Mon Apr 22, 2024
April 22, 2024

Fires in the Valparaíso Region in Chile: A Predictable and Avoidable Tragedy

Anger, pain, fear, numbness, once again the flames are out of control, threatening our families, our friends, and ourselves. The flames, the smoke, and the ashes that envelop everything bring back the still fresh memory of the 2014 mega fire in Valparaiso and the 2017 mega fire in the south.

By MIT- Chile / Valparaíso

With every hour that passes, the death toll is rising. It is already more than 99, and more than 4,000 homes have been destroyed, there are hundreds of people missing, and cultural spaces like the Viña del Mar Botanical Garden have been completely destroyed. We are facing one of the greatest tragedies in recent history. As always, the most affected are the workers. More than 70% of the houses burned so far were irregular settlements or camps, homes of poor workers who are forced to live in the hills and ravines because they cannot afford to pay rent or buy a house.

Although we can speak of fire as nature that devours itself, the cause of this fire is not natural. In the first place, everything indicates that the fires have been caused by humans, either by the carelessness of someone who threw a cigarette butt into dry grass, or arson. The cause must be investigated and those responsible should be punished. Second, this tragedy has only reached this magnitude because of current climate and social conditions.

The current climate conditions marked by record temperatures and droughts, which have been caused by global warming generated by big capitalist industry and the overexploitation of fossil fuels and soils, has increased the conditions that cause these types of fires. Massive fires like the one we are seeing in Region V are becoming more frequent all over the world.

On the other hand, in Chile, the regulatory plans of most cities are completely outdated. There is no urban planning. Urban planning is dictated by the market and real estate speculation. Housing policies are totally inadequate, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people living in high-risk areas (today more than 80,000 people in the country live in camps and the housing deficit is estimated at more than 640,000 homes) and fire prevention measures are totally ineffective. Year after year, the same tragedies repeat themselves.

In several regions of the country, the existence of huge pine and eucalyptus monocultures are fuel for these fires. However, the owners of these large companies are never held responsible or forced to take measures to mitigate the effects of these fires, which are becoming more frequent. The real estate sector is another sector that ends up benefiting from tragedies like the current one, taking advantage of them to build real estate projects on devastated lands.

The response of the state, whether it is a “left” or “right” government, is the same: to wait for disasters to occur without taking any serious preventive measures. The situation is so pathetic that our firefighters have to beg for donations at toll booths and  in public squares to finance the institution. Disasters like the one we are witnessing are completely preventable, but for that to happen, the priorities of the state would have to be reorganized.

Meanwhile, we are seeing the profits of big business increase, as multinationals plunder copper, lithium, forests, the sea, and profit from real estate speculation. And to be sure, all of the wealth generated by these extractive industries is concentrated in the hands of a few billionaire families and foreign businessmen. That is why there is no money to build houses, plan cities, invest in firefighting planes, and a long list of other things.

Urgent Measures Must Be Taken

The self-organization of the Chilean people (“people helping people”) is fundamental. We call on everyone to support the stockpiling initiatives that are multiplying throughout the country, and we call on the workers of the affected regions to show solidarity with the victims.

However, these measures are insufficient in the face of the disaster. We demand from the Boric government an immediate investment in firefighters and the lease or purchase of firefighting planes. In order to finance these key investments, a new tax should be imposed on the country’s largest fortunes, as they have profited for decades from the destruction of the environment and the exploitation of our people.

We also demand that the government compensate the families of the victims and create a plan for the construction of new housing to make up for the losses. We demand that the government finance rent subsidies for the victims of the fires while their homes are being built. We demand the nationalization of natural resources such as copper and lithium to obtain the necessary resources to fund the above measures.  

On the other hand, the working class must understand that under capitalism these kinds of problems will continue to occur with greater frequency and magnitude. The capitalist economy is a machine of social and environmental destruction for the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority of society. There is no urban, environmental, or economic planning under capitalism. Therefore, it is necessary for the working class to build an alternative project for society. It is necessary to make a revolution against the capitalists who control Chile and the world. We need a revolution that puts the working class and the people in power, so that we can plan the economy based on the needs of the majority of the population and of nature, and not on the accumulation of wealth in the hands of capitalists.

Taken from February 4, 2024

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