Chile From Within

Issues in Mountaineering and Guide Norms in Chile

Posted in Andes Mountains, Chile culture, environment, Viva Chile by tomasdinges on June 9, 2007

Quebrada La Zorra

The outdoor sports industry, and specifically, mountain climbing, in Chile has been experiencing great growth in the past few years.

It is generally acknowledged that the infrastructure and regulation of guide services and park management is significantly deficient in-country. Examples given are the pathetic quality of services at the second highest mountain in Latin America, Ojos de Salado (6879 m – 6893 m). A private concessionaire has constructed sub-par bathrooms in three years of its concession. There is no clear rescue or first-aid procedure. Entrance fee is a USD$160, and the only improvements to the park are the bathrooms, which according to an experienced guide, are made of deficient materials…wood and a metal roof, and a door which constantly falls off, amongst other issues. Although apparently future investments are to be made, in the form of two “Don Domo” dome huts.

Cerro Aconcagua (6959 m – 6962 m), costs USD $300 to enter, but there is an extensive system of rescue and first aid, as well as an infrastructure and management to receive the enormous quantity of visitors obsessed with reaching high altitudes in the South American Andes.

Imagine if Ojos del Salado is actually a higher mountain, as a French-Chilean team led by Marc Turrel of Andes Magazine and the head of the tourist agency Azimut 360, has set out to discover.

Recently the national tourist agency, Sernatur, has set out to develop norms of quality, and hopefully safety, regulating tourist and guide agencies in Chile, the majority of which offer outdoor trips and guide services.

I quote from their front page at

“El Sistema de Calidad para los Servicios Turísticos es una iniciativa impulsada por el Instituto Nacional de Normalización (INN) en conjunto con el Servicio Nacional de Turismo (SERNATUR), y financiada por la Corporación de Fomento de la Producción (CORFO).

La idea en una primera etapa es dotar al sector turismo de un conjunto de 50 normas técnicas de calidad para alojamiento turístico, turismo aventura, guías de turismo, agencias de viaje y operadores turísticos; que respondan a las expectativas de los actores destacados (proveedores, usuarios, autoridades, Universidades, Organismos Técnicos de Capacitación (OTEC) y otros).

Un sistema de normas y certificación de calidad brinda transparencia al mercado de los servicios turísticos, entregando a los usuarios una herramienta eficaz para elegir entre una variada oferta, en función de parámetros homogéneos y objetivos.

El Sistema de Calidad dice relación con el mejoramiento de la oferta, pero adicionalmente es una herramienta de marketing. Los países compiten entre sí por nuevos mercados o por conservar el mercado actual, en la medida que presentan servicios turísticos de calidad, que están certificados y que estos servicios son reconocidos internacionalmente.

El año 2006 se iniciará el proceso de certificación de calidad de 20 empresas y 10 guías de turismo. Al final del proyecto se espera que un 30% de estas entidades se hayan certificado.”

At first glance emblematic cases, like that of Ricardo Anibal Rios, who tried to climb Cerro El Plomo, yet, “practicaba andinismo desde hace un mes y ésta constituía su segunda salida a la alta montaña. El hombre se encontraba en compañía de un instructor y otro andinista, quienes alrededor de las 18:00 horas de ayer avisaron a Carabineros de su fallecimiento.Aunque aún se desconocen las causas exactas de la muerte del excursionista, personal de Carabineros familiarizado con la zona en que ocurrió el accidente, sostuvo que lo más probable es que los tres escaladores no hayan advertido la presencia de grietas. El cuerpo del malogrado excursionista -quien se entrenaba para escalar el monte Aconcagua- fue ubicado esta madrugada por los efectivos del GOPE, pero aún no ha podido ser recuperado debido a que se encuentra en una zona de difícil acceso. ” El Mercurio Online, February 27th., This highlights the precarious nature of the growing group of Chileans who are looking to the mountains, like never before.

Glaciar Juncal reportedly holds the bodies of at least three mountaineers, including that of Américo Tordoya, who fell into a fissure in the ice in 1983, in an expedition to climb el Juncal.

Regardless, this initiative does not deal, at first glance, with safety and rescue in the high mountains. I was made acutely aware of this upon being part of a group caught in an unexpected storm at 4300m in the northern Andes, trying to climb the Volcano Llullaillaco (6739m) at the altura de Antofagasta.

Un Hito

See my photo set documenting the storm and 24 hour trip down from the altiplano, or at least to where we could be reached by the civilian police special operations forces (GOPE) and the trucks from the nearby Minera Escondida. It was a mess and there was no clear emergency or rescue protocol, and uncertainty reigned.

The nascent heli-ski industry is trying to start a similar initiative leading to standards and safety requirements to assure the long-term health of the industry, which in my opinion, is about to take off. Or at least I would like this to be the case.

Comments and contributions welcome, as this is a new issue of vital importance, la cual desconozco en detalle.

Barrick Gold, comprehensive global review by CorpWatch

Posted in environment, Fuck you, Viva Chile by tomasdinges on May 3, 2007

Barrick Gold, by CorpwatchCheck out the recently released (May 1) report researched and edited by the folks at and their collaborating organizations around the world. Here in Chile the organizations which helped in its investigations, according to the endnotes are: the Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales, and the Movimiento Ciudadano Anti Pascua Lama. Interestingly enough it also mentions the contribution Naomi Klein of No Logo and columnist fame.

According to the website of Corpwatch, whose subtitle is “Holding Corporations Accountable,” you will discover:

“Individual profiles on Barrick’s operations in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, the U.S., Australia, the Philippines, and Canada.
how Barrick’s Valedero and Pascua Lama projects got placed in a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve;
a roundup of mine security and police repression in Peru;
how “illegal” miners have had their lives threatened and taken away in Tanzania and Papua New Guinea;
how Barrick threatens indigenous spiritual grounds of the Wiradjuri in Australia and the Western Shoshone in the U.S.
how Barrick threatens the water sources in water scarce areas in Chile, Argentina, Australia, and Nevada. In New South Wales, Australia, Barrick’s mine is licensed to use 17 million liters on water per day. Meanwhile, that region is experiencing their worst drought in the last hundred years.
profiles of on-going community struggles against Barrick around the world ”

You can download the 27 page, color, report in English and Spanish

El Precalentamiento del Capitán Planeta…Al Gore coming to Chile

Posted in environment, Fuck you, Viva Chile by tomasdinges on April 25, 2007

AL GORE!, former vice president of the United States, loser candidate for president who was probably just misunderstood, winner of the 2007 Oscar for Documentary feature for the global climate change flick, Inconvenient Truth, father of daughters who attended the elite National Cathedral School (NCS) of Washington DC (one got busted for smoking pot (gasp!). The other daughter wrote copy for the television shows Futurama and Saturday Night Live.

Gore comes to South America on May 11, visiting Buenos Aires for a conference in the morning, and Chile, for a half hour of speech, a half hour of questions and 15 minutes with the president, in the afternoon. He is trying to grab the 11pm flight out of the continent.

All for $200,000 dollars. Luckily there are so many millionaires in Chile, like the populist presidential candidate for 2009, Sebastian Piñera (valued by Forbes at 1.2 billion), and studious businessmen who will be sniffing this conference out for opportunity or trends.

Piñera is the defacto host of Gore’s trip here, related closely to two of the three official hosts, Chilevision, which he owns, and Oikoscorpchile, an organization linked by family ties, through William Thayer, a former minister and Christian Democrat.

Furthermore, Piñera may best represent the paradigms presented by global climate change: capitalism, consumption, search for market incentives to behavioral change and the relationships between first and third world nations. It is commented that he is brilliant as he is arrogant and “mal educado.”

Piñera was on the vanguard of the spirit of Pinochet’s popular capitalism, bringing Mastercards and ATM machines to Chile in the early 80’s. He currently sits in the cockpit of LAN Chile Airlines, a company that has recently announced a 5 billion dollar investment over five years for the purchase of 52 new planes for its fleet expansion. He is the lead investor in one of the first soccer teams, Colo-Colo, to go public and sell its shares on the stock market. Piñera is one of those guys whose yacht has a helicopter landing pad.

The recent owner of the Tantauco National Park (purchased it from Jeremiah Henderson, a US timber magnate), which encompasses over 100,000 hectares, or about 200,000 acres of land on the southern tip of the island of Chiloe. My personal theory is that he will use the park’s capacity to capture carbon emissions that are generated by his airline, LAN Chile, thus saving money in the case of any international agreement forcing carbon offsets. The rich Pacific waters surrounding the tip of this island is the area are the breeding ground for the Blue Whale. Last year, twenty-three were sighted by the CCC, the Center for Whale Conservation.

OikosChileCorp, the second official host of the encounter is, is a curious entity which states as its mission: “more than a conservationist NGO, OikosChileCorp is a paradigm which promotes conservation from a positive and all-encompassing viewpoint, with the inclusion of the different variables implied in development: Triple Bottom Line:

Business development, Social Development, and Environmental Sustainability.”

Also, “We are the projection of intelligence in the Social value of a Company.”

Who to Trust?
What does this mean? Note the order of priorities. Is this some sort of visionary business-speak projecting a new business model to the world? Are these business people who have realized that the time has come to stop an economic model based upon rampant exploitation and seek out some other more “harmonious” relationship between man and nature. Are they just seeking a vision into the future of business, and climate change has been vaulted into a significant enough realm that the studious, religious, conservative and value-oriented business community in Santiago de Chile are looking at with a keen eye.

An experienced lawyer in mining and environmental issues indicated to me that Oikos is a group of people who don’t have experience in these matters. Although, there is a similarly named organization which provides environmental analysis and evaluation, since the 1990’s.

“This organization is brand new, an ad-hoc vehicle for fundraising and initiatives like this.” This lawyer also pointed out the family relationship between Piñera and the associate William Thayer.

Frankly, their website sounds like a cross between dianetics and a science-fiction novel…or some fictional creation of Kurt Vonnegut (RIP). Thus my suspicions.

Is this a fad, and the rich now are into conservation, now that they have already bought up their large pieces of land, converted them into productive entities, razing or flooding forests and now, recently, find it laudable to seek a Chilean identity through conservation of its land? (It took a fucking American, among others, Douglas Tompkins, to shame Chileans into conserving and not exploiting the rich variety of eco-systems present in the country.) Just the other day, a couple hundred fair-skinned and well-dressed people packed an auditorium in the wealthy neighborhood of Vitacura to drink wine more expensive than I can buy and clap politely for the presentation of the $140 dollar photography book of the Parks of Chile which highlights the work of Guy Wenborne, whose rich aerial photographs are the some of the most elegant exponents of Chile’s natural landscapes.

How is one to “trust” the motives of the people who have prepared this grandiose, and immensely exclusive event for Gore. Entrance fees vary between US$ 140 and US$180. There are 1600 seats.

How can one trust this sort of organization, Oikoschile, with someone like Fernando Léniz as a declared associate? To start with, he was the general manager of the right-wing newspaper El Mercurio, which received cash from the CIA before the coup in 1973, and he has been fingered as the actor who managed the relationship. Shortly thereafter, he was the head of the Corma, or, the Corporación Nacional de Madera, during times of Pinochet, when the most aggressive development of the forestry industry took place, thus wiping out thousands of acres of old-growth forest. Maybe he was an environmentalist after all.

Barrick Gold and Pascua Lama

How is one to trust this sort of organization which initially had Barrick Gold contributing USD$50,000 for projects which aim to increase conscience and knowledge about climate change and the environmental conservation.

Upon finding out that Barrick was a sponsor, the Gore camp forced them out, saying that they were not advised about their presence. It would have been an egregious error not to have acted.
Barrick is developing Pascua Lama, which is to be the largest gold mine in the world, and to date represents the largest investment in Latin America in the mining sector, at 2.4 billion dollars.

It is a company rightly villified, and has inspired protests, international and (here too) community organization, chain letters which circulate the world, as well as numerous documentaries, some of which are in the works right now, AND NEED FINANCING (See Lauren Rosenfeld at They have played dirty since the beginning.

Original plans called for the “transplant” of a glaciar, which they had initially called an “ice field,” in order to mine the earth for the gold below, at an elevation of 4500 meters. Chemical processes involved in the mining threatened the water supply of the fertile agricultural valley below, an oasis in an otherwise dry region. Their waste dump is going to be placed on a rock glaciar, which is a dense mixture of rock and ice.

Furthermore, the company has resorted to questionable land acquisition tactics. One emblematic case is that of the property owner who apparently sold his land, about 20,000 acres, for 20 dollars. This man since regained his land back in litigation. In another case, the Agricultural Community of Huasco Altinos is in litigation attempting to regain their rights to almost 200,000 acres of land deeded in 1903 and at risk of loss to the land purchasers of Pascua Lama, according to conversations with local environmental authorities.

Don’t listen to me though, just go to Barrick’s Q and A site which provides lots of clear and rational explanations for this whole fuss.

The DGA (Dirección General de Aguas) or State Water Authority, states that the construction of the mine has already destroyed between 50% and 70% of the glaciars Toro I and II, specifically indicating that these reductions in glaciar size are not due to global climate change, indicating it comes from the soil particulates which are covering the glaciars, enhancing there melting.

So, that Barrick was accepted to be a sponsor of this event for me indicates the lack of criteria, or, alternatively, the priorities of these businessmen organizing the event.

Who am I to trust? How can I begin to trust this new flock of Chilean visionary businessmen if I can’t even get into the conference? Is climate change and Al Gore too cool?

Anybody want to sponsor me? Only 180 bucks.