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Chile: Strong Citizen Response Against Thermal Energy Project

The approval of a thermal energy project sparked a strong online and on-the-ground citizen response. The plant, approved by the Regional Environmental Commission [es] of the Coquimbo Region, was to be built near the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve and Punta de Choros, a small beach town known for its natural beauty and rich biodiversity.

The environmental movement Chaopescao [es] (literally “Bye fish;” a playful Chilean way to say goodbye) and concerned citizens present during the Commission's voting on the project, began tweeting the outcome right away. What started with tweets (such as this one, announcing the decision [es]), Facebook status updates and blog posts, concluded with more than 3,000 people protesting the decision in downtown Santiago.

Online citizen response

Television ad that was censored on Chilean TV for unknown reasons. Video by YouTube user MrKairosStudio. More videos are available, including a documentary, on YouTube channel movimientochaopescao.

Before the voting took place, Sergio Espejo wrote on his blog [es]:

¿Cuántras tragedias ambientales más deberemos vivir como país antes de que entendamos el valor de lo que estamos perdiendo? El drama de los 33 mineros en Copiapó debiera hacernos reflexionar. Ese accidente no se habría producido si empresarios y autoridades hubieran hecho su pega. Pero también faltó sociedad civil y sindicatos que hablaran claro […]En Punta Choros no debe ocurrir lo mismo. Aquí, la sociedad civil se ha manifestado […]

How many more environmental tragedies must we endure as a country before we understand the value of what we are missing? The drama of the 33 miners in Copiapó should prompt us to reflect. This accident wouldn’t have happened if businessmen and authorities had done their job. But there was also a lack of civil society and unions speaking out  […] The same should not occur in Punta de Choros. Here, civil society has spoken […]

Many Chileans used Twitter before and after the vote to inform and comment on the project. Victor Vargas (@elvitoto) expressed his opposition [es] to the plant, while others used Twitter to reach President Piñera (@sebastianpinera). Reflecting on current events in Chile, David Olave (@olavecl) said this to the President [es]:

@sebastianpinera Chile espera su promesa sobre #PuntaChoros. No interesa tener vivo a los #mineros si la tierra donde viven es una mierda.

@sebastianpinera Chile is waiting for [you to deliver on] your promise with regard to #PuntaChoros. It’s futile to have the #mineros (miners) alive if the land where they live is shit.

In the wall of the Facebook group “Salvemos Punta de Choros” [es] (Let’s Save Punta de Choros), which as of today has 52,525 “likes,” thousands of users commented against the project. For instance, Elizabeth Venegas Navarrete, a supporter of the group, said [es]:

Es muy triste que en nombre del progreso se pierdan los maravillosos lugares naturales de nuestro país. ¡¡¡Que les dejaremos a nuestros hijos o nietos!!!!
Donde les llevaremos a conocer y disfrutar de lo hermoso país que Dios nos regalo a todos.

It's very sad that wonderful natural places in our country be lost in the name of progress. What are we going to leave for our children and grandchildren!!! Where will we take them to get to know and enjoy the beautiful country that God gave us all.

Soon after the vote, a street march was organized, presumably by Chaopescao. The blog Aire Puro [es] (Clean Air) called on Chileans to protest the project [es] in cities across the country. Similar calls were found in abundance on Twitter. The result was a peaceful gathering of more than 3,000 people. The police dispersed the protesters forcefully [es] using teargas, despite the fact that the protest had been peaceful, but unauthorized by regional authorities. Arturo Subercaseaux (@suberca_10) said about the police [es]:

Honestamente, la marcha por Punta de Choros fue tan pacifica que los unicos que causaron desordenes fueron los pacos

Honestly, the march for Punta de Choros was so peaceful that the only ones causing disturbances were the cops

Photo taken by Flickr user bdeboikot, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

Because of the success of online organizing, both traditional and social media outlets have analyzed the role of social networking sites in the protests against the thermal energy project. The blog QueSaen [es] called social networking sites “fundamental actors in the anti-thermal energy protests,” and said [es]:

Anunciado y propagado, como una bola de nieve, llegando a ser Trending Topic (e informando a todo el aparataje de inteligencia del gobierno) lograron reunirse más de 3 mil ciudadanos entre la Alameda y Plaza de Armas por Ahumada, la mayoría profesionales after pega y estudiantes que se enteraron de la masiva en sus hogares y casas de estudio. Nadie quería quedar ausente de esta causa.

Announced and spread like a snowball, becoming a Trending Topic (and informing the entire intelligence apparatus of the government) we managed to gather more than 3 thousand citizens in Paseo Ahumada St., between Alameda [St] and Main Square. The majority of them were professionals [that came] after work and students that got to know about the protest in their homes and academic institutions. Nobody wanted to be left out of this cause.

Presidential Comments and Response

An interview with President Sebastián Piñera during his presidential campaign was widely circulated through social networks. In the blog La Libélula [es] (The Dragonfly), Reydet Saieh commented on the regional authorities’ decision [es] and reposted President Sebastián Piñera’s comments regarding the thermal energy project:

“Lo que estamos haciendo es una locura…me voy a oponer a todas las termoeléctricas que atenten contra la naturaleza, comunidades y calidad de vida.” […] “Somos inmensamente ricos en los combustibles del futuro…en energía solar con los desiertos con mayor radiación del mundo…la riqueza de las mareas…la riqueza de la geotermia en un país lleno de volcanes y la potencia de la energía del viento” […]“Promover las energías limpias y renovables, por ahí está el futuro de la energía en Chile” […]“Seré muy riguroso, muy exigente con proyectos termoeléctricos contaminantes, como ha habido más de la cuenta en nuestro país.”

“What we are doing is crazy…I’m going to oppose all thermal [energy projects] that conspire against nature, communities and [our] quality of life”[…] “We are immensely rich in the fuels of the future…in solar energy with the deserts with the most radiation in the world….the riches of our tides…the riches of geothermal [energy] in a country full of volcanoes, and the strength of the wind energy” […] “To promote clean and renewable energy; that’s where the energy future of Chile lies” […] “I will be very rigorous, very demanding with thermal [energy] projects that pollute, like too many of the ones we have had in our country.”

The audio recording of this interview can be found here [es].

In the same post, Reydet Saieh added:

Es impresentable que la Corema haya aprobado el proyecto termoeléctrico Barrancones en Punta de Choros, debemos exigirle a Sebastián Piñera que cumpla su palabra de proteger el medio ambiente.

It’s outrageous that the [Regional Environmental Commission] Corema has approved the Barrancones thermal energy Project in Punta de Choros. We must demand that Sebastián Piñera honor his word of protecting the environment.

Today, President Piñera (@sebastianpinera) said the project would not be built near Punta de Choros, but rather elsewhere. The Chilean President announced on Twitter [es]:

Hemos logrado gran solucion para proteger santuario naturaleza punta choros, isla damas y gaviota, para nuestra y futuras generaciones

We have achieved a great solution to protect nature's sanctuary [of] punta [de] choros, damas and gaviota islands, for our and future generations

In response to the presidential decision to relocate the plant, David Farias (@davidfarias_) said [es]:

Bien x Punta de Choros, mal x la zona donde será reubicada la termoeléctrica. @SebastianPinera sigue sin cumplir promesa de energías limpias

Good for Punta de Choros, bad for the zone where the thermal energy station will be relocated. @SebastianPinera still hasn't delivered on his promise of clean energies

4 comments

  • Congratulations to this success environmental movement. Keep monitoring!

    I envy Chilean people because your President remembers what he said. My president do not.

  • Thanks Portnoy! This was a big success in fact and I hope it can be replicated in other parts of the world. People have kept on protesting though. The fact that the project will be built in another location anyway means that the pollution will not go to Punta de Choros, but it will go to other Chileans elsewhere. I think that the President remembered because people reminded him. The people that voted in the Commission are nominated to the position by the president, so in a way, it was the presidency that approved the project. I hope they get the message though. People don’t want coal, they want clean(er) energy!

  • […] Another environmental conflict is reflected on Chilean social networks [es]. This time, Riesco Island Mining [es] aims to develop a million dollar coal mining project that threatens protected species on Riesco Island, one of the largest islands of Chile. […]

  • […] Another environmental conflict is reflected on Chilean social networks [es]. This time, Riesco Island Mining [es] aims to develop a million dollar coal mining project that threatens protected species on Riesco Island, one of the largest islands of Chile. […]

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