The Pehuenche of Chile and environmentalists are struggling against a dam project on the B oB o river that will force 700 Pehuenche off their ancestral land and flood 9,000 acres of farmland and rare temperate rainforest in Southern Chile. On June 6, the $600 million Ralco dam project was approved by the Chilean government's environmental office. ENDESA, the private public utility company claims that this dam, and 10 more dams its size between now and 2013 are needed to satisfy the energy demands of the Chilean economy.
This project is seen by the Pehuenche and environmentalists as a violation of the new Environmental and Indigenous laws. According to the Indigenous Law, Pehuenches cannot be forced to relocate from their land. On June 10, a group of Pehuenches occupied the Chile's Indigenous Affairs Bureau and Environmental Protection Board to protest the licensing of the Ralco Dam saying "The Chilean government has once again shown its colonizing mentality by not respecting our people or the law." ENDESA, the powerful utility company that has expanded to Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru, says that it can challenge the law in court.
This dam project will have severe social and environmental consequences. Displacement of indigenous people from their ancestral land has been shown to break up communities and undermine cultural conservation efforts. The seven Pehuenche communities affected by the dam project have formed a coalition against the dam and have been fighting since 1989 to prevent its implementation. They suggest the development of alternatives to the dam project to satisfy the local demands for power that will not violate indigenous lands .
Dario Jana, an environmentalist who is organizing the international support for the Pehuenche communities, is calling for letters to be presented to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations during the Fifteenth Assembly of the Indigenous Working Group of the United Nations:
1. Expressing support for the Pehuenche
2. Urging the UN to influence the Chilean government to respect the Indigenous and Environmental laws that it has ratified by halting the dam project that will violate indigenous communities and their ancestral land.
Please fax to him letters addressed to the UN at 049-30-2941298 before July 20th. See the sample letter below.
The Human Rights Commission of the United Nations
Dear Members of the Commission:
We at SAIIC, the South and Meso American Indian Rights Center, are writing to express our solidarity with the 7 Pehuenche communities in Southern Chile who will be displaced from their ancestral lands by the Ralco dam project on the B oB o River implemented by ENDESA Utility. We feel that this dam project violates those rights guaranteed by the Indigenous and Environmental Laws ratified by the Chilean government and should therefore be prevented from implementation.
The flooding of 9,000 acres of farmland and rare temperate rainforest will not only displace 700 Pehuenche, but will be an ecological disaster. Indigenous people and environmentalists internationally are very concerned about the devastating effects of this project. We urge you to use your influence to persuade the Chilean government to reconsider their approval of this project and to investigate alternative forms of generating energy that will not violate indigenous communities or the environment. Please help stop this dangerous policy of ecological destruction for economic profit.
South and Meso American Indian Rights Center (SAIIC)
P.O. Box 28703
Oakland CA, 94604
Phone: (510)834-4263 Fax: (510)834-4264
Office: 1714 Franklin Street, 3rd Floor, Oakland
Home Page: http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/nativeweb/abyayala/orgs/saiic
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