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- January 28, 2005
Activists Demand Access To Celulosa Valdivia Plant
Tom Burgis (email@example.com)
Protesters angry with Celulosa Arauco’s environmental record ambushed a meeting of the forestry giant’s shareholders in Las Condes Thursday morning. At 9:45, 15 minutes before an extraordinary meeting to discuss the recent closure of two of the company’s wood pulp plants was to begin, a team of 20 Greenpeace activists in red boiler suits pulled up in a van outside the offices of the firm’s parent Angelini Group at 150 El Golf in uptown Santiago.
Before security staff could react, activists had scaled ladders and hoisted a banner reading “closed” above the building’s main entrance. Below, red-and- white danger barricades and fake swans symbolizing the 4,000 black-necked swans that have died at or migrated from the Cruces River Nature Sanctuary, where the plant dumps its waste water, completed the “funa,” a denunciation aimed at shaming individuals or corporations.
“We want to see the relocation of the plant, the improvement of its production processes and the company to assume the cost of the environmental damage it has caused,” said Gonzalo Villarino, the director of Greenpeace Chile. “It is insanity to have such a plant functioning 10 km from a nature sanctuary,” Villarino said.
A delegation of leading environmentalists asked to meet with company bosses and, after a minor scuffle on the door, was admitted.
Emerging an hour later, Villarino announced that the delegation spoke to Mario Urrutia, Celulosa Arauco’s environmental manager, and Manuel Bezanilla, a lawyer with the Angelini Group.
The delegates – Villarino, Marcel Claude of Oceana, Lucio Cuenca of the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts and Ximena Rosales, a representative of Valdivian residents – proposed that the plant open its doors to a team of environmentalists, ecology specialists and citizens, who will conduct their own investigation into the plant’s operations.
They were told that such a decision could only be made by Celulosa Arauco’s general manager, Alejandro Pérez, and will send an open letter stating their demands to Pérez this week. Villarino called on the company to respond promptly, “to demonstrate that they are interested in what the people have to say.” The protest, which obliged shareholders to enter by a back door, is the latest skirmish in a publicity battle between Celulosa Arauco and the Coordination for the Protection of the Cruces River Nature Sanctuary.
The coordination achieved a major coup when, after a concerted campaign, the US$1.2 billion Celulosa Valdivia plant in Region X was ordered to close by local authorities 10 days ago (ST, Jan. 19). The Regional Environmental Commission (COREMA) found the plant had violated 19 regulations. Health authorities in nearby San José de la Mariquina reported 120 critical cases of chemical contamination.
But since it emerged that the plant may soon reopen if it demonstrates it has modified its practices, opponents have claimed that the closure was merely a publicity stunt, orchestrated by President Ricardo Lagos and Anacleto Angelini, whose multibillion-dollar economic conglomerate is a major backer of the governing Concertación (ST, Jan. 26). They allege the maneuver was designed to assuage public outrage and boost Chile’s position in the eyes of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of the world’s 30 richest nations to which Chile hopes to accede, currently holding meetings in Paris to discuss Chile’s environmental progress.
Marcel Claude, head of conservationists Oceana, put the struggle against the Angelini Group in a wider context: “President Lagos always has a market outlook. He perpetually proclaims his deep concern in cases such as this, but he acts with reverence before Sr. Angelini … he tries to co-opt public opinion with marketing stunts.” Claude, a former Central Bank economist, rubbished Celulosa Araco’s claim that its plant alleviates poverty in the Valdivia region. “For every job the plant generates, it destroys five by way of environmental damage, in other sectors such as tourism, transport and any number of local activities,” he said. Tourism in Valdivia is reportedly down 40 percent compared to last January, a month before the plant began operating.
“We want true development – human development, social development, political development – that is ethical, responsible and rational,” Claude said. A study of 146 countries by the World Economic Forum and Yale and Colombia universities, published this week, criticized Chile for failing to match commercial expansion with conservation. The Index of Environmental Sustainability 2005 saw Chile fall seven places to 42nd, considerably below nine of its continental neighbors.