SANTIAGO – Some 8,000 gathered in the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas to protest against the announced 16.8 percent hike in the price of natural gas.
Sunday’s demonstration alongside the Straits of Magellan unfolded with “impeccable citizen participation, without violence, in peace,” Punta Arenas Mayor Vladimiro Mimica told Efe.
The protests are being organized by the Citizens Assembly of the Magallanes region, which unites political parties, unions and neighborhood boards.
The protests were begun last week because of the decision by state oil company Enap to raise the price of natural gas to users in Chile’s far south starting Feb. 1.
In the face of the protests, Energy Minister Ricardo Rainieri and Planning Minister Felipe Kast met on Sunday to coordinate the measures that will be implemented to mitigate or avoid the impact that the price hike will have on the region’s most disadvantaged families.
“We’re implementing a contingency measure of approximately $8 million. This is going to benefit 6,000 families from among the most vulnerable in the Magallanes region,” Kast told reporters.
The measures include providing insulation for 1,000 homes, as well as providing energy-efficient heaters to 2,000 families.
“Those subsidies are not enough,” Mimica told Efe, adding that local authorities will wait until Tuesday for the government of President Sebastian Piñera “to change its decision.”
“We have not spoken with the authorities in the last few hours. We’re waiting between now and Tuesday for there to be a change of direction and at least for a dialogue to be opened,” the mayor said.
Mimica said that he had spoken with the energy minister and also with Deputy Finance Minister Rodrigo Alvarez.
“He is part of this government, but basically he’s Magallanic, and we hope that tomorrow (Tuesday) he will explain the Magallanic demands to the government,” said the mayor, who is demanding a state subsidy of $15 million.
The government defends the gas price hike and argues that its purpose it to seek to diminish the difference that exists between the market price and that paid by households in Magallanes, and also to make investments in that sector attractive.
In remarks to Bio Bio radio, Eugenio Bahamondes, the head of the Citizens Assembly, criticized the government for saying that there is only enough gas for the next five years and wanting to increase the bill that the public pays for it.
Instead of that, Bahamondes urged the government to cut back on the gas provided to Methanex, a Canadian transnational firm that, he said, obtains 10 million cubic meters (352.5 million cubic feet) of methanol each day and sells it at “great profit.”
Almost all of Enap’s natural gas production is concentrated in the Magallanes region, and its residents also consume large quantities of that fuel to heat their homes in weather that rarely rises above 15 C (59 F) even in summer. EFE