Billionaire Chile president’s pet coal project could be his final undoing

Chile is proceeding with a massive coal mine on an island in Patagonia near the southern tip of South America despite a high-profile online protest campaign and accusations that billionaire President Sebastian Pinera’s shareholding in the developer, Copec, constitutes a serious conflict of interest.

A similar campaign last year forced Pinera to reconsider a thermoelectric plant close to another wildlife sanctuary and a recent poll put his approval rating at only 26%, below even that of dictator General Pinochet, who ruled the country for 17 years from 1973.

FT asks the question why are Chileans protesting so much when the minimum wage has gone up from $60 a month under Pinochet to nearly $300 currently.

UPI reports the country’s chief national oversight body, the Comptroller General, last month cleared Pinera of any conflict of interest in the deal but couldn’t silence critics.

MercoPress reports opponents fear that mining will directly and negatively affect the local environment and that burning the relatively low-quality coal from the Isla Riesco will commit Chile to 25 years of “dirty energy.”

Isla Riesco covers 5,110 square kilometres and holds Chile’s largest known coal deposits thought to contain more than 300 million tonnes. Mining activity dates back to the 19th century.

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