Next Thursday Magallanes Region will be living a historic event, for the first time an elected governor will be taking office in Punta Arenas. Until now it was the central government, Santiago that appointed the official, but since the political and social reforms that emerged from the 2019/20 upheavals including the current assembly to draft a new constitution, things have changed in Chile particularly exposing the fragility of the so-called Chilean model. And in Magallanes, an issue outstands, salmon farming in maritime spaces.
Governor Jorge Flies is a surgeon and family doctor, elected last May with 42% of the vote, twenty points ahead of his runner up, and with political experience since he occupied the same post under the second presidency of Socialist Michelle Bachelet, 2014/18. In several interviews about his plans to re-launch Magallanes and its economy, Governor Flies has also admitted that there are two controversial issues his government will have to face, the first, salmon farming in maritime spaces and the possible privatization of the region's ports.
Salmon farming in sea pens has re-emerged as an issue since the Legislative, almost unanimously, of neighbouring Tierra del Fuego province in Argentina decided to ban the industry, privileging the environment and tourism, pillars of the provincial economy. Similar groups in Chile have argued that it is a signal the country should follow to protect the Patagonian seas. Flies have advanced the idea of freezing concessions for new maritime salmon projects.
It's a sour issue since the negative impacts of that industry remain in the regions they operate, be it through environmental contamination, or with the sanitary situation, massive unemployment. Flies added that salmon companies have repeatedly ignored or not complied with the rules, even those with international certifications, but two factors can't be ignored, the so-called acquired rights and anticipated we are going to make sure they comply strictly with their social responsibilities and environmental safeguards, and if necessary if they are located in the waterways of national parks, make them relocate.
The governor said that he plans to freeze permits for new farms, as he did during his previous mandate, but the other question is do we want or not new concessions for the Magallanes salmon industry. I believe the majority of public opinion is against increasing the maritime areas for these companies, but what a governor or the State of Chile can't do is take over private property unless it is an expropriation, which is/has not been the case under the Chilean legal system.
So, if those companies are to remain in the region they will have to be accountable for their social responsibilities, and will have to abide by a stricter and more intense environmental monitoring to avoid the harm done in other regions and Magallanes. Flies also mentioned the significance of entrepreneurs' responsibility, which means they must comply at least with their own environmental impact studies.
Flies recalls that during his previous mandate we reached an agreement, and that is why I define the situation as sweet and sour at the same time, many of the accords agreed have never complied. So once I take office now, one of the first issues I will address is precisely salmon farming in maritime spaces.
The incoming governor also talked about the current privatization process of Magallanes and Aysen regions ports, promoted by the central government. The three are the only government-managed ports in southern Chile. Apparently the elected governor of Aysen, Andrea Macías is against the proposal and has asked Santiago to forget privatization, based on the experience and reports we have
Flies more diplomatically has argued that until the new elected authorities take over such initiatives should wait. The three ports are different to the rest of that activity in Chile, they are supply ports and of regional logistics, more than export ports and we can't have twenty-year concessions when the regional governments are taking office. Besides privatizations have not delivered promises in jobs, investment and increase in activity for the different regions, as anticipated in the contracts.
Finally, the contribution of the Austral Port administration as a government company has been significant for Punta Arenas and the whole Magallanes Region, and they have an excellent rapport with the private sector, concluded incoming governor Flies.