No Sacrificial Zones!

Pursuit of Profit is Against Nature – and Against Environmental Protection

Landau 2. November 2018.
Keine OpferzoneFor over 20 years, conservationists and environmentalists have been defending the habitat of the Humboldt Penguin and have demanded that the “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral“ ecosystem (northern Chile) be preserved through the creation of a marine protection area. Last year, it appeared that all the efforts at protection were finally paying off. The Coquimbo Regional Government and the cabinet of then-President Bachelet rejected the corporation Andes Iron’s proposed“Dominga” port and mining project. Shortly before the new administration took over in March, the Chilean Committee of Ministers unanimously voted in favor of the “Pinguino de Humboldt” Marine Protection Area. Bitter setbacks followed these advances. In May, the Chilean Supreme Court rejected the legal action against the Cruz Grande port project from Compania Minera del Pacífico S.A.-CMP, and the Chilean Environmental Court in Antofagasta granted Andes Iron’s appeal against the rejection of the “Dominga” project (see previous reports on this website). Environmentalists have since initiated legal action against these court decisions, before an international court against the approval of the Cruz Grande project, and at the Chilean Supreme Court against the “corrected” rejection of the “Dominga” project. Most recently, fishery unions have initiated legal action at the Chilean Constitutional Court. Many people view the verdict for “Dominga”as an expression of state despotism and a danger to the rule of law. This action by the Chilean court has disgusted and strengthened the citizens’and environmental movements.

Thus have the fishers organizations and the NGOs (MODEMA, Oceana, Chao Pescao and Sphenisco) in the La Higuera Region gained further partners. New groups have become active, have organized campaigns on their own and have taken part in protests. For example, the group “Defensa Ambiental IV Región” (with whom Sphenisco works very closely) organized information booths, implemented a cultural festival and has again and again held vigils (Velatones) in the region.
In Quintero und Puchuncaví (towns in the central region of Chile), children and adults have been poisoned by industrial plants. As a result of these poisonings, schools had to be closed temporarily. This scandal resulted in massive protests under the motto, “No más Zonas de Sacrificio”(No more Sacrificial Zones!). The Medical Association („Collegio Medico“) has regularly spoken up in order to also bring attention to the danger to people’s physical health that would be caused by the „Dominga“ project. Through their dedication they want to prevent the “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral“ ecosystem from becoming the next “Sacrificial Zone".

Keine OpferzoneThe so-called “Mesa Comunal”had previously advocated for the “Dominga”project. The group loudly and in some instances very aggresively piped up during the approval proceedings. They thereby attempted to present the impression that they were speaking for a majority of the population. A part of the group has since disclosed that they were paid by the company Andes Iron, and are now openly speaking out against “Dominga”. The company has lied to and deceived the general public. This mining and port project would not result in any jobs for people from the region, and Andes Iron has already not lived up to the promises it has made to date. Therefore, these group members have come to the conviction that mining will harm the region.
The Piñera Government wants to make investments from companies easier, even when it is at the expense of nature and the environment. According to the government, economic projects should be implemented faster. For these reasons, the government wants to “reform” the process for reviewing environmental compatibility. Primarily, the process is to be sped up and citizens more intensively involved, with emphasis on the keywords “citizen-friendly” and “involvement at an early stage”. In reality, the regional institutions responsible to date are to be replaced with central ones. How this would result in more citizen participation would remain the government’s secret. The so-called “early participation” could lead to an even greater lack of transparency and more corruption. And even the areas of jurisdiction and the working conditions of CONAF (the Forestry Agency that, inter alia, is responsible for natural protection areas) are currently being called into question.

On October 28th, environmental groups throughout Chile met with members of the Environmental Commission of the Chilean Parliament in order to discuss the current situation and problems with environmental protection. The groups agreed to continue the “No más Zonas de Sacrificio” (No more Sacrificial Zones!) campaign, and if possible, to prevent the “reform” of the environmental compatibility review. In a letter to the Chilean Environmental Ministry and through a discussion in Parliament, the Environmental Commission members of Parliament declared themselves ready to critically examine the topic “Dominga” and the situation with the “Pinguino de Humboldt” Marine Protection Area, and to break the silence and the avoidance of the Government.

Keine OpferzoneAt the moment, a lot is at stake in the Chilean community. The environmentalists and our employee Nancy Duman are in a difficult place. Sphenisco will strengthen its public relations and media presence and has therefore hired another employee, Mrs. Alicia Isabel Acuña. In addition, through a meeting titled “Marine Protection Area – Pinguino de Humboldt”, we want to tie into the World Congress for Marine Protection Areas (IMPAC 4) 2017 that was in the Coquimbo Region, and so bring attention to this important ecosystem and its protection.

Translated by Erich Greiner