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Matilde Spoerer

Paradoxes of participatory democracy: citizen participation, collective action and political influence in a Chilean environmental conflict

[05/09/2014]

Résumés

This article proposes a critical analysis of the impacts of participatory democracy in public action and collective action. Based on the study of the Barrancones environmental conflict in Chile (2007-2010), the aim is to analyze how transformations and innovations in Chilean environmental law regarding citizen participation have had an ambivalent impact. On one hand, institutional citizen participation appears to be an instrument of economic and authoritarian logic to legitimize energy policy by opening dialogue with citizens without this necessarily translating into decision making. On the other, the institutionalization of citizen participation has had an impact on the emergence and forms of expression of collective action. Thus, participation has influenced both the institutions and their actors. The article reveals the paradoxes of participatory democracy and demonstrates the fact that, based on its institutional implementation, direct and inherent impacts of the participatory mechanism can be identified, as well as broader, diffuse and indirect impacts on public and collective action.

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Notes de l’auteur

This article was presented in the International Conference on Public Policy, Grenoble-France 2013.

Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 The file on the Central Térmica Barrancones Project can be consulted online on the webpage of the S (...)
  • 2 Law 19,300 (March 1994), “General Environmental Framework Law” [en ligneAvailable at http://www.ley (...)
  • 3 Cárcamo, P. F., Cortés, M., Ortega, L., Squeo F. A., Gaymer, C., “Crónica de un conflicto anunciado (...)

1In December 2007, the Franco-Belgian multinational GDF Suez submitted the project “Central Térmica Barracones” (Barracones thermoelectric plant) to the System of Environmental Impact Assessment (hereinafter SEIA),1 in accordance with the provisions of Chilean environmental regulation at the time.2 This was to be located approximately 25 kilometers from Punta de Choros, Chile's main marine reserve, home to about 80 percent of the world's Humboldt Penguins3. This geographical distinctive feature, added to the organizational capacity of the local community and to a favorable opportunity political context, contributed to the formation of strong public opposition to the project. The Barrancones case is particularly interesting given that for the first time in Chile, citizenship achieved a victory in an environmental matter.

2In fact, after three years of assessments, negotiations and demonstrations (from December 2007 to August 2010), the Barrancones case experienced an unexpected turnaround in four days:

August 24, 2010, the Comisión Regional de Medio Ambiente (Regional Environmental Commission - hereinafter Corema) approved the project (15 votes in favor and 4 against). The announcement provoked a significant demonstration, convened mainly via social networks. About 2,000 people marched to the Moneda presidential palace to ask President Sebastian Piñera to respect his election campaign pledge not to allow the construction of power plants that would be detrimental to the environment. At the same time, thousands of Chileans protested on the streets of major cities in the country and in Punta de Choros.

August 26, 2010, after personal intervention in the case, the President of the Republic announced that the plant would not be built in Barrancones bay.

August 27, 2010, the company GDF Suez announced its withdrawal from the project due to the difficulty of finding a new site for construction.

  • 4 Blondiaux, L., Le nouvel esprit de la démocratie. Actualité de la démocratie participative, Paris: (...)

3This episode is interesting not only because of the unique outcome, but also because of the paths that open for the analysis of citizen participation and its contradictions. Criticism of the adverse effects and the limits of participatory democracy are at the heart of the disillusionment that dominates the literature on the concept of participation4. Is the Barrancones episode a new reason to believe in citizen participation once again? Can we attribute the political influence achieved by the public solely to mechanisms of participatory democracy? How are these mechanisms connected with social movements’ own resources?

  • 5 The concepts of participatory democracy and citizen participation, used interchangeably in this art (...)
  • 6 Dabène, O., Geisser, V. and Massardier, G., Autoritarismes démocratique et democraties autoritaires (...)

4Critical analysis of the impacts of participatory democracy5 in public action –that taken by government entities– and collective action driven by the social movement, will allow us to establish that they are ambivalent. On one hand, even when the participatory mechanisms seek to democratize democracy, they converge with authoritarian logic or situations of "limited pluralism", that is, a reduction of the space from where decisions are made.6 Indeed, institutional participation is deployed in spaces where there are preexisting political power relationships. Therefore, the main risk of institutional mechanisms of participation is that they give the floor to the public without citizens being included in the decision process, as they fail to reverse the aforementioned logics of power. On the other hand, this finding does not mean that participation is reduced to a simple trompe-l'oeil and that its application is devoid of effects. The opening of public dialogue has resonance with the social movement and the democratization of the environmental space.

  • 7 Mazeaud, A., Sa Vilas Boas, M. H., Berthomé, G. K., “Penser les effets de la participation sur l’ac (...)

5To answer the question of the direct impacts –but also indirect and more diffuse impacts– of participation, it is necessary to go beyond the institutional framework. Therefore, we will understand citizen participation to be the extremely diverse set of mechanisms of citizen involvement in decision making and the opening of the "black boxes" of public policy. This definition allows us to avoid the pitfall regarding the trend towards a "procedural tropism"7 which characterizes studies of participatory democracy and responds to the suggestion of (2011) to avoid limiting the problem of participation solely to institutional mechanisms, as this is also deployed in other spaces and in other formats, even within social movements.

6In terms of empirical work, the research was limited to study of the Barrancones case. Firstly, the institutional mechanism of participation prescribed by Chilean environmental legislation was observed, in order to establish its mechanisms and actors. Subsequently, it was necessary to enhance the analysis by putting it into perspective in light of the participation articulated by the social mobilization that emerged in opposition to the Barrancones project. This methodological approach allowed the analysis of participation from its institutional manifestations, implemented from "above", along with its constructions from "below", driven by the public.

  • 8 Such as: the file on the Central Térmica Barrancones project; minutes of the meetings with Corema; (...)

7Furthermore, in addition to analyzing various written sources, a variety of available visual archives were also examined8 and there was work performed directly with citizen, particularly with leaders and members of the main organization opposed to the Barrancones project (Movimiento por la Defensa del Medio Ambiente [hereinafter Modema]). I made contact with the leaders of this organization, Rosa Rojas y Jan Van Dijk, who kindly agreed to meet and share their experience with me. The exchange with them took place in Punta de Choros during the two visits I made in march 2012. These meetings were fundamental for collecting data. In addition to their input, R. Rojas organized a meeting with members of Modema, residents of Los Choros, and made it possible to acquire access to Modema's archives. Moreover, I performed more than 30 interviews in Valparaiso, Santiago y La Serena to actors related to the Barrancones conflict: officials from the regional and central offices of the Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental (Environmental Evaluation Service - hereinafter SEA), deputies from Region IV (from de Socialist Party and the right wing party, Renovación Nacional), representatives of the company GDF Suez and the economic sphere (Franco-Chilean Chamber of Commerce, Sofofa), researchers from the Universidad Católica del Norte and the leaders of environmental (Terram, Oceana, Chao Pescao) and public (Corporación Participa) associations.

8The first part of this article will address the restricted scope and the adverse effects of the institutional mechanisms of participation prescribed by Chilean environmental law (I). Secondly, I will argue that, in spite of these limitations, citizen participation, understood beyond its institutional boundaries, can be translated into public action and collective action, leading to new processes of resistance and political influence (II).

I. Towards the democratization of environmental debate?

  • 9 Dabène, Geisser and Massardier, Op. Cit.
  • 10 Blondiaux, Op. Cit.
  • 11 Bacqué, M. H., Rey, H. and Sintomer, Y. Gestion de proximité et démocratie participative: une persp (...)
  • 12 Blondiaux, L. and Sintomer,Y., “L’impératif participatif”, Politix, 2002, vol.15 (57), p. 17-35.
  • 13 Blondiaux, Op. Cit.

9Citizen participation has become a major topic of interest in current affairs and in political action, as well as in a specific field of research, to the point where researchers now declare that seeking democratization, even in places where it does not exist, is almost a "professional obligation"9. In this context, citizen associations, public institutions and politicians increasingly call for greater numbers of actors and spaces for participation that are more open to the organizations of civil society and lay citizens, that is, those citizens considered to lack knowledge and authority in the matters under discussion. However, development of participatory democracy is not without ambiguous or even contradictory aspects, which is explained first by the absence of an agreed definition10. The content of participatory democracy can include many different mechanisms (neighborhood council, participatory budgeting, public debate, citizen jury, etc.), and all proclaim a participatory logic11. In this context, although listening to and consulting the public are currently presented as a "participatory imperative"12 of public action, their use responds to a range of logics and objectives. Thus, the term citizen participation contains at least five levels –information, consultation, consensus, decision and self government– and may advocate consensus, or the opposite: the expression of conflict. The strength of this concept comes specifically from this indeterminacy, from its ability to become involved in a diverse range of strategies and records of political legitimization13.

10The question is then: What do actors involved in the Barrancones case understand by citizen participation? What is the participation of citizens in the framework of the institutional environmental mechanisms? To answer these questions I will analyze the components of the participation procedure established by the “General Environmental Framework Law"14 and implemented in the Barrancones case. I would like to demonstrate that political democratization and economic liberalization did not lead to the democratization of environmental debate, but rather to a state of "limited pluralism”, which can be described as a combination of elitism, confinement and undisclosed information in the policy making process.15

11Firstly, with regard to the Chilean energy sector it should be noted that economic growth in Chile (GDP) has resulted in growing energy demand to satisfy the needs of the various sectors of the economy. Furthermore, the Chilean energy system is characterized by heavy dependence: 72 percent of the energy consumed in Chile is imported (Comisión Nacional de Energía – National Energy Commission). In this context of strong demand and energy dependence and the absence of effective policies aimed at the efficient promotion and use of energy, the country has been faced with difficult situations in the energy sector. This phenomenon has been particularly noticeable since 2004, when Argentina established a policy of rationing gas exports. This situation led to a political consensus on the energy crisis and about the need to diversify the country's energy matrix to reduce the deficit.

  • 16 Considering only those projects that –up to that date– had been “approved” or were “under assessmen (...)

12Consequently, a sharp increase has been observable in the consolidation of energy projects in virtually all regions of the country, which have been driven by the implementation of public-private plans to stimulate rapid investment in this sector. For example, according to Fundación Terram, between January 2000 and June 2011, the total number of electric power generation projects submitted to the SEA rose to 222.16

13In this scenario, the lack of transparency and hermeticism of the decision-making process appears in projects from the start, since citizens do not participate in the construction of the guidelines on energy. The lack of open and transparent debate prior to projects and their submission to the SEIA inevitably limits posterior public discussion. The need for these initiatives seems to be indisputable, as demonstrated, for example, by the prevalence of newspaper articles with positive comments on energy projects and the threatening tone used by some of the media to justify their construction.

  • 17 Bórquez, R., “Actualización de Catastro de Proyectos de Generación Eléctrica en Chile”, [online (...)
  • 18 Carcamo et al., Op. Cit.

14The district of La Higuera is a good example of the aforementioned evolution. Indeed, Region IV accounts for about 13 percent of the energy projects in the 2000-2011 period, of which three thermoelectric projects are relevant to La Higuera17. However, this community does not have an industrial tradition. On the contrary, the coastline here is characterized by an exceptional marine ecosystem, for which protective measures are carried out through two instruments: the “Pingüinos de Humbolt” and “Isla Damas y Chañaral” national reserves, and the classification of the coastline of the Coquimbo region," which classes the coast of La Higuera as "an environmental zone". Fishing activities are also regulated by the delimitation of "areas of management and exploitation of benthic resources" in order to protect the marine resources in this area of the coast18.

  • 19 Hervé, D., “Las causas del conflicto por la central termoeléctrica de Barrancones en Punta de Choro (...)
  • 20 Hervé, Op. Cit.

15The question that should be asked then is: how can the inability of these environmental protection instruments to prevent the approval of the Barrancones project by Corema be explained? Without going into a legal analysis of the issue19, it is possible to identify over the study of the Barracones case the success of a business logic over any environmental arguments. Firstly, Chile does not have a medium- and long-term energy policy that defines the composition of its energy matrix. As a consequence, the production, transmission and distribution of electricity are controlled by companies. In other words, it is the company, in this case GDF Suez, who decides how, when and where energy projects are installed, as well as the type of fuel and technology that should be used. The nature and location of the projects are not the subject of ex-ante discussion. Therefore, citizen participation in the institutional environmental structure is restricted from the beginning to the extent that debate is not sufficiently focused on the origin of the problem, nor is it general enough to avoid subsequent conflicts. In other words, according to the legal framework, projects cannot be defined and/or rejected a priori by the public administration or by the public. It is therefore evident that the mechanisms adopted by the electricity company are mainly based on economic rather than environmental variables. Furthermore, the Barrancones case shows that a posteriori, that is, once the project enters the environmental assessment process, the public administration fails to enforce environmental protection arguments over those related to economic growth20. We will return to this fact later.

The gulf between regulatory ideals and participatory practice

  • 21 For a more critical analysis of this concept see: Trom, D. “De la réfutation de l'effet NIMBY cons (...)

16The construction of the “environment” as a public problem in Chile is linked to the process of transition to democracy, which started in 1990. On one hand, the environmental problem became “public” when the new democracy allowed transparency of environmental conflicts. On the other hand, the fact that the State was taking some responsibility in environmental issues was facilitated by a political context in which democratic institutions were being created (post-dictatorship) and were supposed to include international standards, which included environmental standards. Thus, in 1994, the first law dedicated to the regulation of activities associated to environment was created. However, since the environmental law was elaborated during the first democratic government, it hinders with the spirit and political practices established by the Constitution of 1980, still in place, which was created by Pinochet's administration during dictatorship. Consequently, citizen participation in this constitutional framework is extremely limited. Let us consider then, from a microsociological approach, the institutional participatory process for the Barrancones case in order to empirically examine the possibilities and limits that the public faces in an environmental conflict21.

  • 22 Since 2010 there has been a new environmental institutional structure, Law nº 20,417, available at

17Chilean environmental law provides the right for citizen participation through the Environmental Impact Assessment mechanism (hereinafter EIA), managed by the Comisión Nacional de Medio Ambiente (National Environmental Commission, hereinafter Conama).22 This assessment is carried out in order to identify, anticipate and prevent environmental consequences or effects that may be caused to or on human health and the environment by actions, plans, programs or projects. These studies involve a process of analysis to predict the environmental impacts that a project may cause in the event that it is carried out.

18It should be noted that the text submitted for discussion is the environmental impact study of the project conducted by the company owning the project. That is, GDF Suez produced the study, through its specialist consultants, without any intervention from autonomous bodies. Consequently, by definition, this study cannot be independent of the company’s interests. The analysis and discussion of the project is based on a particular and biased view, in this case that of GDF Suez, in relation to the environmental impact of its own project.

19The final objective of the EIA process is to define the acceptability, modification or rejection of the project by the public authority. This procedure –in theory– could open discussion and participation to the agencies of the state administration with environmental competence, as well as to the public. Specifically, citizen participation occurs in two mechanisms: "citizen participation workshops” and “written observations” (hereinafter WO) conducted by the public. The objective of this procedure is for "people to inform themselves and responsibly express their opinion about the project or activity, as well as to obtain an informed response to their observations" (SEA). Below, I will review the main limitations and difficulties to achieving these aims.

Participation and access to information

  • 23 Sapiains, R., comp. El dilema del castor, Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 2010.
  • 24 Personal interview with R. Rojas, president of Modema (March, 2012)

20Analysis of the Barrancones case, as with other studies on the subject23, confirms that it is extremely difficult to access information concerning projects entering the SEIA through official channels. In this regard, the leaders of Modema24 explain that it was through informal channels –rumors– that they first learned about the project. Once the project has been made official, that is, when entering the SEA, the holder of the project must publish an extract of the environmental impact study in the Official Gazette (Diario Oficial) and in a newspaper of national or regional circulation. This makes the project "public" and interested citizens can consult the study in the Municipality or Conama. It goes without saying that this instance is purely formal and has no real impact in terms of dissemination of the information. Even more so in a case such as La Higuera, an isolated district, where people do not read newspapers every day or frequent the municipal offices, let alone those of Conama.

21As regards citizen participation workshops, these are intended to allow Conama to explain the environmental assessment system and the role of citizens in this process (preparatory workshop), and also, for the owner companies to present their projects. However, instead of participatory workshops, they appear to be informative meetings, in which the holding companies take control of the interaction by taking over content through the new technologies of the bureaucratic state (power point, computers, signing of minutes).

  • 25 Printed documentation on the Central Térmica Barrancones Project, available at the offices of SEA i (...)
  • 26 Personal interview with N. Duman, head of citizen participation at Corema, La Serena (March, 2012).
  • 27 “Lots of questions were asked about emissions, winds, the amount of fly ash, about sulfur dioxide, (...)

22In the case of Barrancones six meetings were held at various locations in the district, with a total of 175 participants. Attendance at these meetings was very irregular: 2 residents in La Higuera, 9 in Caleta Hornos, 26 in Los Choros and 20 in Punta de Choros, respectively.25 Furthermore, in the preparatory workshops and presentations organized by the company at that time, a substantial amount of information was provided, which was therefore difficult to assimilate. Firstly because the SEIA is complex and, as stated by the Corema official in charge of citizen participation at the time:"the participation meetings confirm the lack of clear rules and preparation of Corema to explain the SEIA to lay people."26 Besides, the presentations were too technical, addressing, for example, the components of the thermoelectric emissions, biological studies or environmental characteristics of the region, among others. In other words, theses workshops did not seem to be adapted to the sociocultural characteristics of the public: rural, with a low education level and, according to statements made by leaders of Modema, people who are often untrusting or fearful of authorities. Moreover, various meeting attendees who were interviewed stated that the relationship between Conama officials and GDF Suez representatives was "ambiguous", meaning that it was difficult for participants to distinguish the public servants from the company representatives; and also "too close" -arriving together to the meetings, greeting each other warmly and chatting. Many participants felt these groups represented the same interests. Finally, we can discern passive participation, where the participants had difficulty understanding the discussion and therefore did not get involved, and active participation, where participants were informed about the subject in advance, which allowed them to make specific and technical interventions.27

23However, all participants interviewed agreed on their dissatisfaction concerning this process for various reasons: the low participation rate, poor convocation, problems understanding the presentations, inability to intervene (due to timidity or ignorance of the subject), vague answers to queries and low-level discussion. All this, in an atmosphere of underlying tension.

There was no dialogue. Dialogue was impossible. We [Modema members] expressed our concerns and they [company representatives], said, in an arrogant manner: “we’re within the regulations.” That’s not an answer. That’s not an answer! That’s not an answer to mitigate the concerns of the people! (personal interview, J. Van Dijk, secretary of Modema [March 2012]).

Restrictions on citizen participation

  • 28 Sapiains, Op. Cit.

24The law establishes a period of 60 days from the publication of the extract of the EIA for delivery of the WO that citizens can make. In practice, this period is certainly insufficient for comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of a project, even more so when it comes to people who are inexperienced in such matters28. However, the amount of WO submitted by citizens in the Barrancones case was exceptional. More than 650 observations made by citizens highlighted the deficient nature of the EIA, the damage caused to the marine environment and pollution of the environment, which was classed by the citizens as damage to the quality of life of the inhabitants of La Higuera.

  • 29 Personal interview with F. Liberona, director of Fundación Terram (March, 2012). In this regard, of (...)

25According to the provisions of the law, these WO should be “weighted” in the Environmental Qualification Resolution (hereinafter, RCA by its Spanish acronym). And under no circumstances can they represent a mechanism to reject a project. This explains, in part, the contrast between administrative acceptance and public rejection of projects. In this regard, F. Liberona, director of Fundación Terram, claims that the SEIA is a system created for projects to be accepted and not rejected, since over 85 percent of the projects submitted to the SEIA are approved, even though more than half have experienced a more or less significant amount of conflict.29

  • 30 This is 7 percent of the WO submitted by citizens and 2 percent of those made by citizen organizati (...)

26Looking more closely at the process of evaluation of the Barrancones project, it can be perceived that the relationship between the citizen level and decision making is weak. The WO are not the object of interest or analysis by the Technical Committee of Corema or by the company. Indeed, the work to "systematize" the WO carried out ​​by Citizen Participation Department of Corema in Region IV leads to an effort to synthesize and translate citizen participation that neutralizes the gravity of the arguments expressed, limiting them to percentages in accordance with the subjects to which they refer. For example, the Acts of Corema mention citizen participation only so it may be shown that this was carried out. The discretion with which officials refer to citizen participation is noteworthy. References cannot be found that refer to the extent of the opposition, nor expressions of the strength of the movement or about the relevance of the arguments. Furthermore, the fact that only a small percentage of the WO may be favorable to the project is not emphasized. 30 Similarly, the responses to the WO delivered by Conama to citizens are not convincing and are not in keeping with the rigor of the arguments expressed by the citizens.

27Lastly, the advantage and preponderance that companies have in the SEIA compared with the public can be observed in the inequality regarding the deadlines set by the regulations. The WO must be made within 60 working days from the publication of the EIA, and citizens have no right to make comments outside this time period, even though the process of evaluation continues. For their part, the owners of the project have the possibility of extending the deadlines for delivery of the addenda (GDF Suez used this mechanism 18 times) and to incorporate new information throughout the entire evaluation process.

28All in all, it can be claimed that official citizen participation is limited to the first levels of participation –information and consultation– and that its scope is limited and the results deficient. This is explained by the demarcation and adjustment of the participatory protocols, and due to the lack of channels and mediators between citizens and actors in environmental decision making. Furthermore, it can also be inferred that official participation is a purely formal process that is aimed at legitimizing the EIA process and is not a real mechanism of public discussion that allows comments by citizens to be included in the RCA.

  • 31 Barbier, R. and Larrue, C., “Démocratie environnementale et territoires: un bilan d’étape”, Partici (...)
  • 32 Personal interview with the manager of corporate affairs of GDF Suez, Chile (March 2012)
  • 33 Dagnino, E., Olvera, A. and Panfichi, A., La disputa por la construcción democrática en América Lat (...)
  • 34 Abram, S., “Participatory depoliticisation: the bleeding heart of neo-liberalism.” In C. Neveu (dir (...)

29The Barrancones case is therefore another example that supports the strong, well-founded and reiterated criticism of institutional participation mechanisms that do not translate into citizen power31. It should be noted here that the participation claimed by the company GDF Suez, and as explained by the firm’s manager of corporate affairs,32 responds to a business management model that considers the opinion of clients for the benefit of the service produced, and not to the meaning given by the participatory democratic project33. That is, participation is defined as a business strategy and does not have the aim of transferring more power to the public. It is a mechanism to achieve more effective development and not a procedure to involve citizens in deliberation34.

30For example, the process of involvement with communities is an economic negotiation between private parties, despite being labeled under the concept of participation. Furthermore, the ambiguity of participation is demonstrated in the expression community, which includes various entities: trade associations, neighborhood associations, unions and individuals, such as the fishermen in this case. The company's strategy with these communities is reinforced by the limited role of the state throughout the conflict. First, the company negotiates directly with the community in order to prevent and eliminate opposition to the thermoelectric project. This implies that the company seeks to build a direct relationship with these actors to establish "compensation agreements" associated with the impacts of the projects: “We reached a purely economic agreement. And we also told them we wanted to work with [the fishermen], we wanted to reach a good agreement with the community” (personal interview, corporate affairs manager of GDF Suez, Chile [March, 2012]). This phenomenon is not regulated, and the lack of intervention by political authorities –the Municipality, regional government or Corema– when faced with the offers to the inhabitants of the district of La Higuera by the company GDF Suez, is a good example of the state’s neglect regarding what it considers to be "private negotiations" (personal interview, R. Cifuentes, governor of Region IV 2006-2010 [March, 2012]). In other words, the institutionalization of participation does not preclude the development of closed negotiations where the equality of the participants is not assured. Furthermore, these private negotiation spaces not only exclude the state, but also collective bargaining, since the division of the communities strengthens the company’s position.

  • 35 Plaque displayed in the office. Personal interview with GDF Suez manager of corporate affairs, Chil (...)

31Moreover, this withdrawal and silence on the part of the state helps to legitimize the actions of the company and bolsters its position as a new authority. Symbolically, we can perceive the construction of a paternalistic relationship through indications relating to the community’s affection for this new authority who has come to "save them" from abandonment by the state. For example, GDF Suez’s donation of a statue of San Pedro to the fishermen's unions or the presentation of a plaque by an assembly of neighbors to the manager of corporate affairs at GDF Suez "in recognition of the continued support and collaboration with the community of Chungungo"35 reveal the degree of overlap that can be reached between the community and the company.

II. The impact of participation on collective and public action

  • 36 Blatrix, C., “Devoir débattre. Les effets de l’institutionnalisation de la participation sur les fo (...)

32I would like to demonstrate below that the effects of the institutionalization of participation are contrasting36. Although institutional mechanisms open up space for limited participation -as it has been demonstrated in part I-, they are not exempt from having a political scope. How can capabilities of resistance, appropriation and emancipation lead to new participatory dynamics when faced with these mechanisms? The need thus arises to observe the Barrancones case beyond the institutional framework in order to show that the effects of citizen participation on mobilization and public action are complex.

  • 37 Neveu, C. “Démocratie participative et mouvements sociaux: entre domestication et ensauvagement?” P (...)

33Institutional participation mechanisms have been interpreted as instruments to channel mobilizations37. However, the Barrancones case shows that, far from neutralizing social movement, institutional participation complemented and connected with it. Indeed, the limited scope of the legal mechanism of dialogue contributed to the development of new processes of resistance within it, as well as a mobilization that was well beyond the mere institutional framework. The absence of adequate institutional mechanisms to accommodate the demand for participation and to respond to public concerns seems to be a decisive factor in the escalation of the conflict and public commitment. That is why we can say that although the official mechanisms of public debate do offer limited participation, they have a political effect since they contributed to strengthening and consolidating the social mobilization. Let us look, then, at the political influence that the various mechanisms of citizen participation had in the Barrancones case.

  • 38 The district of La Higuera is more than 500 kilometers from Santiago. However, the road from the Pa (...)

34How can it be explained that in a district with about 4,000 residents, a movement has emerged that is capable of challenging a government decision? What is the reason for the magnitude attained by a movement that emerged in a small, isolated and poor town in northern Chile?38

  • 39 “I think that here [in Los Choros], Jan and José were fundamental to the town, because they weren’t (...)
  • 40 Register of the members of Modema archived by its secretary, Jan Van Dijk.
  • 41 In total, there are 9 fishermen’s associations on the Punta de Choros, Chungungo, Totoralillo Norte (...)

35The first answer lies in the social characteristics of the progenitors of the movement, who were directly affected by the installation of the power plants as they themselves were inhabitants of the area. The leaders of the movement differed from the rest of the residents in that they were not from La Higuera and they had been interested in public issues, committed to environmental causes and/or previously were active in political parties.39 Thus was created Modema, the fundamental organization in the Barrancones conflict, thanks to the strong commitment and charisma of these local leaders, who managed to convene and mobilize the people of La Higuera, and then, subsequently, the key actors in the region and the country. Modema is an organization made up mostly by residents of the district of La Higuera and they number around 130 people.40 Most of its members, residents of the Los Choros and Punta de Choros, are engaged in small business activities, agriculture and artisanal fishing. The existence of social networks in the town prior to the formation of Modema should also be noted, as these may have facilitated its formation and operation. Indeed, most of the social and economic activities in the district are organized on the basis of the Comunidad Agrícola de Los Choros (Los Choros Agricultural Community) and fishermen’s trade associations.41

  • 42 For C. Tilly an organization is defined by two variables: the  “catness”  (clearly   articulated  c (...)

36Through these networks, the members of Modema organized informational meetings in different towns with the goal of informing residents about their actions, explain what a carbon thermoelectric plant is as well as its environmental consequences. In some cases, these social structures established a strong connection for Modema members as long as they had established interpersonal relationships before the movement was created (i.e. work relationships, such as fishing or agriculture work). In other cases, the fact that the organization included people from different jobs and career backgrounds, as well as from different towns, provoked some tension as some of the members’ interests started diverging. In other words, and continuing Tilly’s analysis, the two sociability areas that belong to the concept catnet42 were not strongly combined, which may have contributed to some of the organization’s conflicts. Therefore, Modema does not show a previous collective identity, but rather the fact that some members lived in the same region as well as have similar social backgrounds and networks contributed to the cohesion of its members. The identity of the organization would have been forged during the fight against the thermoelectric, during the development of its social movement and in the institutional participation structures, which we will discuss in detail.

  • 43 “It was a discussion between us [those from Los Choros and Punta de Choros] with the rest of the di (...)

37Secondly, the official participation was linked to the formation of Modema because one of the first challenges for its members was to prepare for the citizen participation meetings organized by Conama. To Modema, these future meetings meant organizing the opposition to the thermoelectric project, so they needed to learn, study and understand in detail the characteristics and impacts of the thermoelectric plants. The Modema members not only analyzed the environmental impact study, but also complemented that information with other data requested from expert scientists and organizations in the field, such as Universidad Católica del Norte. Secondly, Modema considered it necessary to disseminate information to the residents of the district. To do this, they organized the first meeting in Los Choros (in the winter of 2007) open to all residents of the district of La Higuera to see "how we were going to tackle the issue" (personal interview, Andrés, Modema member from Los Choros [March, 2012]). Approximately 60 people participated at that time: about 15 people from Los Choros and Punta de Choros, and the rest from other areas of the district (Chungungo and Hornos, mostly). At that time the first divisions began to emerge between the residents in favor and those against the thermoelectric projects.43 Subsequently, Modema took the necessary steps to acquire legal personality in the Municipality of La Higuera and organized several meetings with the residents of the various communities in the district to disseminate information on the thermoelectric projects. These meetings were supported by the door-to-door distribution of flyers (“Sabía usted” and “Alerta medioambiental”) to residents and tourists. This outreach work helped make the residents aware of the impact of the thermoelectric power plants in the area.

For example, I didn’t even know what “thermoelectric” meant. When I heard the word thermoelectric for the first time I thought: what does it mean? What does it do? Then I talked to Jan and José, and they told me what they do [the thermoelectric plants]: they pollute, they do damage. And then I understood. I started to understand that our life was in danger, the life of the animals, the trees [...] the life was going to be lost, it was suddenly going to change. (Personal interview, Juana, member of Modema, from Los Choros [March, 2012])

  • 44 Voegtli, M., “«Quatre pattes oui, deux pattes, non!» L’identité collecive comme mode d’analyse des (...)

38All in all, this work to clarify the risks associated with the thermoelectric plants opposition fueled the opposition against them and helped build a conscious struggle that, in turn, allowed the creation of a sense of belonging to the movement44.

39Furthermore, it should be noted that Modema representatives took a clear position regarding the role that they had to assume against the company and the institutionalized participation process. Firstly, Modema drastically rejected the dialogue with GDF Suez and denounced the lack of legitimacy of these practices and the ambiguity of government institutions on the matter. Dialogue with representatives of the company was considered to be the start of a negotiation and, therefore, the acceptance of the project, as had taken place in some communities in the district. Therefore, any personal relationship with the company was strongly rejected.

40Modema also openly criticized the limited scope of the official participation:

The environmental institution carries out the participation. But it’s a formality. It’s to give the impression that you have the power to be involved in the decision, but you don’t really. It’s a façade, a lie.
(Personal interview, J. Van Dijk, secretary of Modema [March, 2012])

41At the same time, the organization also believed that its presence at citizen participation meetings and in sending the WO were necessary to be recognized as a real and legitimate organization by the authorities:

Modema understood that they had to be in the formal arenas, which were important. I think they understood that their position could be strengthened as people were informed and participated.
(Personal interview, N. Duman, responsible for citizen participation at Corema, La Serena [March, 2012].

42This official area for participation was understood to be a platform to make the opposition visible against power plants in the district. Rejecting or boycotting these arenas were not options that were chosen by Modema, even though it did level heavy criticism against them. On the contrary, the organization supported the work to convene meetings, especially in Los Choros and Punta de Choros, to mobilize the residents of La Higuera. (This partly explains the differences noted above regarding attendance).

43In short, the mechanism of institutional participation assists in creating a space for the construction of a collective identity when it comes to political struggle. Attending meetings, submitting comments, and proposing technical arguments and alternative solutions contribute to creating a positive collective identity insofar as members of Modema were shown to be responsible citizens in terms of public issues.

44Similarly, members of Modema did not resort to violence and favored peaceful means of protest, such as marches in La Serena, erecting flags on house-fronts, an art competition for schools in the region related to the penguin issue, and signing of a petition, among others.

45Therefore, the movement acknowledges and denounces that the official mechanism of participation is a poor democratic arena, but one in which it should participate. That is, they validate this arena, not because of the direct benefit they can obtain (the consideration of their arguments in the evaluation of the project), but due to the indirect benefit in terms of legitimacy and visibility of the organization.

Construction of alternative spaces for participation and politicization of conflict

46Study of the Barrancones case is enhanced by not limiting it to sequential logic based on direct causality. Focusing observation beyond the institutional mechanisms allows one to appreciate the public’s ability to shape and multiply mechanisms of participation, which proved to be vital in broadening and nationalizing the conflict. Thus, the effects of participation on public action translate into the opening of the "black box" of political decision making and the reclassification of the margins for maneuver of the institutional actors.

47A public movement emerged in the arena of official participation that appropriated institutional resources before projecting and diverting them towards new dynamics of collective action. Indeed, the public mobilization led by Modema underwent a process of empowerment during the period of institutional participation. As a consequence, as stated by Blondiaux (2008), the creation of formal participation mechanisms does not disarm conflict or imply an alignment of intentions. On the contrary, the conflict in La Higuera shows that the institutionalization of citizen participation can provide new resources for mobilization.

The lay expert: a new actor in the environmental debate

  • 45 Fillieule, O., Agrikoliansky, É. and Sommier, I., dir., Penser les mouvements sociaux. Paris: La Dé (...)
  • 46 Trom, D. “De la réfutation de l'effet NIMBY considérée comme une pratique militante. Notes pour (...)
  • 47 Jobert, A. “L’aménagement en politique. Ou ce que le syndrome NIMBY nous dit de l’intérêt général”. (...)
  • 48 “The opponents of the power plants haven’t realised that they’ve been touched by the hand of develo (...)

48The Modema members become aware of the absence of institutional channels and mediators that could guarantee a real scope to their demands. Based on this realization, Modema was empowered in the cause and carried out constant work to become its own representative. This empowerment enabled the phenomenon of "identity deployment"45: if at first its members and supporters were mainly residents, the range of its membership and its arguments expanded throughout the conflict. As a consequence, if, in its infancy, Modema can be likened to the phenomenon called NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard), the breadth attained by the mobilization does not allow the movement to be reduced to an expression of "local egoism"46. Indeed, faced with the "general interest"–economic growth and energy production– defined by the political authorities and companies, and the stigmas –"Environmental Taliban", "fanatics" or "fucking hippies"– Modema extended its arguments and overcame the controversy established by those defending the thermoelectric power plants on the terms of "private interests"47 versus "collective interests".48

  • 49 Fourniau, J. M., “Citoyen en tant que riverain”, In C.Blatrix et al., Le débat public:une expérienc (...)
  • 50 Lolive, J., “La montée en généralité pour sortir du NIMBY. La mobilisation associative contre le TG (...)

49The citizen movement questioned this formulation of the problem and managed to turn the problem around and give it the identity that it wanted from the outside. Although the movement was created out of a local controversy, Modema built a position of an environmental, territorial and democratic nature in order to overcome the opposition established in terms of private interests. Thus Modema members became "citizens as neighbors"49. The symbol of this generalization50 which Modema aimed to achieve is reflected, for example, in the Penguin emblem representing the defense of national heritage and not merely local interests.

  • 51 Torny, D. and Chateauraynaud, F., Les sombres précurseurs. Une sociologie pragmatique de l’alerte e (...)
  • 52 Hassenteufel, P., Sociologie politique: l’action publique, Paris: Armand Colin, 2008.

50Furthermore, the construction of a public identity over a purely local identity was achieved through the formulation of arguments of a scientific nature that demonstrated the critical skills and reasoning of responsible citizens. These arguments were presented and discussed by the spokespeople of Modema various times (before Corema, the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate Environment Committee, among others), as well as by environmental organizations like Oceana and Fundación Terram. Consequently, these "citizens as neighbors" show that expertise is also lay expertise. Therefore, experts meanwhile adopted a role of public "alarm raisers"51 by playing an essential role in the promotion and construction of the case that the power plants were an environmental threat and a public problem52.

Citizen participation: a technical or political mechanism? A public or private space?

51Equal conditions of access to discussion is often presented as a fundamental principle to ensure effective citizen participation. Since the official mechanism failed to provide the necessary conditions to ensure equal participation in the public debate, the citizens sought new mechanisms to complement and surpass the limits of the institutional mechanism. This explains Modema’s intention to build new channels of communication and coordination between citizens and actors related to the decision to allow them to ensure an actual scope to their demands and arguments. Official citizen participation thus evolved towards alternative arenas for dialogue in order to allow the real and effective exchange of arguments. The aim was to clarify who was taking the decision to approve or reject the thermoelectric project that was at stake in the controversy and, a posteriori, for their arguments to be translated into technical pronouncements.

52It appears from the review of the Barrancones case file that the position of Corema’s technical committee progressively acquired an unfavorable stance against the project. Moreover, the criticisms made of the environmental impact study submitted by GDF Suez were in agreement with the arguments developed by Modema. This affinity is partly explained by the work and influence of Modema within the technical committee through more or less formal meetings. These shared workspaces between Modema members, the technical committee and scientists enabled an exchange of studies, evidence and demonstrations and, a posteriori, allowed the construction of a solid scientific argument. In fact, scientists from the UCN Facultad de Ciencias del mar, together with the scientific consortium of Coquimbo -CEAZA (Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas)- participated in a scientific dialogue related to this conflict. On one hand, they made observations to the study of environmental impact by the SEIA; on the other hand, they transmitted their critical opinions to political authorities. Their commitment is partly due to their familiarity with the region and its inhabitants. For example, the UCN academic, Carlos Gaymer (Phd in biology, ecology and marine conservation) was working in that region on the implementation of a marine reserve. Equally, the closeness of these scientists with the technical committee was due to their sharing a similar career in a similar area. So, a prior professional relation between them allowed their intervention in the case. Thus, alternatives forms of dialogue and interchange were created, which made possible that citizens could establish a space for discussion with the actors responsible for the decision.

53However, the technical stance that was critical of the thermoelectric project did not prevent Corema from voting in favor of the Barrancones power plant on August 24, 2010. How can we explain this favorable vote despite the technical opposition?

  • 53 Here, the term “politicization” refers to the acceptance of political activity.
  • 54 Sabatini, F. and Sepúlveda, C., Conflictos ambientales: entre globalización y la sociedad civil, Sa (...)

54The observation of Corema as a space for discussion and decision shows that there is no systematic correlation between the technical reports and the political decision, which indicates the politicization53 of decision making in energy projects54. In other words, although the technical report ought to have been decisive in the environmental rating, in practice it failed to the extent that the vote by Corema members was not necessarily consistent with the technical report:

The people who hold voting positions serve two roles within Corema: one technical and one political. The vote is political and the report is technical. So what can happen? A Seremi can sign a technical report by its technical committee, but vote politically in a manner contrary to the report. (Personal interview, R. Cifuentes, governor of Region IV 2006-2010 [March, 2012])

55Similarly, the vote by regional councilors has been criticized on the basis of the argument of "politicization" of the environmental decision. In the Barrancones case, that vote was consistent with the arguments of the public represented by Modema and not with the guidelines provided by the councilors’ political parties, so it follows that in the Barrancones case, the regional councilors represented the only channel of expression for the public with a direct influence on the vote.

  • 55 Dagnino, E., Olvera, A. and Panfichi, A., La disputa por la construcción democrática en América Lat (...)

56All in all, the environmental decision contains at least two "gray areas" that question the transparent and democratic nature of the system of environmental impact assessment. On one hand, the thin line of demarcation between the technical and the political. On the other, the coexistence of closed and reserved spaces –of limited pluralism– within the environmental system. Indeed, the mobilization –embodied in Modema– managed to lead the public demands through direct meetings, that is, outside the institutionalized participatory channels. It is therefore by way of "personalized political mediations"55 that the actors responsible for the decision will gradually take on board the observations of citizen organizations. Following Dagnino, the phenomenon revealed here is the persistence, at the very heart of participatory experiences, of cultural elements related to a "traditional political culture", which the author associates with practices that are close to clientelism. Therefore, the environmental decision consists of spaces that are in competition: some more open to the public, and others that remain closed to those outside selected groups or social, political and economic elites.

The convergence between logics of expansion and democratic withdrawal

57Modema, along with other organizations and political representatives, conducted important influential work, close to the work of pressure groups, within Corema in order to expand its sphere of influence. Thus, at the end of President Michelle Bachelet’s term, Modema had local and regional support from the authorities.

  • 56 Dabène, Geisser and Massardier, Op. Cit. p.17.

58This turnaround in the stance of the regional government demonstrates the trap of local participation. In effect, the main consequence of restricting participation to the local level –just as grassroots democracy reasserts it– is the disconnection of citizen deliberation from the real arenas of decision. The central government's reaction to the change of opinion by the regional government evokes this trap. The opposition to the power plants adopted by the regional government generated an intense conflict with the central government, embodied by the Ministerio del Interior (Ministry of the Interior) and the Comisión Nacional de Energía, which sought to impose their energy policy and thus reduce the room for maneuver of the governor and his team. This pressure exerted by the central government was part of the fast track policy, which was investigated by the committee of inquiry of the Coremas in the Chamber of Deputies. This episode reveals that “the ‘sin of authoritarianism’ is not exclusively imputed to ‘evil autocrats’ and ‘cruel dictators’, those that deprive the public of its legitimate aspirations, but rather ‘scrupulous technocrats’ and ‘friendly democrats’, concerned for the ‘welfare’ of the people"56.

59Against this complicated backdrop, in April 2008, the company CAP presented the third thermoelectric project, Cruz Grande, in the district of Higuera. This was a decisive moment in the conflict, as it resulted in the development of a new argument against the thermoelectric projects as a group and against the pressure from the central government.

60The movement against the power plants thus managed to introduce into the discussion a problem that had not been considered by either the owners of the project or by the environmental authorities: the aggregated effects of the construction of three thermal power plants in the same area. In this new context, it became essential to carry out a study into the synergy of the cumulative impacts of the three plants. In response, the health Seremi produced a report explicitly stating the serious impacts on health and the environment, which was used by Modema and the regional government as an argument to rule that it was incompatible to have the three projects in the same district. The conflict therefore reached a tipping point where recourse to experts that were independent of the company and the regional government became the way to break the impasse.

  • 57 Callon, M., Lascoumes, P. and Barthe, Y., Agir dans un monde incertain. Essai sur la démocratie tec (...)
  • 58 Barthe, Y., “Rendre discutable. Le traitement politique d’un héritage technologique”, Politix, 2002 (...)
  • 59 Blatrix, Op. Cit.

61This mediation, through independent experts, was a symbolic victory for the opponents of the power plants, as it showed the ability of the mobilization to have political influence. In consequence, the civic participation related to the Barrancones case could be seen as a form of “hybrid forum,” part of what is called “technical democracies”57, as long as the participation becomes a space that gathers experts (scientists from de Facultad de ciencias del Mar of the UCN), public servants (those related to the SEIA) and citizens (members of Modema) around an environmental conflict created by thermoelectric projects. In this way, the competencies that experts and lay persons can offer are recognized and placed on the same level of significance. The fact that this phenomenon happened in the Barrancones case generated a new turn in its development58. In fact, consideration of the argument of incompatibility was a blow against the environmental impact assessment procedure. Indeed, mediation and intervention of external experts was not provided by the environmental authority. Therefore, the fact that the authority used this argument was a new turn in the conflict: the central government, represented by the CNE, made a "procedural concession"59 by accepting the intervention in the form of a report by independent experts. However, the pluralism evoked by this episode, regarding the increased chances of discussing and co-constructing the expert opinion, should not be overrated.

62Effectively, because of the ambiguity of the findings of the independent report by scientists from the UCN, this did not give a credible demonstration of the negative impacts of the installation of three power plants in the same area. Without going into the details of the case, it can be said that this episode was a grotesque example of the lack of independence in scientific work, which led to irregularities on the part of the experts and the manipulation of the results.

  • 60 Saurugger, S., “L’expertise un mode de participation des groupes d’intérêt au processus décisionnel (...)

63In short, this shows the contradictions of participation: opening up the debate to experts does not necessarily move the conflict into a depoliticized and pluralist arena60.

Participation and political decision-making: the escalation of the conflict to the top of the political authority

64Finally, we must consider the context –the structure of political opportunities (SPO)– as a significant variable in the relationship of power and the new logics of action and participation that this causes.

  • 61 Mathieu, L., “Contexte Politique et opportunités”. In Fillieule, O., Agrikoliansky, É. and Sommier, (...)
  • 62  “We [the regional government] did the “regional strategy of development” (…). We demonstrated that (...)

65The SPO concept allows the analysis to consider the variable of the context in which the conflict takes place and to assess the degree of openness or closure, and the responsiveness or intransigence of the political system regarding social mobilization61. Following Tilly and Tarrow (Tarrow, 2008) in the selection of elements defining the SPO, in the Barrancones case, the political context favors the development of public mobilization for the following reasons: Firstly, although the degree of openness of political institutions is limited (the restricted role of citizenship in power structures), in practice the mobilization benefits from the unstable political alignment. Indeed, the regional and central governments are ambiguous in the position they should assume. Besides, the existence of conflicts and divisions between the government elites lead to the decision hubs -making and power to multiply. This is evident in the opposition of the regional government -represented by the governor- and the national government, particularly the Secretaries of Labor and State.62

66Secondly, we can also see the openness of the regional government towards basic social structures. For example, the COREMA promoted collective expression of citizen demands by establishing new orientations and institutional structure concerning “social dialogue” and “sustainable development” (Personal interview, Marcelo Gamboa, Regional Director [March, 2012]).

  • 63 Deputy (Marcelo Diaz); Regional Director of CONAMA (Marcelo Gamboa); Regional Governor of Elqui reg (...)
  • 64 “Local actors invited me to participate in Modema, but I told them that I didn't consider it a good (...)

67Thirdly, a significant number of regional representatives and political officials belong to the socialist party63, and their relationship with local organizations facilitated the collaboration on many different levels (citizen, administrative, political) and a good reception of the movement's spokesmen.64

68Finally, support to the environmental cause from influential allies (regional governor, socialist party deputy and various TV personalities) favored receptiveness to the movement from the public.

  • 65 “I told to GDF Suez that we [The Corema] would refuse the project. I told them: “if you don't make (...)
  • 66 Corporación Participa is a private nonpartisan Chilean corporation which seeks to improve the quali (...)

69Furthermore, the SPO is not stable, but is actually dynamic, which allows the mobilized citizens to maneuver and achieve successful actions. For example, the mobilization was benefited by the proximity of the presidential elections. On one hand, partisan strategies produced an assertion of the position against the thermoelectric projects on the part of the Socialist Party in Region IV.65 Furthermore, the mobilization took advantage of the electoral needs of the presidential candidates to be heard during the campaign. Finally, the election of Piñera in December 2009 resulted in a redistribution of the cards in play. Firstly, this election reversed the alignment of the regional government, who from then on were reticent towards opponents of the project. Secondly, it renewed the resources of collective action through greater professionalism (support from Corporación Participa and Oceana)66 and the massification of its activities through social networks.

  • 67 Monnoyer-Smith, L. “La participation en ligne, révélateur d’une évolution des pratiques politiques? (...)

70In fact, internet became an essential factor for participation in the Barrancones case. The use of this medium of communication as a means of collective action allowed the renewal of the movement to encourage the entry of new actors and new scenarios of participation. Thus, this form of political intervention was fundamental in the development of the conflict as it allowed the ordinary citizen to become a "content producer”67.

  • 68 Traïni, C. and Siméant, J., “Pourquoi et comment sensibiliser à la cause?”, In C. Traïni (dir.), Ém (...)

71Online participation came about at the initiative of some young people from Santiago to make a documentary about the La Higuera environmental conflict. The documentary Chao Pescao, which was released in November 2009, shortly before the presidential elections, became a successful "sensitization device"68. It was disseminated through social networks, which allowed the promotion of alternative discourses about the Barrancones conflict. Thus, a mass of militant internet users created, appropriated and shared the documentary and other content related to the cause against Barrancones.

72Based on this online mobilization, Oceana –an organization that actively participated in the struggle against the thermoelectric plants– intervened with a communication strategy which was aimed at directly calling upon President Piñera. This organization, along with the producer of Chao Pescao, made ​​two commercials in which public figures (actors, musicians, journalists, etc.) asked the President to fulfill his campaign promise. The commercials appeared on television and were seen by thousands of people on the internet.69

  • 70 García, J. P., “La reputación corporativa: lecciones del caso Barrancones.” [online], Chile:Univer (...)
  • 71 Neveu, Op. Cit.
  • 72 The climax of this effervescence was the direct appeal to the Minister of the Interior by a famous (...)

73Subsequently, with the approval of the project by Corema, social networks erupted70, and through them were launched the protests seen on August 24, 2010 in cities across the country. Thus, online participation became a "Trojan horse by allowing censored or ignored issues to be introduced into traditional media"71. The effervescence of the conflict on social networks had an impact on traditional media: various different headlines, editorials, interviews and reports covering the Barrancones conflict.72

  • 73 Rosanvallon, P., La contre-démocratie. La politique à l’ âge de la défiance. Paris: Seuil, 2006.

74The political influence of the movement was confirmed on August 26, 2010, when President Piñera announced the "relocation of the project," and the company's decision to pull out the following day. Internet thus became a mechanism of counter-democracy by having the capability of "spontaneously adapting its functions to monitoring, denunciation and citizen rating"73.

Conclusion

75The Barrancones case shows that the opposition –often considered to be structuring– between citizen participation and political decision making, is not unbreakable. The Barrancones conflict reveals how participation, in its various forms and more or less directly, can attain political influence by managing to transform the categories and hierarchies of the spaces for decision and action. Certainly, the participation developed in an institutional sphere, going through administrative territory, to end up in the world of the media, with which it would seem that the official arena of participation had been complemented with participation that developed in the background. In this regard, citizen participation would seem to be an element of the democratization of the Chilean environmental arena.

  • 74 Massardier, G., “Les espaces non pluralistes dans les démocraties contemporaines.” In Dabène, O., G (...)
  • 75 Idem.
  • 76 Neveu, Op. Cit.

76In turn, this event allows us to identify the burden or authoritarian temptation74 from the formal and informal procedures of consultation and democratic participation. The public protest against "authoritarianism with a human face"75 in the environmental system, establishing closed, reserved and hidden spaces of dialogue. In light of this phenomenon it is fair to ask: should we see a form of "savagery" of institutions (Corema members, proceeding without formal or official basis in their alliances with the actors in the mobilization) in the work established between Modema and the environmental administration? Or on the contrary, a form of "domestication" of the public movement as it gains weight within the environmental institution76? The risk revealed here is the lack of transparency in the dialogue between the different social stakeholders: citizens, company and government. Dialogue that is intended to be public and democratic, but which remains concealed and which is, at times, authoritarian. Similarly, the President of the Republic had no institutional authority to halt the project. In this regard, the personal powers given to President Piñera to negotiate with the company and thus resolve the conflict were a threat to participatory democracy and even to democracy itself.

  • 77 Lascoumes, P., “Gouverner par les instruments. Ou comment s’instrumente l’action publique?” In J. L (...)

77The space for the environmental decision undergoes certain withdrawal even when it appeals to pluralism and the rule of law. Therefore, the impact of citizen participation in the Barrancones case should not hide the fact that it can be instrumentalized77 for electoral purposes, and, therefore, polluted and discredited through demagogic and/or populist uses that threaten the democratic nature of the political system.

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Lolive, J., “La montée en généralité pour sortir du NIMBY. La mobilisation associative contre le TGV Méditerranée”. Politix, 1997, vol. 10(39), p. 109-130.

Massardier, G., “Les espaces non pluralistes dans les démocraties contemporaines.” In Dabène, O., Geisser, V. and Massardier, G., Autoritarismes démocratique et democraties autoritaires au XXI siècle, Paris: Convergences Nord/Sud, La Découverte, 2008, p. 29-56.

Mathieu, L., “Contexte Politique et opportunités”. In Fillieule, O., Agrikoliansky, É. and Sommier, I., dir., Penser les mouvements sociaux, Paris: La Découverte, 2010, p. 39-54.

Mazeaud, A., Sa Vilas Boas, M. H., Berthomé, G. K., “Penser les effets de la participation sur l’action publique à partir de ses impensés”. Participations, vol. 1(2), 2012, p. 5-29.

Monnoyer-Smith, L. “La participation en ligne, révélateur d’une évolution des pratiques politiques?” Participation, vol. 1, 2011, p. 156-185.

Mujica, P. La igualdad política: el significado actual de la participación ciudadana. Santiago: Ril Editores, 2010.

Neveu, C. “Démocratie participative et mouvements sociaux: entre domestication et ensauvagement?” Participations, 2011, vol. 1, p. 186-209.

Rosanvallon, P., La contre-démocratie. La politique à l’ âge de la défiance. Paris: Seuil, 2006.

Neveu É., Sociologie des mouvements sociaux, La Découverte, Paris 2005.

Sabatini, F. and Sepúlveda, C., Conflictos ambientales: entre globalización y la sociedad civil. Santiago: CIPMA, 1997.

Sanhueza, A., Participación ciudadana en la gestión pública, [online], Santiago: Corporación Participa, 2004, consulted on march 2013, URL: www.participa.cl.

Sapiains, R., comp. El dilema del castor, Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 2010.

Saurugger, S., “L’expertise un mode de participation des groupes d’intérêt au processus décisionnel communautaire.” Revue Française de Science Politique, vol. 4, 2002, p. 375-401.

Tarrow S. “Charles Tilly and the practice of contentious politics”, Social Movement Studies, 7 (3), 2008.

Tilly C., From mobilization to Revolution, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass, 1976.

Torny, D. and Chateauraynaud, F., Les sombres précurseurs. Une sociologie pragmatique de l’alerte et du risque, Paris: Éditions de l’EHESS, 1999.

Traïni, C. and Siméant, J., “Pourquoi et comment sensibiliser à la cause?”, In C. Traïni (dir.), Émotions... Mobilisation!, Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2009, p. 11-34.

Trom, D. “De la réfutation de l'effet NIMBY considérée comme une pratique militante. Notes pour une approche pragmatique de l'activité revendicative”. In: Revue française de science politique, 49e année, n°1, 1999. p. 31-50.

Varas, A., La democracia frente al poder. Chile 1990-2010. Santiago: Catalonia, 2012.

Voegtli, M., “«Quatre pattes oui, deux pattes, non!» L’identité collecive comme mode d’analyse des entreprises de mouvement social.” In O. Fillieule, Fillieule, O., Agrikoliansky, É. and Sommier, I, Penser les mouvements sociaux, Paris: La Découverte, 2010, p. 186-203.

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Notes

1 The file on the Central Térmica Barrancones Project can be consulted online on the webpage of the Servicio de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental (SEIA): www.sea.gob.cl [March 2013].

2 Law 19,300 (March 1994), “General Environmental Framework Law” [en ligneAvailable at http://www.leychile.cl/Navegar?idNorma=30667&buscar=19300 [March 2013].

3 Cárcamo, P. F., Cortés, M., Ortega, L., Squeo F. A., Gaymer, C., “Crónica de un conflicto anunciado: Tres centrales termoeléctricas a carbón en un hotspot de biodiversidad de importancia mundial”, [online], Rev. Chil. Hist. Nat., vol. 84 (2), 2011, p. 171-180, consulted on september 2012, URL: http://www.scielo.cl/scielo.php?pid=S0716-078X2011000200003&script=sci_arttext

4 Blondiaux, L., Le nouvel esprit de la démocratie. Actualité de la démocratie participative, Paris: Éditions du Seuil et La République des Idées, 2008.

5 The concepts of participatory democracy and citizen participation, used interchangeably in this article, are usually ill-defined and ambiguous, a topic which will be developed subsequently.

6 Dabène, O., Geisser, V. and Massardier, G., Autoritarismes démocratique et democraties autoritaires au XXI siècle, Paris: Convergences Nord/Sud, La Découverte, 2008.

7 Mazeaud, A., Sa Vilas Boas, M. H., Berthomé, G. K., “Penser les effets de la participation sur l’action publique à partir de ses impensés”. Participations, vol. 1(2), 2012, p. 5-29.

8 Such as: the file on the Central Térmica Barrancones project; minutes of the meetings with Corema; report from the parliamentary investigation commission on the process of approval of hydroelectric and energy projects by Corema in every region of the country in 2010, among others. Review of the press (newspapers El Mercurio, La Tercera, El Ciudadano, El Día de La Serena during the period 2007-2010), and the documentaries and commercials produced by Chao Pescao and Salvemos Punta de Choros.

9 Dabène, Geisser and Massardier, Op. Cit.

10 Blondiaux, Op. Cit.

11 Bacqué, M. H., Rey, H. and Sintomer, Y. Gestion de proximité et démocratie participative: une perspective comparative, Paris: La Découverte, 2005.

12 Blondiaux, L. and Sintomer,Y., “L’impératif participatif”, Politix, 2002, vol.15 (57), p. 17-35.

13 Blondiaux, Op. Cit.

14 Law 19,300 of March 1994, available at http://www.leychile.cl/Navegar?idNorma=30667 [March 2013].

15 Dabène et al., Op. Cit.

16 Considering only those projects that –up to that date– had been “approved” or were “under assessment”. It should be noted that of these 222 projects, 93 were thermoelectric initiatives; 26 hydroelectric and 103 non-conventional renewable energy projects (Bórquez, 2011).

17 Bórquez, R., “Actualización de Catastro de Proyectos de Generación Eléctrica en Chile”, [online] Fundación Terram, 2011, APP Nº 52, Nº 1, consulted on march 2013, URL: www.terram.cl.

18 Carcamo et al., Op. Cit.

19 Hervé, D., “Las causas del conflicto por la central termoeléctrica de Barrancones en Punta de Choros”, Anuario de Derecho Público, p. 208-189, 2011.

20 Hervé, Op. Cit.

21 For a more critical analysis of this concept see: Trom, D. “De la réfutation de l'effet NIMBY considérée comme une pratique militante. Notes pour une approche pragmatique de l'activité revendicative”. In: Revue française de science politique, 49e année, n°1, 1999. p. 31-50.

22 Since 2010 there has been a new environmental institutional structure, Law nº 20,417, available at

http://www.leychile.cl/Navegar?idNorma=1010459 [consulted on march 2013].

23 Sapiains, R., comp. El dilema del castor, Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 2010.

24 Personal interview with R. Rojas, president of Modema (March, 2012)

25 Printed documentation on the Central Térmica Barrancones Project, available at the offices of SEA in La Serena, Chile.

26 Personal interview with N. Duman, head of citizen participation at Corema, La Serena (March, 2012).

27 “Lots of questions were asked about emissions, winds, the amount of fly ash, about sulfur dioxide, nitrogen, heavy metals, mercury, etc.” Personal interview, J. Van Dijk, secretary of Modema (March, 2012).

28 Sapiains, Op. Cit.

29 Personal interview with F. Liberona, director of Fundación Terram (March, 2012). In this regard, of the 222 projects submitted to the SEIA, 153 of them have been identified (i.e., around 69 percent) as causing or having caused some type of conflict (Bórquez, 2011).

30 This is 7 percent of the WO submitted by citizens and 2 percent of those made by citizen organizations.

31 Barbier, R. and Larrue, C., “Démocratie environnementale et territoires: un bilan d’étape”, Participations, 2011, vol. 1, p. 67-104.

32 Personal interview with the manager of corporate affairs of GDF Suez, Chile (March 2012)

33 Dagnino, E., Olvera, A. and Panfichi, A., La disputa por la construcción democrática en América Latina. Mexico City: Programa Interinstitucional de Investigación-Acción sobre Democracia, Sociedad Civil y Derechos Humanos, CIESAS, 2006.

34 Abram, S., “Participatory depoliticisation: the bleeding heart of neo-liberalism.” In C. Neveu (dir.), Cultures et pratiques participatives. Perspectives comparatives, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007, p.113-134.

35 Plaque displayed in the office. Personal interview with GDF Suez manager of corporate affairs, Chile. (March, 2012).

36 Blatrix, C., “Devoir débattre. Les effets de l’institutionnalisation de la participation sur les formes de l’action collective”, Politix, 2002, vol. 15 (57), p. 79-102.

37 Neveu, C. “Démocratie participative et mouvements sociaux: entre domestication et ensauvagement?” Participations, 2011, vol. 1, p.186-209.

38 The district of La Higuera is more than 500 kilometers from Santiago. However, the road from the Pan-American highway to Los Choros and Punta de Choros is gravel, which makes it difficult to reach these communities. Public transport and communications are scarce and poor (only 16 families have internet access, Encuesta Casen 2010) and poverty levels are high (in 2006, some 21.3 percent of the population of La Higuera was poor, the illiteracy rate was 9.9 percent and the Human Development Index, at 0.641, was below the national average, Encuesta Casen 2010).

39 “I think that here [in Los Choros], Jan and José were fundamental to the town, because they weren’t from here and they brought another vision. I think that if they had been from here, the thermoelectric plants would have been built by now. I think that they struggled with Mrs. Rosa [Rojas], because at the beginning we weren’t many, nobody believed in this, but afterwards there was dissemination […], everyone was talking about coal, about the impacts. And these three people who were like spokespersons[…] I think it was them who formed Modema”. (Personal interview, Juana, member of Modema from Los Choros (March, 2012).

40 Register of the members of Modema archived by its secretary, Jan Van Dijk.

41 In total, there are 9 fishermen’s associations on the Punta de Choros, Chungungo, Totoralillo Norte, Hornos and Chañaral bays (Source : «Propuesta para la creación del área marina y costera protegida de multiples usos La Higuera -Isla chañaral». Oceana: www.oceana.cl)

42 For C. Tilly an organization is defined by two variables: the  “catness”  (clearly   articulated  common identity)  and  the “netness”  (internal  networks  of  association  and  mutual   obligations). The more the group will be organised,, the stronger the areas of sociability “catnet” (catness + netness) will be.

43 “It was a discussion between us [those from Los Choros and Punta de Choros] with the rest of the district because the people from Chungungo were saying: “we want work. […]. So the strength of the movement was formed here, in this area […] From that day [the movement] was created, which was nice because we all made it happen.”(Personal interview, Andrés, member of Modema, from Los Choros [March, 2012]).

44 Voegtli, M., “«Quatre pattes oui, deux pattes, non!» L’identité collecive comme mode d’analyse des entreprises de mouvement social.” In O. Fillieule, Fillieule, O., Agrikoliansky, É. and Sommier, I, Penser les mouvements sociaux, Paris: La Découverte, 2010, p. 186-203.

45 Fillieule, O., Agrikoliansky, É. and Sommier, I., dir., Penser les mouvements sociaux. Paris: La Découverte, 2010.

46 Trom, D. “De la réfutation de l'effet NIMBY considérée comme une pratique militante. Notes pour une approche pragmatique de l'activité revendicative”. In: Revue française de science politique, 49e année, n°1, 1999. p. 31-50.

47 Jobert, A. “L’aménagement en politique. Ou ce que le syndrome NIMBY nous dit de l’intérêt général”. Politix, 1998, vol. 11(42), p.67-92.

48 “The opponents of the power plants haven’t realised that they’ve been touched by the hand of development. We’re here to legislate for Chile and not for one region (…) There is one reality: the energy deficit” (Personal interview, M. Bertolino, deputy Region IV [March, 2012].

49 Fourniau, J. M., “Citoyen en tant que riverain”, In C.Blatrix et al., Le débat public:une expérience française de démocratie participative, Paris: La Découverte «Recherches», 2007, p. 67-77.

50 Lolive, J., “La montée en généralité pour sortir du NIMBY. La mobilisation associative contre le TGV Méditerranée”. Politix, 1997, vol. 10(39), p.109-130.

51 Torny, D. and Chateauraynaud, F., Les sombres précurseurs. Une sociologie pragmatique de l’alerte et du risque, Paris: Éditions de l’EHESS, 1999.

52 Hassenteufel, P., Sociologie politique: l’action publique, Paris: Armand Colin, 2008.

53 Here, the term “politicization” refers to the acceptance of political activity.

54 Sabatini, F. and Sepúlveda, C., Conflictos ambientales: entre globalización y la sociedad civil, Santiago: CIPMA, 1997.

55 Dagnino, E., Olvera, A. and Panfichi, A., La disputa por la construcción democrática en América Latina, Mexico City: Programa Interinstitucional de Investigación-Acción sobre Democracia, Sociedad Civil y Derechos Humanos, CIESAS, 2006.

56 Dabène, Geisser and Massardier, Op. Cit. p.17.

57 Callon, M., Lascoumes, P. and Barthe, Y., Agir dans un monde incertain. Essai sur la démocratie technique, Paris: Seuil, 2001.

58 Barthe, Y., “Rendre discutable. Le traitement politique d’un héritage technologique”, Politix, 2002, vol.15 (57), p. 57-78.

59 Blatrix, Op. Cit.

60 Saurugger, S., “L’expertise un mode de participation des groupes d’intérêt au processus décisionnel communautaire.” Revue Française de Science Politique, vol. 4, 2002, p. 375-401.

61 Mathieu, L., “Contexte Politique et opportunités”. In Fillieule, O., Agrikoliansky, É. and Sommier, I., dir., Penser les mouvements sociaux, Paris: La Découverte, 2010, p. 39-54.

62  “We [the regional government] did the “regional strategy of development” (…). We demonstrated that, at least in this region, it was possible to develop a more sustainable policy. And, during this political process, the subject of thermoelectric came up! So, I communicated to the national authorities that it was a very complicated situation. I had great arguments with some authorities that wanted to approve the project. Particularly with the minister of energy of that time”. (Personal interview, Ricardo Cifuentes, governor of Region IV 2006-2010 [March, 2012]).

63 Deputy (Marcelo Diaz); Regional Director of CONAMA (Marcelo Gamboa); Regional Governor of Elqui region (Rolando Calderón); Mayor of La Higuera (Silvia Claveria); Municipal counselor (Uberlinda Aquea)

64 “Local actors invited me to participate in Modema, but I told them that I didn't consider it a good idea because Modema was a citizen organization, but that we could implement a more collaborative work. (…) We had a good collaboration, I invited them to the audiences [of the parliament], to interviews, they asked me to organize meetings with the regional governor, with different secretaries. We organized visits to the Parliament, with the Green Commission. We went with them [the Green Commission] to the region, we stayed there. At the moment the mayor of La Higuera was from de socialist party. So, we work very collaboratively”. (Personal interview, Marcelo Díaz, PS deputy [March, 2012])

65 “I told to GDF Suez that we [The Corema] would refuse the project. I told them: “if you don't make yourself responsible for your influence zone, we will refuse the project”. Because, there was a political decision from the socialist party to refuse the project according to that argument”. (Personal interview, Marcelo Gamboa, Director of COREMA [March, 2012]).

66 Corporación Participa is a private nonpartisan Chilean corporation which seeks to improve the quality of democracy promoting citizen participation I matters of public interest and responsible exercise of obligations by the government. For more information: www.participa.cl. Oceana is an international organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. With global coverage, Oceana has offices in North America, Central America, South America and Europe. For more information: http://oceana.org.

67 Monnoyer-Smith, L. “La participation en ligne, révélateur d’une évolution des pratiques politiques?” Participation, vol. 1, 2011, p. 156-185.

68 Traïni, C. and Siméant, J., “Pourquoi et comment sensibiliser à la cause?”, In C. Traïni (dir.), Émotions... Mobilisation!, Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2009, p. 11-34.

69 The commercials are available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuOwd6bWdY&feature=related y http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYfuIWI3ct0 [March 2013].

70 García, J. P., “La reputación corporativa: lecciones del caso Barrancones.” [online], Chile:Universidad Católica de Chile, 2011, consulted on march 2013, URL: http://issuu.com/edgy/docs/orm_caso_barrancones.

71 Neveu, Op. Cit.

72 The climax of this effervescence was the direct appeal to the Minister of the Interior by a famous television presenter. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpD8B103gcs [March 2013].

73 Rosanvallon, P., La contre-démocratie. La politique à l’ âge de la défiance. Paris: Seuil, 2006.

74 Massardier, G., “Les espaces non pluralistes dans les démocraties contemporaines.” In Dabène, O., Geisser, V. and Massardier, G., Autoritarismes démocratique et democraties autoritaires au XXI siècle, Paris: Convergences Nord/Sud, La Découverte, 2008, p. 29-56.

75 Idem.

76 Neveu, Op. Cit.

77 Lascoumes, P., “Gouverner par les instruments. Ou comment s’instrumente l’action publique?” In J. Lagroye (dir.), La politisation, Paris: Belin, coll. «Socio-Histoires», 2003, p. 387-401.

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Référence électronique

Matilde Spoerer, « Paradoxes of participatory democracy: citizen participation, collective action and political influence in a Chilean environmental conflict », Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Questions du temps présent, mis en ligne le 05 septembre 2014, consulté le 25 février 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/67153 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/nuevomundo.67153

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Auteur

Matilde Spoerer

Doctor (c) in Political Sciences Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, France.
mspoerer@yahoo.fr.

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