Luis Sepulveda and Patagonia

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By Peter Hartmann
 
It was the return to democracy, in the early 1990s, and there was a joyful, hopeful breeze in the air. We were with Sole Acevedo, Pato Rossi and Magdalena Rosas at the OGANA building for the 1st Ecological Artistic Meeting of Coyhaique. It was a summer day, beautiful, and among the crowd was someone unknown, an outsider. Smiling, he presented himself. It was the writer Luis Sepúlveda, a member of Greenpeace, who had returned to Patagonia to collect information and impressions for his book Patagonia Express. It must have also been his reunion with Chile after having had several years of exile in South America, Nicaragua, Germany and Spain.
 
I don't remember if at that time I had already read that beautiful Amazon novel that is The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, which fascinated me and led me to also read The World at the End of the World, a story about death and whaling in a place that could well be the Gulf of Penas in Aysen. (Although Sepulveda never imagined that there, a few decades later, his fiction would somehow come true.) When Patagonia Express, a travel history book in the same vein as the famous work of Bruce Chatwin finally appeared, I devoured it in a matter of hours. Truth is, there are so many unwritten Patagonian stories, and this territory has so much for more than one book. In fact, we once tried to convince Lucho, as his friends called him, that the great novel of Aisén's story had yet to be written.
 
Years passed, and in 2002, we were campaigning against the Alumysa aluminum refinery megaproject, when the infamous tri-minister Rodríguez Grossi declared "what was the problem with installing a refinery, when nobody lives in Aisén and there isn’t anything." However it wasn't the Aisenians who were the only ones outraged; Sepúlveda, after reading the news online at his home in Guijon, Spain, was also taken aback. And as he was a man of action, he organized to come and shoot a documentary to support our Patagonian cause.
 
One day, he arrived in Balmaceda with his film and production equipment. We greeted each other with hugs, and after two weeks of hard work and abundant anecdotes, in which we went to Lake Caro, Aisén Fjord, the mouths of the Cuervo and Condor rivers, Blanco River, and the “Wall of Hands” at Cerro Castillo, interviewing locals and even with an adventurous flyover of the Yulton and Meullin lakes, his crew continued to complement the story in Santiago with interviews, which included then-Senator Adolfo Zaldivar and Minister Rodriguez, who would become the sort of villains of the film.
 
 
Sepulveda doing an interview for the documentary Corazon Verde.Sepulveda doing an interview for the documentary Corazon Verde.
 
 
A press conference with Sepulveda in Coyhaique, Aysen. A press conference with Sepulveda in Coyhaique, Aysen.
 
 
Filming at Rio Condor for Corazon Verde.Filming at Rio Condor for Corazon Verde.
 
 
The documentary was called Corazon Verde (“Green Heart” in English), and it even won an award at the Venice Film Festival. When it was shown in the Aysen region, we watched it with great excitement. The most memorable showing must surely have been the one we did at the Lake Caro neighborhood association, which was in the middle of the countryside under ancient coigue trees and next to the river that the Alumysa project intended to erase from the map.
 
There were some attempts to get Corazon Verde broadcast on national open television, but as unfortunately has happened to us on several occasions, they showed no interest. Years later, this documentary was successfully broadcast on TV Santa María of Coyhaique and we will do our best to upload it to YouTube. 
 
 

 

Luis Sepúlveda was also a strong supporter of the "Patagonia without Dams" campaign, and for sure from that time there is still the lingering memory of his vehement open letter to the "citizen President" Piñera.
 
During those dizzying years, Luis Sepúlveda also made the script for the film Tierra del Fuego, so we deduce he must have continued to have been visiting the region, apart from having read everything there was on that subject. There is no doubt that he was a fan of Patagonian magic and they say he was an admirer of the literature of the great writer Francisco Coloane.
 
In his 2002 stay in Aisén, we discussed with Lucho the possibility of editing a book about our Aisén Reserva de Vida concept after seeing his help with a book by Lucas Chiappe, a friend and defender of the forests of Comarca Andina (Epuyén - El Bolson). Luis found it interesting, and even saw the possibility of presenting it at a book fair in Europe. So, we advanced in those years with the book, scanning slides with Victor Hugo de la Fuente at the Santiago office of the magazine Le Monde Diplomatique, but unfortunately we lost touch with Sepúlveda and the possibility of doing a book together grew distant.
 
Eventually, I crossed paths again with him on Facebook. By that time, I saw a very international Sepúlveda who was clearly enjoying the editions of his books all over the world and yet always stayed very connected with Chile. The book Aisén Reserva de Vida ended up being published by the University of Chile, and when the digital version came out in January of this year, the first link I sent was to Lucho. He was happy to see it, and we sometimes spoke about doing a second edition, but life’s twists of fate would have other things to say. 
 
Those incomprehensible twists and turns of life by which someone who so much loved and defended nature and wildlife finds his life ends because of a zoonosis virus that no one knows where he picked it up from.
 
When Lucho went to the afterlife, after transcending through his work and into our hearts, yesterday, almost miraculously appeared his son Carlos, and upon receiving my greetings and hugs, he told me: "He will return to the Patagonia that he so much loves."
 
  
 
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