Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Horseback Dam Protest Underway in Chile's Aysen Region - No dams on the Baker & Pascua Rivers


(Nov. 21, 2007) A contingent of 35 horseback riders set off on a 10-day journey through the Region XI (Aysén) Monday morning to protest plans for a massive system of hydroelectric dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers.

The so-called “Cabalgata Patagonia Sin Represas” or Horseback Ride for Patagonia without Dams, was organized by local activists in conjunction with the Coalition for the Defense of the Spirit of Patagonia, a group that has been at the forefront of opposition to the Aysén dam project.

The tour seeks to highlight the effects of the project on the local communities that inhabit the 330 kilometer route between the town of Cochrane and Coyhaique, the regional capital.

“We are not traveling to Coyhaique just to take a pleasant trip,” said Aquilines Olivares, who has lived in the Aysén region all his life. “We are going through with this campaign so that they see us, they hear us and they give us an answer.”

Before leaving Cochrane, the group sent a letter to Regional Governor Viviana Betancourt urging her to take action against Endesa and Colbún, the companies behind the Aysén dam project. The protestors allege the companies’ claims to water sources and private lands in the region are illegitimate.

The letter also called for a formal and ongoing dialogue between the government and local communities over the potential impact of the project on the region’s natural resources. In 2008 the companies must submit an Environmental Impact Assessment which will be critical in determining the ultimate fate of the project.

(In Chile Environmental Impact Statements are often have little meaning: False Environmental Impact Statements induce Regional Environment Commission to Implement Fines. , and Endesa specializes in obfuscation and non-transparency: Endesa Strategy & Tactics I – Revisiting the Ralco & Pangue Hydroelectric Projects on the Rio Bio Bio . As are government "attempts" to preserve the environment: Chile's Government fines itself for polluting the environment . Other typical anti-EIS strategies used by Asian and Australian hydro-companies: Australian dam proponents try an end run around environmental impact statement, Another Australian environmental impact statement rendered meaningless by 5 week comment period , World must held protect vital Mekong River from hydroelectric development - Lack of transparent environmental impact statements cited. , Chinese 3.5 Billion “Hydroelectric – Iron Mine” complex slated for Africa’s Gabon National Park - EIS requirement disregarded )

Coalition president Marco Antonio Díaz said support for the horseback riders is “spectacular.” “We will show the entire country that the people here are united to stop this project,” he said.

The campaign has generated a great deal of publicity, attracting prominent national and international environmental activists to the cause. Last month the group released a book entitled “Patagonia Sin Represas!” The book features side-by-side “before and after” photographs of pristine Patagonia landscapes as they appear now, and as they are likely to appear if a planned transmission line is eventually constructed throughout the region.

Critics have maintained that the project’s five dams and over 1,400 miles of transmissions lines – which would pass through 12 wildlife reserves – would leave an indelible blight on Chile’s geography and threaten the development of eco-tourism, a promising source of economic growth in Chile’s remote regions.

The Patagonia dam issue also highlights differing visions of the future of Chile’s energy supply. Backers of the project say it would go a long way toward meeting the country’s huge energy demands, which are expected to increase by seven percent in the next year. The Aysén dam complex would generate 2,750 megawatts of electricity – providing nearly 25 percent of the country’s total current generating capacity.

But top environmentalists such as Juan Pablo Orrego, head of the Santiago-based NGO Ecosistemas and a leading opponent of the Aysén project, believes Chile can and must seek alternative solutions to its burgeoning energy demands. He points to the country’s vast potential to develop renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, options that has not been fully pursued due to Chile’s market-driven energy policy.

“We need to move past the present model, imposed by the energy sector, based on massive hydroelectric and thermoelectric projects,” said Orrego.

Here is the full article.