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Canadian Industrial Giant Prepares Invasion of Patagonia

8 March, 2003

International response required to keep aluminum smelter and river damming project out of Chile's southern temperate rainforest

Dramatically distinct visions of regional and hemispheric integration are clashing in the globally significant temperate rainforests and wild landscapes of the Southern Andes. While NFN's Gondwana Forest Sanctuary proposal is an international effort for increased protections of the communities, wildlands and temperate forests of the southern hemisphere, Canadian mining and minerals giant NORANDA, Inc. has continued to work with the Chilean government for the green light to go ahead with their Alumysa project. The long-term conservation of one of the American continents last extensive temperate coastal rainforests and wild areas is at stake. Here in North America citizens and organizations are responding in solidarity to the call for international support made by a coalition of groups in the Chilean Patagonia: STOP THE ALUMYSA PROJECT.

Alumysa is a massive aluminum smelter and hydroelectric project in the Aisen Region of Southern Chile. The 2.7 billion dollar investment proposal would be the largest private investment in the history of Chile, while the scale and scope of this industrial project is far beyond any industrial development that has ever been initiated in Patagonia. Possibly due to the isolated nature of Chile's Patagonia, the international environmental community is not yet prioritizing the Alumysa project threat to international forest, biodiversity, and wildlands conservation. Though the Environmental Impact Study of Alumysa was sent back to NORANDA for further revision, there continues to be growing concern amongst the environmental organizations in Aisen that without greater national and international attention to Alumysa, NORANDA will be able to push forward with this ecologically and economically unsustainable project.

With the Alumysa development NORANDA desires to import alumina minerals from Australia, Brazil, or Jamaica for processing in a smelter to be built near Puerto Aisen. The stated reason that NORANDA is interested in Chile is because of the tremendous potential for electricity generation in the water rich and steep terrain of the remote and pristine zone where the Andes meet the sea. The Alumysa project includes the construction of six dams in three different watersheds close to Puerto Aisen, which will result in the drowning of 20,000 acres of temperate evergreen rainforest, and increased road building and habitat fragmentation. There are also grave concerns about water and air pollution associated with the smelter itself. Unstated publicly by NORANDA is the attraction of cheap labor and lax environmental regulation enforcement in Chile. Alumysa is indicative of how the priceless natural treasures and rural communities of this South American nation are being devoured by the voracious appetite of the globalizing neo-liberal economy.

NORANDA is one of nine giant industrial companies that belong to the Global Mining Initiative, a greenwashing attempt by major mineral multi-nationals to remake their image and shake off their predatory and environmentally destructive histories. NORANDA has a history worth noting when considering their desire to move into Southern Chile. From the mid-1980s until the early 1990s NORANDA was the parent company of MacMillan-Bloedel, a logging products company in Canada that has ravaged the ancient forests of British Columbia. NORANDA was also part of the ill-fated Crown Butte Mine proposal for mining gold on the northern flank of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. Respected mining professionals have noted that NORANDA is notorious for not committing to the use of the latest generation technology that is necessary for minimizing the environmental impacts of metals industries. Such promises are a large part of the Alumysa project, but in Aisen little confidence exists that NORANDA will follow through on their promises, or that the Chilean government has the strength or desire to hold the industrial giant to their word.

The cumulative impacts of industrial development and natural resources exploitation are rarely examined. The temperate forests of Southern Chile and Argentina are under attack from exotic species plantation forestry, human caused fires, unregulated livestock grazing, the damming of rivers, and the development of industrial mega-projects. The Gondwana Forest Sanctuary proposal is an international response to this regional environmental crisis. By working together to defend the southern temperate forests of Chile from threats like Alumysa, the goal of integrated and wholistic environmental planning in the southern hemisphere is ever closer to being realized.

By Gary Hughes, Native Forest Networ

To support the people of Aisen and say NO to the Alumysa Project calls, faxes and letters to NORANDA are urgently needed. Contact David Kerr, President and CEO of NORANDA, Inc. at P.O. Box 755; BCE Place; Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5J 2T3; (416) 982-7111; or fax (416) 982-7423.

Native Forest Network
P.O. Box 8251
Missoula, MT 59807
Phone: (406) 542-734333
Fax: (406) 542-7347
E-mail: nfn@wildrockies.org

© 2002 Native Forest Network. All rights reserved.

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