National parks and the takeover of Chacabuco Valley

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Photo: Nicolas AravenaPhoto: Nicolas Aravena

By Peter Hartmann, coordinator of the Aysen Reserve of Life Coalition
Translation by Amy Schrader
While we dedicated ourselves to pacifism over the past week, we were surprised by the reclassification of Cerro Castillo National Reserve to Cerro Castillo National Park and the numerous reactions that that ensued. Meanwhile, in Chacabuco Valley, a group took over the facilities of the future Patagonia National Park.
We have already given our opinion on Cerro Castillo National Park and the very improvised act of reclassification. This act of reclassification sparked much criticism for lack of participation and for various political reasons. As members of the Regional Advisory Committee of Protected Areas and initiators of sustainable community tourism in Castillo, we’ve been finding everything out through the press. And the truth is that, on the one hand, we thought that the transition from reserve to park was a good opportunity to solve some serious problems that the “protected” area has, especially because the essence of “park” cannot be solely within the title. It also appears that coexistence, inclusion, and work among the neighbors, environmental NGOs, and tour operators who live in the areas is essential.
Regarding the Isla Magdalena National Park, the need lies in the State really protecting it, because since its creation, nothing has been done in that sense. If the Chilean government is committed to protecting and making economic gain from these areas, it should also invest in them and protect them effectively. On the other hand, it’s worth commenting that the main objective of the national parks is not an economic one, but rather the protection of ecosystems, which obviously contribute environmental services to the economy and to tourism. The parks and their neighbors can’t become scenery for the transnational tourism industry. And in regard to the criticisms from business associations, it stood out to us that they didn’t waste a second in referring to the takeover. And if that takeover had been in one of their properties, what would have happened? What would have happened if a group of Mapuche took over a field or if fisherman took over some salmon farms?
Now, regarding the takeover in Chacabuco Valley, a local group of livestock owners raised a sign that said, “Children of pioneers demand the preferential right to profitable land.” It’s important to remember that it’s not the first time they’ve done it, and the previous time, we were in the midst of an election period. These people are being used behind the scenes by Congressman Sandoval, now a candidate for senator, who on both occasions was pulling some strings in Cochrane. And the fact that this takeover happened right when the president was in Castillo announcing the reclassification, clearly had a rotten feel to it.
In fact, the congressman could be a little more civil and show his face when he organizes or participates in these things.
In other respects, it’s worth pointing out that those who directed that group were, in their time, the most fanatical supporters of the HidroAysén project that was going to flood some of the fields of these children of pioneers. We must also point out that Baker River Labor Union has a promise of sale and lease with HidroAysén for the property at Lot 26 called “El Manzano” of 3.965 hectares (9.8 acres), of which the firm already received over 250 million pesos. That property was acquired with international funds obtained by the Foundation for the Development of Aysén (FUNDA), precisely to help the children of pioneers with profitable lands, and was registered in the name of the Labor Union in 1992. As we all know, HidroAysén has several abandoned fields in that area. Why is it that they don’t take those unused profitable lands?
As for the crisis that affects countrymen and farmers not just in this region, one of the factors that could help overcome it is irrigation. In fact, last year in the Cochrane area, the outcome was very serious. However, the water-use rights of the Baker’s basin are monopolized by HidroAysén so that every new application was being rejected, including an application for Cochrane’s drinking water. Strangely, none of the areas’ leaders or even the congressman did anything to fix or at least denounce the serious situation.
As for the participation and legitimacy of declaring Chacabuco Valley a national park, it’s important to remember that the property was commissioned since the early 1900s to big ranchers in the hands of foreigners (Bridges admits that it was not profitable), in the Popular Unity government it became an agreement of the Corporation for Agrarian Reform (CORA) (they say it dissolved) and in the Pinochet dictatorship it was sold with debts to Belgian Francoise De Smet. Because its debts had not been paid, more than a decade ago there was an attempt to auction it off, but, with the intervention of Senator Horvath, the debt was forgiven, trespassing part of the Lake Cochrane National Reserve property. Meanwhile, in the Regional Biodiversity Strategy, with citizen participation, it was determined that first priority was conservation for that valley, and the state was strictly involved in its acquisition for protective reasons.  However, it would be the Conservacion Patagonica Foundation that would acquire it for that purpose when De Smet decides to sell the estate (they say it’s still unprofitable), which brought on other offers from far-right groups and raised the price to 10 million dollars. From what we have been told, those who worked there could continue doing so and with better pay.
Finally, if Torres del Paine National Park is a boost to the economy of Puerto Natales, why couldn’t Patagonia National Park do the same in that area? Why wouldn’t it be possible to have the complementary harmonious coexistence of ranching, tourism, and the conservation of heritage and culture, well kept, in a sustainable manner and in symbiotic and synergistic coexistence? 

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