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NEWS: Chilean organizations protest water privatization

Inside Costa Rica reports, “Citizen organizations in Chile announced a program of measures to avoid the total privatization of water by the enterprises in charge of water production and distribution in the nation. Edgardo Conteza, from the Movement for Consultation and Citizen Rights, said they plan to go to international institutions and do not discount taking a constitutional case to stop the government from getting rid of its shares in the main national sanitary companies. …Consumers are afraid of the excessive increase of the prices in tariffs, besides other irregularities such as unjustified collecting and distribution cuts without compensation.”

“This week, the Chamber of Deputies dedicated a special session to (water issues)… Independent deputy Rene Alinco said Chile is the only country in the world that has privatized its waters… Communist deputy Lautaro Carmona said the neoliberal government has delivered private entrepreneurs a national natural resource like water, and that what is at stake is the recovery of water as a public resource. Parliamentary representative for the Party for Democracy Adriana Muñoz said water must be an essential human right for the life of the Chilean people.”

Business News Americas has reported that, “President Sebastian Piñera announced in December that state development agency Corfo would sell its minority stake in utilities Aguas Andinas, Essbio, Esval and Essal (in other words fully privatize these water utilities) to fund the reconstruction of infrastructure damaged by the February 2010 earthquake.”

The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan also owns 50.83 percent of the Chilean water utility Essbio and 69.4 percent of Esval. The Council of Canadians has been calling on the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan to divest from for-profit water utilities in Chile and for the ownership of these private, for-profit water utilities to be fully transferred back to public control. There is no word yet if the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan intends to increase its ownership share of these water utilities given Piñera’s privatization plan.

CAMPAIGN REVIEW

In early-February 2010, the Canwest News Service reported that, “The Ontario Teachers’ Federation is being urged to stop its pension plan managers from investing in Chile’s private water sector. In a letter sent by the Council of Canadians, Maude Barlow wrote that it was ‘distressing’ and of ‘great concern’ to see money from the pension plan being used to fuel a shift toward privatization of a public service. ‘I understand that the (pension plan) is supposed to be run at arm’s length but I deeply believe that if ordinary teachers in this province knew and understood that their hard-earned pension funds — public pension funds — were being used to undermine public services in other countries, they would be outraged,’ wrote Barlow. She said she received a special request from utility workers and social justice and human rights groups to raise this issue during a recent trip to Chile. The record of privatization projects have in the past resulted in rate hikes, reduced environmental controls and layoffs from the companies which want to drive up profits, the letter said.”

In late-February, the Council of Canadians met with representatives of the Ontario Teachers Federation and then the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan in Toronto to discuss their investments in private, for-profit Chilean water utilities. Maude Barlow attended the Ontario Teachers Federation meeting and made the argument that water is a public trust and should be viewed as a human right. She said that it was wrong for the pension plan for public school teachers to be investing in (and thereby promoting) corporations that see water as a commodity.

In early-September, Council of Canadians staff and Toronto chapter activists distributed leaflets to many of the 19,000 teachers and support staff gathered at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for a professional development day. Our message – teachers don’t support private water, so neither should their pension fund. More than 200 hundred teachers signed our petition with this demand as they left the Air Canada Centre. NOW Magazine reported, “Teachers soaking up the education cliches at that pep rally the other day – the one that took a hit for sucking up scarce board of ed bucks – found themselves targets of a Council of Canadians lobby. Turns out the ethics-challenged Ontario Teachers Pension Plan has investments in three Chilean private water companies, and the Council wants teachers to take a stand on making aqua gratis for all.”

In late-September, Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan presented a letter to Essbio and Esval chairman Pedro Pablo Errazuiz. He was a keynote speaker at the World Water Congress in Montreal. The letter asked Errazuiz to support the call by Chile Sustentable, other Chilean NGOs and environmental groups, and the Council of Canadians to transition ownership of private, for-profit water utilities back to public control.

In early-April 2011, the Council of Canadians launched 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.

And also in early-April, the Council of Canadians raised concerns about the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan’s investments in private, for-profit Chilean water utilities at the OTPP’s annual meeting in Toronto. Council of Canadians Board member (and retired teacher) Roy Brady asked, “Immediately following this AGM, will the OTPP seriously consider divesting from Chile’s water markets, given that water is a human right and a resource that must remain public; and that privatization, full or partial, will result in a loss of public accountability and the potential reduction of services to all Chileans? Please provide reasons for your response.”

The Council of Canadians is now looking at organizing a delegation of Ontario teachers to visit Chile to see the OTPP-owned water utilities, to meet with civil society, and to hear from Chileans about their experiences with privatized water.