Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Water Privatization in Chile

June 24, 2013

  Michael Gemmell

This week I have been looking into the issue of water privatization in Chile, a country long served by Columban missionaries.  Whilst water privatization might on first hearing sound a little dry (excuse the pun), my research into the topic has taken me into Chile’s turbulent political history, revealing that the privatization of Chile’s water is a legacy from a more sinister political past.

In the 1970s, Chile’s socialist president was removed by a coup d’état in which General Pinochet established a military junta and ruled under a harsh dictatorship until 1988. Today, Chile’s political situation is nothing like the past – for it too enjoys a representative democracy – yet some policies from the Pinochet era remain.

In 1981, General Pinochet changed water codes so the government could allocate water sources to be controlled by private investors.  As a result, mining and logging corporations dominate most of Chile’s water resources in a country that has privatized more of its water than any other.

This has caused wanton environmental degradation and forced tribal communities, such as the Mapuche tribe, from their land.  Poor and isolated communities have also suffered from rising prices and limited supply as profit making enterprises have no incentive to provide water in a baron marketplace. Surely such a precious commodity should be made available to all.

Recently, Columbans working in Santiago helped organize a protest that involved over 6,000 people; calling for a recuperation of their water rights. Water, as vital for life and dignity, should be available to all.  Even the United Nations recognizes that access to water is a basic human right. Corporate control of water impedes on this right by neglecting those without market power.  Our faith calls us to stand in solidarity with those without such necessities so they too, may enjoy the fullness of life that God intends. We have a duty to protect God’s creation and put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.  Let us work together to recuperate water for those without.