Aysen post-rebellion

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“Many thanks, best wishes” was the brief response the government spokesperson sent the afternoon of February 24 in an email to the citizens group “Aysen Social Movement.” A few hours earlier, the group’s leaders had sent Chile President Sebastian Piñera and his ministers a 22-page document outlining proposed responses to 11 demands made by the group during 40 days of protest on behalf of the region’s 100,000 inhabitants.

Nearly five months have gone by since those demonstrations first started in early February. And although the negotiations with the government have progressed, it has been a slow process. Worse, there always seem to be entanglements of one kind or another. That’s how the Aysen Social Movement put it in a May 21 letter to the president that raised key issues.

One issue in particular, the vote on and approval of Energia Austral’s Rio Cuervo hydroelectric dam project May 8 (later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) took place even though a fourth demand made by the Movement – the need for a public approval process for major dam projects in the region – had not yet been addressed by negotiators. Hence, the letter asked the president to “declare himself clearly on his willingness to wait for the results of a regional consultation before taking any decision on HidroAysén and Energia Austral.” It also asked, among other issues, that an independent audit be made of the irregularities denounced in the approval process of both Rio Cuervo and HidroAysen, a $10 billion investment project to install five dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers.

Altogether, three months after the pre-agreement was reached, Aysen movement leaders say four important points remain pending: labor equity; a citizen consultation for large hydroelectric projects and improved citizen participation; the regionalization of natural resources; and the basic regional poverty line. And other issues, such as a tax free zone for fuels and new subsidies for transportation and local farmers, have been slow to materialize.

An unexpected development occurred at the end of May: Chilean energy company Colbun announced that it was recommending that HidroAysén (which it co-owns with Italian-Spanish owned Endesa) suspend studies on their electric transmission line because of the "uncertainty" over their project’s future which it blamed on the absence of a national consensus on Chile’s energy policies. The government's response was swift: it scheduled meetings with energy companies and announced shortly thereafter that it was speeding up its calendar for presenting to Chile’s Congress its plan for building an “electric public highway,” which ostensibly will aid the construction of HidroAysén. Under such circumstances, the citizen group Patagonia without Dams decided to withdraw from the negotiating table with a government that, in its opinion, is not giving sufficient guarantees that it will wait for the opinion of Ayseninos before deciding the fate of this controversial dams project.
 

Patricio Segura is a Chilean freelance journalist and press officer for the Patagonia Without Dams campaign

 

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