Chileans force roll-back of price increase for natural gas, 2011

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Time Period:  
11 January
18 January
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Punta Arenas, Region XII
Location Description: 
It took place not only in Punta Arenas but the all major towns in Region XII.
To create dialogue with government and stop the increase of natural gas prices in the region.

For Chileans living in the southern Patagonia region, natural gas is crucial for heating their homes, most importantly during the frigid winter months. The Chilean Government has been subsidizing natural gas up to 85% for all people in this region because it is the most remote and holds the highest cost of living in the country. Without this government support, many of its users would struggle or be unable to pay for it.

On 29 December 2010 the Empresa Nacional del Petróleo (ENAP, National Petroleum Company) publicly announced that they were going to increase the natural gas prices by almost 17% in the Region X11, more commonly called the Magellan region. This motion was backed by Chilean Energy Minister Ricardo Raineri.

Alongside with the public outcry of Asamblea Ciudadana de Magallanes (Magallane's Citizens' Assembly), the Agrupación Nacional de Empleados Fiscales (ANEF) or National Association of Public Employees joined and took action and protested. Both of these groups had warned the Chilean government body that if they did not open dialogue with them about the proposed natural gas increase, they would blockade all roads in the region. This would have a serious impact on the tourist industry, a large part of the Magellan region's economy.

The Asamblea Ciudadana de Magallanes’ blockade would block off all road traffic between Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, the world renowned Torres del Paine national Park, the airport in Punta Arenas and traffic going down to Tierra del Fuego, the southern island of Argentina mainly accessed by ferrying across the strait of Magellan in Chile.

On the afternoon of 11 January 2011 citizens in Punta Arenas, the largest town in the region, started marching in the streets. They created barricades throughout the town, starting at the ship port.

A motorist rammed into a makeshift barricade, killing two girls, Claudia Castillo and Melisa Ruiz Silva, and severely injuring a two-year-old.

The attack sparked a greater outpouring of the people into the streets, joining the protests and occupying barricades.

By the next day, 12 January, the people joining the campaign extended to the Argentinean border crossings and all major towns in the region. The citizens of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas alongside the Asamblea Ciudadana de Magallanes and ANEF kept their word and blockaded all roads in the region. In the streets of Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, they held black flags to symbolize their message along with banners. They chanted and sang peacefully.

The blockade of the region left approximately 3000 tourists stranded between Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and in Torres del Paine. For a short period, no one was allowed past the barricades regardless whether trying to pass on foot or in cars. The makeshift barricades made of tires, cars, and trucks were taking a toll on the travel industry and economy. This created more pressure on the region's government to start dialogue with the people of the Magellan Region.

During this time, tourists who were stuck in Puerto Natales had two options; walk far around the barricades south of town and try to hitchhike to Punta Arenas or head east and walk to the Argentinean border 30kms away. The Red Cross came with buses lent by the Chilean Army to transport stranded tourists from Torres del Paine and the two towns. The Red Cross also used airplanes from the Chilean airline LAN. The Red Cross helped supply food and medical supplies as well as organizing transport from their base in the schools.

There was increasing concern from the Argentinean government about accessibility to Tierra del Fuego Island because they had relied on the highway from Punta Arenas for food and supplies to the remote island. Chile's Interior Minister Laurence Golborne came to the south to seek a compromise in Punta Arenas.

On 18 January, church leaders mediated hours of negotiation in Punta Arenas between Golborne, Punta Arenas officials, and the Asamblea Ciudadana de Magallanes. The government agreed that, instead of the 17% price increase they intended, they would settle for only a 3% increase and that, in addition, the government would reimburse low income Chilean families so they would see no increase at all.

Hours after the agreement was reached, Globorne made the announcement on a local radio station; he was escorted out of the radio station by riot police. Shortly after the negotiations were done, Ricardo Raineri was forced to resign as Energy Minister with Laurence Golborne to replace him as Mining and Energy Minister. The campaign was highly successful.

Research Notes

The gas protests were be influenced by the Bolivian gas protests a few weeks prior.

Bodzin, Steven. (2011, January 11). Chile protests turn deadly as Latin America buckles under rising energy prices. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from America-buckles-under-rising-energy-prices

González Palma, Eric Eduardo. (2011, January 14). 12 de Enero de 2011, Protesta y Muerte en Punta Arenas. Radiopolar. Retrieved from

Long, Gideon. (2011, January 15). Tourists trapped in Chile due to fuel price strikes. BBC News. Retrieved from

Mostrador, El. (2011, January 11). Gobierno no cede y enfrenta paro indefinido en Magallanes por alza del gas. Elmostrador. Retrieved from no-cede-y-enfrenta-paro-indefinido-en-magallanes-por-alza-del-gas/.

Patagoniax. (2011, January 20). Evacuation from Puerto Natales: Rebellion in Patagonia. CNN. Retrieved from

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Justin Collicutt, 12/11/2013