Chilean Free Flowing Rivers Network meeting in Patagonia

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With around 60 leaders, representatives and activists participating on behalf of various socio-environmental groups and watersheds around the country, the Fifth Gathering of the Chilean Free-Flowing Rivers Network took place this weekend in Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén. During the event, held in Chile’s Aysen Region, local community members presented the People’s Proposal for Energy Policy for Aysén Reserva de Vida (PCPE-ARV in Spanish). The proposal is a guiding instrument to promote local development at the human scale based on ecosystem-based responsibility, and to reduce pressure on rivers.
The main objective of the gathering was to plan out the work of the Network in light of the incoming Sebastian Piñera administration. It is expected that a focus on extractive industries will be the cornerstone of the administration’s quest for national economic growth.
On Thursday, the president of Chilean NGO Ecosistemas, Juan Pablo Orrego, gave a talk in Coyhaique on watersheds. Following the talk, the NGO Ríos to Rivers explained their work to protect and conserve rivers through cultural exchanges between young people from Chile and the United States.
On Friday, also in Coyhaique, Patricio Segura, president of the Private Corporation for the Development of Aysén, presented the PCPE-ARV proposal. The proposal is based on an energy development model that is less intensive in terms of energy use, savings and efficiency, focusing on self-generation and a market based on NCREs (Non-Conventional Renewable Energies). Subsequently, the Network presented on the work of its members, carrying out an exchange among the many delegations.
On Saturday the group traveled to Puerto Aysén, where representatives of different watersheds dealing with socio-environmental conflicts concerning rivers talked about their experiences. In this context, the coordinators of the Ñuble Libre movement informed on their current situation, stemming from their long fight to stop construction of the Punilla dual-use reservoir (electricity and systematization). The reservoir includes construction of the second-largest complex of its kind in Chile, including a 450-ft high dam and the flooding of 4,200 acres.
According to information provided by representatives of the community, the project would stifle the tranquil town of San Fabián and cause serious ecosystem damage. Information was also presented about attempts to criminalize dam protesters during Michelle Bachelet’s administration. Charges have been brought against a group of citizens for peacefully occupying the facilities of the construction company.
During the afternoon of that same day, members of the Network moved to Bahía Acantilada, a few kilometers from Puerto Aysén, to the tourist facilities of the same name and which were part of Energía Austral´s compensation scheme that was part of their project to build the Río Cuervo Dam. During the visit, local leaders including Hugo Díaz, Glenda Aldunate and Mónica Díaz talked about how citizen groups helped in stopping Energía Austral— a Chilean subsidiary of multinational group Xstrata— in its efforts to build the dam. After the company cancelled the project, the property was left in hands of the municipality, thus being converted into a living example of citizen resistance to these mega energy projects, and the mechanisms and corruption through which these type of companies seek to buy local support.
On the final day, the gathering wrapped up in Coyhaique working in different commissions. This included an analysis of the socio-environmental political reality in Chile, which aims to help guide the work of the Network in the face of challenges presented this year. The closing ceremony was held in the Los Chochos picnic area, which has been restored thanks to community efforts and where a collective dialogue was held, along with artistic and cultural presentations. Neighbors Pamela Díaz and Deisy Avendaño talked about the experience, while people from Mañihuales discussed the work they are doing in the context of the meetings held in Brazil by the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB).
At the close of the weekend, the group chose to make the Maipo Canyon (near the Chilean capital of Santiago) the home of the Sixth Gathering of the Chilean Free-Flowing Rivers Network, where the case of the Alto Maipo hydropower project is the main focus.
One of the conclusions of the gathering was the need to understand experiences and exchange defense strategies across regions. In this sense, the Network is expanding its communication channels and ways to participate, calling on all those who feel so inclined to contribute and join at the next gathering. 



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