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Issue #1731      May 18, 2016

Solidarity with Chile’s fishermen

“The mobilisation will radicalise”

On April 29, the city of Chiloé in Chile faced the country’s worst environmental crisis of recent years. The red tide is not only an economic disaster for the region but a health, environmental and social disaster for the nation as 80 percent of the population of Chiloé relies on the sea for income.

Demonstrators have effectively blocked routes to the island location and have held many protests around the country.

The Chilean government banned fishing in the Chiloé region because its waters are 750 percent over the limit of toxic algae, causing the region to be classified as a disaster zone. The unionised, artisanal (low volume, traditional) fishermen have been severely affected by the tragedy. Since April 29, they have not been able to feed their families from their work. The artisanal fishermen are demanding fair compensation from the government but, so far, the government has tried to negotiate them down to 150 dollars a month. The fishermen say that this is not enough to feed their family and they need the compensation to be ongoing until the red tide is managed.

The red tide could also cause major health problems to the people in the surrounding area. The level of the chemical which caused the algae bloom is over 750 percent the acceptable figure. Greenpeace Chile has investigated and concluded that the red tide was the result of 5,000 tonnes of rotting salmon in the waters off the coast of Chiloé. The government authorised a total of 9,000 tonnes of waste from controversial fish farms to be poured into the ocean without warning to the community of Chiloé about the devastating impact it could have.

The artisanal fishermen have pushed for a living wage while the government says it simply doesn’t have the funds to properly compensate them. The demonstrators released a statement that “the mobilisation will radicalise”. Demonstrators have effectively blocked routes to the island location and have held many protests around the country.

As many as 1,000 people rallied in Santiago and university students have taken a big initiative in supporting the fishermen. As many as 12 students have been arrested for participating in protests at their university. While the government insists there is not enough money to compensate the fishermen, they send helicopters, other aircraft and riot police at great expense to violently suppress the demonstrations.

There is support for the mobilised fishermen from around the country and around the world. Even Claudio Bravo, one of Chile’s most adored football players, has expressed his support for the unionised, artisanal fishermen. The Communist Party Of Chile (PCC) has been at the protests from the start. Its members make up a large part of the demonstrators in support of the fishermen. Camila Vallejo, a young deputy of the PCC has declared that party is fully supporting the artisanal fishermen.

Definition: Red tide

A red tide is caused by an increase in the level of toxic algae, which causes the discolouration of the sea and toxic/dead marine life. “As members of the Communist Party of Chile we have followed the intense demonstrations by fishermen from the island of Chiloe and the process of talks between workers and government representatives to reach an agreement that would effectively address the serious social and economic effects generated by the environmental crisis that exists in the region of Los Lagos,” Vallejo said.

“In this context, we fully support the just demands made by organised fishers that have motivated the intense mobilisation of recent days.

“Similarly, we consider it essential for a promptly and thorough investigation to analyse in depth the real causes of the environmental crisis and to determine whether there is direct or indirect responsibility of the salmon farming companies.

“Also, we emphasise the need to conduct studies to determine the most urgent needs of Chiloé residents and the emergency on the island, so as to establish concrete solutions throughout the period of affectation to the area.

“Given the controversy generated by the copper waste, it is evident that the solution is not a problem of lack of resources but the misdistribution of these.

“This crisis should allow us to work on a comprehensive development plan of Chiloe, consider a significant investment of resources to advance the diversification of the Islands.

“Finally, we call on the government to keep the door open to dialogue and avoid the use of force against the legitimate demands of organised fishermen,” Vallejo concluded.

The Communist Party of Australia express its solidarity with the fishermen of Chiloé and all those struggling against the recklessness of capitalism that puts profit before the environment and the well-being of communities.

Next article – Who’s to blame for Europe’s refugee “problem”?

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