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NEWS: 74% of Chileans reject HidroAysén dam and (Canadian) transmission lines

The Santiago Times reports, “Public support for Chile’s conservative President Sebastián Piñera fell to a new low of 36%, according to an Adimark poll released (on June 2), while outright rejection of Piñera’s government reached a record 56%. …These are the worst polling numbers seen by the Piñera government since taking office 15 months ago and come in the aftermath of a growing national debate on Chile’s energy matrix – with Piñera promoting a HidroAysén dam and power line project that is rejected by 74% of Chileans.”

“Tens of thousands have joined protests of HidroAysén in 27 cities in Chile and more than 40 cities around the world since the hydroelectric project received environmental approval on May 9. ‘The unexpected citizens’ movement that appeared after the HidroAysén project was approved without doubt explains the drop in support,’ says the Adimark poll.”

Merco Press noted in mid-May that, “Rejection of the project has shot up to 74%, reports national daily La Tercera. This compares to the 61% rejection that polls confirmed just prior to last Monday’s decision to approve the controversial 7.5 billion US dollars project, and only a 50% rejection rate two years ago, when critics and proponents for HidroAysén first launched costly PR campaigns aimed at influencing public opinion. Spokesmen for the anti-HidroAsyén citizens group said they expect public rejection to grow even stronger once the location of the project’s 2,300 kilometre transmission line is made public in July.”

In February 2008, the Council of Canadians began voicing its opposition to these proposed dams and transmission lines. One reason for our concern is that Transelec – the Chilean company that would most likely build the transmission lines through 14 national parks, nature reserves and conservation areas – is controlled by Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and the British Columbia Investment Management Corp.

The Globe and Mail has reported, “The CPP Investment Board and British Columbia Investment Management Corp. …along with Toronto conglomerate Brookfield Asset Management Inc., are the controlling shareholders of Transelec Chile SA, a power-grid operator considering a 2,300-kilometre transmission line that would require one of the world’s longest clear-cuts, a logged corridor 80 metres wide, much of it set to slice through temperate forests of a type found nowhere outside Patagonia. …The Canadian entities purchased Transelec in 2006 for $1.55-billion (U.S.). The $364-million (U.S.) the CPP spent for its 27-per-cent share was its largest infrastructure investment, up to that time. …BCIMC, which invests on behalf of British Columbia public-sector workers, has a 26-per-cent share, purchased for $356-million (U.S.). …(Conservationists) say the 17 million beneficiaries and contributors to the CPP and the B.C. pension organization will share some of the responsibility for the harm caused by the project.”

The Council is demanding that these Canadian pension funds reject the deeply unpopular HidroAysén project. The Globe and Mail reported in May 2008 that, “In Canada, the Chilean investment is being opposed by the Council of Canadians, which says government pension funds should avoid environmentally hazardous projects. ‘We don’t need to go down this kind of road to ensure the pension returns for our retirees,’ said Brent Patterson, a spokesman.” Aaron Sanger, the Patagonia Campaign Coordinator at International Rivers, wrote then, “Since Canadian pensioners happen to own the Chilean company that wants to cut that 1,500-mile long swath for transmission lines, the powerful Council of Canadians has called for shareholder action against the plan and weighed in against HidroAysen as well.”

In May 2011, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “Canadians support democracy, freedom of expression, and responsible environmental stewardship at home and around the world. But most Canadians have no idea that their pension plans are fuelling the kind of environmental destruction planned in Chile. In a global world, what can seem far away may be very close to home. Canadians must stand with the people of Chile in opposing this terrible project and condemning the undemocratic and violent actions of the state.”

Look for an action alert on this issue soon.

The Santiago Times article is at