Wikileaks reveals Chilean government changed environment rules to please US interests
Wikileaks cables last week revealed that the U.S. Embassy in Santiago pressured Chilean government officials in 2009 to change environmental rules so that a controversial thermoelectric plant could be built.
Chilean watchdog groups expressed concern at their government’s perceived willingness to bow to U.S. pressure and rewrite Chile’s environmental laws in order to approve the plant, and said they will petition the OCDE to expel both Chile and the United States.
Construction of the Campiche thermoelectric plant near Valparaíso - owned by AES Gener - was blocked by the Supreme Court in 2009 during Michelle Bachelet’s presidency.
The Court ruled that the government had illegally approved the project’s environmental report without considering the type of soil at the site.
The decision paralyzed an investment of US$500 million by AES Gener, a subsidiary of AES, a Fortune 500 energy company based in Virginia.
A month after the decision, two top AES executives met with former U.S. ambassador Paul Simons. According to Wikileaks cable 221,119, the AES president told Simons that the Campiche project would be cancelled if operations were paralyzed for more than a year.
He also warned that the Supreme Court ruling jeopardized other energy plants.
Simons later met with Housing and Urban Planning minister Patricia Poblete, who was asked to “solve the problem” of the Campiche plant and to make it her top priority. According to a Wikileaks cable, Poblete told Simons that the government was “committed to finding a solution” and “will fix the situation.”
The Bachelet government then issued Supreme Decree Number 68 at the end of 2009. The decree allows for industrial activity in areas where at least 30% of the soil is determined suitable, effectively allowing the Campiche project to go forward. AES claims that 33% of the soil at the Campiche site is suitable for industry.
The move provoked criticism at the time, but Poblete insisted the government had done nothing extraordinary to benefit AES.
Although Chile’s corporate-owned media did not investigate the government decree or inquire if Minister Poblete might have suddenly increased her personal wealth, the local government of Puchuncaví threatened to continue battling the decision in court. AES then arranged an agreement with local government authorities that included a US$ 4 million investment in the community.
Representatives from Chile Sustentable, Defendamos la Ciudad, Ecosistemas, and Acción Ecológica announced this weekend that they will request the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCDE) to consider disassociating with Chile and the United States. They cited the “low standard of integrity in their dealings with public institutions.”
“The direct intervention of AES-Gener – using Chile’s ministers and the U.S. Embassy to violate the laws of Chile, and its success in making the president, the ministers, and public employees change the law in order to serve its interests – is unacceptable,” said Chile Sustentable president Sara Larraín.
“It’s degrading to our democratic institutions; it destroys public faith in the legitimacy of the state to uphold the laws. This fact merits that the OCDE sanction Chile and the United States by suspending their membership. Similarly, we demand a sanction against both countries in their free trade agreement, since both countries colluded to relax environmental law, which is expressly prohibited in the international agreement.”
Ecosistemas representative Juan Pablo Orrego pointed out that there are various other projects similar to Campiche in which “complicity between the government and private companies has allowed projects that are highly destructive.”
He listed diverse electric projects throughout Chile, including the hydroelectric projects HidroAysén and Ralco, as well as the Castilla thermoelectric project in northern Chile.
Meanwhile, an estimated 5,000 people demonstrated in Copiapó last weekend, including mayors, senators, and public organizations, to protest the Castilla thermoelectric plant near that city in a so-called “March for Life.”
Socialist Party Sen. Isabel Allende participated in the march, and accused the regional government of “laziness” in allowing the project to be approved. “The Atacama authorities know that they have a mobilized community in the streets, and they will have to respond to public opinion because the whole country knows that Castilla was approved in a procedure that deserves to be investigated,” Allende said.
By Jackie Seitz – Santiago Times