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NEWS: Chilean supreme court okays HidroAysen megaproject (to power mining sector)

The Guardian reports, “Chile’s supreme court has green-lit a controversial dam project in the Patagonia that could generate up to 20% of the country’s electricity demand in 2020, but is opposed by environmentalists and local groups for the damage it will cause the region. The highest legal authority in Chile rejected seven appeals filed against Project HidroAysén, which plans to build five dams, flooding 6,000 hectares. The government had approved the project last year but the case was taken to the supreme court after objections were raised over the environmental impact study. Judges on Wednesday rejected all claims by opponents, including allegations that the study had failed to properly evaluate the effects on endangered Huemul deer, on the national park Laguna San Rafael and the dangers to people living downstream.”

Impartiality of court questioned
The article notes, “‘This wasn’t a surprise. We didn’t have any confidence that the court was going to make a favourable decision,’ said Luis Mariano Rendon, co-ordinator of Acción Ecológica…” The Santiago Times adds, “HidroAysén (is) a joint operation between energy companies Colbún and Endesa Chile… Shortly after the verdict was announced, it was made known that Pedro Pierry, one of the judges who voted to reject the appeals, owned over 100,000 stocks in Endesa Chile. Sonia Araneda, another judge who voted to reject, also has personal connections with Colbún, according to Patricio Rodrigo, head of the civil organization ‘Patagonia sin Represas’.”

More protests to come
The Guardian notes, “Wednesday’s court decision is expected to spark further unrest, particularly in the Patagonian region of Aysén where many locals feel that decisions are being taken without their consent. …A general strike was called for within hours of the court’s decision as well as a series of national protests. As town squares filled up with protesters on Wednesday evening, the political battle remains far from over.” The Santiago Times highlights, “(HidroAysén opponent) Sen. Antonio Horvath of the center-right National Renewal party said…that the project’s construction was still subject to the approval by the government of an Environmental Impact Study…”

Timeline
Approval of the Enivronmental Impact Study by right-wing billionaire president Sebastián Piñera is “due to be given in June”. United Press International reports, “If the government gives its approval construction work could begin in 2014 and is expected to take around 10 years.”

The Council of Canadians
On March 8, the Council of Canadians released a report entitled Chilean Patagonia in the Balance: Dams, Mines and the Canadian Connection by Alex Latta and Kari Williams. The report exposes the involvement of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, as well as Canadian companies Barrick Gold, Goldcorp, and Kinross in highly controversial projects in Chile. The report highlights:

1) The rising demand for more energy is driven by Chile’s rapidly expanding mining industry, in which Canadian companies are the single largest source of foreign investment. Canadian mining companies, such as Barrick Gold, Goldcorp, and Kinross, are aggressively moving into Latin America.

2) Transelec, the only transmission company currently operating in Chile that is capable of building the project’s link to the market — likely to require an 80-metre wide, 2,300-kilometre-long clear-cut corridor through 14 national parks, nature preserves and conservation areas — is owned by a Canadian consortium led by Brookfield Asset Management, with partnership from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, both public sector investors.

3) Major investments in the Chilean mining industry fuelling demand for the Patagonia project are supported by loans and loan guarantees from Export Development Canada, Canada’s export credit agency.

The report can be found at http://canadians.org/water/publications/index.html. Numerous campaign blogs on this issue can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?s=hidroaysen.