Francisco Villalón, Corporate Affairs Manager at Andes Iron “We are going to wait for the ruling with great calm, humility and respect”
19 March 2022 | News
The Corporate Affairs Manager of Andes Iron of the Dominga Project, Francisco Villalón, plays down the failure of the conciliation in the Supreme Court. Likewise, he stressed that every time the initiative has been submitted to a technical instance, it has obtained a favorable result.
Francisco Villalón is one of the 50 employees of Andes Iron. From the position of manager of Corporate Affairs, he has promoted one of the most controversial initiatives of the last decade, which generates the firm rejection of environmental organizations, but which is also supported by part of the community that demonstrated in favor of Dominga, a mining and port megaproject, located in La Higuera, Coquimbo Region.
This week, the Supreme Court accepted the request of fishermen and tourism workers who are not supporters of the initiative and decided to put an end to the conciliation. The Andes Iron mining company -owned by the Délano family- is at a key stage, and to date it has invested US$400 million in the project and intends to exploit iron for the next 22 years (2044).
The mining company deployed its efforts to close an agreement. It put US$400 million on the table in 56 proposals, including free water for 25 years for the inhabitants of La Higuera, but it was not enough: opponents reiterated their strong rejection of the initiative at the conciliation stage.
For this reason, within the next few weeks, Judge Jean Pierre Matus will have to draft the ruling of the Third Chamber of the Supreme Court. If Dominga wins, she will then face the verdict of the Committee of Ministers, an entity chaired by the Minister of the Environment, María Heloísa Rojas Corradi.
In a conversation with Pulso, Francisco Villalón, who has been linked to the project for 10 years and who previously served as Regional Secretary of Economy in Coquimbo during the first administration of President Michelle Bachelet, was cautious about the decision of the Supreme Court, and harshly criticized the NGO Oceana for, in his opinion, refusing to converse.
How does Andes Iron receive the failure of the conciliation?
It’s not a surprise. It was a probable scenario, because we have found in the NGO Oceana an inflexible, intransigent position and it has refused to hold a discussion. It was something that was within the scenarios that we handled. What is unfortunate is that not only was dialogue denied with Dominga, but also with the other parties to this trial, such as the Association of Small Miners, the Community Association and different social organizations that support the Dominga project that are third parties, supporting the proposals of the project.
How do you explain that intransigence and inflexibility that you accuse of Oceana?
Before the call for conciliation by the Supreme Court, we invited them to have a discussion. It seemed to us that it was essential to be able to build, listening to each other and incorporating different visions, and we never got a favorable response. Notwithstanding that, we took this call to reconcile very seriously and we made serious efforts to be able to study the concerns of the opponents and to submit proposals. We listened to the communities and collected their needs and main problems. And we built a socio-environmental proposal, unique and very innovative in Chilean mining, which is made up of 56 proposals, which has an approximate cost of US$400 million additional to the investment. These proposals sought to strike up a conversation.
Is Oceana openly against mining?
The NGO Oceana has a maximalist look. It has an ideological vision and it seems to us that it is a lack of respect for the social organizations of the territory. It seems to us that their statements, beyond meaning an opposition to Dominga, are an opposition to mining development in Chile.
What happens if the Supreme Court finally accepts the appeals? Is it the end of the project?
We have not put ourselves in that scenario, quite the contrary. We are very confident in the social and environmental proposal that we present. Every time the Dominga project has been in a technical instance, it has obtained favorable pronouncements. Therefore, we hope that the Supreme Court will ratify the ruling of the Environmental Court of Antofagasta. We are going to wait for the ruling with great calm, humility and respect for the institutions of our country.
Is Andes Iron willing to maintain the proposals that it raised in the conciliation process despite the fact that it was not successful at passing this stage?
We are available to maintain the benefits with the community. We have made a serious commitment. We have been talking with the communities for almost 10 years and the result we obtained in the citizen consultation that took place last week is proof of this: 96% of the people who went to vote approved the project. This result makes us double our efforts and continue working hand in hand with the inhabitants of the commune.
We are going to maintain the proposals, such as, for example, granting access to water to La Higuera. If there were no water supply in some districts of Santiago, it would be national news. In this commune, there is a shortage of water, water cuts constantly, and it is not news anywhere.
What is the political viability of this project, considering that President Gabriel Boric has already indicated that he is not in favor of carrying it out?
It is not up to us to pronounce on the statements made in the framework of electoral campaigns. Rather, our call is that we must all be respectful of the current institutions.
Do you think it will be more complex to get the support of the authorities of the new government?
We must strictly adhere to the compliance of the requirements that the institutional framework demands. We make a broad, open call to respect the institutional framework and all instances, always evaluating the technical merit of the project. We believe it is essential to listen and respect the voice of the people. This project has great public support. It has been demonstrated in different opinion studies and in various citizen consultations that have taken place. We believe that in this new political cycle there should be dialogue, despite the fact that this time it didn’t happen due to Oceana’s refusal, and respect for the communities.