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.