Protected Areas Day: And when do we discuss the development model?

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 Hydroelectric construction at Los Maquis, in Puerto Guadal, Aysen, Chile. Hydroelectric construction at Los Maquis, in Puerto Guadal, Aysen, Chile.

By Patricio Segura
Segura is a journalist living in the Aysen region, where he also active in several citizen socio-environmental organizations. 
In October 2021, it was reported in Chile that "more than 60 organizations are calling for the end of salmon farming in protected areas."  A letter addressed to the fisheries commission of the lower house of Congress called for a law that "would put an end to the more than 400 salmon farming concessions near or inside national reserves and parks."  The appeal had a concrete effect: the following month a bill was introduced in the lower house to modify the Fishing and Aquaculture Law to that effect.
What was a promising sign, turned into disappointment at the beginning of this year.  The fishing commission postponed the project to prohibit salmon farms in protected areas, reported the local press in January.
But the organizations from Chiloé, Aysén and Magallanes did not let up.  The proposal has been reiterated in many ways, including this past Monday's commemoration on October 17 of "Protected Areas Day." But the task clashes with certain institutionalism: recently Fundación Terram reported that "70 salmon farming concessions located inside protected areas should have been subject to forfeiture for not initiating activities within the legal period. Despite this, only three of them have been denounced by the National Fishing and Aquaculture Service, and none have been revoked by the Undersecretariat for the Armed Forces."
For this reason, several organizations in Aysén filed an appeal with the courts in Coyhaique to sanction Cooke Aquaculture for the salmon farms it maintains inside Laguna San Rafael National Park.
For Chile's environmental institutions, areas under official protection are not only parks, reserves, or natural monuments, it includes priority sites for biodiversity conservation, certain areas of tourist interest, protected national assets, and nature sanctuaries, among others.
Since the mid-1990s, the Priority Site for the Conservation of Biodiversity in the Jeinimeni Steppe-Jara Bay Lagoons (in Chile Chico) has been exploited by the Cerro Bayo mining company, now owned by the Australian company Equus Mining.  Recently this company (via its subsidiary Southern Gold) submitted an environmental impact statement to regularize the more than 20 prospecting operations that it carried out illegally for years in the El Ceballo sector, obliged by a ruling of the Superintendence of the Environment as a result of the presentation of regional organizations.  Last week, the project was declared inadmissible for lacking minimum content.
Another Cerro Bayo initiative also in the priority site, this time in the vicinity of Bahía Jara, was approved by the government of Sebastián Piñera in 2018, but in 2020 the Supreme Court forced its reevaluation.  That done, the initiative was rejected in June of this year.
Following a ruling by the Environmental Court of Valdivia, Edelaysén is obliged to enter its Los Maquis hydroelectric project for evaluation, near Puerto Guadal and inside the Chelenko Tourist Interest Zone, which for environmental legislation is an area under official protection.  It will be an ex post evaluation, given that the works are already completed.
Los Maquis, Aysen. Los Maquis, Aysen.
There are many mega-lots being planned adjacent to national parks, with the consequent impacts that these unplanned urban centers could have on biodiversity and communities.  And what can we say about the current and projected tourism concessions to large businessmen inside national parks?  As in the case of Explora in Patagonia National Park, which has “elitized" access to its facilities and blurred the public sense that this type of sector should have.
In all these legal and administrative actions have been neighbors and local socio-environmental organizations, along with other regional organizations that seek sustainable tourism.
It is in this context that from Monday until Wednesday the Protected Areas and Portal Communities Meeting is being held at the La Moneda Cultural Center in Santiago.  With the inauguration of President Gabriel Boric, multiple high-ranking officials and national and foreign experts, as well as directors of foundations of the same tenor, are meeting to talk about a subject that attracts so many different points of view. 
It is laudable, of course, to contribute to this debate, especially for those of us who live in these territories which, it must be said, have become fashionable.   But although we believe in Aysén as a reserve of life, more than that we think that the planet is a reserve of life.   However fashionable Patagonia may be, the truth is that biodiversity and life must be defended in Aysén, but also in Petorca, in Santiago, in Putre.  And in Bangladesh as well.
It is symptomatic that among the organizers and support groups there are few (or rather, nonexistent) organizations from the territories about which the future will be talked about, discussed, dreamed.  It is as if the inhabitants and their forms of organization are only the subject of benefits (competitive funds, training) but are not at the level of participating in decision-making.  Decisions that seem to have already been made at another time and place.
When reviewing the panels, there is no space to open the discussion about what the development model has done, does and will do to Patagonia and its protected areas.  They discuss a promising future of economic ventures, as if there were no threats from mining, salmon farming, hydroelectricity, real estate pressure — issues that are proven to generate a great impact on the biodiversity of these lands and coasts, as well as on the communities within them. 
Moreover, when the intervention strategy of the so-called "portal communities" is not done considering the already existing forms of organization, but from the point of view of the individual, from one to one, from case to case, in practice it contributes to dismantle what will remain: the organization.  This is what allows the articulation and reflection on what kind of region we want, and whether it is consistent with a development model that, today, is part of the problem rather than the solution.  The figure of the individual super-entrepreneur is, at bottom, a rather neoliberal idea.
The same goes for alliances.  Like the one promoted by Balloon Latam - an actor in the portal communities program - together with Copec to install bicycle stations on the southern Camino Longitudinal Austral highway in Chilean Patagonia. Copec, a major player in the fossil fuel business in Chile, and part of the group that controls Arauco, a company that decimated the environment and culture of southern Chile with its forestry model, including the destruction of the Cruces River Sanctuary. The company that wanted to intervene in Isla Riesco, off the coast of Magallanes, to blast for coal. The company that was recently convicted in the Civil Court of Valdivia because it usurped a Mapuche family's land in Mariquina for 30 years.
We all want to protect Patagonia, of course.  But however laudable this may be, this land cannot be a bargaining chip for imposition or for the laundering of socio-environmental sins committed in other territories. 
No matter how green the offer is painted.

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