Smart Girl Stories
Gabriela Cortés
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Gabriela Cortés, environmental activist and co-funder of Pasto Seco Magazine

Gabriela Cortés, environmental activist and co-funder of Pasto Seco Magazine

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a journalist because I imagined that I would report on the weather or the big event happening in the city, and although these are some of the things you can do, there are also “less joyful” topics to cover, but even more necessary.

So when we interviewed Gabriela Cortés, a 27-year-old Chilean journalist, we understood that the profession has all kinds of nuances. Gabriela has been working for several years in a scientific research center for disaster risk management (remember, Chile is a seismic country). 

She also contributes as a scientific disseminator in disaster risk management and has conducted more than 60 studies, helping to “translate” the scientific discoveries in the field in a way everyone can understand. This has given her the research tools to deal with any subject, and this is how the magazine was born, of which she is one of the founders: “Pasto Seco”, along with Michael Lieberherr, Catalina Evans, Consuelo Schwerter and Pedro López.

pasto seco

Gabriela told us about the magazine, which was born in the province of Choapa, in Coquimbo, Chile, which currently has about 90 thousand inhabitants and highlights its agricultural activity. But it is not what you think, it is not only about people who have their hectares of land and sell the tomatoes they harvest themselves, but there are much larger companies that exploit the production, affecting the ecosystem of the place. 

This is combined with mining exploitation, which has gradually led to a decline in the quality of life of the community that has lived there since long before the arrival of the industries. 

All this has also caused a drought for more than 10 years. Partly for this reason, Gabriela moved to Santiago de Chile in search of better opportunities, and to honor the place where she grew up, she has done much journalistic work in the region to expose the impact of industry on people’s daily lives.

“I grew up in the area. So I knew what it was like to grow up in a mining town that was severely affected,” says Gabriela Cortés.

How and why was the magazine “Pasto Seco” born?

Gabriela, together with a fellow journalist, decided to start working on making visible the complaints about the environmental impact on the area, given the presence of toxic minerals that the industries exposed to the communities living in Choapa, as well as the socio-environmental conflicts with these communities.

Because of the arrival of the mining companies, many promised to improve the community’s quality of life, as a way of “compensating” for the inconveniences, but this could not be further from reality, and such facts are reported in the magazine Pasto Seco.

Of course, it is not just about Choapa, but about all the possible conflicts that can exist between mining, agriculture, and other industries with environmental impacts, and how it all affects the people who live in these places, most of whom live consequences that are not seen by the public media, but by more dedicated activist initiatives like Gabriela’s.

But creating a magazine is not done overnight, in fact, Pasto Seco was born during periods of quarantine by COVID in the country, so the first meetings were video calls. Here they discussed what the editorial line would be.

It was also important to define how they would start covering certain topics if there were a quarantine, and how they would get from Santiago to Choapa? They made the effort and got the permits, but still, there were many restrictions in the process that gave birth to the magazine. 

Another challenge is to do the “field work” to gather the necessary information and then write the reports, even though they have full-time jobs, and even more so without pay, since this magazine is a non-profit initiative, the cost of travel and other expenses were theirs.

“We have to take the time to write the reports well so that nothing can be used against us,” said Gabriela Cortés, referring to the reaction of the large industries that the Pasto Seco group investigates.

The team has experienced threats from such companies and even libel suits over corruption issues mentioned in the magazine’s publications, but that is to be expected when your work is to expose the bad practices and unfulfilled promises of large industries.

“Today, I’m not afraid because I know what I’m doing is right,” Gabriela confesses.

Gabriela Cortés: Standing up for what matters

Gabriela told us that in most cases they give the magazine away or sell it for a minimal value, just to cover the production costs, but that in general, she does it because she is passionate about the issue, first because it is in line with the career she studied and second because it is an important cause for her since it is the place where she grew up. 

“Organizing is important, but it is essential to have a good team that supports you and has the same goals,” says Gabriela Cortés.

This is how she has been able to reach people with her magazine, along with the efforts of each team member. She stresses the importance of “dialogue and reflection before making decisions,” so that everyone is on the same page with the direction of the project they are working on.

“I am not the best person to talk about projects that make money, but I am the best person to talk about projects that make sense and give you peace of mind,” says Gabriela.

Not many people can do activism because of the effort and personal exposure involved, but even if they don’t go to the factories to protest, many people support the magazine and what it has accomplished.

Taking risks

Gabriela Cortés tells us, with a certain nostalgia, about her first article, in which she investigated a municipal government where there was harassment in the workplace, always based on legal documents in the judicial system. These were her first steps in exposing corrupt actions in institutions of all kinds. 

This has helped her to be more direct and to confront the people involved directly, not beating around the bush and being able to call these people directly on the phone to ask them questions about the facts in which they are involved.

This is done with preparation and evidence, everything that is revealed in the magazine Pasto Seco is the result of a thorough investigation of documents in public portals and information collected by the same team.

Gabriela concludes with an invitation to all people who care about the environment: “There are sacrificial zones that are taken over by large industries that destroy the ecosystem to mass produce, and this affects not only the land but also the people who live in the surrounding areas.

It is important to create the space to talk about the important things that many of us ignore, and also to speak to the people who have seen and lived these changes, beyond the institutional and commercial videos made by these industries.

Gabriela Cortés inspires us with her determination to face everything with the truth.

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Valeria Morillo

Valeria Morillo

I live for content and storytelling, working hard to get you to meet awesome women across the world! Marketing strategist, voice over andjournalist.

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