Rios Libres meeting in Patagonia Reinforces the Need to Share Experiences and Exchange Defense Strategies


Translated by Bruno Marks

With the participation of around 60 members of numerous socio-environmental organizations, water basin representatives and Argentinian activists, a meeting was held this weekend in Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén, in the region of Aysén, Argentina.  The fifth Meeting of the Network for Rios Libres (Free Rivers), which was formed in 2016. During the conference the local community presented The Citizens Proposal for Energy Policy for the Aysén Life Reserve (PCPE-ARV) which is to be used as a guiding tool to promote human-scale development, local ecosystem responsibility, and to reduce water pressure on rivers.

The main goal of the meetings was to envision a plan in light of the new presidency of Sebastián Piñera given that the extraction industry is predicted to be the cornerstone of the new governments search for economic development.

Juan Pablo Orrego, president of Ecosystems, was in Coyhaique on Thursday giving a talk on water basins. Following the talk, the organization “Ríos to Rivers” explained the work they are developing as a group, which seeks protection and conservation of rivers through cultural exchanges between young people from Chile and the United States.

On Friday, also in Coyhaique, Patricio Segura the president of a private corporation for the Development of Aysén, presented the PCPE-ARV with an energy development model based on using less energy, saving more and being more efficient as well as self-generation through NCRE (Non-Conventional Renewable Energies). Afterwards the work of the Network was presented and there was an exchange and dialogue between delegations.

On Sunday the group went to Puerto Aysén, where representatives of different basins who are experiencing socio-environmental conflicts met up to tell their experiences. In this context, the coordinators of Ñuble Libre reported about the stage they find themselves, which has been the product of a long struggle where they are pushing to stop the construction of the dual-purpose reservoir (irrigation and electricity) Punilla. If built it would be the second biggest project in Chile, with a wall of 136 meters high (446 feet) and with a 1,700 hectares capacity. The representatives of the community denounced that this would stifle San Fabián causing serious ecosystem damage. They also reported on being criminalization by the government of Michelle Bachelet, who has been sued by a group of citizens due to the occupation of the facilities of the construction company.

During the afternoon the members of the network went to Bahía Acantilada, a few kilometers from Puerto Aysén, where a tourist resort of the same name is located.  The spa was part of Energía Austral compensation proposal within the framework of the Río Cuervo dam construction project. Local leaders such as Hugo Díaz, Glenda Aldunate and Mónica Díaz said that thanks to the citizens, the Energía Austral company (Chilean subsidiary of the transnational Xstrata) has stopped the construction of the hydroelectric project.  The area remains in the hands of the local government and therefore we have become living witnesses of how citizens can resist mega energy projects, the working of clientelism and how corruption drives this type of business.

The last day of the meetings was held in Coyhaique with work committees and a socio-environmental political contingency analysis, the Network looked to design projects in the context of the challenges presented this year. The closing activities were carried out in the Los Chochos resort which had been recovered thanks to community work. They had a collective dialogue along with artistic and cultural presentations. Neighbors Pamela Diaz and Deisy Avendaño shared their experiences, and the local Mañihuales residents reported on the work they have been doing in their regular meetings with the “The Movement of People Affected by Dams” in Brazil.

At the end of the event, Cajón del Maipo was proposed as the site for the VI Meeting of the Network for Rios Libres and the Alto Maipo project will be the central issue.

One of the conclusions of the meetings was how we need to know to learn more about different experiences and exchange territorial defense strategies. In this sense, the Network is expanding its communication channels and forms of participation, calling on all people who feel the need to contribute to attend the next meeting.

Translated from the original here: