We interviewed Marcelo Castillo Duvauchelle in his capacity as spokesperson for the Coordinadora por la Renacionalización del Cobre y la Gran Minería, as we were interested to know what he thinks of the deliberations that have taken place regarding the renationalisation of copper in the Constitutional Convention.
Marcelo Castillo: The first thing is to say that we reached the possibility of deliberating and drafting a new Constitution thanks to a prolonged social struggle that – in its accumulation – led to the Social Outburst of October 2019 and all the mass mobilisations that followed in the weeks that followed. It should not be forgotten that the citizens’ clamour for a Constituent Assembly, that is, for a broad, democratic and participatory space for deliberation, was very strong; in the streets I never saw a sign demanding deliberation among 155 representatives. However, what happened is a well-known story, a group of parties agreed on a response that was clearly a “tailor-made suit” for their strategy, I am referring to the famous “Agreement for social peace and the new Constitution”. Having said that, the deliberations that have been seen and heard in the Constitutional Convention these last three months, at times seem to be those of people who came there to defend their own interests, those of the economic and business elite, of their parties or worse, in the particular case of mining, apart from the neoliberal positions of the right, there have been interventions by Convention members of the Frente Amplio, the Socialist Collective and Non-Neutral Independents, openly defending the interests of the transnationals. I really hope that in what follows, this will be reversed.
While it was not an expectation that the seats in the Constitutional Convention would be occupied by “professionals of deliberation”, because in popular elections it is expected that those elected represent the diversity of the people, it was an expectation that these seats would be occupied by people with a vision of the country, with sensitivity to the needs and hopes of the people, who have suffered years of postponement. Conventional people who would promote a new development matrix, in essence, who would be coherent, credible people. It is very disappointing how brazenly many claim to be with the people, but when it comes to voting on pro-transformation, pro-fundamental rights initiatives, they act and vote in a completely opposite direction. In the Constitutional Convention, things have happened that are so contradictory that not even the most enlightened political scientist could explain. I really find it very regrettable the power that the lobbyists have had there; it is an open secret that they have circulated like a secret in the Convention. It is also quite unpresentable that the deliberation and the respective votes are subordinated to the issue of the 2/3, how to explain to a foreigner that 1/3 can be a winner and 2/3 a loser. Forgive me for having gone a bit off track, but if I am going to give my opinion on the deliberation, I cannot omit these situations which, because of my participation in the Coordinadora, I have been able to witness a little more closely than the ordinary citizen.
Pressenza: OK, but what do you say about the resolutions that the Convention has finally reached?
Marcelo Castillo: The panorama in the mining block is more or less this: They have rejected the nationalisation of companies that carry out mining activities, the rights they hold and their assets. Abolish the concessions for the exploitation of deposits. The state should regulate the impacts and effects of the different stages of mining activity. That the mining company allocate resources to repair the damage caused by the productive activity and the harmful effects on the exploitation territories. That the State should exclusively develop mining activity in hydrocarbons, lithium and rare earths. In the case of copper, the State should explore and exploit on its own, safeguarding the State’s majority participation.
Authorisations should be granted on a temporary basis, through a transparent and public procedure, under the terms and conditions it establishes, and ownership should not be granted to the holder. The law should regulate royalties or other types of patrimonial compensation to be received by the state for mining exploitation.
Finally, these and other articles and indications up to this point have been systematically rejected. As you can see, this cause is quite an uphill struggle, but we continue, we are not giving up. There is a lack of hands and will, without a doubt, many more are needed to protect and defend copper.
Pressenza: What are the objectives of the Coordinadora for which you are spokesperson?
Marcelo Castillo: I am one of the spokespersons, but not the only one. We want sovereignty over our natural resources, especially non-renewable resources that are strategic for the development of the country. We want the renationalisation of copper, because we see it as an essential step towards changing the productive matrix. We are hurt by the fact that we have had an extractivist model for five decades, that the transnationals arrive, contribute a very low percentage in terms of employment, extract our wealth and in exchange leave us crumbs and areas of sacrifice. With an economy based on the export of minerals in ingots to be processed abroad, timber, salmon, fruit, in short, only raw materials, there is no possibility of being a developed country. This can only happen if we recover an economic model based on industrialisation, which gives added value to what nature gives us, promoting research and increasing scientific and technological activity.
We are also hurt by the damage caused by mining companies in the communities near the deposits, the lack of effective control, the complicity of politicians who turn a blind eye to the contamination of soil, air and water, which has resulted in many silent deaths and thousands of sick people, especially in the north of Chile. We want the state to put its trousers on and protect these communities, and also to take reparation measures for these communities where life has been made precarious.
Pressenza: What do you propose for the short and medium term?
Marcelo Castillo: In the immediate term, to ensure that the Constitutional Convention approves the norms referring to the renationalisation of copper, the nationalisation of Big Mining and the end of the Concessions. The theft and plundering of our minerals must not continue. In the short and medium term, we want the public to grow in consciousness about what it would mean for our quality of life if the 40 billion dollars in profits from private mining companies were in the hands of the State, half of the national budget in 2022 (approx. USD 80,000). If this consciousness is not seen today, it is because too many people are unaware of this information that I am sharing with you. CODELCO has 28% of the mining domain, 72% is almost given away to the transnationals.
The Chilean people have not yet realised what copper in the hands of the State would mean in terms of rights and quality of life. As a teacher, I imagine many things … free education of a good standard for all, impeccable infrastructure for the schools, excellent equipment for the different areas of learning, thousands of study grants in Chile and abroad, universities in each of the regions, well-paid teachers, special public transport for our students, etc., etc., etc.
The Coordinadora is made up of different social organisations, I represent the Teachers’ Association in this space. There is nothing special about us, we are normal people, we work, we have families and everything, but we are united by a consciousness and a dream of a just, democratic country that generates conditions for living with greater well-being, non-violent, a country that guarantees the fulfilment of fundamental human rights.
We presented the IPN Nº 5602 “Nationalisation of the large-scale copper, lithium and gold mining companies”, which was submitted with the support of more than 24,000 signatures, with the conviction that in terms of the economic and productive model, Chile must stop being a paradise for transnationals, not only for reasons of sovereignty over our natural resources, but also for reasons of dignity as a people, don’t you think? We demand that the course be amended and that a more or less decent new Constitution comes out of this constituent process, so that it doesn’t hurt our stomachs to vote for “I approve”. For that, in the votes ahead, we need the Convention members to choose to be loyal to the mandates of the people. We are not asking you for grand speeches or declarations of good intentions, we are asking you for something simple, don’t betray those who put you there with your vote, don’t give in to offers or pressure from the powerful. Oh, and to the right-wing convention members I say: please turn the concept of national sovereignty on its head.
Not only in us as Coordinadora, we know that it is in the soul of Chile, the demand for the renationalisation of copper and the end of mining concessions and also the end of the sacrifice zones related to the weak environmental control of private mining companies. Those who are in the Constitutional Convention should know that they will go down in history, some for obstructing and others for allowing this to happen. The fight we are waging is so that there will be many Convention members who will go down in history for having allowed the transformation of the country.
Although the picture I am describing with regard to the Constitutional Convention is not very encouraging, we understand the transcendence of what is at stake, the Constitution is not changed every three years, think that we have just had the option of changing the 1980 Constitution, what we will vote in the plebiscite on 4 September will be the starting point for the next 10, 15 or 20 years, we know that the laws will be subordinated to what the new Constitution says. We cannot give up, the historic moment calls on us to inform ourselves, to exert the corresponding social pressure, to be up to the task. President Allende and many compatriots did their part for copper in 1971, now it is our turn.
Pressenza: Thank you very much Marcelo, would you like to leave us an email address in case someone wants to contact you, in case they want to support the cause of copper and don’t know how to do it?