Profile of SARA LARRAIN R.

PCDForum Paradigm Warrior Profile #2 Release date June 1, 1996

Sara coordinates the Chilean Ecological Action Network (RENACE), a national network of 145 local environmental organizations. Most are small organizations with few resources. Together they may hold the key to changing a nation-at least that is Sara's dream.

Sara's top priority is to expose the people of Chile, Latin America, and the world to the reality of the neoliberal development model as manifest in the Chilean experience. With long experience in the peace, human rights and environmental movements Sara has seen and criticized the model from numerous points of view. Now, after years of working on single issue campaigns, she has concluded that single issue victories really change very little so long as the development model itself remains intact.

Korten: What are the goals of RENACE?

Larrain: Through RENACE the leaders of Chile's environmental movement hope to rebuild the Chile's civil society, which was devastated by the long years of official terrorism sponsored by the Pinochet dictatorship from 1973 to 1989. They believe that through the power of an awakened civil society it will be possible to transform the Chilean society and economy into a national model of a just and sustainable society. Sara explained the special significance of Chile in this regard.

Because it has averaged 6 percent growth over the past 12 years, Chile is being presented to Latin America and the rest of the world by the World Bank, the IMF and others as the current poster child of export-led growth-the Latin American Tiger economy-an example of the proper way to govern people, build democracy, use natural resources, and be a successful competitor in the global economy. It is an image without reality, like a Hollywood movie set. Behind the facade our reality is one of poverty, human suffering, systematic environmental destruction, and authoritarianism.

We are committed to showing our friends and political leaders in other countries the reality behind the facade. We are doing the same for people in Chile. They feel something is happening to them. We put it into words, figures, and images that help them understand and articulate it. Different members of the coalition take on different projects. One has produced a book called Tiger Without Rainforests. It makes the case that a tiger that destroys its ecosystem dies without a home. Another of our research oriented members has released a book on Chilean Ecological Conflicts. Such publications map our reality.

Of course it is not enough to simply expose the facade. We must be proactive in creating alternatives. So currently we are putting together a Sustainable Chile project engaging a broad cross-section of the population in creating a vision and agenda for the kind of country we truly want. A first step is to gather all the relevant information from within the movement and our academic institutions into a kind of handbook. This will be a resource document for a series of regional consultations we will hold over the next two and a half years.

One advantage of being a national network of local organizations is that we have member organizations throughout the country that organize these consultations. In organizing the consultation our members also reach out beyond our own network to other groups such as union, indigenous peoples, social, and farmers organizations. We give special priority to involving the NGOs and social movements that really represent grassroots people. We expect to pull together some 200 organizations in Santiago. Outside of Santiago we may involve as many as 1,000. Each organization that participates in a consultation is responsible for engaging its own members in discussing the issues and reporting back. It may take several years, but this is the way you build a real social and political base. We used a similar process in developing our campaign against the proposed entry of Chile into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)-which involves as many as 300 organizations.

In addition to challenging the development model and intervening on national issues like NAFTA, we also support the campaigns of our groups on more specific local issues. We help them gain national exposure and advise them on tactics. In some cases we work with international coalitions. For example on NAFTA we work with North American coalitions. We even joined them in lobbying the U.S. Congress.

Sustainable Chile will give civil society groups in Chile a concrete agenda of the things we want to accomplish. This give our work more focus and allow us to take the initiative in national debates rather than simply coming out against harmful initiatives. Our environmental movement is taking the lead because we are the only movement in the country with a systematic critique of the model.

Korten: What do you see as the most important future priorities for the global movement?

Larrain: We badly need a politics of hope. When people lose battle after battle in the struggle to stop the polluting of their communities, the invasion of their lands, and the piracy of their resources it is difficult to maintain the inspiration and hope that they are really capable of changing things. We have cases where pollution is so bad that children are warned not to engage in physical activities. Many children are sick from the pollution and babies are being born with deformities. When parents complain to the authorities they are often told, "If you don't like this city you should go and live somewhere else." It is humiliating and demoralizing, as well as infuriating.

There are so many ways peoples' lands are expropriated. A company may come into a valley and tell people it is going to build three or four dams and they must move. They try to make the people feel they have no recourse and must simply submit.

One of my main challenges as a person and a member of this community is in the face of all this adversity is to help people maintain their sense of inspiration and hope-their confidence in themselves and their trust of one another. You first create a small space and then expand it. We work with people on their rights as human beings and as inhabitants of this land. We emphasize the significance of this land for their identity and the well-being of their children.

Our struggle is much like the struggle of the people of Chiapas in Mexico. The goal is not to go to the capital city and take over the government. Rather it is saying no to the continuing conquest. It is drawing the line and saying you are no longer permitted to come and take or destroy our lands and the resources on which our livelihoods depend. The people have only a small corner left and they are realizing they must defend it because it is their survival.


Sara Larrain R. is a contributing editor of the PCDForum and coordinator of the Chilean Ecological Action Network (RENACE), Ecocentro, Seminario 774, Ñuñoa, Casilla 16784 Coreo 9. Santiago, Chile, phone (56-2) 223-4483; fax (56-2) 223-8909; Internet: iep@ax.apc.org and a contributing editor of the PCDForum. This profile was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum

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