SANTIAGO – What started as a protest by fishermen over the prohibition on fishing due to a red tide of toxic algae on Wednesday transformed itself into a social movement to isolate Chile’s Chiloe archipelago from the continent.
On this third day of demonstrations, Chiloe residents blocked the nine main roads on the archipelago’s largest island and denied entry to people and cargo via the channel that unites them with the mainland.
“We’re demanding that the government act quickly and improve the aid promised for the zone declared to be a disaster area,” the head of the fishermen in the town of Quellon, Denisse Alvarado, told EFE.
The residents estimate that in three more days they will have no more food or fuel, but they say that until that time they will only allow entry to ambulances.
The protests began on Monday to reject the bonus of 100,000 pesos ($151) per family offered by the government to alleviate the fall in income because of the prohibition on fishing, the archipelago’s main economic activity.
The move came after authorities several weeks ago detected high concentrations of paralyzing toxins in local sea creatures.
Chiloe residents blame the salmon industry and the government for the contamination, alleging that the red tide began just after 4,000 tons of dead salmon were dumped 130 kilometers (81 miles) from the island.
“The bloom of algae is linked to the change in ocean conditions fostered by ... El Niño. The relationship to the dumping of the salmon has no scientific basis,” Universidad de Concepcion agricultural researcher Renato Quiñones told EFE.
Allowing the fishermen to go back to work will be “a matter of months,” said the head of the Aquaculture Division at the Fishing Development Institute, Leonardo Guzman.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday that her government will make the “maximum effort” to deal with the crisis caused by the effects of the red tide.