International Campaign Targets Companies Threatening Patagonian Rivers

Aaron Sanger
Friday, March 14, 2008

Environmental Irresponsibility: Chile's Matte Group and Italy's Enel

International Rivers today publicly launched new pressure tactics against Italian and Chilean companies that want to dam the Baker and Pascua rivers in Chilean Patagonia. The new tactics include asking the 50 largest building materials companies in the US—Chile’s best export market—to question Chile’s Matte Group wood products linked to these dams. A letter-writing campaign coordinated with Jane Goodall’s organization is contacting consumers and school children throughout the US, and an online multi-media campaign is focused on tarnishing Matte’s and Enel’s image internationally. The campaign debuted on March 13 in Berkeley, California, when country singer Dana Lyons, set off on a cross country tour to encourage opposition to the Matte/Enel dams.

The proposed dams would flood rare temperate rainforests and some of Patagonia’s best ranching lands. Electricity from the dams would be transmitted 1,500 miles north to Santiago, requiring one of the world’s longest clearcuts. The rainforest areas that the dams and transmission lines would eliminate do not exist anywhere else on the planet. Many of the areas that would be affected are important to the survival of the critically endangered huemul deer, of which only 3,000 survive today.

“Damming pristine rivers and clearcutting forests for generation and transmission of electricity is environmentally irresponsible,” said Aaron Sanger, Patagonia Campaign Coordinator for International Rivers. “Companies involved in the proposed dams and transmission lines have put their products and image at risk in the international marketplace.”

In 2002 and 2003, Sanger led one of the most contentious environmental campaigns ever waged in Chile. The country’s two biggest wood products and pulp companies, the Matte Group and the Angelini Group, eventually agreed to the campaign’s demands and signed written commitments in 2003 to protect Chilean native forests.

But Matte and Angelini have returned to the past. Together they control 49 percent of a joint venture that hopes to reap enormous profits from the electricity generated by damming Chile’s Baker and Pascua Rivers. The proposed dams and transmission lines would break Matte’s and Angelini’s promises by destroying tens of thousands of acres of Chilean forests.

The other 51 percent of the dam venture is controlled by Enel, an Italian energy company that became involved through its purchase of Spanish company Endesa last year. Enel’s involvement could hurt its reputation in international markets where more stringent environmental standards are becoming as important as price and quality.

The campaign’s activities against the proposed dams in Patagonia are part and parcel of dozens of actions, protests, film showings and conferences slated for the 11th Annual International Day of Action for Rivers. Last year saw over 100 different events around the globe and events are planned this year in Bangladesh, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Chile, Germany, the Philippines, Spain and South Africa, among others.

International Rivers is dedicated to protecting rivers and defending the rights of communities that depend on them.