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Chile: How Many Marched Against the Hidroaysén Hydroelectric Station and Why?

This post is part of a series of posts about the approval to construct the Hydroaysén hydroelectric power station, Chile.  

Read about the project, the positions in favor and against it, and the initial reactions following the ruling. Also review the testimonials from the first protests.

Last Saturday, May 28, 2011, a new massive protest took effect against the Hydroaysén hydroelectric project. The event was the third convened by Acción Ecológica [es] and the fourth massive protest in Santiago since the project's approval on May 9. Unlike previous protests, this one ended without any major incidents.

Online daily El Dinamo also spoke regarding the festive and familiar atmosphere [es] that was felt throughout the event. Nevertheless, one doubt remained — how many marched? The numbers varied so much according to the source, that the topic was commented on throughout various social networks.

View of the Alameda from the protest vs. Hidroaysén. Photo from Twitter user @esopino

On Twitter, Ivan Rebolledo (@OscuroSer), technician in computational networks commented:

Marcha contra HidroAysén: Organizadores aseguran que fueron 100 mil personas http://bit.ly/iAZ1gW [FOTOS] #Hidroaysén #NoaHidroaysén #ERNC !

March against HidroAysén: Organizers assure that there were 100 thousand people http://bit.ly/iAZ1gW [FOTOS] #Hidroaysén #NoaHidroaysén #ERNC !

On the other hand, Roberto (@fuznet) pointed out the differences in estimates:

Las cifras según… Terra: 5 mil participantes, La Tercera :20 Mil, Cooperativa: 80 mil, Emol: 0 detenidos. Juzgue ud. #Noahidroaysen.

The numbers according to… Terra: 5 thousand participants, La Tercera: 20 thousand, Cooperativa: 80 thousand, Emol: 0 detained. You be the judge. #Noahidroaysen.

As for the mass media, webpage Radio Bio-Bio [es] also noted estimates that went from 18,000 to 90,000 people.

Beyond the disparity between official numbers and that which participants and organizers reported, it is interesting to analyze that which is calling so many people to the streets for so many days, and why Hidroaysén (after Barrancones, in Punta de Choros [es] in 2010) has caused such an uproar in all spheres, including social networks. With respect to this, there are many known points of view.

Professor Marcelo Mena explains some reasons in his column “Nature at man's service” [es] published by online daily El Dinamo [es]:

El rechazo a Hidroaysén es solo la manifestación de la desconfianza que tenemos frente a grandes proyectos pintados de verde. Subestimamos a la gente al pensar que rechazan el proyecto porque Patagonia Sin Represas mostraba las Torres del Paine con cables. […] Viene porque la mayoría de la población ha sentido problemas de contaminación en su vida (de acuerdo a una encuesta que hicimos el 2010 junto con Opina). Viene de que encuentran irracional destruir algo único como la Patagonia para satisfacer demandas energéticas teóricas (proyectadas linealmente) que ni siquiera aseguran una baja de tarifa. De hecho, de acuerdo a encuestra Opina, 70% de los chilenos está dispuesto a más por energías limpias.

The rejection of Hidroaysén is merely a demonstration of the distrust we have before large projects painted green. We underestimate people upon thinking that they reject the project because Patagonia Sin Represas [Patagonia Without Reservoirs] showed the Torres del Paine [National Park] with cables. […] It comes because the majority of the population has felt the problems of contamination in their lives (according to a survey that we conducted in 2010 in conjunction with Opina). It comes from the fact that they find it irrational to destroy something so unique like the Patagonia to satisfy theoretic energy demands (linearly projected) that do not even assure a tax reduction. In fact, according to the Opina survey, 70% of Chileans are willing for more for clean energy.

On the other hand, Victor Hugo Barrientos, in his column “The environment and sustainable development: pending” [es] from El Quinto Poder argues [es]:

Hemos visto en los últimos meses una tremenda rebelión social y mediática por el poderoso rechazo que provocan la ejecución de proyectos energéticos en nuestro territorio. Primero fue “Punta de Choros” y la historia de la planta termo-eléctrica y ahora Hidroaysén, las que han excitado el fervor popular, llevándolo a máximos históricos, que incluso han comprometido la seguridad nacional. […] Esa misma muchedumbre inquieta no tiene una conducta “ambientalmente coherente”, no propone soluciones reales, ni tampoco define responsabilidades al fenómeno en discusión. La historia de “Dr Jekyll y Mr Hyde” (novela de Robert Stevenson, 1886) aplicaría para definirnos; por el día consumimos energía por toneladas y por la noche protestamos para impedir proyectos energéticos.

In the last few months, we have seen a tremendous social and media rebellion with the powerful rejection that the execution of energy projects provokes on our land. First it was “Punta de Choros” and the story of the thermo-electric plant and now Hidroaysén, which excited popular fervor, taking it to historic maximums, even compromising national security. […] This very same restless mass does not have an “environmentally coherent” conduct, it does not propose real solutions, nor does it define responsibilities to the phenomenon in question.  The story of “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (Robert Stevenson's novel, 1886) would apply to define us; by day we consume energy by the ton and by night we protest to impede energy projects.

Aside from criticisms, however, online users have also begun proposing solutions. One example is that which consultant on the carbon footprint, Ricardo Torres, proposed in his column “Renewable, not conventional, energies: a real alternative” [es]:

[…] Estas oportunidades se podrían materializar al incluir estos desarrollos de generación eléctrica bajo el Mecanismo de Desarrollo Limpio (MDL), dependiente de la ONU, el cual permite crear proyectos de reducción de emisiones de Gases de Efecto Invernadero en países en vías de desarrollo. Al certificar estas reducciones se obtienen bonos de carbono que pueden ser vendidos a empresas de países industrializados. Los recursos generados por la venta de los bonos permiten financiar una parte importante de los proyectos.

[…] These opportunities could materialize to include these electrical generation developments under the Mecanismo de Desaroolo Limpio (MDL) [Clean Development Mechanism], depending on the UN, which permits the creation of Greenhouse Gas emission reduction projects in developing nations. Upon certifying these reductions, they obtain carbon bonds that they can sell to companies in industrialized nations. The resources generated from the bond sales allow for the financing of an important part of the projects.

The protest participants, on the other hand, talk about the diversity of opinions and reasons for starting the demonstration, which have been expressed in the slogans and banners that range from criticisms of the capitalist system up to support for the ERNC (Renewable, Not Conventional, Energies)

Writer and blogger Andrea Elgueta [es], in her story entitled “What mobilizes those who join the demonstration against Hidroaysén? [es] in El Quinto Poder tells us [es]:

March against Hidroaysén. Photo from Luis Fernando Arellano, Flickr user reports (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Salí de casa con una cámara de fotos y me dispuse a intentar develar si este movimiento tiene ideas y tiene una visión propia. De más está decir que desde el inicio de nuestra imperfecta y discutible democracia que no teníamos 40.000 o 100.000 personas en las calles manifestándose. ¿Se manifestarán por moda? ¿Será realmente entretenido asistir sólo para “pelearse con los pacos”? ¿O es una masa inconsciente que se vuelcan a las calles porque sí? […] Al llegar al lugar de reunión de los manifestantes, me sorprendió la cantidad de gente: niños, abuelos, jóvenes, adultos, mujeres y manifestaciones artísticas variopintas. […] Claro, pensé, no se trata de “bandos”, como se empecina en creer el gobierno, sino que se acercan más a una manifestación genuina de ciudadanos con opinión que esta vez buscan ser escuchados sin mediadores.

I left the house with a camera and I prepared myself to try to uncover whether this movement had ideas and its own vision. Suffice it to say that from the start of our imperfect and arguable democracy that we did not have 40,000 or 100,000 people in the demonstrations on the street. Did they march because it was popular? Would it be genuinely entertaining to attend just to “fight with the cops”? Or was this an unconscious mass that threw itself into the streets just because? […] Upon arriving to the demonstrators’ meeting place, the sheer quantity of people surprised me: children, grandparents, youth, adults, women and various artistic demonstrations. […] Of course, I thought, it's not about “sides,” as the government continues to believe, but rather a genuine demonstration of citizens with an opinion that, this time, looks to be heard without a mediator.

“Reasons for Hidroaysén,” a short documentary by Amparo Baeza, Antonio Fernández and Claudio Rivera, that has been amply broadcast through the internet, provides an’ inside look’ in 15 minutes into the diversity of social actors, investigative reaction, different meetings and principal reasons that people have had to take to the streets to protest.

LAS RAZONES CONTRA HIDROAYSEN SALEN A LA CALLE from Revista Lecturas on Vimeo.

REASONS AGAINST HIDROAYSEN TAKE TO THE STREETS [es] from Revista Lecturas [es] on Vimeo.

Perhaps, as Patricio Herman, President of the Defendamos La Ciudad [Defend The City] Foundation, highlights in an interview with online daily El Mostrador [es], one of the major achievements of the protests is that: “All Chileans already talk about renewable, not conventional, energies and so many other terms that, prior to the environmental ruling of the five HidroAysén reservoirs in Patagonia, very few knew.”

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