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People of Chaitén protest at the abandonment of their town 9 February 2009

Posted by admin in Chaitén, Chile, eruptions, natural hazards.
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Many of the former inhabitants of Chaitén, exiled to Puerto Montt since the volcanic eruption that has destroyed their town began nine months ago, have been holding vigorous protests in response to the Chilean government’s decision to abandon Chaitén and relocate its population to another, safer site.

The Presidential Delegate to the Province of Palena, Paula Narváez, is currently visiting the area affected by the Chaitén eruption, and was greeted last week in Puerto Montt by protesting chaiteninos who left her in no doubt as to their anger at the decision to abandon their town. The protesters condemned the government and vigorously restated their determination to remain in Chaitén: some went as far as to say that ‘blood will flow’, ‘correría sangre‘, if the state attempts to evict them from their homes. Even more dramatically, the protesters displayed the flags, not of Chile, but of Argentina, their argument being that ‘the neighbouring country has on many occasions given them more help than their own’.

Adopting the flag of Argentina is a very provocative act. In Latin America nationhood matters a great deal, and the symbols of nationhood have huge significance. Certainly the government has wasted no time in condemning the protesters’ actions. ‘It is unacceptable to use the patriotic emblems of other countries on [Chilean] national territory’, said Neftalí Carabantes, Undersecretary of State for Patagonia. Paula Narváez also called the use of the flags ‘unacceptable … an expression that will not be supported by the government or by any Chileans’. She also criticized the protesters’ condemnation of the government as ‘disproportionate’, especially in view of the economic assistance the state has provided to the people of Chaitén since the eruption. The government, she says, wants to work with the people of Chaitén, not against them, and their movement to a safer location is in their own interests.

The protesters, however, many of whom feel strongly that they have not been listened to over the future of their town, have continued their demonstrations – and are still displaying the Argentine flag. ‘It shows how distant we are from the rest of the country’, explained Chaitén councillor and spokesman Bernardo Riquelme. ‘We should have a separate flag. Hopefully one day we will have it’.

It should be pointed out that the protestors have been waving the Chilean flag as well.

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén « The Volcanism Blog.

Gobierno repudia protesta con banderas argentinas en ChaiténLa Tercera, 5 February 2009
Paula Narváez critica manifestación de chaiteninosLa Tercera, 5 February 2009
Como inaceptable califican protesta con banderas argentinasEl Mercurio de Valparaíso, 6 February 2009
Chaiteninos vuelven a protestar usando banderas argentinasEl Mercurio, 6 February 2009
Cuestionan protestas con banderas argentinas en ChaiténLa Nación, 6 February 2009

Global Volcanism Program: Chaitén – summary information for Chaitén (1508-41)
SERNAGEOMIN – Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Spanish)
Erupción del Volcán Chaitén – extensive coverage of the Chaitén eruption

The Volcanism Blog



1. Ron de Haan - 9 February 2009

I can understand these people 100%.

Imagine if the Italian Government would make such a decision in regard to Mount Vesuvius?

People rather die than give up their birth land.

Chaitén town will be threatened by devastating floods and mud flows long after the eruption is over and it will take a huge effort to rebuild the harbor and the town.

However, there are many examples of cities that were destroyed by nature that still exist today.

The people will have a difficult period ahead, with or without Chaitén.

Thanks for posting this article.

2. Vicki Lansen - 11 February 2009

While I understand, deeply, the emotional attachment to a place, this is a continuously erupting volcano in a “birth land” that spans thousands of kilometers. It is a small cove, which is backed up by a landscape which is conducive to a wild rush of ash, water, and wash, right to the sea. Right now, and apparently centuries ago, Chaiten is and was, sitting on a silty ash layer and it is not safe, nor wise to invest in rebuilding it in that precise spot. The government of Chile would could have been more inclusive with Chaiten residents to consider their future fate, there is no doubt about that. But, in my humble opinion, rebuilding there, this early in the history of the eruption would be irresponsible. Still, my heart goes out to all of the people of Chaiten.

3. volcanism - 11 February 2009

Vicki is absolutely right, it’s been clear for months that Chaitén is not salvageable short- or long-term. If the town was re-occupied and the volcano hit it hard again, the inhabitants would have to come back to the state for help. The Chilean government sees a short-term investment in a relocated town that will ultimately earn its living as a better bet than a future writing welfare cheques to support a community that can never be viable again.

There’s an important truth behind what Ron says, however, which is that the government can only take this decision because Chaitén is small and remote. The Italian government is never going to try to shift Naples, but moving a small town like Chaitén is not such a big deal. In the same way, Colombia will relocate Belalcázar away from Nevado del Huila, but Pasto will have to live with the threat of Galeras.

There’s also a wider context to this which is that southern Chile has felt neglected by the national government for years. There’s a long history of resentment behind what the people of Chaitén are feeling now.

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