Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Written by Benjamin Witte
Monday, 12 May 2008


The Pascua, one of two rivers targeted by HidroAysén project.
Photo by Benjamin Witte

HidroAysén Opponents Say Resolution Is "Hypocritical"

Four of Chile’s most influential senators are hoping Congress will soon
pass a non-binding resolution defending the country’s right to develop
hydroelectric projects. The motion – presented last week by Senate
President Adolfo Zaldivar, an independent, National Renovation Sens.
Andrés Allamand and Antonio Horvath, and Christian Democratic Sen.
Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle – is widely interpreted as supporting the
controversial HidroAysén dam project.
The resolution recognizes the importance of hydroelectric generation for
Chile’s “progress.” It also criticizes what the senators claim to be
unwanted interference by foreign environmental interests. The Senate is
expected to vote on the issue sometime later this week.

“There is an intense publicity campaign both in Chile and abroad to
block development in the country of hydroelectric generation projects,”
the resolution reads. That campaign, the document goes on to say, “is
organized by outside organizations and foreign individuals whose
explicit goal is to interfere in the national energy policy.”

The resolution defends the Chilean government’s ongoing efforts to
diversify the country’s electricity matrix and invest in renewable
sources of energy. Diversification should include continued development
of the country’s vast hydroelectric potential, the senators insist.

“Hydroelectric energy is a competitive, low-impact alternative (to
fossil fuel-based electricity) that can be taken advantage of in the
short and medium term,” the document reads.

The non-binding resolution appears to defend the embattled HidroAysén
dam project, slated for far southern Chile’s Region XI (Aysén).
HidroAysén is a joint entity created by Spanish-Italian electricity
giant Endesa and Colbún, a Chilean company. Together the powerful
utilities plan to build five dams – two along the Baker River and three
along the Pascua – that combined would represent some 2,750 MW of
potential electricity.

The motion is also seen as a direct attack on high-profile U.S.
environmentalists such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Tompkins,
known critics of HidroAysén’s estimated US$3 billion plan. The project,
say Tompkins, Kennedy Jr. and other members of the so-called Patagonia
sin Represas (Patagonia without Dams) campaign, will devastate the
pristine Baker and Pascua Rivers.

Even more worrisome, say critics of the project, is a proposed
2,300-kilometer transmission line that would be needed to carry the
electricity from Region XI to energy hungry central Chile. The power
line, they say, would cut through countless acres of both protected and
unprotected wilderness area and pave the way for future industrial
development in the region.

“This is a mega-monster project,” Tompkins told the Patagonia Times
earlier this year. “They’re talking about running these friggin’ power
lines all the way up to Santiago and they’re going to disfigure the
landscapes between here and there. And they’re winding all over. You
should see a copy of the proposed (route). It’s a spaghetti type of thing.”

The “pro-dam” resolution is being hotly contested by HidroAysén’s many
critics, who consider it hypocritical that Sens. Horvath, Zaldivar,
Allamand and Frei object so strongly to the U.S. environmental lobby yet
apparently welcome the presence of Endesa and other foreign companies.

In a public declaration issued this past Sunday, a group of 40 different
environmental, Mapuche and other citizen groups lambasted Sens. Horvath
and Zaldivar (who represent Region XI) for turning a “deaf ear” to their

“It’s paradoxical,” the groups went on to say, “that people who accept
the fact that our water – a strategic and national asset that’s used by
everyone – is concentrated in the hands of private multinational
electric companies would criticize those Chileans and foreigners who, in
an effort to protect the ecosystems on which present and future Chileans
will depend, want (the water) to be returned to Chilean hands.”

Before moving ahead with the polemical dam project, HidroAysén must
first gain approval from the government’s National Environmental
Commission (CONAMA). The company, which hopes to begin construction
before the end of the decade, says it will hand CONAMA a requisite
environmental impact report later this year.

By Benjamin Witte ( benwitte@santiagotimes.cl

Mapuche International Solidarity Network

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Written by Matt Malinowski
Wednesday, 30 April 2008


The Chilean government’s approval of large-scale business projects

including forestry company CELCO’s waste duct to the Pacific Ocean
mining company Barrick Gold's Pascua Lama gold mine in the Andes
mountains — now represent the most severe threat to the country's
indigenous communities, according to a report filed last week by
Observatory for Indigenous Rights (ODPI).

The finding, authored by co-directors José Aylwin and Nancy Yáñez,
part an ODPI-led probe into Chilean government indigenous policies.

Speaking at a Friday press conference, Aylwin and Yáñez identified
native communities' lack of legal representation, absence in both
private and government-led initiatives and, above all, lack of
territorial rights as the three most serious deficiencies in Chilean
indigenous legislation.

ODPI, one of Chile's leading authorities on indigenous rights, said
Chilean laws do not sufficiently incorporate indigenous communities'
opinions in government programs which directly involve them. Aylwin
Chilean policies do not respect indigenous communities' political
autonomy, arguing that “government policy should recognize and accept

that these diverse populations have the right to define their own plans

for community development, and that these plans should not be
superimposed by other entities.”

Still, Aylwin and Yáñez directed their most acerbic criticisms
what they described as the growing tendency to exploit natural
found on indigenous lands. They named the mining, energy, and forestry
industries as three of the most flagrant violators of indigenous
saying that they often usurp indigenous lands against the will of
community members.

Speaking alongside Aylwin and Yáñez, members of the Diaguita
community lambasted Barrick Gold for disrupting the local indigenous
of life in order to develop its Pascua Lama mine. That project, which
slated for construction on the border between Chile's Region III and
Argentina, received Chilean government backing in 2006, but tax
with Argentine officials have prevented construction from beginning.

“Barrick has put up barriers which prevent us from moving freely and
also prevent our animals from grazing,” said Diaguita member Angelina

Espinoza. “This limits our community's development . . . and if we
close to that barrier, they (Barrick employees) threaten us even though

the only thing we are doing is defending our rights. We are the
legitimate owners of these lands; we have papers from 1903 which
corroborate this. But, here in Chile, we neither receive the help nor
the (government) response that we need.”

“Barrick has contaminated our drinking water, just like all the
multinational companies which have begun to operate in the region,”
added. “These are companies which have robbed us of our lands. Still,

nothing is said about it . . . they have crossed into our ancestral

Yáñez echoed Espinoza's remarks, saying that when native communities
organize themselves to defend their lands, companies turn to
business-friendly Chilean regulations so that “the leaders of the
affected (indigenous) communities end up being persecuted and for
legitimate demands.”

She also criticized cellulose manufacturer CELCO for violating the way
of life of Mapuche indigenous communities located near the Region XIV
town of Mehuin. Violent incidents have occurred in recent weeks between

fishermen (including some of Mapuche descent) who oppose CELCO’s
duct line through their community by CELCO, and neighboring fishermen
who have accepted a cash payoff for acquiescing to the company’s
duct proposal. In response to the violence, a lawsuit has been brought
against pro-CELCO fishermen (ST, April 9).

Aylwin and Yáñez argued that the government should solve these
by assuring its indigenous communities are recognized in the country's
constitution. Additionally, they said Chilean authorities should adopt
the original version of the International Labor Organization's (ILO)
Convention 169 on Indigenous Rights, arguing that two of the document
points define standards concerning indigenous communities' political
participation and land protection.

In early March, Chile’s Senate approved a version of the ILO's
“Convention 169” on indigenous rights with a clause allowing the
government to “interpret” the declaration’s main points (ST,
March 6).
The decision has provoked outrage from Chile's leading indigenous and
human rights advocates, who have publicly urged Chilean President
Michelle Bachelet to veto the altered document.

The ODPI report comes weeks after President Bachelet unveiled several
new measures that will define government indigenous policies for her
final two years in office.

As part of the reforms, Bachelet said that the government will create a

new under-secretariat for indigenous affairs, which will be controlled
by the nation’s planning ministry. Bachelet promised to introduce a
proposal to guarantee indigenous community members seats in Chilean
political organizations, as well as recognize indigenous control over
natural resources that lie within their territories.

She also announced that the government-run National Corporation for
Indigenous Development (CONADI) will distribute plots of land to 115
different native groups by 2010 and respond to land requests from 308
other communities (ST, April 3).

Still, Bachelet’s announcement drew heated criticism from Aylwin and

Yáñez, who criticized the initiative for not doing enough to return
to indigenous communities.

“Most of the lands which have been transferred to indigenous
are government lands. Therefore, the government is only doing now what
it should have done years ago,” Aylwin said. “The government is not

making any additional efforts to turn over lands to their legitimate

By Matt Malinowski (editorATsantiagotimes.cl)

Mapuche International Solidarity Network

Monday, February 25, 2008