A Charter for Patagonia

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It has already been 24 years since we first began proposing and promoting to designate the Aysen region as a “Reserve of Life.” Since then we have seen significant progress, including similar efforts in the Panguipulli area and occasionally even attempts in Argentine Patagonia. From the beginning we also were well aware that the entirety of Chilean Patagonia has certain conditions, values and demands that are similar to our own in Aysen.
 
Patagonia has garnered so much fame in recent years that we have even witnessed Chilean cities Pucon and Concepcion claim to be part of it. They argue they are also part of Patagonia because on the Argentine side of the Andes the Patagonia region begins at the Río Colorado, which is at the same latitude as Chile’s Bio Bio region. Faced with doubts over what territory is indeed part of Chilean Patagonia, the Ministry of National Heritage in Chile commissioned a study by the University Chile to shed light on the matter.
 
Based on the approach that geographer Hans Steffen took in his "Western [or Chilean] Patagonia" (1888), the University of Chile study determined that Chilean Patagonian begins at the southern boundary of the Llanquihue province, including the districts (called “comunas” in Chile, which is equivalent to a county in the United States) of Llanquihue and Cochamó, as well as the entire province of Palena and all of the Aysen and Magallanes regions, with a total of 24 districts and an area of 25.8 million hectares, which altogether encompasses more than a third of the national territory and 74,000 kilometers of coastline. The study argues that the aforementioned area, in addition to sharing a common geography, has its own history and cultural traits.
 
Still, in Chile the Patagonia region is not yet recognized formally by the government, nor was it ever formally considered a territory. For these reasons, many in Chile are now proposing the creation of a “Charter for Chilean Patagonia,” a new legal framework which could bring together existing laws governing the territory,  place value on its significant virtues, and compensate for the present lack of legal definitions, as well as generate tools and incentives for its sustainable development.
 
The quality of Patagonia’s natural environment has been identified as among the most pristine areas in the world according to the University of Chile, with 60 % of the territory considered of the highest quality (10). Hence, Patagonia’s environmental and ecosystem services, understood in terms of water (quantity and quality), landscapes, biodiversity and endemism, climate, and other metrics, are unique. These services possess intrinsic value that is further enhanced by their absence in the rest of the country. Highlighted among its features is the enormous importance of Patagonia’s freshwater reserves, stored in the Campos de Hielo, or Patagonian Ice Fields, and in the other glaciers and lakes that are the largest in the country, as well as some of the only estuarine fjords on the planet. The Chilean state owns 80% of this territory, in which 90% of the identified environmental services are concentrated. Roughly 50% of the Patagonian territory has also been officially declared either a protected area or a nature sanctuary, notably including several UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.
 
Today, Patagonia’s pristine, wild character, its landscapes, and its undeniable beauty are recognized worldwide and it is now considered a world-class attraction. It can even be said that Patagonia has become an important and unmistakable brand with high economic value for Chile.
 
This, among other characteristics, has resulted in an influx of more than 300,000 foreign visitors per year, as well as solidarity throughout the world in opposition against the constant threats to the region.
 
Patagonia’s cultural identity also shows part of this region’s diversity, such as the ethnic groups or the Patagonian gaucho, which likewise have a high degree of fragility, an aspect that is just as important to consider.
 
Against this backdrop can be added the demands of various citizen organizations in Aysen as well as in the Palena and Magallanes regions, based on the constitutional precept: “The right to live in an environment free of pollution, and the duty of the state to ensure that this right is not affected and to promote the conservation of nature," and also considering the following:
 
a) The exceptional environmental, natural, social and cultural qualities of Patagonia;  b) its important pristine qualities and its large expanse of existing protected and supervised areas;  c) its environmental fragility, its recent colonization, and its isolation;  d) lessons learned from mistakes made by destructive and unsustainable initiatives;  e) the debt owed to Chilean Patagonia by the Chilean government for its systematic neglect in the realm of public policy;  f) the human right to exist; and  g) the fact that that there is still a chance to preserve and use the land in a sustainable manner.
 
We therefore call on Chile to:
 
1. Establish a “Charter of Patagonia” by which the territory’s outstanding qualities can be maintained, which will allow them to be valued and serve as an example of regional governance and a demonstration of sustainable development.
 
2. Promote cultural and societal development in the territory in a way that is inclusive of its inhabitants, being developed by and for them.
 
3. Improve internal communications and connectivity, along with setting region-wide standards concerning education, health, energy and the minimum wage.
 
4. Promote and stimulate the local economy with additional value assigned to its natural and cultural resources, to seize the existing opportunity for organic production that is free of contaminants and genetically modified organisms.
 
5. Promote improved democracy through greater citizen participation, consultations with the public, and participatory land use planning.
 
To achieve the above, it is therefore proposed that a debate should begin on a new "Charter of Patagonia" through which various pieces of legislation are articulated, which recognizes the identity of the territory and its people and which allows for the protection of the region’s natural and cultural heritage, thereby optimizing use of natural resources and environmental services in the context of sustainable development.
 
Among the public policy guidelines to orient the Statute are the following: Chilean Patagonia as a Reserve of Water; Chilean Patagonia as a Reserve of Life; sustainable development zone; environmental quality certification; and world class brand.
 
The valuation and sustainability of Patagonia is not only useful for those who live there, but also for Chile to safeguard this world-class attraction. The fate of this vast territory and its future use must be in accordance with the spirit of the times and inserted into the necessary quest for harmonization of the relationships between society, nature and technology. We invite you to be part of the formulation of this proposal.
 
 
Translation by Patrick Lynch
Photo courtesy of Conservacion Patagonica
 

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