This small community stopped a coal mine expansion in Chile. Here’s how:
Following a win from one of the most southern points in the world, we asked Matías Asún (National Director of Greenpeace Chile) Sergio Corrales (Logistics and Volunteer Coordinator) and Mauricio Ceballos (Campaigner) to share with us their story of a campaign against a coal mine expansion. This victory was only made possible by the joint work with local communities and by Break Free 2017’s courageous action.
Early this year, Chile’s government rejected the expansion of the Invierno coal mine in Southern Chile. How did the campaign against it start?
Sergio: The Kawésqar native community approached Greenpeace about 6 or 7 years ago, and since then we’ve established a long-term relationship with them.
Every time they came to Santiago — the capital of Chile — we’d join them to protest against the coal mine. Eventually, when the Greenpeace ship Esperanza came to Chile, we managed to go to the Otway sound, next to the port of Invierno in Southern Chile and also to the house of the “Alerta Isla Riesco” movement. Last year, on March 21st, we joined the Break Free movement and took public action against the mine.
In addition to the environmental impact, how did this affect the native community Kawésqar and how was your experience working with them?
Mauricio: Riesco Island is a part of the native community Kawésqar’s ancestral territory. Although the people have lost some of their traditional ways of life, in their process of rebirth, the new generations have acquired an enormous awareness regarding the care of the territory as the only way to guarantee their survival as a culture. The Kawésqar people’s joint opposition has been key in the process of taking a stand against the mine.
We have partnered with Kawésqar people to advise them on the campaign to stop the pollution of their territory they were leading. We also worked hard to get media attention so that the Kawésqar people were empowered and their voices were heard.
At the same time, the mobilisation helped inspire other communities who have seen the long-term effects of old mining operations into taking action. They have continuously witnessed how new coal projects throughout the region are a threat to their livelihood.
A recent coal project in Puerto Natales, a port city in the southern region of Chile, generated strong opposition and the organisation of the so-called Citizens’ Assembly. The mobilisation guaranteed the expansion of the coal mine was rejected by the Chilean environmental authorities after strong pressure from the community. In this process, we served as an advisor in developing strategies to stop the project.
What message would you like to pass on to people reading this interview?
Matías: Over the years, we have been asking the citizens to reject coal mining in Riesco Island. It’s also our goal to stop any new coal mine projects in new areas where there are concessions that could make it possible in the future. Continuing with our campaign work, we intend to keep bearing witness and to be explicit, confrontational against the pollution provoked by the coal mining.
We want to inspire people to take a stand against coal extraction in Chile and all over the world, taking the Invierno coal mine as an example. Today, many Chileans see coal as a dirty source of energy and that is the result of many years of our work and the work of local communities directly affected by coal mining.
We want to thank Greenpeace supporters for allowing us to be independent to carry out this long-term and massive campaign.
Communities all around the world are rising up to stand for a clean future and move away from fossil fuels. Want to help? Sign the petition and help protecting this town in Chile stop the construction of a thermoelectric power plant (in Spanish).
This interview was prepared by Cecilia Calello, Campaign Operations Manager for Greenpeace International.