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Small-scale fisher people against contaminating industries in Valparaiso, Chile


The communities in Quintero and Puchuncavi have been resisting the industrial pollution in their area already for some decades by naming Quintero as one of Chile's four "Sacrifice Zones" [12, 18]. A range of  industries have been operating in this region without an effective public monitoring since 1964, dumping different types of toxic chemicals in unknown quantities. "The term is used by socio-ecological movements in Chile to characterize geographical areas where industry and waste production are so heavy that the whole area and the people living there are considered sacrificed on the altar of economic growth" [18] In order to establish a stronger and coordinated network to act against such an immense contamination, local people and communities have founded a "cabildo abierto" (open council) to confront environmental crisis [19].

Recently, after the first registration of intoxication on 21 August 2018, the cases of contamination caused by the activities in the industrial zone intensified causing illnesses to several people including a high number of children. The state-owned company ENPA is one of the main responsible actors of the recent toxic contamination together with other companies like Gasmar and Oxiquim [20, 21].

Research on the contamination in the Puchuncavi zone [14] already had that “at the end of the 1980s, pioneering studies indicated that the toxic agents in the Puchuncavi air posed risks for the quality of life" and emphasized the lack of mitigation. This led to the declaration of Puchuncavi as a Saturated Zone for particulate matter (PM) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in 1993, a condition that continues to exist today [18, 14]. The Chilean Medical Union Association recently requested the government to declare a health emergency in the area [15, 18]. Currently, there are more than a thousand people intoxicated, including two police experts who were examining the area. However, up to today, the acute intoxication continues [18].

In the following days in September and October, schools closed and social actions and protests increased in the region. However, the protesters faced an unusual amount of force with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas from the special forces and navy [12, 18]. 

Small-scale fisher people of the region, who are losing their resources due to contamination, have been an important part of these protests. Already in 2016, they had declared the polluting activities of ENPA and asked for mitigation claiming that in two years the company destroyed the entire flora and fauna damaging irreversibly the sea and the artisanal fisheries [6, 7].

Soon after the march against contamination and chemical intoxication, one of the leaders of the syndicate (Union of Fisher People) Alejandro Castro has been found dead on 4th October 2018 [1, 9, 18]. Even though the Chilean Government first claimed that it was a suicide, there are lots of evidences that he was receiving threats and his comrades and family claim that is must be an assassination. The police confirmed that he was receiving death threats [9] and the Congressman Latorre called for the revision of the cameras on the location where Alejandro was found dead [10, 18].

Alejandro’s case comes in the wake of the Macarena Valdes case, who was found dead in 2016, and the Mapuche leader Nicolasa Quitreman, found dead in 2013. All cases were first labelled as suicides. However, a police investigation later recognized that Macarena did not commit suicide [11, 18].

The Escazú Agreement, which has been initiated to protect environmental activists [16,18], seeks to improve environmental governance through access to information, participation and environmental justice. This agreement was initially proposed by Chile, among other countries, and is now sponsored by the United Nations, through ECLAC, in line with the 10th principle of the Rio Declaration. Unfortunately, Piñera’s administration recently dropped out of the Escazú agreement. However, Alejandro’s assassination is another grim reminder of the urgent need to protect environmental defenders [18].  

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Small-scale fisher people against contaminating industries in Valparaiso, Chile
State or province:Valparaiso
Location of conflict:Quintero y Puchuncavi
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral processing
Chemical industries
Ports and airport projects
Oil and gas refining
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Coal
Crude oil
Chemical products
Industrial waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

"As of today, there are at least 12 high-impact industries operating [13] in the Puchuncavi zone in an area of 8.5 square km, including oil refining, chemical processing, thermoelectric industry and a copper processing plant. According to the Chilean legislation, an area can be called saturated due to the pollutant’s concentration. But environmental legislation does not prohibit installation of new facilities and a cleaning plan can take up to 9 years" before it really takes place" [18].

Empresa Nacional del Petróleo (ENAP) is one of the main responsible actors of the recent toxic contamination as well as Gasmar, Oxiquim and Nexxo have been found responsible after that the experts monitoring the plants have been intoxicated [20].

Project area:8,500
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:01/05/2016
Company names or state enterprises:Empresa Nacional del Petróleo (ENAP) from Chile
Gasmar from Chile
Oxiquim from Chile
Relevant government actors:El Ministro del medioambiente;
El ministro de Bienes Nacionales
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace Chile,
Amnistia Internacional,
El sindicato de pescadores artesanales S24,
Salvemos Quintero:,
Acción EcoSocial Quintero:ón-EcoSocial-Quintero-1674420109350990/posts/
Industrial Chile Contramed,
Cabildo Abierto de Quintero [19];
El Movimiento por la Infancia de Quintero [12],
Mujeres en Zona de Sacrificio [12],
Hombres Verdes [12],
Ciudadana Despierta Quintero Puchuncaví [12]

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsAssassination of environmental activists, intoxication of children due to chemical waste
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:The communities, fisher people and the entire network protesting the contamination in Quintero propose stopping the toxic activities of the industries in the "Sacrifice Zone" and cleaning up the area.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The contamination caused by the toxic industries led to the criminalization of activists and even to the assassination of Alejandro Castro.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Una ecología política feminista en construcción: El caso de las "Mujeres de zonas de sacrificio en resistencia", Región de Valparaíso, Chile (Bolados and Sanchez, 2017) [14],

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Pescadores de Quintero se declaran en crisis por desaparicion de la jibia (11.2017) [2]

Dirigente pescadores y derrame en Quintero: "ENAP nuevamente contamina el mar y no existe ningún responsable" (El Mostrador, 16.05.2016) [7]

Exigen aclarar muerte de Alejandro Castro, pescador artesanal y activista contra la contaminación en Quintero (Kaosenlared, 07.10.2018) [4]

Dirigente pescadores “ENAP nuevamente contamina el mar y no existe ningún responsable” (Futuro renovable) [6]

Autopsia descarta tesis de suicidio de activista ambiental Macarena Valdés (Radio Uchile, 16.01.2018) [11]

Declaración Pública sobre contaminación en Quintero y Puchuncaví (Colegio medico) [15]

Acuerdo de Escazú: Critican que Chile postergue firma de tratado ambiental (Cooperativa, 26.09.2018) [16]

Campañas pasadas: Zonas de Sacrificio (Oceana) [17]ña

Chilean union leader found dead one day after anti-pollution demo (Common Dreams, 16.10.2018) [18]

Director de la PDI asegura que dirigente sindical Alejandro Castro habría recibido amenazas de muerte (El desconcierto, 05.10.2018) [9]

Con represión y supuestos conflictos de interés: continúa Alerta Sanitaria en Quintero (01.10.2018) [12]

Vecinos de Quintero realizan cabildo abierto para enfrentar crisis ambiental (ADN Radio, 02.09.2018) [19]

Amnistía Internacional: “La violencia contra defensores del medio ambiente ha pasado los límites aceptables” (Diario Chile, 08.10.2018) [8]

Historia ambiental de Quintero y Puchuncaví [13]

El Mostrador - La sospechosa muerte de Alejandro Castro y la vulnerabilidad de los activistas ambientales

por Macarena Segovia 12 octubre, 2018

Peritos de la PDI resultaron intoxicados tras inspeccionar planta de ENAP en Quintero (ADN Radio, 10.10.2018) [20]

Pareja de dirigente de Quintero pone en duda su suicidio: “Tenía muchos proyectos en su mente como para hacer algo así” (El desconcierto, 06.10.2018) [1]

Greenpeace Chile criticó a Sebastián Piñera: “Las tronaduras perpetúan operaciones contaminantes en zonas como Quintero” (CNN Chile, 26.09.2018) [3]

Peritos de PDI que tomaron muestras en Enap sufrieron intoxicación (La tercera, 09.10.2018) [21]

Denuncian amenazas de Carabineros a Alejandro Castro y Amnistía Internacional exige investigación imparcial (El mostrador, 05.10.2018) [5]

Senador Latorre pide fiscal especial para Alejandro Castro: “Hay cámaras de la empresa portuaria que podrían ser reveladoras” (El desconcierto, 09.10.2018) [10]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

La PDI confirmo que el activista muerto en Quintero había sido intimidado (05.10.2018) [22]

Meta information

Contributor:Irmak Ertör, ENVJUSTICE Project, UAB-ICTA
Last update18/08/2019



Murales de Quintero - 1


Murales de Quintero - 3


Murales de Quintero - 2


Protestas contra contaminación industrial en Quintero


Zona de Sacrificio en Quintero con barcas de pescadores al lado

Zona de Sacrificio en Quintero con barcas de pescadores al lado

Alejandro Castro en una protesta anterior


Quintero protesta el asesinato de Alejandro Castro

Quintero protesta el asesinato de Alejandro Castro

Protestas contra contaminación industrial

Protestas contra contaminación industrial con carteles "El estado nos mata!"

El funeral de Alejandro Castro - La lucha no se acaba