(Fwd) Indians, activists occupy Chile govt. offices

Freedom Press (freedom@tao.ca)
Tue, 17 Jun 1997 15:01:52 +0000

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Tue, 17 Jun 1997 10:01:47 -0500 Reply-to: rainfor.general@gnosys.svle.ma.us From: rainfor.general@gnosys.svle.ma.us Subject: Indians, activists occupy Chile govt. offices To: NATIVE-L@postal.tamu.edu

Original Sender: glen@irn.org Mailing List: NATIVE-L

From: Glen Switkes <glen@irn.org> Subject: Indians, activists occupy Chile govt. offices

Chilean Indians, activists protest licensing of dam

By Roger Atwood

SANTIAGO (Reuter) - Indians and environmental activists occupied Chile's indigenous affairs bureau and environmental protection board Tuesday to protest the licensing of a dam that will force hundreds of Indians off their land.

The National Environmental Commission (Conama) Monday gave the green light to plans to build the $600 million Ralco dam on the Bio Bio River in southern Chile.

Beating drums and denouncing Chilean ``colonization,'' about 20 aborigines Tuesday took over the offices of the National Indigenous Development Corporation (Conadi) and unfurled banners from upper floors, including one reading ``Indigenous Dignity -- no to Ralco!''

``The Chilean government has once again shown its colonizing mentality by not respecting our people or the law,'' said a statement read by the occupiers, wearing ponchos and playing reed flutes.

``Our grandfathers taught us well how to defend our lands and if it's necessary, 10 times we will return to shed our blood for our lands, but Ralco will not be built,'' they said.

They demanded to speak with Conadi's director, a supporter of Ralco appointed by President Eduardo Frei's government early this year after it abruptly fired the previous director who was opposed to the dam.

At the same time, about 30 environmental activists occupied the first floor of Conama's offices.

Conama granted a license to private electric utility Endesa to begin building the dam and bring it into operation early in the next century. It will complement a smaller dam opened last year by Endesa downstream, which was also bitterly opposed by environmentalists.

The dam will force up to 700 Pehuenche Indians off part of their ancestral lands and flood about 9,000 acres of farmland and rare temperate rain forest on the river's upper reaches.

In exchange for the license to build, Endesa will have to compensate the Pehuenches with land of similar value and also buy 9,400 acres of land nearby for a wildlife reserve -- an area roughly similar to the area that will be flooded.

The dam's builders say Chile, with almost no oil of its own and vast hydroelectric potential, needs Ralco and other dams to guarantee the country's booming economic growth into the next century.

Endesa general manager Jose Yuraszeck said Chile will need about 10 more dams the size of Ralco to be built between now and the year 2013 to satisfy energy demand, plus nine more power plants fueled by natural gas piped in from Argentina.

Opponents of the dam, which has also attracted opposition from U.S. environmental groups, can still appeal in court but they said they had little chance of stopping it there.

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