A Soccer Team’s Fight to Protect Chile’s Glaciers

QUE GANEN LOS GLACIARES,” or “VICTORY TO THE GLACIERS” is not a slogan you’d expect to see associated with South America’s Copa America, which kicked off last Thursday in Santiago, Chile. As Chilean fútbol fervor builds, Greenpeace Chile has launched its own soccer campaign in support of its Glacier Republic.

In March 2014, Greenpeace declared the Republic an independent, sovereign state with its own declaration of independence, embassies abroad, and approximately 150,000 “official citizens.” Covering roughly 23,000 square kilometers of the Andes and including over 80% of South America’s glacial area, the new country formed through a loophole in the Chilean legal system; the Chilean constitution does not specifically recognize the glaciers as part of the nation’s sovereignty and the ownership of the glaciers is thus undefined. Furthermore, despite the critical importance of glaciers as a source for freshwater, they are not mentioned in the Chilean Water Code.

Now, with Chile’s attention focused on the Copa America, the Greenpeace movement continues. “La selección Glaciar” is the Republic’s national team affiliated with the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (ConIFA). ConIFA is a global nonprofit organization and football federation that supports all teams outside of FIFA including micro-nations and unrecognized states.

The Greenpeace Glacier team “competes” in metaphorical matches every Wednesday during meetings of Chile’s Environmental Commission of the Deputy Chamber. Since the first meeting last week, policymakers have been debating the country’s glacier laws: to protect some of Chile’s glaciers, as the existing proposal offers, or to designate all of the country’s glaciers as untouchable, as the Glacier Republic demands.

Matías Asún, director of Greenpeace Chile, stated: “On this occasion, we liken our work to a soccer game and invite all people to side with us and pressure the deputies to vote in favor of the glacier laws that Greenpeace put forth.” Greenpeace Chile encourages supporters to “become a fan” of their “team” and “demand that the deputies play clean with the glaciers.” They list government officials who “play” (i.e. vote) against the glaciers, those who play for the glaciers, and those who are still undecided.

The Glacier Republic team in Santiago last Wednesday. Credit: estacionk2.com
The Glacier Republic team in Santiago last Wednesday. Credit: estacionk2.com

The first “game” took place last Wednesday, as the Commission met with the intention of voting on amendments to the existing glacier law proposal. Meanwhile, Greenpeace supporters positioned themselves in Plaza Italia, a focal point for celebration, demonstration, and protest in Santiago. Conversation was heated as Deputy Fernando Meza, the president of the Commission, accused Greenpeace of ecoterrorism. Greenpeace called a “foul” to this claim, and Asún argued that the Commission had dramatically exaggerated the reality of Greenpeace activity. The meeting “ended in a draw,” the vote was postponed, and Meza requested the intervention of Chile’s General Water Department.

Supporters rally in Plaza Italia in support of the Greenpeace glacier laws.
Supporters rally in Plaza Italia in support of the Greenpeace glacier laws. Credit: Twitter, @GreenpeaceCL

The second “game” took place yesterday on Wednesday, July 17. Supporters of the Glacier team gathered with drums, chants, and flags at the National Congress in Valparaíso, and Greenpeace Chile actively tweeted throughout the rally. Policymakers voted in favor of “the protection of the glaciers and their environment” but the definitions remain open-ended. “We have started the vote,” Asún told GlacierHub yesterday. “Beyond that, there is not much to comment.” The “games” will continue in two weeks time when the Commission meets for its third match.

As the law is written today, Chile’s glaciers are very vulnerable to mining activity in the region. Codelco’s Andina 244 expansion project (copper) and Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama open-pit project (gold, silver, copper) are two major mining initiatives criticized for their negative impact on Chile’s glaciers. Andina 244 is closely situated to Santiago, and the glaciers nearby supply freshwater to Chile’s most populated region.

Since establishing the Republic, Greenpeace has pushed the Chilean government to enact legislation that fully protects its glaciers via a “five-star glacier law proposal.” If such legislation is set, Greenpeace states, the Glacier Republic will “return” its glaciers to Chile.

The Andina 244 mine expansion project. Credit: 24horas.cl
The Andina 244 mine expansion project. Credit: 24horas.cl

President Michelle Bachelet has acknowledged the Greenpeace demands for the protection of Chile’s glaciers. However, government proposals to date have only referenced the protection of glaciers already in national parks. Asún says that this is simply not enough.

“While 12 nations compete to be the best in Latin America,” Greenpeace states, “the Glacier Republic plays for something equally or more important: its existence.”