It’s with a great deal of nostalgia that I see a court in Chile moving to protect the public from environmental damage by ruling that more proof of a dam project’s value be provided before it is approved. While the dam project was projected to supply more electricity, and therefore development, the area is a sensitive one and permanent damage may be done.
It was my privilege to visit Chile on a Habitat for Humanity build some years back, and learn how much our imposition of a dictator, Pinochet, on the populace of that country had marred Chilean feeling toward western alliances. We do ourselves no favor, a lesson driven home there, by making sheer economic development the object of our actions abroad. While this country has advanced a bit from the Pinochet days, we still make the mistake of subjecting natural riches to the corporate wish to override everything for profits.
Another problem the dam project presents, besides despoiling the land, is encountered by the need to build power lines from the remote area to industrial recipients of the power. The court has not been able to ascertain that advantages outweigh the drawbacks.
The government says the dams are needed to meet the country’s increasing demand for electricity.
But environmentalists say they will damage the area’s fragile ecology and its tourist potential.
They also say the energy produced will be used mainly for the country’s mining industry.
They drain lakes in a region that is famous for its rugged beauty – a landscape of glaciers, ice-fields, mountains and fjords.
The dam project, which is a joint venture between a Chilean company and a Spanish-owed one, will cost some $3bn (£1.85bn) and is designed to generate 2,750MW of power.
When a dam can be imposed on a people, at their expense, without justification in actual enrichment, a court should stop it. Our courts no longer act for the public interest, and in cases like yesterday’s ruling in favor of WalMart against female employees, it makes the way smoother for corporate rule over individuals.
The lands we used to regard as third world countries have learned lessons our government and too many people have not, that individual rights and access to wellbeing are primary concerns of a viable government. Our right wing domination of the courts has produced denial of liberties that not so long ago was associated with the third world, and its banana republics.
Chile learned a lesson from the Pinochet dictatorship that hopefully we will not have to travel the same route to learn.