Pumalín Park, in Chile's Lakes Region.
Sovereignty Debate Surrounds Chilean Nature Park
Por Gustavo González
Politicians say the declaration of protection for Pumalín Park, in southern Chile, is a violation of national security. The park is the property of a U.S. millionaire.
Chilean senators want to take the controversial decision of making the Pumalín Park a nature reserve, property of U.S. millionaire Douglas Tompkins, to the National Security Council (COSENA), saying it is a sovereignty issue. But environmentalists say the protection declaration is an "inconsequential act".
The 298,562-hectare park, situated in the southern province of Palena, in Chile's famed Lakes Region, is the result of seven years of negotiations between Tompkins and Chilean authorities.
The process culminated Dec. 9 with the tycoon and President Ricardo Lagos putting their signatures to an agreement.
The 200,000 hectares of native temperate rainforest are safe from exploitation by logging companies. It is a nature preserve that will be managed by a non-profit foundation in which Tompkins and Chilean entities will participate.
But 28 of Chile's 47 senators, including four from the co-governing Christian Democrat Party, believe the new status of these lands would prevent the construction of roads and other projects considered indispensable for the development and integration of the area with the rest of the country.
They asked that the agreement be submitted to COSENA, a body created by the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) and is headed by the president, with the participation of the commanders of the armed forces and of four civilian officials.
Bringing COSENA into the matter is problematic because it is one of the objectionable legacies of the dictatorship, agree activists Sara Larraín, head of Sustainable Chile, Manuel Baquedano, president of the Instituto de Ecología Política, and Gonzalo Villarino, executive director of Greenpeace-Chile.
The three, consulted by Tierramérica, pointed to the inconsistency of the Christian Democrat senators, whose party has long advocated eliminating COSENA, and they applauded the fact that President Lagos, of the Socialist Party, has refused the lawmakers' request.
Hernán Larraín, senator of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union party, told Tierramérica that the 28 legislators represent "a vast majority" that believes COSENA's intervention is necessary "because the park agreement creates many concerns with respect to the limitations of Chilean sovereignty."
The conflict alludes to equality under the law, given that "special treatment is being given a foreigner." It is up to the state "to determine the occupation of the territory and the preservation of sectors whose characteristics contribute to improving the environment," said the senator.
"There are doubts about the effect of the declaration of a nature sanctuary and the restrictions it could mean as far as developing infrastructure for communications, services and roads, and as far as resolutions by national courts on expropriation for the necessities of the common good," Christian Democrat senator Jorge Pizarro, said in a conversation with Tierramérica.
"If national security means protecting our natural resources, there is no contradiction in what Tompkins is doing," says Jenia Jofré, president of the National Committee Pro Defense of Fauna and Flora.
According to Raúl Sohr, an expert in defense issues, "The idea that sovereignty is lost is absurd. There is no loss of sovereignty in any territory of the country that is acquired by an individual."
"If there is the desire to build a road, the same expropriation laws will be applied that are applied in the rest of the country," he said.
Sara Larraín stressed that both the president of the Senate, Christian Democrat Andrés Zaldívar, and commander of the army Luis Emilio Cheyre, say it is not appropriate in this case to convene COSENA, of which they are both members.
It is stipulated in the agreement that land would be set aside for building roads, she said. The foreign investments Tompkins has brought to Chile are the only ones aimed at preserving forests instead of exploiting them, added the activist.
Analyst Sohr and the environmentalists believe the political reaction against Tompkins is due to his ecological stance.
The senators never mentioned national security when foreign investments were made to exploit natural resources, which they instead see as "a factor for national development," they said.
"In 30 years, the areas that are being preserved will be of incalculable value in terms of ecosystems. The activities to be carried out there are friendly to the environment, such as ecotourism," said Baquedano.
"The deeper issue is the lack of vision of those (who are opposed to the nature sanctuary), who think of the country in the short term, and not in the long term," added the head of the Instituto de Ecología Política.
Senator Larraín, meanwhile, denies there is a double standard that favors exploitation of resources while discriminating against Tompkins for his conservationist position, though he does criticize the millionaire for his support of what is known as "deep ecology".
"We have serious concerns about deep ecology, because it is an extreme position in environmentalist thought, and in the end seeks the depopulation of the territory," says the senator.
"As someone said as a caricature, deep ecology prefers trees over people. But we believe people are more important than trees. Nature should be at the service of man, not the reverse," concludes the right-wing lawmaker.
* Gustavo González is an IPS correspondent.