A political and environmental coup de théatre by Greenpeace has drawn attention to the need to protect the melting glaciers in Chile's southern reaches.
SANTIAGO — They were white, literally and metaphorically. Thanks to an omission in the Constitution, a practically forgotten area in southern Chile — at the ‘bottom of the earth’ — has become a place of possibilities. That place became an unofficial micro-nation on March 5, after Greenpeace founded its Glacier Republic there in a bid to save the millennial glaciers.
This “new country” is an act of protest over the legal vacuum that fails to recognize glaciers as one of Chile’s resources and part of its sovereignty. The founders of this 23,000-square-kilometer republic have chosen a flag and opened embassies in more than 40 cities, including Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Amsterdam, Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Berlin.
The territory will be returned once Chile recognizes and protects the ice as the property of all Chileans.
News of the “coup” broke out when it was a fait accompli and had become a legal protest gone viral on Internet social networks. In fact, it was a slap in the face of authorities preparing to follow their leader President Sebastián Piñera out of office, and who could do very little about it. Applause — Chapeau — Greenpeace!
The report struck me when I saw it early this month, for many reasons. One was the ingenuity of these defenders of nature in finding the legal vacuum, grabbing it and turning it into an initiative to reveal, elegantly, how Chile’s ruling class has neglected the glaciers, by omission or wittingly.
Many will say the new Republic’s territory is paltry, compared to Chile’s Antarctic territory, with a surface of 1,250,257.6 square kilometers. But that would be cynical and would miss the obvious, Greenpeace’s creative move, its symbolism and a successful communication campaign that denounces the destruction of glaciers by mining enterprises threatening the ecosystem.
It’s not for nothing they have more followers every day. The Glacier Republic has more than 68,000 citizens after just 20 days of publicity. In fact dozens of “Glacians” or “Glacierians” were markedly present in the “march of all marches” or mass demonstration recently held in Santiago. Among them was an illustrious and very spontaneous citizen of Chile, the “anti-poet” Nicanor Parra.
Passport in hand, the citizens of this republic now have one more element of social force to demand a Law to Protect Glaciers that would consecrate these as the common property of Chileans. Certainly, this is a door that has only begun to be opened, and we must wait and see how the administration of the incoming President Michelle Bachelet will react to the Glacier Republic.
Chile did have glaciers, we now realize, but they belonged to no one.