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Critique of Water Shares Agreement and Barrick's "94% approval rating": Luis Faura Cortes, Councilperson of Alto del Carmen.

by Lu�s Faura Cortes
January 15th, 2007

In June 2005, the Vigilance Junta  (a committee representing the 2000 farmers with water rights) of the Huasco Valley signed an Agreement Protocol with the representative company in Chile of the Canadian mining corporation Barrick Gold, in exchange for $60 million and other resources. According to this agreement, the company committed to contribute that sum if Barrick's project to exploit Pascua Lama was finally approved. The Atacama Council became involved in the process when it participated in a committee to manage the agreed resources.

In this same Protocol, the mining company also promised to construct a headwater dam for the valley of El Carmen (San Felix), for a sum of $5 million.

It should be noted that the decision to sign the Protocol on June 30 was made by 8 of the 9 members of the Junta's board of directors. Among the members of the board was Mr Mauricio Perell�, one of the main water shareholders of the Vigilance Junta. He possesses 1,200 �acciones� (water shares equalling one hour of water usage) in the third section of the Huasco River, that's to say, almost 16% of water shares of that section, the largest of the four sections in which the shares were distributed, which corresponded to 64.5% of a total of 11,813 shares . As a water shareholder of the third section, Mr Perell� and a few other farmers with irrigation rights have more shares and therefore more power than any of the water shareholders of sections 1,2 and 4 (see footnote).

This Protocol was questioned in April 2006 by the General Water Management Board (the DGA), after it was already agreed and signed without consulting the approximately 2,000 irrigators.

In November 2005, one of the representatives of Section 2, Mr Sergio Torres Allen, realized the irregularity of the process, questioned it, and left it. There continues to be a series of irregularities on the Junta�s part.

1.- Promises obtained by the Junta's board of directors have not been kept, in a meeting in Alto del Carmen on July 6 2005 (in this meeting the Protocol was released, already signed by the board of directors on 30 June 2005). The board hadn't set up a working group to discuss the topic. The board of directors accepted research presented verbally, despite having requested written copies for analysis. There was no technical counterpart, or real discussion of the research within the board of directors. In a meeting on the 2nd of November 2005, Barrick demanded that the clarifications (addendum 2) be presented to CONAMA by the 7th of November of the same year, �with or without acceptance by the Junta�.

2 - After the process was questioned by the DGA, and to validate their work, the board of directors convened an Extraordinary General Meeting for November 15 2005, but only invited the presidents or irrigation canal representatives, amounting to 315 people, and not all the 2,000 irrigators. In this session of 11,813 water shares, only 6,670 participated, that is to say only 56% of the presidents or canal representatives. The board of directors demonstrated that 93.7% of the irrigators approved the Junta's act. It's important to emphasise that in this meeting they didn't allow Mauricio Perell� to vote, owner of approximately 1,200 water shares, and that among the 93.7% were 6 or 7 irrigators who held almost as many or more water shares as Perell�.  

3. - Despite DGA (the General Water Management Board)'s questioning regarding Protocol 1, and again behind the backs of those farmers with water usage rights, there is now a Protocol 2 (which has not yet been officially made public), through which the mining company would be �liberated� of the contribution of $5 million for construction of the dam in the El Carmen River. This amount would be discounted from the $60 million, and the number of members of the commission that would administrate and distribute the $60 million would be increased from 6 to 8.

However, the project will be approved. There are �movements� in the Junta, requests for the resignation of the Manager, claiming loss of confidence, and that in solidarity the president also resign. This would leave the way clear for Mr Omar Campillay Rojas as acting president, owner of Tamarugal Transport, a company which provides services to the great mining industry.

The Central Government must sell the dam to the farmers, who would have a period of 25 years, with 4 years grace, to pay. The board of directors of the Junta plans initially for the government to sell it to 220 �big� farmers, who possess 61% of the total water shares.

The remaining 39%, owned by approximately 1,900 farmers who are without doubt the small ones, would have a period of 2 years to solve any problems they may have, such as regularising the tenancy of their properties if they wish to give up their water shares in the dam.

As the small farmers are not in a position to pay over 25 years, an alternative has been proposed - that INDAP (Instituci�n de Desarrollo Agropecuario - Chile's Institution of Agricultural Development) pay it for them, and the farmers become indebted to INDAP.

If the new Directive were to propose now to the small farmers to free them from payment of the dam and to pay that amount in cash, or in up to four years with the company's $60 million, most would accept, ending all resistance (from the farmers with water usage rights, not the 70,000 inhabitants of the province) which could be counted on to oppose the mining project and to save the valley. Those who would come out �winners� would be:

The government, which would recover its investment in less time than the original estimate (4 years rather than 25). The board of directors of the Vigilance Junta for its �good management�. The big agricultural businessmen. And of course the mining company, as with this tremendous help things would become much easier with the complicity of its most loyal and faithful �partners�.

In the north, water is a precious treasure worth more than gold. Most rivers in the north are either dry or polluted, the clearest example being the basin of the Copiap� River, which has enough water for only a few more years, and they are already looking towards using water from the Huasco basin. Other examples include pollution of the bay of Cha�aral, pollution of the Loa River, the shortage of water in San Pedro de Atacama (where the council has to buy water from the mining companies), etc.

The Huasco in the north is perhaps the only river which contains plenty of clean water. We cannot allow that through unscrupulous and ambitious projects, the same thing happen to this river as happens in many parts of the world. It is our obligation to save it, and to protect the glaciers and lagoons there from even the slightest alteration.

Lu�s Faura Cortes.
(�translated by Sophie Green and Madeline Shearer)

(Spanish version)
Alto del Carmen, Enero de 2007

En Junio de 2005, la Junta de Vigilancia del Valle del Huasco firm� un Protocolo de Acuerdo con la Empresa representante en Chile de la minera canadiense Barrick Gold Corporation, por 60 millones de d�lares y otros recursos. Seg�n este acuerdo, la Empresa se compromete a aportar esa suma, si se aprueba en definitiva el proyecto de la Barrick para explotar Pascua Lama. La Intendencia de Atacama se incorpora en el proceso al participar en una Comisi�n que administrar�a los recursos convenidos.

En este mismo protocolo, la minera compromete adem�s, la construcci�n de un embalse de cabecera para el valle de El Carmen (San F�lix), por un monto de 5 millones de d�lares.

Cabe notar que la decisi�n de firmar el protocolo el 30 de Junio la tomaron 8 de los 9 integrantes del directorio.  Entre los integrantes del Directorio estaba el Sr. Mauricio Perell�, uno de los mayores accionistas de La Junta. El posee 1.200 acciones en el tercer tramo correspondiente al r�o Huasco, es decir, casi el 16% de las acciones de este tramo, el mayor de los cuatro tramos en que se distribuyen las acciones, al que le corresponde el 64,5%  de un total de 11.813 acciones.  Como accionista del tercer tramo, el Sr. Perell� y otros pocos regantes, tienen m�s acciones y por tanto m�s poder que cualquiera de los accionistas de los tramos 1, 2 y 4 (ver nota 1).

Este protocolo fue cuestionado en abril de 2006 por la Direcci�n General de Aguas (D. G. A.), ya que se acord� y firm� sin considerar la opini�n de los aproximadamente 2.000 regantes.

En noviembre de 2005, uno de los representantes del tramo 2, el Sr. Sergio Torres Allen, se dio cuenta de lo irregular del proceso, lo cuestion� y se descolg� de este. Sigue todo un proceso de irregularidades por parte de la Junta.  

1.-No se cumplieron compromisos adquiridos por el directorio de La Junta, en reuni�n realizada en Alto del Carmen el d�a 06 de julio de 2005 (En esta se da a conocer protocolo ya firmado por directorio el d�a 30 de junio de 2005). No se constituyo mesa de trabajo para discutir el tema. Se validan, por parte del directorio, estudios presentados en forma verbal, a pesar que se solicitaron copias escritas para analizarlos. No hubo contraparte t�cnica, ni real discusi�n de los estudios al interior del directorio. Exigencia de Barrick en reuni�n del d�a 2 de nov. de 2005, de presentar a mas tardar el d�a 7 de nov. Del mismo a�o las aclaraciones (adenda 2) a CONAMA �con o sin aceptaci�n da La Junta�.

2.-Despu�s que es cuestionado el proceso por parte de la D. G. A., y para validar su accionar, el directorio convoca a Junta General Extraordinaria para el d�a 15 de noviembre de 2005,  pero solo invita a los presidentes o representantes de canales, que en total suman 315 personas, y no a la totalidad de regantes, que son  2.000 aprox., en esta sesi�n  de 11.813 acciones, solo participan 6.670, es decir solo un 56% de los presidentes o representantes de canales,  el directorio hace ver que un 93.7 % de los regantes aprueban lo obrado por La Junta. Es importante destacar que en esta reuni�n no dejan votar a Mauricio Perell�, propietario de 1.200 acciones aproximadamente, y que el  93.7 % lo consiguen entre 6 o 7 regantes que poseen casi tantas o mas acciones que Perell�)

3.- A pesar del cuestionamiento que realiz� la D. G. A. al protocolo 1, y nuevamente a espalda de los regantes hoy existe un protocolo 2 (el cual todav�a no se a dado a conocer oficialmente), a trav�s del cual se "liberar�a" a la empresa minera del aporte de los 5 millones de d�lares para la construcci�n del embalse en el r�o El Carmen, los que ser�an descontados de los 60 millones y se aumenta de 6 a 8 la cantidad de integrantes de la comisi�n que administrar�a y distribuir�a los 60 millones de d�lares.

Sin embargo, se aprueba el proyecto. Hay "movimientos" en la Junta, se le pide la renuncia al Gerente, argumentando p�rdida de confianza, y con �l renuncia solidariamente el presidente, dejando el camino libre como presidente interino, el Sr. Omar Campillay Rojas, propietario de transportes Tamarugal, empresa dedicada a prestar servicios a la gran miner�a.

El Gobierno Central tiene que traspasar el embalse a los agricultores, los que tendr�an un plazo de 25 a�os, con 4 a�os de gracia, para pagarlo. El directorio de La Junta planifica que el gobierno haga,  en un principio, el traspaso a unos 220 agricultores �grandes�, quienes poseen el 61% del total de las acciones. El 39% restante, que agrupa a aproximadamente 1.900 agricultores, los que sin duda son los peque�os,  tendr�an un plazo de 2 a�os, para solucionar todo tipo de problemas que tengan, como por ejemplo, regularizar la tenencia de sus propiedades si quiere acceder a sus acciones en el embalse.

Como los peque�os agricultores no est�n en condiciones de pagar durante 25 a�os, se habr�a propuesto la alternativa de que INDAP pagara por ellos, y los agricultores se endeudaran con INDAP. Si ahora la nueva Directiva les propone a los peque�os agricultores liberarlos del pago del embalse y pagar ese monto al contado, o en cuatro a�os como m�ximo con los 60 millones de d�lares de la minera, la mayor�a estar�a de acuerdo, con lo que se acabar�a todo el resto de resistencia (por parte de los regantes, no de los 70.000 habitantes de la provincia) con la que se podr�a contar para oponerse al proyecto minero y para salvar el valle. Los que saldr�an �ganando� serian: El gobierno, ya que recuperar�a su inversi�n en menos tiempo del presupuestado (4 a�os en vez de 25). El directorio de la Junta de Vigilancia por su �buena gesti�n�.  Los grandes empresarios agr�colas. Y por supuesto la minera, ya que con esa tremenda ayuda se le facilitar�an mucho mas a�n las cosas con la complicidad de sus mas fieles y leales �socios�

El agua en el norte es un tesoro precioso que vale m�s que el oro, la mayor�a de los r�os en el norte o est�n secos o contaminados, el ejemplo m�s claro es el que afecta a la cuenca del r�o Copiap�, a la que le queda agua para unos pocos a�os m�s, desde all� ya se ha puesto los ojos en las aguas de la cuenca del Huasco,  otros ejemplos: la contaminaci�n de la bah�a de Cha�aral,  la contaminaci�n del r�o Loa, la escasez de agua en San Pedro de Atacama (municipio tiene que comprar agua a las mineras), etc.

El Huasco en el norte es, tal vez el �nico r�o, en que hay agua en cantidad y calidad,  no podemos permitir que  por proyectos inescrupulosos y ambiciosos, le ocurra lo mismo que en muchas partes del mundo, nuestra obligaci�n es salvarlo y que se conserven los glaciares y lagunas all� existentes sin la mas m�nima afectaci�n.

Luis Faura Cortes.


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