Hydroelectric Mega-Dams: Again, Who Decides What, For Whom, and How?

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While the entire world celebrates this month the “XIII International Day against Dams”, in Latin America, the energetic fever stimulated by transnational corporations (mining, pulp, aluminum producers, oil companies, among others) keeps creating a phenomenon that we see growing everyday in a fearful way and without taking into account environmental and social considerations.
 
The trend of damming rivers to generate electricity had its peak in the 1970s: during that decade approximately 5400 dikes were built worldwide. The balance is that today more than half of the rivers of the planet are dammed and around 80 million people have been moved from their homelands. However, besides all the evidence that shows the huge risk these dams mean, today this anti-nature pharaonic project grows still more across the globe, like fungus after a rain. 
 
Just by leafing through any notes or summaries about Mercosur’s goals or the plans that the “enlightened” intend to impose by reason, deception, or force with the disastrous IRRSA project around Latin-America, we can see that these mega-delirium projects are based in a political, economical and social conception absolutely out-of-date, unsustainable and with suicidal environmental consequences in the mid-to-short term.
 
Practically all of the large rivers of our continent are today threatened by this pharaonic project, sponsored by some of the most contaminating companies that exist, all chasing down the same goal: to remove our wealth and use these fertile territories for the extensive monocultures that feed the high use and wastefulness of the northern hemisphere countries and take advantage of the generalized corruption here (adding to the lack of effective laws and/or environmental conscience) to manufacture more toxic products far from the countries of the northern hemisphere.
 
You don’t need to be a genius to understand this very simple equation: Today, every country in the world is ruled by translational corporations commanded by anonymous entities. Transnationals that operate without any ethical code or perceptive scruples. Their only main goal is to make financial dividends without caring about the way to get there, and without receiving penalties for the ecocide that their “productive projects” provoke, because the only ones that can apply such penalties (our pathetic national governments) transformed long ago into their subordinates, their managers, or in this case, their minority partners.
 
The analyst Paul Moore expresses it clearly in his recent article: “The democracy has died, long live the “corporatocracy!”  The corporations are, of course, different from the people. They lack human emotions. By their own nature they are incapable of generating empathy. They don’t feel anything if the people suffer from exploitation, if they live in misery or if they die horrible deaths. We know all too well how Union Carbide was not affected when millions of people died and continue to die in Bhopal. The only thing that got registered in the balance of paper was 470 million dollars of losses dedicated to the future corporative viability under a new name, Dow Chemical. 
 
On the other hand, what was said to their minor managers, and I’m talking now about the various governors, presidents, ministers, deputies, senators and the whole string of municipal and provincial public un-functionaries in the political corporation, no matter what ideology they had, they were told that “it’s the economy stupid.” “It’s the economy,” was the phrase that the rest of the puppets from north to south repeated like un-brained parrots with an alarming blindness to the environmental emergency that the planet is living at the moment, a planet on the verge of the abyss, and without stopping a minute to consider where this wild assault on the planet’s limited natural resources is going to take us and without a thought about how to guarantee the subsistence of future generations.
 
Rulers overwhelmed by the greed of power that use the “every man for himself” bad idea to destroy the biodiversity of our environment at a speed impossible to equal by any regeneration that is permitted – and needed – in order that the entire planet can keep sustaining life itself. 
 
However, we know by accumulated experience that this act of republican democracy has transformed with time into a grotesque sham. Millions of people are forced to choose between this or that spokesperson, a Sir or Madam handled and molded by a determined business pool, who invest in their “figure” an amount of money to improve the image they need to seduce the people who voted for them and, if they win, will then be monitored closely so that they fulfill until the last consequences the pact signed backstage.
 
But you might ask: why did I devote so much space here to denouncing governments when this essay is supposed to be about dams? Simple: because if we don’t understand who is behind this hydroelectric fever, we will never understand what the problem is. The myth of “growing and development” that they are hiding behind is a thick smokescreen, seeking to confuse the need to supply energy to the growing world population with the true interests behind the ghosts of the energetic shortage.
 
And here once again I am sorry to tell you that this game is exactly the same as always: Corporations, the mining industry, pulp plants, aluminum factories, oil companies or whatever you want to call them, are in in search of territory, water, wealth and cheap energy to establish the bridges to allows them to keep going on with the looting, with as little investment as possible, to achieve their constant goal of optimizing profits.
 
To conclude, lets slightly explain the recent history for a while and lets see some concrete information to round up the problem:
 
Starting with a close example on Cordilleran time and space its worth to remember that practically all that energy that the gigantic hydroelectric dam at Futaleufu supplies goes to only one company: Aluar (aluminum fabrication). And to build its gigantic reservoir. they had to disappear thousands of hectare from Argentinas Los Alerces National Park, a park that was considered one of the 10 most beautiful and well-conserved national parks in the world. 
 
Because of the “hurry” to put to work Aluar (another pseudopdemocratic aperture in the dictatatorial regime that once again ruled this country for so long devastated by corruption) the Argentine government was in charge of building the reservoir (until its eventual privatization), leaving underwater more than 10,000 hectares of virgin native forest (what was later called “the most extensive sub-aquatic forest in the world”). 
 
I have to repeat this detail: in exchange for extracting and using up this impressive mass of natural wealth (10.000 hectares of temperate forests means a huge bunch of wood of Cipres-Coigue, including Alerce-Tineo of top quality, enough wood to put hundreds of sawmills to work for decades) the boys in olive green uniforms and their business partners decided to do things in an easier way and concentrate exclusively on the business of the aluminum plant and leave the consequences of their ecocide to the people that take their position later. And as if this wasn’t enough, it was the government again invocating imperious and strategic needs, coveniently overlooking the expensive cost of more than 800 kilometers of towers and high tension of cables in order to provide cheap energy to this aluminum company.
 
The Aluar company, which today (with the recent duplication of its Puerto Madryn plant) is held up an example of the good vernacular business man while their owners keep flirting with the presidential marriage in Buenos Aires, to win their support of the eventual installation of another plant of the same size, also to be sited on the Patagonian coast, but this time in the province of the Santa Cruz leaders.
 
For this to happen, “we are going to need” that the government must open the way to the pharaonic hydroelectric project La Barrancosa-La Leona on the largest river of Argentine Patagonia, a project already nicknamed “Yaciretá Two,” or “the next empire of corruption,” as the unmentionable Carlos Saul Menem once nicknamed the Argentinean-Paraguayan dam.
 
On March 12, in the opening act of the questioned “Interconnected Truncado-Río Turbio,” the provincial Santa Cruz leader and the Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez said: “Aluar and the new fertilizer plants will be placed in Santa Cruz, a province for which they see a promising future in industrial matters” (mining, petroleum, etc)!!!
 
However, (the same news agency “OPI” pointed out), there is a huge contradiction between the projects that they are planning to develop and the scarce energy that will be available for the internal use of the people of Santa Cruz.
 
To close, this last reflexion: the raw material that Aluar supplies is transported by a ship from Australia, which brings rise to another uncomfortable question: why don’t they install that industry there?
 
It’s the same question my “Patagonia Without Dams” colleagues from Chile asked themselves, when the biggest aluminum enterprise on the planet, Noranda, for a long time now tried oiling the lobby to install themselves on the Aysen coast. Did I just said Aysen?. But, isn’t that the region where lately they are trying to build a series of dams (between 4 and 19) that should supply energy, according to the official version, to the population of Santiago and the rest of the cities in Chile that are suffering from the consequences of a supposed energetic crisis caused by the increase of the economic welfare of the population?
 
Oops, there is something that doesn’t conclude right here buddy, or should I say something that DOES NOT make sense for the future of the Patagonia, South America and the planet. But let’s convince ourselves that it’s a close phenomenon related to the present Rapiña (robbery) corporations (Rapiña, i.e. ra-píñera). What future, then, awaits us?
 
Forty percent of of energy that is produced in Chile is used exclusively for mining. The 80 percent of nuclear energy that Atucha II in Argentina produces is used to feed the mining exploitation of Veladero. The fabrication of only five materials – paper, aluminum, steel, plastic, and glass -- means the consumption of 31 percent of all the energy produced in United States. 
 
By Lucas Chiappe, coordinator of the environment group Proyecto Lemu in El Bolson, Argentina. 
 
Photo courtesy of Proyecto Lemu
 

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Guest

Some of are guest columnists have so far included
  • Andres Gillmore, director of Corporación Costa Carrera 
  • Amanda Maxwell, Latin America Advocate, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
  • Lucas Chiappe, coordinator of Proyecto Lemu, El Bolson, Argentina
  • Damien Gillis, a documentary filmmaker from Vancouver, Canada
  • Jorge Moller, Chilean representative to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)
To contribute a guest column, write to us at editors@patagonjournal.com