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'Shock Doctrine' in Action: Vital Freshwater Resources Under Attack by Privatization Capitalists

"I don't consider this an environmentalist point of view; I'm just a human who is scared shitless of the future," says the director of the new film "Patagonia Rising."

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BL: On the northern end of the continent you've got the Amazon River, which is also under threat of dam development. One of the most twisted things I learned while making this film is that the companies behind the building of dams in developing countries are mostly from Europe and China. Ninety percent of Chile's water rights were sold off by Pinochet and are now controlled by Spanish and Italian energy conglomerates. The other piece of the Patagonia dam puzzle is that the needed transmission lines would be built by a Canadian company. HidroAysen hired the American public relations firm Burson Marsteller to greenwash the entire project, the same scumbags that go to work for the tobacco industry. All these multinationals have one objective at the expense of Chile's water and people: profit.

ST: With 7 billion people on Earth, and only increases in population and consumption priced into the dystopian mix, remnants of a more earthly past like Chile's rural gauchos, whose anti-dam efforts you explore in  Patagonia Rising, seem destined for ancient history. But they're helping stall the project.

BL: While filming in Chile, I met some very informed and intelligent people working within the government, academic and NGO sector. All the information is there for Chile to make the right decision. Unfortunately there are also a lot Chilean people with power who stand to financially benefit from the building of the dams. As an American filmmaker, I had to be very careful not to interject an American point of view on the debate in Chile. The last thing Chileans want is a bunch of Americans telling them what they should or shouldn't do. The last time they we did, they ended up with a 20-year dictatorship. 

ST: How will the dam controversy in Patagonia impact South America overall? It's an emergent superpower.

BL: There is a lot at stake. Building the dams in Patagonia would open a Pandora's box of development. A ton of infrastructure -- roads, airports, ports, more -- would need to be put in place in order to build the dams. Once those systems are in place, extractive development would soon follow. Besides environmental hits, the cultural landscape of the gauchos and other Patagonia families would slingshot itself towards boom-town explosion. And there are a lot of people in Patagonia that cherish their cultural history and future. They won't go down with out a fight.

ST: How about yourself? How has this struggle impacted you personally?

BL: Three months after I shot an interview with the general manager of HidroAysen I was sent a letter from the company's legal department that stated, "If  Patagonia Rising somehow negatively impacts the decision to build the dams, Brian Lilla will be held personally liable." I read this as a compliment. I took a lot of personal and professional punches to get this film done. In the end, I'd much rather regret something I have done than something I haven't done.

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.

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