Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The pipeline and the industrial pollution of CELCO in Chile.
Fishermen Clash Over Pulp Mill Waste Pipeline
By Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Apr 15 (IPS) - A group of mainly Mapuche indigenous fisherfolk opposed to the installation of a pipeline to dump waste from the Celulosa Arauco y Constitución (Celco) paper pulp mill into the ocean in southern Chile complain that they have been the target of attacks by other fishermen who reached an agreement for a payout from the company.

In the past few weeks, groups of small-scale fisherfolk have clashed violently in the fishing villages of Mehuín and Missisipi, located in the Los Ríos region in southern Chile, leading to the deployment of Carabineros police to the area.

The conflict dates back to 1996, when the Celco pulp mill, which is owned by the powerful Angelini family, attempted to carry out technical studies to install a duct to carry waste to the Pacific ocean near the Mehuín cove, from the plant it was planning to build in Valdivia province.

But at that time, local fishermen in Mehuín blocked the company’s efforts to carry out the study, and Celco decided instead to discharge the waste from the pulp mill, which began to operate in February 2004, into the nearby Cruces river.

The river and the surrounding wetlands were the biggest colony of black-necked swans (Cygnus melancoryphus) in South America before thousands were killed off or migrated due to pollution from the factory’s toxic waste.

The disaster prompted the environmental authorities to order Celco to see an alternative site for discharging its effluents, and the company returned to its original plan for a pipeline to the ocean.

Fishermen in Mehuín and nearby villages, grouped in the Committee for the Defence of the Sea, immediately began to mobilise against the company’s plan, protesting that it would pollute their fishing waters and threaten their livelihoods.

But the company decided to negotiate with the three fishing unions in Mehuín, whose members gradually, since October 2007, began to accept the eight million pesos (around 18,000 dollars) per fisherman offered by the company as part of an economic agreement.

Although some 250 fishermen signed the deal, a smaller number stood firm against it, including Eliab Viguera, long-time spokesman for the Committee for the Defence of the Sea, who decided to leave that position because of the continuous threats he received from fishermen who had agreed to the deal offered by Celco.

Part of the money was paid out to the fishermen immediately, and the rest will be forthcoming when the technical studies are completed and the pipeline is installed.

The agreement with the three fishing unions tacitly states that not only will the villagers allow the pipeline project to go ahead, but they will also do what they can to make sure things go smoothly.

However, the deal did not put an end to local opposition to the pipeline, because a minority of fisherfolk in Mehuín and the neighbouring villages of Missisipi, Queule, Maiquillahue, Chan Chan, Bonifacio, Los Molinos, Quillalhue and Niebla say they will not allow Celco to carry out the necessary studies for laying a pipeline.

Resistance is strongest in the village of Misissipi, where local residents have put up barriers in the sea to keep the company from installing equipment to carry out the necessary measurements.

A delegation from the movement opposed to the pipeline held a press conference in Santiago Monday along with the head of the Central University’s Human Rights Centre, retired judge Juan Guzmán, who is best known for prosecuting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

"The conflict that involves Mehuín actually encompasses the entire country," said Guzmán, referring to several investment projects in Mapuche territory, like hydropower dams to be built in Panguipulli, in the Los Ríos region.

Guzmán called on universities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and local and international trade unions to "join forces and coordinate strategies to block the construction of the pipeline in Mehuín".

At the news briefing, in which the president of the National Confederation of Artisanal Fisherfolk (CONAPACH) also took part, the speakers urged the centre-left government of Michelle Bachelet to take a hand in the conflict and provide safeguards for those affected by the pipeline project.

The delegation will be in the capital until Thursday to meet with the largest possible number of political actors, including the leaders of each parliamentary bloc, the government commissioner for Indigenous Affairs, Rodrigo Egaña, and representatives of the Catholic Church.

The aim is to inform them of the situation, and seek support.

Seventy percent of the local fisherfolk opposed to the pipeline belong to the Lafkenche branch of the Mapuche people, Boris Hualme Millanao, "werkén" (spokesman) for the Lafkenche communities in San José de la Mariquina, told IPS.

On Apr. 2, around 100 fishermen who had agreed to the deal offered by Celco arrived at Missisipi village by boat and threw sticks and stones at the social centre, injuring four local residents.

Attempted homicide charges were brought against one of the local fishermen opposed to the pipeline, who is accused of shooting and injuring a villager from Mehuín.

But Hualme told IPS that it is not true that the anti-pipeline activists are defending themselves with firearms.

After the violent confrontation, video footage of which was broadcast by several television news programmes, Carabineros special forces were posted in Missisipi, where they are staying at the local school.

Eduardo Mella, a researcher with the Observatory for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, visited Mehuín on Apr. 5 to document the Lafkenche fishermen’s complaints and get a first-hand picture of the harassment suffered by the opponents of the pipeline.

That day, Eliab Viguera, Mella and several other people were getting ready to board a boat on the shores of the Lingue river, on their way to Missisipi, when they were violently confronted by around 70 fishermen from Mehuín. The Carabineros police were called in and defused the incident.

"They told us they would not let us leave in the boat; they threatened to kill us. I saw they had two guns," Mella told IPS.

Because of the violent incidents, 71 people in the villages of Missisipi, Queule, Maiquillahue, Chan Chan and Quillalhue, with the backing of the Observatory, filed an appeal for legal protection against a group of fishermen from Mehuín.

The 71 complainants say they have been the victims of a string of violent attacks since the fishing unions signed the agreement with Celco, and are asking for concrete protection measures.

The previous appeals that they filed in court did not prosper, which is why the Observatory is arranging a meeting with Chile’s chief prosecutor, Sabas Chahuán, to request that a special prosecutor be assigned to the case.

The complainants are also opposed to talks, as proposed by the government, saying they refuse to negotiate with Celco and that they will not back down from their stance.

Former judge Guzmán said the Central University’s Human Rights Centre will provide legal advice to the villagers opposed to the pipeline.

Some 80 NGOs also signed a letter delivered to President Bachelet on Apr. 11, demanding a halt to the violence in the area and concrete measures by the justice system to provide protection to the villagers fighting the installation of the pipeline.

The five factories owned by the Angelini family produce more than three million tons of paper pulp a year. (END/2008)