The Chilean Army is scheduled to begin in October the clearance of anti-tank mines which are distributed on the sides of the route leading to the national Park of Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales and which were planted during the seventies at the height of a conflict with Argentina that almost ended in a full-fledged war.
“We are working to give reply to a much demanded need” said the Commander of the Chilean Army V Division, General Luis Zegpi. He was referring to the reiterated demands from tourist operations from the region since over 150.000 visitors national and foreign visit the world famous park and other green spaces in Chilean Patagonia.
General Zegpi confirmed that “there are five minefields which represent a real danger for those who transit along the route and our intention is to minimize risks for the tourism industry”.
The head of the Chamber of Tourism from Ultima Esperanza, Teobaldo Ruiz said the industry is most encouraged by the news and congratulates the national and military authorities for the announcement.
”This is a demand which has over a decade and is a terrible image and negative PPRR since you can’t have certain areas with signs indicating: ‘Danger Mines’” said Mr Ruiz.
Of the five mined fields, one of them is next to Laguna Figueroa, 43 kilometres north of Puerto Natales, and another three in the farm ‘El Puma’ belonging to rancher Mauricio Alvarez who has 30 hectares planted with mines since 1978, and has lost 26 cattle to explosions.
In late 1978 Argentina and Chile almost went to war over the Beagle Channel Islands in the extreme south of the continent. The war was stopped a couple of hours before combats started following a personal plead from Pope John Paul II to then dictators Jorge Videla and Augusto Pinochet.
Chile fearing the aggressive stance of Argentina and a possible invasion, planted mines in many strategic border areas in the south but also in the north, in areas close to Bolivia and Peru, also under military regimes, but inclined to support Argentina. Pinochet feared that if a conflict broke out the two northern countries that have land disputes with Chile pending, could try and advance on their claims.