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Chileans Rise Up Against Privatization of Nation's Water Supply

Mining and logging companies 'leaving all of Chile without water', due to privatized water management

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Los Pelambres copper mine near Los Caimanes town, north of Santiago. (Photo: Victor Ruiz Caballero/Reuters)

Major water shortages in Chile are a direct result of the free reign given to mining and logging companies by the Chilean government over the country's dwindling water supplies, more than 100 environmental, social and indigenous organizations and over 6,000 protesters warned at a rally in Santiago this week.

On Monday the groups demanded that the state regain control of the country's privatized system of water management, Marianela Jarroud reports for Inter Press Service and the Guardian, and delivered a letter to President Sebastián Piñera.

The letter slams the current water code, adopted by Augusto Pinochet in 1981, which, Jarroud reports, "made water private property by granting the state the right to grant water use rights to companies free of charge and in perpetuity. The code allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking into consideration local priorities for water use, the organizations complain."

"We have discovered that there is water in Chile, but that the wall that separates it from us is called 'profit' and was built by the [1981] water code, the constitution, international agreements like the binational mining treaty [with Argentina] and, fundamentally, the imposition of a culture where it is seen as normal for the water that falls from the sky to have owners," the letter says.

"This wall is drying up our basins, it is devastating the water cycles that have sustained our valleys for centuries, it is sowing death in our territories and it must be torn down now," it adds.

"Our main demand is the repeal of the water code that is denying us the right to have water to live," said Teresa Nahuelpán, an activist with the Movement for the Defense of the Sea in Mehuín, 800km (about 500 miles) south of Santiago. The code "favors profits and the wealthy", she said.

The organizations are also demanding the repeal of a mining treaty signed by Chile and Argentina in 1997, that gives foreign mining corporations unlimited access to water and energy in the country.

"The binational mining treaty hands more than 4,000km of [Andes] mountains to transnational corporations," said indigenous leader Rodrigo Villablanca. It "allows the extraction of natural resources and the use of water to be granted practically free of charge to companies."

Read the rest of Jarroud's report here.


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