'Shock Doctrine' in Action: Vital Freshwater Resources Under Attack by Privatization Capitalists
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Set in South America's breathtaking Andes landscape, the visually sweeping new documentary Patagonia Rising bills itself as a frontier story of water and power. But both its frontier and its story nevertheless belong to anyone on the planet that needs water to live.
We are countless compared to the infinitesimal contingency who live to profit off of water. For the purposes of Patagonia Rising, screening now in New York and beyond, that includes the privatization capitalists of HidroAysen, which is planning to build five hydroelectric power plants (marketspeak for dams) to choke off Chile's glacially fed Baker and Pascua rivers, two of the planet's purest. Signed by President Sebastien Pinera, the first billionaire to be sworn into the Chilean presidency, but stalled thanks to vigorous protests, HidroAysen would effectively hand over almost all of Chile's energy market to a duopoly run by Spain's Endesa and Italy's Enel. And they're not exactly hiding their distaste for environmental impact of five dams cornering the prize jewel of Patagonia's freshwater business.
"This exploits the best use of water," a HidroAysen executive argues in Patagonia Rising. "That's sustainability."
"One of the most twisted things I learned while making Patagonia Rising is that the companies behind the building of dams in developing countries are mostly from Europe and China," Oakland, Calif.-based director Brian Lilla told AlterNet. "Ninety percent of Chile's water rights were sold off by Pinochet and are now controlled by Spanish and Italian energy conglomerates."
Naomi Klein's indispensable The Shock Doctrine broke down that rapacious process, wherein so-called First World politicians, economists and other disaster capitalists plundered the resources and sovereignty of the Third World, using puppets like Pinochet as hammers and shovels for development and the disappeared alike. Patagonia Rising takes sobering stock of the Chilean aftermath, whose continuing political and economic instability has been exponentially problematized by global warming. A catastrophic equalizer, it will tear down whatever facades remain between disaster capitalists in America, China and Europe from the just-fine-thanks corners of the world yet to submit, paraphrasing HidroAysen's executive, to the dream of sustainable exploitation.
"Studies by the University of Chile and other experts have found that HidroAysén is not necessary to meet Chile's future energy needs," explains International Rivers regional campaign Patagonia Sin Represas. "Investment in more efficient use of electricity, together with renewable sources such as solar, geothermal and wind, would ensure a sustainable energy future."
And it's not just Chile that would benefit from tearing down its dams before they are built. The destructive environmental, economic and human impact of dams -- from ecosphere, species and cultural extinction to seismic instability, mass relocations and cost-benefit imbalances -- is precisely why domestic dams are being destroyed as you read this from Washington to Maine. In Pakistan, citizens who were uprooted in the '70s to make way for the Bhakra dam are still awaiting rehabilitation, while the nation builds more in Lahore.
Turkey can expect similar headaches after its proposed dams flood thousands of years of cultural history and spoil the comparatively untouched Tigris. International Rivers is further worried about fast-track megadams in South Africa, and Patagonia's neighbor Brazil, which is quickly becoming an emergent superpower in a new century of unsustainable consumption riddled with global warming's last-gasp resource wars.
"The focus on large, centralized projects has benefited energy-intensive industries, but bypassed more than a billion poor people," International Rivers media director Peter Bosshard explained ahead of a recent report calling on the World Bank's new president Jim Yong Kim, who takes office in July, to dramatically alter its approach to infrastructure development. "The benefits of centralized mega-projects have not trickled down."