Chile: Mapuche Increase Opposition Bío Bío River Dam

On November 26, Mapuche Pewenche authorities of the Bío Bío River in Chile met with the Environmental Minister, Ana Lya Uriarte, explaining their opposition to the construction of a new dam on the Bío Bío River and requesting for more time to allow for civic participation in the "Environmental Impact Study" of the Angostura Project of the Colbún-Matte, the company that is again threatening their territories.

The Mapuche, Santa Barbara and Quilaco (Tree Waters) communities are living in the territories that would be affected by the Angostura hydroelectric dam.  They explain that this could project would flood ancient indigenous territories, where a great archeological, spiritual, historic and cultural heritage of the Mapuche Pewenche people exists.

The indigenous authorities, in solidarity with allied organizations of Santiago participated in a citizens’ action in front of the Environmental Ministry, holding up signs and handing out information to the media.         

The representatives present from the Mapuche communities requested that the government respect the "Friendly Solution Agreement between the Petitioning Pewenche Families and the State of Chile", made between the government and the Mapuche community in the 90’s and allowed for the building of the Ralco Dam.

This agreement in point 3.d., established an "obligatory mechanism that ensures that all organs of the State will not install future megaprojects, particularly hydroelectric projects, on indigenous lands of  the Bio Bío heights".

The indigenous communities also stated that Tuesday the 25th of November, they sent a new petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC, denouncing the Chilean State and this human rights ‘violation of omission’. The accusation was made in the name of the Longko (Chief) José Martiriano Suarez, on representation of Mapuche Pewenche People of Santa Bárbara and Quilaco.

The meeting occurred in the Ministry office, and also in attendance was the Director of the National Committee of the Environment (CONAMA, by the spanish name) of the Bío Bío Región, Mr. Bolivar Ruiz.

The Mapuche and Chilean committee against the hydroelectric dam project Angostura, was made up of at least twenty people, and were represented at the meeting by the Longko (Chief) Martiriano Suarez, the Kimche (Wise) Berta Quintreman, and Freddy Perez Voice of the "Aguas Libres" (Free Waters) of Quilaco organization.   

Environmental Minister’s Version of the Meeting

After meeting for more than two hours, the Minister Uriarte said that the "friendly agreement" was information that "the Pewenche and Chilean groups that visited us today just now turned in, and naturally, we said that we are going to request all the prior documents that concern this agreement and that they were speaking about, and which we do not have in our possession currently".

The minister said that, nevertheless, this agreement "is currently not part of our evaluation of the environmental impacts; therefore, it is an antecedent that we will go back and look for, so as to get to know it directly".

To the point about this document being part of the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights instruments, the Minister affirmed that "what we do know these communities have done is to make a presentation to the ICHR, of which I am just learning about because it was addressed during the conversation we took part in today".

The Minister Uriarte said also, "we guarantee that we will take into consideration all the antecedents that they turned in to us as we make a decision about this project and any other".

If the issue is "in indigenous land, with sacred ceremonial places that could possibly be affected, antecedents that have a direct relation with environmental elements – for example, the fish in the river that are part of the project –  are all things that we are going to consider one by one as we make this decision", said the Minister.