The International Rivers Strategy to Stop Patagonia Dams

Tamara Busch & Sandra Novoa, El Mercurio (Chile)
Sunday, October 7, 2007

"I am going to coordinate the campaign to defend Patagonia from the US where this and the European market will be the focus," explains Aaron Sanger, the lawyer (50) from International Rivers Network that will lead the initiatives against the hydroelectric centers in Aysen.

He is visiting in Chile to meet with other NGOs and to coordinate activities. Here he became known when he was director of the environmental corporate action program for ForestEthics-where he worked seven and one-half years-and achieved CMPC's and Celulosa Arauco's commitments to protect native forests. He lived in Villarrica, monitoring the processes of forest practice certification, and now he has relocated en Bellingham, Washington.

This is the first campaign that IRN has led in Chile, although it was involved in the campaign for the Biobio.

--Why launch against Arauco and CMPC since HidroAysen is a project of Colbun and Endesa?

"Because the Matte Group has almost half of Colbun; but we will also focus in Spain."

--Will it affect your friendly relationships with both forestry companies?

"The forestry companies are going to be estranged, because for them I am a connection between them and the international markets that look to environmental groups-those that I represent and that I am going to represent-seeking environmental credibility. And we say to these markets that [Angelini and Matte] are invested in the destruction of Patagonia, it is not going to be good for their image."

--Will the campaign be oriented toward activism or solutions?

"We are planning, investigating and learning how best to make an effective campaign in the international market. I am not going to say what we will do, but it will show the contradiction between the values the companies involved say they have and their real interest in the environment. They say that they are committed to the protection of the environment, but this project will inundate thousands of hectares of native forest, and the transmission lines will cut many more."

"The work that we will do will be very pragmatic. These types of campaigns involve ads in the media, for example the New York Times; and protests in places that are very important to Chilean products, such as the states of California, Florida and Texas. But the campaign will address more than the forestry sector, confronting Chilean products in the North American market wherever they are."

"Another point in the campaign will be alternative energy. HidroAysen is an environmentally unethical project. This initiative is a very bad brand for the country. It gives Chile the image of a primitive energy policy."

--What did you think of Eliodoro Matte's response to your letter, in which you announced this campaign?

"I appreciated Mr. Matte's response, and I hope that his environmental values will lead him to question the participation of his group in HidroAysen. But he is mistaken when he says that the [environmental destruction] is worth it, because it avoids millions of tons of carbon emissions. It will destroy two of most important water reserves in the world, the Baker and Pascua Rivers. This project will not compensate for the environmental damage it will do."

--But the participation of the Angelini Group in Colbun is quite a minority interest.

"My question is why the Angelini Group is helping the Matte Group in a bad project for the environment."