Chile: environmentalists declare ‘Glacier Republic’

Greenpeace Chile announced on March 5 that it had established a new country in the glacial regions of southern Chile, the "Glacier Republic." The group said the country will remain independent until the Chilean government passes laws to protect Chile's glaciers. Greenpeace based its claim to the territory on a loophole in Chile's laws, which include no claim to sovereignty over the glaciers. In the past the loophole has made the glacial regions vulnerable to environmental damage by mining companies, but Greenpeace now hopes to use it as a way of bringing attention to projects such as the mammoth Pascua Lama mine that the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation has been building high the mountains on both sides of the border with Argentina. Greenpeace is also targeting what it calls "an even greater danger"—the Andina 244 project of the state-owned copper company Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco), which Greenpeace says "provides for the destruction of 5,000 hectares of glaciers, directly affecting water reserves for Chile's entire central zone."

Setting up a capital city of tents on the ice, Greenpeace announced the new country with a video and a full-page ad in the New York Times. The idea was met with enthusiasm by some Chileans. García Juan Luis, an assistant professor of glacial geology at the Catholic University of Chile, called the project "a great initiative and a beautiful way of protesting." On March 6 the 99-year-old poet, mathematician and physicist Nicanor Parra, who won Spain's prestigious Cervantes prize for literature in 2011, applied for a passport and sent a letter of support to the Glacier Republic's embassy in Santiago. (BioBioChile, March 5; Santiago Times, March 6; Adital, Brazil, March 6)

In related news, late on March 3, a Chilean environmental court revoked a $16 million fine that environmental regulator Juan Carlos Monckeberg imposed on Barrick's Pascua Lama project last May. But the ruling may increase Barrick's penalties. The court held that Monckeberg erred in grouping the mining company's 23 environmental infringements in five categories; instead, he will now have to impose a separate fine for each of the infringements. The court's decision doesn't affect the project's suspension, which remains in effect. (, March 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 9.