PCDForum Paradigm Warrior Profile #2 Release date June 1, 1996
Profile of SARA LARRAIN R.
Sara coordinates the Chilean Ecological Action Network (RENACE),
a national network of 145 local environmental organizations.
Most are small organizations with few resources. Together they
may hold the key to changing a nation-at least that is Sara's dream.
Sara's top priority is to expose the people of Chile, Latin America, and
the world to the reality of the neoliberal development model as manifest
in the Chilean experience. With long experience in the peace, human rights
and environmental movements Sara has seen and criticized the model from
numerous points of view. Now, after years of working on single issue
campaigns, she has concluded that single issue victories really change
very little so long as the development model itself remains intact.
Through RENACE the leaders of Chile's environmental movement hope to
rebuild the Chile's civil society, which was devastated by the long years
of official terrorism sponsored by the Pinochet dictatorship from 1973 to
1989. They believe that through the power of an awakened civil society it
will be possible to transform the Chilean society and economy into a
national model of a just and sustainable society. Sara explained the
special significance of Chile in this regard.
Because it has averaged 6 percent growth over the past 12 years, Chile is
being presented to Latin America and the rest of the world by the World
Bank, the IMF and others as the current poster child of export-led
growth-the Latin American Tiger economy-an example of the proper way to
govern people, build democracy, use natural resources, and be a successful
competitor in the global economy. It is an image without reality, like a
Hollywood movie set. Behind the facade our reality is one of poverty,
human suffering, systematic environmental destruction, and
We are committed to showing our friends and political leaders in other
countries the reality behind the facade. We are doing the same for people
They feel something is happening to them. We put it into words, figures,
and images that help them understand and articulate it. Different members
of the coalition take on different projects. One has produced a book called
Tiger Without Rainforests. It makes the case that a tiger that
destroys its ecosystem dies without a home. Another of our research
oriented members has released a book on Chilean Ecological Conflicts.
Such publications map our reality.
Of course it is not enough to simply expose the facade. We must be
proactive in creating alternatives. So currently we are putting together
a Sustainable Chile project engaging a broad cross-section of the
population in creating a vision and agenda for the kind of country we
truly want. A first step is to gather all the relevant information from
within the movement and our academic institutions into a kind of handbook.
This will be a resource document for a series of regional consultations
we will hold over the next two and a half years.
One advantage of being a national network of local organizations is that
we have member organizations throughout the country that organize these
consultations. In organizing the consultation our members also reach out
beyond our own network to other groups such as union, indigenous peoples,
social, and farmers organizations. We give special priority to involving
the NGOs and social movements that really represent grassroots people. We
expect to pull together some 200 organizations in Santiago. Outside of
Santiago we may involve as many as 1,000. Each organization that
participates in a consultation is responsible for engaging its own members
in discussing the issues and reporting back. It may take several years,
but this is the way you build a real social and political base. We used a
similar process in developing our campaign against the proposed entry of
Chile into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)-which involves
as many as 300 organizations.
In addition to challenging the development model and intervening on
national issues like NAFTA, we also support the campaigns of our groups
on more specific local issues. We help them gain national exposure and
advise them on tactics.
In some cases we work with international coalitions. For example on NAFTA
we work with North American coalitions. We even joined them in lobbying the
Sustainable Chile will give civil society groups in Chile a concrete agenda
of the things we want to accomplish. This give our work more focus and
allow us to take the initiative in national debates rather than simply
coming out against harmful initiatives. Our environmental movement is
taking the lead because we are the only movement in the country with a
systematic critique of the model.
The following is Sara's response to the question of future priorities for
We badly need a politics of hope. When people lose battle after battle in
the struggle to stop the polluting of their communities, the invasion of
their lands, and the piracy of their resources it is difficult to maintain
the inspiration and hope that they are really capable of changing things.
We have cases where pollution is so bad that children are warned not to
engage in physical activities. Many children are sick from the pollution
and babies are being born with deformities. When parents complain to the
authorities they are often told, "If you don't like this city you should
go and live somewhere else." It is humiliating and demoralizing, as well
There are so many ways peoples' lands are expropriated. A company may come
into a valley and tell people it is going to build three or four dams and
they must move. They try to make the people feel they have no recourse and
must simply submit.
One of my main challenges as a person and a member of this community is in
the face of all this adversity is to help people maintain their sense of
inspiration and hope-their confidence in themselves and their trust of one
another. You first create a small space and then expand it. We work with
people on their rights as human beings and as inhabitants of this land. We
emphasize the significance of this land for their identity and the
well-being of their children.
Our struggle is much like the struggle of the people of Chiapas in Mexico.
The goal is not to go to the capital city and take over the government.
Rather it is saying no to the continuing conquest. It is drawing the line
and saying you are no longer permitted to come and take or destroy our
lands and the resources on which our livelihoods depend. The people have
only a small corner left and they are realizing they must defend it
because it is their survival.
Sara Larrain R. is a contributing editor of the PCDForum and coordinator
of the Chilean Ecological Action Network (RENACE), Ecocentro,
Seminario 774, Nunoa, Casilla 16784 Correo 9. Santiago, Chile,
phone (56-2) 223-4483; fax (56-2) 223-8909; Internet: email@example.com and
a contributing editor of the PCDForum.
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