May 11, 2016

    Protest blockades in Chile leave tourists stranded


    A FISHING ban sparked by mass deaths of sea creatures in Chile has left tourists stranded and markets empty on an island cut off by protest blockades.

    In the south of the world's second-biggest salmon-producing country, fishermen have blocked roads with burning tires. They have cut off access to the island of Chiloe in the picturesque Los Lagos region.

    They are furious at what they say is paltry compensation offered by the authorities for the so-called "red tide" that is ruining their livelihoods.

    Heaps of dead salmon, sardines and clams have washed up on the nearby Pacific shores over recent months, choked to death by a surge in red algae. Some scientists say the algae are thought to have proliferated due to the El Nino phenomenon, which warms the Pacific to wreak havoc with the weather in Latin America every few years.

    Fishermen accuse the salmon farming industry of worsening the effect of the algae by tipping contaminated salmon into the sea - a claim the companies deny.

    The government initially offered fishermen's families vouchers worth US$150 (S$205) each to tide them over, but they angrily rejected that.

    The government has since upped its offer to total about US$1,000.

    Economy Minister Luis Felipe Cespedes asked the fishermen's groups to "be reasonable".

    Chiloe's petrol stations have run dry and are closed. To buy fuel, locals have to get a ferry to the mainland but permits to do so - issued by the protest leaders - are scarce.

    Many tourists are stranded. "We arrived on April 25 and then this chaos broke out," said Nora Vivente, an Argentinian visitor to Chiloe.

    In the island's second-biggest town Ancud, the tourist market was closed for lack of business. "It is affecting us badly," said vendor Maria Altamirano.

    "Sales are right down. There is nothing to buy and nothing to sell."