The Early History of Water Wars in Chile: Rivers, Ecological Disaster and Multinational Mining Companies
This article examines an early water war in Chile between local agriculturalists and the North American-owned El Teniente copper mine. It recovers a hitherto unknown history of ecological degradation caused by industrial copper mining during the twentieth century in Chile. It argues that contemporary water wars in Chile, usually viewed as a product of the privatisation of water rights in 1981 and the expansion of foreign investment in the mining sector during the 1990s, combined with the impact of global climate change, have roots in the appropriation of water in Andean rivers by North American companies at the beginning of the twentieth century. The article’s thesis is that the Chilean state subsidised the mining industry by granting water rights and turning a blind eye to mining companies’ contamination of rivers relied on by agriculturalists for irrigation. Finally, the article traces conservationist responses to the ecological crises produced by contamination of water and soil by the El Teniente mine, which was owned by the Kennecott Copper Company. It demonstrates that conservation of water resources was employed by estate owners as a means of asserting private property rights against the interests of mining companies.
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