Closing Windows: Boric Government Undertakes Long Overdue Task and Wins Applause from Environmentalists and Communities

After almost 60 years of operation and by decision of Codelco’s board of directors, the Ventanas smelter will undergo a gradual and scheduled closure of operations due to its high sulfur dioxide emissions and high maintenance costs, two phenomena derived from obsolete technology that led even the past government of Sebastián Piñera to evaluate its closure. Despite the applause generated by the news in the environmental world and among the residents of Quintero and Puchuncaví, the foundry workers threatened to start demonstrations to protest the loss of jobs.

The harsh decision adopted by the board of directors, which had the consent of the Government of Gabriel Boric, has generated deep concern among workers due to the dismissal of around 350 jobs, although La Moneda were categorical in pointing out that this decision considers a protection plan for the workers who until today work in its facilities. The scheduled closure was taken due to the “complex socio-environmental situation of the Puchuncaví-Quintero industrial complex”, a fact that was exposed in “the last few weeks after different episodes of poisoning. Codelco has complied with environmental regulations and since the morning of Monday, June 6, the Ventanas smelter has been detained due to the advancement of maintenance”, read the Codelco statement.

“Beyond all the investment efforts, acting with transparency to show its operational reality and complying with the environmental policies that regulate it, the Ventanas Division has experienced a long history of permanent questioning by citizens,” the letter added. Of course, the decision – adopted after a board meeting that lasted all day on Friday – was harshly criticized by the workers’ representatives.

“We have never talked about closure; you sold us, you told the government that you were going to close Windows without conflict. You, who promised open letters, lie, Mr. Pacheco”, declared the president of the union 1 of Ventanas, Andrea Cruces. “We call for a national strike”, declared the union leader, who aimed her darts at the president of the Codelco board of directors , Máximo Pacheco, although he declined to clarify the start date of the demonstrations.

Pacheco told El Mercurio that there is a clear need for Chile to “expand its smelting capacity to defend its commercial, human and technological leadership in the world market for future copper,” so the country must “build a new smelter with the best environmental standards and the most modern existing technologies”. The closure must await the approval of a law that allows Enami’s ore to stop being processed at Ventanas.

President Boric, meanwhile, endorsed the decision since it was made “after a thorough process of study and dialogue with the different sectors involved in a public discussion that has been going on for years.” The president also added that the closure “will be carried out through a gradual and responsible process with the population and the workers.”

“This decision, which requires the participation of the National Congress in order to be effective -with whose good will and collaboration we hope to count on-, has been taken considering the recurring cases of intoxication that have occurred in the area of ​​operation of the smelter, the constant temporary closures of schools, sick children and the environmental saturation of the area”, he added. “We don’t want any more sacrifice zones,” added Gabriel Boric, in support of a long overdue determination.

The residents of Quintero and Puchuncaví reacted favorably. The spokeswoman for Women from Zones in Sacrifice in Resistance Quintero-Puchuncaví, Katta Alonso, praised the decision on Cooperativa radio since “the Government is beginning to fulfill its promise to end the sacrifice zones and to make a just transition, which is very important. Unfortunately, Codelco Ventanas is one of the most dangerous and polluting industries that we have in the area and that has devastated the territory because we have everything with arsenic.”

Meanwhile, the environmental lawyer and founder of the NGO FIMA, Ezio Costa, told the station that “this is good news, because what happens in Quintero-Puchuncaví with the massive poisonings is unsustainable and unpresentable”, while He recalled that the operation of Windows supposes “a violation of the right to breathe of people that is constant and that required strong measures. This measure is moving in the right direction.”

The last time Ventanas was about to close was in 2019. “Windows loses millions and millions of dollars every year, pollutes and causes problems,” declared the then President Sebastián Piñera, since the Ventanas smelter, despite being acquired by Codelco from Enami for 450 million dollars in 2005, had accumulated losses of more than 400 million dollars in the last decade.

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