Canada Pension Plan

Patagonia Dams – Horseback Protest in Chile

We had just landed after a 45 minuete flight on LAN Chile from Puerto Montt at the Balmaceda airport outside of the city of Coyhaique in the Patagonia. We were riding in an airport shuttle to central Coyhaique when we came around a bend to find a police cars following a long line of horses. This was the Patagonia sin Represas horseback protest that has been making its way across the Patagonia for several weeks in an attempt to draw national and international attention to the proposed Dams that will be built in Southern Chile.

Endesa Power in South America
The plan in the works by the Endesa Power company from Spain and other companies is to dam rivers across Southern Chile, and then send the power all the way across Chile thousands of miles to Santiago. In theory, this sounds like it might help Chile solve the electrical and energy problems that Chile is facing. In reality, this will be some of the most costly, inefficient, and environmentally destructive energy per KW that could possibly be produced in Chile. There is a very real possibility that this energy is just as likly to go to Argentina as to Santiago once the dams are complete.

Patagonia to Santiago
We have spoken with experts on energy production that believe to send this much energy across Chile will result in a significan loss of electricity in the process of transmissions that will nearly neutralize any cost benefits to zero by the time it reaches Santiago and the Central Regions of Chile.  The other obvious problem still to be solved is how to get the electricity there. There are currently no transmission lines, or even roads to build transmission lines from the deep Patagonia to even the more populated parts of Southern Chile such as Puerto Montt or Temuco. This is the second environmental disaster created by the current president of Michelle Bachelet in regards to the Patagonia hydro dam projects, as her administration has also allocated funds for the construction of a road across Douglas Tompkin’s Pumalin Park causing unrecoverable damage to some of rarest species of flora and fauna left in South America.

A European Companies Behavior in South America
The real irony of the plans by the Endesa Power company in South America is that in their own home country of Spain they would never be allowed to build such a dam because of European Union environmental regulations. This double standard has struck a few Chilean politicians as too much, and they are proposing European style environmental regulations for hydro electric dam construction in Chile that will block the construction of dams in areas that are environmentally or culturally important to Chile. Currently, the authority to authorize the construction of dam remains with the executive branch under Bachelet alone. The proposal is to introduce a series of standards that must be met by law, rather than as an executive order under the president.

Why is Chile still viewed as a Developing Country?
The status of Chile’s development can be a touchy subject, depending on what part of Chile yhou are in or what part of Chile you are from.  You must understand the traditional antagonism that exist between urban Santiago / metropolitan region and rural Chile. It is very common for people in Santiago to view the rural and less developed areas of Chile as if they where victimizing or burdening them with their lack of development, and also are thus responsible for Chile’s continuing status as a developing country in the eyes of the World.  They would rather take the blame the victim approach to development, than invest the money in to those parts of Chile needed to euqalize rural Chile with urban areas. This is fairly common cultural phenomena across South America and Latin America, and not all that special to just Chile. So, the business community in Santiago is taking the position that the opposition to the dams is an attempt to stop the development of Chile. The lobby in favor of the dams are in a sense milking this rural / urban rift in Chilean culture so as to frame this issue in to just another case of the ignorant rural Chilean people holding the country back (i.e. Santiago and the central regions).

The diffrence this time is that it is more than the rural people of Chile fighting the dam. Amongst the long line of horses, was also a lot of Gringo activist.  In airports and along side the roads across southern Chile, tourist are constantly encountering the striking billboards for the movement Patagonia Sin Represas. This is more than a few unhappy farmers on horses. In a sense it is the urban corporate heads in Santiago that are looking like they are holding back the developement of Chile. If anything, the poor ignorant farmers and rural people are looking fairly well schooled and progressive on this issue.

The good news is that the practical logistical issues involved in such a project in the deep Patagonia is buying time for the opposition to the dams in Southern Chile to take action. The dams are not expected to go in to operation at least until 2012 to 2020, and this is likely an optimistic estimate on the part of the power companies executives that really do not know the time it takes to do things in the Patagonia. A lot can happen politically and economically between now, then, and when a light bulb is finally lit in the office buildings of Los Condes way up North.

reproduced from

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