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October 25, 2014
Sunday, June 1, 2014

El Impenetrable: consensus worth celebrating

A man goes canoeing io a river located inside El Impenetrable, Chaco province.
By Mempo Giardinelli
For the Herald
Senate agrees to create a national park in Chaco, still to be confirmed by the Lower House of Congress

Readers are just going to have to put up with the first person today because that is the only way this column can be written. I have just returned from another foray into the forests of northern Chaco — as chance would have it, in the same week the Senate unanimously approved the law creating the El Impenetrable-La Fidelidad National Park in my home province of Chaco.

In the region between the Rivers Teuco (or Bermejo Nuevo) and Bermejito lies a marvellous landscape — a complete surprise which clamours for protection. It includes the core of the old La Fidelidad ranch, which decades ago belonged to Jorge Born and around 1970 was acquired by the Italian brothers Luis and Manuel Roseo, the first of whom died in 1984 and the second was brutally murdered in the midsummer of 2011, apparently by mafia elements seeking to appropriate those lands with a value of hundreds of millions of dollars. A mysterious organization of notaries, lawyers and businessmen reportedly carried out fraudulent operations with those fields without the consent of Roseo, which cost him his life.

Thanks to good conservation, this territory has permitted the survival of an abundant fauna. The tapirs, peccaries and brocket deer all impress with their numerous herds while the sheer number of species of birds concentrated in these forests (with over 100 exclusive to this eco-region) carry a similar impact. La Fidelidad could almost be described as the last stand of the millennia-old giant armadillo and where the last Chaco jaguars survive with difficulty. Rheas of amazing size, ocelots and pumas co-exist with large groups of caimans sleeping their eternal siestas by the banks of rivers and ponds. And there (equally endangered) are the last great forests of the noble hardwood trees of the Argentine north.

Such natural treasures have given rise to an arduous environmental, political, economic and judicial battle, which preceded this extraordinary democratic achievement.

This new National Park now joins another approved a fortnight ago — the PN Patagonia in Santa Cruz province. Both, we may now hope, will soon be approved by the Chamber of Deputies, thus closing this virtuous circle reaffirming the Argentine Republic as one of the five countries in the world with the highest number and quality of national parks.

Strangely enough, all this is happening around the time of the 80th anniversary of the creation of Argentina’s National Park Administration. The first of all was created in 1922 as the Parque Nacional del Sud (today known as the PN Nahuel Huapi) in Río Negro province on lands donated to the nation by Francisco P. Moreno in 1903. In 1934 came the second — the PN Iguazú, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Ezequiel Bustillo, who should be considered the father of Argentina’s national parks alongside Moreno. These two latest additions bring the total of national parks up to 32, occupying almost five percent of national territory, to which should be added a dozen or so reserves and natural monuments. These 40-plus areas along with the provincial parks and private reserves raises the percentage of protected territory to around eight — at least theoretically because all this land is guarded by just a few hundred trained and conscientious park wardens. Doubtless insufficient for such a vast territory — especially considering that Argentina is the third country in the world to start a national park policy, after the United States and Canada, and ahead of Europe and the rest of the world.

But in any case the totality of the region known as El Impenetrable has been and is being ferociously damaged owing to the brutal clear-cutting (the last native quebracho and mesquite trees are being hacked down) in favour of the uncontrolled advance of the soy pools and agro-chemical fertilizers. Due to all this (which goes hand in hand with the cultural displacement of thousands of indigenous Argentines who have lived there for millennia, also hastening the depredations of implacable poachers), it becomes evident that there is no other way than the creation of national parks like these to ensure the survival and sustainability of the Chaco forest.

Turning La Fidelidad into a national park with the name of those marvellous woods is an act of absolute justice and wisdom. Today this enormous ranch of over 250,000 hectares in the provinces of Chaco and Formosa should be one of the three biggest national parks in the country. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to convince the Formosa authorities so that the almost 150,000 hectares of this new national park lie exclusively in Chaco territory.

Whatever happens, the expected approval in the Chamber of Deputies will be the best ending to a process which began only three years ago when then Chaco Governor Jorge Capitanich could be persuaded to place himself at the head of this idea and propose the laws of expropriation and the waiver of jurisdiction in favour of the national state which the legislature of his province unanimously approved.

Such unanimity (a rare bird in contemporary Argentina) is indeed exemplary and deserves highlighting because ahead of the vote, this bill by the Chaco Senators Eduardo Aguilar and María Inés Pilatti Vergara had unanimously obtained a favourable ruling from all members of the Budget, Constitutional Affairs and Environment Committees.

Apart from the beauty of its landscape and the care of its fauna and flora, this park is destined to be a gem of Argentine tourism due to its incalculable potential.

When I returned with a couple of friends to Resistencia after some intense days (including impressive navigation in kayaks down the Bermejito River and the inauguration of a library for the Wichi community of Nueva Población) and sat down to pen these lines, I decided it would be petty not to celebrate this El Impenetrable-La Fidelidad National Park as the conquest of a state which is not (and has no wish to be) the useless and distracted witness of the innumerable ravages of certain private initiatives.

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