By Susan Hopp
As stakeholders flex their might and make their voices heard, South American countries in the last week were sites of both a remarkable victory and utter tragedy.
In Chile, the prospects of a $3.2 billion hydroelectric dam flooding and despoiling the natural beauty of Patagonia brought out the passions of Chile’s citizens. The Aysen region in Patagonia’s southern region is wilderness and mostly road-less today. The dam project, known as HidroAysen, and approved by a politically appointed commission on May 9, 2011, would ‘tame’ two of the world’s remaining wild rivers, the Baker and Pascua, through a network of (5) dams. Projections are that it would supply Chile with a third of its current energy needs upon full completion in 2025. Looking at Chile’s robust economy (underpinned by energy-intensive mining), prospects for growth, almost complete lack of fossil fuels and reliance on hydropower for its electricity, this region is tantalizing for big powerful, development interests. Never mind its destination for eco-tourists, river-rafters, and habitat for endangered species.
But an estimated sixty percent of Chileans did mind and tens of thousands showed their outrage (“Patagonia without dams!”) in vehement protests. Additionally, a well-crafted publicity campaign (engineered by American Patagonia land-owner, Doug Tompkins) hammered home the real problem of lack of any energy policy, period. NGOs, lead by NRDC and International Rivers, petitioned the courts over legal issues. On June 21, 2011, a Chilean appeals court suspended the approval giving stakeholders quite a victory (or at least a ‘battle’ win in a continuing ‘war’).
Meanwhile, in neighboring Brazil, brave stakeholders of the Amazon rainforest, determined to stand up to illegal logging are paying for their activism with their lives. In roughly the last month, five rural activists have been gunned down and murdered, close to their homes and in front of families and friends. Tragically, this is not uncommon in Brazil where murders linked to land disputes in rural Brazil since 2000 number close to 400 victims. Two of the victims, Joao Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria, have been visible activists fighting for many years to stop unlawful deforestation. In November 2010, at a TEDx conference speech in Brazil, da Silva spoke about death threats and his fears, “…my fear does not silence me. As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest.”
While this latest wave of killings has prompted Brazil’s president to order a federal investigation, the future will likely be no less perilous for these heroes of the rainforest. Deforestation in Brazil has jumped dramatically in 2011 over 2010 with pressure from rising commodity prices and changes in Brazil’s Forest Code.
The Amazon rainforest, sometimes called the “lungs of the earth” for the carbon sequestering services it provides, is a resource for all of humanity. More reason to take a bow and pay homage to these courageous voices – they refuse to be silenced and by so doing, are in danger of paying the ultimate price – their lives.
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