Published On : Thu, Apr 24th, 2008
Share This

Sara Larraín Says Chagual Agreement Is “Broken”


Top environmentalist Sara Larraín anounces "rupture" with government
Benjamin Witte, Santiago Times 

A growing rift between Chilean environmentalists and the Michelle Bachelet administration expanded into a gaping chasm Wednesday, when Sara Larrain and other green luminaries announced the “rupture” of the so-called Chagual Agreement. The announcement amounts to a withdrawal of support for President Bachelet.


On November 21, 2005, then presidential candidate Bachelet joined 23 NGO groups in signing a 10-point list of environmental promises known cumulatively as the Chagual Agreement.  In doing so, the future president agreed among other things “not to include the nuclear option in the national energy policy.”

Over the past two-and-a-half years, according to Chile’s leading environmentalists, President Bachelet has consistently failed to keep that promise. In March 2007, the Bachelet administration convened a group known as the Zanelli Commission, which was tasked with exploring the possibility of developing nuclear energy in Chile. The government assigned the Commission a budget of approximately US$225,000. Alarmed by the move, the Chagual Agreement’s environmentalist signers nevertheless accepted government explanations and agreed to continue collaborating with the president.

Since then, however, the Bachelet administration has continued to explore its nuclear options. Indeed, just last month Energy Minster Marcelo Tokman helped inaugurate a conference entitled “Nuclear Energy: An Option for Chile.” The event’s co-sponsors included nuclear energy companies Areva, from France; General Electric, from the United States; AECL, a Canadian firm; and Russia’s Nuclear Energy Corporation. During the conference, Tokman announced a special US$2 million budget to be spent on exploring the nuclear possibility. The Chilean government plans to spend a similar amount in 2009, he said.

Tokman’s announcement appears to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. In a letter sent this week to Bachelet, the Chagual Agreement’s 23 NGO participants pronounced the 2005 accord “broken.”

“Ms. President, these actions constitute a clear violation of the Chagual Agreement. For this reason, we are letting you know that we consider the agreement to be broken. Furthermore, we the environmental signers are now free to act as we want regarding an agreement that, until now, had stipulated our support for your leadership,” said Larraín, director of the Chile Sustentable program.

Larraín and her colleagues acknowledge that Bachelet has made some environmental advances. For example, she fulfilled her promise to submit legislation for the eventual establishment of both a Ministry of Environment and National Parks Service. But, say the environmental groups, those few bright points have been greatly overshadowed by her government’s many environmental shortcomings, including its failure to increase environment budgets, improve regulation of genetically modified agriculture, and address the problem of Chile’s rapidly receding glaciers.

“The government has turned its back on environmental issues,” said Terram Executive Director Flavia Liberona. “We can see this with the pollution in Santiago and with the crisis in the salmon industry, in which the government has sided with the companies, not with either the workers or the environmentalists. Beyond just the Chagual Agreement, which clearly hasn’t been heeded, the government is choosing stances on environmental issues that will neither improve the quality of the environment in Chile nor help its residents, its workers or its ecosystems.”

The Chagual signers are concerned as well about what they describe as government “persecution.” NGO groups claim that in recent years they’ve been closely monitored by government intelligence officials, who have infiltrated meetings and on several occasions stolen computers and hard drives (ST, March 28).

“One doesn’t lash out at friends. Yet (the government has) lashed out at us. One doesn’t tap a friend’s telephone. One doesn’t follow a friend in the street. One doesn’t arrest a friend,” said Fernando Dougnac, president of an NGO called the Fiscalía del Medio Ambiente. “It’s not just that the government hasn’t followed the (Chagual) Agreement. It’s that they’ve treated us as enemies. We can’t sit down at the same meeting table with people who spit in our faces.”

Still, it’s Bachelet’s apparent willingness to explore the nuclear option that is proving most divisive. Environmentalists argue that nuclear energy is prohibitively expensive, potentially dangerous, politically divisive and ultimately limited. As such it makes absolutely no sense for Chile, they say.

“Today the nuclear option is not embraced by a majority around the world. It’s an obsolete technology and it’s rejected socially,” said Larraín. “If you look at all the climate change negotiations carried out, all the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, etc., you might expect (nuclear energy) to come up as a recommendation. But instead, countries have resisted it as an alternative because to start with, it depends on a non-renewable resource – uranium.”

By Benjamin Witte (benwitte@santiagotimes.cl)

About the Author

The Santiago Times Team