Chile — 12 May 2016

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by Alana Gale

 photo “Pescados” by Tomás J. Sepúlveda

13 May 2016. Santiago, Chile. Over the past week, the red tide has dominated the news in Chile.

The Biggest Red Tide in History

A red tide, which gets its name because it can turn seawater red when it occurs, is an outbreak of algae, called a bloom. Because of the bloom’s toxic nature, it kills fish, plus it can make seafood dangerous for human consumption.

This is not the first time Chile has experienced a red tide. Scientists say this particular outbreak is unprecedented.

Regarding the tons of dead fish washing up along the shores of the Chilean coastline, a man interviewed on BBC news noted that he had never seen that many dead shellfish in his 44 year life.

The exact cause of the red tide is unclear. We discuss that in this article.

Whatever the cause, the impact of this red tide on Chile extends beyond the dead sea—the tide has paralyzed the fishing industry.

 On April 29, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet declared the four provinces in Los Lagos region as emergency zones. This means that people living there are forbidden from selling their seafood products.

Bachelet recognized that this would cause problems for the industry. She promised compensation of $100,000 Chilean pesos ($147.10 USD) to the fisherman because they cannot work.

 A Flood of Protests

But the fishermen were not satisfied and have seized roads in the area and taken to the streets to protest.

The leader of the Quellón Artisan Fishermen, Denisse Alvarado, told El Mostrador that no one can live on $100,000 pesos. His groups wants the compensation raised to $400,000 ($588.41).

The objections to the government’s offer intensified as the week progressed. On May 2 almost two thousand fishermen blocked the access routes leading to Chiloé Island.

The protest took place after the fishermen had met with the provincial governor of Los Lagos, Leonardo de La Prida. The fishermen told him that they wanted at least $300,000 Chilean pesos ($441.31 USD). De La Prida replied by saying that the compensation of $100,000 was only to start, and that the figure could be discussed again in the future.

That didn’t stop the fishermen from protesting. They barricaded the Chacao Channel to keep ships from transporting goods from Chiloé Island to mainland Chile.

In the province of Osorno, also in Los Lagos, another of the protests caused two accidents. One of the accidents led to the death of a person who couldn’t leave their vehicle, which had caught on fire.

Fishermen Reject Offer

To try and appease the fishermen, the Minister of the Economy Luis Felipe Céspedes announced on Monday that the government would give out initial compensation of $300,000 Chilean pesos. This would be followed by three more monthly installments of $150,000 ($220.65 USD). The financial support would go to 5,500 people affected by the red tide. Céspedes even said that they hoped to start distributing the money within the next couple of days.

And still the fishermen protested that it wasn’t enough. The same day, nearly ten thousand people marched peacefully in Puerto Montt to demand more money. At night, the protests turned aggressive. Special Forces were required to intervene after a number of riots on Monday night.

By the end of that night the situation had escalated further, after nearly 500 people confronted the national police, the carabineros. The incident resulted in the detention of of 23 people and five injured policemen.

Meanwhile, in far away Valparaiso, eight people were arrested for refusing to stop their own unauthorized protest.

The latest monetary demand of these protesters is an initial payment of $300,000 Chilean pesos, followed by five installments of the same amount. In reply, Céspedes said that the government still wanted to help the people affected by the tide, but that they couldn’t give into all of the fishermen’s wishes.

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