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Chile: Aysen Region Social Movement Gains Strength

Last year, the Aysen Region was on the national spotlight due to the controversial dam project Hydroaysén; today people are once again paying attention to this region in the Chilean Patagonia after locals held a series of protests calling for better quality of life and lower living costs.

Iván Fuentes, President of the Social Movement for the Aysen Region explained [es]:

Parecemos una isla, porque no tenemos buena conectividad  y todo es más caro.

We are like an island because we don't have good connections and everything is more expensive.

Protests in Coyhaique. Photo taken by Flickr user cpatagon on February 17, 2012. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Protests in Coyhaique. Photo taken by Flickr user cpatagon on February 17, 2012. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Mayor of Aysen, Marisol Martínez, summarized the dissatisfaction of the people from this region in an interview [es] aired by television network Canal 13 [Channel 13]:

Hay temas de larga data que se han ido acumulando, que no ha habido soluciones, los cuales no hemos sido atendidos como región, hemos sido postergados por mucho tiempo [...] Sólo se acuerdan de nosotros para extraer nuestros recursos naturales, para instalar grandes represas, para sacar nuestras aguas, ahí aparecemos como interesantes [...] Pero respecto a la calidad de vida de nuestra gente, a la calidad de los empleos, a la calidad de nuestros recursos naturales, no se acuerdan [...] Nuestros recursos deben ser preservados y deben ser desarrollados, pero los primeros que deben ser beneficiados a través de su desarrollo económico, es la gente de Aysén y eso no ha ocurrido.

There are issues from a long time ago that have been piling up with no solutions. We haven't been taken into consideration as a region, we have been put aside for a long time [...] They only remember us when they need to exploit our natural resources, to build dams, to take out our water, then we're interesting [...] But when it comes to the quality of life of our people, the quality of employment, the quality of our natural resources, they don't remember [...] Our resources should be preserved and developed, but the first people who should benefit from this economic development is the people of Aysen and that hasn't happened.

Since Tuesday, February 7, protesters of the Social Movement for Aysen Region, which is made up by 25 social organizations, unions and farmers [es], have blocked roads, occupying airfields [es] and docks, burning tires and setting up barricades in Coyhaique and other towns in the region demanding an open dialogue with the government. Many protests have ended in violent clashes with the police [es].

This is what Patagon Twitter user AysenReservaDeVida (@Ing_Laurita) [es] shared on February 14:

Esto está pasando en un sector de Aysén. Pescadores y carabineros en acción, lluvia de piedras y lacrimóg http://twitpic.com/8jt874 cc@lmrendon

This is what's happening in the Aysen sector. Fishermen and police in action, stones rain and tear gas http://twitpic.com/8jt874 cc@lmrendon

Their demands have been compiled in a petition list with 10 points [es] which basically ask for subsidies to balance food, water, electricity and fuel costs; quality health and education; employment equity and retirement pensions based on regional needs; greater citizen participation in the decisions that affect the region including natural resources exploitation; better access and infrastructure.

The leaders of this group said [es]:

Las organizaciones [...] hemos iniciado un proceso de movilización general permanente y de largo aliento, con el fin de gatillar un cambio en el desarrollo regional, hasta ahora enfocado esencialmente al beneficio de intereses que no son realmente los de quienes vivimos en el territorio de Aysén.

The organizations [...] have initiated a process of permanent and long-term demonstrations to trigger a change in the regional development that until now has focused essentially on the benefit of interests that do not belong to those who live in Aysén.

Economy Minister, Pablo Longueira, criticized [es] the barricades and street blockings and highlighted the high growth index of the region (according to the National Institute of Statistics [es], Aysen's economy grew 19.4% from 2010 to 2011). Additionally, on an interview for Radio ADN he added:

Es una región muy pujante, hay otras motivaciones, no es la forma. Es evidente que hay una coordinación que se observa desde Santiago de organizaciones que están detrás de esto

This is a very vigorous region, there are other motivations, this is not the way [to carry out this demonstration]. It's clear that there is coordination among organizations that are behind all these and we can see this from Santiago

His words caused outrage and concern among protesters like Iván Fuentes pointed out [es]:

Cada vez que aparecen las cifras, nos angustiamos porque esos buenos datos no nos han llegado y no reflejan lo que vivimos

Every time numbers come out, we feel anguish because this good data hasn't reached us and doesn't reflect our reality

Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter stressed [es] that “these challenges should be dealt with talking, and in no case by blocking the roads or with violence” and tried to calm down the situation by sending undersecretary Rodrigo Ubilla a Aysén to speak with the regional leaders. The meeting that took place on February 16, which lasted several hours, only managed to put on the table two of the requests and no agreement was reached. Moreover, the meeting was interrupted by a power cut caused by the protesters who gave the national government an ultimatum to come up with an answer to their demands by next Monday. Meanwhile, the street blocks continue.

Blogger Manuel L. Rodríguez from La Oveja Negra de la Familia (“The Family's Black Sheep”) in his post “Despierta Aysén” (“Wake up Aysen”) [es] was pessimistic about the government's approach:

Probablemente, considerando los precedentes, el manejo gubernamental sea al menos errático, y como está sucediendo, termine por amplificar la controversia, y por dar margen a los excesivos celos represivos de Carabineros, al debe en lo que respecta al control del orden público y al uso de la fuerza.

Probably, considering the precedents, the government's management [of the situation] will be erratic, and as it is already happening, will end up stirring up the controversy and raising mistrust about police repression by allowing crackdowns.

Others, like Twitter user El Kato (@Katomagna) [es], doubt that the national outrage concerning the regional problem will last:

Lo más terrible es que la indignación por #Aysén durará hasta fin de mes…

The most terrible thing is that the outrage for #Aysen will last only until the end of the month…

AysénReservaDeVida (@Ing_Laurita) [es] concluded:

Para que les quede claro que este movimiento va más allá de partidos políticos, es un descontento general, todos unidos! #DespiertaAysen

Just to be clear, this movement is beyond political parties, it is a general discontent, everybody united! #WakeUpAysen

You can read more reactions and keep up with Aysen's social movement by following the hashtags #Aysen and #DespiertaAysen (“Wake up Aysen”) on Twitter.

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