SANTIAGO — As Chile and Argentina prepare for a riveting Copa America final, another South American national team has just made history on the pitch.
Well, sort of.
Republica Glaciar, a “glacier nation” created by environmental activists last year in Chile, played its first-ever “international friendly” on Thursday in Santiago, easily defeating a team made up of Chilean radio personalities 12-2 in its debut.
“It was a great match,” said Sergio Corrales, Republica Glaciar’s bearded coach, also known as Rasputin. “I lost count after the tenth goal, but the important thing is that Glaciars won tonight, and the people are behind us.”
Wait. Just what is Republica Glaciar, you’re asking? It’s what’s known as a micronation, a self-declared ministate.There are more than 50 micronations around the world, and some actually issue their own money, stamps and even passports.
Republica Glaciar was created last year as part of an awareness campaign by environmental activists in Chile. According to the activists led by Greenpeace, the lack of laws to regulate glaciers in the South American country allowed them to establish Republica Glaciar, which encompasses more than 24,000 glaciers.
The activists want Chile to pass legislation to protect the ice fields, the largest in South America, from mining activity.
“We want to tell politicians that you don’t play with glaciers,” said Matias Asun, Greenpeace's director in Chile and Republica Glacia’s self-appointed “ambassador.”
“Glaciers are a key source of water for Chile,” he said. “They also help to regulate climate and have other functions in local ecosystems that we still don’t fully understand.”
With mining companies encroaching on some glaciers in central Chile, environmentalists are lobbying the Chilean congress to pass a law that would turn all of the country’s glaciers into “no go zones” for mining ventures and other industrial enterprises.
Republica Glaciar has caught on with many environmentally conscious Chileans. Not long after it declared its “independence,” tens of thousands of Chileans signed up as “citizens.”
Now the self-declared ministate is using the Copa America tournament to raise awareness about the glaciers.
As the tournament got under way last month, activists released a soccer-themed video on YouTube encouraging people to become Republica Glaciar fans.
A few days later, some Republica fans gathered outside Chile’s congress urging lawmakers to take action to protect the country's glaciers.
Greenpeace says the campaign has helped draw over 20,000 signatures to an online petition launched after the start of the Copa America asking the government to make glaciers "untouchable."
Proposed pro-glacier legislation is being debated in a congressional commission and faces opposition from some mining companies, who argue it could threaten jobs and foreign investment.
Republica Glaciar's founders say that they will continue to recruit more citizens, and perhaps play more soccer matches in the coming months.
“Until Chile protects its glaciers through a law, Republica Glaciar has a reason to exist,” Asun said. He added jokingly: “When they do what we are asking them to do, we will dissolve our republic and be Chileans again.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.