The HidroAysen case: a vision from Aysen

E-mail Print
As Chileans, we have worked to set objectives, being responsible for our way of life and knowing how to relate with our own culture. Tourism in Chile has come a long way in the past 20 years and it has produced a new standard of living in Chilean Patagonia.
Livestock farming and shepherding has been losing ground as the main source of income in the region, replaced by tourism. Farming activity is part of a glorious past that will not return. Chile’s association with MERCOSUR in the beginning of the 1990s paved the way for imports of beef and manufactured products at prices that eliminated the buying power of these products which Aysen was originally dependent upon. It effectively put an end to activities that sustained this region, producing a great change to the way of life in Aysen.
Tourism growth in the area, however, has been gradual and stable with high quality attractions, thanks to the diversity in the environment, climate and eco-systems in the region. Other draws, that few people recognize, include the second largest lake in Latin America after Lake Titicaca on the border of Bolivia and Peru, Lake General Carrera, Chile’s bi-national lake shared with Argentina. The region also boasts ice fields to the north, the second largest reserve in the country for fresh water, plus the national parks of Laguna San Rafael and El Tamango in Cochrane, where you will find the largest pack of “huemuls,” a local deer native to the Patagonia region in Argentina and Chile and Cerro Castillo, famous for its summits equivalent to those of the famed national park in Magallanes, Torres del Paine. In addition to these stunning national parks are environmental reserves known for dozens of lakes, national forests filled with the Nothofagus trees native to Chile and Argentina, snowdrifts and glaciers, all attributes that have made this region of Chile an exceptional territory for adventure tourism. The national highway, from the north at Chaiten to the south at Villa O’Higgins, is 1200km in length and is considered one of the most valuable scenic reference points and a national monument.
If we add the culture and quality of life of the people in the Patagonia region in Chile, we have the perfect formula for sustainable development, stability, and environmental harmony to sustain special interest tourism in Aysen and in Patagonia in general.
Today, this development is seriously threatened by the intentions of the HidroAysen project to intervene in the Baker and Pascua rivers by building dams. The Baker River basin joins with Lake General Carrera, where the water supply is derived from melting ice fields in the north. The river basin is vital for the development of the area south of Aysen where there are more than 70 tourism complexes, and is important for the push to build more roads in the region. The community is completely convinced that the HidroAysen project will destroy years of work to develop the tourist activity in the Aysen region and no amount of compensation will make up for the damage to the industry which has brought a higher standard of living, hope and a sense of moving forward to the community.  
Today, without a doubt, we need to drive the debate further, laying the groundwork for showing real information on how the project will damage the tourism industry. Currently, HidroAysen has made available very little information on the implications of the project, and on how they intend to implement the project in theory and in practice. There is a need for an accurate, clear, informed and open debate, that calls out the contradictions in the argument, so that both parties understand the significance of the territory and the implications. The debate over the HidroAysen Project provides a unique opportunity for the country to set a precedent for the concept of development where social justice coincides with environmental justice. This includes not only saving the forests and rivers, but goes further to saving the quality of life and providing options for sustainable development.
After years of presentations and documents, HidroAysen has not had the professional capacity or technical capabilities to demonstrate the viability of the project, nor respond in an ethical manner to the hundreds of observations in the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) that were presented. HidroAysen seems to have strategically omitted information, with the relentless intention to finish the project, counting the profits without considering the consequences for the population of Aysen and for the country. HidroAysen has not hesitated in modifying the facts from a study completed on the impact to the environment, as demonstrated with what happened recently with CONAF in Santiago. In the last couple of years, it had been buying awareness inside and outside of the region without the slightest consideration, pressuring public services by finance lobbying and blatantly ignoring the problems in the project, generating suspicions for those who believe that these type of procedures were part of the past. Without forgetting the fact that Endesa Spain, at the end of the military dictatorship and today in the hands of Italian capital, acquired for free the rights to control the water from the community of Aysen, a fact which has resulted in Chileans immediately losing the right of ownership to Chile’s waters, a strategic and public right that should belong to all of Chile.
The people of Aysen want the respect of the state to use the laws in use without giving special treatment for businesses, and that the protocols used to decide these crucial issues remain technical and not political. The government has not demonstrated the will to embrace the real opportunity that it has in Aysen, to set a precedent that from here on out, we need to do these truly in the “right way” in these type of issues. The bi-national Baker River watershed shared with Argentina, currently does not have a plan for managing HydroAysen’s intentions to intervene in the rivers or to manage a project of this magnitude. Without a doubt, Aysen deserves such respect as does any other region in the country.
The author Andres Gillmore is a tourism business owner in Aysen and the director of Costa Carrera, a citizens group dedicated to fostering sustainable development for Aysen's Lake General Carrera and the Baker River basin. 


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