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WIN! Council of Canadians celebrates defeat of HidroAysen dam project

Photo: Patagonia without dams!

Photo: Patagonia without dams!

The Council of Canadians congratulates its Chilean and international allies for their campaigns to defeat the HidroAysen dam project in Patagonia.

This morning International Rivers reported, “We’ve just confirmed that Chile’s Committee of Ministers – the country’s highest administrative authority – has cancelled the environmental permits for the five-dam hydropower project, HidroAysén, effectively stopping the scheme that threatened the Baker and Pascua Rivers in Patagonia. Due to widespread public opposition, international pressure and critiques of the flawed impacts assessment, the Committee has overturned the approval of the dams previously granted in 2011.”

HidroAysen involved the building of five dams in the southern region of Patagonia in Chile and more than 1,900 kilometers of transmission line on a clear-cut path through national parks, nature reserves and conservation areas to feed the grid that supplies electricity to copper mines operated by state-owned Codelco and Anglo American Plc, as well as to the city of Santiago.

We have been opposing the HidroAysen project for the the past six years. Among our many concerns about this project was that Transelec, the only company in Chile capable of building that transmission line, is owned by a consortium led by Brookfield Asset Management, with partnership from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.

In February 2008, we issued an action alert with the demand Stop Canadian pension funds from destroying Patagonia. That July, the Patagonia Times reported, “The Canada Pension Plan and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation’s investment in Transelec is opposed by the Council of Canadians, the country’s largest citizens’ organization. The Council of Canadians insists government retirement funds should not invest in companies that carry out environmentally questionable projects.” Our opposition to the project was also noted by CBC Radio Canada International and the Globe and Mail.

In May 2011, Blue Planet Project organizer Claudia Campero wrote in an action alert, “Chilean citizens and organizations struggling against the HidroAysen Project have encountered police repression, but have a great national mobilization going. [This week] there will be activities all around Chile. We urgently need to make Chilean authorities aware that we are watching and demand respect for human rights.” She encouraged an email campaign to government officials with the message, “Exigimos respeto a derechos humanos de manifestantes” (We demand respect for human rights protesters).”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow followed with the message, “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.”

And in March 2012, we released a report entitled Chilean Patagonia in the Balance: Dams, Mines and the Canadian Connection by Alex Latta and Kari Williams. The report highlighted 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 highlighted:

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 company currently operating in Chile that is capable of building the transmission line, 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.

Over the years, we wrote more than 30 blogs that updated and mobilized our supporters on the ongoing fight against the HidroAysen project. In March 2012, the Blue Planet Project released a report titled, Dam Truths: A compilation of case studies about popular struggles against dams. That report highlighted, “The Blue Planet Project sees mega dams as one of the biggest threats to scarce freshwater sources in the world today. The defence of freshwater against dams is intimately linked to struggles for social and economic justice in the world today.”

Again, congratulations to our allies for this historic win!