Argentina and China are building hydropower dams in the southern region of the South American country. The construction has had a positive impact on tourism, jobs and the commercial movement of goods, according to official sources.
The dams are being built near sites of interest to international visitors. El Calafate, a tourist town famous for the magnificent glaciers that surround it, is the third city of the province of Santa Cruz. Caleta Olivia is an oil town, and the closest to the two dams that are planned to come into operation in the region.
“These dams mark a before-and-after in the area in the province and the country. The project now generates high expectations,” said the mayor of the city of El Calafate, Javier Belloni, in an interview with Chinese news service Xinhua.
According to Belloni, “the impact has also been large. Impacts on vacation, at work and people in trade. We are happy and content, because it fulfills the dream of the pioneers who came to the area 60 or 70 years ago,” he said.
The area is located 2750 km from Buenos Aires, the country’s capital. It can be reached in about 30 hours by car.
“The dams represent energy, but they also industrialize the area. They are one of the most anticipated projects in the province. More than 90 per cent of the local population supports them,” noted Belloni, who emphasized “the impact studies and planning” that have been done.
“The Chinese brothers have been visiting us from time to time, and now they will have more reasons to do so: the glaciers and the dams. The Chinese market has been growing year on year. We want them to come, to visit us, because we are waiting with open arms,” he said.
A group of companies, which include China’s Gezhouba and Argentina’s Electroingeniería and Hidrocuyo, are in charge of the power projects’ construction.
The projects will help cover 4 per cent of Argentina’s annual energy demand, estimated at 5000 GWh, and will supply energy to more than 1.5 million households.
The construction work will help create 5000 direct jobs, as well as savings on fluid replacement for power generation fuels.
While the Nestor Kirchner hydroelectric plant will have a capacity of 1140 MW, the Jorge Cepernic dam will produce 600 MW.
To do this, Argentina will allocate an investment over $4.714bn to finance the construction of the dams in the next five years.
For her part, the Secretary of Tourism for the district, Laura Santiago, also stressed in an interview with Xinhua that “tourism is the main activity of El Calafate, the gateway to the glaciers, as it is the Perito Moreno, which is a World Heritage Site and known worldwide.
“The numbers of tourists coming in will change substantially for 20 years with the construction of the international airport. It reaches half a million tourists per year, and half of them are foreigners.
China ranks third among Asian visitors and is on the rise. It is a highly interesting market. Our destination is safe,” Santiago stressed.
The construction of the hydropower dams has no impact on tourism, according to the secretary. She added: “They have made environmental impact studies to ensure their construction never affects our main income, which is tourism.
“The dams will be a tourist attraction. When you travel to another country you often visit certain engineering projects. They will be part of the range of excursions offered by our town,” she said.
And Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernandez, stressed the “joining of forces” between Buenos Aires and Beijing in July to mark the arrival of Chinese equipment for the projects.
The head of state said at the time: “More energy for all Agentenians as necessary to help dreams come true”.
The projects are part of a series of bilateral agreements signed by Fernandez and her Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, within a comprehensive strategic partnership that covers the relationship between Buenos Aires and Beijing.