Patagonia Presents Piñera Political Problems

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New President Piñera Inherited the Patagonia Dam Controversy from the Previous Administration

Washington Post

We extend an enormous "gracias ché" to all of you that have participated in our latest Patagonia rivers letter writing campaign. As of this writing, the Chilean government has received almost two thousand email messages from International Rivers supporters, urging President Piñera to "Pull the Plug on Patagonia Dams!"

The painful political problems of Patagonia are starting to pile up on President Piñera from other angles as well. Last week the Bloomberg news service published an article exposing how Piñera's environmental credentials are being damaged by the Patagonia Dam controversy.

Interestingly enough, though President Piñera is an admitted Bloomberg "junkie," his press office, and those of the government ministries with authority over the HidroAysén project environmental review, chose to not make any comment on the project, it's cost, or the controversy.

Clearly, the declining popularity of President Piñera influences his decision to not make any comment to Bloomberg about the US$7 billion dollar mega-dam and mega-transmission line hydroelectric project. Though harassed by a ferocious and high end lobby from Italian energy giant Enel and it's acquired subsidiary Endesa, Piñera may be very reluctant to take a public stance that is more than ambiguously supportive of the project due to the risk that his low polling numbers would see an acceleration in their decline.

The fact is, Piñera is polling with lower numbers of approval at this point in his term than any previous president since the end of the military government in 1990. Of particular concern to polled Chileans is the lack of effective government response to the Feb 27 earthquake, and his failure to follow through on campaign promises.

With a majority of Chileans against large-scale hydroelectric development in Patagonia, Piñera seems to want to avoid being pinned down as a proponent of dams in Patagonia. In another interview by longtime Chile correspondent Jimmy Langman, Piñera shared that his personal concern was more with the transmission lines than the actual damming of the Baker or Pascua–but no matter what the projects must be developed while "respecting the law."

Nevertheless, the signals from his government seem to be quite in favor of dams in Patagonia. For instance, the most recent Chilean Ambassador to Argentina (already the second ambassador during Piñera's new term, due to the firing of his first choice after he made a series of completely inappropriate public statements celebrating the impacts of the Pinochet dictatorship) was quoted as saying that "it would be possible to have the transmission lines from HidroAysén pass through Argentina."

Regardless of the potential engineering preference to construct  more than 1,000 kilometers of transmission lines across the pampa grasslands of Argentine Patagonia as opposed to skirting active volcanos and/or building submarine lines through heavy seas and earthquake prone terrain, such a statement totally and completely undermines the argument that building dams in the Chilean Patagonia is necessary for Chile's energy security. The sordid history of canceled gas deliveries from Argentina to Chile has been one of the primary reasons why mega-hydro in Patagonia is promoted in Chile — to free Chile's energy sector from the political and economic idiosyncrasies of it's Andean neighbor.

Clearly, without ignoring the inference that the two countries are on friendly terms, this "blooper" on the part of the Chilean Ambassador in Argentina is indicative of a certain incoherence on the part of Piñera's administration concerning Patagonia and the dams controversy, as well as ignorance about the fiercely active environmental movement in Argentine Patagonia and the degree of resistance such mega-transmission line development would face on the Argentine side of the border.

A disturbing sign that the Piñera government is pro-dam comes from the list of officials in Piñera's administration that have a history of working for HidroAysén, including having an ex-lawyer for the company actually executing administrative changes in water rights law that clearly favor the company (making one wonder what it is that Piñera means when he says that the "law must be respected"). It has also been made public that Piñera's brother-in-law is on the board of directors of HidroAysén, making it hard to believe that Piñera has an objective opinion about the investment. It really is "all in the oligarchic family" in Chile–of the four families that control 50% of the wealth in the Chilean stock exchange, 2 are owners of HidroAysén junior partner Colbún (the Matte family, and the Angelini family), and the fourth is President Piñera's family.

Though it looks like the dice might be loaded against protecting the rivers of Patagonia, the fact is that the international campaign is making a difference! When we raise our voice and advocate for alternatives to large-scale hydro in Patagonia, the international incoherence, conflicts of interest, anti-democratic abuse of wealth and power, and steadily rising reputational and financial risks will undoubtedly present more prickly problems for the currently not-so-popular Piñera.

The Endangered Huemul Watches to See if Piñera Can Deliver on His Green PotentialThe Endangered Huemul Watches to See if Piñera Can Deliver on His Green Potential

Photo by Bagual FotoThe best part is that it is not too late to help! If you have not yet taken action, send President Piñera an email asking him to "Pull the Plug on Patagonia Dams!" Also, send the action on to your friends and ask them to join in this global movement to protect rivers in Chile's Patagonia.

 BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: We are receiving reports that President Piñera's recent visit to the Aysén Region in Chile's Patagonia was received by a rather spontaneous and unprecedented street protest of hundreds of people concerned with development issues in the region. The President refused to follow through on commitments to meet with community leaders opposing the dam proposals, while the police felt compelled to make use of their new anti-riot equipment. This news only confirms the social and political risk that comes with being associated with mega-hydro development in Patagonia, as well as the strength of the Patagonia Sin Represas movement.

Things in Patagonia are Getting a Little Hot Under the Collar for Sebastian PiñeraThings in Patagonia are Getting a Little Hot Under the Collar for Sebastian Piñera 

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More information

Company Operating in Chile Concerned Patagonia Dams Will Damage Their Brand

Dams for Patagonia

Ongoing Suspension of HidroAysén Confirms Project Infeasibility

Thousands March in Chile Against Dams in Patagonia

The Beautiful and The Dammed

Patagonia Rising: A Story Too Important Not To Tell

International Rivers Patagonia Campaign