VALPARAÍSO – A Dutch-American multimillionaire’s search for buried treasure on Robinson Crusoe Island has generated renewed controversy. A former Conaf director has objected to the search, a local lawmaker has filed a petition against it, and a number of environmental unions have also joined in the criticism.
The government recently granted permission for Dutch-American businessman Bernard Keiser to undertake a search for treasure on Robinson Crusoe Island.
Following news of the departure of regional director of Conaf de Valparaíso, Pablo Mira, people raised concerns about the legitimacy of the approval of Keiser’s treasure hunt. Both the Forest Workers Union and the Chilean National Park Rangers Council have criticized the decision to grant permission for Keiser to continue his decades’ long quest.
In addition, according to Reuters, Representative Diego Ibañez said he had filed a petition with Chile’s Inspector General “over fears the excavation work approved by regulators last month could cause irreparable damage to the site, which lies within a national park”.
For his part, Mira was an outspoken critic of Keiser’s plans and filed his own complaint with the Superintendence of the Environment (SMA) last February due to Keiser’s request to use heavy machinery. Mira was likewise concerned about the damaging effects on the park.
Although the search itself was approved, a decision has not yet been made about the use of heavy machinery. The now former regional director of Conaf called on the organization to reject Keiser’s request for the use of such tools. As reported by CNN Chile, Juan Fernández Archipelago National Park, which encompasses Robinson Crusoe Island, is officially declared as a World Biosphere Reserve, meaning that this invasive process could damage a protected area.
Mira worries that significant historical sites will be damaged during the search, especially because, once destroyed, geological sites cannot be repaired. He argues that the search for a fabled treasure is not worth the risk of destroying these areas.
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Keiser has dedicated over 20 years of his life to finding a treasure that is rumored to be buried on Robinson Crusoe Island. Following the government’s approval of his project, Keiser will continue his search.
The treasure, according to Keiser, is a collection of gold and jewels that is valued at approximately US$10 billion or more than CLP$7 trillion. Nobody has confirmed the existence of the treasure, however letters between English sailors suggest that it was buried on Robinson Crusoe Island.
Robinson Crusoe Island is one of the islands of the Juan Fernández archipelago located about 700 km west of mainland Chile. It is the location of the true story of Alexander Selkirk. The Scottish sailor was marooned on the island in 1704 for four years. This story served as the inspiration for Daniel Dafoe’s famous novel, Robinson Crusoe, and is why the island is named after the fictional character.
Response to the Criticism
The Minister of National Assets, Felipe Ward, was quick to point out that Mira’s departure had nothing to do with the excavation project. He affirmed this in an interview with “New Day CNN”, saying “That is not true.”
The SMA also states that the area of excavation is limited to a 20×20 m2 plot of land. Additionally, one of the conditions of the search is that it can only be performed in the area approved by environmental organizations. The excavation will not be without supervision and must adhere to a number of regulations.
According to an article in La Tercera, Umberto Bonomo, director of the Cultural Heritage Center of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, holds the opinion that if Keiser’s search for treasure “is successful, there would be economic enrichment, and part of that would be owned by the state of Chile. And not only that, because there would also be an enrichment of cultural heritage, of history linked to the island.”
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Ana Truesdale is a British student, studying Liberal Arts at Durham Univeristy, who is currently interning at Chile Today on her year abroad. She has a strong interest in Latin American culture and journalism and wishes to experience all that Chile has to offer.