Thursday, December 13, 2007

Legislators angered by Chile Intelligence Agency monitoring of environmental organizations - investigation demanded


“Actions Like This Cannot Be Allowed To Happen Here”

(Dec. 14, 2007) Party for Democracy (PPD) Dep. Guido Girardi said Thursday that the Chamber of Deputies’ Natural Resources Commission will meet next Tuesday to discuss reports that Chile’s National Intelligence Agency (ANI) has increased its monitoring of environmental NGOs. This news comes as Chilean environmentalists and politicians continue to express their concern over the Agency’s increasingly draconian tactics.

According to a report published last week by La Tercera, the ANI is gathering information on how environmental NGOs function, who their principal members are, who provides them with funding, and how they respond to environmental issues nationwide. At least three ANI employees, including a former official from Chile’s National Environmental Commission (CONAMA), are known to be working full time on these issues. (ST, Dec 10.)

The La Tercera report specified that campaigns against the controversial Aysen dam project, the transnational Pascua Lama mining project, and Celulosa Arauco’s (CELCO) waste duct are receiving the greatest attention by the state’s intelligence officers.

“On one hand, this news surprises me. On the other hand, it really does not. There are economic powers that clearly do not want pro-environmental organizations to thrive,” Girardi told the Santiago Times. “For those economic organizations, the environmental movement does represent a threat to national security.”

(NGO's were at the top of Barrick Gold Corporation's agenda at the 2007 Davos Conference in Switzerland, a conference frequented by Michele Bachelet: Barrick Gold Chairman, Peter Munk complains rogue Environmental NGOs are Destroying the Mining Industry )

“In next Tuesday’s meeting of the Chamber of Deputies’ Natural Resources Commission, I am going to introduce a motion to respond to this news. It is very probable that we demand that the Interior Ministry respond to these report. We need answers from them,” he said.

“In the Commission, we usually share the same thinking, although we come from different political parties. We are all concerned about the environment. In a situation like this, when there is something as extreme as espionage, I do not think that anyone in the Commission is going to vote against taking action…we recognize that actions like this (espionage) cannot be allowed to happen in Chile.”

Independent Democratic Union (UDI) Dep. Alejandro García-Huidobro, another member of the Natural Resources Commission, echoed Girardi’s comments.

“Countries definitely need to have their intelligence services. But, this does not mean that they can interfere in the work of NGOs which clearly have the right to defend the environment,” he said. “This is a very shameful situation. We have made such progress in our democracy and freedom of expression, and I think that it is a shame that this is happening. Intelligence should be more so focused on combating problems like delinquency.”

Environmental activists reported this week that ANI’s methods include espionage and infiltration (ST, Dec. 10, 11). Activists are particularly upset by CONAMA’s support of the ANI investigations.

(Not unexpected, as the Chilean government's lack of concern for the environment and ardent support of the foreign owned extraction industry is notorious: Chile's Government fines itself for polluting the environment )

Greenpeace Chile director Rodrigo Hererra commented on CONAMA’s position Wednesday. “The report about ANI has very serious implications for freedom of expression in the environmentalist movement,” he told the Santiago Times. “I absolutely reject CONAMA’s support of their investigation. It is clear that CONAMA has no idea what methods the ANI is using.”

Lucio Cuenca, director of the Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts (Olca), said his organization – which campaigns against the Pascua Lama gold mine among other things – has been monitored by ANI since 2005 and has had negative experience with ANI’s questionable investigation tactics.

“It is legitimate within a democracy for the government to gather information on organizations,” he said. “It is not legitimate to deny people their liberty, intimidate them, and intervene in their civic participation as ANI has done.”

Cuenca said he was dissatisfied, though not entirely surprised, that CONAMA supports ANI’s investigation. He called on CONAMA to better fulfill its role as a facilitator of public opinion in projects affecting the environment. (ST, Dec. 13)

In spite of repeated phone calls and e-mails from the Santiago Times, the ANI declined to comment on these allegations and delayed a requested interview with ANI director Gustavo Villalobos until sometime next year.

Here is the full article.