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Abstract

On May 9, 2011, the Chilean national government under President Sebastián Piñera approved HidroAysén, a controversial hydroelectric megaproject to be constructed in the Aysén region of southern Chile. With HidroAysén expected to flood 5,900 hectares (15,000 acres) of ecologically unique natural reserves and displace local indigenous and working class people, its development raises major environmental justice concerns among Chileans and the international community. The project stalled in 2012 and was placed on long-term hold due to widespread public protests in which tens of thousands of Chileans took to the streets unified by the motto “Patagonia Sin Represas” (Patagonia Without Dams). I was studying abroad in Chile in the spring of 2012 at the height of these demonstrations and was deeply impressed by the aggressive approach and vibrant history of public protest in Chilean society and youth culture.

My research conducted in Spanish and English investigates the environmental justice issues surrounding the HidroAysén project, the various arguments for and against HidroAysén by the major parties bearing a stake in this issue, and the important role and power of mass protest by ordinary citizens who refused to be displaced from their lands and livelihoods for economic development. I highlight the testimonies and perspectives of local people, whose words and voices have been ignored and overridden by national policy. I also draw parallels between HidroAysén and contemporary North American resource development challenges as it is my hope that insights from Chile´s battle for Aysén can inform our own approaches to effective environmental activism.

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Apr 11th, 9:00 AM Apr 11th, 9:20 AM

Environmental Justice & HidroAysén: Pristine Waters to Power Santiago, Multinational Mining Interests in Chile

On May 9, 2011, the Chilean national government under President Sebastián Piñera approved HidroAysén, a controversial hydroelectric megaproject to be constructed in the Aysén region of southern Chile. With HidroAysén expected to flood 5,900 hectares (15,000 acres) of ecologically unique natural reserves and displace local indigenous and working class people, its development raises major environmental justice concerns among Chileans and the international community. The project stalled in 2012 and was placed on long-term hold due to widespread public protests in which tens of thousands of Chileans took to the streets unified by the motto “Patagonia Sin Represas” (Patagonia Without Dams). I was studying abroad in Chile in the spring of 2012 at the height of these demonstrations and was deeply impressed by the aggressive approach and vibrant history of public protest in Chilean society and youth culture.

My research conducted in Spanish and English investigates the environmental justice issues surrounding the HidroAysén project, the various arguments for and against HidroAysén by the major parties bearing a stake in this issue, and the important role and power of mass protest by ordinary citizens who refused to be displaced from their lands and livelihoods for economic development. I highlight the testimonies and perspectives of local people, whose words and voices have been ignored and overridden by national policy. I also draw parallels between HidroAysén and contemporary North American resource development challenges as it is my hope that insights from Chile´s battle for Aysén can inform our own approaches to effective environmental activism.