March 26, 2012

Chile’s supreme court halts wind farm project and orders consultation with Mapuche people

by Ryan Seelau, 25 March 2012

On Friday, March 23rd, the Chilean Supreme Court handed down a decision in favor of a Huilliche-Mapuche community who were trying to stop Ecopower – a Chilean-Swedish company – from building 56 wind turbines on the island of Chiloé. The Huilliche community claimed, among other things, that they were never effectively consulted about the project and that the project would negatively affect Mapuche ceremonial sites and burial grounds. The Supreme Court agreed that consultation had not occurred and ordered that the project be halted until consultation has been completed.

The case centers largely around the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 (ILO 169), which details a large number of indigenous rights, including the right that indigenous peoples be consulted about development projects that directly affect their lands or culture. Chile ratified ILO 169 in 2008 and have been struggling to implement its various rights ever since.

In this case, COREMA (the Regional Environmental Commission) approved an environmental impact study that allowed the wind farm project to move forward. The Huilliche community argued that because consultation did not occur when it was supposed to, COREMA’s decision was “arbitrary” and thus illegal. COREMA argued, among other things, that they held meetings and invited citizen participation to occur before reaching its final decision. The Supreme Court, however, ultimately rejected these arguments stating that COREMA’s actions did not amount to meaningful consultation with the Huilliche community, in part because even if the community had fully participated in such meetings they still lacked any meaningful opportunity to influence how the project would ultimately move forward.

The Supreme Court also noted that there was evidence that the project – if not undertaken carefully – could greatly harm Huilliche culture in a variety of ways. Thus, in order to ensure that all interests are taken into account effectively, the Court ordered that an Environmental Impact Assessment take place and that consultation with indigenous peoples be carried out as outlined in ILO 169.

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