Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CHILE: Temporary Truce in Pipeline War

Gustavo Gonzalez

SANTIAGO, Jun 18 1996 (IPS) - The communities and companies tied up in the “gas pipeline war” in Chile agreed to a week-long truce Tuesday, to reduce chances of further confrontations between the Carabineers and civilians.

Community leaders from the town of San Alfonso and a local landowning family whose estate has been declared a nature sanctuary, managed to persuade the GasAndes company to look into a third possible route for the pipline bringing natural gas in from Argentina.

The negotiations started in the early hours of Tuesday, with the participation of leader of the Chamber of Deputies, Jaime Estevez, of the co-governing Socialist Party.

The agreement made prevented the imminent deployment of the Caribineers to the Astorga family estate “Cascada de las Animas,” where the landowners were preparing to resist the police with the help of environmental groups.

GasAndes, a company created by the Canadian transnational Novacorp and Chilean energy consortia, will now be looking into taking the pipeline across the La Caldera section of the Andes, instead of via San Alfonso and Cascada de las Animas.

This peaceful place, with its population of 3,000 has been up in arms since 1995 when the company announced the trans-Andean pipeline would be going through the town as part of a megaproject to bring natural gas into the central region of Chile from the Argentine province of Neuquen.

Natural gas will be a “clean” substitute for the contaminating fuel burnt in transport, industry and the homes of the nation, as part of plans to end the continual environmental crises in Santiago, a city with five million inhabitants.

Ricardo Astorga stated Tuesday, that his family was not opposed to the project, but that he believed the part of the pipeline to go through Cajon del Maipo, a geologically unstable volcanic area, should go through unpopulated areas, without destroying nature sanctuaries.

Astorga accused the minister Jose Joaquin Brunner, of being “badly informed” in response to his declaration Monday that the residents of Santiago “must not be held hostage” by minority groups.

The Astorga family cut the only access bridge to Cascada de las Animas in order to prevent the GasAndes engineers and their police escort from entering the site.

GasAndes had decided to go ahead with the government approved work in the area after the residents of San Alfonseo blocked the only road to the town last week in a protest against the company.

This demonstration ended with the protesters being forcibly expelled by the Caribineers, in action described as “brutal” by members of parliament and neighbourhood leaders.

A camp was set up in the entrance to Cascada de las Animas Monday night, peopled by a group of 30 campaigners, despite sub- zero temperatures.

Flavia Liberona, a San Alfonso leader, said the negotiations this week would allow for both the two original routing options to be studies, along with the possibility of taking the pipeline through the unpopulated La Caldera area further to the north.

“We are prepared to negotiate on this basis. If they remove the La Caldera option, we will withdraw from the negotiations straight away,” said Liberona.

Angel Santander, leader of the San Alfonso Neighbours Council. said taking the pipeline through La Caldera would raise the cost by some eight million dollars, a figure he classed as “irrelevant” to GasAndes.

Minister of the National Energy Committee, Alejandro Jadresic, called for an “agreed solution” to the conflict between the company, the San Alfonso community and the Astorga family.

Jadresic said Santiago must receive the natural gas for the winter of 1997, and warned that every day of delay on the project was costing the nation around 300,000 dollars.

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