By Chris Lang
Two companies, Forestal Mininco SpA and Forestal Arauco S.A., together have almost two million hectares of industrial tree plantations in Chile. The companies grabbed most of the land for the plantations during the dictatorship of Augustus Pinochet from 1973 to 1990.
Under Pinochet, Chile became a testbed for neoliberalism. Economist Milton Friedman described the country’s economy in the 1980s as the “Miracle of Chile”. But neoliberalism embedded deep inequality between the industrial and political elite, and the people of Chile.
In 2019, massive protests against inequality and neoliberalism in Chile led to the UN climate negotations, COP25, being moved to Spain.
But despite the neoliberal label, the plantation and pulp and paper industry was heavily subsidised during the Pinochet regime. A 1986 report commented that,
The current public policies have not favoured the wider strata of rural society, but they have to a large measure converted these into machines for the transfer of financial resources towards the big forestry companies of the radiata pine zone.
The subsidies to the plantation industry continued until 2012, 22 years after the Pinochet regime ended.
The Mapuche Indigenous People have seen large areas of their land and forests converted to monoculture tree plantations. Since the end of the dictatorship, Mapuche communities have been trying to get their land back through re-occupations of their land and protests against the plantation companies.
The region has been militarised, and the government has applied an anti-terrorism law that dates back to the Pinochet regime. In 2013, Ben Emmerson, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, put out a statement urging the Chilean government to stop applying the anti-terrorism law against the Mapuche. Emmerson said,
The anti-terrorism legislation has been disproportionately and unfairly applied against Mapuche defendants, and has been implemented without a coherent policy for distinguishing those cases that meet the threshold test for an act of terrorism and those that do not.
Mapuche people murdered
Members of Chile’s police force, the carabineros, have military training. Many Mapuche have been killed, several during protests against the plantation land grab:
- 2002: Edmundo Alex Lemunao Saavedra was killed by a carabinero during an occupation of land occupied by Forestal Mininco.
- 2005: Zenén Alfonso Díaz Nécul was killed by a forestry truck during a protest against Forestal Mininco.
- 2009: Jamie Mendoza Collío was shot and killed by a carabinero during a protest against Forestal Arauco and Forestal Mininco.
- 2014: Víctor Mendoza Collío was shot dead at the entrance to his house. He was 14 years old.
- 2016: Rodrigo Melinao Lican was shot dead. Rodrigo had been sentenced to five years in prison for a fire that destroyed an area of forestry company Bosques Cautín’s eucalyptus plantations.
- 2018: Juan Mendoza Lebu was killed. He was involved in protests against Florestal Arauco. He was the father of Víctor Mendoza Collío, killed in 2014.
- 2020: Antonio Treuquil was killed by a carabiniero. Forestal Arauco’s plantations are on his community’s land. He had been threatened by the carabineros, and shot a week before he was killed. A police chief told Treuquil, they would kill the Mapuche one by one.
Despite the fact that Forestal Arauco and Forest Mininco benefited from a land grab of Indigenous Peoples’ lands under a brutal dictatorship and despite the ongoing protests and violence, both companies’ plantation operations are certified as “well managed” by the Forest Stewardship Council. Further proof, as if it were needed, that the FSC label has no credibility whatsoever.
Sustainable development, World Bank style
The World Bank recently published a 106-page report together with Chile’s National Forestry Corporation of the Ministry of Agriculture (CONAF). The logo of the Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility is on the cover of the report.
The title is “Chile’s Forests: A pillar for inclusive and sustainable development”. Yes, that really is the title. I’m not making this up.
The report acknowledges that “the Chilean forest sector is frequently challenged by low levels of acceptability” and that “there is still room for improvement in Chile’s forestry model”. Which is Bankspeak for decades of land grabs and brutal repression.
Here’s how the Bank describes the history of dictatorship-backed land grabbing on the Mapuche’s land:
The so-called “indigenous conflict” between the forest industry and the Mapuche communities is principally based on two core issues. Firstly, the presence of forestry companies on lands that are customarily claimed by the Mapuche peoples; and secondly, the environmental and cultural impacts posed by vast areas of land planted with monocultures on lands adjacent to the Mapuche communities.
The Bank explains that in 2018 CONAF developed a “Management Plan for Vegetation Resources in Indigenous Lands”. Needless to say, this Management Plan does not envisage giving the Mapuche land rights over their own lands. Instead, it “seeks to improve the quality of life of Chile’s indigenous peoples through the sustainable management of forest resources with an intercultural approach”.
Predictably, the Bank’s report makes no mention of the carabineros. It makes no mention of the murders of Mapuche Indigenous People. It makes no mention of the racism that the Mapuche face from the carabineros. It doesn’t even mention the dictatorship of Augustus Pinochet.
The World Bank’s “solution”? More plantations
Chile is developing a new Forestry Law. Tucked away on page 103 of the Bank’s report is a reference to a presentation by José Manuel Rebolledo, then-head of CONAF, at a 2019 conference in Concepción. Rebolledo’s presentation was titled, “Main aspects of the future Forestry law and how it will contribute to combat climate change”.
The Bank’s report states that,
The draft bill also contemplates the reforestation of planted and native forests that have been affected by natural disasters or forest fires; afforestation of bare soils; the establishment of planted forests through afforestation in lands preferably suitable for forestry; and the provision of environmental services. The latter considers annual payments for maintaining permanent vegetation cover for the provision of environmental services, implying a 20-year conservation commitment between the landowner and the State, similar to the conservation easement deeds in the United States. The draft bill aims to recover 500,000 hectares of planted forests in 20 years (25,000 hectares per year) with an annual budget of USD 37.5 million.
The Bank’s report makes no mention of whose land will be taken for this 500,000 hectares of plantations, or where the US$37.5 million per year will come from.
In December 2019, the World Bank signed an Emission Reductions Payment Agreement with Chile through the Carbon Fund of its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. The programme will be implemented by CONAF.
Two days before the World Bank launched its report on Chile’s Forests, a paper was published in Nature Sustainability, looking at the impact of subsidies to the plantation industry on forest cover, carbon and biodiversity.
The paper concludes that subsidies,
increased tree cover through expansion of plantations of exotic species but decreased the area of native forests. Chile’s forest subsidies probably decreased biodiversity without increasing total carbon stored in aboveground biomass.
Chile’s native forests store far more carbon and are far more biodiverse than the industrial tree plantations that replaced them, thanks to decades of subsidies. The fires that raged in Chile in 2017 only made matters worse. “About 42% of the forest fires are in plantation forests, which are like matchboxes,” Mary Kalin Arroyo of the University of Chile told The Guardian. “They spread fire to native forests.”