Indigenous people to protest Chilean dam


1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, California 94703 USA
Tel: (+510) 848-1155 / Fax: (+510) 848-1008 / E-mail:

2616 Kwina Road, Bellingham, Washington 98226, USA
Tel: (+360) 384-2288 / Fax: (+360) 738-8863


Thursday, August 22, 1996

Glenn Switkes
Latin America Program Director, IRN
(+55-65) 627-1689

Jewell James
Treaty Task Force, Lummi Tribe
(+360) 384-2258

Juan Pablo Orrego
Grupo de Accion por el Biobio
(+56-2) 737-1420


Ceremonies, Protests Planned to Mark Annual Meeting of Dam Builders' Association

(Santiago, Chile) A historic meeting of indigenous peoples from North and South America has been scheduled to coincide with the annual meeting of the world's largest association of dam construction and hydroelectric technology companies. At issue is the planned construction by ENDESA, Chile's largest private company, of Ralco Dam, the second in a series of six dams planned for the Biob=EDo River, ancestral Andean homeland of the Pehuenche Indians

The indigenous delegation will begin its activities in Chile on October 9 in Santiago, culminating in a demonstration at the annual meeting of the International Consortium on Large Dams (ICOLD) in Santiago on October 16.

Despite the fact that 100 Pehuenche Indian families, Chile's most traditional indigenous group would have their villages flooded by the project, no relocation plan was included in ENDESA's environmental impact statement, which was submitted in April to Chilean environmental authorities. The Pehuenche say they are determined to exercise their rights guaranteed under Chilean law to remain on their ancestral lands, and have called for support from North American indigenous people, many of whom have personally experienced the impacts of large dams.

Nine native people from the north will be making the trip to meet the Pehuenche, and to participate in political discussions, spiritual ceremonies, and public demonstrations. The delegation includes prominent leaders from diverse indigenous communities and nationally-based Native American organizations.

Ralco would be a 155 meter-high dam with a 3,400 hectare reservoir. The dam would generate 570MW of electricity at a cost of $500 million. The hydroelectric would also flood over 70 km of the river valley, inundating the richly diverse forest and its wildlife, and leaving downstream portions of the river dry for months at a time, devastating fish stocks. The first dam on the Biob=EDo, called Pangue, was constructed after the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank assured investors that it would be the only dam built on the river. In response to a complaint by the Pehuenche and Chilean environmentalists, the World Bank has now initiated a formal inquiry into irregularities in the Pangue loan.

Environmental groups and Chilean Energy Commission officials have questioned the need for construction of Ralco, citing plans for construction of two trans-Andean gas pipelines importing natural gas from Argentina, and the planned construction of new gas-fired powerplants. The U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council recently concluded a study demonstrating that improvement of energy delivery systems in Chile would make Ralco unnecessary.

The International Commission on Large Dams is an organization of engineers from 79 countries which promotes construction of dams throughout the world. Founded in 1928, it is headquartered in Paris, rance.

      Glenn Switkes, Director, Latin America Program,
           International Rivers Network
              1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, California 94703, USA
                  Tel. (510) 848 1155 Fax (510) 848 1008

          South America address:
              a/c ICV, Rua 2, no. 203, Bairro Boa Esperanca,
                  CEP 78.068-360 Cuiaba, MT, Brazil
                     Tel/Fax: +55 65 627 1689

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