A polymetallic mine in a once-protected area of northern Chile is moving forward, after the president stripped it of its status.
The Choquelimpie project, in the northern region of Arica and Parinacota, is located on the border of the Las Vicuñas National Park, created in 1983 and declared the Lauca Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture, or UNESCO.
In 2010, President Sebastián Piñera lifted the protected status of Lauca National Park, which is near the northern border of Las Vicuñas National Reserve, said Flavia Liberona, executive secretary of the environmental organization Fundación Terram.
In late August, Empresas Copec, a natural resources conglomerate, owned by the powerful Angelini group, announced that it will go ahead with the exploration of a copper, gold and silver deposit, which had been stalled in for two decades. International gold prices reached an all-time high that month, which have since been topped.
According to Fundación Terram, in 2007, during the government of Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), the project was approved with only an environmental impact declaration.
At that time, citizens’ groups complained about the project because the declaration did not consider the local community that would be affected, Terram said in a statement.
“Clearly, a project of this scale, with the mark against it that it would affect an area protected by the state and a Biosphere Reserve, should be subjected to an environmental impact study, to open the possibility of generating a broader debate and impose upon it greater conditions,” it said.
Liberona called it a conflict of interest that Piñera stripped the area of its protection, saying that he is a minority stakeholder in the mining company.
The $800 million-project is expected to start construction in late 2012.