A Chilean court on May 30 said that it has completed the 10-year investigation into the origin of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's fortune and his suspected embezzlement of public funds. In an unanimous decision, an an appeals court in Santiago closed the investigation, allowing Judge Manuel Valderrama to formally accuse former military members who collaborated with Pinochet in the "Riggs Bank case." Pinochet was charged in 2005 with tax evasion in connection with the millions of dollars he held in foreign bank accounts, which was discovered after the US Senate's investigation into banking irregularities at the now-defunct Riggs Bank. Last year, a court decided not to charge any of Pinochet's family members, but did charge six former military officers for the suspected embezzlement of public funds. An audit done by the Universidad de Chile's Business and Economic faculty in 2010 estimated that Pinochet accumulated $21 million before his death, of which more than $17 million was of unknown origin.
Latin American activists joined thousands of environmentalists and farmers around the world in an international protest May 24 against genetically modified (GM) crops and Monsanto, the Missouri-based multinational that dominates the transgenic seed industry. This was the third March Against Monsanto since May 25 last year, and organizers expected the day of action to include protests in some 351 cities in 52 countries.
Tens of thousands of Chilean college and high school students marched in Santiago on May 8 in the first major demonstration for educational reform since President Michelle Bachelet began her second term on March 11. Bachelet, a Socialist, has promised to make changes to the educational system, which was heavily privatized during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet; the protest was intended to pressure her to honor her commitments, which students also criticized as too vague. The organizers estimated the crowd at 100,000, while the carabineros militarized police put the number at 40,000. There were also protests in other cities; some 4,000 students marched in Valparaíso and 3,000 in Concepción. The Santiago march ended with isolated acts of violence by hooded youths.
The central Chilean port city of Valparaíso remained under military control as of April 15, three days after forest fires began sweeping into some of the city's working-class neighborhoods, leaving at least 15 people dead and destroying 2,900 homes. Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said the government hoped to have the fires under control by April 16, but the national forestry agency indicated that it might take the 5,000 firefighters and other personnel in the city as long as 20 days to extinguish the fires completely. Some 12,500 are now without homes in Valparaíso; this disaster follows an 8.2-magnitude earthquake in northern Chile that killed five people on April 1 and made 2,635 homes uninhabitable.
On April 7 a court in La Ligua, in Chile's Petorca province, Valparaíso region, convicted agronomist Rodrigo Mundaca of slander and sentenced him to 541 days in prison for accusing former government minister Edmundo Pérez Yoma of water usurpation. Mundaca, the secretary of the Movement in Defense of Water, Land and the Environment (Modatima), also faces a fine. According to current Modatima spokesperson Luis Soto, the court's decision won't stop the group's activist work. He said Modatima would take the case "to the Valparaíso Appeals Court, and if we aren't successful there, we'll go to the Supreme Court."
Greenpeace Chile announced on March 5 that it had established a new country in the glacial regions of southern Chile, the "Glacier Republic." The group said the country will remain independent until the Chilean government passes laws to protect Chile's glaciers. Greenpeace based its claim to the territory on a loophole in Chile's laws, which include no claim to sovereignty over the glaciers. In the past the loophole has made the glacial regions vulnerable to environmental damage by mining companies, but Greenpeace now hopes to use it as a way of bringing attention to projects such as the mammoth Pascua Lama mine that the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation has been building high the mountains on both sides of the border with Argentina. Greenpeace is also targeting what it calls "an even greater danger"—the Andina 244 project of the state-owned copper company Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco), which Greenpeace says "provides for the destruction of 5,000 hectares of glaciers, directly affecting water reserves for Chile's entire central zone."
Chile's President Sebstián Piñera filed an official complaint Feb. 12 laying claim to 3.7 hectares (nine acres) of desert on the border with Peru—re-opening the border conflict between the two nations after a January ruling at The Hague had resolved a long-standing dispute on the maritime boundary. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Chile could maintain its sovereignty of fishing waters near the coast but granted Peru control of deeper waters to the southwest. After the ruling, Peru's government released a map designating the contested land triangle as its own—which was immediately rejected by Santiago, citing a 1929 treaty. Piñera's formal assertion of sovereignty over the contested strip follows friction with Peru's President Ollanta Humala at Pacific Alliance summit in Colombia earlier in the week. Following the meeting, Piñera publicly broached withdrawing from the Pact of Bogotá, the regional treaty granting the ICJ jurisdiction in international disputes.
Chilean farmer José Pizarro Montoya received 37 million pesos (about US$66,582) in December from Agrícola Nacional S.A.C. (ANASAC), a Chilean distributor of agricultural products, to settle a suit he brought over the use of genetically modified (GM) corn seed from the Missouri-based Monsanto Company. Pizarro charged that ANASAC violated its contract with him by giving instructions for planting the Monsanto corn that resulted in business losses and eventually ruined him. The Santiago Chamber of Commerce found in Pizarro's favor, and the Santiago Court of Appeals confirmed the decision in September. Pizarro is thought to be the first farmer in Chile—possibly the first in Latin America--to win a suit over the use of Monsanto's GM seeds.