In mid-February, indigenous Pehuenche (Mapuche) communities in Chile's Alto Biobio.
region began a series of protest actions geared at blocking a 225-ton transformer from reaching the site of the Ralco hydroelectric project, owned by the Spanish transnational company Endesa.

Protests against construction of the Ralco dam have been going on for years, led by seven families who have refused to sell their land. Now another group of families who previously sold their land are threatening to reclaim it, saying Endesa failed to provide them with housing, jobs, free electricity and other social compensation promised in a 1998 agreement. [La Tercera (Chile) 3/5/02, 2/22/02; El Mostrador (Chile) 3/5/02, 3/8/02; Equipo Nizkor-Derechos Human Rights-Serpaj Europa Informacion 3/6/02] Three Pehuenche protesters were arrested when agents of the militarized Carabineros force used tear gas and water cannons to break up a roadblock on Feb. 26. [EM 2/27/02]

At 1am on Mar. 5, a group of some 100 Pehuenche residents from the Quepuca-Ralco, Ralco-Lepoy and Avellano communities began blockading the Maya bridge on the road linking Ralco to Guayali, along which the transformer was being moved under heavy security. Carabineros agents arrived several hours later, some of them in Endesa vehicles, with air support from two Carabineros helicopters. The agents used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons spraying a chemical substance to try to disperse the Pehuenche protesters, who fought back with rocks. Police finally managed to clear the road around 7pm, after arresting 55 people and injuring 26 others, five of them seriously; 18 police agents were also reported injured. Three Endesa trucks were damaged. Those arrested reportedly included several minors, some students and about 15 non- indigenous workers from the company subcontracted by Endesa to build the Ralco dam. Carabineros agents also carried out violent searches without warrants in the homes of local residents. [EM 3/5/02, 3/6/02; LT 3/7/02, 3/8/02; Equipo Nizkor... 3/6/02]

On Mar. 6, a group of about 20 Pehuenche activists, including Council of All Lands leader Aucan Huilcaman, occupied the Cautin provincial governor's office to protest the previous day's police operation. Carabineros Special Forces agents evicted them from the building. [EM 3/7/02] As of Mar. 9, Pehuenche activists from other areas, led by the Council of All Lands, were marching to the Ralco area to join efforts to block the arrival of the transformer. [El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 3/10/02]

On the night of Mar. 3 or early morning of Mar. 4, two hooded and armed individuals forced the driver out of the truck of an Endesa subcontractor, then doused the truck with gasoline and set it on fire. Police sources charge unknown infiltrators, including some foreigners, with carrying out violent actions in the area in support of Pehuenche demands. Late last September in the same area, six hooded individuals carried out a similar attack on equipment associated with the Ralco project, burning two trucks and a backhoe. Following that incident, a number of non-Pehuenche activists who were supporting local actions against the dam were forced to leave the area, fearing a backlash by authorities who blamed them for acts of "eco-terrorism." [LT 3/5/02; EM 3/5/02, 3/8/02; Equipo Nizkor... 3/6/02]

Carmen Paine Tranamil, werken (spokesperson) of the Council of Pehuenche Authorities of the Alto Biobio, denied any involvement by Pehuenche community members in the Mar. 3 incident; she said she believed Endesa staged the attack "to provoke terror and blame us." Paine, who was arrested at the Feb. 26 protest, accused Carabineros agents of using excessive violence against protesters. [LT 3/5/02]

On Mar. 4 a court ordered the preventive detention of Pascual Pichun, Pehuenche community leader (lonko) of the Temulemu community of Traiguen. Pichun, who was arrested in December but released soon afterwards, is charged with responsibility for a Dec. 12 arson attack on the home of former agriculture minister Juan Agustin Figueroa. Aniseto Norin, lonko of El Pantano and Didaiko communities, has been detained since Jan. 3 in connection with the same attack. [LT 3/5/02; EM 1/3/02]

Meanwhile, a Feb. 22 communique from the Mapuche Coordinating Committee of Arauco-Malleco Communities in Conflict blames lumber companies for a series of forest fires raging through southern Chile. The communique charges that the companies set the fires intentionally to clear native forests so they can plant non- native species like eucalyptus and pine. [Communique 2/22/02]