Friday, November 30, 2007

Chile’s National Environmental Commission (CONAMA) launches new website that contains detailed information about Chile’s most egregious polluters.

(Nov. 30, 2007) Chile’s National Environmental Commission (CONAMA) launched Thursday a new website that contains detailed information about Chile’s most egregious polluters. According to CONAMA, the webpage is intended to both improve transparency and increase citizens’ awareness about environmental issues.

The website, dubbed Emissions Register and Contaminants Transference (RETC), will contain profiles of more than 5,000 businesses based on information from 2005 to the present. Each profile will include details of the companies’ emissions records, incidents of chemical or other potentially hazardous leaks, and energy efficiency records. Additionally, the web site will include a forum where citizens can ask follow-up questions regarding the posted information.

CONAMA officials say that the site’s information, available only in Spanish, will be complied from other governmental organizations. For example, emissions information will come from the Health Ministry, National Statistics Institute (INE), the Santiago Metropolitan Region Sanitation Authority, and the Inter-ministerial Secretariat of Transportation Planning (SECTRA). Still, officials say that the data will not be fully available until mid December.

CONAMA also said the website has thus far received more than US$1 million in financing from a variety of domestic and international organizations, but did not disclose the names of specific donors.

Environmental NGOs reacted favorably to the creation of this new webpage, which they say could revolutionize citizen’s knowledge about Chile’s environment.

“This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding the country’s environmental conditions. The fact that we now have access to this information allows us to become far more familiar with the country’s reality,” said Samuel Leiva, a Greenpeace Chile representative. “We will also be able to see if companies improve or worsen their records.” Leiva said not only Chile’s government, but NGOs and common Chilean citizens will now be able to monitor business practices.

For more information about the new website:

Here is the full article.

Journeyman Pictures presents "Damming of the Biobio River" - Endesa SA verses the Mapuche - What to expect from Endesa during the HydroAysen struggle.

A MUST SEE VIDEO: The historic struggle of the Mapuche against Endesa SA will provide an insight to all those who oppose Endesa's HidroAysen Project.

The damming of the Biobìo River was a pivotal conflict for Chile - a battle between new democracy and the shady world of Pinochet's fascism.

When civilian government returned in 1990 an indigenous Law was passed. It allowed the Mapuche people threatened by the Endesa dams to register claims.

Yet most people were simply too scared to complain. "They're afraid in case the government gets angry with them [and] sends the military to smash them" But a brave few are testing out the new law.

Two lawyers fight it out over a key parcel of land. They represent the two sides of Chile's past. The Mapuche's lawyer: a former exile and prisoner of Pinochet's
regime. Endesa's lawyer: a founding member of the firm. It's a
tough fight.

Many of today's Chilean senators, judges and military officers were hand selected by Pinochet. Attending the 24th anniversary of his ascension to power it's clear that his influence is intact. The video shows him getting more medals while a military band salute his honour.

As he still receives support from home, the Mapuche lawyer neatly sums it up: "The government of Pinochet ended, but not the power of Pinochet."

Here is the video on youtube: Damming the Biobio River

Switch Off - 2004 Documentary of the Mapuche struggle against the international energy conglomerate, Endesa SA

The Biobío River, which begins in the Andes and empties into the Pacific Ocean, in addition to having a high ecological value has a great historic significance. During the conquest of America, Biobío became the natural border separating colonized territories of indigenous lands Pehuenche-Mapuche, whose inhabitants were able to repel the attacks of the Spaniards, and even apprehend, prosecute and execute its captain Pedro de Valdivia.

Now, 500 years after these events, the Biobío River seems to continue to be a matter of dispute between the Spanish and Mapuche. At least that's what the documentary directed by Manel Mayol, Switch-Off says. It recounts the expropriation of Mapuche lands by the Spanish owned multinational corporation, Endesa SA. The facts date back to 1997, when Endesa began construction of the Ralco dam on the Upper Biobío. This project swamped the land, forced the eviction of Mapuche families in the area, and flooded 14 ancient cemeteries of this sacred people.

The documentary is based on a series of interviews, in which those directly affected by the dam, and hose who have joined the cause of the Mapuche people, explain how the company "stole" land, "criminalized" their protests and flooded their territory.

The film, which was recorded during six weeks in 2004, also reveals the difficulties facing indigenous people protesting the construction of the dam. The film explains that those convicted of rebellion against the plans of the company are treated "as terrorists." In addition, detainees suffered accusations by anonymous witnesses, called "faceless witnesses", who’s faces were covered by masks to avoid disclosing their identity.

In one of the interviews that appears in the documentary, a woman accused of terrorist acts explains that after spending more than a year in prison, she decided to escape and go into hiding: "This justice system does not represents the people," she argues in the film .

All this means, as Mayol emphasizes, "the story of the Ralco dam has all the necessary ingredients to make a compelling movie."

Apart from the testimonies of those persecuted for rebelling against the construction of the dam, the documentary includes families who accepted the deal the deal from the company. These Mapuche reported receiving some isolated houses, in poor condition and without lights. They were deceived because they were promised that they would not have to pay for electricity and now must sell their animals to survive.

But not only those who are demonstrating against the dam are persecuted, the editor of a local newspaper in the documentary explains how he was arrested and interrogated by the authorities about his relationship with the team recording of the documentary “Switch Off”.

The director of the film tried to get Endesa’s version of the story for the documentary, but reported no success. On several occasions the film shows the director trying to contact Endesa by phone without success.

Currently, 40 Mapuche prisoners are rebelling against the dam and four indigenous people went on a 40 day on hunger strike.

Here is the video: Switch Off - The Movie.

New Endesa gas fired power plants in France will be offset with Chilean hydroelectric dams to minimize carbon footprint.

Endesa aims to double French electricity output with new gas-fired stations

PARIS (Thomson Financial) - Endesa SA plans to double its electricity production in France by 2010 by developing gas-fired power stations, Endesa France announced at the inauguration of its first gas facilities.

Here is the full article.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Australia's new government tackles Global Warming - Chile dam efforts to receive Carbon Credit / Clean Development Mechanism Kyoto Funding

SYDNEY, Australia - Australia's Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd took advice Sunday on how to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and fielded phone calls from world leaders — starting in on work the day after a sweeping election victory.

The emphatic victory for Rudd's Labor Party swings Australia toward the political left after almost 12 years of conservative rule and puts it at odds with key ally Washington on two crucial policy issues — Iraq and global warming.

After declaring victory late Saturday, Rudd attended church Sunday then held meetings with government officials about the mechanics of signing the Kyoto pact on global warming, an issue he made his top priority during the election campaign.

Read about Pacific Hydro's Dam plans below:

Kyoto ratification crucial in Australian plans for Chile hydro-development – Carbon Offsets purchased in Europe critical to dam construction.

Australia's Pacific Hydro finds a loophole: Climate change, Kyoto, and carbon trading

Chile Environment Exploited to Offset European Pollution

Here is the full article.

Fighting the beaver invasion in South America

Transplant 25 pairs of beavers from their native North America to the southernmost part of South America, wait 61 years, and what do you get?

Entire forests of 300- to 400-year-old trees wiped out by a beaver population estimated at more than 100,000.

That's why one wildlife biologist from Bismarck spent two weeks on Tierra del Fuego last month as part of an international team of experts, who got a first-hand look at the massive destruction.

John Paulson, a district supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services in Bismarck, was among the four wildlife managers who were brought in to work up a feasibility study on eradicating the beavers, which are considered an invasive species in South America.

The leader of the four-person team was a Ph.D. from New Zealand. One team member was a Ph. D. from Australia and another a Ph.D. from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

"All three are experts in the field of eradicating invasive species off of islands," Paulson said in an interview Wednesday. "I was honored to be with these guys."

What Paulson, who earned a bachelor's degree in wildlife management from the University of Minnesota, brought to the table was 20 years of working with beavers and a background in explosives.

"If we are going to bring any habitat back, we have to remove the beaver dams," he said. And blowing up the dam is the simplest was to dismantle the dams.

The trees most impacted by the beaver assault are the lenga, or white beech, Paulson said.

"They are a very sensitive tree to water, and the flooding from beaver dams is killing the trees," Paulson explained.

Unlike cottonwoods and similar trees in North Dakota, draining the water hasn't brought the lengas back.

"What they are seeing is zero revegetation," Paulson said.

And those beaver dams also are hurting tourism in the region, which is a destination for fly-fishers in search of trophy trout. Beaver dams prevent trout from migrating to spawn.

The island of Tierra del Fuego, which is about a third of the size of North Dakota, also is bustling spot for tour ships and penguin-watching.

"Skiing is big, too. There are ski resorts. It is on the southern tip of the Andes Mountains," Paulson said. Antarctica is only 300 miles south of Tierra del Fuego, he added. There also is a small timber industry.

"But it's the ecosystem damage that's so devastating," he said.

With no natural predators, and only a few trappers working the area, beavers are booming. Estimates put beaver colonies, or families, at one per linear kilometer of stream. No comparable numbers exist for North Dakota's beaver population, but Paulson guesses maybe one beaver colony per five to 10 miles of North Dakota waterway.

Their hosts flew and drove the team members over and throughout the region.

"The destruction and devastation there is far more than we see in the U.S.," Paulson said. "It was such ideal habitat when the beavers were brought over: food, shelter and water."

Their workdays typically started about 8 or 8:30 a.m. and ended about 8 p.m. Dinner, as is typical is the region, was after 9 p.m.

"I ate a lot of things I didn't know what I was eating, but all of it was good," Paulson said. "I certainly didn't lose any weight."

Spring was just starting during the team's trip. "The climate is similar to ours, but the winter is only two to three months," he said.

Paulson was one of two on the team who didn't speak Spanish.

"They had translators at all of the meetings. You'd get the meaning of what they said, but never all of it," he explained.

He also had praise for the resident biologists that had been dealing with the problem.

"Some talented biologists live there. They were very knowledgeable, cooperative and accommodating. We were treated hospitably, and we worked hard," he said.

The governments of Chile and Argentina paid for their trip, meals and lodging.

Beavers are working their way northward.

"They have found a few colonies on the peninsula (of mainland South America), and fishermen have caught beavers in their nets that were swimming from the island (Tierra del Fuego) to the peninsula," Paulson said.

Here is the full article.

Argentina and Chile to sign huge Andean shared mining project - Environmentalists call the Las Flechas Project a second Pascua Lama

The governments of Chile and Argentina will sign an agreement this week pushing forward the development of another massive bi-national mining project. The deal is intended to hurry approval of work at “Las Flechas” mineral deposits by using existing treaties and protocols to govern its construction.

Under the agreement, the 1.5 billion US dollars project, straddling Chile's Region III and Argentina's San Juan Province, would fall under the scope of the nearly ten-year old Treaty of Integration and Mining. That deal was signed by the two nations during the approval process for the controversial Pascua Lama mine and its protocols have also been used to streamline the development of the Amos-Andre and Vicuna bi-national mine projects.

Chile's Undersecretary of Mining Marisol Aravena will travel to Buenos Aires Wednesday to sign the agreement with her Argentine counterparts. Officials note that while this is only a “first step” in the approval process, the use of extant protocols is a valuable tool in expediting two-party talks.

Investment at “Las Flechas” is a joint venture between the Japanese Jogmec and Brazilian CVRD mining companies. While the project remains in its infancy, production estimates and extraction techniques are not concrete. Other projects approved under the same treaty – such as the massive Pascua Lama mine also set for Region III – have been met with considerable public debate over the environmental consequences of development despite a government stamp of approval.

For their part, the financiers of “Las Flechas” have a mixed environmental record.

Here is the full article.

Kite-like Sail Proposed as Wind Power Agent in Eastern Europe

As part of our ongoing investigation of viable and sustainable solutions to generating alternative power, our heads really turned when we came across this proposal for a power-generating “wind dam” by UK architects Chetwoods Associates. The Wind Dam Project uses a giant spinnaker sail suspended in a mountain gorge near Northern Russia’s Lake Ladoga. The £2.5 million dam will include a unique cup-shaped spinnaker sail, an original design, which will capture and harness wind to generate renewable energy by funneling wind through an attached turbine.

The spinnaker shape is similar to the mainsail of a yacht, and is thought to be particularly effective in capturing the wind with it’s kite-like properties. Project architect Laurie Chetwood stated that the shape of the sail was influenced by functionality and a desire to produce something “sculptural”. “The sail looks like a bird dipping its beak into the water, which will be much less of a blot on this beautiful and unblemished landscape…It is also highly effective at capturing the wind because it replicates

Here is the full article.

Chaiten - Futaleufu Road to cut through Parque Pumalin - Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) submitted today - Project to be debated by CONAMA

(Nov. 29, 2007) The Ministry of Transportation and Public Works (MOP) submitted Tuesday an Environmental Impact Study (EIA) for the construction of a new road within Pumalín Park—a private nature reserve in Region X developed by U.S. philanthropist and ecologist Douglas Tompkins. The proposal will now be debated by the Chile’s National Environmental Commission (CONAMA).

Tompkins expressed indignation about the project, calling the road unnecessary and potentially harmful to the fragile ecosystem of the park.

“It is unconscionable that [Public Works Minister} Bitrán is conducting totally out-of-control ministry with regards to the road they are building in the South,” said Tompkins. “I don't think they have any idea about the needs of the people, the impacts the road will have, the disasters it will leave in its wake, and the money wasted.” He claims that access to the region is already available via a coastal road along the Huequi Peninsula.

The new road was first proposed in May and would be an extension of the existing southern highway that cuts through the park (ST, May 27). It would connect the towns of Termas del Amarillo and Futaleufú, the latter of which has become a tourist hub within the past few years. Construction by the Military Work Corps is expected to take 10 years and cost US$40 million.

Proponents of the new project include officials of both towns as well as tourism companies in the region. Mayor of Futaleufú, Arturo Carvallo, expressed satisfaction that his town will finally have more direct access to Puerto Montt, the capital of the region.

The scenic road will include four look-out stops along the edge of Lake Espolón. The region already receives 22,000 tourists annually, and the new road is expected to increase that number by 25 percent.

Pumalin Park is rich in biodiversity, including populations of several endangered species such as the condor, pudú (the world's smallest deer), and the ranita de Darwin, a species of frog. There are also rare old-growth forests of coihue and lenga trees, as well as 11 varieties of fern.

Here is the full article.

Chile's anti-dam horseback protestors arrive in Coyhaique

“The mentality in this country is the following,” he said. “If people see money, if they see power, they will immediately sell everything.”

After Nine-Day Trek, Protestors Demand Response From Regional Authority

(Nov. 28, 2007) Over 100 horseback riders descended on the XI Region capital Coyhaique at noon Tuesday, concluding a nine-day tour of the Region to protest the HydroAysén dam project. The Cabalgata Patagonia Sin Represas (Cavalcade for a Patagonia without Dams) departed last Monday from the town of Cochrane, the site of the proposed hydro-electric project, some 330 kilometers away.

Enthusiastic crowds greeted the group, which paraded through the streets of Coyhaique before gathering outside the offices of the Regional government, located in front of the town’s central plaza. The leaders of the cavalcade, representatives of the region’s various municipalities, addressed their supporters there.

“We can live without hydro-electric power. We can live without gas. But we cannot live without water. God gave us these rivers, and we the right to defend them,” asserted Ernesto Sandoval, a leader of the cavalcade from the Baker River area.

Representatives of the cavalcade proceeded to enter the government building to seek a response to their demands. Before departing on its journey, the group sent a letter to Regional Governor Viviana Betancourt urging her government to take action against Endesa and Colbún, the companies behind the Aysén dam project.

The protestors alleged the companies’ claims to water sources and private lands in the region, a legacy of the final days of the Pinochet dictatorship, are illegitimate. The letter also called for a formal and ongoing dialogue between the government and the local community, and encouraged the government to take steps to promote the region’s traditional economic activities.

In their meeting Tuesday the cavalcade leaders presented the governor with a small solar panel and two renewable light bulbs – symbols of the alternatives to the massive hydro-electric facility.

Betancourt appeared briefly to address the crowd before returning to her meeting with the cavalcade’s leaders. “I, too, am on the side of democracy,” she said, pledging the voice of the local community would be heard throughout the process of examining the dam project proposal.


There is also a cultural dynamic at play in the campaign against the project. Local communities fear that a massive influx of workers – from throughout Chile and the world – would disrupt the social fabric of the region and destroy its traditional way of life. The name chosen for the coalition of NGO’s, local organizations, and environmental activists behind the protest - “The Defense of the Spirit of Patagonia” - reveals much about the nature of the resistance to the project.

On the other side of the equation lies the question of how to meet Chile’s burgeoning energy demands. The country’s energy needs are expected to increase by seven percent in the coming year, and recent economic forecasts warn that rising prices in the energy sector could severely impact the country’s economic growth in 2008. The HydroAysén project would generate over 2,700 MW of electricity – nearly a quarter of the country’s current annual consumption.

While the national government is now taking steps to increase investment in alternative energy sources, supporters of HydroAysén – and there are many, even here in Coyhaique – stress that these options cannot provide an immediate solution to Chile’s looming energy crisis.

“In the next 10 years Chile will have to double its energy capacity,” Bernardo Matte, the head of Colbún, one of the companies behind HydroAysén, recently told Qué Pasa magazine. “The development of alternative renewable energies is certainly an important part of our strategy for the future, but we have to live in the real world.” (The reason environmentalists want to save it.)

Ultimately, the national government has control over the most contentious issues, including the question of water rights, which fall under national law. The regional authority is appointed by the President, and therefore has little lee-way to pursue its own course of action. Its policy has been to remain neutral, pending the results of the Study of Environmental Impact for the project, which the companies hope to submit to COREMA, the regional environmental authority, in January.

“We will continue to listen to both sides of the debate, but we cannot judge something that is still a potentiality, with so many uncertainties,” said Jorge Díaz, the chief advisor to the regional governor.

He assured that the government is working on projects to foment the local economy and develop alternative energy sources and will continue to do so regardless of the ultimate fate of HydroAysén.

Faced with these realities, there is a sense of fatalism surrounding the campaign against HydroAysén. Jorge Figueroa, a native of Cochrane, has spent his whole life in the region and now lives in the capital. He came to greet the cavalcade, which included his 70-year old father, with his young sons.

He lamented how his home town has already changed dramatically in the ten years since moved to Coyhaique. He believes the construction of the dams would destroy one of the most unique areas on earth but also believes the government is inclined to see the plan through – and there is little that can be done to stop it.

“The mentality in this country is the following,” he said. “If people see money, if they see power, they will immediately sell everything.”

Here is the full article.

HidroAysen Rio Baker / Rio Pascua Anti-Dam Horseback Protest Ride Finishes in Coyhaique - Slideshow

For a bigger version of the slide show click here: HydroAysen Horseback Protest

Enrique Accorsi, President of the Chamber of Deputies’ Environmental Commission backs demands of anti-dam cavalcade

(Nov. 29, 2007) Dep. Enrique Accorsi (PPD), the president of the Chamber of Deputies’ Environmental Commission, offered a gesture of support Tuesday evening for the aims of the Cavalcade for a Patagonia without Dams (Cabalgata Patagonia Sin Represas).

Although the Cabalgata concluded its nine-day tour of XI Region to protest of the proposed HydroAysén dam project on Tuesday, the protestors mailed a list of grievances to Regional Governor Viviana Betancourt before their journey began. Their letter called for measures to promote sustainable, locally-based economic growth and also denounced the ownership of the region’s water rights by corporate interests, insisting they be returned to the people of Aysén.

On Tuesday, Dep. Accorsi publicly insisted that Regional Govenor Betancourt respond to the protestors’ letter. Accorsi had intended to travel to Coyhaique, the capital of Aysén region, to greet the Cabalgata but cancelled at the last minute due to illness.

Still, for leaders of the Cabalgata, Accorsi’s actions represented a strong show of political support for their movement. They hope the intervention of the national lawmaker will produce concrete results in their campaign. On Tuesday they dismissed the governor’s initial response to their demands as “unsatisfactory.”

Accorsi told the Santiago Times Wednesday that the Commission was working to address the protestors’ concerns.

“Unfortunately, the current legislation allows the waters of our country, the waters of all the Chilean people, to remain in the hands of a few,” he said. “We want to promulgate a new framework for environmental law in this country.”

Accorsi also stressed the importance of promoting non-conventional, renewable energy sources that provide alternatives to large-scale hydro-electric projects like HydroAysén.

Here is the full article.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chile's "Riders Against the Dams" close in on Aysen Capital

(Nov. 27, 2007) The Cabalgata Patagonia Sin Represas (Cavalcade for a Patagonia without Dams) closed in on the city of Coyhaique in its penultimate day Monday, setting up camp along the Río Simpson 12 kilometers outside the Region XI capital. The purpose of the horseback tour is to demonstrate the opposition of the local population to HydroAysén, a massive hydroelectric project that would entail the construction of five dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers.

The group was met along its route Monday by supporters who distributed copies of El Divisadero, a local paper, which featured news of the group’s progress. The cavalcade will arrive Tuesday in Coyhaique, where a massive demonstration against the dam project will be held.

The opposition to HydroAysén has attracted national and international attention to the region. On Wednesday members of the Environmental Commission of Chile’s chamber of deputies are scheduled to meet with leaders of the Cabalgata to discuss their concerns.

The campaign has also generated the support of prominent international environmental groups. Greenpeace and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have participated actively in the fight against HydroAysén for more than a year.

The involvement of these organizations has led to accusations that the campaign has been driven more by outside elements than local sentiment.* The idea of the Cabalgata was to directly confront this argument by highlighting opposition to the project in the region’s most remote locales – and among the people whom the dams would most directly affect.

“The cavalcade is a symbol of the region and its culture,” said Patricio Segura, who helped organize the event. “It’s a way to show the local face of the fight against this project.”

The large majority of the participants in the ride are natives of Aysén who have spent their entire lives in the region. They range in age from 11-year-old Romlo Lobillo to 88-year-old Cecilio Olivares, who first journeyed to Coyhaique on horseback in 1939.

“This might be my last fight, but I am doing it to defend my land,” said Olivares.

(*Endesa is owned by Italy's Enel and Spain's Acciona. Transelec, which will build powerline is owned by HydroQuebec. )

Here is the full article.

10 Things Canada Does Best - What Canada doesn't do best is hold domestic mining companies accountable for the damage they do abroad.


In a 2005 series called "10 Things Canada Does Best," The Globe and Mail declared Canada a world leader in raising capital for mining ventures. Mining companies raised U.S. $4.2 billion on Canadian stock markets in 2005, and 85 percent of mining deals done worldwide that year were based in Canada.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), almost 60 percent of the world's mining and exploration companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange or the Calgary-based TSX Venture Exchange. Canadian mining companies account for over 40 percent of global exploration budgets and nearly 3,200 concessions in more than 100 countries.

What Canada doesn't do best is hold these domestic mining companies accountable for the damage they do abroad.

The tale of Chichipate, a Guatemalan village whose fate is controlled by a Canadian company, is a study in the harm done by Canada's mining sector in developing countries. It's a story that traces the origin of one source of Canada's wealth and calls into question Canada's self-image as a champion of human rights.

The strength of the Canadian mining sector has its cultural roots in our traditional identity as hewers of wood and drawers of water. Our history as a resource-based economy has created a cadre of geologists, mining engineers, managers, investment bankers, industry analysts and brokers with technical expertise in mining.

But there are also structural reasons for Canada's dominance. "It's relatively easy to float a mining company on the TSE," says Jamie Kneen, communications co-ordinator for Mining Watch, an Ottawa-based NGO that monitors the Canadian mining industry. "The information requirements are lax compared to the United States." The New York Stock Exchange has stricter disclosure requirements about the environmental impact of a company's operations, and it forces companies to abide by U.S. accounting rules, which are more exacting than Canada's regarding how companies place a dollar value on mining assets.

The website of the Mining Association of Canada boasts about Canada's lenient disclosure requirements. The TSX rules, it says, are "designed around the needs of the mining industry."

As a bonus, Canada has tax loopholes that benefit companies incorporated in Canada, with operations abroad. To avoid the possibility of double taxation, companies are assumed by the government to be paying taxes in the countries in which they operate. But because many companies make arrangements with host countries not to pay taxes there either, they don't pay taxes anywhere.

Here is the full article.

Argentine Supreme court upholds Chubut Province ban of cyanide leach mining - local protest crucial to the verdict

BUENOS AIRES, Apr 20 (IPS) - Environmental activists in Argentina applauded an Argentine Supreme Court ruling against a projected open cast gold mine using cyanide, pointing out that it set an important legal precedent.

The Supreme Court did not rule on whether or not the gold mine project planned by the Minera El Desquite SA mining company in the southern province of Chubut would cause environmental damages, nor does the verdict prohibit the company from operating.

But the lawyer for the residents who mobilised against the mine, Gustavo Macayo, told IPS that with this ruling, "all legal recourse has been exhausted," and "the stoppage of the mineworks was upheld."

Besides, the decision will also have other repercussions, because it "recognises the power of provinces to regulate the protection of the environment locally, and to regulate or restrict activities, even when they are permitted under national laws," said the lawyer, who lives in Chubut.

The Supreme Court rejected a suit brought by Minera El Desquite, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Meridian Gold, after it had lost cases at every local and appeals court in Chubut province, where its Cordón Esquel mining works have been at a standstill since 2003.

The court threw out the company's argument that its project, blocked by provincial laws, was permitted under national laws. In their Apr. 17 ruling, the magistrates held that there was "no conflict," because the state sets "minimum protection standards" which the provinces have the right to extend as they see fit.

A law passed in Chubut in 2003 "absolutely prohibits" open cast metal mining, as well as the use of cyanide for gold and silver mining in the province, and the company had not fulfilled the environmental requirements established by local law.

Argentina is experiencing a mining boom, driven by high international metals prices and legislation that encourages investment in the sector. The number of mining projects, which are concentrated in the west of the country, along the border with Chile, has grown by 400 percent in just over two years.

The El Desquite mining project concession was awarded by the provincial government of Chubut in 2002. Gold was to be extracted from an open pit mine and leached from the ore with cyanide.

But the ski resort town of Esquel, population 40,000, is only six kilometres away from the projected site, and residents organised against the mine because of potential air and water pollution.

They formed a citizens' assembly, whose biggest achievement was getting the municipal government to hold a non-binding plebiscite in 2003, in which 81 percent of residents said "No" to the mine.

One month before the plebiscite, a provincial court accepted an appeal for legal protection and suspended work on the mining project until an environmental impact study was carried out and was submitted to a public hearing for approval. The company, however, did not take those steps, and instead appealed to other courts.

Although El Desquite's project in Esquel remains blocked, the company's concession from the provincial government is still valid. Residents protested against this on Mar. 23, when they celebrated the fourth anniversary of the plebiscite.

The Supreme Court ruling was a victory for organisations that are against mining projects involving the use of cyanide.

"Residents' demonstrations, the plebiscite and the rulings of provincial courts had already demonstrated the legitimacy of these demands, but the Supreme Court decision sets an important precedent," Javier Rodríguez of the Chubut Antinuclear Movement told IPS.

Rodríguez, an anti-mining activist who works with movements in several provinces, said that in any event, court decisions were not enough. "Social mobilisation is essential. As a judge in San Juan once told us, 'the people have to come out on the streets'," he said.

The Supreme Court decision was "a blow to open cast mining. It sets a very important precedent, as it imposes complete cessation of work until the province's legal requirements are met," said the head of the Centre for Human Rights and the Environment (CEDHA), Daniel Taillant.

In an interview with IPS, Taillant said there was a rising trend in social protests over environmental problems in Argentina in the last five years. He said that the justice system "reflects" that trend in its verdicts, and cited the case of the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires, Argentina's most polluted river.

In that case, the Supreme Court ordered the national, provincial and municipal governments as well as the factories polluting the river to present a drainage and sanitation plan to clean up the river and curb pollution, as well as a policy to deal with the environmental impact on the health of people living in neighbourhoods along its banks.

CEDHA pointed out that further small victories had been won in other provinces, through local legal decisions and laws. In the northwestern La Rioja province, Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold was forced to halt its plans for a mine in the Famatina range after the province passed a law against using cyanide.

A similar ban was approved in the neighbouring province of Tucumán. In both cases, CEDHA noted, the decisions by the provincial legislatures were prompted by pressure from citizens' assemblies opposed to projects because of potential pollution of the air, soil and water.

"Public opinion is playing an increasingly important role in setting public policies on the environment," Taillant said. (END/2007)

Mine tailings dam collapse kills six, seven missing in China

BEIJING (Reuters) - A dam collapse in northeast China sent a torrent of mud and debris into two nearby villages, killing six and leaving another seven missing, Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.

The collapse of the dam, holding back waste from iron ore production, in Liaoning province's Shiqiaozi village injured another 17, all of whom were in a stable condition.

Rescuers were searching for the missing as 10 bulldozers cleared mud and ore.

An 80-metre wide river of debris spilled across fields and into two low-lying villages, destroying cropland and 33 houses.

"The priority of our work is to look for the missing and resettle the homeless," Xinhua quoted Yang Jinfang, head of the publicity department in the nearby city of Anshan, as saying.

The dam, which Xinhua said belonged to the Dingyang Mining Co. Ltd, an iron ore producer, was supposed to be used to contain waste ore, but over the years there had been a buildup of water.

Authorities had sent inspectors to check four similar dams in the area, the report said.

China is frequently beset by industrial and environmental disasters.

Last week, 31 people were crushed in a landslide in central China, most of them trapped in a long-distance bus that was buried under an avalanche of boulders, earth and mud at the entrance to a railway tunnel being built near the site of the Three Gorges Dam.

Here is the full article.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Canadian Barrick Gold Corporation Pascua Lama Project Protested - Al Gore insisted upon removing Barrick Gold as a sponsor of his May visit to Chile.


March Organizers: “We Have To Inform The Public Because The Mass Media Will Not”

(Oct. 29, 2007) Opponents of the Pascua Lama gold mine took to the streets of Santiago on Saturday to raise public awareness about the US$1.4 billion project that, they claim, will have terrible long-term effects on Chile's environment. Although environmental authorities have already approved the project, protesters said their continued resistance can halt the completion of construction (ST, June 26, 2006).

The noisy and vibrant procession of approximately four hundred protesters weaved its way through the bustling pedestrian streets of central Santiago, led by demonstrators hoisting a banner with a simple message: “No to Pascua Lama.” Puncturing the afternoon calm on one of the sunniest days of the spring season, the march rumbled through the heavy weekend traffic of shoppers and passers-by, accompanied by rumbling drums and chants of “Water, Yes! Gold, No!”

Organizers told the Santiago Times that the purpose of the spectacle was to let the public know that opposition to Pascua Lama remains, even as construction continues on the mine.

“This is a march to inform our neighbors that there are still plenty of obstacles for the completion of the mine,” said Consuelo Infante, head of the anti-mine group Citizen Movement. “We have to inform the public because the mass media will not do it, and it is very important that people know there is organized opposition to the project at this time.”

In addition to banners and songs, marchers distributed thousands of informational pamphlets to nearby Santiaguinos outlining the case against Pascua Lama and its owner – Canadian mining group Barrick Gold. Anti-mine groups said a series of logistical and administrative issues could still derail construction, including non-compliance with permit requirements and the refusal of Barrick to respect all aspects of the agreements that paved the way for the mine's construction.

March organizers claim these shortcomings by Barrick could halt the project, if only the government is willing to pursue existing legal complaints.

“Our case was presented at the beginning of the year and the state has not responded, so the courts are not accessible for us,” read the literature given out by marchers. “All of the complaints we have lodged have been rejected due to problems of form, and not substance.”

Barrick's project at Pascua Lama is no stranger to controversy. Environmental activists have lambasted the construction since it was first proposed, claiming the mine will destroy nearby glaciers and pollute downstream water supplies with waste runoff (VT, June 10). Barrick’s track record for environmental abuse is apparently well-known: U.S. Vice-President Al Gore insisted upon removing Barrick Gold as a sponsor of his May visit to Chile (ST, May 11).

Here is the full article.

More on Pascua Lama here: Pascua Lama Gold Mine: A Contemporary Quest for El Dorado

Barrick Gold Executives - We don't represent the people, its the state authorities who represent the people. We are in for profit.

Memorable Quotes:

Peter Munk:

"Gold is not more precious (than water) but jobs are."

Peter Munk's Sidekick:

"We don't represent the people, its the state authorities who represent the people."

"We are in for profit, as you know. We are a free enterprise."

"It is the State Authorities that are there to protect you."

More Peter Munk wisdom here: Barrick Gold Chairman, Peter Munk complains rogue Environmental NGOs are Destroying the Mining Industry

Washington Post article here: In Chile, Precious Lands Often Go for a Pittance - Barrick Gold Corporation Pays $19 Dollars for 20,000 Acres

Mining Misery: Guatemala is one of many countries that has attracted the investment of Canadian Mining Companies – but at what cost to its people?

MUST SEE VIDEO: Watch Canadian Skye Resources mining company evict an entire village of indigenous Mayan Indians in Guatemala.

The town of El Estor
, on the shore of Lake Izabal in eastern Guatemala, was founded at the time of the conquistadores. The lake's strategic location on the Río Dulce, the gateway to the Caribbean, allowed its denizens to prevent pirates from entering the country. Today, it is an area dominated by banana plantations and cattle ranches.

The road to Chichipate, one of the traditional Q'eqchi' Mayan villages surrounding El Estor, is lined with majestic conacaste trees, their massive crowns sprawling sideways. Boys on bicycles carry bundles of firewood gathered from the mangle tree. Women in güipiles, colourful woven blouses, carry infants strapped to their backs. Some seven kilometres from Chichipate, an abandoned nickel mine looms. Now a ghost town, the vast complex once included a smelting plant, administrative offices, employee housing, a school for the children of employees, a golf course and a movie theatre.

Outside Chichipate, Martín Col Caal, a 21-year-old subsistence farmer, is cobbling together a makeshift shelter, using tree branches and palm leaves, for his wife and two young children. About 200 other indigenous families are here in the grassy valley, dubbing their new home Barrio de la Revolución -- Neighbourhood of the Revolution. Today, a steamy day in September 2006, more than 3,000 indigenous people from Chichipate and El Estor have set up similar households on five different sites, defiantly claiming the land as their own, land they say was stolen from their grandparents in the 1960s.

Skye Resources, a Vancouver-based junior mining company, which bought the land from Canadian mining giant Inco in 2004, has different plans for the site. With the price of nickel at a 19-year high, Skye intends to re-open the mine in 2009, with construction slated to start this year. The indigenous occupants say they are not here to protest the mine--they simply need the land to subsist. But one of the five groups is sitting on a nickel deposit. Either the mining company or the squatters will have to go.

History is repeating itself in Chichipate. The families of the protesters have been living in the area since the 1930s, but in 1965 the government of Guatemala sold the land to Inco. When community leaders found out, they demanded the government give back the land. In the early 1980s, after much bloodshed, the government ceded an area smaller than the actual size of the village to the community; people living outside its confines were forcibly relocated. But now, with the community burgeoning and a shortage of arable land, Chichipate is not enough. "We just want a patch of land that we can leave for our children," says Col Caal. "We want the company to negotiate."

When the police arrived on a Sunday afternoon two months later, shooting 12-gauge shotguns in the air, the women and children began to cry. Using loudspeakers, the men asked the police under what legal authority they were acting. Police responded by lobbing canisters of tear gas. Col Caal's wife picked up their two small children, aged one and three, and ran in to the mountains. "The company talks to the president and to the mayor," says Col Caal. "Why doesn't it talk to us?"

Despite its history of intercepting plunderers, El Estor has been less successful fending off the latest fortune hunters.

Events like those in Chichipate have played themselves out across Guatemala as the government, strapped for cash and anxious to lure foreign investors, has sold off mining concessions -- tracts of land from which companies can extract mineral resources -- at a bargain U.S. $120 per square kilometre. As of December 2006, according to Guatemala's Ministry of Energy and Mines, there were 356 mining licenses granted and an additional 250 concessions in the process of being granted. Andrés McKinley, the Oxfam America extractive industries person, estimates the concessions cover more than 10 percent of the country, and that Canadian companies own 80 percent of them.

Read the full article here.

UK mining companies complicit in abuse of poor - Xstrata, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Vedanta Resources accused.

[Tuesday 20 November 2007] British mining corporations supported by the UK government, such as Vedanta Resources, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, are complicit in human rights abuse while making huge profits in developing countries.

This charge is made today by the anti-poverty charity War on Want in a report which attacks these and other UK companies for fuelling conflict and violence against vulnerable people. War on Want launched the report, Fanning the Flames, as the Mines and Money World Congress for the booming industry opens in London today.

Ruth Tanner, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "The British government has championed the cause of UK mining firms across the world. Yet the industry is complicit in a range of human rights abuses and is profiting at the expense of the poor. It is time for the British government to take action to stop these abuses."

The report is launched in the wake of the Norwegian government's decision to drop Vedanta from its global pension fund due to "systematic" environmental and human rights failures. Vedanta's bid for mining rights in the Indian state of Orissa faces mounting opposition from thousands of Dongaria Kandha tribal people who fear the company's plans will damage the fragile ecosystem of the Niyamgiri mountain forest, on which they depend for their livelihoods. According to the report, the Indian Supreme Court heard evidence that people forced to leave their villages to make way for the refinery were beaten.

Dandu Sikaka, a Dongaria tribal woman, said: "How will we survive without Niyamgiri, the mountain? Our streams will dry up. If they mine, it will become a disaster. We will all die if you dig out our forest."

The report pinpoints other Vedanta involvement in abuse in India. At Mettur in Tamil Nadu, the company is accused of seizing land, with discharge from its aluminium plant poisoning farm soil, contaminating water and killing animals, and emissions from the plant and coal-fired power station causing severe health problems for local people. One non-governmental investigation found that male bauxite workers at Mainpat in Chhattisgarh state earned just over 60 rupees, about 80p, for delivering one tonne of ore, with women paid even less. The workers live in small thatched hovels perched over the quarry, denied electricity and adequate water.

Last year Rio Tinto earned $122 million from its stake in the Grasberg gold and copper mine in West Papua, Indonesia, where local people have suffered years of serious human rights and environmental abuse.

BHP Billiton is pressing for new mining opportunities in the Philippines, despite a wave of murders and other human rights violations linked to the extractive industry.

In addition the report cites abuse surrounding operations by UK mining companies Anglo American, Oxus Gold, Global Coal Management, Monterrico Metals and Xstrata in countries such as South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, Peru, Zambia and Colombia.

Here is the full article.

Indian residents to lose homes and livelihoods if mining company has its way

Mining mess in east and west

Kalidas Umarye’s house at Vathadev in Goa’s Bicholim taluka is an ocean of tranquility. But there is tension simmering beneath: Umarye, an agriculturist, might lose his home and livelihood if a mining company has its way.

“How would you feel if the government asks you to leave your property and livelihood because the area is resource-rich?” asks Pramod Umarye, his neighbour.

Land here is being parceled out to mining companies without proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and forest clearance. And, most importantly, against the wishes of the local community.

“The ore you get here is of low grade. But because of demand from China, mining companies are scrambling to get contracts. The Chinese want this ore to blend it with better quality ones,” says journalist Ashwin Tombat.

But Goa’s industrialists are not complaining. In the past six years, the state’s mineral exports have increased 35 per cent to 23 million tonnes last year.

The struggle in Bicholim started in December 2006 when villagers learnt that Panjim-based Zantye and Co Pvt Ltd would be given the lease for mining iron and manganese ore at Sarvona. In January, the Gram Sabha (Sarvona-Karapura panchayat) passed a resolution asking the government not to grant permission. If one goes by the Panchayati Raj Act, this decision should have been enough. But the government called a public hearing — a requirement under the EIA — on January 18.

Residents allege the hearing was faulty because they were not given information on the project 30 days prior to the meeting and the company did not provide any disaster management plan. The second hearing was on March 24, when the residents said they were against the lease because mining would destroy their forests, natural water source and horticulture plantation.

“The company presented false information to get the lease..."

Here is the full article.

Endesa SA plans 5 additional dams to coincide with the HydroAysen Project


(June 28, 2007) Water rights - as they relate to hydro-power in the south, industrial needs in the northern mines, or irrigation in the Central Valley vineyards – are a big issue in Chile. But who owns Chile’s water rights, who administers them, and are fears justified that Chile’s water could be monopolized by an economic juggernaut?

The General Water Directorship, or DGA, administers the nation’s water code, which is supposed to regulate water rights and to prevent monopoly ownership. The DGA was in the news last week when Chilean legislators cited a 2002 DGA report documenting substantial damage to Chilean glaciers by Canada’s Barrick Gold. The damage occurred during extra-official surveying work done at Barrick’s Pascua Lama gold mine (ST, June 26), but the DGA report was not considered by Chilean environmental authorities when they later granted Barrick authorization for their project.

In May the government’s Free Competition Defense Tribunal, FCDT, ordered the Endesa energy company to report about its water rights holdings throughout the country in order to determine the effect the proposed Aysen dam project – developed by Endesa and the Colbún Electrical Company - would have on the energy market.

Endesa responded to the FCDT enquiry reporting that while it owned substantial water rights in Regions XII and IX, most of its water rights were concentrated in Region X. Its water rights holdings, said the company, are all confined within the Interconnected Central System (SIC) of energy and total 40 percent of the total water rights within the SIC.

Endesa said it already generates 3,400 megawatts of power; its proposed collaboration with Colbún on the Aysen dam project would give it an additional 2,400 megawatts of power generating capacity.

The company also outlined additional water rights applications now in process before the DGA. If approved, these new water rights would open the door for five additional hydro projects that would generate another 1,081 megawatts of power.

Also in May, various Chilean farming operations sued the DGA, saying it wrongfully charged them exorbitant licensing fees under new provisions in Chile’s water code. The farmers hold water rights titles allowing them to exploit groundwater on their property, but were recently placed on a DGA list of “non-complying” companies that allegedly owe thousands of dollars in licensing fees.

Here is the full article.

Beavers get busy in South America - Patagonian forests devastated by furry rodent’s depradations

IN NORTH American culture the beaver is as benign a rodent as ever was — an amiable blue-collar vegetarian with a penchant for erecting public works and a protagonist of children’s television shows.

But in southern Chile it’s wanted dead or alive.

Some 60 years after 50 were introduced into South America’s sub-Antarctic Patagonia region in a doomed effort to install a fur trade, the beaver population has exploded.

Today more than 50,000 roam freely in southern Patagonia, a region shared by Chile and Argentina, gnawing their way with abandon through virgin forests unaccustomed to tree-eating predators.

Chilean conservation officials are sounding the alarm as the beaver population spreads north, leaving miles of dead forest in its wake. The government is paying trappers by the pelt and has gone as far as encourage Patagonian restaurants to serve the foreign rodent on their menu.

They are also starting to consider more drastic measures, like widespread poisoning in some areas, to eradicate the beaver entirely.

The ramped-up efforts at the south end of the world are being driven in part by research by the University of Georgia, which recently published the first-ever study documenting the animal’s damaging effects on Chilean river wildlife.

The study’s findings have deep-ened concerns about the beaver’s threat and given more fuel to those who want its tail on a platter.

"The reason people are concerned is the landscape change," said Chris Anderson, a former UGA doctoral student who spearheaded the university’s research efforts in Chile. "If the beaver gets established on the mainland, there’s nothing to stop it from going all the way to Santiago (the capital)."

Here is the full article.

Fighting an Invasion: Mocksville ecologist helps fight a scourge of beavers in Chile

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: In 1946, hoping to start a fur trade, the Argentine government released 50 North American beavers in the sub-Antarctic islands on South America’s southern tip.

The fur trade flopped quickly. But 60 years later, the beaver has never had it better.

In the continent’s vast Patagonia region, shared by Argentina and Chile, some of the most pristine but defenseless forest in existence is being eaten alive by dam-building rodents.

The original 50 have multiplied to over 50,000 and crossed over to mainland Chile. As they gnaw their way north, leaving miles of dead forest in their wake, the worried Chilean government is grasping for solutions.

Enter the man from Mocksville.

Chris Anderson, 30, an ecologist, found his way to Chilean Patagonia through a series of happenstances he never would have anticipated. Eight years after first setting foot there, he has emerged as one of the country’s leading experts on the beaver.

There was never a better time to be one. The Chilean government has started to pay hunters

by the pelt to kill beaver. Officials have gone as far as to encourage restaurants to serve them on their menu and are considering widespread poisoning efforts.

Chile has been hunting and trapping the beaver since 2003, but changes now being made to their tactics are based in large part on Anderson’s research. Last year he published the first-ever study on the beaver’s effects on freshwater wildlife - demonstrating for the first time that beaver dams significantly reduce the diversity of aquatic life around them. He sits on national and regional invasive-species advisory boards in Chile and is a fellow at one Chilean research institute and a researcher at another.

Here is the full article.

Canadian mining firm, Suramina Resources Inc. claims large new land package in Chile

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Nov. 26, 2007) - Suramina Resources Inc. ("Suramina") (TSX:SAX) is pleased to announce that as a result of an aggressive project generative campaign in Chile for porphyry Cu-Au and epithermal Ag-Au and polymetallic mineralized systems, the Company has applied for 88 exploration concessions, a number of which have already been granted (please see attached map). The total area of the concessions applied for comprise over 26,100 hectares and were acquired following a detailed analysis of Suramina's database and satellite image processing.

In Region III, 4,500 hectares have been claimed and are located 30 km north of Suramina's Vicuna project located within the premier Maricunga Belt. This gold belt is known to host a number of significant gold deposits, including the Cerro Casale deposit and the Refugio/Verde deposit.

In Region VI, 11,000 hectares have been claimed and are located on the Chilean side of Suramina's Elisa properties located in Argentina and close to the El Planchon international border pass. The Elisa properties exhibit high grade, sedimentary-hosted copper mineralization and Suramina's newly claimed blocks in Chile exhibit similar geological features and have the potential for further discovery.

In Region XI, 10,600 hectares have been claimed southwest of Coeur D'Alene Mining's Cerro Bayo and Fachinal silver-gold mines. These deposits also have similar characteristics to a number of deposits on the Argentina side of the border, including Suramina's Cerro Cuadrado property that is presently under exploration and achieving encouraging results (see Suramina's press release of November 7, 2007).

Here is the full article.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Small Mapuche community rests all of its hopes on a group of strangers in far-away Washington, DC - Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

[Nov. 22, 2007] Puerto Montt: Fighting for years to preserve the last, tiny plot of land it has left following years of state and more recently industrial encroachment, a small Mapuche-Huilliche indigenous community near Puerto Montt, Region X is now resting all of its hopes on a group of strangers in far-away Washington, DC.

This past February – out of legal options here in Chile – the Pepiukelen community sent its case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). An autonomous branch of the Organization of American States, the IACHR examines accusations of human rights violations, referring more egregious cases to its sister body, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

Nine months later the IACHR has yet to rule on the case. And, with the latest in a series of recently arrived salmon industry factories now beginning to operate quite literally on their doorsteps, hope springs far from eternal for the eight large families that make up the Pepiukelen community.

"At this point there’s still a chance the Inter-American Commission could rule in our favor, but honestly, we’re disappointed with what’s happening up there. I’ve spoken with lawyers from different parts of Latin America who have presented cases before the Commission, and it’s never taken this long before," said Francisco Vera Millaquén, the werken (spokesperson) for the indigenous community.

The Pepiukelen community has resided in the area near Pargua, a launching point for ferries traveling between mainland Chile and the island of Chiloé, for as long as anyone can remember. Maps dating back to the time of Chile’s independence suggest the community once possessed some 11,000 acres of land. Two centuries later, mostly as a result of expropriations by the state, the community has seen that vast property reduced to just 8.5 acres, land on which Vera and his family members continue to support themselves through farming.

But it’s not just the size of the property that has changed. Thinking back to the years of his youth, Vera recalls the sloping, seaside plot with its then crystal-clear river and easy access to the beach as a magical playground.

"It’s difficult," said Vera, struggling unsuccessfully to contain his emotions. "Years ago, right here, there was a school. And we’d play all over this area. We’d always swim in the river. Every summer we used it as a natural swimming pool. It was the same thing here on the beach…And now that’s all gone."

The most notable changes have taken place over the course of the past 15 years, a period of time that corresponds precisely with a regional boom in farmed salmon. With exports increasing more than 10-fold since the early 1990s, the now US$2.2 billion-per-year farmed salmon industry has transformed southern Chile’s economy and now employs an estimated 45,000 people, principally in Regions X and XI.

Considered by many a godsend for the mostly rural southern region, for Vera and his family the salmon boom has been more like a living nightmare. The start with, the "farms" – offshore raft structures where salmon are raised in pens by the tens of thousands – have polluted area waters and thus driven local artisan fishermen and shell fish harvesters out of business.

"It’s not a coincidence," said Vera, noting that over the past two decades local shell fish have disappeared, red tides have become increasingly common, and native fish have simply died off. "It’s all a chain that began approximately 20 years ago when people still thought these companies were setting up operations that wouldn’t be harmful to the environment. Today it’s finally being shown that’s not the case."

The industry has also spawned a host of satellite businesses, such as processing plants, fish meal and oil factories, and salmon feed plants: precisely the kinds of factories that because of Pargua’s proximity to Chiloé (one of the most concentrated salmon farming areas in the country) have one by one set up shop in the immediate vicinity of the Pepiukelen community. Vera’s farm is now surrounded by four large plants.

"What we have now is a landscape that is completely, absolutely horrible," said Vera. "Besides painting their facilities ugly colors that don’t at all fit the surroundings, the companies are also causing tremendous harm to the environment."

In the late 1990s, when the first of the factories moved in, members of the unprepared Pepiukelen community had little idea what was taking place. But in 2001, when a salmon company called Long Beach managed to acquire land directly abutting Vera’s property – just meters from his front door – the community took direct action.


"Here the authorities have always just shut their eyes. And when I say authorities, I mean all of the authorities: starting with the president and her cabinet, the regional government, the judges who’ve sold out, and finally the members of Congress who have simply looked past the problem. They haven’t wanted to help," said Vera.

The community leader did note one exception: Sen. Alejandro Navarro of the Socialist Party, who has tried to exert some influence on behalf of the Pepiukelen. According to Navarro, the problem in Chile is that both the courts and government environmental authorities have a built in bias toward "mega-projects," i.e. business ventures involving substantial amounts of capital investment.

"In this particular case, and despite a host of irregularities, the project was allowed to go ahead because of the law’s passion for development and production and because of the intolerance of Region X’s regional authorities," said Sen. Navarro.

Sen. Navarro for one is convinced the IACHR will eventually rule in favor of the Pepiukelen Community. "We’re going to take this all the way to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights," he said. "And I think Chile’s going to lose. Just like what happened in Ralco, with the Pehuenche community, Chile’s going to be convicted and the state’s going to have to shell out a lot of money to pay for the damage caused by this private venture."

Vera, however, appears less and less convinced. With the Los Fiordos factory now basically completed and the IACHR dragging its feet, hope is certainly running thin. "Although we still have some faith, bit by bit we’re losing it, because we haven’t yet seen any clear, concrete result. Up to this point the Commission has just done things to prolong the process," he said.

The salmon companies, meanwhile, "want this land at any price," Vera added. "It doesn’t matter to them what they have to do to get it. That’s the final objective. If they have to eliminate people, they’ll do it. If they have to remove people, they’ll remove them. They don’t have a problem doing any of that."

Thirst for Energy Fuels Controversial Hydroelectric Power Project in Quebec, Canada

All Things Considered, November 9, 2007 · When politicians make speeches about America's reliance on foreign energy, they're usually talking about oil from the Middle East or other unstable hotspots.

But a growing number of Americans get their electricity from one massive hydroelectric complex in northern Quebec. The Canadian power company Hydro-Quebec has been building a series of hydroelectric dams since the 1970s on rivers that flow into the James Bay. The company is owned and operated by Quebec's provincial government.

The latest Hydro-Quebec project will uproot and move the Rupert River, an engineering feat that supporters say will rival the Trans-Alaska pipeline.

But the Rupert River is sacred to the Cree Indians who live nearby.

Forcing Out the Cree

Chief Josie Jimiken sits talking on his cell phone in a diner in Nemaska, a tiny Cree village roughly a thousand miles due north of New York City.

Jimiken grew up on the Rupert River. He calls a plan by Hydro-Quebec to divert roughly 70 percent of the river's water a kind of sucker punch for his tribe.

"I was 10 years old when the first projects were announced to harness the dam and divert the rivers up here in our territory. We ended up being forced out of our community site," Jimiken said.

Villagers moved to Nemaska in the 1970s, but they still spend summers back at their traditional camps along the Rupert.

Jimiken says those hunting and fishing grounds — along with ancient burial sites — will be lost when the project is finished.

'Hydro-Quebec is the Mad Scientist'

Fly over the northern forest that flanks James Bay and you see untouched valleys framed by granite outcroppings. Brilliant gold tamarack trees frame russet-red muskegs.

But you also see a vast web of electric lines, power substations, roads and canals.

A half-dozen major rivers have already been dammed or diverted, creating artificial reservoirs that cover nearly 6,000 square miles.

That kind of human footprint in an area that was untouched a generation ago makes activists like Daniel Green cringe.

"We have severely modified almost a third of Quebec's northern water courses, hydrology," Green said.

Green is an environmental scientist with the Sierra Club, based in Montreal. He said the rivers being re-plumbed by Hydro-Quebec feed everything from beluga whale habitats in James Bay and Hudson Bay to spawning grounds for rare river trout.

"We are doing an experiment in Quebec's north and Hydro-Quebec is the mad scientist," Green said. "We do not know where this is going to go."

Tangled Political, Moral Calculations

In the 1990s, green groups joined with the Cree Indians and managed to kill a plan to dam the Great Whale River, which lies to the north of the Rupert.

That was a bitter defeat for French Canadians like Lavigne, who see the James Bay hydro complex as a symbol of national pride — an engineering feat to rival the Hoover Dam that also generates annual profits of $2.5 billion.

"They gave us bad press. They went to France, to Europe. They went to the States and said that we were eliminating — not eliminating a community, but a genocide or something like that," Lavigne said.

Here is the full article and broadcast.

Cree leaders surrender the Rupert River to Hydro Quebec

[October 29, 2001] After fighting the Quebec government, and its agency Hydro-Quebec, in its plans to dam the major rivers and log the forests on their ancestral lands, the Cree have surrendered the Rupert River. According to news reports, the Rupert will be diverted north into the Eastmain River.

In return the Cree may receive $3.5 billion over the next 50 years, more decision-making authority over resource decisions on their lands, and a share of profits on resources extracted. The Crees must withdraw lawsuits that Canadian Press estimates are seeking $3.6 billion in damages.

This is a remarkable capitulation after fighting for decades with a tenacity and cunning that would make a politician drool with jealousy. And now the Cree are in bed with a government that has repeatedly failed to honor previous agreements.

The Cree found themselves caught in a difficult situation. Their communities are mostly composed of people under the age of 25 who have no interest in the land. There is no real economic development, no opportunities, with the resulting social problems. Quebec has continued to mine and log their land and the Cree were getting nothing in return, nothing but the feeling of losing by a thousand cuts.

Is the River Dead?

It is a tragedy that the foremost defenders of the Rupert have capitulated. It is equally tragic that they felt they had to. And it is a tragedy, though not entirely a certainty, that the great river may be drowned.

Environmental assessments by the provincial and federal governments are required, and theoretically could reject the dams. But historically neither sets of processes have good track records for killing bad ideas.

Environmentalists are now out in the cold without their biggest ally. Of course, they can still fight the project, but they will likely go up against the Cree who now have billions at stake. An awkward twist of fate.

The agreement, signed by the Grand Council of the Cree on October 23, must still be ratified by the communities. But will the communities approve? Three of the nine communities — Mistissini, Nemaska, Waskaganish — are located in the Rupert watershed. Former grand chief Billy Diamond of Waskaganish was quoted in the National Post voicing his shock at the deal, saying there is going to be "bitter internal fighting among the Crees."

Life Changed Forever

Five years ago, the Province of Quebec and the Cree Grand Council signed a treaty that provides roughly $70 million in annual compensation, if the Cree allow hydro development to continue.

Three villages refused to sign on. But in Nemaska, where opposition is strongest, Hydro-Quebec is paying individual Cree to clear-cut their own traditional hunting grounds in preparation for the river diversion.

Walter Jolly sits by the side of the road in his dusty pick-up truck, which has logging tools piled in the back. Jolly said he's taken a lot of heat from other Cree for signing on with Hydro-Quebec.

"We still got a lot of land. It's only about a not even a quarter," Jolly said.

If Hydro-Quebec keeps to its construction schedule, by 2012 hundreds of thousands of Americans will be turning on their light switches and without knowing it, they'll be drawing cheap, low-carbon power from the Rupert River.

But far away in the north, this wild landscape and the Cree way of life will be changed forever.

Here is the full article.

How to Stop a Dam - The Great Whale Project Revisited

The shelving of the Great Whale Hydroelectric Project in Canada after an intense debate on its environmental and human impacts marked a turning point in the debate on the big versus small dam controversy in the (North) American continent.

The project proposed the damming of the Great Whale River flowing through the transitional area between the tundra and taiga in Quebec and emptying into the Hudson Bay. There were also plans to divert the nearby Little Whale River and the Nastapoca River to the Great Whale.

The proposed reservoirs would have covered 3391 square kilometres, transforming 1667 square kilometres of land environment and 1724 km of aquatic environment (lakes and rivers). The three underground generating stations proposed to tap this water were to have installed capacity exceeding 3200 MW.

The main proponent of the grandiose project was none other than Mr. Robert Bourassa who became the premier of Quebec in 1985. The state-owned power utility, Hydro Quebec, wanted the project to be taken up for meeting increasing domestic demands and for exports to the United States. According to Mr. Bourassa, the fundamental question was not whether to build Great Whale but whether to chose nuclear, coal or hydroelectric power. A hydroelectric plant protected the environment better than a coal fired or nuclear plant. The project was opposed by the Crees (native Amerindians) and the inuit (Eskimos), environmental organisations like the Greenpeace and Friends of Earth and other activists.

The mega project, James Bay I (La Grande Complex), undertaken earlier in the area south of Great Whale river, had caused serious disturbance to the water regime and aquatic life because of flooding and alteration of natural patterns of river flow, mercury pollution and unwelcome impacts on the lifestyle of Crees. Hydro Quebec acknowledged some of these impacts. According to Mr. Pierre Senecal and Dominique Egre of the Environment wing of the Hydro Quebec, the modification of flows in several rivers forced the Cree to adapt to new ways of travelling and harvesting wildlife resources. At the same time, the settling of the population and the introduction of television had accelerated the evolution of the Cree society.

Mercury pollution caused by leaching of mercury into the waters from flooded areas made fish inedible. Fish was an important component in the diet of Cree. According to Mr. Claude Langlois of Environment wing of Hydro Quebec, mercury levels in fish in the reservoir would normalise in 30 years. But experts like Mr. Allen Penn, Environmental Advisor to the Cree Regional Authority, contest this saying that there is no data indicating that it would. Mercury pollution was sure to occur if Great Whale is dammed. A study by Mr. Langlois showed that there were already higher levels of mercury among the wild life of the project area.

As far as the Crees were concerned, most of them were not agreeable for a repeat of their earlier experiences. The Grand Chief of Cree, Matthew Coon Come, argued that the Great Whale project would alter the seasonal patterns and quantity of water flow in the concerned rivers and water basins, adversely affect the wildlife and marine resources of the Hudson Bay and the James Bay, destroy the habitat of fur bearing animals, disturb the migration patterns of caribou (undomesticated reindeer which are hunted by the Cree), destroy spawning grounds of fish, deplete subsistence food resources which the Crees depend, severely increase mercury contamination of fish, change the ecology of Hudson Bay and James Bay, threaten endangered species, cause substantial pollution, endanger the health, safety and welfare of the native population and interfere with and cause extensive and irreparable damage, loss and prejudice to their livelihood, their way of life and traditional use of the land and natural resources.



The Cree took their fight to the United States and campaigned against the purchase of the power by utilities in the States. A joint delegation of Crees and inuit sailed to New York in 1990 in a hybrid craft with a bow of an Indian canoe and the stern of an Inuit kayak with much effect. The campaign finally led to the cancellation, early in 1994, of five million dollar contract by the New York Power Authority to buy power from Hydro Quebec. Later, the power company, Consolidated Edison, also backed out from a contract citing unresolved environmental questions. In Quebec, the growth in demand for power was slackening, and the new Government in Quebec was not very keen on continuing the fight.

Against this background, the then Premier, Jacques Parizeau, announced in November 1994, that the project was being put on ice. The previous day, the Federal and Provincial Review Committees had referred the feasibility study back to Hydro Quebec citing 'major inadequacies'.

Hydro Quebec is also veering round to a similar view, but for a different reason: "It must be admitted that large scale projects are less appropriate to respond to moderate growth in electricity demand. Hence in the future, Hydro Quebec will opt for small and medium size projects," the utility said in its submission to the Consultation Panel for the Public Debate on Energy in Quebec. The debate itself was something that the environmental groups were demanding for long.

Here is the full article.

Chile high school student preserves Patagonia indigenous languages in HidroAysen threatened area

(Nov. 19, 2007) Sixteen-year-old Santiago high school student Joubert Yantén has a mission: to preserve Patagonia’s indigenous languages and worldviews through music.

Yantén became fascinated with Patagonia’s indigenous cultures at the age of 8. It was only later that his mother revealed his ancestral connection to the groups he had begun to research: His great-great-grandfather had been a Selk’nam, member of a Patagonian indigenous people more commonly known as Onas.

The Onas and other Patagonian indigenous groups were largely eliminated after Western colonists arrived to the southern tip of South America, a region that would be exploited for gold mining, fishing, pelt-gathering and sheep grazing. Many indigenous people were killed, while others succumbed to disease after being taken to Christian missions. Today, very few native Patagonians remain.

Intrigued by Patagonian cultures such as the Selk’nams, Yaganes and Kawéskars, Yantén taught himself some of their languages by studying dictionaries and grammar and phonology texts. In some cases, he was able to make use of audio recordings that captured the words of some of these tongues’ last remaining native speakers. By the age of 14, he had become proficient enough in Yagán to travel to Patagonia and speak with Navarino Island resident Cristina Calderón, considered the last surviving Yagán. He said that Calderón, whose children and grandchildren had not learned Yagán, was surprised to discover that he spoke her language.
Here is the full article.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chile's Chamber of Deputies Environmental Commission announces Region XI Visit


(Nov. 22, 2007) Dep. Enrique Accorsi (PPD), president of the Chamber of Deputies’ Environmental Commission, told the Chilean daily La Nacion on Tuesday that the Commission will travel to Region XI next week to receive the “Cabalgata Patagonia sin Represas” (Horseback Riders for Patagonia without Dams).

The lawmakers plan to meet the Calbagata upon its arrival in the regional capital of Coyhaique on Nov. 28. The Calbagata includes a contingent of 35 horseback riders who began a 10-day tour of the Region Monday in protest of the HydroAysén dam project and to alert area residents of the consequences it will bring. Participants in the unique protest also plan to meet with Regional Governor Viviana Betancourt upon their arrival in Coyhaique.

For the activists working against the pending Aysén hydroelectric project, Tuesday’s announcement was an encouraging sign. Patricio Rodrigo, head of the NGO Chile Ambiente and co-editor of the book “Patagonia Sin Represas” released last month, called the participation of the deputies “extremely important.”

“It shows that national political actors, both those aligned with the government and those in the opposition, are very concerned about this project,” he said. “If the government does not look for alternative solutions there will be huge problems.”

Environmental activists claim that mega-projects such as HydroAysén are not viable solutions to the country’s long-term energy demands, which are increasing by more than six percent annually. They believe Patagonia’s considerable hydro-power potential should be utilized by local interests for small-scale projects and not to the benefit of transnational corporations in bed with local business interests.

This kind of decentralized approach to energy development, however, faces serious problems because Endesa – the company behind the Patagonia dam project - enjoys a near-monopoly over water rights in the region thanks to an agreement reached during the final days of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. At that time Endesa was owned by Chilean supporters of the Pinochet regime, who bought the (formerly) state-owned company from the military government at a bargain basement price. Endesa is now owned by Europeans.

Rodrigo and other Endesa critics argue that the government must address the water rights issue in order to formulate a sustainable national energy policy. The recuperation of water rights for local citizens and businesses will be on the agenda when the participants in the “Cabalgata” sit down with Regional officials in Coyhaique next week.

Here is the full article.

Barrick Gold Corporation abandons mine in Argentina citing RABID LOCAL OPPOSITION – cites rising Resource Nationalism as cause

Translation: The World against Barrick Gold / Here are the guilty henchmen of the bi-national Pascua Lama mining project: Mulet, Frei, Trivelli

Risky business

[Thu, 22 Nov 2007] IT’S A TWO-HOUR charter flight to get to Cerro Vanguardia, the AngloGold Ashanti gold mine tucked away in the nether regions of Patagonia, Argentina. At the mine the landscape is oddly reminiscent of the Karoo.

St Julian, 150km to the east, is the nearest settlement: a craggy, windswept town that derives much of its employment from AngloGold’s open pit operations. While there are benefits for places such as St Julian from the mining that impacts on its community, other provinces in the country are turning their backs on the prospect of digging for minerals.

That’s just one element of the growing trend known as resource nationalism. Central and provincial government, local communities plus pressure groups – either working together or in isolation – are harassing resources companies: in general, lobbying for a larger share of revenues or raising environmental concerns. In Argentina, the La Rioja, Rio Negro and Tucuman provinces have totally banned open pit mining.

Earlier this year the provincial government of Mendoza province, known for its vineyards and ski resorts, banned open pit mining. The ban was short lived but sent up a warning flare for those mining in Argentina.

The opposition to mining in some areas isn’t necessarily resource nationalism in its true sense: which is to say, governments leveraging their power to gain more for the country. But it is a reflection of a growing trend, where communities and governments are increasingly aware of how they can influence what happens around them, on occasions shunning investment in their local resources and at other times welcoming it but demanding a larger slice of the pie.

In March, Barrick Gold said it would leave the site of its proposed mine in the Famatina Mountains in the Argentine province of La Rioja after rabid local opposition. Provincial governor Angel Maza, which the local opposition claimed was too close to Barrick, was suspended.

Such experiences haven’t deterred mining companies in their quest for resources in Argentina. AngloGold continues to invest in Cerro Vanguardia. It’s lifted by $1m its five-year, $20m exploration budget as it looks to expand production past the mine’s current life of 2018. Other companies continue working on various projects and diversified resources company Xstrata may start developing a new copper mine in Argentina’s San Juan province in year a or so.


Power sees resource nationalism in its many forms and as part and parcel of current resources business. He says integration into and acceptance by the local community is key for any successful Brownfield and, in particular, Greenfield mining operation in many emerging markets.

A number of South American countries (apart from Argentina, where most of its indigenous people were wiped out by the Spanish invaders) have large, indigenous under classes. As democracy grows many politicians in South American countries aim to represent those communities, turning to them increasingly for support.


The speed of Chinese growth and that country’s emergence as an economic and increasingly political powerhouse also plays a part in resource nationalism. “Chinese demand for resources is growing exponentially and China’s prepared to write cheques to obtain access to resources. The price at the margin isn’t something they’re overtly concerned about.”

Says Powers: “They’re bringing a can-opener – in terms of funding for infrastructure projects, often rail and road links that would enable any mine to transport its minerals from isolated areas to market. I suspect when the minerals become available China (where it’s invested in infrastructure, etc) will have the first right of refusal.”

Here is the full article.