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Constitution ‘will improve relations between Chilean State and aquaculture’

Julio Alvarez, a member of Chile's Constitutional Convention representing Chiloe.
Julio Alvarez, a member of Chile's Constitutional Convention representing Chiloe.

A new constitution being drafted in Chile will regulate rights over the sea for the first time, a member of the elected convention formulating the document has confirmed.

Julio Álvarez, convention constituent for Chiloé in the salmon farming region of Los Lagos, said the move will improve the relationship between the State and actors such as aquaculture.

The new constitution will regulate, “for the first time, the rights over the sea, but also the duties that this entails”, Álvarez, a lawyer, explained in an interview with Fish Farming Expert’s Chilean sister site, Salmonexpert.cl

Chile's move to the left

The Constitutional Convention was elected in May last year after 78% of those who took part in a 2020 referendum voted to write a new constitution through this method.

The Convention is composed of 155 members directly elected: 138 by the electorate at large and 17 reserved for citizens identified as indigenous.

The election’s results were considered a surprise and a complete rearrangement of the political system in Chile established since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990. The majority of elected members were independent candidates organised in new lists.

Although Vamos por Chile (Let’s go for Chile), the governing alliance, was the most voted list in the country, it represented the lowest results in Chilean modern history for right-wing politics, not reaching the third of members needed to veto in the Convention. The main centre-left alliance Lista del Apruebo (Approved List), finished in fourth place, being surpassed by the Apruebo Dignidad (Approve Dignity) alliance made by the leftist Communist Party and the Broad Front. La Lista del Pueblo (The List of the People), an anti-establishment list of independent candidates, finished in third place.

The new constitution is expected to be submitted to a referendum this year.

Source: Wikipedia.

Reforming ‘dry’ constitution

The lawyer said that the inclusion of rights over the sea will correct an omission in the current constitution, which dates from 1980, when the military dictator Augusto Pinochet was in power.  Álvarez said many see it as “a dry constitution”, because “it does not even mention the sea as a fundamental part of the territory, it only speaks of the territory, of the land, not of the sea”.

“We are at that point, effectively recognising the ‘maritory’ [marine territory] as an important part of the new Constitution (...) the recognition of the right over the sea,” a point that will have practical consequences, such as the regulation of aquaculture concessions, “which today from the constitutional point of view, at least, is not regulated”.

Constitutional recognition for the maritory will consequently lead to a new relationship between the State and those using the sea, such as the artisanal fishing sector, “which also has ancestral rights that must be recognised”; or the indigenous peoples, who “claim rights over the sea and with just reason”, said Álvarez.

Fish farming could do better

Regarding the salmon farming industry, Álvarez evaluates it as “something positive for the region, especially for Chiloé”, due to the job opportunities it has generated, but has reservations.

“We have touched on these at the Convention and many people have also raised issues with us in our hearings. I believe that the salmon farming industry has left much to be desired in two aspects: environmental and labour.

“They (salmon farmers) have effectively caused damage to our sea. They have been improving (…) but we believe that the level of respect for the environment should be equivalent to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries,” said Álvarez. “The level of demand that we want them to meet is the same level of demand that they have in their countries of origin.”

The right to strike

In terms of labour, the salmon farming sector often sees unions “as an adversary, an enemy”, claimed Álvarez, and must accept “the fundamental right to strike”.

“In a modern society like the one we want to build via the Constitution, respect for trade union rights is also essential and is a pending task for the salmon farming industry.”

Álvarez also maintained that the sector should strengthen its relationship with the community.

Along these lines, he valued the sector’s offer to contribute to the reconstruction of the settlement of Camilo Henríquez, in Castro, Los Lagos, where around 100 homes were destroyed by a forest fire in December.

“It speaks well of the current leadership of the salmon farming world and the world of social responsibility that they should have,” said Álvarez, although he said taking such social responsibility was still a work in progress.