The First Environmental Tribunal in the Chile's northern city of Antofagasta on Dec. 26 ruled in favor of indigenous communities that had brought suit against Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), the world's second-largest miner of lithium. The court found SQM's compliance plan for water preservation submitted to Chile's Environment Superintendency (SMA) was "insufficient," citing the "particular fragility" of the lithium-rich but extremely arid salt-flats where the company hopes to expand operations, the Salar de Atacama. Under the ruling, SQM must submit a new compliance plan, pay multi-million fines to the SMA for being out of compliance, or suspend operations. "We must protect sensitive ecosystems even more when they constitute the ancestral habitat of our native peoples whom the State of Chile is obliged to protect," the court's chief justice, Mauricio Oviedo, said in a statement. The case was brought by the local Council of Atacameño Pueblos, representing the impacted indigenous communities of Peine and Camar. (Jurist, Al Jazeera)
Chile's President Sebastian Piñera signed a law on Dec. 23 allowing a referendum on a new constitution for the country. The law was passed by the Chilean congress last week following more than two months of mass protests. The referendum is scheduled for April 26, and asks voters two questions: should Chile have a new constitution; and who should write it, an assembly of elected citizens or an assembly that would include a mix of current lawmakers?
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a report published Dec. 13 that international human rights norms had been violated by both police and army personnel during the recent mass protests in Chile which led the government to declare a state of emergency. The report said that these rights violations should be prosecuted. The 30-page report, based on research during the first three weeks of November, extensively details multiple allegations, including of torture, and rape and other forms of sexual violence, against people held in detention. The leader of the OHCHR mission in Chile, Imma Guerras-Delgado, told journalists in Geneva that the overall management of demonstrations by the police "was carried out in a fundamentally repressive manner."
Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), under pressure from the government amid falling prices and rising protests, committed Nov. 28 to define by year's end the destination for lithium from its lease area at the Salar de Maricunga. SQM, one of the world's top producers, already has a larger lithium mine in production at another area of salt-flats, the Salar de Atacama—but operations there were suspended for several days late last month, as local campesinos blocked roads to the site as part of the general popular uprising in Chile. Leaders of the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños, representing 18 indigenous communities, pledged to resist any expansion of lithium operations in the area, citing threats to local water sources. SQM has options to collaborate in development of the Maricunga lease with state mineral company Codelco, but announcement of a deal has been delayed amid depressed global lithium prices. This is partly attributed to a cut in government subsidies for purchasers of electric vehicles in China, a main destination for Chilean lithium. (Mundo Maritimo, Nov. 29; Reuters, Nov. 28; FT, Nov. 21; El Ciudadano, Chile, Oct. 27)
Some 60,000 marched in Montevideo Oct. 22 against the "Vivir sin Miedo" (Live Without Fear) campaign, an anti-crime initiative that will go before the voters in this week's national elections in Uruguay. The referendum, being pushed by Sen. Jorge Larrañaga of the right-wing National Party, would create a new military police force, the National Guard; allow security forces to carry out night raids; and impose mandatory life terms for serious crimes. The group Madres y Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, made up of survivors of those "disappeared" during the years of military rule in Uruguay, issued a statement warning that approval of the initiative could be a step back toward dictatorship.
Leaders of Chile's Mapuche indigenous people on Oct. 22 announced their support for the massive protests that have been sweeping the country for the past week, saying they will press their demands for local autonomy in their traditional territories. Aucán Huilcamánn of the Consejo de Todas las Tierras (Council of All Lands) made the declaration in the city of Temuco, Araucanía region, standing beside Marcelo Catrillanca—father of a young Mapuche man killed by the paramilitary Carabineros last year, an outrage that sparked local protests. Camilo Catrillanca was shot in the back last November while working his lands in the community of Temucuicui. He had been driving his tractor away from an outpost of the Carabineros' Special Police Operations Group (GOPE)—the same elite force that has been unleashed on protesters in Chile's cities over the past days. Four ex-members of the Carabineros have been arrested in the case. (Soy Chile, BiobioChile, The Guardian)
A state of emergency has been declared in Chile following protests that erupted Oct. 18—initially over transit fare hikes in Santiago but quickly escalating to an uprising over general economic agony. Radicalized youth have blocked thoroughfares, burned buses and ransacked shops, while whole families have filled the streets in a nationwide cacerolazo—beating pots and pans to express outrage over the high cost of living. Protesters have similarly taken the streets, erected barricades and clashed with police in Lebanon, where a state of "economic emergency" has been declared. Again, demonstrations were initially sparked by government plans to impose a tax on text messaging, but protests have continued even after the tax was rescinded in response to the upsurge of popular anger Oct. 17. Demonstrators have revived the slogan from the 2011 Arab Revolution, "The people demand the fall of the regime."