Peru: Asháninka indigenous people fight hydro scheme in new war zone

Peru’s Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE), which exploded into the news last month when Shining Path guerillas briefly took 36 pipeline construction workers hostage, is the scene of a contest between the local Asháninka indigenous people and economic interests seeking to develop a hydro-electric mega-project in the area, to export power to neighboring Brazil. The proposed 2,200-megawatt Pakitzapango hydroelectric dam would flood much of the basin of the Río Ene, as the Apurímac is known after it enters the Amazonian lowlands. The project would mean relocation of 15 Asháninka communities, numbering some 10,000 inhabitants, and it is conceived as but the first of six dams in the area that together would generate more than 6,500 megawatts under a 2010 agreement signed with Brazil. All told, the five-dam project would displace thousands more people. Brazilian companies Electrobras, Odebrecht, Engevix, Camargo Correa, and the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) are driving the push for the mega-project.

For now, the project is stalled due to an administrative challenge brought by the Central Asháninka del Rio Ene (CARE), a local indigenous organization, on the grounds that it would impact lands within the “buffer zone” of the Asháninka Communal Reserve, an area of forest officially set aside for the use of the indigenous people in Satipo province, Junín region. Lands in the “buffer zone” of adjacent Otishi National Park would also be flooded. The Foreign Relations Commission of Peru’s Congress is set to consider whether to ratify the 2010 agreement with Brazil for the project this month. President Ollanta Humala has yet to take a stand on the question.

The renewed Shining Path violence in the VRAE has heightened passions over the project. The Asháninka fought the Shining Path when the guerillas invaded their territory after being pushed out of highland Ayacucho region by the army in the ’90s, and bore a disproportionate burden of the war against the guerillas. Of the 70,000 who were killed over the two decades of war, 6,000 were Ashaninka (who only number some 25,000 by the estimate of Ethnologue). “This is why the Ashaninka brothers say because we have sacrificed while our families disappeared, I’m not going to give away our land so easily to the state,” CARE’s president, Ruth Buendia, told the New York Times. (NYT, Indian Country Today, May 15; The Atlantic, Dec. 14, 2011; CARE, March 28, 2009; International Rivers)

See our last posts on Peru, the Amazon and regional struggles for control of water.

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