Chileans rail against US 'eco-millionaires'

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The Independent US

Anger is growing in Chile at the increasing area of the country's land that has been bought up by ecology-conscious US multi-millionaires, with one senator calling them "a serious menace".

The principal target of Chilean ire is Doug Tompkins, founder of the North Face outdoor equipment label and Esprit clothing line, who moved to the country 15 years ago and has used much of his $150m (£81m) fortune to buy some of the most beautiful forests and fjords in southern Chile. His vast "Pumalin Park" nature reserve virtually cuts the narrow country in two.

Others who have snapped up tracts of Chilean Patagonia include the international financier George Soros, CNN founder Ted Turner and actor Sylvester Stallone. But Mr Tompkins has attracted most criticism because of his devotion to "deep ecology". He is insisting on returning Pumalin Park to its natural wilderness, rejecting proposed hydroelectric plants that energy-starved Chile says it needs, as well as limiting lucrative salmon farming and timber industries.

Much of southern Chile, noted for its spectacular mountains, glaciers and temperate rainforests, is already national parkland, says Antonio Horvath, a Conservative senator and longtime opponent of foreign ownership.

Calling Mr Tompkins arrogant in his bid to "impose his fundamentalist project", he added: "If a group of eccentric millionaires bent on ecology - or perhaps some other aim - is starting to buy up the rest, the question you have to ask is: where do the people go, and what development possibilities are we going to find for them?"

Soledad Teixido, head of PROhumana, a Chilean foundation promoting socially responsible business, also questioned the motives of the eco-millionaires. "I think a subject to be investigated is what their intentions are," he said. Mr Tompkins has faced claims that he is a CIA agent, or is plotting to found a new state of Israel in Patagonia.

The wealthy activist - who sees himself as a "new helper of local causes" - is unfazed. "We have political and business opposition because of our activism and conservation work, so there will be all kinds of shots taken at anyone doing what we're doing," he said. "It comes with the territory."