Campaigners form a ‘Glacier Nation’ in Chilean Andes

Activists want the Chilean government to protect vital water reserves

Environmental activists have proclaimed a new ‘glacier nation’ in the Chilean Andes as part of a campaign to encourage the government to protect water reserves.

Greenpeace Chile founded the independent state – named the Glacier Republic – in early March and have since opened embassies in dozens of countries, using Greenpeace International offices.

Passports are issued to people who pledge allegiance online – with around 85,000 people signing up before the end of March, including the Chilean writer Isabel Allende. A special delegation was even sent to visit Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, who was recently sworn in for her second term in the capital Santiago.

Campaigners say they were able to establish the country under the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of the States due to legal loopholes and a sovereignty dispute over a glacial area on the border between Chile and Argentina.

They set up a camp on the ice and declared that the new country comprises all glaciers in Chile “given that Chilean legislation does not recognise them as their own.”

Chile is home to 82% of South America’s glaciers, covering 23,000km². Glacial watersheds supply millions of people in Chile with fresh water, yet it is one of the few countries with no laws to protect glaciers, according to Matías Asún, head of Greenpeace Chile.

By contrast, Argentina already has such a law and Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have international funding to create glacier protection, said Asún.

Greenpeace says the government of Chile – the world’s biggest copper producer – is under pressure from mining companies. State mining company Codelco has received criticism for a $6.81bn expansion project due to fears about its impact on water resources. Canada’s Barrick Gold also suspended its $8.5bn Pascua-Lama mining project in Chile last year amid concerns over its potential impact on glaciers.