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Chile’s new president vows public control over water in constitution

Aljazeera reports, “Michelle Bachelet has won a presidential runoff vote, returning a coalition of centre-left parties to power by promising profound social changes in response to years of street protests. Bachelet won 62 percent of Sunday’s vote… (She) will take office on March 11, taking over from conservative billionaire President Sebastian Pinera for a term running through 2018. She first served as Chile’s first woman president back in 2006.”

“Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman said that Bachelet had stood on a traditional socialist platform. ‘This is a candidate who is leading a central left coalition, which includes the Communist Party for the first time since 1970, and who is promising major reforms in this country – from free education to better distribution of wealth to a new constitution’…”

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. Critics say this is a form of privatizing water.”

Associated Press notes today, “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) program is scant on details but some suggested constitutional changes could pave the way for a greater state role in the industry and an end to miners’ sweet deals on water use in the future… Her program mentions that a planned new constitution, slated to replace one drawn up under a military dictatorship, will ‘recognize full, absolute, exclusive, unalienable and unlimited public control over water (and) mining’.”

While this appears promising, “Bachelet has (also) emphasized that Chile must ‘recover’ its competitive edge in mining, chiefly by taming high power prices and improving the concessions system to facilitate the creation of new mines and encourage exploration. …(And) Bachelet will likely make liquefied natural gas the backbone of her energy policy to ease the mounting power crunch, though some mix of coal, hydropower and renewables will probably also be used.”

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.

Further reading
Demands to nationalize Chile’s water rights gain momentum
Protests for public education in Chile, while OTPP buys up private water utilities
Harper announces ‘expanded’ Canada-Chile FTA