new position since the 2021 reform regarding governors) was the only one who voted against the project. His reasoning: he opposes the "Dominga Project" until it is limited to one port of loading in the Coquimbo region. He asked the companies (Andes Iron and Compañía Minera del Pacífico (CMP)) to agree to operate only one port in the area. That means, the Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment (COEVA) supports and promotes the Cruz Grande port in Chungungo of the company CMP. This port was also approved in 2015 under political pressure with numerous irregularities, like the port of Dominga.
  2. It should be borne in mind that the construction permit for the Cruz Grande Port has since lapsed, as construction did not begin within the 5-year period provided for in the environmental law. Nevertheless, the company insists that the permit is still valid.
  3. The Dominga Project was and is now being approved again on the basis of a professional opinion prepared in March 2017, four and a half years ago. The opinion was prepared by professionals in Santiago and was designed to favor the approval of the project. The expertise of the responsible experts in the region was not only not taken into account, it was deliberately bypassed.
  4. The COEVA (Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment) was convened by the president Piñera's designee. It consists of ten regional ministerial secretaries, all appointed by the current president. Until 2010, the president was also the majority owner of Andes Iron. He is a close friend of the current owner, Carlos Delano, who was sentenced to 99 hours of ethics courses for repeated tax violations.
  5. The question remains as to what the responsible parties will do to enable the company Andes Iron to abandon the planned port in Totorallo Norte, as announced. To do this, it is necessary to circumvent institutional conditions, since environmental law requires that the environmental impact assessment process be restarted when a project is modified.
  6. The environmental impact assessment system has yielded to the pressure of the mining company and the current government agencies in favor of private interests and to the detriment of nature and people. The threatened marine protected areas are of inestimable and irreplaceable value, they are globally crucial for biodiversity. The realization of the mine project also has serious consequences on land. It can cause the groundwater to dry up irreversibly. This would damage habitats of plants and animals of great biological importance and deprive the population of access to water for daily and agricultural needs.

What happens next?

There are 2 parallel ways.

Civic organizations and Oceana appealed the Antofagasta Environmental Court's ruling in favor of the Dominga project to the Supreme Court in April of this year. The court's decision is still pending. In addition, civil society groups will take legal action against COEVA's approval of the project.

It is important to clarify that the project has already been rejected by two official instances and is currently still under review at the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the appeals, the 11th of August vote will be invalid.

The approval of the project on 11th of August in no way implies a building permit. It only enables the processing of sectoral permits.

Community civil societies and environmentalists are determined not to give up until the plans "Dominga Mine" cease to exist. They call on citizens not to be deceived, to remain extremely alarmed and active. The decision of the Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment is a national disgrace, even more so considering that we are in a climate crisis.

Nancy Duman
(Sphenisco Chile)



(1) see article "Waiting for a decision" of April 25, 2021 with " Declaration of 21 April 2021".


Protests and actions against the decision

Landau, 18th of August 2021. During the decision on August 11, Alianza Humboldt and Defensa ambiental 4th region demonstrated in front of the regional government headquarters in La Serena and read a declaration. Many organizations and institutions reacted quickly and published protest notes, including. CONAF, Coquimbo Region (Corporación Nacional Forestal, responsible for conservation), FENATRAMA - workers of the Ministry of Environment and SEA (responsible for environmental impact audits), ANFUMMA - Association of Officials of the Ministry of Environment, Sernapesca, Coquimbo Region (Servicio Nacional de Pesca y Acuicultura, Fisheries Agency), the National Servicio de Evaluación Ambienta (SEA, responsible for environmental impact audits), National Park workers, Union of copper miners. In the past, there were no such public protests from authorities and public service employees. They mark a new quality of public discussion in Chile.

The following actions are planned for the next few weeks:

  • Handing over a letter of protest to the Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment,
  • Demonstration in front of the office of the company Andes Iron with delivery of a letter,
  • Funeral procession from Chanaral de Aceituno to La Serena (distance 120 km!),
  • Action days in all coastal villages of the municipality of La Higuera,
  • weekly information stand on Av. Francisco de Aguirre in La Serena,
  • Online and live concerts in support of the protests.

Analyzing the approach and public relations of Andes Iron, the following assumption suggests itself: The company is keen to launch the port and mining project during President Piñera's term in office if possible. Chile's elections are in November 2021, with the inauguration of the new president in March 2022. It is not possible to conclude the legal disputes in the remaining 6 months. If the "Dominga" project is to be launched during President Piñera's term in office, this will only be possible if laws and institutional conditions are once again circumvented. The call not to be fooled, to remain extremely alarmed and active is probably more than justified.

W. K.

translated by Claudia Wirth

Demo August 11th Map Alianza Humboldt

Research for survival

Landau, June 4, 2021

How many Humboldt penguins are left in Chile? Do they breed successfully? Where do they find enough food? These are open questions that are crucial for the survival of this penguin species.

In 2019, the Conservation Planning Specialist Group (CPSG) of IUCN appealed to researchers to investigate such essential questions and fill these knowledge gaps. With prestigious Chilean and New Zealand researchers, SPHENISCO is planning an overall 6-year research project. Dr. Alejandro Simeone (University Andrés Bello, Santiago) will conduct censuses on the eight most important breeding islands in Chile, Dr. Guillermo Luna (University Católica del Norte, Coquimbo) will investigate the breeding success on the islands Chañaral and Choros and the research couple Dr. Ellenberg and Dr. Mattern (NZ Penguin Initiative, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand) will collect data on foraging. The research project is funded by the Species Conservation Foundation Karlsruhe Zoo, Dresden Zoo and the Friends of Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg.

Humboldt penguins are threatened in their population by factors such as overfishing, climate change, artisanal fisheries bycatch, direct hunting, guano mining, egg collection, and marine pollution. These activities reduce the availability of breeding habitats, reduce breeding success, or directly cause penguin mortality. As a result, the Humboldt penguin has been listed as endangered by the IUCN for years.

During the period from 1999 to 2008, the Humboldt penguin population was relatively stable, with a population of around 33,000 birds in Chile. However, a recent study from 2017 suggests that the population may have declined to as low as 10,000 birds. Analysis and evaluation of this (possible) trend is difficult, as data from recent decades are subject to significant methodological flaws. Neither the selection of breeding sites, nor the type of counts (during molting versus during breeding) have been sufficiently stringent. It is therefore unclear what the possible decline in the last decade can be ascribed to. Does it reflect population fluctuations or is it due to methodological shortcomings?

There is little data available on the hunting grounds, diet and diving behavior of Humboldt penguins. However, a better understanding of marine ecology would be essential for the survival of this penguin species, which spends up to 80% of its life in the sea.

In the project "Deciphering population size and foraging behavior of Humboldt penguins in Chile", three coordinated studies will collect reliable data on population size, breeding success and foraging behavior. The research is funded by the Species Conservation Foundation Karlsruhe Zoo, Dresden Zoo and the Friends of Hagenbeck Zoo.

Census (Dr. Alejandro Simeone, University Andrés Bello, Santiago).

Every two years, the breeding population is counted in the eight most important colonies (corresponding to 80-90% of the Chilean population) in November and December. Other nesting seabirds such as Peruvian boobies, Peruvian pelicans, Neotropical and Guanay cormorants, seagulls will also be recorded.

Monitoring of breeding success (Dr. Guillermo Luna, University Católica del Norte, Coquimbo).

Monitoring takes place on the two main breeding islands - Chañaral and Choros. Both islands are part of the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. Data such as timing of mating, egg laying, hatching and fledging, and breeding success are collected. The data can be used to detect breeding failures due to natural events or human intervention.

During the breeding season (early November to mid-January), the two islands of Choros are visited every two weeks. At each visit, the number of eggs, chicks, dead chicks, and fledged birds are recorded. These data are used to calculate average clutch size, hatch rate and average breeding success.

Foraging (Dr. Thomas Mattern, Dr. Ursula Ellenberg, NZ Penguin Initiative, University of Otago, Dunedin).

New Zealand scientists have advanced research using GPS loggers as well as underwater cameras, making it possible to study seabird behavior at sea. The behavior of Humboldt penguins is studied during chick rearing and the period before molting. Both periods are of crucial importance, as the survival of the adults and the preservation of the species (breeding success) ultimately depend on the ability to find sufficient and appropriate food. 

The surveys are conducted in December and January on Chañaral Island and Choros Island (Humboldt Penguin National Reserve). Both penguins that are raising chicks and birds that have completed rearing and are preparing for the annual molt are studied.

The measurements will provide precise and detailed information on the birds' position and diving behavior as well as ambient water temperature. In combination with satellite-based oceanographic data, the behavior of the penguins can then be analyzed in an ecological context. In addition, the animals will be equipped with novel camera loggers. The researchers will look over the penguins' shoulders, so to speak, while they forage in order to document findings about hunting strategies, hunting success and prey species recorded (see Yellow-eyed Penguin Research The GPS and diving data will help identify important marine zones where the penguins find food, providing information for marine planning.

Actually, the project was supposed to start already in November 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic did not allow travel in and to Chile at that time. Now it is planned to start the research work in November.

Gabriele & Werner Knauf interviewed the researchers Dr. Simeone, Dr. Ellenberg and Dr. Mattern about their plans and documented the interviews in the film "Research for Survival" (15 min.).


translated by Angelika Veelken

Forschung fürs Überleben Forschung fürs Überleben Forschung fürs Überleben


Waiting for a Decision


Landau 25 April 2021.

You don't know if you should laugh or cry. The April 16th, 2021 decision of the Antofagasta Environmental Court on the “Dominga” mining and port project is reminiscent of absurd theater. In 2017, the Regional Government of Coquimbo and the Committee of Ministers (1) rejected the "Dominga" project. Andes Iron appealed against the decisions to the Antofagasta Environmental Court. The company Andes Iron filed a complaint against the decisions with the Antofagasta Environmental Court and was proven right. Environmentalists successfully challenged this ruling before the Supreme Court in Santiago at the end of February, beginning of March 2019. In its explanatory statement at the time, the Supreme Court stated that most of the arguments put forward by the critics of the project were valid. The Court then referred the case back to the Environmental Court in Antofagasta, asking it to consider the actual conditions of the project and the technical counterarguments. In March 2020, the dispute was again heard and decided in Antofagasta. However, the court has only now published its verdict on April 16, 2021. A whole year later!!?? Once again, the court ruled in favor of Andes Iron and ordered a new vote in the Coquimbo Regional Environmental Assessment Commission. In a statement, Alianza Humboldt (2), of which SPHENISCO is a member, criticized the decision and shed light on the prospects of the lawsuit.


Declaration of 21 April 2021

La Serena 21 April 2021. The ALIANZA HUMBOLDT Coquimbo-Atacama will continue to defend the Humboldt Archipelago against threats from megaprojects.

The Alianza Humboldt of the Atacama and Coquimbo region urges all citizens of civil society, individuals, organizations and institutions to join it in defending the Humboldt Archipelago and its surroundings against the dangers posed by such projects.

On Friday, April 16th, the Antofagasta Environmental Court upheld the suit brought by Andes Iron on the "Dominga" mining and port project. In its decision, the court ordered a new vote in the Coquimbo Environmental Assessment Commission. At the same time, the Court acknowledged that the envisaged project had serious problems and that the explanations were insufficient. However, according to the court, these shortcomings could be resolved by the Committee of Ministers. With this proposal, the Court of First Instance exceeded its authority. It is not empowered to propose to the Committee of Ministers that it fix the problems of the "Dominga" project. Its mission is to enforce compliance with environmental laws and to ensure that projects are properly evaluated, and that evaluations are not influenced by private interests.

The judgment of April 16th is once again a reminder that legal and institutional measures in Chile are inadequate, especially when it is a case involving President Piñera himself. In 2010, he rejected the Barrancones Project (construction of coal-fired power plants) and promised to protect the Humboldt Archipelago, a nature reserve of global importance. Soon after, it was announced that up until December of the same year, he was the majority shareholder of Andes Iron, the same company pushing the Dominga project. The owner of the company was Carlos Délano, a childhood friend of Sebastian Piñera. Mr. Délano was sentenced to 99 hours of ethics lessons for illegal political party financing. It is clear to us that in this context of the current deep crisis, in the context of corruption and manipulation, we cannot enforce the law against interests that advocate the exploitation of natural resources. It is therefore necessary to mobilize the environmental movement and to consolidate its networks in order to:

  1. make visible the real extent of the social and environmental damage that would be associated with the realization of the 'Dominga' megaproject.
  2. understand the shortcomings and major errors that would have been made in the environmental assessment process, and
  3. ensure the protection of the environment in the Constitution.

It is worrying that the Antofagasta Environmental Court is grossly neglecting its central task, namely the protection of the natural heritage, and, with its judgment in this case, placing particular interests above the collective interest. The Court thus damages institutions and even the legal system in Chile in this matter by depriving the SEIA (Sistema de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental), i.e., the system of environmental impact assessment, of its task. All this is happening in the context of the climate crisis and the health crisis triggered by the pandemic, and without taking into account the myriad calls from science and various international organizations to give priority to protecting and caring for the remaining ecosystems over an economy geared toward the exploitation of natural resources, thus causing so much damage to communities, the area and the local economy in general. This is especially true in the case of this globally UNIQUE ECOSYSTEM.


About the Verdict

The ruling does not mean that the project has been approved. Environmental courts have neither the power nor the competence to approve or reject a project. This is exclusively the task of other institutions responsible for the environment, such as the regional commission in charge of the environmental impact assessment.

The court accepted the complaint of Andes Iron on the megaproject "Dominga" and has now ordered that the procedure be referred back to the regional commission for re-voting. In this way, the Court opens up the possibility of irreversibly damaging the environment of this region and of creating a new 'victim zone'.

In complete contradiction to this decision, the Court of First Instance acknowledges in its judgment that the project is flawed, that it has informational deficits and concludes that the Environment Agency should have been pushing harder for improvements to the project in order to avoid rejection. For example, the Court acknowledges that the compensation measure submitted by the company with regard to the Humboldt Penguin is not appropriate and sees weaknesses in the environmental assessment procedure with regard to the impairment of the Humboldt Penguin on the island of Totoralillo Norte. However, despite the apparent lack of information and the problematic compensatory measures, it has been ordered to vote again on the project.


Impact on the Local Economy

In the area of the Humboldt Archipelago are the most productive  Áreas de Manejo y Explotación de Recursos Bentónicos (AMERB) of the entire northern central zone (protected zones sustainably harvested by local fishermen) located. When this economic activity began in the 1990s, about 90 thousand units were harvested; today, with sustainable management of the areas, it is 800 thousand units.

If the megaproject were to be implemented, it would have serious consequences for the local economy, for sustainable economic activities such as local fishing, the production of olives and olive oil, family gardens, livestock farming and tourism. It should be noted that tourism has developed the strongest dynamism in recent decades and has become an important engine for the economy.

It is a very bad sign that a project aimed at exploiting natural resources is being pursued while Chile is in the process of creating a new constitution; a constitution aimed at ensuring the transition to a society with an economy that centers on the well-being of the people, the protection of the environment and not on commercial benefits. Apparently, in the interests of large corporations, those responsible want to secure everything quickly before the country's constitution and vision change.

As Alianza, we reaffirm our commitment to take all necessary measures and to use all institutional channels, nationally and internationally, to achieve the protection of the Humboldt Archipelago without mega-projects, thereby protecting this world heritage in the long term.

For all these reasons, and in view of the fact that pressure and manipulation in favor of the Dominga project are extremely strong, we reiterate the call to join the Alianza Humboldt in order to create a strong national movement to defend this national protected area.


The Alianza Humboldt was wide awake, and reacted immediately in the difficult conditions of the pandemic going on the offensive in the days after the verdict. The "Declaration of April 21" was published at press conferences in La Serena and Coquimbo, as well as on social media. A motorcade in Punta de Choros and Choros was organized. As spokeswoman for Alianza Humboldt and as an independent candidate for the Constituent Assembly, Nancy Duman conducted several daily discussions and interviews with opinion leaders on the internet. Members such as Oceana, FIMA (an environmental attorneys’ group in Chile) and the fishermen of La Higuera were also critical on social media and posted their own statements. The Medical Association of La Serena and the National Board of the Changos (Indigenous Group) also went public. Several internet newspapers took critical positions. The local newspaper, El Dia – as expected– one-sidedly presented only the view of the company Andes Iron and the project "Dominga".


On May 3rd, the Alianza Humboldt is planning a protest rally from Chañaral to La Serena via the (coastal) villages of Punta de Choros, Los Choros, and Caleta Hornos. On May 4th, the Alliance, represented by Oceana, will apply to the Corte Suprema (Supreme Court) in Santiago for the court's decision to be overturned.



translated by Erich Greiner


(1) Minister for Mining, Health, Agriculture, Environment and Economy

(2) The Alianza Humboldt members comprise 20 "major" organizations, among others: Oceana, Greenpeace, Ocean Blue, Sea Shepherd, Fundación Terram, FIMA, Defensa Ambiental IV Region, Modema, Turismo Caleta Hornos and Sphenisco. In addition to these organizations, there are 67 regional and other 8 supra-regional civil society organizations.



Protest Protest Protest
Protest Protest Protest


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