En representación de los vecinos de Caimanes (localidad rural ubicada en la Provincia de Choapa, de la IV Región de Coquimbio) se demandó a la Minera Pelambres, propiedad del grupo Luksic, por su proyecto de construir un tranque de relaves en la cabecera del Valle de Pupío, poniendo en grave riesgo la vida de los habitantes y la fuente de abastecimiento de agua de bebida y riego de la zona.
Luego de arduos y extensos procesos de litigación, y frente al daño irreversible que las aguas del valle habían sufrido con las obras de la Minera Pelambres, en mayo de 2008 se llegó a acuerdo extrajudicial con el pago de indemnizaciones a la comunidad.
«La batalla del agua del Valle del Pupio» testimonio contra el olvido
Caimanes es una localidad rural ubicada en la Cordillera de la Costa a la altura de Los Vilos, en el valle del Pupío de la Región de Coquimbo (Provincia de Choapa). De no más de mil habitantes, su vida apacible se vio fuertemente remecida a partir del año 2001, cuando la compañía Antofagasta Minerals –propiedad del grupo Luksic, uno de los más poderosos de nuestro país- decidió ampliar las faenas de la mina Los Pelambres, ubicando a escasos 2 kilómetros de Caimanes un inmenso tranque de relaves a donde fueron a parar toneladas de desechos tóxicos. El lugar escogido por la minera fue Fundo El Mauro, punto de origen de las aguas que alimentaban las vertientes que daban vida al valle de Pupío y que hoy ya no existen debido a la puesta en marcha del tranque de relaves.
En resumen, esa es la historia que nos cuenta el libro “La batalla del agua del Valle de Pupío”, publicado por FIMA y que contó con el apoyo de OXFAM -agencia internacional de ayuda humanitaria- en su producción. Realizado con el objetivo de que este caso no pase al olvido debido a su importancia en la búsqueda de un desarrollo sustentable que respete el medioambiente y a las personas, desde el subtítulo del libro, “Victoria judicial / Derrota socio ambiental”, nos da cuenta del trágico desenlace que sufrió la comunidad de Caimanes luego del acuerdo extrajudicial que propició la Corte Suprema en mayo de 2008: indemnizaciones a cambio del daño irreversible ocasionado por la construcción del tranque.
Para FIMA es importante dejar constancia y dar a conocer los detalles de este caso porque de alguna forma se transformó en un icono del cómo vemos el desarrollo económico en nuestro país y de las políticas de protección ambiental y de derechos ciudadanos que nos rigen actualmente. “Para comprender la complejidad de este caso, creemos que es importante reflexionar sobre la naturaleza del agua como un elemento esencial de la vida”, se lee en la presentación del libro, y continúa: “En términos generales existen dos formas fundamentales de considerar el agua. Una es aquella que hace el Código de Aguas Chileno y que, simplemente, la estima como un recurso económico o, si se quiere, productivo. Otra es tomarla como fuente de toda la vida, sustentadora del mundo, que nos permite crecer y desarrollarnos. (…) Es decir, la legalidad en Chile no considera el derecho humano al agua, tocando el tema en forma tangencial y desde la exclusiva y restrictiva perspectiva del conflicto entre entes productivos y personas”. Agrega que dicho derecho debe estar “claramente explicitado en nuestra Carta Máxima a fin de evitar equívocos y dilaciones en su aplicación”.
En total se imprimieron 1000 copias, las que han sido distribuidas entre cerca de 200 organizaciones nacionales e internacionales de diversas áreas de trabajo: desde autoridades regionales ambientales, hasta fundaciones preocupadas por la defensa de los derechos humanos y el medio ambiente.
También se realizó una versión digital que puede ser descargada desde acá.
In 1997 Luksic Group, one of the biggest and more powerful holdings in Chile, owner of Antofagasta Minerals, started a project to expand Los Pelambres mine. With this grow, the three tailings dam that were previously approved by the environmental authorities, would no longer be able to contain the new tailings that the mine would generate.
Therefore they create a project to replace those three small tailing dams for a giant one. Nevertheless, the environmental, social, cultural, patrimonial and politics impacts were not properly considered. To build this giant tailing dam, Los Pelambres bought in 2001 a farm called El Mauro, place of origin of the water slopes that use to fed the Pupio river.
They named the tailing dam as «El Mauro» and it included a contention wall of 240 meters tall, which would close the valley in a point called “The narrowness of El Mauro”, just where the most important water slope of the valley used to born (also all the others remains slopes of water would be buried by the tailings that would be left there). Paradoxically, the Miner Company for decrease the damage, proposed built a “water tail dam”1 which would be feeding by rain water captured by perimeter canals. In others words, they offered to replace a renewable aquifer of 10.000.000 mts3 with a little pond of 600.000 mts3.
As it could be expected, the farmers of the zone, residents and others users of the waters like the “Drink Water Rural’s Committee of Caimanes”, “The Pupio Valley Defense Committee” and the “Fourth Neighbourhood council” were opposed to the project, based in the posibility of their water rights being affected.
But, in 2000 the Intendent (regional representation of the president) of Coquimbo Region pointed that he had a huge interest on the project accomplishment because it would be a great incentive for the development of the region and the Choapa province. At the same time he asked to the public services, which had to give the permissions, to accelerate all the formalities and avoid extra paperwork to the company. By law this authority is the one who preside the Regional Environmental Comission (today is not exactly the same figure, but he/she is still in charge of environmental evaluation).
In June of 2001 the company performed their plan of increase the production of the mine. Despite the claims of civil society, they presented an Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA) because they will go from 85.000 daily tons of production to a 114.000 (the DIA process did not consider any kind of public participation).
1 This odd name is due to the position of the water dam, that is behind the tailing dam, and so it’s “in the tail” of the construction.
On april 7th, 2004 “Los Pelambres” received the environmental authorization for the construction of the tailings dam El Mauro, and the enlargement of the useful life of Los Pelambres Mine for 50 more years. This approval didn’t considered most of the observations made by public services, neither those made by the public.
The directive of the environmental authority without any explanations quickly discarded the administrative remedy conducted by the communities. In what regards the public services “sectorial authorizations” the most important was the one given by the General Water Direction (DGA). This agency, going beyond their legal powers and without any consideration of the potential damage to the users of the Pupio River, gave the licence to change the natural affluent of the river (the water slopes), for the perimeter streams and water tail dam.
In an unheard way, the DGA pointed that the tailing dam would not affect the integrity of the others users and neither would pollute the waters. The farmers and others users of the waters once again opposed to the decision, arguing that the build of the tailing dam would affect their water rights, because it would change the natural source and the Company would blind the water slopes of El Mauro, the essential source of the Pupio River. Adding that a lot of rainwater would be loss in the tailing dam itself.
In 2005 the opponents filed an habeas at the Appeal Court of Santiago against the DGA. The authority was accused to disregard the water code and to affect the usage rights of waters. All usage rights of the Pupio River were granted at the time (there was even an excess of rights). Therefore -and as the DGA itself recognised in 2001- it was impossible to give new rights over this river.
On November 3th of 2006, the third room of the Appeal Court of Santiago ruled the habeas in favour of the communities. The decision recognized the claims of the opponents. Nevertheless, and despite the clear statement in favour of the people, the Court didn’t give an order to accomplish the statement (It did not order to stop the construction and/or demolish what was built until that moment). The Court only ordered to the DGA to accomplish with the decision. However, DGA and the Mine Company appealed to the decision to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile the appealing was on process, an irreparable damage to the Pupio River was allowed and accomplished. This was the point that determined the outcome of this episode of the conflict.
After this important judicial setback and in parallel to the appeal process, the Company started a communication strategy to discredit the Court decision, arguing that the instance had no authority to interfere into environmental issues. At the same time, and as pressure measurement, the company clarified that they have intention of stop all the other projects in the region if the Supreme Court ruled against them. Government authorities of high range started demonstrate their support to the project in different ways.
In this new stage, civil society was in an complicated position, as they won at the Court but the Pupio River and the aquifer that was the hard of the river were already being destroying. On December 2006, at the Annual Miner Council Dinner, the president of that Trade Union said, despite there was a pending judicial process, “El Mauro is going to be built”. At that meeting, both the President of Antofagasta Mineral, Jean Paul Lucksic and the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet were present. Moreover, on November 24th of 2006, Lucksic visited La Moneda (the government palace) and was received by the Minister of Interior Belisario Velasco. On the other side, the community of Caimanes send tens of mails requesting for a meeting, but they did not get any answer.
After more than a year and three months of the Court resolution, on march of 2008, the claims Starts at the Supreme Court . On behalf of the company came the lawyers of the law firm Claro and Cia. On behalf of the Caimanes organizations, the lawyers were Fernando Dougnac and Gustavo Manríquez.
The allegations were prolonged during six complete audiences (one per week). On may 2008 the Supreme Court, before ruling called the sides to an audience of agreement. This audience ended whit the company buying the farms Tipay and Romero, as well of the water rights that the owner of those farms, Victor Ugarte, had over the Pupio River. The others claimants received an economic compensation for the further damages that the mine could cause.
The only reason why the claimants agreed to an economic compensation was because the water slopes that gave life to the Pupio River were irreparably blinded, and all the other waterworks were almost finished.