The Issue


The Issue

Rios Libres was formed in 2010 in opposition to a mega-hydroelectric scheme, HidroAysén, which would bring industrialization and destruction to the pristine Aysén region. A consortium of European and Chilean mega-companies sought to place a total of five dams blocking the rivers that are the lifeblood in the heart of this diversely rich region. Two of the dams were slated for the Baker, Chile’s longest and highest flowing river. The other three would have been built along the Pascua, Chile’s third highest flowing river. Both rivers serve critical ecological functions that would be lost forever as a result of damming.

The ill-conceived project generated a formidable backlash, compelling activists from across the country and the world to launch a powerful environmental campaign. A coalition of Chilean and U.S organizations and individuals worked diligently to protect the area not only by fighting the dams, but also by demanding the adoption of a sound and sustainable energy policy by the government. 

Due to the overwhelming international opposition to the dams, the Chilean government canceled the environmental permits for the dams on June 10, 2014.

This announcement was major news for team Rios Libres and environmental activists everywhere, showing that sometimes the voice of the people can triumph over the power of the dollar.

“The campaign to protect Patagonia became the largest environmental struggle in the country’s history. The tireless efforts of river defenders in Chile and around the world helped create massive popular opposition to HidroAysén – both within Chile and abroad – which eventually led to the project being cancelled.”  -Emily Jovais, International Rivers [1]

The damage and destruction from such a project would not have stopped at the rivers. They planned to clear-cut at least 1,600 km (1000 mi) of pristine old-growth forest in order to build the longest transmission line in the world. Over 2,450 km (1,500 mi) of line would have been built to transport the electricity northward to support population centers and, ultimately Chile’s massive mining industry.


Together, the dams and transmission lines would have damaged communities, scar the landscape, and wreak havoc on ecosystems. Additionally, these projects would hasten the extinction of species such as the torrent duck, the Chilean river otter, and the endangered Chilean deer, the huemul, which is on the Chilean coat of arms.

Chilean Patagonia is a remote region of the world where nature, long left to its own devices grows wild, beautiful and largely untouched by man. As South America’s last frontier, the region boasts incredible biodiversity, breathtaking landscapes, essential ecological values, and a remote solitude that is increasingly rare in our burgeoning world.  Dappled with pristine lakes, jagged peaks, ancient glaciers, rushing rivers, coastal rainforests and dry grasslands, the area’s diversity is striking and its magnificence unmatched.

The Rios Libres team worked together to give this threatened area a voice by documenting this incredible natural resource in its pristine state and by highlighting what the area means to the people, plants, and wildlife that make up its ecosystem. We also used this opportunity to illustrate how this mega-hydroelectric scheme would forever change the face and character of the area and therefore, why it needed to be prevented. The team created compelling photos, written articles, short online films, and two documentary films that conveyed the beauty, unique quality and ecological importance of the rivers and the surrounding lands.



The Next Step

Now that HidroAysén is not an imminent threat to the area, it is imperative that we use our collective resources to protect the Aysén region from threats in the future. Groups around the world are working to protect the region in perpetuity, stay tuned to learn how you can help.

[1] “Patagonia Sin Represas”, Emily Jovais, June 10, 2014, Available at: