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Mapuche and Other Women Riders Fight Against Mega Projects

Chilean, Argentine and Mapuche women riders traveled to Puerto Varas, Chile on horseback as part of a recent protest against two energy projects.
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Chilean, Argentine and Mapuche women riders traveled for five days to Puerto Varas, Chile on horseback as part of a recent protest against two energy projects that they say will hurt river communities in both countries.

The Women Without Borders activists rode into the town of Puerto Varas on January 30 to publicize their opposition to a proposed hydroelectric dam and a river-run generator project in the Puelo River valley that they assert would ruin their communities, both in economic and environmental terms.

In their press statement issued before the ride to Puerto Varas, the activists explained the objectives of the protest.

"We, of Women Without Borders, want to protect the Puelo and El Manso communities from the large corporations that only want destruction, that is how the idea of creating a special ride of women and children on horseback so that the authorities may know of our way of life, and above all, that they may know that we live free of high tension electric towers and contamination of our water," the group stated.

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Both of the protested projects involve the Puelo River which runs near the Chilean – Argentine border. The Puelo River basin that extends across both countries is the site of a proposed hyrdoelectric plant owned by the Spanish-Italian company Endesa, which plans on building a 330-foot high dam that would inundate 12,350 acres of land including some parts of Mapuche territory.

The other subject of the protests is the proposed construction of a river-run generator owned by the Chilean company Mediterraneo, the company that in 2008 bought the "water rights" of the nearby Manso River. (Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet helped privatize Chile's waterways in 1981.)

According to Argentine press reports, the protest was timed so as to coincide with efforts by Regional Governor Jaime Brahm to bring up a vote on the Mediterraneo project, just weeks before President-elect Michelle Bachelet takes office.

At a press event in Puerto Varas, at the end of the 5-day ride, Women Without Borders President Maria Isabel Navarette said the companies and certain political officials were involved in a conspiracy.

“Mediterráneo and Endesa have conspired with certain political groups and are intent on slyly skirting our laws and international treaties,” Navarrete said. “They are in league with the communications media, who disguise these crimes as ‘progress’ and ‘development.’ And those of us who protest, who opposed this wholesale destruction of our way of life, are called terrorists.”