Chile: yet another free-market success story!

map_of_chileThe New York Times recently ran a story about mining companies in Chile that suck up all the water in already arid regions–in this case the driest spot on the planet–pollute the rest, and as a result decimate the local agriculture and drive away the inhabitants. (The title of this post is therefore an ironic bait-and-switch, unless of course you think this represents a triumph for unfettered capitalism (which in a sense it is, I guess.)

Chile is apparently a world leader in implementing free-market measures that have removed the bothersome fetters of  government regulation from the claws of business and industry. One result, says the story, is that:

. . . Private ownership [of water] is so concentrated in some areas that a single electricity company from Spain, Endesa, has bought up 80 percent of the water rights in a huge region in the south, causing an uproar.

Ecological and social justice concerns have brought some reversals. This mid-2008 story from the Patagonia Times is a good snapshot of the major battles over water rights in Chile. It’s interesting that the free reign granted Endesa and other companies in 1981 was modified in 2005 in an attempt to protect the public interest. This mid-2008 story from an online Spanish (as in Spain) news source reports that Endesa and its partners were denied water rights in Chile’s southernmost sector, Patagonia, effectively barring them from building five planned hydroelectric dams in a region world famous for its natural beauty.  Coincidentally, there is a banner ad for Endesa currently at the top of the page.

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