Chilean activists have a unique opportunity to protect the environment Environmental news

Santiago, Chile – The newly elected Constitutional Assembly of Chile will convene for the first time this month to begin the nine-month process to develop a new doctrine to rule the country, setting aside the previous constitution of the dictatorship era.

In the May elections, Chile’s major political parties lost their independence President Sebastian PineraThe right-wing coalition, Chile Vamos, won only one-fifth of the 155 seats.

Environmental lawmakers and activists welcome the result historical moment it can provide unprecedented environmental protection. Although existing constitutions have taken significant steps to incorporate eco-centric provisions, no national charter other than Ecuador recognizes the environment as fundamental to future development and prioritizes its protection.

Forty-eight independent voters, who received the lion’s share of seats, have left social movements, many of which are closely linked to environmental goals. Along with the 17 seats reserved for indigenous communities, along with the 25 seats won by Aprebeo Dignidad of the far-left coalition, much of the recent meeting has promised to enshrine environmental protection in Chile’s new constitution.

“This country has established its development in order to destroy the environment. We are in a severe environmental crisis, “said Jose Ocefina Correa, Greenpeace Chile’s political director. “The new constitution will change everything.”

“Fight for life”

Bastian Labe is one of the independents working for environmental rights. “In Chile, when communities want to save a river or protect their native forest, they have to campaign with their money through bingo and lotteries,” he explained. “The state (should) serve those communities.”

It’s a fight that Labbé knows intimately. He grew up in the industrial coastal city of Hualpen in southern Chile, which is characterized by the concentration of large gas processing plants that constantly disperse smoke clouds whose gas flares mark the outskirts of the city.

But just a short distance from the steamed towers, Labbe found refuge in the Haulpen Nature Reserve, a protected nature reserve containing the area’s last coastal forest, which animals, including flamingos and penguins, call home. “It’s part of my identity,” said Labbe, who teaches history and geography at the University of Concepcion.

When real estate moved forward a year ago with a plan to build more than 1,000 homes by illegally clearing the forest, Labe emerged as the leader in charge of rescuing the sanctuary. His efforts grew with the support of other regional groups working to protect the environment.

“It is a struggle to protect the environment from megaprojects, an extravagant policy that sees nature as a resource for exploitation,” he told Al Jazeera. “And in the context of climate change, it is a struggle for life.”

Legal protection

Enshrining environmental provisions in the constitution will help communities in the private sector sue for human rights violations. This may include access to clean air, water, or green space.

After the election results were announced, Chile’s assets fell, investors feared the “unfavorable market” position of the majority of the assembly. At the same time, a minority of elected Conservatives have pledged to protect and strengthen civil liberties and private property, as enshrined in Pinochet’s constitution.

Maya van Rosum, an environmental advocate and founder of the Green Change Movement in the United States, said environmentally focused voters, such as Labbé, should be given the right environmental rights to be given the maximum protection they need. to civil rights and freedoms. “(Thus) people in the courts can legally rely on it (the constitution) to exercise their environmental rights.”

He also stressed the need to keep the wording broad. “We need to talk about clean water, a sustainable climate, a healthy environment, cultural values ​​of the environment,” he said, explaining that special definitions will be explained in the courts. “You do not want to be deceived or abused by thinking that clean water is less clean than free speech.”


The rewriting of the Chilean constitution as a central requirement arose anti-government uprising In October 2019, when protesters called for equality, health, pensions, equitable access to education, as well as greater protection of the environment.

These demands turned into a call to change the constitution, which was illegally conceived in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which was authored mainly by conservative Catholic lawyer Jaime Guzman.

Guzman’s doctrine enshrined private property rights, upheld free market values, protected the private sector, and allowed the industry to expand rapidly. It explicitly allows for the privatization of water, allowing businesses to buy and operate water sources.

Despite the return of democracy to Chile in 1990, subsequent governments have done little to curb free private sector domination of the environment.

“Landowners can defend their property rights, while landless people have no legal right to complain,” said Grilepis of Korea, Chile. At present, 350,000 people in Chile have no access to water, and more than one million people depend on unsafe drinking water.

Horses seen on land previously flooded in Aculeo Bay in Pine, Chile in January 2019 [File: Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters]

Petorca is the epicenter of the drought crisis in the country, where avocado plantations have dried up the region. The area’s voter, Carolina Wilches, is an experienced water rights activist who has made environmental protection a key priority during her campaign.

“There is a historic opportunity in the new constitution to sanctify the human right to water,” he said in his campaign video. A Greenpeace poll found that 81 elected voters promised to fix water as a human և environmental right.

Fixed by law

At the same time, the rights of the natives will be discussed in the new constitution. Of the 17 seats reserved for Chile’s indigenous communities, which make up 12.8 percent of the population, nine belong to the country’s largest indigenous group, Mapuche.

Each elected Mapuche candidate has made it a necessity to draft the Constitution over his ancestral lands. This is happening in the regions of Araucania և Biobio in southern Chile, against the background of unregulated forestry growth, which corresponds to hundreds of thousands of hectares.

The country’s thriving forest industry grew from 400,000 hectares (988,421 acres) in 1974 to 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) in 2019, usurping Mapuche communities and affecting ecosystems.

Professor of Environmental Law, University of Ottawa, “Ecological Constitution. Linda Collins, author of Reforming Environmental Legislation, emphasized the importance of enshrining environmental rights in constitutions. “If property is constitutionally protected and the environment is not, it is obvious that the environment will lose,” he said. “It’s not a fair fight, so it is very important to at least level the playing field.”

The sign on the glass door with the inscription “Constitutional Convention” can be seen on the roof of the Pereira Palace, where the new constitution of Chile will be drafted, Chile Santiago [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

The congress will meet for the first time later this month, where it will elect a member, a vice-president, to oversee and approve the procedures. After that, the body has nine months to form, with a maximum extension of three months. The final constitution can only be ratified if the public approves it through a referendum.

For Collins, writing the new constitution of Chile means a “powerful historical moment” that can serve as a global example, he added, adding that it is touching to see how environmental champions have a voice.

“Both (Chile) are a cautionary tale about what happens when people are pushed to the brink of being denied environmental services,” he said. “But it’s a beacon of hope that there is another way to do it.”

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