Chilian Water Issues Heat Up

Vandals Destroy Property of Celco Supporter in Mehuín

Home Attack Represents The Latest Violent Act Between Local CELCO Proponents and Opponents

Thirty individuals broke into the residence of Rosa Norambuena Rivera early Sunday morning, causing serious damage to the family’s property and to adjacent business. Andrea Paredes, the prosecutor for San José de la Mariquina, told Chile’s media the attackers were motivated by the family’s support of CELCO’s plans to build a waste disposal duct in the town.

The plan involves an agreement signed last Wednesday between the company and two Mehuin unions, the 1st and 3rd Fishermen’s Unions. It stipulates the payment of US$8.9 million overall to the unions’ combined 99 members, offering US$ 3,000 to each for signing the contract, with further payments to come upon the project’s approval and the start of its operation. In exchange, the unions pledged their cooperation in securing authorization for the project from the Regional Environmental Authority (COREMA).

According to local reports, Sunday’s violence originated from an argument between two groups of men inside a nightclub discussing the contract. The dispute continued into streets, where the group opposing the agreement entered the residence of Rivera, one of 70 the union members to have signed the contract with CELCO. The family, including Rivera’s two young daughters and her husband, managed to flee the premises unharmed.

The vandals proceeded to break windows and destroy furniture, electronic gear and plumbing fixtures before turning their attention to Rivera’s fruit and vegetable shop across the street. A few minutes later three of Rivera’s employees, who lived at the store and had been involved in the nightclub fight that precipitated the attack, returned to find the destruction in progress. The three men fled the scene in their pick-up truck, hitting three people in their haste. The driver of the vehicle, Never Guzmán Valladares, was later arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Due to the seriousness of the incident, authorities from the nearby city of Valdivia are participating in the investigation. Capitan Marcia Raimann of Valdivia indicated police had identified 12 of the people involved in the attack, and that warrants for their arrests had been issued. She also confirmed that there have been dozens of complaints of minor injuries and threats related to the dispute over the unions’ contract with CELCO.

The contract has since set off a storm of protest in Mehuin and the surrounding communities. On Thursday, just one day after the agreement was reached, six Mehuin fishermen stole the original copy of the contract from a local law office and burned photocopies in Valdivia’s Plaza de la República (ST, Oct. 19). Later that day, another group of fishermen descended on the docks of the Queule fishing village where they set fire to a boat belonging to Carlos Salazar, the head of the 1st Fishermen’s Union.

Protestors have since leveled a variety of accusations against CELCO over the past few days. Jimmy Becerra, who led the group of demonstrators in Valdivia, claimed the company tricked union members, including some who were illiterate, into signing a document that they did not fully understand. Other groups have charged that CELCO brought in fishermen who did not reside in the region to add their names to the document and that in reality only 10 area fishermen legitimately signed on to the agreement.

CELCO meanwhile has attempted to quell the escalating controversy over the agreement. Over the weekend the company reiterated that it had reached an agreement with 70 of the 99 members of the 1st and 3rd Fishermen’s Unions of Mehuin and denied accusations of underhanded methods.

The company’s Public Relations Director Angello Romano downplayed the significance of the contract, saying that it only concerns the exploratory stages of the construction plans and that the Regional Environmental Authority had ultimate control over the fate of the aqueduct project.

Still, local authorities are bracing for continuing unrest in the area. Ivan Flores, the Regional Governor for Los Rios, who had initially refrained from commenting on the matter, assured citizens over the weekend that “all the necessary means had been undertaken to maintain public order,” and encouraged people to turn to the relevant authorities if they felt threatened in any way.

Source: La Tercera, El Mercurio, El Mostrador
By Teddy Kahn – editor (at) santiagotimes (dot) cl


Fishermen Burn Copy of Celco Contract in Valdivia

Union Members Protest US$8.9 Million Agreement on Aqueduct Construction

Six members of the 1st Fishermen’s Union of the seacoast village of Mehuin burned a photocopy of an agreement between their union and the forestry company CELCO on Thursday afternoon. Proclaiming that “our seas are not for sale,” the fishermen lambasted the agreement, on which their own signatures appeared, and said they had been tricked into signing it.

The fishermen were referring to a contact signed Wednesday by 99 local fishermen in Mehuin agreeing to allow CELCO to construct a waste pipeline from its Valdivia cellulose plant through the town in return for US$8.9 million.

The agreement – the result of months of negotiations – commits CELCO to give nearly US$6,000 to each of the local fishermen, with more payments to come once the project is approved and then later, once the project begins operation.

The agreement also commits the two sides to work together to get approval for the project’s Environmental Impact Study (EIA). A successful EIA is a crucial first step for the hugely controversial and drawn out project.

CELCO officials had hoped that the agreement with the Mehuin fishermen groups would facilitate the EIA and resolve their “community relations” troubles for their Valdivia cellulose plant. Community leader Joaquin Vargas, head of the 3rd Fishermen’s Union in Mehuin, said he approved agreement on Wednesday, calling it “a positive development, considering the shortage of work in Mehuin.” His union is currently in negotiations with CELCO, looking for a similar payoff.

Other reactions, however, were not as favorable. Labor activist Eliab Viguera, the president of the Committee for the Defense of the Sea, warned CELCO to “remember what occurred in August of 2006” – a reference to the destruction of CELCO boats off of Mehuin by protestors. He predicted that workers would ultimately reject this most recent agreement. “I am not interested in negotiation,” he said. “I only want to tell CELCO that soon we are going to see the true face of Mehuin.”

“We are not going to let our sea become a garbage dump,” said Jimmy Becerra, one of the fishermen involved in Thursday’s demonstration. “CELCO plays dirty. They convinced nine fishermen from our union who are illiterate to sign a contract they could not even read. They brought in people from Punta Arenas and Aysén, who don’t even work in Mehuin.”

CELCO first received approval to build a paper pulp plant in Valdivia in 1996 under the government of President Eduardo Frei (1994-2000) and planned to dump the plant’s waste into the ocean near several fishing villages. That same year, however, a group of workers from the tiny fishing village of San José de Mariquiña blocked the work of experts sent by the company to explore the possibility of building a waste duct there. In several cases, fisherman physically prevented the CELCO employees from carrying out water tests in the bay.

After that incident, CELCO redesigned its liquid waste disposal plans, opting to dump the waste material from its Valdivia plant into the Rio Cruces. That project later became a nightmare for the company when in 2004 thousands of black-necked swans turned up dead in the nearby Carlos Anwandter wetland sanctuary just weeks after the company began dumping their waste in the river. The Regional Environmental Authority (COREMA) quickly determined that pollution from the CELCO plant was to blame.

The facility was closed briefly in June of 2005 after residents in Valdivia claimed the plant was also polluting the city’s drinking water and destroying Valdivia’s tourism industry. The site reopened two months later under special permission from former President Ricardo Lagos, but only after CELCO officials agreed to operate the plant at 80 percent of its capacity (ST, Sept. 25).

Since then, CELCO officials have been looking for new alternatives to dispose of the factory’s waste in an effort to win approval to return to full operating capacity. On September 13 the company was denied its request to overturn the decision that imposed the limitations, arguing that it had complied with its environmental obligations.

Source: La Tercera
By Teddy Kahn – editor (at) santiagotimes

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