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NEWS: Chilean ‘fight’ for Patagonia to turn to (Canadian) transmission line

The New York Times reports, “In what has become a surprising national movement, organizers have mounted large protests for several weeks since a government environmental commission in May approved the $3.2 billion HidroAysén dam complex in a pristine region of Patagonia, known for breathtaking glaciers and lakes, that draws thousands of tourists a year. …After the commission’s decision, now the fight turns to the 1,912-kilometer (about 1,200-mile) transmission line yet to be approved. Many Chileans consider Patagonia a national treasure, and the battle to stop the project has inspired people to join the anti-dam cause to an extent that other environmental protest movements in South America have not.”

“The protest movement, which has resulted in 28 police officers’ being injured and more than $100,000 in damage to public property, has rattled the government of President Sebastián Piñera. His approval rating fell to 36 percent in May from 41 percent in April, in part because of the outcry over HidroAysén, according to Adimark, a Santiago-based research group. …More than 60 percent of Chileans are against HidroAysén, polls show.”

In terms of a timeline for the “fight” (as the New York Times puts it) on the transmission line, the Santiago Times reports, “Spokesmen for the anti-HidroAysen 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 mid-May, the Guardian reported, “Environmentalists predict more damage of transmission lines, which face a separate environmental review in December.”

In February 2008, the Council of Canadians began voicing its opposition to the proposed dams and transmission line. One reason for our concern is that Transelec – the Chilean company that would most likely build the transmission line, which requires an 80-metre wide logged corridor through 14 national parks, nature reserves and conservation areas – is controlled by Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (with a 27 percent share in Transelec), and the British Columbia Investment Management Corp (which has a 26 percent share in the company).
The Council is demanding that these Canadian pension funds reject the deeply unpopular HidroAysén project.

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.”

The Council of Canadians is commissioning a report on the dam, transmission line and Canadian mining companies in Chile, and is planning a fact-finding mission to Chile for the late-fall.