Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The True face of Nils Huseby and SN Power

On the 31st of January, 2008, I witnessed an intense and well-organized meeting with members of the mapuche (indigenous) communities of Panguipulli, Chile and executives of Norwegian energy company SN Power, and their Chilean counterpart, Trayenko, S.A. The purpose of the meeting was for the companies to open a dialogue with the communities about SN Power´s proposed project to build hydroelectric plants in the area. This meeting was agreed upon by the director for the Latin American region of SN Power, Nils Huseby, and Pedro Antimilla, representative of the communities, who had gone all the way to Oslo in December. There, on December 11th, 2007, they had signed an agreement according to Nordic and international laws which respect the rights of indigneous communities, such as land and water rights. The agreement stated that SN Power would not continue their project without entering into dialogue with the communities. The proposed dialogue, intended to start on the 31st of january, was meant to offer a platform for the communities to express their concerns about the project and for the company to take these concerns into consideration in their plans. At this meeting, in the fields of Carirriñe, Mapuche territory, about an hour`s drive on unpaved roads from Coñaripe, over 500 local people were present, including 14 lonkos (chiefs) of the mapuche communities, members of local tourist organizations, and the mayor of the municipality of Panguipulli, Alejandro Kohler. These fields are symbolic land where Mapuche and Non-Mapuche historically meet. The lonkos, other representatives of the communities and the mayor spoke eloquently and clearly for over an hour in the plain sun and scorching heat of the afternoon, articulating their concerns about the proposed hydroelectric projects and how these would affect the communities. It was made absolutely clear that the Mapuche communities, the mayor, and several local (eco)tourism operators and small farmers, representing over 3000 local citizens, are unanimously opposed to the plans being performed in any way, shape or form. However, they also emphasized that they do not wish a violent conflict as those taking place between mapuche communities and forestry companies in the northwest of Chile.

Nils Huseby arrived in his suit and tie, he and his collegues refused to sit on the traditional seats offered by the communities, and stood under the hot sun, listening to each of the lonkos and werken (spokespeople) make their appeals. They appealed to international agreements such as the ILO 169 and the UN`s declaration of indigenous peoples. The Mapuche communities wish to recuperate their ancestral rights to water, which were sold to SN Power by the Chilean state. The rights to water and the rights to land were divided by the Pinochet regime in 1981, allowing for the state to sell and alot land and water seperately. As the territory which the communities occupy is recognized as indigenous land, the water is seen as a distinct resource. The land is, however, useless without water. The rivers running through the land are subject to being rerouted by subterranean aquaducts, to feed the hydroelectric plants SN Power has planned. Furthermore, a large part of the land will be inundated, rendering it useless and possibly entailing the relocation of communities. Local farmers and hotsprings enterpreneurs will lose their water sources as well, which will mean they will no longer be able to survive as such. The region of the rivers and lakes is the most well-developped ecotourism destination in Chile. Tourism is the sole industry in the area, and the transformation of this area will not only mean a great loss to the Mapuche communities, but a great loss to all Chileans.

Finally, when it was Nils Huseby`s turn to respond, he simply said “I`ve heard your concerns and appeals, but we are not prepared to discontinue the project, we will proceed as planned”. An all around shocked reaction and booeing surged spontaneously from the crowd. The Werken Maria Eugenia Calfuñanco responded that this was not in accordance with the agreements made in Oslo, where Mr. Huseby agreed to negotiate with the communities, and then revise the plans. Obviously the decision had already been made prior to the meeting that the plans would proceed regardless of the opinion of the communities, for it was made clear at the meeting that all present were not in favour of the plans: no studies, no plants, no dams. A big “NO” all around. And so Nils Huseby gave them a big “NO” in return. Some dialogue. Why did he even bother coming? He seemed only to laugh cynically at the serious appeals of the Lonkos. Was it just a media stunt? To fulfill his “participation” barometer in the Corporate Social Responsibility charts? Some participation. He even tried to make excuses, saying that he could not do anything about the gap in the Chilean laws, that allows for a company such as SN Power to buy all the rights to water in the area, leaving the locals powerless, and if the company proceeds with the plans, leaving them without a source of life, and some even landless. He said that he was not in the position, due to Chilean law, to return their water rights. He said that they have to take up this problem with the Chilean state, not with him. Meanwhile SN Power is taking advantage of this “gap” in the law. Taking advantage in order to turn a profit, not taking any responsibility for the consequences for the local environment and people in Chile, something which the company would not be able to do in Norway itself. This echoes the long tradition of colonialism and imperialism, exploiting the national resources of latin america to increase the wealth of western nations. The new form of “globalization” is possible due to the tremendous neoliberalism installed by the Pinochet regime which is allowing foreign and transnational companies to transform Chile`s natural resources into capitalist profit, creating enormous impacts for the Chilean people for an unforseen amount of time.

The representatives of the mapuche communities had made a typed statement entailing all that was said during the meeting, and asked all the speakers to sign it, as is traditional in these types of meetings. Nils Huseby, however, also refused to sign this. He was then asked “what is his word worth?” and “why should we ever believe it again?” He does not seem to be complying to any of his promises. He was then asked to leave the territory. The representatives said: “Unfortunately this is our first conversation and also our last.You are no longer welcome in this territory”. All those present, shouted “They must leave!” Other comments made by those locals present and at the end of the meeting proved that this would be the beginning of a long battle, and if any of the workers of SN Power or Trayenko were found working in the territory, they would be sent away again, as they had been in october 2007, when they had begun their “studies” with immense machinery to drill holes into the earth of Mapuche territory, without their permission or even their previous knowledge, because the ministry of economics had signed a contract with SN Power allowing them to conduct subterranean studies of the area for the next two years. It is clear that SN Power will continue to do so regardless of the desires of the local communities, and to this effect, Nils Huseby and his collegues are not taking any responsibility in the so-called “dialogue” with the communities, nor do they respect indigenous and human rights, such as the collective rights to land and water, resources which are invaluable to the people, yet receive a very cheap pricetag in the competitive capitalist market.

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Anonymous said...

Potente Blogg, acabo de linkearlo y sería orgulloso de que linkearas el mío:


Claudio Escobar Cáceres

Larry Gambone said...

Thank you for this informative article. I was in Chile recently but because of reasons of time not able to make it South of the Bio Bio into Mapuche territory. I have written a posting on my own blog about the situation in Chile and will be writing more about the political situation and the abject failure of neo-liberalism there.