Campaign against the power plants

Two Steps Forward, Four Steps Back

Landau 8.May 2018.

For over 20 years, natural and environmental preservationists have been defending the habitat of the Humboldt Penguin, the ecosystem “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral”, and have demanded the creation of a marine protection area. Last year, the Coquimbo Regional Government and later the Chilean Federal Government rejected Andes Iron Corporation’s mining and port project, thus setting an example for sustainable development in the La Higuera Region. On March 5th-6 days before the change of government the committee of ministers unanimously voted for the marine protection area “Pinguino de Humboldt. As a consequence, President Bachelet enacted the required decree. The Bachelet government however, left the size and demarcation of the protection area open. This was certainly not a breakthrough, but definitely a step in the right direction.

The Chilean Supreme Court has now rejected the case against the Cruz Grande port project intended by Corporation Compania Minera del Pacifico S.A. (CMP). Shortly thereafter, the First Environmental Court in Antofagasta sustained Andes Iron Corporation’s suit against the rejection of its Dominga mining and port projects (see open letter from 28. April). These verdicts endanger the existence of many people in the La Higuera Region and an ecosystem of global status.

How will this proceed? The environmental protectionists have filed suit in an international court against the approval of the Cruz Grande project, as well as in the Chilean Supreme Court against the verdict from the court in Antofagasta. The indignation in Chile is so intense, especially with respect to the verdict in Antofagasta (governmental capriciousness endangers the principles of a nation of law), that the environmental protectionists are receiving much support, and more and more people are backing the protests.


Open Letter from Nancy Duman, Sphenisco

28. April 2018

Yesterday on April 27, 2018 the First Environmental Court in Antofagasta announced its verdict with respect to the suit brought by the Andes Iron Corporation. Andes Iron had sued against SEA’s (the agency responsible for reviewing an intended project’s environmental compatibility) and the Committee of Ministers’ rejection of its Dominga mining and port projects. In detail, the judges stated:

1. the claim brought by Andes Iron against SEA and the Committee of Ministers is sustained.

2. the assessment 1.146 on 13. October 2017 of the Acting Director of SEA in his function as Acting Secretary of the Committee of Ministers is annulled.

3. the decision Nr. 08/2018 of the Committee of Ministers is also annulled.

4. further, Resolution Nr. 0025 from 14. March 2017 (Final Decision on the Environmental Compatibility – RCA) of the Environmental Compatibility Commission (COEVA) is annulled.

5. it is to be mandated, that the Process of the Environmental Compatibility Review be remanded back to the Phase after the ICE (Final Report of the Environmental Compatibility Review), so that a new vote - now a legitimate one – can take place at the Environmental Compatibility Commission of the Coquimbo Region (COEVA).

The (new) Environmental Minister commented on the verdict as follows: “As the government, we want to ensure that the procedure will now conform to the law. Paying deference to the law, the constitutionality, is guaranteed for all citizens. Therefore the verdict is very clear when it states that the process must be remanded back to where a new vote from the Environmental Compatibility Commission of the Coquimbo Region (COEVA) can take place. And that so – literally translated – this vote can be a legitimate one.”

We see this entirely differently. If one takes the entire evaluation procedure into consideration, it becomes clear that – quite to the contrary – this verdict is irresponsible, not in accordance with the law and a shame for the entire country of Chile.

If in fact the intent of the verdict was to establish legal conformity and constitutionality, then the Process of the Environmental Review would not have been remanded to the Phase after the ICE (Final Report) and a new vote allowed, without the entire environmental review process in and of itself first having been reexamined. With the current decision, the environmental court opens the way for the very governmental despotism that it claims to fight against. The same applies to the new Environmental Ministry which, as a party to the case, did not lodge an appeal to the highest court’s verdict.

This becomes obvious through the letter that the employees of SEA (Coquimbo Region) wrote last year to their director, and also from the document regarding the concluded disciplinary process in which 12 civil servants witnessed to the fact that the ICE (Final Report) was elaborated in Santiago and did not take the regional assessment into account, and that the Surrogate Director of the Regional Environmental Agency was sent to sign the report, so that the insufficient “Final Report” could be incorporated into the environmental compatibility review.

As a reminder: prior to this report, the SEA had accepted the observations of CONAF (The Chilean Environmental Protection Agency), as indicated in Adenda 3, and demanded that the responsible governmental agencies state their opinions. When the ICE was due however, for then-unexplainable reasons (we now know why) a fourth Adenda was requested and prefaced by a report which completely differed from the previous one, and in which CONAF’s position was explicitly not acknowledged and its claims completely removed from the evaluation.

Since then, there is evidence that during the time that Pablo Badenier was Environmental Minister, someone from the federal level intervened. In the document regarding the entire evaluation, this fact was witnessed in writing by 12 different officials. We hope that this document still exists and has not since been destroyed.

We recall: just a few days after the decision in the region by which the project was remanded, Badenier resigned, allegedly to support the presidential campaign of Carolina Goic. Shortly thereafter, the Federal Director of SEA, Jorge Troncoso and his entire team resigned, the very people that had prepared the report for the Committee of Ministers.

This alone attests to the fact that a grave mistake was made and a breach of governmental regulations committed, a breach sufficient to damage the governmental institutions of Chile and the country’s reputation throughout the world. We do not believe that a lack of information existed.

One makes a serious error when one imposes a new regional vote (remanded to a specific phase in the court’s decision-making process). In this way, a project can be approved without having to provide the necessary information to substantiate it, because the government either cannot do so or does not want to attempt it, and instead wants to remove harmful proof to the contrary; thus, the government does not want to adhere to its own legal requirements, the necessary basis of an approval process, i.e., orderly evaluation of the ramifications of such a project. In other words, quite to the contrary: it is to be assumed that this environmental monument of global importance will be destroyed, and the future of the Humboldt Penguin species with it.

Translated by Erich Greiner

Can Justice See in the Dark and Does She Even Want to?

La Serena, Landau 21. March 2018.

JustitiaWe remember. Sphenisco and Chilean environmentalists continually pointed out the irregularities in the environmental review of the Dominga project (Andes Iron Corporation), and even demanded an investigative committee be formed because of it. The Parliament met this demand and investigated the irregularities, mistakes, and deficiencies in the review of the Dominga project. Our employee Nancy Duman testified at the investigative committee and summarized her comments as follows:

  1. The applicant has presented a project that does not meet the minimum requirements in order to be assessed.
  2. During the review process, observations of governmental organizations with environmental competence were ignored.
  3. The document provided, and its enhancements or addenda do not contain sufficient information in order to allow for a correct environmental sustainability review.
  4. SEA should therefore have suggested a rejection and not a consent.
  5. The vote of the Commission took place with all of these aspects having being presented.
  6. Academics and research about the meaning of the archipelago and the coastal area of La Higuera was not taken into consideration, the opinion of scientific experts was not called upon (see also report from 15. May 2017).

The following question is therefore legitimate: what influence is responsible for these failures? Who exerted influence, so that the SEA (the agency responsible for reviewing environmental compatibility) recommended approval of the project, despite insufficient factual justification?

Marine Protection Area So Close and Yet So Far

La Serena, Landau 18. March 2018.


The marine protection area in northern Chile “Pinguino de Humboldt” (marine region of La Higuera-Isla Chañaral), was applied for over 10 years ago. The application is scientifically well-justified and should prevent the destruction of a globally meaningful ecosystem that is the main breeding area of the Humboldt Penguin. After much public participation, the population is currently in favor of a protection area and considers the project a chance for the La Higuera region to develop long-term in a sustainable manner.

The protection of this sensitive ecosystem in the Coquimbo Region has again and again conflicted with powerful economic interests. First a hotel, then three coal-fired power plants, and now multiple ports for the shipment of iron ore should be built, without any regard for the environment. In addition, the planned protection area does not fit with the development of a bi-oceanic corridor. The intended corridor should connect the Pacific with the Atlantic Oceans and requires huge port capacities, among other things in the La Higuera municipality.

Marine Protection Area “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral” 2017 – A Chronology


Landau, 18. December 2017

For more than 20 years, industrial projects have repeatedly threatened the marine region “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral” in northern Chile, and with that also threaten the main breeding area of the Humboldt Penguin. A few years ago it was the coal-fired power plants Barrancones and Farellones that endangered this threatened penguin species, currently it is the Dominga mining and port project as well as the port project Cruz Grande, from the mining company CMP (Compañia Minera del Pacifico). The following chronology documents the events and successes in the battle for the habitat of the Humboldt Penguins and other threatened species in the year 2017:


  • the previous year ends with a protest against the Dominga Project and the industrial port Totoralillo (see article from 10. December 2016).
  • proceedings in the lawsuit from the citizens group MODEMA against the approval of the Cruz Grande project begin in Santiago.


  • after numerous objections against “Dominga” as part of citizens participation, the SEA (the agency responsible for the environmental compatibility review), to the surprise of all, extends the period for the environmental review and calls on the participanting agencies to explain their opinions in a Fourth Addendum (see article from 2. February 2017).

Without Blue, No Green, and Without Green, No Us!

La Serena, Coquimbo 12. September 2017.

This fitting premise accompanied the atmosphere that was experienced at meetings, discussions, informational exchanges and exhibitions during the five-day IMPAC 4 Congress in the Coquimbo Region, Chile. Without a doubt those present – experts, scientists, persons with social and political functions, holders of office, students, as well as advocates for a responsible relationship with the environment – were absolutely convinced of the urgency to protect the oceans, our seas, the fountainhead of life.

Sphenisco, in unison with and consistently following the motives for its founding in the year 2007, took part in the Congress in order to plant this impulse both in Chile and internationally with Save the Rainforest’s petition “Speak Out for Chile’s Humboldt Penguins!”

The International Marine Protected Areas Congress and the Governmental Crisis in Chile - Sphenisco Campaigns for a Marine Protected Area and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Landau, 2 September.

On the 4th of September, the 4th International Marine Protected Areas Congress – IMPAC 4, will begin in Coquimbo and La Serena, in northern Chile. Due to the many damaging influences and pollution, the marine ecosystem is in severe jeopardy:

One third of the global fish population suffers from overfishing, and 61% is fished to the limits of its capacity

Through carbon dioxide emissions, the pH level of the ocean water is sinking, the oceans threaten to acidify, which would have devastating consequences for coral reefs, fish and other marine species

Further dangers include tanker accidents, industrial waste, plastic and garbage from civilization.

In order for the ecosystem “Ocean” to regenerate and in order to preserve the currently-existing biodiversity, marine protected areas urgently need to be established. 2,000 professionals from all over the globe will be discussing these problems for a week at the International Congress, and will be providing information on the organization and management of marine protected areas. The participants will also visit the marine region “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral”, about 100 kilometers away.

For over 20 years, residents, scientists, and environmental protectionists have been fighting for the preservation of this local hotspot of biodiversity; until now – thank God, with continual success. Just recently, on August 21st, the Bachelet Cabinet rejected a large mining and port project, and spoke out for sustainable development: development yes, but it must occur in harmony with the environment (see article “Bachelet Cabinet votes for…” on this website). That decision not only resulted in a phenomenal echo throughout the media – nationally and internationally – but also caused a governmental crisis. The Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdés and the Economic Minister Luis Felipe Céspedes, publically criticized the decision and as a result were removed from office by President Bachelet. The topics of environmental protection and sustainable development divide the Chilean community and politics.

Against this backdrop, IMPAC 4 is occurring in La Serena. Sphenisco is participating at the Congress and will be providing information on the threatened destruction of the marine region “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral” (s.a. Handout and Video). Together with our partners, Sphenisco will again urge the politically responsible parties, because of its international significance, to turn this marine region into a strictly protected area, and apply through UNESCO for it to declare this marine paradise a World Heritage Site. Sphenisco requests that the 2,000 professionals to come to our organization’s booth at the Congress and sign the Online Petition from Rainforest Rescue, and thus help save this hotspot of biodiversity.


translated by Erich Greiner

357.264 Signatures for the Humboldt Penguin

Sphenisco Hands Over Petitions to the Coquimbo Government

La Serena, Landau, July 4, 2017


On July 3rd, a delegation organized by Sphenisco handed Coquimbo’s Regional President, Señor Claudio Ibáñez, 357,264 signatures for the protection of the Humboldt Penguin. This small delegation was put together from the new President of the Fishers Federation, additional fishers from Los Choros and Chungungo, as well as member of the citizens’ movements MODEMA and Chao Pescao, and the NGO, Oceana. Approximately 340,000 signatures were collected through the help of “Rainforest Rescue” and the signature campaigns “Save 26,000 Penguins” and “Urgently Needed: a Protection Area for Penguins in Chile!”. The rest was organized by Chao Pescao with the campaign “Salvemos La Higuera (Save La Higuera)”, and MODEMA. The goal of the hand-off was to demonstrate that not only do many people in Chile want to prevent the threatened destruction of the “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral” marine region, but also that people globally are concerned about this valuable marine region in northern Chile as well.

Sphenisco at the Investigative Committee

Reaction from Nancy Duman B. at the Parliamentary Investigative Committee

Valparaiso, 15. May 2017Comission

Good day. I would like to thank the members of the Parliamentary Investigative Committee for the invitation and the recognition of the work that our organization has performed, by virtue of having been invited to speak here. To begin, I would like to request to all those present, that we take out of our comments the words “objectors and supporters of the Dominga Project”. To comment about the problems with those words during the process of the environmental sustainability evaluation, is to misconstrue and trivialize the essential issues.
My intent in this meeting is to describe what we should really be worried about, and the consequences that will affect not only this region, but the entire country as well. The fundamental fact is whether the currently-existing environmental laws and the associated agencies can truly guarantee the performance of a real and objective environmental sustainability evaluation, and whether the environmental laws and standards are being adhered to.
With this in mind, I must remind you that the goal of this investigative committee is to investigate “irregularities, mistakes, and deficiencies” that have been questioned by various organizations of the civilian community, including our organization.


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