The imminent reopening of a pulp mill that polluted
a nature sanctuary in Chile has further fueled environmentalists' criticisms
of the Ricardo Lagos administration -- and is setting the scene for future
conflicts with indigenous and fishing communities.
José Araya, leader of the organisation Action for the Swans of Valdivia,
told Tierramérica that the government's administrative resolutions on the
matter have favoured businessman Anacleto Angelini, owner of the Celulosa
Arauco y Constitución (Celco) plant, to the detriment of environmental
Celco announced on Aug. 10 that by the end of the month it would reopen the
factory, located near the Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary on the Río
Cruces, in the southern province of Valdivia. It will start at 59 percent of
its productive capacity, and is expected to reach full operation -- 550,000
tonnes of cellulose annually -- by January 2006.
On Jun. 8, the company voluntarily shut down the plant, in the wake of the
scandal about altering the scientific report on which the Supreme Court of
Justice based its ruling acquitting Celco of the massive die-off of swans in
the nature sanctuary, and revoking the factory shutdown ordered by a lower
Celco's lawyers presented the Court with its own interpretation of the
scientific report, which was written by experts at the University of
Concepción, instead of providing the report itself.
Although the Court recognised the ploy, it did not change its ruling. On
Aug. 5 the Angelini group received the backing of President Lagos, who said
in Valdivia that the pulp mill should reopen its doors if it obeyed
The Río Cruces sanctuary was home to Latin America's greatest concentration
of black-necked swans (Cygnus malencoriphus), with some 6,000 of these
birds. Since October 2004, experts began to notice that many of the swans
and other species were dying due to the waste from the cellulose plant
dumped into the area's waters.
More than 500 black-necked swans died, and today in the marshes there are
only 300, because the rest migrated as a result of the dwindling supply of
the plant that serves as the birds' main sustenance, due to contamination
from the factory, according to a study published in April by the Southern
University of Valdivia.
Chile's National Commission on the Environment, CONAMA, had closed the
factory on Jan. 18, but then authorised its reopening on Feb. 16.
The regional delegation of CONAMA on Aug. 10 gave its implicit approval of
the reopening by indicating that a Jun. 6 resolution remains in effect that
obligates Celco to maintain reduced output as long as it fails to comply
with some of the environmental standards.
In Araya's opinion, these administrative resolutions are illegal. "According
to all the precedents presented by citizens, recognised by the national
political arena, this factory necessarily should be subject to a new
environmental impact study."
The activist rejected the arguments by the factory's supporters in defence
of the 300 direct jobs at Celco, and another 2,000 indirect jobs in the
"What needs to be done is a complete assessment of the pulp mill's social
costs. Here there is an environmental cost that citizens are paying, that
the country's natural heritage is paying. There is also a social cost, for
the effects on (farming and tourism) activities of other residents of
Valdivia," Araya said.
President Lagos supported the idea of building a channel so that the
industrial liquid waste that Celco has been dumping in the Río Cruces would
be diverted to the Pacific Ocean instead, off the coastal town of Queule, 80
km north of Valdivia.
The production of kraft cellulose from pine and eucalyptus is destined
entirely for exports for making paper. The whitening technique, known as
elemental chlorine free, is one of the most widely used in the world, and is
based on chlorine dioxide.
While Lagos gave his blessing to the channel in the nearby coastal village
of La Barra, an assembly of artisanal fisherfolk, environmentalists,
residents and representatives of other groups rejected that solution.
One outspoken opponent is Alfredo Seguel, leader of the Coordinator of
Territorial Entities, an umbrella group of more than 20 Mapuche indigenous
communities, including the Lafkenche, whose members live in coastal areas.
"The people most affected would be the Lafkenches. There are precedents that
cellulose, despite all the technology being used, is always going to
contaminate. Here it would harm ecosystems, food sovereignty and also the
cultural and religious rights of the Mapuche communities and of peasant
farmers and fishers," Seguel told Tierramérica.
The Angelini group wants to divert the Celco wastewater to the ocean because
it is the cheapest option, as the channel would cost 45 million dollars,
while the construction of a closed circuit for eliminating the waste in the
factory itself would cost 120 million dollars, said the indigenous leader.
Celco has responded by saying it complies with all of CONAMA's requirements
for correcting the contamination over three phases. The first was to improve
the biological system for treating wastewater.
The second phase involves the installation of filters for the final
outflows, and tertiary treatment of chemical waste will be implemented at 80
percent production capacity. The final phase is to begin in January, when
the factory is operating at full capacity, according to Celco, which says it
hired an external environmental consultant to supervise the process.
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