This week, the Ministry of Agriculture, together with several other government officials, held an inauguration ceremony for the newly-created Parque Nacional Salar del Huasco. The national park was created by decree in June of this year, and covers 110,962.66 hectares (274,194 acres) in the Tarapacá Region of northern Chile.
The creation of this national park raises issues related to indigenous rights, as it is located within the traditional territory of the Aymara people. In addition, as the National Forestry Corporation indicates in its press release about the park’s creation, the park encompasses important archeological and cultural sites associated with the Aymara cosmovision, including two important hills—Charcollo and Apechas. Several Aymara families who live within the parks boundaries engaged in a peaceful demonstration during the inauguration ceremony to express their concerns over the park’s creation, specifically asserting their ancestral rights to the land.
During the ceremony, the communities’ representative, David Esteban, spoke briefly and presented a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture, detailing the concerns of the Aymara communities. In addition to the land rights issues that the parks creation raises, Esteban indicated that the government had not met the requirement of prior consultation with the affected indigenous communities—a right recognized in ILO Convention 169. For these reasons, the letter presented called for the nullification of the park’s creation. Esteban further stated that a claim on behalf of the Aymara communities had been filed before a court in Santiago.
In response to these concerns, the Intendent of the Tarapacá Region highlighted the importance of the park as a measure to conserve biodiversity and promote tourism in the region. He also discussed President Piñera’s commitment to respect indigenous peoples, indicating that the creation of the park—for environmental protection—will not hinder their rights.
Meanwhile, the Alcalde of Pica, the commune in which the park is located, called for consultation with the municipality and the community regarding the park, rather than merely have instructions sent down from the national level.
While the creation of the park included the establishment of a Participatory Consultative Committee, supposedly to involve the various actors within the territory, it is unclear to what level this Committee will include indigenous participation.