Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News 10/23-10/28/2011


Chile’s National Emergency Office of the Interior Ministry (ONEMI) has declared a red alert for seismic activity of the Hudson Volcano. The alert affects the areas of Aysén, Río Ibáñez and Chile Chico, and 150 residents within a 20 mile radius of the volcano have been evacuated. The alert comes on the heels of several 4.6 magnitude earthquakes on Tuesday October 25th, just seven miles northwest of the volcano and visible volcanic activity on Thursday the 27th. Nearby towns were already covered with white ash. ONEMI’s director, Vicente Núñez, stated that they will continue monitoring activity and take all necessary precautions. (  10/28/2011)

Growing political tension rises as Supreme Court President, Milton Juica, called  attention to the 1,700 people detained over the last five months in relation to protests against the HidroAysén dam. Many critics believe such large retention numbers are due to pressure from the executive government to quell the rising political controversy surrounding HidroAysén. (Santiago Times 10/24/2011) President Piñera is not ignoring these tensions.  He met with a group of high level advisors to discuss the growing complications of HidroAysén. The meeting highlighted the possible scenarios that will follow HidroAysén’s official announcement of its chosen transmission route. This announcement is scheduled for early November. (El Mercurio 10/25/2011) Representatives from HidroAysén have announced their intentions to begin contacting the landowners along the route of their proposed transition line this December.  They will discuss the details of construction and propose various amounts of compensation for the land lost. In the short term, HidroAysén still plans to partner with Xstrata to integrate their transmission routes. Such an action would both limit environmental degradation and reduce overall costs for HidroAysén. (La Tercera 10/25/2011)

To date, Chile’s government has approved 208 energy projects to tackle the country’s growing energy demands. Together these projects would generate 21,321.55 megawatts of energy.  8,400 Megawatts have been added by initiatives during the Piñera administration alone, but many have yet to get off the ground due to judicial entanglement regarding permits and the passing of necessary environmental analysis. (Diario Financiero 10/24/2011)

The Riesco Island coal mine, a joint venture between Empresas Copec and Ultramar, is set to begin operating in April of 2012.  The $530 million dollar project will put five coal plants into operation on Southern Chile’s Riesco Island. Many view it as an employment opportunity for thousands of locals as nearly 300 people of the region have already been employed there. (Diario Financiero 10/27/2011)

The Luksic family company will use 25,000 acres of state owned land in Aysén for a 50 year concession to promote the survival of Chile’s national animal, the huemul deer.  The Luksics, one of Chile’s wealthiest families, will pay the government $2.7 million dollars annually for the land and invest $739 million dollars to create a reserve for the Huemel population which currently faces extinction. (Santiago Times 10/23/2011)

Costa Rica

The Administrative Environmental Tribunal of Costa Rica sounded an alert about the accelerated degradation of the Térraba-Sierpe wetlands near the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica. The Tribunal inspected 16 cases of environmental damage to the wetlands with agriculture and real estate projects being the biggest culprits. One growing concern arising from this case study is the health of the Sierpe Lagoon, where water levels are decreasing at a rapid pace due to nearby construction and agriculture. The head of the Tribunal, José Lino Chaves, urged national authorities to take rapid action as these wetlands provide  environmental services valued at over $2.8 billion dollars annually.  (Tico Times 10/28/2011)

Minister Rene Castro conducted a round table discussion regarding the Diquís Hydroelectric Projectin southern Costa Rica, a dam that promises to be the largest hydroelectric dam in Central America. The presentation sparked debates regarding the government’s energy model, the lack of coordination with indigenous communities, and the circumventing of concrete environmental analysis procedures. In response to such criticism, the minister presented an ultimatum, “either we win over local communities or we go back to oil.” (Universidad de Costa Rica 10/25/2011)

 Johan Ernst Nilson, a professional explorer has been traveling from pole to pole creating documentaries on climate change since 1997.  His most recent stop in Costa Rica allowed him to see climate change in real time as  the Central American region  has battled unprecedented rains. The rain of the past month has significantly affected agricultural, infrastructure and livelihoods, and many attribute its relentlessness to the changing climate. Nilson stated, “I’m not a politician so I can’t change the laws, I’m not a scientist so I can’t prove anything, but I am a window through which people can see the changes that are happening.”  (La Nacion 10/26/2011)


As part of Mexico’s Sustainable Light Program, President Felipe Calderón handed out the sixth millionth energy saving light bulb. The program highlights Mexico’s effort to tackle climate change by reducing energy use. As an added bonus, families will save up to 75 % in energy bills and the Mexican Federal government will save nearly $200,000 dollars in electricity subsidies. This program is complimented by other Mexican initiatives including the “Trade in Your Old One” program and the Green Mortgages program. (Noticias de Noticias 10/25/2011).

According the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, nearly five million Mexicans live without electricity.  This energy problem is not due to a lack of production capability but to issues of limited power grid access in the rural areas of Mexico.  Caser Maldonado, a market researcher at the Technology Institute of Monterrey, California has proposed a viable solution via small scale solar and wind plants. Rather than spending millions to connect rural populations to the national energy grid, Maldonado proposes a series of small scale wind and solar energy plants which use the available natural assets to produce local energy at low cost.  While no definite plans are underway, Maldonado sites an overall cost of less than one million dollars per village and two companies: Mexico Renewable Energy and Solartec that are producing the necessary solar panels and modules. (Universal MX 10/27/2011)

Over one hundred members of the Huicholes indigenous community of Central Mexico sued the government for mining exploitation on their sacred land. Though 140,000 hectares were declared natural reserves in 2001, mines and plantations continue to destroy this territory.  Currently West Timmins Mining company operates in the region with two subsidiaries and is planning on launching a new mine in March. This week the Huicholes held a series of rallies to draw attention to their cause in the Plaza of Angles, home of President Felipe Calderón.  (El Pais 10/26/2011)


In Bolivia, President Morales signed a law to cancel the construction of the proposed 110-mile highway across the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS). The new law marks a massive victory for the 1,000 protestors who completed a 66-day march from the rainforest to La Paz surviving harsh conditions and police brutality along the way. But Morales noted that there were in fact indigenous groups that supported the highway for development purposes. (IPS News 10/25/2011)

In Brazil, hundreds of indigenous people have gathered at the Belo Monte Dam to protest its construction. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has criticized the Brazilian government for their lack of transparency and inclusion of indigenous rights. Furthermore, a federal judge of Brazil voted that the environmental license granted to this project is illegal as it neglected to consult with affected indigenous communities. Protestors vow to occupy the dam until their voices are heard. (Amazon Watch 10/27/2011)

The Week’s News was compiled by Amanda Wheat.

Note: The linked articles and excerpts in this post are provided for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Natural Resources Defense Council.