Bruce Chatwin is, sadly, a writer whose influence far outshines his name. I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of In Patagonia while studying in South America (which, thinking back, having to fly halfway across the world for cheaper tuition does seem absurd). I followed Chatwin’s footsteps as I crossed from Argentina’s Patagonia to Chile’s Magallenes, and finished the book while in a dehydrated haze, puking into the snowstorm outside my tent, scribbling notes into the margins for friends I hadn’t seen in years. When I woke Patagonia was brilliantly clear, with an Alpaca grazing besides a crystal lake, and a sign some 15 feet to my left, warning against camping in the area due to sudden storms. There was even a cute illustration of a frigid stick figure.
A speculative travelogue (Chatwin was very clear about his affinity for fictionalization, a trait he shares with his sometime-collaborator Werner Herzog), In Patagonia provides a brilliant description of the awesome beauty and sheer diversity of Patagonia, which houses glacier, volcano, and prairie.
Recently, a controversial new energy policy in Chile has poses a huge risk for the area. A dam project looks to flood considerable amounts of prairie and could cause irreparable damage to the fragile ecosystem.
Caroline Lewis reports in Upside Down World,
The principal concern is that the dams will flood 6,000 hectares (almost 15,000 acres) of partially protected land. HidroAysén’s website counters that this is only .05% of the land that makes up the region of Aysén. The company also makes the controversial projection that Chile’s energy demand will triple within 20 years and promotes itself as a clean, domestic, affordable energy source. Uncontested is the fact that the hydroelectric plants would pump 2,750 Megawatts of electricity into Chile’s Central Interconnected System, serving most citizens as well as Chile’s large mining industry.
A huge protest movement, Patagonia Sin Represas (Patagonia Without Dams), has mobilized against the plan, and raised questions about water-use rights, a key issue in water-scarce Andean countries-
So who owns the water in Patagonia? HidroAysén is a partnership between Endesa Chile (a subsidiary of Endesa España), and the Chilean company Colbún. Endesa Chile has held water rights in Patagonia and many other parts of Chile for decades. The company was privatized in the late 1980s and its water rights have switched hands with its ownership ever since. Today, 92% of Endesa and its water rights are owned by the Italian-based international energy giant ENEL.
For a country whose political activism has forever been altered by a violent coup and years of dictatorship, the solidarity against the dam project presents a rare opportunity,
“Patagonia Sin Represas” [could be] a potentially historical political awakening that might result in future citizen solidarity. The current university marches and strikes for more affordable education may be a sign of sustainable youth mobilization. “With any luck” Escobar said, “this is the expression of a civic maturity of a people that feels empowered enough to take to the streets and express what they think is wrong.”
Head on over to UpsideDownWorld.org for the full article. I’d like to think that Chatwin, who died in 1989 from AIDS, would be happy to see people on the street, rallying for natural beauty.
More reporting from Caroline Lewis can be found at deliberatenews.com