Legal Roadblock to Damming Patagonia

Berklee Lowrey-Evans

This morning saw a great success for the legal team working in Chile to stop the destructive HidroAysén project in Patagonia.

The Appellate Court in Puerto Montt accepted three recursos de protección – roughly equivalent to injunctions – which means that the project is on hold for up to three months until these issues are resolved.

These recursos are an important and welcome addition to the ongoing Chilean and international campaign to stop these unnecessary dams in the breathtaking corner of the world known as Patagonia.

The injunctions were filed against the approval of the HidroAysén EIA granted on May 9th. The issues to be addressed are:

1. The lack of appropriate baseline information in the environmental impact study;
2. The project doesn't own the water rights to operate under the conditions for which it was approved; and
3. Since the beginning of the environmental review process, the government bodies tasked with environmental oversight signaled that they could not perform a full evaluation due to missing essential information, and therefore the project should have been cancelled.

The recursos were filed by many members of the Patagonia Sin Represas (PSR) movement: el Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia (CDP), Ecosistemas, Greenpeace Chile, la Corporación Privada Para el Desarrollo de Aysén, la Corporación de Desarrollo de Aysén, la Asociación de Empleados Fiscales, Senator Antonio Horvath of Aysén, Senator Carlos Bianchi of Magallanes, Senator Guido Girardi of Santiago, Deputies Gabriel Silber, Enrique Accorsi and Patricio Vallespín, Mayor of Chile Chico Luperciano Muñoz, Mayor of Caleta Tortel Bernardo López, and many Chilean citizens.

The case was transferred from the Appellate Court of Coyhaique to the Court in Puerto Montt because the three permanent judges of the Coyhaique court were dismissed last week at the request of the PSR for conflict of interest, and thus the Court declared itself unqualified to hear the case.

The next step will be legal hearings during which the PSR will seek to overturn the resolution approving the EIA, and thus either require an entirely new environmental review process, or the outright cancellation of HidroAysén.

For now, we must all hope that HidroAysén is finally recognized for what it truly is – a corporate and political plot to exploit public resources for private gain using free water rights granted by the legendary dictator Pinochet. May the rule of law – and not the legacy of the Chicago Boys – prevail in Chile.