Mining and the national park

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A wild huemul photographed near Chile Chico. Photo: Charles BrooksA wild huemul photographed near Chile Chico. Photo: Charles Brooks 

By Peter Hartmann, coordinator of the Aysen Reserve of Life Coalition
Translation by Taylor Ffitch
The debate about mining and conservation in the Aysén region in Chilean Patagonia has continued to escalate as weeks pass. At this point, the mayor of Chile Chico, Ricardo Ibarra, has joined forces with senator David Sandoval (UDI) seeking to support the pro-mining lobby Southern Gold.
Both the mine and the mayor have known the specifics of the Patagonia National Park for a long time, and lobbied the sub-secretary of mining and the provincial governor to keep it from affecting their interests. The current offensive is now using the farmers in the area with the same objective.
It is rumored that Mandalay Resources does not want to continue working with their mine, Cerro Bayo, located near the edge of Lake General Carrera, so they are seeking to sell it to the owners of Southern Gold (the transnationals Equus and Terrane Minerals). We also read that “a public-private forum is being set up to address unemployment in Chile Chico.” Unemployment? Aren’t the mines great, don’t they generate so much support for development? Isn’t the mining tradition beautiful?
No doubt that mayor Ibarra, among other objectives, will attempt to solve this unemployment with more mining, so that soon the same story will repeat itself. “Bread today, hunger tomorrow.” Isn’t it time to look for a more sustainable solution? The national park can certainly contribute to that and diversify the economy of the area. Even though tourism is still young, it has demonstrated that it can be an alternative. In fact, at the Capillas de Marmol (marble caves) at Lake General Carrera, the navy recorded 150 thousand embarkations last summer, which indicates great potential activity in the area.
Both in Torres del Paine National Park and later in Pumalin, at first people viewed their protection with suspicion, and there were also hegemonic interests created in other sectors of the economy. Remember the enormous controversy caused by Pumalin? And why do you think no one has been complaining lately? Both Torres del Paine and Pumalin became important tourist centers that propel the economy in their respective areas. And tourism isn’t the only alternative in a township like Chile Chico with an agricultural microclimate and soil, but obviously agricultural and forestry activity, tourism, and the national park can coexist peacefully. Not so for mining. This is why they seek hegemonic control in the area, and rather than supporting development and paying taxes, they spend their money lobbying the authorities under the table.
The other noticeable thing is that suddenly some agree that it is necessary to involve the community and towns in regional decisions (which I agree with). Perhaps, for example, when they put in the mines or the salmon farm concessions on the coast (those that are mortgaged) some mayor or parliament made a claim? Nor have we seen them doing anything to make sure these activities respect the protected areas, a national public good. Are they only for private interests?
Now, with regard to environmental betrayals, we remember well that environmental impact study from Fachinal, in which they assured us that Laguna Verde is endorheic and wouldn’t have life, so it didn’t matter if they leaked tailings toward it. In time we learned that Laguna Verde did have life and there was no study to check whether its water, now contaminated, was leaking toward Lake General Carrera. This same “water” which was “leaked” to the Delia 2 mine, with fatal consequences.
We also learned that the mine does and undoes without the slightest environmental control. In fact, in response to our public denunciation years ago, we were invited to the location while the authorities were conspicuous in their absence. It was the time when Senator Zaldívar was bragging about the invitations to the United States from Coeur D’Alene. Some years later, we could observe trucks going by loaded with minerals from Argentina, without any regulation (while the common citizens were completely revised), to congregate at the Fachinal Plant.
How many tons of extra waste is there with that, if you consider that this mineral is only 1% to 5% metal?  And who knows about the health and accidents for workers in that mine? It is enough to see how the workers are silenced, buried in the mud. Not long ago, a neighbor of ours in Coyhaique, who works in the El Toqui mine, had to retire with silicosis. At the end of the 20th century, with all the advancements in mining! But they don’t seem to have reached here.
It was certainly worse before. There is the national record blood lead levels measured by the Institute of Public Health in Puerto Cristal due to the operations of the Aysén Mine, which we suppose will never be surpassed in public opinion, much like the tailing spill with abandoned lead in the same area, which drained into Lake General Carrera every time it rained, and which we denounced years ago without any better result. It will remain to be seen how the grazing pastures end up after the El Furioso mine. How many more unknown “cases” will come out of this “mining tradition?”