In Patagonia

The protests in the Aysen region of southern Chile show little sign of ending soon, with roadblocks and demonstrations by local residents venting grievances that have been accumulating for years.  This past week the New York Times ran a background story http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/02/world/americas/in-patagonia-caught-between-visions-of-the-future.html and a photo feature by Jorge Uzon, who has been photographing the region during four trips he has made since 2008 http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/01/a-personal-landscape-in-patagonia/.

The unrest is having an economic impact, with over $50 million in losses to the salmon industry and an 80 percent drop in visitors to the region, according to the I Love Chile news web site http://ilovechile.cl/2012/03/04/cruise-ships-cancel-visits-due-aysen-protests/49658.

There is a stunning cruise ship route between the Chilean port of Valparaiso and Buenos Aires, with a stop in Puerto Montt, a passage through the fjords to Puerto Chacabuco—the port of entry to the Aysen region—and onto to the Argentine port of Usuaia, the Falkland Islands, Montevideo and the Argentine capital. But the unrest has prompted some ships to bypass Puerto Chacabuco, and those flying British flags or those from British territories which stop in the Falklands are now being banned from docking in Argentina. The Chicago Tribune carried this story by the Associated Press: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/sns-bc-lt–chile-frustratedcruises,0,5230823.story

A road, a park, a controversy

You can’t drive all the way to the southern end of Chile, where the lakes give way to an archipelago and the narrow mainland becomes even narrower.  About 45 kilometers south of Puerto Montt, the overland traveller must take two ferries to reach Chaiten,  the town adjacent to a volcano that erupted in 2008 and forced the evacuation of its 3,000 residents.

There are plans to extend the Carretera Austral (formerly known as the Carretera General Augusto Pinochet) to connect the remote towns in Chile’s far south, but the land on this narrowest stretch of mainland territory is covered by the Parque Pumalin(www.parquepumalin.cl), a nature reserve created by American businessman and environmentalist Douglas Tompkins. The park’s defenders argue that building a road would damage the area, which supports small organic farms and eco-tourism. According to its website, the project “is aware of the need to include neighbours of the park to create a shared feeling for the need to protect wildlands and biodiversity, often a consciousness that is lacking due to the cultural and historical conditions.”

This week the Chilean minister of public works Laurence Golborne (former mining minister who oversaw last year’s rescue of 33 trapped miners) met with Tompkins to inform him the government was going ahead with the road extension and was confiscating the first six miles of territory inside Parque Pumalin.  Judging by Tompkins’ and Golborne’s statements following the meeting, the encounter was relatively civil.

The story in the Santiago Times: http://www.santiagotimes.cl/chile/environment/patagonia-times/regional-news/22249-park-expropriation-set-for-chiles-carretera-austral-extension