Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CHILE: Dakar Rally Left Trail of Archaeological Damages

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Aug 5 2009 (IPS) - The Dakar rally, held this year for the first time in Chile and Argentina, caused severe damage to archaeological sites in northern Chile, according to a report by the Council on National Monuments.

The 2009 edition of the Dakar rally, organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), ran through parts of central and northern Argentina and Chile in January.

This year was the first time the rally – originally known as the Paris-Dakar – was held outside of Europe and Africa. In 2008, it was suspended amid fears of terrorist attacks and because of political instability in Africa.

The Council on National Monuments in Chile issued a preliminary report in February on the damages to archaeological sites caused by the off-road race, in which cars, trucks and motorcycles compete. The findings were expanded on in a full report released in early July.

On Jul. 6, the Council on National Monuments sent the General Secretariat of the Government – which the National Sports Institute falls under – the report with the detailed results of the final inspection of the Dakar rally route.

The document also proposed measures to take ahead of the 2010 edition of the rally, which will again be held in South America, as well as measures to compensate for the damages.

The Dakar rally caused "irremediable damage" to a total of five archaeological sites – "damages that could have been avoided if the recommendations issued by this Council in 2008 had been followed," says the document, to which IPS had access.

Four of the sites are in the region of Atacama and two are in the region of Coquimbo, more than 500 km north of Santiago.

The vehicles destroyed lithic pieces – such as knives, arrowheads, spear points and scrapers – fragments of ceramics and shells, human bones, and rock structures dating back to different archaeological periods between 9000 BCE and 1500 CE.

How could that happen? "These were sites that had not been previously registered or studied, where findings were discovered as a result of the rally," Óscar Acuña, executive secretary of the Council of National Monuments, told IPS.

"The Council had requested early on that an archaeological baseline study be carried out to reduce the chance of destruction of sites, but the organisation did not accept the suggestion, and the information on the rally's route was not received until it was too late to carry out the task," he said.

In Acuña's view, "what is important is that, as a result of this year's experience, all of the actors involved are aware of the imperative need for a baseline study, and for the route to be mapped out earlier."

But he also said that "any damages to the archaeological heritage are irreparable and incalculable."

The Council has drafted a technical and economic proposal for compensation for the damages, as well as a proposal for an archaeological baseline study.

With a baseline, "we could require modifications of the proposed route" and "establish a greater number of check points to keep the competitors from getting off route," said Acuña.

When it was reported that the rally would be coming to Chile and Argentina, environmental groups in both countries began to oppose the race, whose 2010 edition will receive a financial contribution of around six million dollars from the Chilean government.

Luis Mariano Rendón, head of the Chilean environmental organisation Acción Ecológica, told IPS that in March, after the first Council of National Monuments report had come out, his group filed a complaint before the prosecution service asking for an investigation of the damages.

Last month, his organisation brought a lawsuit demanding an in-depth investigation, and penalties.

Asked by IPS about the possibility of the government taking part in the legal action, Acuña said there were no plans to do so, and added that "the organisation (that runs the rally) has clearly expressed that it is willing to carry out the compensation for the archaeological damages caused."

According to Rendón, who hopes that the 2010 edition of the endurance race will be cancelled, "Chile fortunately has a law on national monuments that provides for severe penalties for the destruction of archaeological sites.

"We are completely opposed to holding the Dakar rally here, not only because of the local impacts, which have been outlined in these reports by the Council on National Monuments," he said.

"Our fundamental objection against Dakar has to do with the fact that it is publicity that promotes the use of four wheel drive vehicles that consume enormous amounts of fuel," he said.

"At the end of the year, the world's governments are going to discuss how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile Chile, instead of making a contribution along those lines, is doing just the opposite, giving all facilities and even public funds to a destructive, polluting activity like the rally," the environmentalist argued.

Rendón also said the rally does not bolster the country's tourism image. "If it does, the image being sold is a very poor one – that of a country where you can come and ride roughshod over our territory and heritage, facilitated by the authorities."

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