Chilean Patagonia

Thousands Protest Against Patagonia Dams

(April 26, 2011) Chilean Government Urged to Cancel Controversial HidroAysén Project

In a massive outpouring of public opposition to Chile’s controversial HidroAysén dam project, thousands of people are taking to the streets in 17 cities across Chile today to call on the Chilean government to cancel the project. The first action of the day took place in Valdivia, where hundreds of people interrupted President Piñera during an opening ceremony for a lakeside promenade. Actions will be taking place throughout the afternoon and evening across the country, with the largest expected to take place in Santiago beginning at 6:30pm. The rallying cry for these events has been “Juntos paremos HidroAysén: Ahora es cuando,” or “Together we’ll stop HidroAysén: The time is now.”

April 26 was named a national day of action for a Patagonia Without Dams after HidroAysén submitted its environmental impact assessment for the third time to Chilean authorities seeking an environmental license for the project. The Commission of Environmental Evaluation of the Aysén Region has until May 16 to make a decision about the project. The Chilean government is widely believed to be in favor of approving the project with conditionalities, but the Patagonia Sin Represas – “Patagonia Without Dams” – campaign is planning to step up pressure on the government to reject the project.

“This month an IPSOS poll found that 61.1% of Chileans are against HidroAysén and damming Patagonia, nearly double the figure of only two years ago. We are calling on the Piñera government to respect the will of the people and refuse to approve HidroAysén. Today’s actions are just the first in a series of actions aimed at stepping up the pressure on Piñera in the coming weeks,” said Patricio Segura of the Patagonia Sin Represas coalition.

Today’s actions were accompanied by a 28,000-signature petition from citizens around the world calling on the Chilean government to cancel the planned dams. Robert F. Kennedy also sent a letter to President Piñera this week saying “Chile has an incredible variety of alternative energy options . . . that when combined with modest efficiency measures could fulfill the estimated generation of the project and more. Promoting the development of the non-conventional energy sector and efficiency would generate quality employment and the economic growth that Chile desires.”

“The international community supports the Chilean people’s concerns about the HidroAysén project. Numerous studies have shown that there are much cheaper and better options for meeting Chile’s energy needs than HidroAysén. The protests today are a sign of a growing national and international movement for a Patagonia Without Dams.” said Ms. Berklee Lowrey-Evans, Latin America Program Associate at International Rivers.

The HidroAysén project would include five dams – 3 on the Pascua River and 2 on the Baker River – that would flood at least 14,000 acres of globally rare forest ecosystems, river valleys and farmlands in the Aysén region of southern Chile, including a portion of the Laguna San Rafael National Park. To transmit the electricity from Aysén to Santiago, a 1,500-mile transmission line would be built, cutting an industrial corridor through virgin rainforest, protected areas, national parks, and a region strewn with active volcanoes. With the dams now expected to cost approximately US$3.2 billion, the total price tag for the HidroAysén dams and transmission lines is estimated to be $7 billion. Financing is expected to come mainly from private investment banks in Chile, the US and Europe. A decision to reject, approve with conditionalitiess, or approve the EIA is due from the Aysén Environmental Review Commission no later than May 16, 2011.

International Rivers, April 26, 2011

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