Chilean Indians Protest Hydroelectric Project

Work on a planned hydroelectric dam was interrupted Tuesday when a group of Chilean Indians threw rocks at police and blocked a remote road in central Chile.

SANTIAGO, Chile 2002-03-07 []   The protesters were members of the Pehuenches, part of the Mapuche Indian tribe, who oppose construction of the company’s US500 million Ralco dam because it would flood their historical homeland.   Police had not been able to disperse the protesters by midday. They planned to block delivery of equipment to the construction site. Endesa Chile is owned by energy group Enersis , one of the largest non-state electrical holdings in Latin America, which in turn is controlled by Spain’s Endesa . A senior official at Enersis said the skirmish would not delay work on the 570 Megawatt plant. “Ralco will be operating by the end of 2003 and its construction is going according to the original plan,” Enersis chairman Alfredo Llorente said. Ralco was more than 50 percent completed by the end of 2001. Construction was set back slightly last year because heavy rain in the Bio Bio River damaged the plant, according to the company. Endesa Chile plans for the start-up of the first generating unit in December 2003 and the second one in early 2004. The demonstrators vowed to continue their protests. On Monday, hooded protesters torched a contractor company’s truck en route to Ralco. Similar incidents have occurred sporadically during the past two years. “We are going to continue with these actions indefinitely because things have just gone too far here. There is no respect toward us, neither from the government nor from the private companies,” protester Maria Curriao said on Chilean television. Some of the Pehuenches have signed land-barter contracts with Endesa, exchanging their riverside properties for other plots higher up in the Andean foothills. Others have refused to leave.
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