Thousands March in Chile Against Dams in Patagonia
This is the second time in less than a year that a nationwide action has been organized against the development of mega-hydroelectric projects in Patagonia.
Thousands came out to march for the protection of Chile’s rivers in cities throughout the country, from the capitol of Santiago to Coyhaique in the Aysén region in Patagonia. In Coyhaique the spirit was particularly Patagonian — a drenching downpour could not deter the hundreds of people that came out to march against HidroAysén, as the rough weather and the rain only confirmed the marchers' identity with the wild elements of their Patagonian home.
Sergio Diaz, of the Jovenes Tehuelche (Tehuelche Youth), a national organization of young people working on environmental and human rights issues, said that “it is important to recognize that even in places very affected by the earthquake, like Concepción and Talca, that people are putting aside all of their problems and standing up to reject the proposal to dam rivers in Patagonia.”
Also perceived as being of particularly bad taste was the visit of Pablo Yrarrázaval - the head of Enersis - at the end of May to present Chilean President Piñera with a US$10 million check for earthquake reconstruction while taking advantage of the podium to make a public pitch for a more “fair” and “accelerated” treatment of the HidroAysén project by environmental authorities. The scene was so gross, in fact, that former Minister of the Environment Ana Lya Uriarte was compelled to write an open letter denouncing the behavior of the company as completely inappropriate, and then going so far to say that HidroAysén “is not necessary for Chile’s energy future.”
In the meantime, the Chilean Minister of Energy, Ricardo Raineri, who in the past has made public statements in support of HidroAysén, has recently taken concrete steps towards supporting the development of “net-metering” (also known as “inter-tie”) systems to connect domestic small-scale renewable energy generation with the large Chilean electrical grid, once again demonstrating that Chile’s energy future does not have to be built on archaic technology like mega-hydroelectric dams.
The national march and recent events serve notice on HidroAysén and the current authorities that Chilean civil society is indeed very attentive and organized around the issue of dams in Patagonia. As Patricio Rodrigo, of the Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia (Patagonia Defense Council, or CDP), said at the march in Santiago, “this is the moment in which the people are waking up to defend Patagonia.”
“We are here today,” he continued, “to send a potent signal to the government that we are not going to permit the continued degradation of our environment, much less the destruction of the pristine rivers of Patagonia."