Chile: hydro projects threaten sacred Mapuche sites

As of March 2 the Spanish-Italian electric energy consortium Endesa-Enel was calling for dialogue with indigenous Mapuche communities in Valdivia province in Chile’s southern Los Ríos region in an effort to get clearance for the consortium’s stalled $781 million hydroelectric project at Lake Neltume. The dialogue offer came in response to reservations that Los Ríos public service agencies expressed about the power company’s latest proposal for the plant. Jorge Weke (also spelled “Hueque”)—the werkén (spokesperson) for the Koz Koz Parliament in Panguipulli, a municipality that would be affected by the dam—rejected the dialogue offer, saying the company didn’t understand the project’s significance for the Mapuche.

The power plant would make use of the waters of the Fuy River and empty them into Lake Neltume, raising the lake’s level and also the temperature of the water. The site is sacred for the local Mapuche communities, which have been performing a sacrifice of bulls at a certain point on the shore for at least 700 years, according to Juan Carlos Skewes, director of the Anthropology Department at Alberto Hurtado University. The place where the rite is carried out would be submerged, while the underwater repository of the bulls’ bones would be moved. Weke, who has traveled to Italy to meet with Enel’s board of directors, says the power plant would “desecrate this complex, which would be a sacrilege.” The increase in temperature would also affect the region’s biodiversity. Five Mapuche communities are opposed to the plant’s construction, although a group in the community of Juan Quintumán supports it; Endesa-Enel has reportedly given them money, construction materials for housing repairs, and livestock and feed.

The consortium tried unsuccessfully to get approval for the project in February 2010 and again in December 2010, but there has still been no official decision on the plant. (Tierramérica-IPS, Feb. 11, via Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, UNPO; Radio Bío Bío, Chile, March 2)

Sacred sites are also threatened by several hydroelectric projects in the towns of Melipeuco and Curarrehue near the Andes in Cautín province in the southern region of Araucanía, according to Mapuche residents, who are concerned about maintaining the balance of ngen, spiritual forces which they say protect rivers and waterfalls. In Melipeuco, the Ingeniería y Construcción Madrid Limitada company wants to build a $24 million plant on the Truful-Truful river, while Andes Power SpA is seeking to build a $19 million facility on the Carén river. In Curarrehue, GTD Negocios S.A. plans a $22 million plant on the Añihuerraqui river, and RP El Torrente Eléctrica S.A, a subsidiary of the Austrian-Chilean company RP Global Chile S.A., wants to build a $21 million facility at Pangui. (El Clarín de Chile, Feb. 28)

In related news, Rodrigo Montoya Melinao, a Mapuche activist held in the Angol prison in Malleco province in Araucanía, started a liquids-only hunger strike on Feb. 28. Montoya, who comes from the Wente Winkul Mapu community, was arrested along with his brother Erick on a homicide charge; they were two of the four Mapuche prisoners who carried out a hunger strike from Aug. 27 to Oct. 25 last year. In his current fast Rodrigo Montoya is demanding cancellation of the judgment against him; an end to the use of anonymous witnesses in trials against Mapuche activists; and freedom for all Mapuche political prisoners. (Maricheweu International, March 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 10.