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Chilean development. The case of the Atacama region

Chilean development. The case of the Atacama region

By Raúl H. Contreras Román

Far from representing a development model, the Chilean accumulation pattern, which has made it possible to reach praised figures in the macroeconomic sphere, has as its main prop the deregulation of labor and the lack of environmental protection, together with the low tax burden on big business, especially to "foreign investment".

The economic contradictions that are born in the Chilean reality, seem to confirm the theories that the neoliberal globalizing euphoria and its


orthodoxy, they expelled from universities and erased from books and political, academic and social language. It is necessary to re-understand wealth in relation to poverty and vice versa. Think about inequality not as a detail or a possible contraindication of our model, but rather as a phenomenon intrinsically related to it and its macroeconomic success.

Far from representing a development model, the Chilean accumulation pattern, which has made it possible to reach praised figures in the macroeconomic sphere, has as its main prop the deregulation of labor and the lack of environmental protection, together with the low tax burden on big business, especially to "foreign investment". This pattern has allowed several Chileans to rise on the select lists of the world's largest billionaires and for the largest multinational companies to project great deals in Chile in all areas. The symbiosis of a profoundly liberal economic system with an extremely conservative one in the political sphere will also ensure political stability within the framework of all the guarantees provided to the business community in dictatorship, ratified and expanded in the eternal transition.

It is enough to take a look at the south center to see that the aforementioned economic growth and dynamism, contributed by the agro-industrial, forestry and salmon sector, has coexisted with poverty and the pauperization of a large part of the population; especially in the Araucanía region, which, concentrating an important part of forest production in its territories, continues to be the poorest in the country. Go a little further south and look at what was left after the boom of the salmon company that so transformed the landscapes, property rules and socio-cultural relationships of the people of Region X, but which did nothing to transform their lack . Listen to the people of Aysén, the region with the highest regional economic growth in 2011, but with one of the highest inequality figures in the country, where workers have an average income lower than the national one in a context of high cost of living, which significantly reduces the purchasing power of their wages.

The Atacama region, which during the last two years has shown sustained growth that has resulted in an increase in economic activity of over 10% and of construction by more than 30%, is also evidence of the contradiction. For anyone who is a bit wary of numbers and has eyes to look beyond the auto fleet and the expansion of the retail: Chañaral, Diego de Almagro, Huasco, Tierra Amarilla or Copiapó himself; They are poor communes or at least one of equipped poverty, the one made up of access to consumption especially of technological goods to emulate the american way of life, even if it is by buying Chinese knockoffs. In this region, about 20 thousand people live in a situation of poverty, while the percentage of those who live on the street is almost twice the national average.

The boom The high price of copper has not only helped increase the number of 4 × 4s that circulate through the dusty streets of the Atacama Region, but has also covered the region with the veil of economic success, making it attractive for internal migration and transforming her into the model's pretty girl chilensis developmental. Probably, the application of the next CASEN will reverse the poverty and indigence figures in the region, but this will be temporary, as is the growth of the last two years.


Poverty in the region is and will be proportional to the excessive extraction of wealth by transnational mining companies and their national partners. The wages that mining workers and all wage earners receive today (including technicians, professionals, clerks and managers), despite being high compared to the minimum wage, represent in Chile in general less than 7% of the sector profits. The inequality between what is taken and what is left is reproduced more crudely if we take the case of the region's workers not directly related to mining, artisanal fishermen, small farmers or seasonal grapes, who also If they receive income well below the regional average ($ 613,392, the second highest in Chile), they have to bear a high cost of living, especially in food and in the real estate sector, inflated by mining income.

The development of the Atacama region, like that of much of the mining north of Chile, is defined as a non-durable development. This is not only given by the primary export vocation of the economy, based on mining, but also and above all by the transcendental importance of foreign capital in the regional economy. The zero diversification of production and the absence of value added to exports have an impact on the participation of local actors being secondary and rarely transcending work or service provision. The veil of economic success that currently covers the region is one that shows it as a modern mining enclave, in which a large part of the equipment responds to the specific needs of the sector and its over-exploitation of the resource, linked to the unregulated entry of capital. transnational private company and the high price of copper. But what part of the veil will remain when mining stops showing the dynamism that it shows today? What will remain in the cities of the region, if a large part of the services are designed in transnational mining and are owned by non-regional actors? [I].

The contradiction deepens if we think that regional development is not only not durable, it is also not sustainable. This will be the first region in the country that will not have water for human consumption, in addition to having a large part of its coastline contaminated with thermoelectric plants and with the mining tailings that accumulate, as on the Chañaral coast, for almost a century. . Probably, in a while they will be able to say that the region has improved in its levels of poverty and destitution, but after that there will be nothing left but the memory of the mining boom, silicosis, polluted coasts and dry basins from mountain range to sea.

If Chile in general represents a perfect case of impoverishing growth, the case of the Atacama region seems to be the best example to check in real time the rise and fall of an exhausted model, which not only extinguishes itself but can extinguish everything in its path.

Raúl H. Contreras Román - Anthropologist - Chile

[i] For more information on durable development and modern mining enclave, see Cademartori, J. (2007) The Impact of Foreign Investment 1990-2000 on the Durable Development of the Antofagasta Mining Region (Chile)


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