Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tiny Tortel Speaks Out Against Endesa Dam Project In Southern Chile

Small Town Residents Want Their Voices Heard(Sept. 25, 2007)

Residents in the tiny Region XI township of Tortel celebrated Chile’s independence this year in typical rural fashion. Folks gathered in a local gym to watch a group of school children perform traditional dances. Later, the party moved to a nearby airstrip. Celebrants roasted pigs, drank their fill of chicha and danced cueca.

The event also featured a brief speech by the town’s young mayor, Bernardo López. The mayor recalled the sacrifices of men like Bernardo O’Higgins, José Miguel Carrera and Manuel Rodríguez, the country’s founding fathers – men who helped establish Chile as a sovereign nation. But now, the mayor argued, nearly two centuries after the country first gained independence, Chile faces a new challenge to its sovereignty: this time from large multinational companies.

“On the subject of sovereignty, we’re right now being taken over by large multinationals that are invading our region, invading our country. And that amounts to a loss of sovereignty,” said López, who offered a brief synopsis of his Independence Day speech to the Santiago Time’s sister newspaper, the Patagonia Times.

For López and many other Tortel residents, one needs to look just down the road to find hard evidence of the “invasion.” Just 45 miles from the town center, two large energy companies – Spanish electricity giant Endesa, and Chilean-owned Colbún – are planning to build one of five massive hydroelectric dams that together make up their so-called Aysén Project.

According to Endesa and Colbún, which are operating through a jointly created company called HidroAysén, the Aysén Project promises to be a boon to Chile’s isolated Region XI. The estimated US$4 billion project will bring investment to the region, create some 4,000 jobs, and provide the area with reduced-cost electricity, argue its backers.

In recent weeks HidroAysén has shared that vision with residents in Tortel and other area towns through a series of open houses. An open house in Tortel earlier this month attracted some 200 people, a significant number considering the town only has some 500 total residents.

Yet despite the best efforts of the company’s image makers, many people in Tortel and elsewhere around Region XI feel strongly that the Aysén Project is not all its cracked up to be.

“They show all the benefits of the project, but they haven’t told us about the (negative) impacts this mega-project will have. Environmental impacts, definitely, but also cultural and socio-economic impacts,” said López.

Here is the full article.

No comments: