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Latino Daily News

Wednesday May 11, 2011

In the Face Staunch Opposition, Chile Panel Approves Plan to Build Dams along Patagonia Rivers

In the Face Staunch Opposition, Chile Panel Approves Plan to Build Dams along Patagonia Rivers

Photo: Plan to build dams along Chile's Patagonia rivers is approved, many angered

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A panel in Chile has approved a plan to build dams along Patagonia rivers at the estimated cost of $7 billion in order to harness the rivers’ power for electricity.

At the end of a three-year environmental review, the Chilean government commission received the approval to build five dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers in Aysen, the mostly roadless area of southern Patagonia. The commission is hoping the dams, along with the country’s ever-growing economy and vast mineral wealth will bring it up to the rank of first-world nation.

The commission has long met opposition to the dams, and the site of Monday’s vote, Coyhaique, was no different, as protesters gathered outside the hearing. Some threw rocks at the commissioners’ cars. The police responded with a water canon and tear gas. Protesters also met in downtown Santiago, where several thousand people blocked a main road in protest. They were also met with tear gas and water cannons.

The protesters, along with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a lawyer for the U.S.-based National Resources Defense Council, are upset by the plan, because it would required roads to be carved through the heart of Chile’s remaining wilderness, and would run thousands of miles of transmission lines through it as it powers Santiago.

Kennedy kayaks the rivers every year, and said, “It’s the most beautiful place, I believe, on the planet. I don’t know any place like Patagonia.”

The opposition of the dams has grown to 61 percent of Chile’s population, and the government has stated they do worry about the backlash.

Tortel Mayor Bernardo Lopez said, “They should advocate for the citizens, but it seems that what really matters here is drawing foreign investment.”