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7,000 march against privatized water in Chile

Photo: Chilean water is for all. No to the water code. Photo by Belinda Torres-Leclercq/ Santiago Times
Photo: Chilean water is for all. No to the water code. Photo by Belinda Torres-Leclercq/ Santiago Times

The Santiago Times reports, “A diverse group of over 70 organizations and thousands of citizens gathered in Parque Almagro in the capital (on April 26), united under one demand — the end to the private management of water in Chile, and to have the resource named a basic human right in the Constitution. According to event organizers, upwards of 7,000 people joined the second annual March for the Recovery and Defense of Water — double the number that attended last year’s march — as the movement perseveres in its calls for reform of the country’s Water Code.”

“In 1981 during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the creation of the Water Code established water as private property, giving the state the ability to grant water usage rights to private companies. …Alongside rejecting the privatization of the essential resource on principle, critics … claim that water rights are acquired or sold without consultation of local communities. …The privatization of water has (also) led to conflict with indigenous communities in Southern Chile.”

“In her electoral platform, President Michelle Bachelet announced plans to declare water as a ‘national property for public use’. Public Works Minister Alberto Undurraga will take up an initiative attempted by Bachelet’s first administration (2006-2010) that was eventually blocked under President Sebastián Piñera’s government.”

As we noted in a December 2013 campaign blog, Bachelet won 62 percent of the vote in the second round of the December 15 presidential election. She took office on March 11 and will service as president through to 2018. She is leading a centre-left coalition that includes the Communist Party of Chile.

In mid-November, after the first round in the presidential election, Reuters reported, “Water is a major issue after a series of annual droughts, with much mining taking place in the Atacama, the world’s driest desert, where communities often feel they have to compete with mines for their water supply. Mining firms currently have the right to use any water found during their work, according to Chile’s water code, which dates from General Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-90 military rule.” And the Associated Press has reported, “Many Chileans complain that policies imposed by Pinochet effectively ended land reform by selling off the nation’s water, and he preserved the best educations for elites by ending the central control and funding of public schools.”

Bachelet’s campaign program suggested she would put an end to the preferential access to water given to mining companies and draft a new constitution that would “recognize full, absolute, exclusive, unalienable and unlimited public control over water (and) mining”.

The Council of Canadians

In April 2011, the Council of Canadians released an English-language version of the report Conflicts Over Water in Chile: Between Human Rights and Market Rules, edited by Sara Larrain and Colombina Schaeffer of the Chilean non-governmental organization, Chile Sustentable.

Then in March 2012, the Council of Canadians released a report entitled Chilean Patagonia in the Balance: Dams, Mines and the Canadian Connection. The report highlighted the rising demand for more energy in Chile is driven by that country’s rapidly expanding mining industry and noted that major investments in the Chilean mining industry are supported by loans and loan guarantees from Export Development Canada, Canada’s export credit agency.

The Council of Canadians has also been calling on the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan to divest from its holdings of private for-profit water utilities in Chile.

Photo: Chilean water is for all. No to the water code. Photo by Belinda Torres-Leclercq/ Santiago Times