An open letter from Luis Sepulveda to President Sebastian Piñera

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Rio Baker. Photo: Jimmy LangmanRio Baker. Photo: Jimmy Langman
Note from the editor: The following is an open letter written by the late writer Luis Sepúlveda (translation here by George Chambers) in protest of the HidroAysen project, and published on our website on May 10, 2011. At that time, we hadn’t yet launched the first edition of our magazine and as such we didn’t have many readers, yet the letter went viral anywat and was read and shared by tens of thousands of people in Chile and around the world.
His Excellency Sebastián Piñera
President of the Republic of Chile
Palacio de La Moneda
Santiago, Chile
Mr. President,
I am a writer born in Chile and I have deep knowledge of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. This southernly region and its life, peoples and dreams feature in many of my books, and which have been translated into many languages. I love and fight for these regions with a passion as healthy and peaceful as its inhabitants.
Only a short time ago, under the instruction of the offices in which today you exercise the functions of government, and aided by the coldness of certain banks, an environmental crime was almost committed against Patagonia, and more specifically the Aysén region. A company named Noranda, whose postal address is in Canada but whose legal home is in the tax-haven Cayman Islands, took advantage of Chile’s loathsome and supremely liberal water laws. In doing so, it attempted to block, halt and kill three rivers that connect to the Aysén Fjord in order to build three hydroelectric plants. These plants would have powered an aluminium factory, which is one of the most polluting industries that exist, and a port to receive bauxite and other minerals. The plans were staunchly opposed by the local residents.
This so-called alternative economic, social and cultural project called the “Aysén Life Project” would have seriously affected the life, culture, hopes, present and future of the approximately 40,000 residents of Puerto Aysén, Puerto Chacabuco, Coyhaique and other towns. These people were unjustly insulted by then economic minister Sergio Rodríguez Grossi, who stated that in macroeconomic termst these 40,000 human beings amounted to “nobody.”
These “nobodies” are, in fact, joined by more “nobodies” all over the world because a healthy and sustainable environment, ecology and economy is core to a vision of the future shared by millions of men and women who want to be citizens before consumers. These “nobodies” asked for something simple and legitimate: a study into the project’s environmental impact carried out by an independent scientific body – not by the same company executing the project, nor by the government directly involved and partial to their business interests. These “nobodies,” crassly labelled “eco-terrorists,” managed to stop – albeit temporarily – one of the most egregious criminal acts against Patagonia.
Mr. President, I myself was one of those “nobodies.” I made a documentary named Corazon Verde that was premiered at the Venice Film Festival and united 40,000 “nobodies” with hundreds of thousands more “nobodies” in the defense of Patagonia, the pristine austral world belonging to all humankind. I am one of many who stopped a “7 billion-dollar investment” and just as the rivers continue to flow into the Aysén Fjord despite attempts to kill it, I wear my actions with pride.
Mr. President, we now find ourselves before another disproportion, a new attempt to end the life of one of the last unpolluted regions of our planet, a place of incalculable value. The value of Patagonia, its vital nature, its peoples and their hopes and dreams cannot be measured. Not by your presidential offices, not by the stock exchange, and much less by the despicable boards of shareholders at the energy companies desperate to approve the HidroAysén megaproject.
You, Mr. President, were right to make the Chilean horse a national treasure. When you did, many people were relieved that your declaration saved this magnificent animal from genetic experimentation. Do you not believe then, Mr. President, that a river running 2,300 kilometers long and 100 meters wide through our nation also deserves the same dignity you afforded the Chilean horse? Can you visualise a 23,000-hectare stretch of land? It is difficult to translate such numbers into an image.
I ask you to imagine 23,000 football stadiums, one next to the other. Picture them filled with trees and forests. Not soulless pine and eucalyptus plantations, but the noble native Chilean forests with their marvellous diversity, their natural fauna and their peoples: Chilean men and women who grew up around these forests and love them. Mr. President, HidroAysén will bring total deforestation, annihilation and extermination to 23,000 hectares of Chilean forest.
I can certainly imagine that land myself, because I know Patagonia. Because I love the south and its peoples’ hopes and dreams. That is why I oppose the realization of this crime against ecology and humanity calling itself HidroAysén.
Mr. President, a few days ago, you proclaimed that Adam and Eve were the first “entrepreneurs” because they dared to eat the forbidden fruit. Appraisals from the Catholic church and apple producers aside, let me remind you that Patagonia is not an apple, but a territory whose environmental purity is its utmost value, and which is inhabited by citizens of the Republic of Chile who have the right to voice their approval or disagreement with the HidroAysén project. However, these “entrepreneurs” and instigators of environmental crime have turned a blind eye to citizen opposition.
The HidroAysén environmental impact study has ignored the residents’ opinions, and there has not been the democratic process free of external pressures that we are legally entitled to. It is a defective report, this you must know, Mr. President, and if that is not the case then please consult your ministers. Up until 13:30, on April 26th, the environmental impact report was declared “unacceptable.” But by 14:00 that same afternoon, and without the involvement of anyone except members of the Department of Urban Development and Nicolás Terrazas, a housing ministry official, the evaluation of the report was suddenly changed from “unacceptable” to “acceptable.”
“Money talks,” the great Francis of Quevedo and Villegas once wrote. As it happens, another member of the Terrazas family, namely Pablo, Nicolás’ brother, owns several pieces of land that coincidentally would be flooded if the HidroAysén project goes ahead, ensuring a more than juicy compensation.
This fact alone, this one detail, Mr. President, voids every decision in the environmental impact study and, in the strictest legality, means that the approval of the HidroAysén Project must be stopped.
However, you who hold the highest position in the Republic of Chile, who is above the tricks devised by subordinates deserving of immediate suspension, should remember that you are facing history. History always casts judgement, though sometimes late, and judges soberly and firmly.
In the near future, a bust of yourself will take its place in the sullen gallery of former Chilean presidents. When the cleaner dusts you off with a feather duster, it is up to you whether he proudly says: “I am dusting the bust of an ex-president who saved Patagonia from destruction,” or whether he simply walks away and refuses to clean the image of the destroyer of one of the most beautiful, purest regions of our planet. It’s your decision, Mr. President.
With the highest consideration,
Luis Sepúlveda
Honorary Doctor of the University of Toulon, France
Honorary Doctor of the University of Urbino, Italy
Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic
Gijón, May 10, 2011